Derrida, Jacques, 1930-2004

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Jacques Derrida was born in El-Biar, Algeria on July 15, 1930. He spent his childhood attending primary schools in El-Biar and Algiers until the beginning of Pétainisation within the Algerian school system in 1940, at which point Derrida and other Jewish students began to experience forms of anti-Semitism in the classroom; by 1942 he was barred completely from attending class at the Lycée Ben Aknoum. Although the Germans never occupied Algeria, Derrida was not allowed to return to school until the spring of 1943. During the interim, he attended the Lycée Emile-Maupas, which was run by Jewish teachers expelled from the public school system, but Derrida frequently avoided the classroom.

Upon returning to the Lycée Ben Aknoum in 1943, Derrida completed his primary education and received his baccalauréat in 1948. Although he had already begun to consider a career as a teacher, Derrida had not yet resolved to pursue his studies in France until he heard a radio show dedicated to career orientation in which a professor of literature, who had had Albert Camus as a student, explained that the wide array of subjects studied in the system of higher education allowed one to defer specialization. Until that moment, Derrida had never even heard of the Ecole normale supérieure, but he decided that his future awaited him there and immediately enrolled in hypokhâgne (the first year of a course of study designed to prepare students for one of the Grandes Ecoles) at the Lycée Bugeaud in Algiers.

A year later, Derrida left for France to attend the Lycée Louis-le-Grand. He spent a total of three years in khâgne (the latter years of the Grandes Ecoles preparatory course of study). During this period Derrida met many individuals who have played an important role in his life, including Pierre Bourdieu, Michel Deguy, Louis Marin, and his future wife, Marguerite Aucouturier. By the end of 1952 he had gained admittance to the Ecole normale supérieure. For the next four years, Derrida worked assiduously and acculturated himself to a career as an academic philosopher while studying under such major figures as Louis Althusser and Michel Foucault. He became interested in the work of the German phenomenologist Edmund Husserl and wrote "Le problème de la genèse dans la philosophie de Husserl" for his higher studies dissertation. He completed his studies in 1956 and passed the agrégation, thus becoming qualified to hold a position as a teacher in the higher education system.

Upon passing the agrégation, Derrida received a grant to pursue further research on Husserl at Harvard University. While in the United States, he began to translate and to write an introduction for Husserl's Origin of Geometry . The following year, at the beginning of the Algerian War, Derrida became a teacher of French and English in a school for soldiers' children. During this period, Derrida avoided any active duty and never wore a military uniform.

After spending two years teaching in Algeria, Derrida returned to France in 1959 and took his first teaching position in hypokhâgne at Lycée Le Mans. In the same year, he made his first public speaking appearance, delivering "'Gènese et structure' et la phénoménologie" at a conference at Cerisy. Between 1960 and 1964 Derrida taught "general philosophy and logic" at the Sorbonne, working as an assistant to Suzanne Bachelard, Georges Canguilhem, Paul Ricoeur, and Jean Wahl. His teaching during this period addressed a wide variety of philosophical problems and issues. In 1964 he declined a position at the Centre national de Recherches supérieures and began teaching at the Ecole normale supérieure at the invitation of Althusser and Jean Hyppolite.

From this point onward, Derrida rapidly became a major presence in the academic and intellectual world. In 1966 he made his first significant appearance in the United States at the Johns Hopkins University International Colloquium on Critical Languages and the Science of Man, a conference which marked America's growing interest in the work of French theorists and philosophers. It was a significant moment in American intellectual history insofar as the conference was intended to introduce structuralist thought to the United States. Derrida's paper, "Le structure, le signe et le jeu dans le discours des sciences humaines," effectively dismantled structuralist thought at the very moment when it was being introduced to the American academy.

Throughout the remainder of the decade, he published widely and attracted increasing recognition. In addition to numerous substantial articles published in the journals Critique, Tel Quel, and Revue de métaphysique et de morale, he also published his first three books in 1967: La voix et le phénomène, L'écriture et la différence, and De la grammatologie . Each of these books constitutes a significant contribution to philosophical thought, and by the end of the decade Derrida had already assured himself a prominent position in the history of Western philosophy.

The 1970s began with a series of publications in which Derrida addressed the thought of such philosophical luminaries as Plato, Aristotle, Kant, Hegel, Nietzsche, Husserl, Heidegger, and Austin. He also engaged more literary texts with his work on writers such as Mallarmé, Artaud, Bataille, Genet, and Ponge. These works, including Marges de la philosophie, La dissémination, Glas, and La vérité en peinture altered the study of literature, linguistics and philosophy in the Western tradition. In 1975 Derrida began teaching at Yale University. His work, along with that of his colleagues and friends Paul de Man and J. Hillis Miller, rapidly became renowned throughout America under the banner of "deconstruction." Subsequently both Derrida and his work received an increasingly enthusiastic reception in the United States, especially as the end of the decade and the early 1980s witnessed the rapid appearance of his works in English translation. Around the same time, he established the collection La philosophie en effet at Editions Galilée, a French publishing house which issues some of the most important works in contemporary philosophy, theory and psychoanalysis.

