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  • Anthologizing Derrida
  • Simon Wortham (bio)


The texts of Jacques Derrida are gathered or collected together in an almost bewildering variety of ways. Essays, selected passages, fragments and excerpts drawn from Derrida’s enormous and rapidly growing corpus are included in numerous anthologies (too numerous to mention) alongside the work of many other critics, writers and thinkers. These sorts of anthologies often aim to introduce students, as well as other interested parties, to apparently “representative” slices of writing which might be taken, by synecdoche or example, to illustrate, convey, or describe the key concerns of a particular thinker specifically—and frequently, by extension, the intellectual and historical traditions and trajectories underlying the vast field of so-called literary or critical theory, in which they play their part. Such collections obviously locate and present Derrida differently each time of asking: Derrida the post-structuralist, Derrida the literary theorist (although rarely Derrida the serious philosopher), Derrida as a figure associated with the (re)thinking of Marxism, psychoanalysis, feminism, new historicism, or postmodernism (although too rarely Derrida the (re)thinker of phenomenology, from Hegel to Husserl and to Heidegger), and so on and so forth, et cetera, et cetera. 1 Bearing in mind the near global circulation of “Derrida,” mediated nevertheless by very specific local, national and trans-national circuits, relays, nodes, contexts and institutions of production, dissemination, archiving, and reading, it is obviously the case that the different and diverse impressions given of [End Page 151] “Derrida” or of “deconstruction” by dint of the plural possibilities of such framing or scaffolding depend in part on the reception and translation (in the very broadest sense) of his work at a particular time or in a particular place. Anthologies devoted to the work of Jacques Derrida alone are also available, of course, and seek to combine or recombine different parts or elements of Derrida’s writing (both essays and interviews), especially for the relatively inexperienced reader. Additionally, a host of textbooks or guides abound, which gather or, if you like, anthologize a whole range of different readings, emphases or approaches potentialised by Derrida or by deconstruction. Rather like the published proceedings of certain conferences devoted to questions and issues raised by deconstruction or by Derrida’s work, these sometimes include a contribution by Derrida himself. And, of course, Derrida’s own published texts—many of his so-called books—often compile or gather together a body of essays, lectures or writings which can hardly be read or understood as amounting to consecutive, sequentially ordered stages or developments contributing to an entirely unified thesis or argument taking shape in general. Lastly, there are also those handful of books that physically juxtapose Derrida’s writing with the text of an other writer, sometimes in two columns or bands, so as to stage an encounter of sorts between them.

In other words, then, the reception—indeed, often the production or publication—of Derrida’s work is profoundly shaped by anthologization in a variety of guises. One might even suggest that “Derrida” is anthologized to a wider extent and in a greater number of ways than almost any other contemporary thinker in the theoretical field, which would suggest that Derrida’s work supplies a most fruitful context in which to put the question of anthologization itself.

For some, however, anthologizing Derrida may give cause for concern. In the face of an increasingly immense Derrida industry, if one can call it that, are we encouraged to gobble up only the more digestible snippets, often forgetting to restore key quotes, passages or indeed entire essays to their original context of writing or publication? Do we now tend to neglect the lengthier expositions that take place in Derrida’s “classic” texts, the books published in 1967 for example, whereby sustained, patient and rigorous attention to certain philosophical or intellectual problems on Derrida’s part might more clearly identify him as a serious philosopher “in” or “of” the Western tradition? Via the work of anthologization, does Derrida’s relationship to other thinkers and to various traditions of thought become far too malleable, with the frequent result that Derrida is presented rather abstractly, vaguely and sloppily as some sort of “postmodernist,” rather than...

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pp. 151-163
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