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Philosopher, film star, father of “post truth”—the real story of Jacques Derrida Who is Jacques Derrida? For some, he is the originator of a relativist philosophy responsible for the contemporary crisis of truth. For the far right, he is one of the architects of Cultural Marxism. To his academic critics, he reduced French philosophy to “little more than an object of ridicul Philosopher, film star, father of “post truth”—the real story of Jacques Derrida Who is Jacques Derrida? For some, he is the originator of a relativist philosophy responsible for the contemporary crisis of truth. For the far right, he is one of the architects of Cultural Marxism. To his academic critics, he reduced French philosophy to “little more than an object of ridicule.” For his fans, he is an intellectual rock star who ranged across literature, politics, and linguistics. In An Event, Perhaps, Peter Salmon presents this misunderstood and misappropriated figure as a deeply humane and urgent thinker for our times. Born in Algiers, the young Jackie was always an outsider. Despite his best efforts, he found it difficult to establish himself among the Paris intellectual milieu of the 1960s. However, in 1967, he changed the whole course of philosophy: outlining the central concepts of deconstruction. Immediately, his reputation as a complex and confounding thinker was established. Feted by some, abhorred by others, Derrida had an exhaustive breadth of interests but, as Salmon shows, was moved by a profound desire to understand how we engage with each other. It is a theme explored through Derrida’s intimate relationships with writers such as Althusser, Genet, Lacan, Foucault, Cixous, and Kristeva. Accessible, provocative and beautifully written, An Event, Perhaps will introduce a new readership to the life and work of a philosopher whose influence over the way we think will continue long into the twenty-first century.


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Philosopher, film star, father of “post truth”—the real story of Jacques Derrida Who is Jacques Derrida? For some, he is the originator of a relativist philosophy responsible for the contemporary crisis of truth. For the far right, he is one of the architects of Cultural Marxism. To his academic critics, he reduced French philosophy to “little more than an object of ridicul Philosopher, film star, father of “post truth”—the real story of Jacques Derrida Who is Jacques Derrida? For some, he is the originator of a relativist philosophy responsible for the contemporary crisis of truth. For the far right, he is one of the architects of Cultural Marxism. To his academic critics, he reduced French philosophy to “little more than an object of ridicule.” For his fans, he is an intellectual rock star who ranged across literature, politics, and linguistics. In An Event, Perhaps, Peter Salmon presents this misunderstood and misappropriated figure as a deeply humane and urgent thinker for our times. Born in Algiers, the young Jackie was always an outsider. Despite his best efforts, he found it difficult to establish himself among the Paris intellectual milieu of the 1960s. However, in 1967, he changed the whole course of philosophy: outlining the central concepts of deconstruction. Immediately, his reputation as a complex and confounding thinker was established. Feted by some, abhorred by others, Derrida had an exhaustive breadth of interests but, as Salmon shows, was moved by a profound desire to understand how we engage with each other. It is a theme explored through Derrida’s intimate relationships with writers such as Althusser, Genet, Lacan, Foucault, Cixous, and Kristeva. Accessible, provocative and beautifully written, An Event, Perhaps will introduce a new readership to the life and work of a philosopher whose influence over the way we think will continue long into the twenty-first century.

30 review for An Event, Perhaps: A Biography of Jacques Derrida

  1. 4 out of 5

    Goatboy

    ++++Short added thought posted to review on 12/28/20++++ I read something that I’ve been meaning to comment on, but since for some reason my Verso e-books don’t seem to let me export highlights or notes, it’s taken me a bit to get around to typing the quote out: +++There is nothing outside the text. Derrida does not mean there is nothing outside of writing… He means that everything, like text, can be interpreted multiple ways and is never a pure signifier of the signified, but is always already a ++++Short added thought posted to review on 12/28/20++++ I read something that I’ve been meaning to comment on, but since for some reason my Verso e-books don’t seem to let me export highlights or notes, it’s taken me a bit to get around to typing the quote out: +++There is nothing outside the text. Derrida does not mean there is nothing outside of writing… He means that everything, like text, can be interpreted multiple ways and is never a pure signifier of the signified, but is always already a chain of supplements. Thus the theme of supplementarity ‘describes the chain itself, the being-chain of a textual chain, a structure of substitution, the articulation of desire and language’ (emphasis added). Ultimately, the power-relation of the original over the supplement is disturbed when one realizes the extent of dependency of the former on the latter. The supplement is not an optional add-on to the original: it is the condition of the original.+++ When I read this - especially the part I bolded - I couldn’t help but to think of Lacan (and by extension Freud). I have some inkling (from this work and others) that Derrida and Lacan didn’t always see eye-to-eye, even if they respected each other as thinkers. Derrida seemed concerned that Lacan (and all psychoanalysts) were always stuck looking for a “transcendental presence,” an originally cause or event to explain the chain of symptoms that were later to be found in a patient. However, anyone who has read Lacan (and especially the excellent and enlightening Seminar VII) will read those words above by Derrida - especially the ones I have bolded - and see something very familiar. For with Lacan the signifying chain always seemed to be one of slippage, of signifiers sliding along chains of signifieds. And when in Seminar VII Lacan attempts to chase down the origin (or even endpoint) of Desire, all he finds is an ever-receding horizon. A slipping away and beyond. An origin only implied by everything that comes after. In fact, when cornered into having to describe what might be at the start or center of the signifying chain, what the black hole might be around which each person’s unconscious revolves ever so surely, the closest he can come is to call it The Real and basically have to leave it at that. The Extimate. The Other that is most interior. The black hole around and through which the desiring chain of existence expands out from. Even Freud, in his Interpretation of Dreams writes of a dream’s navel, an overdetermined area of unconscious so thick and knotted that no further fruitful analysis can be achieved. They may have argued over particulars in day-to-day life, but these thinkers were on the trail of the same beast me thinks… +++++++++++++++++++ Original Review>>> I'm sure many will come out of the gate derogatorily calling this Critical Theory Lite, accusing it of simplifying and smoothing out Derrida's complex thoughts, but I found it to be an enjoyable and fascinating read. It's true you may not be getting the nuanced depth of Derrida's theories and writing (you'd have to read Derrida's own works for that), but what you do get is a well-written, completely absorbing account of Derrida's life and work, the overall structure and intent of his theory, and how he fits into the lineage of Western Philosophy. I found the combination of theory/history/biography hard to put down and often read well past the point I had set for myself to close the book and do something else. To me that seems like one of the best compliments you can give a book.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Dante

