Art History Unstuffed. Jacques Derrida and Post-Structuralism

Art History Unstuffed

Jacques Derrida and Post-Structuralism

posted on July 4, 2014

 One of the many French philosophers who were either natives of or had worked in Algeria, Jacques Derrida shared with this group the penchant of rebelling against the philosophy of tradition. As a young and ambitious philosopher, his main target would be the leading thinker of his time Claude Lévi-Strauss. In his now famous delivery of “Structure, Sign and Play in the Discourses of Human Sciences” at a symposium at Johns Hopkins, Derrida “deconstructed” the Structuralism of Lévi-Strauss.

 Derrida described himself as “little black and very Arab Jew” and indeed, in some of the pictures of him as a young man, when the light is right, he is notably darker than his companions, but in other images, he is not “little black” at all. It can be presumed that Derrida was expressing his personal feeling of being marginalized. His biographer Benoît Peeters described his intellectual life as an outsider who was at the heart of French thought, a man in the middle who always stood somewhat apart from a society that had named him alien. It is predictable that it would be he, in an act of audacity, who would put Structuralism under an analytic spotlight and would challenge its leading thinker, Claude Lévi-Strauss. It is interesting that one of Derrida’s first forays into the writing of Lévi-Strauss is an oblique accusation of ethnocentric thinking uncovered in Tristes Tropiques (1955).

Dr. Jeanne S. M. Willette

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