Marx and the Postmodernism Debates: An Agenda for Critical Theory

By Lorraine Y. Landry | Go to book overview

Chapter 3
Derrida

If poststructuralism can be seen as the result of the encounter of Nietzsche, Heidegger and Saussure," 1 then the epithet applies to Derrida as he engages aspects of the work of all three thinkers in his own criticisms of modernity. From Nietzsche, Derrida accepts the aestheticization of language, the view of the world as a work of art, and the imperative for human self-creation. These themes are developed within a critique of Heidegger's metaphysics of Being, which Derrida attempts to surpass. His view of language involves the radicalization of Saussure's theory of the sign, which Derrida also exploits to challenge Husserlian themes of presence in language.

Derrida's thought is, in part, contextualized by Nietzschean themes, which generally include the following: (1) the individual subject is not the unitary, self-making agent of bourgeois society, but, rather, historically constituted by and subject to unconscious drives; (2) the character of reality is permeated by the "will to power" which moves through nature and human beings in cycles of struggle and domination, and such dynamics are constitutive of reality and subjective identities; and (3) both human history and human thought express this "will to power," this will to domination, so that the only epistemological stance adequate to it is a perspectivism which makes no claim to correspondence with a reality divorced from the "will to power." 2

Habermas notes these influences of Nietzsche on the reception of modernity primarily as a precursor of modernism where "he is the first

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