    The central sin of this otherwise useful text is that insufficient space is given to Derrida's youthful love of football: his reverence for the game, appropriately compared to Camus's similar passion, is given only a brief mention in the book's final chapter. A great shame. Salmon's text is impressive in the material it explores - unafraid to engage his actual writing, the reader gets a considerable dose of Derrida's style and subject matter directly, while many introductions leave his own texts The central sin of this otherwise useful text is that insufficient space is given to Derrida's youthful love of football: his reverence for the game, appropriately compared to Camus's similar passion, is given only a brief mention in the book's final chapter. A great shame. Salmon's text is impressive in the material it explores - unafraid to engage his actual writing, the reader gets a considerable dose of Derrida's style and subject matter directly, while many introductions leave his own texts perpetually à venir - and offers a largely coherent image of Derrida's philosophical trajectories. Self-conscious in the narrative decisions he must make as biographer, and the violence this might entail, if a reader were to fulfil Salmon's fear that this might be the singular text they read on Derrida, I feel they wouldn't be too hard done by. The persona, philosophical or otherwise, conjured by Salmon is one that seems nearly sufficient to cut through the mystifications and mythifications that still surround Derrida, leaving the reader perhaps slightly less weighed down by the 'historical sediment' of his notoriety and prepared to make their own judgement on the duties of deconstruction. There are some flaws with the book, which I mention below, but as Derrida's infamy is perhaps now sufficiently obscure and mis-understood so as to be not so easily blindly reproduced, at least by a new generation of students who might have to duel with his work, I hope this book will be a tool in any potential regeneration of people actually reading his work (which, of course, I still need to do far more of myself!). Whatever the accuracy of his explication of Derrida's thought, of which I'm in no real place to judge, it's certainly prompting me to return to reading Derrida seriously, and refresh my grasp of his thought - particularly since any interest in doing so faded a few years ago now, and I never made much real headway into the oeuvre, anyway. (view spoiler)[ The book is constituted by certain blind spots - almost no commentary on his fatherhood or the actual nature of his relationship with Marguerite, nor on his friendships beyond those tumultous relations with other academics or figures in the Tel Quel milleu; little detail on the noted bouts of depression and ill health, nor details of his personal interests. Ultimately, it's very much a biography framed by the events of Derrida's life and how he came to negotiate them, but paints a rather limited image of his character. I'm not sure this is too great an issue, given it's primarily an intellectual biography, and equally, given that Derrida's life has been told in far-greater detail in Benoit Peeters's biography from 2010 - but it is a shame Salmon doesn't point toward Peeters' highly detailed work nor really draw from it explictly.* There are some similar minor issues (I think?) that I might point out. His commentary on Derrida's relationship to Althusser is a very fair, and moving, one but perhaps under-plays the importance of the latter's philosophical influence, or Derrida's interaction with it: Salmon writes 'It was often the work of those closest to him that Derrida felt compelled to deconstruct, but not Althusser’s.' What of the recently translated lecture series Theory and Practice from 1976-7 where Derrida very directly engages, and in a sense deconstructs, Althusser's work with quite great textual specifity? Whatever these more minor criticisms, there's a lot to enjoy and learn from in Salmon's book. It's tone is discursive and light, but serious when it needs to be and never recounts Derrida's complex life hagiographically, and frames his thought and its impact in a few useful ways: the (in)famous 1966 John Hopkins conference grounds the book effectively, and Salmon is always quick to draw out how Derrida relied on the work of the nascent feminist thought unfolding around him, from Cixous to Kristeva, or stress how his early work is very much bound up with the Husserl commentary that Tran Duc Thao had already initiated. There's much to be said of how Salmon captures Derrida's polyvalent self-interrogations and autobirographic interrogations but as is made very evident, there's no sense in trying to complete such an excercise definitively. His Jewish-ness, his sense of permanent peripherality to the metropole and inability to totally immerse himself in any identity ascribed to him seemed to be a productive agony for Derrida - and one I certainly don't envy. His final act of naming, of having Jackie on his headstone over Jacques, perhaps is all that needs to be said. Derrida might appear as out of step with the incendiary Marxist upheaval of his contemporaries when he was first gaining influence, but is never valorised as a singularly unique thinker appearing ex nihilo from obscurity. Salmon patiently works through Derrida's initial obsession with Husserl and how crucial this originary (!) phase was in articulating deconstructive practice of later work, and distributes throughout concise, short accounts of how he relates to thinkers of the era (Levinas, Genet, Foucault etc) and while certain figures were given only a glance (Barthes, Deleuze), Salmon is fairly economical in drawing out his relation to other theorists only if doing so draws out something crucial about Derrida. His re-telling of what would come to be a scandalous relationship with Paul de Man is especially interesting, and not something I was really familiar with. The style of writing and presentation is not dissimilar to Stuart Jeffries' Grand Hotel Abyss, who himself offers high-praising blurbage, in that tangents very much vivify the intellectual and cultural world and lineage Derrida was within: for example, when outlining any potential Talmudic components of Derrida’s approach, Levinas’ encounters with the mysterious Jewish peripatetic pedagogue Chouchani were definitely worthwhile interludes – as were retelling the circumstance of Spivak’s famous translations efforts. I think a lot of Marxist and critical theory types would do well to read at least a book like this, such as to appreciate even vaguely Derrida as interlocutor; as the late Moishe Postone is said to have reminded his students, when you reduce your opponent’s arguments to shit, you reveal your own argument to be only slightly better than shit. I’m perhaps already happy to seek benefit from Derrida for a Marxist project, with my constant returning to Simon Choat’s great book Marx Through Post-Structuralism likely the cause, but Salmon’s book well re-affirms this impulse for a conceptual synthesis and interaction which neither totally erases the very real and severe differences in Derrida’s thought to the critical and Marxist traditions, nor makes dialogue impossible. Along with Christopher Norris and John D. Caputo’s work, this is certainly a book I’d point toward if someone was looking for a glimpse into the spectre-ridden world of Derrida. 'The disciple must break the glass, or better the mirror, the reflection, his infinite speculation on the master. And start to speak.' (hide spoiler)]

