Jacques Derrida: Deconstruction limited

Paul Cheung, Fordham University


This dissertation gives an account of the philosophy of Jacques Derrida. Most interpretations of this philosopher's work have been unsatisfactory for a variety of reasons. Readings advanced by literary critics and philosophers like Richard Rorty have typically sacrificed the systematic and philosophical character of Derrida's writings. We are left with the impression that deconstruction is a form of anarchy or nihilism. But any close reading of the Derridean corpus would reveal the error in these interpretations. By returning to his early works, I outline deconstruction's basic arguments, Derrida's attacks on the fallacious strategies and devices of the metaphysics of presence. Particular emphasis is placed on giving a lucid, but comprehensive, account of this problematic of presence. This lucidity is necessary in order to do justice to deconstruction, and it is also indispensable for building a critical framework from which to judge and assess the work of Jacques Derrida. Christopher Norris, Rodolphe Gasche, etc.—these notable readers of the Derridean oeuvre have tried, in their own ways, to reconstruct the philosophical elements of deconstruction. The weaknesses and vulnerabilities of these accounts are addressed by this dissertation. Simply, while dealing with many of the philosophical themes present in the writings of Jacques Derrida, their accounts remain vague—and often unsystematic. These interpretations frequently betray a lack of understanding of the inner dynamics of deconstruction; or else the restoration of deconstruction to the philosophical totem is accomplished in only a thin, superficial way—by simply reclassify deconstruction within the existing philosophical taxonomy. I try to negotiate a path between the thin transcendentalism of Rodolphe Gasche and the extreme literary anarchy of Richard Rorty. An initial and preliminary critique of deconstruction is introduced. Derrida's philosophical system, while representing an advance over paradigms based on object-intuition, ultimately replaces the form of the object with the form of the text. This excessive dependence on the model and metaphor of language is potentially archaic and out-dated. Non-linguistic forms of mediation increasingly dominate our modern technological society, and deconstruction has not kept pace with this revolution of technology and media.

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Recommended Citation

Cheung, Paul, "Jacques Derrida: Deconstruction limited" (2000). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI9955960.