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Who is Jacques Derrida?

Jessica Ellis
Updated Mar 06, 2024
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Jacques Derrida was a French philosopher credited with being the father of deconstructionism. Experts consider Derrida to be a vital contributor to the fields of modern philosophy and literary criticism. Derrida heavily influenced the forming of deconstructive theater, and his work had large political ramifications on the education system of France.

The philosopher was born in 1930 to a Jewish family living in Algeria. Rather than attend an all-Jewish school after Jews were expelled from public school, Jacques Derrida secretly stayed away from school for a year, reading philosophy and avidly playing soccer. Derrida eventually attended Harvard University and began teaching philosophy at the Sorbonne in France.

Jacques Derrida became fascinated with the interpretation of linguistics, and began publishing work on literary theater in the 1960s. In 1967, Derrida published three books that would become the foundation of his international reputation, Of Grammatology, Writing and Difference, and Speech and Phenomena.

Derrida’s work, which would come to be called deconstructionism, suggests that worlds have a multiplicity of meaning. Every individual comes to a text with personal experience and backgrounds that color interpretation, and therefore no reading of a text should be preferred over any other. When expanded beyond literature, the theory of deconstruction comes in direct conflict with all systems that judge some things as correct and some as incorrect. The deconstructionist theories of Jacques Derrida are said to have been an influence on the French student uprising of May 1968.

As his career as a writer, teacher and lecturer continued, Jacques Derrida published large amounts of literary criticism, studying Heidegger, Kierkegaard and Paul Celan among others. His work is not universally admired, receiving stern criticism for possibly being intentionally obtuse and difficult to understand. Other critics consider Derrida’s theories to be dangerously close to anarchism, as they question the necessity or usefulness of any structured system, including government and the military.

Throughout his career, Jacques Derrida was intermittently involved in social and political issues. He gave lectures and speeches on many hotly debated topics of the 20th century, including protests against the Vietnam War, South African Apartheid and the death penalty. One of his last written works was an essay protesting the American-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

By the time of Derrida’s death, he had received at least seven honorary doctorates from prominent American and European universities. Jacques Derrida was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2003, and died in a Paris hospital in October 2004 at the age of 74. Although his professional life was believed to be littered with tense relationships with fellow writers, he had a profound impact on the global communities of theater and literary theater.

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Jessica Ellis
By Jessica Ellis
With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica Ellis brings a unique perspective to her work as a writer for PublicPeople. While passionate about drama and film, Jessica enjoys learning and writing about a wide range of topics, creating content that is both informative and engaging for readers.

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Jessica Ellis

Jessica Ellis

With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica Ellis...
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