  3. 5 out of 5

    Paul Ataua

    I thoroughly enjoyed this intellectual biography. It did well to cover much of Derrida’s development through Husserl, Hegel, Heidegger, Levinas, Foucault, among others. Four rather than five stars is the rating because it would be virtually incomprehensible for someone who didn’t have a fairly solid background in the philosopher. Limiting the scope and increasing the explanations might have produced an even better read.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Jay Rothermel

    An Event, Perhaps: A Biography ofJacques Derrida by Peter Salmon (2020) is a brief, careful biography. While telling the story of a scholar interested in pulling away at the threads of thought and its assumptions, it remains clear and cogent at every step.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Eric

    TL;DR Peter Salmon’s An Event, Perhaps is a gateway book that will surely lead people to the dangers of deconstruction and post-modernism. This excellent biography is a wonderful introduction to a titan of French philosophy. Highly Recommended. Disclaimer: The publisher provided an eARC for free in exchange for an honest review. The following opinions and any mistakes are mine and mine alone. This review and others can be found at my website: Primmlife.com. Review: An Event, Perhaps by Peter TL;DR Peter Salmon’s An Event, Perhaps is a gateway book that will surely lead people to the dangers of deconstruction and post-modernism. This excellent biography is a wonderful introduction to a titan of French philosophy. Highly Recommended. Disclaimer: The publisher provided an eARC for free in exchange for an honest review. The following opinions and any mistakes are mine and mine alone. This review and others can be found at my website: Primmlife.com. Review: An Event, Perhaps by Peter Salmon As an undergraduate, I didn’t take any philosophy classes, and I regret that. My introduction to philosophy was through the book, The Simpsons and Philosophy. A friend gifted it to me and changed my life. I loved it, and instead of going straight to the philosophical texts, I read more of the popular culture and philosophy books. Years later, I enrolled in a literary criticism class at night school to complete a certificate in writing. The literature in question was Buffy the Vampire Slayer. During the class, we would watch an episode and read one or more essays by a single philosopher. Some of whom I’d heard before; many more that I hadn’t. All of the writings I struggled with but grasped eventually. All except for the one by Jacques Derrida. I remember loving the lecture but being baffled by the reading. I’d given up on Derrida until he resurfaced as one of Jordan Peterson’s devils. I had trouble matching Peterson’s anger towards Derrida with the content of the paper that I read. So, I began to seek out Derrida’s books. They were still opaque to me, but thanks to YouTube and Podcasts, learning about Derrida has never been easier. To be clear, it’s not easy, just easier. But I still haven’t returned to the primary source, Derrida’s texts. After reading An Event, Perhaps by Peter Salmon, I’m interested in giving him another shot. Peter Salmon has created in An Event, Perhaps an accessible, intellectual biography of this rock star philosopher. It enlightens as it humanizes. An Event, Perhaps begins in October 1966 when Derrida delivered a paper at Johns Hopkins University. At that moment, deconstruction was born. This moment shook the philosophical discipline of Structuralism, and that moment began a discipline that is often misunderstood and dismissed. This book mixes analysis of Derrida’s ideas with documentation of his life. Peter Salmon situates Derrida’s intellectual development with his personal growth. Whether denied schooling in Algeria to his covering for Louis Althusser during Althusser’s mental health breakdowns, Derrida’s life is reflected in his philosophical pursuits. How could his ‘hauntology’ not come from his living in the shadow of his deceased older brother? Salmon does an excellent job of mixing biography with analysis, and it makes the text readable for a hobbyist like me while still containing commentary on Derrida’s ideas. The text is a mostly