Jacques Derrida, born Jackie Élie Derrida; July 15, 1930 – October 9, 2004) was a French philosopher, born in French Algeria. Derrida is best known for developing a form of semiotic analysis known as deconstruction. He is one of the major figures associated with post-structuralism and postmodern philosophy.
During his career Derrida published more than 40 books, together with hundreds of essays and public presentations. He had a significant influence upon the humanities and social sciences, including—in addition to philosophy and literature—law, anthropology, historiography, linguistics, sociolinguistics, psychoanalysis, political theory, feminism, and queer studies. His work still has a major influence in the academe of Continental Europe, South America and all other countries where continental philosophy is predominant, particularly in debates around ontology, epistemology (especially concerning social sciences), ethics, aesthetics, hermeneutics, and the philosophy of language. Jacques Derrida's work also influenced architecture (in the form of deconstructivism), music, art, and art critics. Derrida was said to "leave behind a legacy of himself as the 'originator' of deconstruction."
Particularly in his later writings, he frequently addressed ethical and political themes present in his work. These writings influenced various activists and political movements. Derrida became a well-known and influential public figure, while his approach to philosophy and the notorious difficulty of his work made him controversial.
On multiple occasions, Derrida referred to himself as a historian. Derrida questioned assumptions of the Western philosophical tradition and also more broadly Western culture. By questioning the dominant discourses, and trying to modify them, he attempted to democratize the university scene and to politicize it. During the American 1980s culture wars, this would attract the anger of politically conservative and right-wing intellectuals who were trying to defend the status quo.
Deconstruction is an attempt to expose and undermine the binary oppositions, hierarchies, and paradoxes on which particular texts, philosophical and otherwise, are founded. Derrida saw deconstruction as a challenge to unquestioned assumptions of the Western philosophical tradition. Derrida approaches all texts as constructed around binary oppositions which all speech has to articulate if it intends to make any sense whatsoever. This approach to text, in a broad sense, emerges from semiotics advanced by Ferdinand de Saussure. Saussure is considered one of the fathers of structuralism and he posited that terms get their meaning in reciprocal determination with other terms inside language.
Perhaps Derrida's most quoted and famous assertion, which appears in an essay on Rousseau in his book Of Grammatology is the statement that "there is nothing outside the text" (il n'y a pas de hors-texte). Critics of Derrida have quoted it as a slogan to characterize and stigmatize deconstruction. Derrida once explained that this assertion "which for some has become a sort of slogan, in general so badly understood, of deconstruction (...) means nothing else: there is nothing outside context. In this form, which says exactly the same thing, the formula would doubtless have been less shocking."
In his 1989 Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity, Richard Rorty argues that Derrida (especially in his book, The Post Card: From Socrates to Freud and Beyond) purposefully uses words that cannot be defined (e.g. différance), and uses previously definable words in contexts diverse enough to make understanding impossible, so that the reader will never be able to contextualize Derrida's literary self. Rorty, however, argues that this intentional obfuscation is philosophically grounded. In garbling his message Derrida is attempting to escape the naïve, positive metaphysical projects of his predecessors.
Critical obituaries of Derrida were published in The New York Times, The Economist, and The Independent. The magazine The Nation responded to the NYT obituary saying that "even though American papers had scorned and trivialized Derrida before, the tone seemed particularly caustic for an obituary of an internationally acclaimed philosopher who had profoundly influenced two generations of American humanities scholars."