Study Guide

Jacques Derrida Quotes

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"There is nothing outside the text." [From Of Grammatology]

I wrote this one in French, and some people translate it as "there is no outside to the text." Either way, it's one of my best, and it's much loved by critics and supporters alike. Why? Well, it's just so infinitely meaningful and yet ultimately perplexing—if I do say so myself.

What I was saying or "speaking" or "uttering" here is that you can never find absolute meaning. I don't want to mislead or depress you, but I am here to say that everything is constructed by language. You can't define anything without using words, and that means you are always trapped by language. Just accept it.

Reporter: Have you read all the books in here?
Derrida: No, only four of them. But I read those very, very carefully.
[From Derrida]

LOL! So a former student of mine, Amy Kofman, did this really cute documentary of me. Usually I hate being in front of the camera, but who can say no to a film about themselves? Amy followed me around, filming me in South Africa with Nelson Mandela or just spreading jam on a piece of toast. It's all meaningful—endlessly meaningful.

Anyway, in this scene, she had asked me about my extensive library. Everyone knows I read a lot—even people who insult me. The charming thing about this exchange is that I claim to have only read four books. It's cheeky, right? So, what's my point? I am trying to get across that I read very closely, and that because texts have endless meaning, you can read the same book a thousand times and always find something new.

I particularly liked this scene in the movie because it made me look humble and self-effacing, but really indicated how clever and self-amused I am. It's fun being me.

Why is it the philosopher who is expected to be easier and not some scientist who is even more inaccessible? [From Points...: Interviews, 1974-1994]

Why does everyone question me? As if I'm not a clear writer! Plus, you don't hear anyone at Starbucks asking what on earth a triple half-caf extra foam faux-ppucinno is. So let me and my diffèrance be.

I have always had trouble recognizing myself in the features of the intellectual playing his political role according to the screenplay that you are familiar with and whose heritage deserves to be questioned. [From Points...: Interviews, 1974-1994]

This remark is like one of those folksy wooden Russian nesting dolls—so many layers. Let me break it down for you. I can't see myself as the ideal image of the intellectual, which means that when I look at Rodin's "The Thinker", I don't see anything of myself in his hunched pensive form. He himself was playing a role: by calling himself "The Thinker" and not "A Thinker" or "The Bus Stop Guy" he is claiming a monopoly on thinking. As if, when it comes to thinking, he is first, last, and everything. I—surprise, surprise—totally disagree. I'm not playing any one role, and although I may be awesome, even I wouldn't consider myself as having the last word on any given subject.

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