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The Cambridge Introduction to Jacques Derrida


  • Page extent: 154 pages
  • Size: 228 x 152 mm
  • Weight: 0.38 kg

Library of Congress

  • Dewey number: 194
  • Dewey version: 22
  • LC Classification: B2430.D484 H55 2007
  • LC Subject headings:
    • Derrida, Jacques

Library of Congress Record


 (ISBN-13: 9780521864169)

The Cambridge Introduction to

Jacques Derrida

Few thinkers of the latter half of the twentieth century have so profoundly and radically transformed our understanding of writing and literature as Jacques Derrida (1930–2004). Derridian deconstruction remains one of the most powerful intellectual movements of the present century, and Derrida’s own innovative writings on literature and philosophy are crucially relevant for any understanding of the future of literature and literary criticism today. Derrida’s own manner of writing is complex and challenging and has often been misrepresented or misunderstood. In this book, Leslie Hill provides an accessible introduction to Derrida’s writings on literature which presupposes no prior knowledge of Derrida’s work. He explores in detail Derrida’s relationship to literary theory and criticism, and offers close readings of some of Derrida’s best known essays. This introduction will help those coming to Derrida’s work for the first time, and suggests further directions to take in studying this hugely influential thinker.

Leslie Hill is Professor of French Studies at the University of Warwick.

Cambridge Introductions to Literature

This series is designed to introduce students to key topics and authors.
Accessible and lively, these introductions will also appeal to readers who
want to broaden their understanding of the books and authors they enjoy.

•  Ideal for students, teachers, and lecturers

•  Concise, yet packed with essential information

•  Key suggestions for further reading

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Janette Dillon The Cambridge Introduction to Shakespeare’s Tragedies

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Kevin J. Hayes The Cambridge Introduction to Herman Melville

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Leslie Hill The Cambridge Introduction to Jacques Derrida

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Adrian Hunter The Cambridge Introduction to the Short Story in English

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Sarah Robbins The Cambridge Introduction to Harriet Beecher Stowe

Martin Scofield The Cambridge Introduction to the American Short Story

Emma Smith The Cambridge Introduction to Shakespeare

Peter Thomson The Cambridge Introduction to English Theatre, 1660–1900

Janet Todd The Cambridge Introduction to Jane Austen

The Cambridge Introduction to

Jacques Derrida


Cambridge, New York, Melbourne, Madrid, Cape Town, Singapore, São Paulo

Cambridge University Press
The Edinburgh Building, Cambridge CB2 8RU, UK

Published in the United States of America by Cambridge University Press, New York
Information on this title:

© Leslie Hill 2007

This publicaion is in copyright. Subject to statutory exception
and to the provisions of relevant collective licensing agreements,
no reproduction of any part may take place without
the written permission of Cambridge University Press.

First published 2007

Printed in the United Kingdom at the University Press, Cambridge

A catalogue record for this publication is available from the British Library

ISBN 978-0-521-86416-9 hardback
ISBN 978-0-521-68281-7 paperback

Cambridge University Press has no responsibility for the persistence or accuracy of URLs
for external or third-party internet websites referred to in this publication, and does not
guarantee that any content on such websites is, or will remain, accurate or appropriate.


  Preface page vii
  List of abbreviations ix
  Chapter 1 Life 1
  Chapter 2 Contexts 12
  Chapter 3 Work 33
  Chapter 4 Reception and further reading 115
  Notes 130
  Index 138


The implications, range, and sheer volume of the work of Jacques Derrida are huge. They far exceed by any calculation what it is possible to discuss adequately in a modest introductory volume of this kind. For this, and other reasons, I have limited myself to only one of the multiple, variegated threads running through Derrida’s writing: his reading of that body of texts known to audiences the world over as ‘literature’. This book, then, is addressed primarily, though I hope not exclusively, to students of literature with an interest in literary theory, and, more generally, to readers wishing to know more about the already lengthy, infinite conversation between literature and philosophy as it is both interrupted and prolonged in Derrida’s work.

   Derrida, as many will be aware, places demands on his readers. This is not only because his writing is dense and at times elliptical; not only because it presupposes at least a degree of familiarity with the main tenets of some of the key texts in the Western philosophical tradition, from Plato, Kant, and Hegel to Husserl, Freud, and Heidegger; not only because his work is deeply informed by a particular philosophical, intellectual, and literary context that has its own complex and specific history, aspects of which may be unfamiliar to Derrida’s non-francophone readership; and not only because it exploits the resources of French language and idiom in ways that border at times on the untranslatable. All this is true. But there is also more: it is that his work challenges readers to rethink many inherited assumptions, up to and including those governing the basis on which thought, writing, language occur at all.

   It was no doubt inevitable that the boldness and radicalism of Derrida’s enterprise would meet with resistance, not to say incomprehension and misrepresentation. Readers new to Derrida should however remember, contrary to what is sometimes alleged, that from the very outset Derrida was an implacable opponent of irrationalism and obscurantism in all its many forms, and a writer who took seriously his responsibilities as a thinker, teacher, and public intellectual. Any who know his work well will agree: when it is a matter of rigorous argument, few writers are as lucid, consistent, exacting, scrupulous, or discriminating as Derrida.

