Derrida’s Acts of Literature

  • Kathleen Wheeler


For Derrida, philosophy and literary criticism needed to engage in a thorough analysis of traditional philosophical and critical dogmas and conventions, in order to show that they were based upon self-contradictory (and usually dualistic)1 notions. Deconstruction involved a radical change in traditional approaches to literature2 and philosophy.3 It was not so much an alternative critical practice as a criticism of criticism. Indeed, it went further than being even a “criticism of criticism”, since it put criticism under erasure … that is, questioned what criticism (and what philosophy) could possibly mean. Derrida devised new tactics which were aimed at challenging traditional methods and practices in literary criticism and in philosophy4 He substituted play and indecorous language for work and serious academic discourse. He replaced meaning in texts with dissemination of meaning. He cancelled out notions of identify for a notion of “differance”. He challenged the accepted borders between philosophy, history, literature, criticism, autobiography, sociology, and so on, mixing genres, styles, and themes.5 He came up with concepts of “writing” and ecriture as the aim of criticism and of philosophy, as opposed to truth, definitive meaning, or substantive thematics.6


Literary Criticism Ordinary Language Free Play Rational Discourse Figurative Language 
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  1. 44.
    See Michel Foucault, Madness and Civilization (London: 1967) for a sweeping questioning of our concepts of rationality, authority, and madness.Google Scholar
  2. 56.
    See H.N. Schneidau, “The Word against the Word: Derrida on Textuality,” Semeia (1970), 5–28, for a lucid and helpful discussion of hermeneutics, biblical criticism, and Derrida.Google Scholar
  3. 57.
    J. Hillis Miller, The Linguistic Moment: from Wordsworth to Stevens (Princeton: 1985).Google Scholar

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© Kathleen Wheeler & C.T. Indra 1997

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  • Kathleen Wheeler

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