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Of Grammatology by Jacques Derrida
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Jun 10, 2008

really liked it
Read in July, 2008

"Derridean" is one of those words that is evoked with equal frequency as an epithet as it is as a description of a method of analysis. Derrida is a laborious read. Whether this is because he's a bad writer, because he's writing about difficult concepts, because the French academic style of prose is difficult to translate, or, as some would claim, because he is just spouting gibberish, I'm sometimes unsure. Derrida is a restless writer. He creates new concepts and terms only to drop them after a few paragraphs. He seems as wary of himself as a thinker as he is of those who came before him. It's for that reason that he makes for both a challenging and rewarding read.

In Of Grammatology Derrida approaches key concepts and biases that he claims underpin modern philosophy and the modern system of thought. Chief among these is logos, the Latin word that alternately means or implies reason, law, or essence. He claims that there exists a bias for the logos ("logocentrism") and for the metaphysical concept of presence by recounting Western thought's treatment of the relationship between speech and writing. By analyzing and elaborating on the thoughts of Rousseau, Levi-Strauss, Nietzsche, and others, Derrida aims to show that the criticisms that have been leveled against writing as a form of language in fact apply to language (and thought) in general.

Derrida develops a series of terms (differance, supplement, trace, and others) to illustrate the shortcomings of a metaphysics of presence. The concepts have a devastating effect when applied to a logocentric text, illuminating the limits of language and metaphysics, and bringing "closure" to an era of thought.

Derrida's chief goal is to demonstrate the mediation of that we consider immediate. All things (the present, Truth, the signified, etc.) are represented to use through mediation, and in that way they are not fully present, but rather trapped in a system of representation, here called "writing."

Derrida's thought, if taken seriously and applied rigorously, seems to be capable of almost infinite and catastrophic implications. Implications that Derrida himself seems to hardly even consider in his own writing. I'm still sort of grappling with whether or not his ideas are useful to me. I find him most interesting when he is applying them to a text. It's then that he deals with concepts that I feel might actually have a bearing on how I view the world rather than something that would be important only to stodgy old professors wearing corduroy jackets.

In the end, I think that Derrida should be considered amongst his peers, including Foucault, Lacan, and Barthes. Together, they questioned the central tenets of an ever-expanding modernism, and created new perspectives on ideas such as the division of nature and culture, the constitution of self, representation, and truth that are still with us today.
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Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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message 1: by Saxon (new)

Saxon way to make your arrival on goodreads with an 800 word essay on Derrida's cornerstone. Not even going to ease into it with a Hemingway novel or something?

jesus, damien.

;)


message 2: by Mjhancock (new)

Mjhancock Good analysis--you've summed up a lot of my own ambiguous feelings towards Derrida.


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