Reconsidering Difference: Nancy, Derrida, Levinas, and Deleuze

Reconsidering Difference: Nancy, Derrida, Levinas, and Deleuze

Reconsidering Difference: Nancy, Derrida, Levinas, and Deleuze

Reconsidering Difference: Nancy, Derrida, Levinas, and Deleuze


French philosophy since World War II has been preoccupied with the issue of difference. For some thinkers, especially Jean-Luc Nancy, Jacques Derrida, Emmanuel Levinas, and Gilles Deleuze, this preoccupation has led to a mode of philosophizing that privileges difference as a philosophical category. Reconsidering Difference has a twofold task, the primary one critical and the secondary one reconstructive. The critical task is to show that these various privilegings are philosophical failures. They wind up, for reasons unique to each position, endorsing positions that are either incoherent or implausible. Todd May considers the incoherencies of each position and offers an alternative approach. His reconstructive task, which he calls "contingent holism", takes the phenomena under investigationcommunity, language, ethics, and ontology - and sketches a way of reconceiving them that preserves the motivations of the rejected positions without falling into the problems that beset them.


In my first three books with Penn State Press, I tried to develop a philosophical perspective that arose from within the broad parameters of French poststructuralism. Readers of those books are aware that I also appealed to recent Anglo-American philosophy in answering some of the questions that arose. the current work is more critical. It addresses what I see as a number of wrong turns taken in some dominant strains of French philosophy. As I try to make clear, I am sympathetic with the aims of those I criticize, just not with their chosen paths.

Several people were instrumental in reading and commenting on earlier drafts of this work. Patrick Hayden read the first, third, and fourth chapters; Mark Webb, the third chapter; and Dorothea Olkowski, the fourth chapter. All offered helpful comments. Constantin Boundas read the entire manuscript and, as always, made incisive comments that made me rethink several formulations. An anonymous reader for Penn State Press offered detailed commentary and suggested several important revisions. Keith Monley's copyediting forced an additional level of precision upon the work.

A portion of the chapter on Derrida appeared initially in an article coauthored with Mark Lance, with whom I have had ongoing discussions over the years regarding many of the issues that appear here.

Regarding Penn State Press, I am beginning to run out of words. I know of nobody in the philosophical profession who can boast of a more cooperative and engaged publishing house than the one I have had the good fortune to be associated with over the past five years.

At several points in this work I have incorporated revisions of previously published articles. Thus, grateful acknowledgment is due to the following:

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