PHL 4849/6849: The New Derrida


The New Derrida

(Full Syllabus as Word doc)

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 histories and 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 assignments.

Book ordered:

All resources and texts are to be found on the course website. Any articles without a link provided 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 Concepts.
  3. One could cite a number of recent media examples (in fact, by definition, the number is without limit) of the aporetics of responsibility, but this On the Media broadcast shows that ethics is never as cleaned up as a Trolley problem or a Kantian application of one’s duty, and that the concrete is always already aporetic, even as we live on the alibi that it is anything but. A responsibility is always hyperbolic in the sense that it’s never strictly given what is to be done, it is thrown out ahead, or thrown at us. And yet we must respond. And where does it end in Syria and to the supposedly animal other? That is what we will discuss today.


  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 Concepts
  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…

Exegetical Paper Due: 8-10 pages. “What is Deconstruction?”


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

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 Life.
  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, Part I: chapters 1, 2.
  2.  Derrida, interview from Positions.
  3. Robert Bernasconi, “The Supplement,” in Derrida: Key Concepts.
  4. Jacques Derrida, “Letter to a Japanese Friend.


  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

  1. Read Beast and the Sovereign Volume 2, Sessions 1-5, 9-10.


  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.

FINAL PAPER DUE: Time of Final Exam for this Course.

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