   Derrida’s reputation, no doubt, is forever indissociable from a word he first coined, then made famous, and in the end accepted reluctantly as a possible description of his work: deconstruction. Deconstruction, like the devil, is all in the detail. In this book, it is therefore not solely with the strategic imperatives of Derrida’s thinking that I shall be concerned, but also with much of the specific detail of his readings of literary and other texts. For whoever agrees to present Derrida’s work is in a quandary. First, some may wonder, is there any need for an introductory book at all? After all, the most effective introduction to Derrida’s work already exists: it is that work itself, which the reader is hereby enjoined simply to read, in as sustained a manner as possible. Some of that work, admittedly, can be difficult. An introductory volume such as this does, then, have a part to play. But in seeking to make Derrida more accessible, is it better to focus on the larger picture, or on the smaller, to confine oneself to always questionable paraphrase, or to enter into the intricate, but all the more revealing detail of individual texts?

   Unable to reconcile itself unreservedly, in the end, to either solution, this book has sought to chart a middle course, believing in the end that accessibility, truth, and fidelity each matter in a project of this kind, and that what best assists readers new to Derrida – and all readers, at one point or another, are new to Derrida – is not a digested read nor a digested digest, but a measure of patient preliminary engagement not with the urban myth of deconstruction, whatever the word is taken to mean, but with the writing signed Jacques Derrida in so far as it constitutes one of the essential events in the history of modern thought.

   Fidelity, true enough, is impossible, and infidelity inevitable: happily and unhappily. One of the tasks of this book, no doubt, will have been to demonstrate the inescapability of the dilemma, safe only in the knowledge that there is no alternative but to accept and rejoice in it, while acknowledging too the responsibility it implies.

   I should like here to record my thanks to colleagues at the University of Warwick who have given me invaluable support in enabling me to complete this book. I am also indebted to many students, in Philosophy and Literature, Philosophy, French Studies, and English Studies at the University, who, over the last decade, have contributed more than they may realise to the pages that follow.

   I should like, finally, to dedicate this book to Susie and Juliet: that they too may begin to understand.


The principal texts by Jacques Derrida to which I refer in the course of this book are identified by the following abbreviations. Where two sets of page numbers are given, the first refer to Derrida’s original French text (even when, as in some cases, this appeared in print after the corresponding English translation), and the second to the current English-language edition of the text. For accuracy, consistency, or sometimes clarity, I have here and there modified these translations. Where no English version is currently available, translations given are my own.

