Understanding Derrida, Deconstruction & Of Grammatology

Understanding Derrida, Deconstruction & Of Grammatology

In this video, I take an introductory look at the philosophy of Jacques Derrida and Deconstruction. I look at the basic tenets of Derrida’s thought, and his relationship with Ferdinand de Saussure and Jean-Jacques Rosseau in Of Grammatology.

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Recommended Reading Order:

If you’re completely new to Derrida, these graphic introductions are actually really helpful –

‘Structure Sign and Play’ in Writing and Difference –

Différance –

Of Grammatology –


Image of Derrida by Chinmoy Guha
(Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported –

Edited by Lewis Waller


‘Your Mother’s Daughter’ by Chris Zabriskie
Too Cool Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Concentration Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License

jacques derrida was one of the most influential but controversial and heavily criticized philosophers of the 20th century he was labeled by many as a nihilist and as someone who according to an open letter signed by 18 academics does not meet accepted standards of clarity and rigor and attacks the values of reason and truth in defense I will start from the position that a large part of Derrida and popular legacy can be attributed to one overlooked and crucial premise to understand Derrida and deconstruction the approach to philosophy inspired it must be remembered what Derrida is criticizing why this makes him one of the most liberal liberating and democratic proponents of our times on the surface his work was a deep analysis of grommit ology or writing but the importance of his work and what unfolds from critique of writing itself is a critical look at institutions Derrida himself said that the idea behind deconstruction is to deconstruct the workings of strong nation-states with powerful immigration policies to deconstruct the rhetoric of nationalism the politics of place the metaphysics of native land and native tongue the idea is to disarm the bombs of identity that nation-states built to defend themselves against the stranger against Jews and Arabs and immigrants political systems political parties power structures bureaucracies institutions are on the surface made up of buildings websites telephone numbers people documents and network things but what they're really made up of is a tradition in their way of doing things a shared language a system of words and sentences that bundled together become the theory the foundation the goal and the power of what that institution Derrida was writing at the time that was very different today today institutions have multiplied fractured democratized to an extent and become much more complicated not least because of mass media and the internet but in the 1960s the second-biggest institution in the world the US Army was fighting a largely unjust an illegal war in Vietnam against a proxy for the second biggest institution the Soviet Union which had just come out of one of the most systematic and frightening abuses of power in human history a terror that killed millions and sustained the appeal that millions of people saw in another institution Marxism not to mention Mao's Great Leap Forward the Khmer Rouge imperial wars colonialism and neocolonialism our in the name of neoliberalism all of these ideas and institutions are held together by theory and language and to the proponents a convincing language that they thought revealed the truth of the world institutions are each respectively supported by a tradition of separate political philosophies that each inspired books essays articles and networks of commentators university lectures supporters and detractors the American Constitution was based on the political philosophy of John Locke the rights of sovereigns to rule around the world has been inspired by Hobbesian tradition going back to 1651 and theories about the Divine Right of Kings before that and of course the politics of almost 300 million people in the Soviet Union throughout most of the 20th century was inspired by the writings of one man so it's important to remember all of this when reading Derrida but what exactly does he say Jack Derrida born in 1930 and died in 2004 was the developer of deconstruction a postmodern philosophy and math of criticizing and deconstructing attacks using just the text itself Derrida argued that the history of philosophy was logo centric that is it presumed that there was some absolute truth that could be found through language Derrida thought that this was fundamentally mistaken because of the undecidability of language the words cannot be pinned down to a single definite meaning Derrida has been called a post structuralist because he engaged with the structuralism of Ferdinando so sure who must be understood to understand what Derrida means when he says things like monsters cannot be announced one cannot say here are our monsters without immediately turning the monsters into pets so co-teaching in Geneva at the beginning of the 20th century said that meaning in language is produced by signs which have two sides a signifier and a signify a signifier is the word or image sounds writing a picture the part that is sensed as an input by the brain by the sound tree the picture of the tree or the written word true the signifier points to a signified the concept of a tree the signified is the idea it cannot be a real tree because people refer to different trees when they say the word tree it's the shared human idea of a tree for socio of the signifier and the signified are united in the brain like two sides of a sheet of paper he believed that what gives signs meaning is the differences between them cats for example means cat because it's not a bat smart or nuts and that it's given meaning because of its relationship with dog mammal four-legged animals Pat's Catwoman Batman the list goes on all of these are part of a structural network where signs all point towards each other to give each other meaning take a look at a dictionary what do you see when you look up the definition of a word different words and when you look up those more words until eventually you're back at the first word Derrida took this idea and built upon it he said that not only was science dependent on each other for their meaning but that other signs were always present within the meaning of a single sign by what he called their trace take Pig pink and big when you say or think pig other concepts signs signifies and signifiers are literally present in the sign itself to define its meaning the sign Pig is also partly pink big small dirty farm pork ham and animal among a thousand other things depending on the person all of these concepts are neither present nor absent in the signifier pig but are identifiable in the concept by their trace Derrida wrote that the trace is not presents but is rather the silicum of a presence that dislocates displaces and refers beyond itself the trace has properly speaking no place for a Faceman belongs to the very structure of the trace trace is part of what Derrida turned to de France which means that meaning