linear following of Derrida’s life working its way through his bibliography. The man was a powerhouse of philosophical output, and Salmon takes us from paper to book to paper. I haven’t read the majority of the works listed here; Salmon piques my curiosity. I might just have to go back and give Derrida another read. A Life, Perhaps I have read zero biographies of philosophers. Thus, I cannot tell you if An Event, Perhaps succeeds in that genre, but in the larger field of biography, Salmon has written a wonderful text. I didn’t just learn about the man, I felt for him because of this text. His life, his triumphs, his mistakes, all made his ideas more intriguing. Setting aside the ideas, An Event, Perhaps succeeds as a biography. It reads well. I had expected a dry, scholarly tone, but the book reads like a biography with dense philosophical ideas woven seamlessly in. If other biographies of philosophers are like this, I’m going to have to seek them out. One of the things that stuck with me was Derrida’s relationship to Althusser. I can’t say why, but this friendship stood out. Maybe because of Althusser’s mental health and Derrida’s care for the man? Salmon painted this friendship here and there throughout the text, but these were some of my favorite non-philosophy moments. Even after Althusser’s murderous breakdown, Derrida (and others) continued to care for the man. One wonders how in today’s culture would view that care. Althusser’s mental illness does not excuse his actions. That’s not arguable. But Derrida’s (and others) compassion is an example of the best of humanity. Althusser’s guilt doesn’t become Derrida’s simply because Derrida makes grocery runs for the ill man. The fact that this friendship stuck out above the philosophical should show that An Event, Perhaps offers more than just ideas. It grounds the text in Derrida’s humanity. As with any biography, drama abounds. As with any academic, the drama comes in the form of those who disagree with Derrida. I appreciated that An Event, Perhaps treated this drama as the intellectual disagreements they were. While hurt feelings and bad blood did exist, Salmon shows that Derrida didn’t hold grudges and tried to acknowledge those who he argued against. I knew about his disagreements with Michel Foucault but not that he and Jacques Lacan were at odds. These feuds, if you could call them that, give the text and life a feeling of the salacious without actually being salacious. Learning about these disagreements reminded me of one of my favorite quotes, “The politics of the university are so intense because the stakes are so low.” While the stakes weren’t low for the philosophers involved, neither were they life and death. I’m not proud, but I really enjoyed learning of these ‘feuds’ and Derrida’s reactions to them. An Event, I Think An Event, Perhaps covers a wide breadth of Derrida’s work. The reader gets to dip their toes into Derrida’s ideas. It’s a gateway book that will surely lead people to the dangers of deconstruction and post-modernism. This book conveyed a lot of his intellectual ideas in a way that I could understand, and more importantly it felt like an opening into the confusing world of deconstruction. While I appreciated Salmon’s writing about Glas, he didn’t make the book sound appealing. Of course that’s not Salmon’s fault. I struggle with experimental writing in this vain. But after Salmon’s description, I have to wonder at what Derrida would have done with today’s media. What would have have done with YouTube or Twitter? Could he have made an interactive book as a website? Conclusion Peter Salmon’s An Event, Perhaps is a wonderful book. It’s an excellent biography, a fantastic introduction to Derrida’s work, and an overall worthy read. I know one day, it’ll make a good re-read for me. In An Event, Perhaps Peter Salmon has created an accessible biography that seamlessly weaves the personal with the philosophical. An Event, Perhaps by Peter Salmon will be published by Verso Books on October 13th, 2020. 8 out of 10!

  6. 5 out of 5

    Alana

    ayyyyyyy jackie in da streets selling little bags of brown powder. deconstruction is a hell of a drug.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Domhnall