A Acts of Literature, edited by Derek Attridge, London, Routledge, 1992.
AA with Antoine Spire, Au-delà des apparences, Latresne, Editions Le Bord de l’eau, 2002.
AT D’un ton apocalyptique adopté naguère en philosophie, Paris, Galilée, 1983; ‘On A Newly Arisen Apocalyptic Tone in Philosophy’, translated by John Leavey, Jr, in Raising the Tone of Philosophy, edited by Peter Fenves, Baltimore, The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993, 117–71.
AV Apprendre à vivre enfin, Paris, Galilée, 2005.
BB A Derrida Reader: Between the Blinds, edited by Peggy Kamuf, New York, Columbia University Press, 1991.
C with Catherine Malabou, La Contre-allée, Paris, La Quinzaine littéraire, 1999; Counterpath: Traveling With Jacques Derrida, translated by David Wills, Stanford, Stanford University Press, 2004.
D La Dissémination, Paris, Seuil, 1972; Dissemination, translated by Barbara Johnson, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1981.
DC ‘Living On’, translated by James Hulbert, in Harold Bloom et al., Deconstruction and Criticism, London, Routledge, 1979, 75–176.
DFT Maurice Blanchot/Jacques Derrida, The Instant of My Death / Demeure: Fiction and Testimony, translated by Elizabeth Rottenberg, Stanford, Stanford University Press, 2000.
DN Deconstruction in a Nutshell: A Conversation with Jacques Derrida, edited with a commentary by John D. Caputo, New York, Fordham University Press, 1997.
DP Du droit à la philosophie, Paris, Galilée, 1990; Who’s Afraid of Philosophy?: Right to Philosophy, translated by Jan Plug, Stanford, Stanford University Press, 2002.
DT ‘Des Tours de Babel’, Difference in Translation, edited by Joseph F. Graham, Ithaca, Cornell University Press, 1985, 165–207
E Eperons, Paris, Flammarion, 1978; Spurs, translated by Barbara Harlow, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1979.
G De la grammatologie, Paris, Minuit, 1967; Of Grammatology, corrected edition, translated by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Baltimore, Johns Hopkins University Press (1976), 1997.
Gl Glas, Paris, Galilée, 1974; Glas, translated by John P. Leavey, Jnr and Richard Rand, Lincoln, University of Nebraska Press, 1986. References to the left- or right-hand columns of Derrida’s text are indicated by the use of a or b respectively.
HF ‘Interview with Jacques Derrida’, Heidegger en France, edited by Dominique Janicaud, 2 vols., Vol. II, Paris, Albin Michel, 2001, 89–126.
L Limited Inc, edited by Gerald Graff, introduced and translated by Elisabeth Weber, Paris, Galilée, 1990; Limited Inc, edited by Gerald Graff, Evanston, Ill., Northwestern University Press, 1988.
M Marges: de la philosophie, Paris, Minuit, 1972; Margins of Philosophy, translated by Alan Bass, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1982.
MM Mémoires pour Paul de Man, Paris, Galilée, 1988; Memoires for Paul de Man, translated by Cecile Lindsay, Jonathan Culler, Eduardo Cadava, and Peggy Kamuf, New York, Columbia University Press, revised edition, 1989.
MO Le Monolinguisme de l’autre, ou la prothèse d’origine, Paris, Galilée, 1996; Monolingualism of the Other; or, The Prosthesis of Origin, translated by Patrick Mensah, Stanford, Stanford University Press, 1998.
MS Marx & Sons, Paris, P.U.F.-Galilée, 2002; ‘Marx & Sons’, translated by G. M. Goshgarian, in Ghostly Demarcations, edited by Michael Sprinker, London, Verso, 1999, 213–69.
N Negotiations: Interventions and Interviews, 1971–2001, edited and translated by Elizabeth Rottenberg, Stanford, Stanford University Press, 2002.
OCC ‘Signé l’ami d’un “ami de la Chine”’, in Aux origines de la Chine contemporaine: en hommage à Lucien Bianco, edited by Marie-Claire Bergère, Paris, L’Harmattan, 2002, i–xv.
OG Edmund Husserl, L’Origine de la géométrie, translated and introduced by Jacques Derrida, Paris, P.U.F., 1962; Edmund Husserl’s Origin of Geometry: An Introduction, translated by John P. Leavey, Jr, New York, Harvester Press, 1978.
OH L’Autre Cap, Paris, Minuit, 1991; The Other Heading, translated by Pascale-Anne Brault and Michael B. Naas, Bloomington, Indiana University Press, 1992.
P Parages, Paris, Galilée (1986), 2003.
Pa Passions, Paris, Galilée, 1993; ‘Passions’, in On the Name, edited by Thomas Dutoit, translated by David Wood, John P. Leavey, Jr, and Ian McLeod, Stanford, Stanford University Press, 1995.
PC La Carte postale, Paris, Aubier-Flammarion, 1980; The Post Card, translated by Alan Bass, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1987.
PG Le Problème de la genèse dans la philosophie de Husserl, Paris, P.U.F., 1990; The Problem of Genesis in Husserl’s Philosophy, translated by Marian Hobson, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 2003.
PM Papier machine, Paris, Galilée, 2001.
Po Positions, Paris, Minuit, 1972; Positions, translated by Alan Bass, London, The Athlone Press, 1981.
Pr ‘Préjugés: devant la loi’, in La Faculté de juger, Paris, Minuit, 1985, 87–139.
PS Points de suspension, Paris, Galilée, 1992; Points . . ., Interviews 1974–1994, translated by Peggy Kamuf and others, Stanford, Stanford University Press, 1995.
PSJ ‘Two Words for Joyce’, translated by Geoff Bennington, in Post-Structuralist Joyce, edited by Derek Attridge and Daniel Ferrer, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1984, 145–59.
Psy Psyché: inventions de l’autre, Paris, Galilée, 1987.
R Résistances de la psychanalyse, Paris, Galilée, 1996; Resistances of Psychoanalysis, translated by Peggy Kamuf, Pascale-Anne Brault, and Michael Naas, Stanford, Stanford University Press, 1998.
RD ‘Jacques n’a voulu . . .’, Rue Descartes, 48, April 2005, 6–7.
S Signéponge, Paris, Seuil, 1988; Signéponge/Signsponge, translated by Richard Rand, New York, Columbia University Press, 1984.
SM Spectres de Marx, Paris, Galilée, 1993; Specters of Marx, translated by Peggy Kamuf, London, Routledge, 1994.
SP Sur parole: instantanés philosophiques, La Tour d’Aigues, éditions de l’Aube, 1999.
TM with Safaa Fathy, Tourner les mots: au bord d’un film, Paris, Galilée, 2000.
TP La Vérité en peinture, Paris, Flammarion, 1974; The Truth in Painting, translated by Geoff Bennington and Ian McLeod, Chicago, Chicago University Press, 1987.
TS with Maurizio Ferraris, A Taste for the Secret, translated by Giacomo Donis, edited by Giacomo Donis and David Webb, Cambridge, Polity, 2001.
TT ‘The Time of a Thesis: Punctuations’, translated by Kathleen McLaughlin, in Philosophy in France Today, edited by Alan Montefiore, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1983.
UG Ulysse gramophone, Paris, Galilée, 1987.
WD L’Ecriture et la différence, Paris, Seuil, 1967; Writing and Difference, translated by Alan Bass, London, Routledge, 1978.
WT with Elisabeth Roudinesco, De quoi demain . . . , Paris, Flammarion: Champs, 2001; For What Tomorrow: A Dialogue, translated by Jeff Fort, Stanford, Stanford University Press, 2004.

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