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Jacques Derrida and the Humanities: A Critical Reader
Tom Cohen, ed.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001.
£47.50, 344 pages, ISBN 0521623707 (hardback).
£17.95, 344 pages, ISBN 0521625653 (paperback).

Thomas Dutoit
Université de Paris 7

Jacques Derrida and the Humanities: A Critical Reader: Did this book necessarily have to be in English and published by a British press aimed undoubtedly primarily at a North-American and British readership? Could such a book have been in another language besides English? And if so, which languages? Could it have been in French, published in France? Independently of the question of the generic phenomenon of the “Critical Reader”, proper to English-speaking publishing, would the French title Jacques Derrida et les Humanités be anything other than an incomprehensible calque, a nonsensical imitation, which any teacher of an English-to-French translation course would reject as such? In its title and its contents, why is Jacques Derrida and the Humanities: A Critical Reader intrinsically inseparable from the Anglo-American idiom, from the Anglo-American institution of knowledge, notably the university? Why is Jacques Derrida and the Humanities: A Critical Reader untranslatable into French, be it into a direct equivalent of the French language or into the French organization of tertiary education? Such are the questions which give the pattern of this review.

Jacques Derrida and the Humanities
must thus be situated within the transformations of “Anglo-Saxon” tertiary education systems, within those transformations of the “human” generally speaking, and within (or without as the case may be) the French models for tertiary education (i.e. the university versus all the other forms of tertiary education). Although a version of this book is imaginable in German coming out of Germany, in Japanese coming out of Japan, to name two among other examples, a Jacques Derrida et les Humanités coming out of France is much more difficult to imagine (even if three of the contributors are French). In order to attain some semblance of truth relative to its object, a review of this book needs also to situate the conditions of possibility of Jacques Derrida and the Humanities and Jacques Derrida and the Humanities.

Jacques Derrida and the Humanities
is also to be comprehended within a slew of publications, academic and non-academic, that intensified in the late 1980s and throughout the 1990s, about the university especially in North America.1 Derrida’s numerous writings on this subject in particular2 consistently fuelled such writings, inspiring some and irritating others. In France over the same time period, there has been, relatively speaking, an audible silence in writings by academics about the university and its place both among the other tertiary educational apparatuses of France and within French society as a whole3. While this claim about an “audible silence” echoes Alain Renaut’s assessments of the relative indifference of French society, and in particular of French academics inside and outside the university, to its university system, this echoing of Renaut must also record how Renaut himself silences the persistent calls from Derrida on this subject, of which the speech by Derrida, “The future of the profession,” included in Jacques Derrida and the Humanities, is the most recent manifestation.4 For although Alain Renaut’s early contribution to the examination of the university system, in the form of his co-edited collection of translations of founding essays from the early nineteenth century by Schelling, Fichte, Schleiermacher, Humboldt and Hegel (Philosophies de l’université. L’Idéalisme allemand et la question de l’université5) included an expression of gratitude from the young editors to Jacques Derrida for encouraging the necessity of the undertaking prior to its realization, Renaut makes no mention of Derrida’s writings or actions about the university in his subsequent publications, notably Les Révolutions de l’université. Essai sur la modernisation de la culture or caricatures them as a form of silence itself in Que faire des universités ? The pertinence of such symbolic patricide to Jacques Derrida and the Humanities: A Critical Reader consists in how Renaut evinces surely one of the most important sources of impact upon the Humanities (at the least, in North America, but also elsewhere), namely the work of Derrida and that in the wake of “deconstruction” widely understood not as a “method” used by some “literature professors”, but as a mutation in social values and arrangements, otherwise put, as the historicity of history. It is surely ironic that the person commissioned by the French government to write reports on the university advocates some return to the Humanities yet occludes the possibility that there might be a new Humanities, inchoate, nascent and to which the syntagm “Derrida and” in Jacques Derrida and the Humanities is germane. This does not mean that “Derrida” is the guru or messiah which we must mystically follow, but rather that deconstruction comprehends the major changes in society and elucidates the foundations, often shaky, upon which our society is and has been based. Such is the context of Jacques Derrida and the Humanities.