    This biography is highly readable throughout and provides a light-handed introduction to the major themes of Derrida's work. It puts many of his publications into context and I think will be a helpful guide for those wishing to proceed by reading Derrida himself. Despite covering in a very clear way the development of his ideas and the key influences to which he was responding (notably Husserl and Heidegger), I would not feel confident using this book as my only source to seriously comment on De This biography is highly readable throughout and provides a light-handed introduction to the major themes of Derrida's work. It puts many of his publications into context and I think will be a helpful guide for those wishing to proceed by reading Derrida himself. Despite covering in a very clear way the development of his ideas and the key influences to which he was responding (notably Husserl and Heidegger), I would not feel confident using this book as my only source to seriously comment on Derrida's philosophy; but it gives a good enough feel to recognise where Derrida himself might fit into the wider discussions in which he is so often invoked and to appreciate why it might be worth getting hold of some of his work. To be fair, I think that is what a good biography does for any writer. Quotes "This biography aims to set out the intellectual development of Jacques Derrida; to situate it in events both private and public; and to argue for its importance as an event in the history of philosophy and of thought more generally. It will argue that Derrida is one of the great philosophers of this or any age; that his thinking is a crucial component of any future philosophy; that his thinking is immediately – always already – applicable to the world as we find it; and that this application has political heft." [p13] That his writings are abstruse is an effect of his philosophy. His thought generates his style just as Wittgenstein’s generated aphorisms, Spinoza’s numbered propositions, Heidegger’s compound neologisms and Plato’s dialogue. There is nothing fake here. [p16] Looking back, Derrida characterised his exploration of Hegel as seeking a ‘kind of general strategy of deconstruction’. We must traverse a phase of overturning. To do justice to this necessity is to recognize that in a classical philosophical opposition we are not dealing with the peaceful coexistence of a vis-à-vis, but rather with a violent hierarchy. One of the two terms governs the other (axiologically, logically, etc.), or has the upper hand. To deconstruct the opposition, first of all, is to overturn the hierarchy at a given moment. This became one of the central methodological strategies of deconstruction, and perhaps has had the greatest practical and theoretical impact outside the academy of any of Derrida’s interventions. As we have seen, for Derrida the history of Western thought relies on the apparent ‘logic’ of binary oppositions, where the first term is privileged over the second. But, as Derrida points out, this is not a ‘peaceful coexistence of two terms, it is a violent hierarchy’. The task of deconstruction is to suspend the hierarchy at this moment and analyse and criticise it, in a sort of productive ambivalence.... As each of the terms has a constructed meaning, as all meaning is constructed, why does this opposition exist, why is one term privileged, whom does it serve, what does it fail to acknowledge, convey or understand? The answer may be political, cultural, philosophical and so on – each analysis may unearth more hidden assumptions – but the task of deconstruction is not then to efface the difference through synthesis, but to mark it, to note its undecidability and explore its complex interplay. [pp94,95] What happens when we speak, in all the ways outlined above, and including the voice in our head? Philosophy, alongside common sense, tends to argue that I have a thought of more or less absolute clarity; I then change it into words. I say these words. My interlocutor (in a perfect world) understands my words, and the thought I have communicated, transparently, enters their mind. The interlocutor may be myself; and ideally for Husserl, that is exactly who she or he is. Each of these steps is highly problematic, Derrida resolved. Try having a thought without words. If such a thing is possible, how is that then turned into words? .... It is not, argues Derrida, that we have self-presence and the voice in our head (or out loud) expresses it; rather, the voice in our head (or out loud) gives us the illusion of self-presence. [p115] Derrida’s criticism of structuralism (via Rousset) centres on the privileging of ‘form’ over ‘force’. Again, this is a question about time, about the static compared to the genetic... So while a book, any book, is only encountered in ‘successive fragments’, the task of the (structuralist) critic is to make the work ‘simultaneously present’, all its aspects presented as an immediate, punctual, total whole (like a Husserlian moment)... Against this, Derrida introduces ‘force’, which is a form of motion and therefore temporal. ‘Force’, for Derrida, is a product of language’s power of signification. The signifier always means more than it wants to, it escapes and exceeds the author’s intention. Criticism, in privileging form over force, the static over the genetic, freezes meaning... structuralism presents simultaneity as ‘the myth of a total reading or description, promoted to the status of a regulatory ideal.’ So here we are again. Derrida once again identifies the unacknowledged metaphysics behind a conventional reading ... As Merleau-Ponty puts it, ‘My own words take me by surprise and teach me what I think,’ echoing Flannery O’Connor, who said, ‘I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.’ [pp125-127] What can be forgotten in the deep woods of philosophy, the often abstruse and opaque world of ‘categorical imperatives’, ‘anarcho-primitivism’, ‘transcendental idealism’, ‘metaphysics of presence’, is that philosophy seeks to encapsulate, in some sense, what it is like to be alive. If a philosophy fails to do this, it is the philosophy that must yield. When, as we shall see, a philosopher of language such as J. L. Austin says that words can only be taken seriously if said seriously, he excludes a whole realm of meaning that most people, in a fairly mundane sense, regard as meaningful. Derrida seems to be saying that something should not be inexplicable to philosophy that is explicable to humans. [p135] One shouldn’t complicate things for the pleasure of complicating, but one should also never simplify or pretend to be sure of such simplicity where there is none. If things were simple, word would have gotten around. – Limited Inc. [p142] "Many have been willing to give M. Derrida the benefit of the doubt, insisting that language of such depth and difficulty of interpretation must hide deep and subtle thoughts indeed. When the effort is made to penetrate it, however, it becomes clear, to us at least, that, where coherent assertions are being made at all, these are either false or trivial." The letter was signed by eighteen academics from around the world, of whom W.V.O. Quine was probably the best known. Judging by the made-up ‘logical phallusies’ none of them had taken the time to read any of Derrida’s work – it is not as though neologisms ripe for this sort of mockery are hard to find. As Terry Eagleton noted, all that the dons who voted against him knew was probably that he was ‘radical, enigmatic, French, photogenic and wildly popular with students’. And quite what the ‘accepted standards’ Derrida failed to meet were anybody’s guess, but one suspects thinkers as diverse as Nietzsche, Heidegger, Foucault and Kierkegaard might have had a struggle on their hands too – as would Descartes, Locke, Berkeley, Hume and later Wittgenstein, all of whom tended to drift from the analytic. Socrates and Plato might have struggled as well, though the latter might have agreed about excluding Dadaists and concrete poets were they minded to apply to join the academy. [p274]

