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The New Receptions of Jacques Derrida

Lecturer: Peter Gratton

Originally Taught: Winter School 2021

Jacques Derrida (1930-2004) is a notoriously difficult philosopher to introduce. He published dozens of texts in his lifetime, left behind many volumes of lectures that will be published over the coming decades, and he was perhaps the most commented upon philosopher of the last fifty years. One thus comes upon his works disoriented about where to begin. The task of this seminar will be twofold: 1) to introduce the work of Derrida to those who are just starting with him and 2) to rethink the dominant ways of interpreting his writings and influence given the ever-new contexts in which we find ourselves reading him. For many, still, Derrida represents a nihilist who was too caught up in clever word games and interpretive nuances to state anything clearly. Coming on the heal of the supposed “end of metaphysics” (something declared in fields ranging from European theory to Anglo-American philosophy to economics and sociology), Derrida’s work, especially after its reception in English and Comparative Literature departments in North America, the UK, and Australia, seemed to offer new ways to interpret texts, but remained thus trapped in in the texts beings read and thus not able to speak what is new, material, and concrete in our world. We will put the lie to this view, visiting key moments in his oeuvre from beginning to end to get a sense of the tasks of Derridean deconstruction, aiming to make clear the philosophical decisions that make it possible.

Lecture 1

Reading: Peter Salmon, An Event, Perhaps: A Biography of Jacques Derrida (2020).

[Lecture sets up Derrida’s entire career, plus dips into the influences that shaped his work and answers why he’s still important today.] 

Lecture 2:

Readings: Jacques Derrida, sections, Heidegger: The Question of Being and History, given in 1964-5;

Derrida, sections, Of Grammatology (1967)

Derrida, sections, Positions… (1972)

[Lecture looks at key moments in his early work and its relationship to previous “metaphysics.”]

Lecture 3:

Reading: Jacques Derrida, sections, Specters of Marx (1994)

[Lecture takes off from his early engagement with Heideggerian temporality to his political considerations of Marx in the early 1990s, specifically his notion of the democracy to come.]

Lectures 4-5:

Readings: Jacques Derrida, sections, The Beast and the Sovereign, lectures from 2001-2004.

[These lectures will explore Derrida’s last lecture courses, looking how his career ends with the themes of autoimmunity, the phantasms of sovereignty, an investigation of the human/animal distinction, and critiques such important figures as Agamben.]