Pages to turn to if you don’t know Jacques

Understanding Derrida. First edition
May 27, 2005

This volume is an extremely useful and accessible introduction to some of the key themes of deconstruction. Jacques Derrida, a notoriously difficult philosopher, was at once maligned and revered. His recent death provoked a series of conflicting obituaries on both sides of the Atlantic, some bordering on slander, others on hagiography. Derrida - the man and the mind - was probably somewhere in between, neither saint nor sinner but a deeply gifted and innovative thinker who was trying to get some work done. And he did just that. More than 100 works were published up to his untimely demise in autumn 2004. Derrida was one of the most complex, controversial and influential thinkers of postwar European philosophy. This book is a timely tribute to his extraordinary achievement and a powerful reminder of his interdisciplinary range of reference.

The book is organised thematically, with each of the 13 chapters devoted to a central topic. These range from language, metaphysics and politics to religion, psychoanalysis and art. The contributors are mostly internationally recognised experts on deconstruction and several of these feature in a strong concluding section: “Encounters with other philosophers”. Here we have illuminating critical assessments of Derrida’s relationship to thinkers such as Husserl (David Allison), Heidegger (Robert Bernasconi) and Levinas (Simon Critchley).

But the highlight of the volume is Kevin Hart on the decisive role of the religious and the messianic in Derrida’s later thought. For those fed on the commonplace rumour that deconstruction is nihilism in drag, this chapter is a persuasive corrective. And like most of the other essays in the volume, it is written in lucid, cogent prose.

The overall style of the volume is pedagogical and concise. Each contributor offers an overview of their particular theme. It is all very reader-friendly and will certainly prove attractive for introductory courses on continental philosophy in general or on deconstruction in particular. The clarity of presentation and argumentation will ensure its accessibility for any intelligent reader eager to know the basics of one of the most formative intellectual movements of the last century.

The book rounds off with a comprehensive bibliography of Derrida’s main works in English translation (13 pages!). Given his relentless passion to communicate, this volume does Derrida proud. It is highly recommended.

Richard Kearney is professor of philosophy, Boston College, Massachusetts, US.

Understanding Derrida. First edition

Editor - Jack Reynolds and Jonathan Roffe
Publisher - Continuum
Pages - 168
Price - £55.00 and £12.99
ISBN - 0 8264 7315 6 and 7316 4

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