Cover image for Derrida : deconstruction from phenomenology to ethics
Derrida : deconstruction from phenomenology to ethics
Howells, Christina.
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Publication Information:
Cambridge, UK : Polity Press ; Malden, MA : Blackwell, 1998.

Physical Description:
175 pages ; 23 cm.
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Central Library B2430.D484 H69 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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This book is an unusually readable and lucid account of the development of Derrida′s work, from his early writings on phenomenology and structuralism to his most recent interventions in debates on psychoanalysis, ethics and politics.

Christina Howells gives a clear explanation of many of the key terms of deconstruction - including differance, trace, supplement and logocentrism - and shows how they function in Derrida′s writing. She explores his critique of the notion of self-presence through his engagement with Husserl, and his critique of humanist conceptions of the subject through an account of his ambivalent and evolving relationship to the philosophy of Sartre. The question of the relationship between philosophy and literature is examined through an analysis of the texts of the 1970s, and in particular Glas, where Derrida confronts Hegel′s totalizing dialectics with the fragmentary and iconoclastic writings of Jean Genet.

The author addresses directly the vexed questions of the extreme difficulty of Derrida′s own writing and of the passionate hostility it arouses in philosophers as diverse as Searle and Habermas. She argues that deconstruction is a vital stimulus to vigilance in both the ethical and political spheres, contributing significantly to debate on issues such as democracy, the legacy of Marxism, responsibility, and the relationship between law and justice.

Comprehensive, cogently argued and up to date, this book will be an invaluable text for students and scholars alike.

Author Notes

Christina Howells is Reader in French and Fellow of Wadham College, Oxford.

Reviews 1

Choice Review

This work is a critical exposition of the philosophy of Derrida, a leading contemporary French philosopher. Derrida is most well known for his concept of deconstruction and its applications to the critique of texts from various disciplines including literature, philosophy, psychoanalysis, and politics. Derrida's writings are notorious for their denseness, opacity, and even obscurantism; and Howells (Oxford) deserves to be congratulated for her earnest and heroic attempt to systematically present and clarify the methods, concepts, theses, and goals of Derrida's philosophizing. The book consists of an apologia and six chapters. The first chapter deals with Derrida's critique of Husserl's phenomenology, the second with structuralism, the third with language, speech, and writing, the fourth with deconstructing texts and the relation between literature and philosophy, the fifth with deconstruction and psychoanalysis, and the sixth and final one with the ethics and politics of deconstruction and the deconstruction of ethics and politics. Despite Howell's best efforts, the book is not easy reading, and her blind reverence and admiration for Derrida stand in the way of clarity and critical insight. Only Derrida scholars, at the graduate or researcher level, will find it beneficial. Copious notes and extensive bibliography. R. Puligandla University of Toledo

Table of Contents

1 Phenomenology
2 Structuralism
3 Language: Speech and Writing
4 Deconstructing the Text: Literature and Philosophy
5 Deconstruction and Psychoanalysis
6 The Ethics and Politics of Deconstruction and the Deconstruction of Ethics and Politics

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