impossibly exists in the space between signs he said that difference is the systematic play of differences of the traces of differences of the spacing by means by which elements are related to each other this spacing is the simultaneously active and passive production of the intervals without which the full terms would not signify would not function derrida's fundamental point with all of these terms is that language is hugely subjective meaning differs from reader to reader time to time and so there cannot possibly be a shared truth that we can all access through one theory philosophy or institution on top of this stare at a thought that much of the tradition of Western philosophy was based upon binary opposition's where one term or concept is given primacy said to be more natural have more of the truth in it over the other right and left male and female inside and outside high and low speech and writing many writers consciously or not write as if there is a hierarchy where one term is presumed more fundamental than the other taking all of this into consideration we can look at derrida's most famous work of granite ology written in 1967 a notoriously difficult book remembering the necessity of institutional critique is important to understanding why he chooses to spend so much of the book on the french philosopher jean-jacques Rousseau Rousseau is one of the most important philosophers of the modernity and you can draw a lineage from Rousseau thinking to not only the revolution that gave birth to the modern world the French Revolution but the thought of Freud Marx cants in fact almost every philosopher that came out there some draw a direct line between Rousseau and the totalitarian regimes of the 20th century Rousseau's thought envisaged a political community that was closer to nature than the institutions he saw around him much of his writings based on the idea that humanity has been corrupted by civil society he said that when there is no effect there is no cause to seek but here the effect is certain the depravity real and our souls have been corrupted in proportion to the advancement of our sciences and arts towards perfection for Rousseau the most obvious example of this corruption is the written word speech he says expresses our thoughts almost instantly always presently always face to face and the naturalness of speech has been corrupted by a dependency on writing introducing distance and a barrier between two minds Rousseau argues that writing embodies communities and institutions that are distant unconnected separates and thus are natural he says that writing which seems as if it should fix language is precisely what alters it it changes not its words but its genius its substitute precision for expressiveness feelings are conveyed when one speaks and ideas when one writes in writing one is forced to take all of the words according to common exception but he who speaks varies the meanings by the tones of his voices he determines them as he pleases less constrained to be clear he grants more to forcefulness and it is not possible for a language one rights to keep for long the liveliness of one that is spoken this immediately introduces a contradiction in Russo's thoughts that Rousseau was well aware of that he constantly attacks writing but has to write himself to express his position Rousseau says that speech is natural and full in itself but Derrida says that if that's so adding writing to it reveals that it wasn't already full or complete when you substitute speech for writing you reveal a deficiency in speech something it could not perform but had the potential to so how Derrida could it be full of natural brew so not only wrote political philosophy but also the first modern autobiography the confessions he clearly thought he needed the written word to justify his position Rousseau thought that man before society in a state of nature was a species already in a perfect state so why didn't things just stay the same he said that culture the arts and science attached nature from the outside if this is so again how is nature complete Derrida says that what Rousseau calls natural has the capacity for supplementation within it making anything unnatural not unnatural at all Rousseau creates an arbitrary binary between natural and unnatural to justify his entire political system what appears as an unnatural substitute for something a supplement actually doesn't turn out to be artificial at all no line can be drawn between natural and unnatural when we think about some thing that thing is inextricably connected to other things that aren't present to give the thing its identity there is no logo centric moment of pure natural presence the world is much too complicated so she all claimed that the link between signifier and signified was arbitrary a tree could have easily been called something else as it is in other languages but so she also claims that phonic signifiers sounds and speech had a more natural link to their signified concepts than written signifiers their stare at a point sight cannot possibly be true if there is no natural link between signifier and signified then speech cannot be not more important than writing of both socio and Russo's claim the language is independent of writing Derrida says that such is the truth of nature and yet nature is affected from without by an overturning which modifies it in its interior denatures it and obliges it to be separated from itself nature denaturing itself being separated from itself naturally gathering its outside into its insight is catastrophe a natural event that overthrows nature a monstrosity a natural deviation within nature Rousseau and socio both cool writing a tyranny but where is the evil when will perhaps ask and what has been invested in the living word that makes such Gresham's of writing intolerable for Derrida then everything Rousseau wrote was very natural very real and very much a part of Rousseau's existence not a mediated version of it hence his most famous line there is no outside text the point of Derrida's way of doing philosophy is to attack the authors using only themselves to deconstruct them from within Derrida's philosophy is one for our times as it represents the skepticism of post modernity represents how fewer and fewer people believe in the superlative power of institutions that represents how nothing should be immune from assiduously detailed criticism Derrida's style of writing can be obtuse of putting ly difficult but there's a point to it it's what he calls ARCA writing sort of philosophical writing this is aware of the difficulties he himself has shone a light on and as long as you understand the basic tenets of derrida's thought before going in reading Derrida is less difficult and more a rewarding literary experience I'm going to put a recommended reading list for Derrida in the description below and if you'd like to support this channel you can buy those books through those links and I'll get a small Commission which would really help me out you can also subscribe like and share this video and if you're feeling really generous you can support me on patreon for as little as $1 per video see you next time