  8. 4 out of 5

    Linton

    Everything that I have learned about Derrida has fascinated me. From his early life in Algeria to his later years giving lectures around the world. His ideas are unique yet familiar. This biography captures the best parts of that – though it is by no means definitive. The idea that this is strictly a biography of Derrida comes apart within the first few chapters when the ideas of Husserl, Heidegger and Levinas are introduced; by the end it the text no longer even appears to be biographical, perh Everything that I have learned about Derrida has fascinated me. From his early life in Algeria to his later years giving lectures around the world. His ideas are unique yet familiar. This biography captures the best parts of that – though it is by no means definitive. The idea that this is strictly a biography of Derrida comes apart within the first few chapters when the ideas of Husserl, Heidegger and Levinas are introduced; by the end it the text no longer even appears to be biographical, perhaps “biographical” in the loosest sense. The later years of Derrida’s life are brushed over, if they are included, in favour of discussions (some would call them summaries) of Derrida’s works. The biographical then comes critical and explanatory. However, the lack of biographical information does not harm the text itself: it only misleads the reader. On the text itself, as a critical work on Derrida, it is one of the best that I have read. By placing Derrida’s thought in context, and by connecting the dots between those who influenced Derrida and his own thought, Salmon has made Derrida clear in a way that many other thinkers have not. For this reason the book is worthwhile to read for those who are interested in Derrida, though for a more “biographical” biography I believe that the Peeters biography would be more appropriate (note, I have not read the Peeters text though from an overview and the sections that Salmon cites it appears to be the case).

  9. 4 out of 5

    Mandy

    Derrida. Deconstruction. Post-modernism. French philosophy in general. Pretty forbidding subjects for some of us, and so I was delighted to find this biography and exploration of Derrida’s work and ideas at least relatively easy to follow and much more comprehensible than I’d feared. It’s an intellectual and academic book, which is to be expected when the subject is Derrida, and I’m sadly aware that much of Derrida’s thinking remains opaque to me. But at least I’ve dipped my toe into the water a Derrida. Deconstruction. Post-modernism. French philosophy in general. Pretty forbidding subjects for some of us, and so I was delighted to find this biography and exploration of Derrida’s work and ideas at least relatively easy to follow and much more comprehensible than I’d feared. It’s an intellectual and academic book, which is to be expected when the subject is Derrida, and I’m sadly aware that much of Derrida’s thinking remains opaque to me. But at least I’ve dipped my toe into the water and all credit to the author for making his book as readable and accessible as it can be.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Theodora Simons

    Fantastic biography, provided a full picture of Derridas work while also incorporating all of the relevant philosophers and theorists. Gotta be honest I skimmed the end but would recommend to those interested

  11. 5 out of 5

    Benjamin

    My review of Derrida's "Writing and Difference" has around 50 likes now. It is a total piss take of his writing style, pointing out that I found it hard to understand anything he said because of a pointlessly pretentious style. I was unsure of whether he was a charlatan or not because I couldn't tell what he was saying. An update added that one essay in there was better than I'd given credit, but that was it. My conversation with Derrida ended there, several years ago. I heard good things about S My review of Derrida's "Writing and Difference" has around 50 likes now. It is a total piss take of his writing style, pointing out that I found it hard to understand anything he said because of a pointlessly pretentious style. I was unsure of whether he was a charlatan or not because I couldn't tell what he was saying. An update added that one essay in there was better than I'd given credit, but that was it. My conversation with Derrida ended there, several years ago. I heard good things about Salmon's biography. If nothing else, it was a book about an interesting man with an interesting life, and might marginally shed light on his work. I picked up a copy and set about reading it. I now am certain that Derrida was not a charlatan. He may have been pretentious or needlessly complicated, but that doesn't make one a scam artist. In fact, I gradually understood the overall project and process, and this left me thinking that, while Derrida may not be the philosopher for me (as I just don't have time in the day to struggle through his books), I would defend him against people who call him a charlatan by pointing them towards this book. What was more impressive for me was the genuine sadness I felt in the final chapter, as Derrida reflects upon his life and death, and sadly passes away. The brevity with which his cancer, the coma that resulted, and his final passing caught me off guard. A mighty individual reduced to a sort of silence and then swept away was incredibly powerful. I realised that this was probably because I'd grown fond of the man, and it was hard to grow fond of someone that you thought was a conman. I understood not only his work (as much as I could) but also his situation and his own struggles with who he was. This is an wonderful book. Insightful, revelatory and frequently funny. It also made me change my mind about Derrida. That's pretty impressive.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Anthony Draper

