LUMINA Volume 21 No. 2


by Rafael Pangilinan

Jacques Derrida is now generally agreed—by both devotees and critics alike—to be one of the most influential philosophers of the late twentieth century. To put it simply, Jacques Derrida became not just one of the best—known names in contemporary philosophy in the 1970s and 1980s, but something of a media phenomenon whose fame stretched far beyond the walls of the university. His mode of philosophy—which quickly acquired the famous or notorious brand name of 'deconstruction'—has influenced almost every academic discipline from art history to sciences. For Derrida, his early explorations of the problem of writing in western thought only represented the beginning of a much wider enquiry and his many subsequent texts develop this theme in new, singular and surprising directions. After the 1960s, he went on to explore such diverse areas, themes and disciplines as art and architecture, literature, linguistics, politics and international relations, psychoanalysis, religious studies and theology, technology and the media, and witnessing and testimony. From the 1980s onwards, it also becomes possible to detect an increasingly marked 'ethical' or 'political' turn in Derrida's work and thought. The philosopher at least appears to move away from the seemingly abstract philosophical questions of the earlier work and to gravitate towards concrete political problems such as apartheid, the fall of communism and the future of Europe. This impression is confirmed by the appearance of an increasingly ethical—even theological—vocabulary in the later work which draws on such themes as the gift, sacrifice, the impossible, and perhaps most intriguingly, the messianic.

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