Jacques Derrida’s contribution, “The future of the profession or the university without condition (thanks to the ‘Humanities’, what could take place tomorrow)” magnificently sets up a framework within which to consider the subsequent twelve essays of the volume. For Derrida delivers a “profession of faith [...] in the University and, within the University, faith in the Humanities of tomorrow” (24) that helps those of us working in or with it by clarifying how our work is doubly structured, in part by a respect for tradition and precisely the tradition of “unlimited commitment to the truth” (24), and in part by a regard towards the future and especially towards what Derrida calls the “event”. Derrida believes in “the right to deconstruction as an unconditional right to ask critical questions” about the history of man, of criticism, of questioning, of their authority, but also to the “right to do [so] affirmatively and performatively, that is, by producing events, for example by writing, and by giving rise to singular oeuvres (which up until now has been the purview of neither the classical nor the modern Humanities). With the event of thought constituted by such oeuvres, it would be a matter of making something happen to this concept of truth or of humanity, without necessarily betraying it” (26). “Event” names something that changes the notion of truth-as-masterable. Derrida wagers on the “event”. With such an engagement, he commits to something completely different from Alain Renaut, whose proposals for university education stop with a tepid and blurred return to what he calls, but never defines, “general culture.” Derrida on the contrary seeks not a return to something known but takes risks for the future.

What such “events” might make happen to the concept of truth is that truth not be defined as an affair of mastery and sovereignty but rather as dependent upon an unconditional. Arguing against dogmatic certainty and facile solutions that produced the problems we now have, Derrida maintains that “it would be necessary to dissociate a certain unconditional independence of thought, of deconstruction, of justice, of the Humanities, of the University, and so forth from any phantasm of sovereign mastery” (55). If we conceded to the notion of the master (the teacher) as he (as she) who possesses certainty and its conventions absolutely, then we first of all give in to a phantasm, and secondly reduce the future to a mechanical application of a program. Derrida’s allegiance to an unconditional independence of thought resists such closure and finality by insisting upon what never is mastered. As its etymology suggests, unconditional is what cannot be agreed upon, what cannot be said, what is irreducible to consensus. As teacher, what Derrida teaches is that without an unteachable we cannot teach and are not teachers. The great difference between Derrida and Renaut, between the proposals of the two most important advocates of the university in France, is that whereas Renaut calls for a return to an unproblematic general culture (he never problematizes it and only advocates it because professionalized teaching fails), Derrida on the contrary argues for a transformative reaction to tradition, a re-activation that also produces something not only different but as yet unconventional and moreover necessarily incomplete. The “future of the profession” in the “university without condition” is not about giving the possible, the pre-established. It is about the fact that it does not and cannot give the answer. It can affirm answers but it can never prove them as final solutions (I use this term to denote the danger of the idea of the university as giving answers as if they were final). This is, however, why the university can always be appropriated: there is always someone claiming to have the answer (27). The idea of the university is the commitment to the unconditional: the incomplete, the impossibility of a simple truth, truth as simple. This is why the university is permanently in danger: first, such an avowal of powerlessness (which however is its “invincible force”) is well-nigh an invitation to the wolves of demagogy, capitalism and other simpletons; second, such an admission will be understood as irresponsible by dogmatists. What is “sovereign” for Derrida would be this unconditionality. It is what, by being impossible, rules since our otherwise supposed sovereignty (mastery, control, etc.) cannot overtake unconditionality.

Such is why Derrida equates the university and the humanities as the place of irredentist resistance, and analogically as a principle of civil disobedience. The university without condition, always in danger of capitulating without conditions to all kinds of sources of appropriation, should never be “bought,” never under foreign control. Derrida’s political engagement to the humanities is to something that is not to be overrun by reductive appropriations like capitalism or other ideologies. The defense of the university without condition is like the advocacy of recovery of lands of which one has been deprived, but of lands which no one ever owns. No one owns deconstruction, either, which is translated here into political theory, law, "gender studies", art and aesthetics, literature, history, religion, psychoanalysis.