    Peter Salmon's biography of Jacques Derrida is an exceptionally accessible biography of a notoriously inaccessible figure in philosophy and contemporary culture. While I wouldn't recommend this book (nor anything Derrida-related) to a philosophy novice, one with a rudimentary understanding of Derrida's place in the history of philosophy and the ideas he presented will not only find this biography fruitful, but will perhaps find it the most accessible introduction to Derrida and his work in the E Peter Salmon's biography of Jacques Derrida is an exceptionally accessible biography of a notoriously inaccessible figure in philosophy and contemporary culture. While I wouldn't recommend this book (nor anything Derrida-related) to a philosophy novice, one with a rudimentary understanding of Derrida's place in the history of philosophy and the ideas he presented will not only find this biography fruitful, but will perhaps find it the most accessible introduction to Derrida and his work in the English language. Salmon doesn't hide his affection for Derrida, but rather than detract from the overall book, this adds some playfulness and levity to the work, and overall he does a good job presenting a balanced view of the man. After working through this relatively short biography, one will feel far more equipped to approach some of Derrida's own work.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Caspar Bryant

    The latest in my ongoing attempts to turn my brain into electric cauliflower stew (70s album title?? tongue-in-cheek poetry collection???) This is a lovely biography that leans greatly upon the philosophical elements - provoking both delight and headaches. It's also a source of perhaps amusement to me that the first thing I read this year was perhaps again Derrida. With any luck, we'll see more in this vein. (Deconstruct year, read, first? Let's not get distracted (but what else is this for?)) A st The latest in my ongoing attempts to turn my brain into electric cauliflower stew (70s album title?? tongue-in-cheek poetry collection???) This is a lovely biography that leans greatly upon the philosophical elements - provoking both delight and headaches. It's also a source of perhaps amusement to me that the first thing I read this year was perhaps again Derrida. With any luck, we'll see more in this vein. (Deconstruct year, read, first? Let's not get distracted (but what else is this for?)) A strong introduction to his thinking, if one is so inclined/masochistic.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Eric

    A clear, concise critical biography that takes on the daunting task of having to choose representative passages from Derrida's expansive body of work and handles it quite well. I especially enjoyed the chapters on his rise to prominence as it helped me to better understand what a sudden rise it was and all the implications it had. Salmon's expositions of Derrida's work serve as both a useful refresher for those of us who have read Derrida extensively and, I suspect, a useful introduction to thos A clear, concise critical biography that takes on the daunting task of having to choose representative passages from Derrida's expansive body of work and handles it quite well. I especially enjoyed the chapters on his rise to prominence as it helped me to better understand what a sudden rise it was and all the implications it had. Salmon's expositions of Derrida's work serve as both a useful refresher for those of us who have read Derrida extensively and, I suspect, a useful introduction to those who have not.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Danny Mason

    I found this did a great job of demythologising some things about Derrida by showing how his texts are not utterly impenetrable tomes that are impossible to find meaning in while at the same time reasserting just how exceptional he was to have made the impact that he did. I found it really readable, no small feat for the subject matter, and would recommend it to anyone looking for an engaging overview of his ideas.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Michael

    It's a luxury -- for me, a rare one -- to be able to also >like< the writers, thinkers, artists whose works one admires. Long an intellectual companion (there was a time in my live when I practically cohabitated with Truth in Painting), and studying English in American during the time when his voice was ubiquitous, I came away from the Salmon biography liking Jacques/Jackie Derrida for the first time. It's a luxury -- for me, a rare one -- to be able to also >like< the writers, thinkers, artists whose works one admires. Long an intellectual companion (there was a time in my live when I practically cohabitated with Truth in Painting), and studying English in American during the time when his voice was ubiquitous, I came away from the Salmon biography liking Jacques/Jackie Derrida for the first time.

  17. 5 out of 5

    John Fitzgerald

    I've been wrestling with Derrida for the better part of the last two years. This book, honestly, was the first piece that was cogent and didn't fall into intellectual fan-boyism. I enjoyed it immensely. I've been wrestling with Derrida for the better part of the last two years. This book, honestly, was the first piece that was cogent and didn't fall into intellectual fan-boyism. I enjoyed it immensely.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Ryan

    An excellent, lucid and lively review of the life and thought of one of the great thinkers of the 20th Century. Detailed, yet easy to read, while also raising useful and considered questions. A terrific example of the usefulness of biography as secondary literature and jumping off (and on) point

  19. 4 out of 5

    Jesse

    Salmon has constructed a very readable biography of a famously unreadable intellectual. Unfortunately, perhaps, my interest has been piqued, so I will need to read Derrida eventually.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Joel Adams

    A quick trip through the major moments with some attempt to point at the shadows and ghosts in the corners.

