Battling on Paper

 A battle seems to have erupted over Jacques Derrida’s papers. Derrida, a prominent literary theorist and the originator of “deconstruction” passed away in 2004. He donated some of his papers to the University of California at Irvine in 1990. His remaining papers are held by his estate and in other repositories.

 The lawsuit filed by the University of Califronia in federal court is concerned with what will be done about all of Derrida’s papers. UC may be worried that Derrida’s heirs may want to take back the papers that it holds or perhaps the University wants to acquire the remaining papers.

Derrida, who was of French origin, was more prominent in the United States than in France but it seems that the battle over the disposition of his papers is being influenced in part by the desire of French intellectual circles to embrace his legacy more warmly.

Information about Derrida’s work can be found here.

Lifelines for Derrida and literary theory as published by the Chronicle of Higher Education are given below.



July 1930: Jacques Derrida, son of a commercial traveler for a French wine company, is born in Algeria.

1956: Graduates from École Normale Supérieure. Goes to Harvard University for postgraduate work.

1962: Publishes translation into French of Edmund Husserl’s Origin of Geometry, with long introduction.

1967: Publishes three books introducing deconstruction: Of Grammatology, Writing and Difference, and Speech and Phenomena.

1972: Publishes another theoretical tripleheader: Dissemination, Positions, and Margins of Philosophy.

Early 1980s: Most early books available in English translation.

Late 1980s: Writes books and essays on Paul de Man and Martin Heidegger, who were accused of Nazi sympathies.

1994: Publishes Specters of Marx after decades of speculation among readers over relationship between Marxism and deconstruction.

Late 1990s: Produces numerous seminars and books on ethical and religious questions.

2002: Derrida: The Film shows philosopher lecturing, writing, walking around his house, having his hair cut.

Spring 2003: Diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. With Jürgen Habermas, signs public statement criticizing U.S. invasion of Iraq.

Spring 2004: Tells American friends that he finds working difficult. Translation of Rogues, his recent book on the philosophical implications of the contemporary international situation, is under way.

October 2004: Dies in Paris.
Section: Research & Publishing
Volume 51, Issue 9, Page A1
October 22, 2004



1916: Ferdinand de Saussure revolutionizes linguistics with his idea of language as a system of signs (the signifier and the signified) in The Course in General Linguistics, a book compiled from students’ notes at the University of Geneva after his death, in 1913. Saussure’s new science of “semiology” paves the way for structuralism and poststructuralism and for the so-called linguistic turn that will mark the work of such future stars as Jacques Derrida and Roland Barthes in literary studies, Claude Levi-Strauss in anthropology, and Jacques Lacan in psychoanalysis.

1941: In essays collected in The New Criticism, John Crowe Ransom articulates some of the formalist principles behind the New Criticism and its emphasis on the close reading of a text.

1957: Northrop Frye’s Anatomy of Criticism challenges the New Critics by emphasizing the roles that archetype, myth, and genre play in creating the meaning of a literary work.

1963: Richard Hoggart founds the Center for Contemporary Cultural Studies at the University of Birmingham, in Britain. Much of the seminal work in cultural studies — by Hoggart, Raymond Williams, Stuart Hall, Paul Gilroy, and others — will come out of the center in the 1960s and 70s.

1966: “The Language of Criticism and the Sciences of Man,” a conference at the Johns Hopkins University, marks the debut of structuralism and poststructuralism on the American academic scene. Jacques Derrida presents a paper, “Structure, Sign, and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences,” that becomes one of the founding documents of deconstruction.

1968: The French structuralist Roland Barthes pronounces “The Death of the Author” in an essay written during the May 1968 uprisings in Paris.

1969: Michel Foucault attacks a fundamental premise of literary studies — that individuals produce texts — in his essay “What Is an Author?”

1973: The Yale School rules: Harold Bloom publishes The Anxiety of Influence, and Paul de Man describes how to read deconstructively in his essay “Semiology and Rhetoric.”

1978: Edward Said’s Orientalism puts postcolonial studies on the map.

1979: Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar’s The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination marks a milestone in the popularization of feminist literary criticism.

1982: The “neopragmatists” Stephen Knapp and Walter Benn Michaels argue, in their essay “Against Theory,” that “the whole enterprise of critical theory is misguided and should be abandoned.”

1986: J. Hillis Miller, then president of the Modern Language Association and a key figure in American deconstruction, delivers an address, “The Triumph of Theory,” to the group’s annual gathering.

1987: The posthumous discovery of anti-Semitic wartime journalism by Paul de Man (who died in 1983) undermines the influential Yale deconstructionist’s lingering influence.

1990: A queer-studies classic arrives: Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity.

2001: The first edition of The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism appears, coming in at 2,524 pages, not including notes and indexes.

2004: Jacques Derrida dies.

2005: The French philosopher Jean Baudrillard, famous for his notion of reality as simulacrum, tells The New York Times, “Nobody needs French theory.”
Section: Research & Publishing
Volume 52, Issue 17, Page A12 
December 16, 2005


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