Many of the essays in Jacques Derrida and the Humanities are written by the greatest translators of Derrida into English (e.g. Peggy Kamuf, David Wills, Geoffrey Bennington). As Derrida has noted in private conversations, it is not accidental that his best readers are also his translators. Translation is also fundamental to politics. The relation of deconstruction to politics has long attracted the curious. Deconstruction is understood from its earliest days, so to speak, that is, from Derrida’s texts of the early 1960’s, as a translation of a tradition which transmits such tradition precisely through a faithful-unfaithful translation. Translation in this sense may be understood as what Bennington calls “political responsibility” because it “begins in the active, critical memory or reception of an inheritance or a tradition which will remember us if we do not remember it” (197). “Politics” is no different from any other of the concepts, traditions or practices which Derrida aims to deconstruct so as not simply to let himself be played by them, as if he were somebody’s instrument. In Derrida, we find “an affirmation of the endlessness of politics, and thereby of freedom” (203), but it is freedom in a Kantian sense: it is because there is no answer, no pre-established or even securely established way, that we are free to act upon the basis of this lack. As a result, “Derrida’s work will not provide satisfying answers within readily identifiable disciplinary boundaries”, because those boundaries will ceaselessly be moved by each successive intervention (197). Thus, deconstruction works both prior to and after pre-determined categorizations and classifications: “There is no easy way to distinguish logical concerns from epistemological ones in Derrida, nor these from ethical or political ones, simply because Derrida is working at a level that precedes the establishment of demarcations” (197). The political gesture of Derrida might be less to provide an answer than to keep open the possibility of questions, for Derrida “does not provide a theoretical model for politics so much as it strives to keep open the event of alterity which alone makes politics possible and inevitable, but which political philosophy of all colors has always tried to close” (207).

Among the points Derrida insists upon in his essay in this volume is that the new Humanities in the university of tomorrow must take on the questions of right and of law, both from within the Law School and from outside it in the other departments and Schools of the university: “This new concept of the Humanities, even as it remains faithful to its tradition, should include law, ‘legal studies’” (29). In many countries, this transformation has begun. The famous Cardozo Law School conference on Deconstruction and Justice, from 1992, was one instance of many others in which there have been negotiations between literature and law, law and history, law and psychoanalysis, etc. It is worth insisting, yet again, that no significant collaboration exists, in French universities, between, on the one hand, the departments of letters, arts or sciences and, on the other, that of law (droit). If one really wanted to imagine some forms such joint efforts could take, and how Derrida has something to contribute on the point, looking at Margaret Davies’ essay, “Derrida and law: legitimate fictions,” will reveal several possibilities. Aside from the common points with Derrida’s own essay (notably on what “sovereignty” means in political theory), the reader will also find useful in Davies’ piece her pitting what Derrida has to say about law and the idea according to which there would be no law without an impure law or unlawful law setting up pure law, against the paradox or uncertainty at the heart of all law, according to which the law must be based on an extra-legal fiction which legal theorists such as Hans Kelsen, H.L.A. Hart or Tom Campbell develop. Thus, scholars coming to Derrida from law, but also to law from the humanities, would do well to read this double exposition. In an essay written in an exceptionally clear, user-friendly prose requiring no prior knowledge of Derrida for it to be understandable, Davies pulls no punches, for she highlights one of the central points in Derrida, which is that the “law as we know it is not ultimately justifiable” and that “positive law masks its own violence by reference to some justification which it can never find” (227). This situation is not to be ignored as if it didn’t exist but recognized as the condition of possibility of improving law or challenging it, which deconstruction, or justice (as in Derrida’s formulation, “Deconstruction is justice”), are synonymous with. “Like deconstruction, justice is of the law” for both recognize incessantly the violence of the law without which the law cannot make itself either work or be obeyed, yet neither deconstruction nor justice is “reducible to law” (233).