  1. I wouldn't comment on a video if I wouldn't notice the distinct lack of comments, while being a big fan of the channel. I love what you do and your videos are really good at explaining philosophical concepts over a relaxing tune playing, helping me stay focused. I believe you touch just the right topics that other thoughtful youtube channels haven't tapped into yet.
    Take it as a compliment: Then & Now is what The School of Life should be.

  2. "there is no truth"
    "there is no way of determining the meaning of language"
    goes on to say things in language as though you should believe them to be true
    The whole exercise is idiotic.

  3. Hi there, after studying Lacan for 3 days next on my list is Derrida's of grammatology. I really liked this video. Do you happen to have the script? If you do, could you post it on patreon? I'm not sure if it's already there and I might just happen to cannot find it because of my inherent inability for research! Thanks for your efforts and also I'd love a video on Bakhtin and his "Epic and Novel" Anything on literary theory and linguistics would be superb!

  4. Currently writing a thesis on Derrida, and his theory— your video does a great job explaining Derrida’s philosophy, and I couldn’t agree more with your stance on archi-writing, as one who has already read grammatology— this video serves as a wonderful introductory step for those who are either curious about deconstruction, or literary criticism as a whole! Wonderful video. 🙂

  5. Deconstructionism is a bad critique because it too often overlooks the reality of outside proof leading to an ideology or institution being empowered or discredited. A person can be completely consistent within their framework but wrong about it's foundation in reality, just as well as someone can be right about the fact of reality and wrong in their conclusions. All the deconstructionist arguments necessarily boil down to: "This is hypocritical" and their argument always assumes the same context of a proposed idea or institution: that the stated goals, beliefs, and proofs are the sole evidence for their benefit. This critique disregards observed reality by its very nature.

  6. I love how all these videos that seek to sell poison as tonic always have the mellow speaker, ether british or north california accent, high pitched beta herbivore, reeking of soy. Post modernism, post structuralism is pure logic poison. Akin to a divide by zero, error in a computer this thinking prevents you from perceiving reality for what it is, locks up your ability to develop, cultivates resentment , what Nietzsche referred to as slave mentality. It does look like it eventually wears off if you actually deal with the real world, but for those that can live out their miserable, non productive exstances, in academia, they are unfortunately able to thrive and continue to infect

  7. Derrida.. Foucault.. Lacan.. and others of same sort of Pretentious nihilistic irresponsible hollow postmodernist baby pimps!!! utter empty nothingness that says nothing about anything, and everything about nothing..

  8. Finally I understand a lot of problems with today's western culture. He must be one of the most influential "philosophers" of our time but I have absolutely no idea why he was that successful – as if L. Ron Hubbard founded a space colony that went of of its own for a few decades. Good video about a fraud and useful idiot(?).

  9. In the end of the day, derrida is just another sophist in a relativist multiverse. "Everything is a social construct, theres no such thing as an objective truth," as a postmodernist say. Neither do his ideas & worldview to begin with. Its a linguist contruct, it cannot be true. everything is relative, right? 👌

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