You are on page 1of 7

PHIL 4889/6041

Peter Gratton, PhD

Winter 2017
Class Time, Location: Wednesdays, A1046
Office Hours: T/TH 12:00-2:00pm and by appointment
Course website:

The New Derrida

This graduate level course takes up a bold and risky title, not just simply to study the work
of Jacques Derrida, but to introduce and think through a supposedly new Derrida, which
happens to share the title with a book I'm co-writing this semester with Rick Elmore. It is
presumptuous, is it not, to think one has found something new in a figure whose most
famous writings were published 50 years ago this year (Of Grammatology, Writing and
Difference, Speech and Phenomena) and who died some unlucky thirteen years ago? And
who has been the subject of endless journal articles and books? We heard it at conferences
here in the fall, the rumour of a man who stood for nihilism, for the idea that words can
mean anything, and should be openly mocked by those who stand for anything but that. His
work is, thus, said to be passée, to be as dead as he is, because we have a firm grasp on the a
priori or some given foundation (materiality, nature, God, and so on) outside a metaphysics
and its history that gives these words their meaning.

Derrida's most infamous phrase comes from one of his earliest and best known work,
written at the early age (for a philosopher) of 37, smack dab in the middle of Of
Grammatology: "il n'y a pas de hors-texte," which has been taken to mean that there is
nothing outside texts, no reality out there, and thus Derrida is guilty of the crime of a
linguistic idealism that denies an extra-linguistic world. But--and context is key here--this
line occurs in a paragraph discussing the fact that meaning and sense always arrive in a
context, that there is no “outside” to this contextualization, no position from which any
thinking, living, and acting could appear independent from contextual framing, and, thus,
independent from some ongoing discourse or history, in short, from some “text.” It is this
insistence on context that in a general sense guides the new of this course (and of our book),
for it is easy to argue that the context in which we now read Derrida has changed from
deconstruction's heyday in the 1980s and 90s, given new movements in naturalism,
Continental realisms, and the new materialisms, as well as the prominence of such
philosophical positions as the Platonism of Alain Badiou, the egalitarianism of Jacques
Rancière, the psychoanalytic theories of Julia Kristeva, the non-philosophy of François
Laruelle, the Spinozist Marxism of Etienne Balibar, the network theories of Bruno Latour,
not to mention the various banalities on display in the contemporary French scene found in
works by the Western triumphalist Alain Finkielkraut, the ubiquitous and awful Bernard-
Henri Lévy, the tepid tea that is Michel Onfray, and the increasingly bland liberalism of
Marcel Gauchet. In short, then, the new Derrida would be the one we read from within the
very new context we find ourselves in today: the era of Trump, the discovery or invention of
the anthropocene, the new technologies that seem to mean that some of us really don't live
outside our texts and texting, Black Lives Matter, and all that has happened in music, the
arts, film, television, the internet, forms of communication, geopolitics, colonialism and its
various "post" phases that appear more like alibis of its continued existence under other
names than any true moving beyond, and so on.
In this context, we can't help but read Derrida differently and anew; his texts do not provide
a set of Platonic ideas set off from the ways they are taken up, read or not read, line by line,
or book by book, as if there was something behind them, some ideas that are unchanging
and eternal--which would be the worst for some, an eternal Derrida. No, as we will see
Derrida's emphasis on finitude, death, and the limits of the human is not some existentialist
emphasis on the absurd but an affirmation of life and its temporality. This won't be a
reactionary course that gives you some "Standard Derrida" because there is no such thing--
not least on his own terms, which I guess would be a standard thing to say. No, I will argue
that some of the central insights of his writings have never been more relevant, never more
new to us, than in this context, in this place, in this world that faces the end of it all.

We will proceed not chronologically but largely backwards in Derrida's writings all to show
that we must not allow his earlier writings to be lost to those who read them wholly in terms
of "textual readings" and "binary oppositions." I think we will see, if we look from the later
to the earlier, something new afoot and I hope new ground to tread in the study of Derrida.
Central will be Derrida's writings on finitude and the time-spacing of différance that would
be his core idea if one could make an idea of differentialization and temporalization, which
never has time on its side even as it makes time a felt reality for itself and for us. Let's mark
out, then, four central themes (more will arise--no doubt new things will pop up when we
least expect it): the limits of the human, the relation of life and death, the ends of the world,
and what I'll discuss under the heading of a difficult Greek word, khôra, that appears all
over Derrida's later writings.

