Book Reviews

Derrida: A Very Short Introduction – Book Review

Derrida is the father of the deconstruction movement in the linguistics. He is also one of the main inspirations for the postmodernist movement. This does not mean he is a postmodernist himself, but he definitely influenced many postmodern thinking. This book as with all short introductions, gives… well a short introduction of the thought of Derrida.

            One of the many accusations people throw at Derrida is that he is purposefully obscure and though that is definitely the case, he does so mostly on purpose. Derrida wants to take the attention away from the author and its interpretation of the text. The meaning of the text is not what the author intended, it is what the interpretation at the time of reading, is. Famously this is called the ‘Death of the author’ and because of this Derrida wants to hide himself as the author of his work.

            The writer of this book is a big fan of Derrida. One of the things he points out is that many of Derrida’s critics misunderstand him. Deconstruction is seen as ethical dubious and a sort of anything goes relativism. Derrida wants to show that even writing philosophy has become a problem. One interpretation is that language is inherently ambiguous and that therefore we can never say with certainty what the meaning of a text is. There is no high objective standard to which we can value the different interpretations of texts. Here the ‘anything goes’ idea comes from. Every interpretation is equally valuable. It is never clear what is precisely meant in language. Derrida calls this the dissemination of concepts.

            Derrida was one of the main figures in the linguistic turn, which is a movement in philosophy where the analysis of language came to be central after the works of Wittgenstein. A lot of focus was put on speaking, which is called logocentrism. Derrida wanted to put the focus on writing. With this he created a new goal for philosophy: trying to lessen the dissemination of language.

            Here comes the concept of identity for Derrida. The understanding of a statement is connected with the identity of the statement. Every statement has its identity. The identity can only determine itself in relation to other elements or identities. So, every identity is connected to other identities. This means that you don’t create your own identity, but your identity is created by all the other identities around you. This is what Derrida calls a Difference (with an a). For Derrida identity was a sort of difference within itself, which means you have a divided identity within your identity. At this point it all begins to get really complex with language and I’ll spare you the details regarding this. I’ll have to read more of Derrida’s work to fully grasp what is meant. But you can see what the implications on social and political aspects would be regarding this concept of identity.

            For people interested in the ideas of Derrida, this is a good book to start. The author tries to be clear as possible, which is a huge feat in the work of Derrida. The only thing is that he is quite biased. Normally there is a section in other Short Introductions where there is a discussion about the ideas. In this book, there is no such section. The whole book feels like a justification of Derrida’s work. I have no problem with defending Derrida, but in an introduction book, I do find it valuable to point out some problems with the theory, just so you could look into more books to learn more about those faults. Other than that, try to read this book, it will not only broaden your mind regarding Derrida, it will also make actual sense.

By elenchusphilosophy

Philosophy student from Ghent, Belgium. I write about what I find interesting which is about nearly anything. Though my guiding question in life is how to be a good person.

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