Throughout the 1970s Derrida also became increasingly active in social and political projects. Most importantly, he founded the Groupe de Recherche sur l'Enseignement philosophique (GREPH) in 1975. Intended to secure the place of philosophy in secondary and university education at a time when the government was attempting to reduce or eliminate philosophy altogether, GREPH articulated the persistent relevance of the study of philosophy for contemporary society and culture.

In June of 1980 Derrida finally gave his official thesis defense at the Sorbonne. For numerous reasons related to the path that his work had taken up until that point, Derrida remained a maître-assistant, an academic rank far below his qualifications. In 1983, however, he was elected to the Ecole des hautes Etudes en Sciences sociales (EHESS), where he continues to teach today. In the same year he helped found the Collège international de Philosophie for the French Ministère de la Recherche et de la Technologie.

Derrida continued his active intervention in various social and political spheres during this period. He participated in events organized against Apartheid and in support of Nelson Mandela. He also co-founded (with Jean-Pierre Vernant) the Jan Hus Association to assist dissident Czech intellectuals and conducted a clandestine seminar in Prague. During his visit to Prague in 1981, he was observed closely by the police and eventually arrested on a fabricated charge of "production and trafficking of drugs." He remained imprisoned for a few days until President François Mitterand intervened on his behalf and demanded his release.

During the mid-1980s Derrida became associated with the University of California, Irvine. Following the death of his friend Paul de Man, he gave a series of commemorative lectures entitled "Memoires for Paul de Man" as the 1984 Wellek Library Lectures. In 1986 he became a tenured professor at UCI, as did J. Hillis Miller. For the remainder of the decade, his academic and political activites, as well as his publishing, continued at a steady pace. In 1989 he and Jacques Bouveresse served as co-presidents of the Commission de réflexion pour l'épistémologie et la philosophie established by the French Ministère de l'Education nationale.

Throughout the 1990s and 2000s Jacques Derrida has continued to publish and teach widely. As his fame and notoriety has increased, the number of conferences and colloquia in which he has participated has multiplied. Furthermore, he has held teaching appointments at numerous universities across the globe and has received honorary doctorates from ten institutions throughout the United States and Europe. His publications appear with great frequency and are quickly translated into numerous languages. Prior to his death in 2004, Derrida lived in Ris Orangis, France (a suburb of Paris) and continues to teach at EHESS and UCI.

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
referencedIn Safaa Fathy video recordings of Jacques Derrida lectures, 2000-2004 University of California, Irvine. Library. Department of Special Collections
referencedIn Records of the New York Institute for the Humanities, Bulk, 1980-1984, 1971-2004 New York University. Archives
referencedIn Stanford University Press archival book copies, 1900-2012 Cecil H. Green Library. Department of Special Collections and University Archives
referencedIn Wellek Library Lectures Bibliographic Database entry for Jacques Derrida University of California, Irvine. Library. Department of Special Collections
referencedIn Paul de Man papers, 1948-1984 University of California, Irvine. Library. Department of Special Collections
referencedIn Sylvere Lotringer Papers and Semiotext(e) Archive, Bulk, 1973-2000, 1960-2000 Fales Library & Special Collections
referencedIn John Taggart Papers, 1962-2002 University of California, San Diego. Geisel Library. Mandeville Special Collections Library.
creatorOf Jacques Derrida (1930-2004) papers at IMEC, 1949-2004 Institut Mémoires de l'édition contemporaine
creatorOf Jacques Derrida papers, 1946-2002, (bulk 1960-2002) University of California, Irvine. Library. Department of Special Collections
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith Balibar, Étienne, 1942- person
associatedWith Butler, Judith, 1956- person
associatedWith Cixous, Hélène, 1937- person
associatedWith De Man, Paul person
associatedWith De Man, Paul, 1919-1983 person
associatedWith Fathy, Safaa. person
associatedWith Grosz, Elizabeth, 1952- person
associatedWith Heidegger, Martin, 1889-1976 person
associatedWith Husserl, Edmund, 1859-1938 person
associatedWith Institut Mémoires de l'édition contemporaine corporateBody
associatedWith Kamuf, Peggy person
associatedWith Lotringer, Sylvère person
associatedWith Lotringer, Sylvère. person
associatedWith Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty, 1942- person
associatedWith University of California, Irvine corporateBody
associatedWith University of California, Irvine. Critical Theory Institute corporateBody
associatedWith University of California, Irvine. Library. Department of Special Collections corporateBody
associatedWith University of California, Irvine. School of Humanities corporateBody
participantIn University of California, Irvine. Wellek Library lectures at the University of California, Irvine corporateBody
Place Name Admin Code Country
People’s Democratic Republic of Algeria 00 DZ
Paris A8 FR
Critical theory
Philosophy, French
Literary critics


Birth 1930-07-15

Death 2004-10-08






Ark ID: w6w19w29

SNAC ID: 84140827