The format of the course will be what one would expect given that this is related to a book in
progress: I will begin each day (I hope to be prepared each time!) with a lecture relating to
the readings assigned. We will then spend much of the class discussing what I was trying to
get across in the lectures (both for clarity and perhaps to show my own limits when you tell
me how I got it wrong) and of course the texts themselves. For those new to Derrida,
especially new to this so-called new Derrida, there is no getting around that his writings are
often circuitous and lapidary, and I'm not some Derridean who treats each text as sacred:
some needed editing to cut them down, some just needed to get to the point faster, and
some needed just that exegetical paragraph explaining the text that he's looking at. But he
was invariably a deeply responsible thinker, even or especially when his texts turn playful,
and if that's news to you, then there may be something to this idea of the new Derrida.

Please note: the syllabus may change due to various circumstances, including canceled
classes due to inclement weather, or a choice to continue to focus on one or more texts. The
website should be consulted continuously for the most current assignment and evaluation


Class Participation (10%): You will be expected to attend each class having read the relevant
materials and able to comment upon them to other members of the class. Your participation
grade will be assessed with the following in mind: (1) attendance (no more than three
absences during the semester, no exceptions) and (2) level and quality of participation. If
you are shy, you will need to get over this rather early in the class, given the importance of
class participation in your overall grade.

However, if you suffer from any disabilities, such as a social phobia and/or a physical or
mental condition, which you believe may impede your progress and participation in the
course, either with regard to the class itself or quizzes and exams, please let me know as
soon as possible. I have worked with students with special circumstances before and I will
be glad to do so again to make this classroom as inclusive as possible. One should also seek
out the services of the Blundon Center, which has proved very useful to many students with
all kinds of different ways of learning.

Exegetical Paper (35%):

A midterm paper will be due that requires the student to explain in detail one aspect of
Derrida's project. The student is required to to use at least two secondary resources (many
such sources are supplied on the the course site) and the length of the paper will be 10-12
pages, double-spaced, Times Roman font.

Final Paper (50%):

This paper will be analytical in nature, taking up and examining in detail themes arising
from the texts in the course, though there should little, if any, overlap with the exegetical
paper. Each student should meet with the professor to discuss the topic of the paper. At
least three secondary sources must be used and the length of the paper should be at least 18
pages and in double-spaced, Times Roman font.

Late Policies

For Fewer Than Five Days

A student who is prevented from completing part of the course evaluation due to illness or
medical condition(s) of less than five calendar days’ duration may apply for an alternate
evaluation of a similar nature. This requires declaring to the relevant instructor that the
student has experienced such an illness or medical condition. The declaration should be
made via telephone or in writing through the student’s e-mail account. The
declaration should be made in advance of the original date on which an in-class part of the
evaluation is to be held or a take-home part of the evaluation is due, wherever possible, but
no later than 48 hours after the original date of the part of the evaluation. If the declaration
is made by telephone, written confirmation must then be received by the relevant instructor
within seven calendar days of the original date of the part of the evaluation.

For Five Days or More

A student who is prevented from completing a part of the evaluation by illness of at least five
calendar days’ duration, bereavement or other acceptable cause, duly authenticated in
writing, may apply for an alternate evaluation, normally of a similar nature. This application
should be made in advance of the original date on which an in-class part of the evaluation is
to be held or a take-home part of the evaluation is due, wherever possible, but no later than
48 hours after the original date of the part of the evaluation. If application is made by
telephone, written confirmation must then be received by the head of the appropriate
academic unit within seven calendar days of the original date of the part of the evaluation.
The following supporting documentation is required:

 For illness or medical conditions, medical documentation from a health professional

is required. Students should provide the health professional with a copy of the
Student Medical Certificate
 For bereavement or other acceptable cause, official documents or letters that support
the reason for the request (e.g. death certificate, letter from employer, etc.) are

Book ordered:

All resources and texts are to be found on the course website. Any articles without a
link is available through the MUN library website.


Wednesday, January 11

1. Jacques Derrida, "Learning to Live Finally" (2004)

2. Jacques Derrida, "Choosing One's Heritage" (Stanford UP, 2005)

STRONGLY Recommended:

1. SEP, Jacques Derrida

2. Mauro Senatore, "Jacques Derrida: A Biographical Note," in Derrida: Key Concepts,
ed. Claire Colebrook (Routledge, 2015).
3. Elisabeth Weber, “Derrida’s Urgency, Today,” Los Angeles Review of Books
4. Simon Critchley, "No Exit," Los Angeles Review of Books (I will refer specifically to
this interview)
5. Philosophy Talk, Podcast on Jacques Derrida and Deconstruction.

