Deconstruction in a Nutshell: A Conversation with Jacques Derrida

Deconstruction in a Nutshell: A Conversation with Jacques Derrida

Deconstruction in a Nutshell: A Conversation with Jacques Derrida

Deconstruction in a Nutshell: A Conversation with Jacques Derrida


Responding to questions put to him at a Roundtable held at Villanova University in 1994, Jacques Derrida leads the reader through an illuminating discussion of the central themes of deconstruction. Speaking in English and extemporaneously, Derrida takes up with clarity and eloquence such topics as the task of philosophy, the Greeks, justice, responsibility, the gift, community, the distinction between the messianic and the concrete messianisms, and his interpretation of James Joyce. Derrida convincingly refutes the charges of relativism and nihilism that are often leveled at deconstruction by its critics, and sets forth the profoundly affirmative ethico-political thrust of this work. The Roundtable is annotated by John D. Caputo, the David R. Cook Professor of Philosophy at Villanova University, who has supplied cross-references to Derrida's writings, where the reader may find further discussion on these topics. Professor Caputo has also supplied a commentary which elaborates the principal issuesraised in the Roundtable.


"One day, two years ago, when I was in Cambridge . . . a journalist took the microphone and said, 'Well, could you tell me, in a nutshell, what is deconstruction?' Sometimes, of course, I confess, I am not able to do that. But sometimes it may be useful to try nutshells."

--Roundtable, 16


Deconstruction in a nutshell? Why, the very idea!

The very idea of a nutshell is a mistake and a misunderstanding, an excess--or rather a defect--of journalistic haste and impatience, a ridiculous demand put by someone who has never read a word of Der rida 's works (Points 406). Nutshells enclose and encapsulate, shelter and protect, reduce and simplify, while everything in deconstruction is turned toward opening, exposure, expansion, and complexification (Points 429), toward releasing unheard-of, undreamt-of possibilities to come, toward cracking nutshells wherever they appear.

The very meaning and mission of deconstruction is to show that things--texts, institutions, traditions, societies, beliefs, and practices of whatever size and sort you need--do not have definable meanings and determinable missions, that they are always more than any mission would impose, that they exceed the boundaries they currently occupy. What is really going on in things, what is really happening, is always to come. Every time you try to stabilize the meaning of a thing, to fix it in its missionary position, the thing itself, if there is anything at all to it, slips away (VP 117/SP 104). A "meaning" or a "mission" is a way to contain and compact things, like a nutshell, gathering them . . .

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