In the burgeoning field of “gender studies”, the name of Judith Butler has perhaps become the reference. In her writings, Butler moreover has always maintained a certain closeness to the work of Derrida, a proximity which is yet another testimony of the extent to which the title Jacques Derrida and the Humanities describes a reality that can be understood practically as if it read Derrida in (or “across,” or “throughout”) the Humanities. Need we repeat that the same syntagm cannot be translated into the French language, the French institution or the French society? Professor of Comparative and French Literature, Peggy Kamuf tackles the formidable question of “gender” and “sexual difference” in Derrida’s writings, but also via a detour through the notion of “gender” precisely in the work of Judith Butler. “Derrida and gender: the other sexual difference” is thus an essay of utmost importance for those working in “gender studies.” As Kamuf notes and develops, “gender” itself doesn’t translate into French. It is not surprising, then, that the English term as such does not appear in Derrida’s writings. As she wryly but undeniably puts it, “the expectation to talk about gender limit[s] the choice” of language in which one talks “to English. One can write ‘gender’ only in English” (82). For linguistic, cultural and no doubt institutional reasons related already to the possibility (or impossibility) of talking about Derrida, work on gender does not happen in the same way everywhere. Kamuf reads Butler closely, arguing (against common opinion regarding Butler’s discourse) that Butler reinscribes the “sex” and “gender” opposition which she, Butler, had been trying to displace. The effect of Butler’s discourse, Kamuf persuasively shows, is that it re-installs the traditional opposition. In Kamuf’s words, “the collapse of the discourse of sex/ gender depends on the language of “sex” and “gender” upholding the distinction against collapse” (84). Discourse would be to language what a primary production would be to a secondary inscription. Butler remains metaphysical because she grants priority to a notion of discourse, to a Foucauldian “apparatus of production,” making inscription secondary. Kamuf moves then to the deconstructor of metaphysics, Derrida, and the many threads of “sexuality” throughout his work, not all of which go by the names, even translated, for “sex” and “gender”. As with almost all the essays in this volume, what follows is an extremely clear and exact reading and exposition of Derrida’s thought, or writing, on the question: in this case, his several essays on Geschlecht (sex, gender, race, etc.) in Heidegger. What ensues is how “sex” and “gender” are inscribed in a network of terms (power, powerlessness, impotency, etc.) where one cannot arrest either term.

Related most to the contributions of Kamuf, Bennington and Davies, is Hent de Vries’s “Derrida and ethics: hospitable thought”. Establishing with clarity the dense nexus within which Derrida’s numerous works on politics, religion, ethics, law, and justice move (in particular those devoted to Immanuel Kant and Emmanuel Levinas), de Vries elucidates the relation of responsibility and hospitality running through close to forty years of publications. This relation is grasped in terms first of what de Vries suggests is Derrida’s “single most wide-ranging insight,” namely “infinite responsibility” and “its necessary betrayal in repetition” (173) and second of the “two regimes of one law of hospitality” (191), that is, as absolute idea and as concrete example. Both terms, responsibility and hospitality, are double, each constituted by “differance” as the irreducible tension between idealism and pragmatism. Although such a tension may sound abstract, de Vries shows how, for Derrida, such tension is not only what structures philosophical discussions of an array of geo-political subjects like citizenship and immigration, but also our everyday dealings and negociations, “experience in general” (191).

Another intersection at which Derrida’s work has often been operative has been that between science and religion, between technology and faith. One of the most important lessons one can receive from Derrida may be his deconstruction of these seeming opposites. It belongs to common sense (indeed common sense may be nothing other than this) that science and religion, modern technology and archaic faith, are mutually exclusive or at any rate simply incompatible. To read Derrida is to re-assess such doxa. No student of nineteenth century Britain or United States, be she in history or literature, ought to be able to ignore Derrida’s reading of the twisted-together development of science and religion. Bernard Stiegler’s arduous “Derrida and technology: fidelity at the limits of deconstruction and the prosthesis of faith” overviews these two threads from the earliest to the most recent writings, arguing that “faith and tele-technology are [...] mutually insoluble and mutually inseparable”. Steigler shows that deconstruction is both a thinking of technology and of fidelity to the past, notably a thinking of religion. These are two such dissociated domains in the contemporary world, at a superficial, commonsensical level, that it is difficult to imagine much communication between the Science faculty and the Theology faculty (and in the French university in particular, the Theology faculty having disappeared shortly after the Revolution). Jacques Derrida and the Humanities however is not only the name of a book published by Cambridge University Press, but of a network of interactions that happen in many places, notably universities, of the world.