Wednesday, January 18

1. Derrida, The Animal that Therefore I am, pp. 1-52. (Stanford UP, 2008)
2. Nicole Anderson: "deconstruction and Ethics: An (ir)responsibility, in Derrida: Key

1. Judith Still, Derrida and Other Animals: The Boundaries of the Human (Edinburgh
University Press, 2015)
2. SEP, Emmanuel Levinas
3. Matthew Calarco, Zoographies: The Question of the Animal from Heidegger to
Derrida (Columbia UP, 2008)

Wednesday, January 24

1. Derrida, The Animal that Therefore I am, pp. 53-119, 141-end.

Wednesday, February 1

1. Derrida, Rogues, Sections 1-5

2. Derrida and Roudinesco, "Unforeseeable Freedom" from For What
Tomorrow... (Stanford, 2005)
3. Alex Thomson, "Democracy and Sovereignty," in Derrida: Key Concepts.


1. Nick Mansfield, “Sovereignty as its Own Question: Derrida's Rogues,” Contemporary

Political Theory, 2008, Vol.7 (4), p.361.
2. Michael Naas, Derrida from Now On (Fordham UP, 2011), esp. Chapter 7.
3. Penelope Deutscher, "Sexual Immunities and the Sexual Sovereign," in Derrida: Key
4. Peter Gratton, The State of Sovereignty: Lessons from the Political Fictions of
Modernity (SUNY Press, 2011), esp. Chapter 7.
5. Sam Weber, “Rogue Democracy,” diacritics, 2008, Vol.38(1), pp.104-120.

Wednesday, February 8

Derrida, Rogues, Sections 6-10

Wednesday, February 15

1. Derrida, Aporias, Part II

2. Iain Thomson, “Can I die? Derrida on Heidegger on death,” Philosophy Today,
Spring 1999, Vol.43(1), pp.29-42.

Wednesday, February 22

Winter Break

Wednesday, March 1

1. Derrida, The Death Penalty Lectures, Vol. 1, Sessions 1-3.

2. Derrida and Roudinesco, "Death Penalties," in For What Tomorrow...


1. Robert Trumbell, “Derrida and the Death Penalty: The Question of

Cruelty,” Philosophy Today, Spring 2015, Vol.59(2), pp.317-336.
2. Matthias Fritsch, “Derrida on the Death Penalty,” The Southern Journal of
Philosophy, Sep 2012, Vol.50, p.56.
3. Michael Naas, “The Philosophy and Literature of the Death Penalty: Two Sides of the
Same Sovereign,” The Southern Journal of Philosophy, Sep 2012, Vol.50, p.39.

Wednesday, March 8

Derrida, The Death Penalty Lectures, Sessions 5, 9, 10, pp. 282-3.


1. Michael Naas, "When it comes to Mourning," in Derrida: Key Concepts.

Wednesday, March 15

1. Derrida, “Ousia and Grammē” in Margins of Philosophy.

2. Aristotle, Physics, Book IV (read chapters 10-14).


1. Heidegger, Being and Time, §§6, 81-83

2. Christopher Norris, “Derrida and Metaphysics,” from Understanding
Derrida (Continuum, 2004)
3. Martin Hägglund, extract (Ch. 1) from Radical Atheism: Derrida and the Time of
4. Joanna Hodge, "On Time and Temporisation; On Temporisation and History,"
in Derrida: Key Concepts.

Wednesday, March 22

1. Derrida, “Structure, Sign, and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences,"
in Writing and Difference (1967)
2. Derrida, “Différance,” in Margins of Philosophy (1972)


1. Jacques Derrida, “Letter to a Japanese Friend.”

2. Geoffrey Bennington, extract from “Derridabase“ in Jacques Derrida.
Tuesday, March 29

1. Derrida, Of Grammatology, the program: Exergue and Part I; final section.

2. Derrida, interview from Positions.
3. Robert Bernasconi, "The Supplement," in Derrida: Key Concepts.


1. Simon Glendinning, “Derrida and Language,” Understanding Derrida.

2. Iain Thomson,"What is Ontotheology?"
3. Len Lawlor, "Auto-Affection," in Derrida: Key Concepts

Wednesday, April 5

Derrida on the end of the world.

1. Michael Naas, “‘World, Solitude, Finitude’: Derrida's Final Seminar,” Research in

Phenomenology, 2014, Vol.44(1), pp.1-27.
2. Sean Gaston, “Derrida and the End of the World,” New Literary History, 2011,
Vol.42(3), pp.499-517.
3. Kelly Oliver, Earth and World: Philosophy After the Apollo Missions (Colombia UP,
2015), ch. 5.