In Memoriam: Jacques Derrida (1930-2004)

By Fleming, Chris; O'Carroll, John | Anthropological Quarterly, Winter 2005 | Go to article overview

In Memoriam: Jacques Derrida (1930-2004)


Fleming, Chris, O'Carroll, John, Anthropological Quarterly


Philosophy and Anthropology

Late in 1998, replying to a question from Catherine Paoletti, the philosopher, Jacques Derrida reflected on aspects of his own early life. He remarked on his own decision to write in the first place, that it was for him

A form of resistance, of retreat. In this journal I kept (as a youth), there were things that were at once autobiographical and personal, but also, already sketches of little works on Rousseau and Nietzsche. In this regard, I very well remember this debate within myself; I sought to reconcile them; I admired both of them equally. I knew that Nietzsche was a merciless critic of Rousseau, and I asked myself how one could be Nietzschean and Rousseauist at the same time, as I was to become, finally (Derrida 2000; 18)

The claim appears strange. In the usual philosophical terms, Derrida's debt to Nietzsche and Rousseau is very slight. His work stands in the phenomenological-methodological tradition of Edmund Husserl. This is especially true of innovations like deconstruction. In a stylistic sense, Derrida had little of Nietzsche's confrontational literary verve and perhaps even less of Rousseau's astonishing admixture of forms and genres.

But there is a join. It is a deep and important link-one that all philosophers of the human condition from Hegel onwards have discovered, namely the common ground of anthropology and philosophy (and the conceptual traffic that extends between them). It occasionally emerges sharply, as when Friedrich Engels not only acknowledged the work of Lewis Morgan the great anthropologist, but also made it central to his speculation on the nature, structure, and history of the family (Engels 1970: esp. 334). The join is not obvious because philosophy-at least as ontology-appears to confine its inquiry to questions of what it means to be human while anthropology asks questions of where, when, and how humans make meaning. When questions that seem proper to the terrains of the latter are framed philosophically, these are sometimes seen as "armchair" issues, extraneous to the realities of empirical research and practical write-up.

The obituaries for Jacques Derrida are being written now. For us, it is especially important to remember this philosopher of the human condition in an anthropological context. With retrospect, the work that triggered response in the field of anthropology (we think of the work of Clifford and Marcus in the late 1980s), was the same one that established Derrida's reputation generally: Of Grammatology (1967). However, where attention in humanities departments was drawn to the new buzz-word, deconstruction, and the treatment of semiotics and Saussure, anthropologists were rightly interested in the real achievement of that book, the interlinked essays on (the proto-anthropology of) Rousseau and the anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss.

At the time, despite Derrida's insistence that his was not judgemental commentary in the old sense (Derrida 1997: 9), these readings were read as exactly that: a commentary that condemned and displaced utterly what it read. But Derrida never "deconstructed" works he did not at once admire and respect. Understanding what it is he held in high regard is the true task of any initial reading. Grasping Rousseau and Lévi-Strauss in this light means seeing them as powerful intellects making new kinds of sense of history and conceptuality. Only once this is understood can we then move to show how Derrida sees fault lines running not only through their work, but through the very culture that produces them.

Rousseau as Anthropologist

In order to understand why Derrida took up the work of Rousseau, we need, at the outset, to see him as one of the seminal philosophers of modernity. This is not merely an academic issue. We need to try to see what it was about this philosopher that made him able to diagnose, and to influence, the profound changes that were happening to his society and culture in the late eighteenth century.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

In Memoriam: Jacques Derrida (1930-2004)
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.