Other “disciplines” and “Schools” or “Faculties” are convened in Jacques Derrida and the Humanities. Philosophy, rather disappointingly, by Christopher Fynsk in “Derrida and philosophy: acts of engagement.” And historians might be disturbed, or emboldened, by Peter Fenves’s exploration, in “Derrida and history: some questions Derrida pursues in his early writings”, of an early statement in Derrida according to which “Astonishment, rather, by language,” that is, by historicity, is taken “as the origin of history.” As Fenves restates it, historicity, “language[,] inaugurates history” (272). This claim ought to allure historians. Focusing on the archaeological history of madness in Foucault studied in Derrida’s essay, “Cogito and the History of Madness” (1963), and on the teleological history of reason examined in Derrida’s Introduction (1962) to Edmund Husserl’s Origin of Geometry, Fenves returns us to that curious sentence, even though Fenves does not quote it, from Derrida, “S’il y a une histoire, l’historicité ne peut donc être que le passage d’une Parole, la tradition pure d’un Logos originaire vers un Telos polaire” (Introduction 165). Historicity would be the passage of speech (tra-dition) from beginning to end, if there is history, a history. Yet, Derrida calls “historicity” the primordial double motion forwards and backwards without which there would be no history. In short, I only have a history insofar as I both have memories and traces, conscious and unconscious, of who I was previously, and become different by new experiences. This is not a simple linear process; in fact, it is constantly zigzagging recession and procession, such that my “history”, the result of the possibility of such double motion, is constantly changing, is multiple as opposed to simple, oscillating and spiraling as opposed to linear. When Derrida italicizes the condition of a linear movement through time, the condition is that there be one history. The double movement of historicity however tells of a repeating and new history, more than one, that is fundamentally also indistinguishable from story (histoire). Without such movement, “no history would be possible” (Introduction 58, my translation).

It is interesting to note that the two contributors from France excepting Derrida, Stiegler and René Major, work in the fields of philosophy and psychoanalysis, the two longest-standing theoretical paradigms, if you will, within which Derrida, since the early 1950s, has worked (“literature” is the other). René Major’s “Derrida and psychoanalysis: desistantial psychoanalysis” is structured in two large parts both of which will interest anyone working on the intersection of literature and psychoanalysis. A first development re-visits many of Derrida’s essays on psychoanalysis, showing how, even if Freudian concepts belong to the history of metaphysics which Derrida seeks to deconstruct, many of the Freudian concepts (the unconscious, pleasure/ pain, subject/ object, present/ past, delay, etc.) remain active in Derrida, in particular in how Derrida interrogates writing. Major isolates the core of the disagreement between Derrida and Lacan, namely deconstruction as divisibility, and devotes the rest of his article to an in-depth study of how Derrida’s reading of psychoanalysis requires modifications in clinical, theoretical and institutional aspects of psychoanalysis, in particular aspects of the Lacanian legacy. These modifications involve what Derrida and Major call “désistance”, which itself involves among other things a “disidentification from every position in estance, from all determinations of the subject by the ego” (301). Major details especially Lacan’s reading of Poe. It is Lacan’s “identification” with “one of the protagonists in a scene of inheritance of thought that reveals the blind spot of the interpretation or the fixation to a demand for meaning” (310). In short, Major equips us with new ways of understanding the disagreement between Derrida and Lacan about whether the letter must always arrive at its destination (Lacan) or may not (Derrida).

