Jacques Derrida: Biography in Action


Do philosophers have a life? Does it matter whether we know about them? And if they are interesting, to what extent should we know them? Do philosophers’ lives matter only in relation to the ideas, concepts and the ways they understand the world? Does it make a difference if the philosopher in question is Jacques Derrida, without doubt the best known philosopher of our times? And if the answer to all these questions is affirmative, who, then, is entitled to write about such a life? The philosopher himself? A fellow philosopher? A pupil? An outsider? A professional biographer? A team of authors? And how should one conceive of this biography? How should it be written? Should one follow the Anglo-Saxon model and its ideals of accuracy and evidence, or the French model, which leaves room for literary reinterpretation, or some hybrid of the two, with the risk of simultaneously satisfying and disappointing the same readers? Countless studies on Derrida could have asked questions such as these, and Derrida himself, whose work became increasingly autobiographical in the last fifteen years of his life, was intrigued, if not obsessed, with the existential inscription of his work. Until now, however, no serious answer has been given to any of these queries. The ambitious biography recently published in France (and forthcoming in English translation at Polity Press) can be seen as an example of how to confront many of the difficulties presented by attempts to tell the story of Derrida’s life and works.

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