Study Guide

Jacques Derrida Biography

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Basic Information


Jacques Derrida (like derrière but derri-DAH)


The Deconstructionist
Destroyer of All Meaningful Thought in Western Culture
The Discourser
The Father of Deconstruction
Colombo (because, hello, I look just like Peter Falk)
Academic Superstar Extraordinaire


I hate binaries, but I'm really working on clarity—so with deeply meaningful reservations, I will put "Male."

Home town

No, I wasn't born in Paris, okay? I was born inEl Biar (Algiers), French Algeria. So I always felt like "The Other,"an interloper, in France. We were French citizens—the country was French territory, meaning occupied by the French (get it—French Algeria…)—but Parisian we were not. I never had that clichéd love of Paris and Left Bank cafés that all the other critics and philosophers suffered from. For most of my life, I lived with my wife in Ris-Orangis, a peaceful bourgeois suburb south of Paris.

Work & Education


As a child, I had big plans to become a footballer (Allez, Bleu!). But then my calling became a writer, thinker, lecturer, and mutineer of Western thought. NBD. 

I attended or taught at all the "right" schools, though I don't privilege one academic institution over another. That's just not the way of the deconstructionist. So here's the rundown:

I taught philosophy at the Sorbonne and the École Normale Supérieure. I directed the École des Hautes Études en Science Sociales in Paris. I was a Professor of Philosophy and French and Comparative Literature at the University of California, Irvine. (They got my archives—lucky them).

All of that backbreaking work and I never even got the coveted full university professorship! Come on, people—where's the love?


Let's put it this way: I wasn't the kid being kept behind to clap the erasers afterschool. My grade reports said something about myinclination to makethingsreally complex—oh, and I alsohad superior verbal skills, so clearly my complex mind was budding from an early age. No one's surprised.

Anti-Semitic laws led to my being expelled from grade school.But you know what? They could shove it—I was already on my own reading the likes of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Albert Camus anyway. I went on to bomba bunch of exams, but finally got into the École Normal Supérieure by the hair of my chinny chin chin.


Political views

Political parties just aren't my thing.Some people describe my ideas as fascist, but that's just plain mean. I'm not a communist or a socialist either. Actually, I'm more into all of the abstract ideas around politics (surprising, eh?), like national identity, racism, nationalism, and other important -isms.

Naturally, everyone got on my wick about lacking political commitment, saying that deconstruction renounced absolutes and prevented them from formulating straightforward political claims. My response? I sort of picked up the political pace, as it were, and got on board with many of the day's political causes: disapproving of the Vietnam War (the French were their first, ya know, America could have learned a few lessons there), speaking out againstthe Apartheid government of South Africa, supporting Czech dissidents, defending the rights of North African immigrants living in France, and getting real steamed up about the US invasion of Iraq. (Don't get me started on George W. Bush—and people say I'm unclear!)

Religious views

Mom and Dad were French-Algerian Sephardic Jews who lived through the Nazi period, so… yeah, religion was a stressful subject. I wrote a bunch of essays on Jewish identity and how the Holocaust affected French writing, but I was never I synagogue-goer. Too busy theorizing and deconstructing. It's hard work.

Activities & Interests


Television (no sitcoms!). But don't assume I'm just vegging out. I'm critical of what watching. I deconstruct all the time. Even Gilligan's Island.
Good camembert (that super stinky French cheese)
Gangster moves
Sleeping pills and antidepressants
Crumpets and jelly
Good suits
A full lecture hall
Silly putty
Barbecued chicken


South African Apartheid
The death penalty
Having my picture taken
Being asked to define deconstruction
Woody Allen's movie Deconstructing Harry—that Woody is a parasite
People who don't "get" me
The French haters


Literary Theory


The Poststructuralists
The Deconstructionists
Hot Philosophers
The Hair Club for Men
Plato Haters
The Word Herd
Bye Bye Binaries

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