New Zealander working in the States, literature professor David Wills returns to Derrida’s La vérité en peinture [1978] to explore Derrida’s version of “aesthetics” in “Derrida and aesthetics: Lemming (reframing the abyss).”6 In doing so, Wills has recourse to the notion of iterability: “If one were to posit anything like an architectonics of Derridean philosophical discourse, one would have to argue that whether it is a matter of aesthetics, politics or ethics, access to it is consistently articulated across this threshold concept of the trait as a function of iterability” (119). Extending Jacques Derrida and the Humanities into the realm of aesthetics and art criticism by visualizing “Derrida’s figural graphism, his painterly writing”, the brilliant part of Wills’ contribution to this volume consists in how he shows such iterability to be coextensive with reversibility, which Wills calls “the anagrammatical effect of iterability, by means of which every utterance, in being repeated, is resituated, recontextualized, and rearranged” (121). Now, Will’s essay is crucial reading for those wanting to understand better the principles of inversion throughout Derrida’s writing. Inversion is central to what Derrida calls différance, namely the way a particular hierarchical opposition would not exist were its inverse not to be recognized by suppression. Yet most important is how Wills shows Derrida’s inversion of philosophical discourse on art (Kant’s): the frame, , of art which Kant excluded from his aesthetics collapses inward such that any inside of a painting or art object is traversed by crossing lines, by an X or by a +. From Derrida’s deconstruction of traditional art criticism, Wills moves fascinatingly to an exposition of the graphic effect of the archaic diacritical marks appearing in Derrida’s text. This essay therefore serves a triple purpose: the relation of deconstruction to the arts, writing as visual art, and iterability as anagrammatization, are each clearly presented.

As his title indicates, J. Hillis Miller’s “Derrida and literature” reads how Derrida reads literature. This essay is important for literary critics, for littéraires. Miller is the only contributor from the United States or Great Britain writing about his own academic discipline, but to do so entails understanding what literature is to this particular philosopher and the problem it poses to philosophy in general. Prior to his highlighting how Derrida reads literary texts themselves, Miller returns to where Derrida defines literature, notably in the interview with Derek Attridge, “This Strange Institution Called Literature”: “Literature is for Derrida the possibility for any utterance, writing, or mark to be iterated in innumerable contexts and to function in the absence of identifiable speaker, context, reference, or hearer” (59). That is, literature is the possibility that any seemingly non-literary usage of language can be used in a literary way, that any literal use of language can always be taken figuratively, such that figurative meaning is the basis upon which literal meaning stands. Yet what we identify as literary is the result of certain rules, conventions and institutions. Derrida moreover identifies literature, as an institution in the West, with democracy and freedom of speech. With this notion of literature, democracy and freedom of speech presuppose not only the authority to say everything but also to disclaim responsibility for what is said. Miller here reconstructs dense passages from Derrida’s essay “Passions” to postulate, “Literature is an exploitation of the possibility that any utterance may be ‘non-serious’” (65). Among the implications of such a statement probed by Miller is the idea that literature, and therefore all writing, is always a reduction of an idea (a truth, the notion of serious linguistic usage, the ‘right way to think’, my ‘real’ intention). Yet such an idea may always only be a supposition, radically unverifiable, because the only sensible form it takes is its appearance in literature, in language as literary. All language is potentially ‘non-serious’, potentially just literature, because it never is for sure the restitution of the ‘serious’, of something prior to language. This way in which literature is radical non-responsibility—as in the disclaimer of movies, ‘any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental’—is the correlative of literature as freedom of speech, the right to say everything, linchpin of democracy.

