[“Deconstruction was becoming not only an act, an activity, a praxis, but it was becoming practicable, and, as they say in French, practical, in the sense of easy, convenient, and even salable as a commodity…. The paradox of this situation…is that what we were then trying to appropriate by making it possible, that is, functional and productive, was in any case that which had already shown itself explicitly as impossible.”
No doubt, some American uses of deconstruction were crudely literal. (One typical late-1980s feminist avowal: “The philosophical work of getting to the bottom of unjust power relations involves the desire to think outside the structures of thought and consciousness we have inherited. But because outside these structures there is no thought and signifying language, the very thinking that deconstructs them must also inevitably reconstruct them.”) But by the turn of the millennium, as the culture warriors disarmed and deconstruction retreated to a more modest position in literary studies, becoming just one of many reading strategies at the disposal of scholars, the excesses in its name had by and large disappeared.
Still, the underlying intuition—that in Derrida’s abstractions was a powerful story about the experience of being shut out and unheard—may have been sound. He laced his work with elliptical allusions to his life, and composed at least one explicitly autobiographical work, “Circumfession,” (1993). (In it, he mentions his brother Paul, who died before he was born and whom Derrida replaced as youngest son: “from this I always got the feeling of being an excluded favorite, of both father and mother…excluded and favorite at two juxtaposed moments…and it is still going on.”) He also referred to philosophers’ lives in his own work, citing at length in Glas (1974), for example, in a discussion of Hegel’s view of the family, letters Hegel wrote to his sister and fiancée.] Read the full article | The New York Review of Books