  21. 5 out of 5

    N

    The best book I read in the first year of undergrad aside from course stuff. Excellently written, interesting and actually funny. It also gave me a bunch of cool movies and books to read, of course, and charted both Derrida's intellectual and *literal* growth. Also, Peter Salmon will follow you back on twitter. The best book I read in the first year of undergrad aside from course stuff. Excellently written, interesting and actually funny. It also gave me a bunch of cool movies and books to read, of course, and charted both Derrida's intellectual and *literal* growth. Also, Peter Salmon will follow you back on twitter.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Max Svalgard

    A brilliant look into one of my favorite philosophers. Any book that is academic in any way I always hope will reference works that I'll be inspired to read and this book not only made me want to read even more Derrida but also read the books that influenced his thought. Peter Salmon did an incredible job with this book and presents Derrida and his theories in a way that is both easily digestible and in a style evocative of Derrida's own snarkiness. Absolutely loved it. A brilliant look into one of my favorite philosophers. Any book that is academic in any way I always hope will reference works that I'll be inspired to read and this book not only made me want to read even more Derrida but also read the books that influenced his thought. Peter Salmon did an incredible job with this book and presents Derrida and his theories in a way that is both easily digestible and in a style evocative of Derrida's own snarkiness. Absolutely loved it.

  23. 4 out of 5

    David Lunceford

    A beautiful book. A captivating and thoroughly satisfying introduction to the polarizing thinker and his enigmatic ideas. While challenging in several places, this is a decent place to begin a serious attempt to understand Derrida, after a cursory introduction elsewhere--YouTube, perhaps.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Laurie Mercer

    Where to begin deconstructing this whirlwind of a book? Highly enjoyable. Needs coffee and a quiet place.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Tim

    Starts well: accessible yet reasonably non-dumbed-down. I'm most familiar with the early stuff, where JD took more pains to be clear and explicit, and Salmon's presentation of those early texts is pretty legit (I include the later 'Limited Inc' collection in this category since if you can follow 'Signature event context' you can follow 'Ltd Inc' too.) I have a couple of complaints though: first, Salmon's text gradually seems to become, at least in parts, an undistanced presentation of the JD lin Starts well: accessible yet reasonably non-dumbed-down. I'm most familiar with the early stuff, where JD took more pains to be clear and explicit, and Salmon's presentation of those early texts is pretty legit (I include the later 'Limited Inc' collection in this category since if you can follow 'Signature event context' you can follow 'Ltd Inc' too.) I have a couple of complaints though: first, Salmon's text gradually seems to become, at least in parts, an undistanced presentation of the JD line, i.e. he skips the "according to JD" type phrases. This at least worst muddies the waters a bit. On the plus side, I did get more of a sense of what Derrida is on about in some of the later texts than I have from trying to actually read a couple of them :-). Another merit of the book is as a guided tour of the bibliography, not to mention quite a few intriguing YouTube clips etc. My second moan is that Salmon's English, and/or the copy-editing, is erratic. The bulk of it is fine, but there are far too many careless/dumb slips, basic errors like "this criteria" and mis-citing a title as "In Memorium: of the Soul". In several cases one can't be sure without some research, as there are quite a few errors in quotations - they could easily be from the translations as published, given the dreadfulness of many English translations of Derrida. He also makes occasional ill-advised attempts at quips, that don't come off. His principal source, and not only for the "life" aspects of the book, seems to be Benoit Peeters' excellent biography. This isn't a complaint; I just wonder what the deal is. Anyway, despite all the gripes, I think I'd recommend this book as a first introduction to the notoriously challenging Derrida's writing; to be followed, if you want to go further, by whatever grabs you from the three great 1967 books and 'Margins of Philosophy'. On the other hand if you've decided you really want to read a full biography of Derrida, you're already a fan, I'd say go for the Peeters.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Anne

    This is a biography of Jacques Derrida with an emphasis on following his philosophical development and looking at how he is considered now among his followers and the wider philosophical world. I’m no expert and in fact I’m a total novice but I got a lot out of this book and I will read some more of Derrida and then go back at some stage to read this biography again. There are few “contemporary” philosophers who polarised opinion as much as Derrida and that is why this book is fascinating. Was Ja This is a biography of Jacques Derrida with an emphasis on following his philosophical development and looking at how he is considered now among his followers and the wider philosophical world. I’m no expert and in fact I’m a total novice but I got a lot out of this book and I will read some more of Derrida and then go back at some stage to read this biography again. There are few “contemporary” philosophers who polarised opinion as much as Derrida and that is why this book is fascinating. Was Jacques Derrida a rock star genius or a con man? Mr Salmon does not shirk from looking at all aspects of Derrida’s character and although the book is written for someone with some understanding of his philosophy, a complete novice interested in how Derrida’s thinking tied together, will get a lot out of this book. It is also a great introduction to continental philosophy and its impact. I was given a copy of this book by Netgalley in return for an honest review.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Lukas Evan

    There is nothing outside the text.

  28. 5 out of 5

    szymborskalyte

    Salmon is a little too partial to dearest Jacque for my liking. Quite thorough though.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Brett Linsley

    An enlightening biography about an impenetrable mind. Good information here but not enough to forge an emotional connection between the reader and Derrida. After reading this book Mr. Derrida is still just a trickster of wordplay in my imagination.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Stanton

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