Derrida’s essay appears in English translation, but its translator is not mentioned. She happens to be Peggy Kamuf. It is unfortunate the book omits this information, as well as any biographical information on the contributors, whose institutional affiliations for those in the know reveal aspects of the book not available to the general reader. It seems that this book fails an entry-level question, for in it Derrida’s essay stresses the importance of the study by the university of the university, and thus of the importance of institutions and positions, yet the book apparently forgets any mention of institutions or positions. Even if naming institutions and positions can sometimes amount to name-dropping, the solution to that risk need not be omission (if it were, the title page of the volume would not identify the editor’s affiliation). This reviewer happens to know the disciplinary and institutional affiliations of many of the contributors to this volume: working in departments of English, Comparative Literature, French, German, Philosophy, the writers here are university professors in the Netherlands, Great Britain, the United States and France, although at least one is not a university professor but rather a practicing psychoanalyst. Interestingly, the contributors from Great Britain and the United States tend to work in national or comparative literature departments (Tom Cohen, J. Hillis Miller, Peggy Kamuf, David Wills, Peter Fenves, Geoff Bennington), even when writing primarily philosophy (Bennington, Fenves, Christopher Fynsk), whereas the contributors from France are from either philosophy departments or the profession of psychoanalysis (Bernard Stiegler, René Major). Let us leave here Hent de Vries aside, who works more or less out of a philosophy department in the Netherlands. It is not an accident that the psychoanalyst and philosopher come from France, yet none of the literature professors. It would be wrong to assign to this formation of contributors a determinism (there are literature professors in France who could and do write about Derrida, and there are psychoanalysts and philosophers in the U.S. working on Derrida). Still, the distribution of roles in this volume does reflect the somewhat true yet simplistic schematization of the “university” which I am trying to spotlight here. The book, by omitting any institutional, biographical or disciplinary affiliation, obscures precisely an essential point of a book such as this one particularly, the point being that there is relation between what one writes and where one writes it from, even if this relation is not governed by determinism. Although a reviewer could content himself with simply resuming what the essays in this volume say, it is incumbent upon at least this one to stress that part of what these essays and this volume say is inseparable from the contexts of that saying. From Derrida’s Introduction to Edmund Husserl’s L’Origine de la géométrie through his activism for the teaching of philosophy during the 1970s to the seminars on nationalism and institutions in the late 1980s through the many texts on the organization of education in Du droit à la philosophie and beyond to L’Université sans condition [2001] (of which the English translation, presented upon invitation to Stanford University in 1998, is published in this volume), institutional awareness is one of the most constant impulses throughout his oeuvre. To note the institutional affiliations of the contributors (and translators) is to recognize the inherently foreign status of this book; indeed, there is something structurally foreign, from the point of view of the French context, about both “Jacques Derrida” and the “Humanities”, as well as about the “and” that joins them: the “Humanities” do not exist in the French university system as the place where a student studies several of its disciplines all the while specializing in one nor do the “Humanities” exist nominally in France (the term “sciences humaines” or “lettres” are the recent and less recent terms used); “Jacques Derrida” has been difficult to classify, even if he has been prominent in the French intellectual scene for forty years; and the “and” joining “Jacques Derrida and the Humanities” is anything but granted in France, where, because of the lack of a coherence, of adherence, across disciplines in particular in the intellectual itinerary of university students, the “Humanities” cannot be said to exist except as atomized entities therefore not coherent in any whole, in any university, so that it becomes doubly incoherent to join by an “and” two separate fields both of which are by definition pluri-disciplinary (Derrida works in, and is worked on by, many fields—literature, history, psychoanalysis, music, the visual and performing arts, etc. all of which can be found inside as well as outside the Anglo-American university; an education there in the “Humanities” will be built from courses in different disciplines some of which possibly from outside the “Humanities”). Despite the drawback of these omissions, Jacques Derrida and the Humanities: A Critical Reader is excellent for its polymathic and polymorphic comprehension of Derrida’s work, and of its interactions with the different disciplines of the contemporary university according to the “Anglo-Saxon” model.

1 Among the many are Samuel Weber, Institution and Interpretation (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987), Bill Readings, The University in Ruins (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1996), and Peggy Kamuf, The Division of Literature or the University in Deconstruction (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997).

2 Especially in his Du droit à la philosophie (Paris : Galilée, 1990).

3 There are obvious exceptions, from Emile Durkheim to Pierre Bourdieu and Jean-Claude Passeron, not to mention Derrida.

4 Les Révolutions de l’université. Essai sur la modernisation de la culture (Paris: Calmann-Lévy, 1995). Que faire des universités (Paris: Bayard, 2002). As in his government report at <>, these essays accurately analyze the numerous weaknesses leading to the implosion of the French university, and they argue for a restoration, in the university, of “culture générale” or “liberal arts” education descendant from the Humanities.

5 Translated by J.-F. Courtine, L. Ferry, A. Laks, A. Renaut and J. Rivelaygue, with a preface by Ferry, Renaut and J.-P. Pesron (Paris: Payot, 1980).

6 Jacques Derrida and the Humanities includes another foray into artistic representation, with Marian Hobson’s “Derrida and representation: mimesis, presentation, and representation.”

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