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Writing and Difference by Jacques Derrida
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Oct 07, 2008

really liked it

With this collection of subversive essays, Jacques Derrida exploded onto the scene of post-modern philosophy in Europe and the US though he didn't have a doctorate or teaching position at the time. In it, he demonstrates for the first time his conception of `deconstruction,' an apparently inexplicable concept which enables the analysis of `inter-textuality' and `binary-oppositions,' to be revealed. `Writing and Difference,' is of course a difficult text, and analytic philosophers don't even bother with it, though that may be their greatest mistake, for Derrida attempts (and not without success) to demonstrate that the notion of purely objective, enlightened truth seeking is an impossibility. That the essence of thought always operates within a given schema, a given facticity. "Differance," the famous phrase of Derrida, indicates that writing is necessarily primary to speech, we can see the `differ a nce' in text, not phonetically.

The first essay in this collection `Force and Signification,' attempts to apply a philosophical rigour to the analysis of literature, wherein Derrida explains Flaubert, Mallarme, and a number of others. `Cogito and the History of Madness' is an extremely famous essay about Foucault which triggered a feud between the two intellectuals that would never fully be mended. In it, Derrida argues that Foucault's book does not address the Cartesian notion of the Cogito adequately in the History of Madness, and that Foucault ultimately relies on the same principles of the enlightenment while attempting to expose the dynamics of its power simultaneously. The essay (along with violence and Metaphysics) is a perfect example of Derrida's capacity to deconstruct. However, he moves very quickly and without and assistance to the reader. If you have not read the author Derrida is deconstructing he will simply leave you in the dust.

The latter essays in the book deal primarily with Artaud, Freud, Bataille, Hegel, Heidegger, Levi-Strauss, and metaphysics and language generally. The essay on Levi-Strauss (Structure, Sign, and Play) is a particularly damning lecture delivered at Johns Hopkins University and left irreparable damages to the structuralist movement at the time. `Writing and Difference' is an important collection of critical texts for 20th century philosophy, and it should remain an important work for many ages to come.
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