Study Guide

Jacques Derrida Buzzwords

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Binary Opposition (Binary System)

This phrase is a leftover from the structuralists, those folks who think you need to study culture in terms of big thematic systems that never change. It basically means two opposite terms, like black-white, male-female, old-new, presence-absence, rich-poor… the list goes on. We post stucturalists one-upped the structuralists, though. (Duh.) Yes, there are binaries. But these binaries are also hierarchies, so one is always better than the other. Once we saw how unjust binaries were, we saw some juicy political issues in there, too. Cool, right? You can even try this at home.


I hate to brag, but I invented this word. NBD. It's a tricky one, too. It looks like "difference" but riffs off French word différer, which means both "to defer" and "to differ." But doesn't it look so much more chic and meaningful with the accent mark and the "ance"? Anyway, I digress (dígrass?).

Différance refers to how a word's meaning can never finally be pinned down. What do I mean by that? Well, you can never define one word without using other words—so the cycle goes on and on. What's a cat? It's a feline. What's a feline? It's a member of the biological family of cats. What's a cat? It's a feline. (Get it?) It's sort of like having a conversation with a two-year-old. But then again, isn't a lot of theory?


I like to use this word interchangeably with racism, sexism, and lots of other evil –isms. We already know that I don't think anything can ever be defined for good. Well, essentialists (an insult, by the way) believe in anabsolute universal "essence" of things— that ideas like facts, reality, certainty, consciousness, nature, beauty, justice, woman, and freedom were just sitting around before words were there to them meaning. A lot of essentialism is just plain old-fashioned prejudice and bias. An example? The idea that women are unreasonable, expressive, maternal, bodily, and feminine, while men are brainy, reasonable, paternal, intellectual, and masculine. Not so sure about that.


This might just be one of my favorite seven-syllable words, and I highly recommend that you use it liberally in your work. When people accuse you of being overly complex—and believe me, I know—give 'em a sneer and a scoff because you know that intertextuality means that no text exists by itself. That's right: texts only have meaning insofar as they relate to each other. Of course, I give credit where credit is due: this word was coined by the lovely Bulgarian-French Poststructuralist Julia Kristeva in 1966. If you want to think about it in really unfancy terms, intertextuality basically just means allusion.


I coined this one myself by cleverly putting words together to make a brand new word. Yeah, I'm nifty like that. It squishes together some of the central concepts of deconstruction to reveal how culture always underlines the masculine point of view. "Phallo" refers to phallus—i.e., penis. So the word actually means penis-centered, but people have a hard time saying that without giggling. In my not so humble opinion, Western culture and language are totally phallocentric, always making men more powerful at the expense of women.

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