Deconstruction, Politics, Performatics

by Anna R. Burzyńska (Author) Jan Burzyński (Revision)
©2019 Monographs 414 Pages
Open Access
Series: Modernity in Question, Volume 11


In recent years, the terms "ethics," "politics," "performativity," and "experience" have proliferated throughout the discourse of the humanities. However, it is rarely noted that their contemporary understanding has been shaped by the works of Jacques Derrida, who has employed all these concepts since the mid-1960s. The aim of this book is to present the lesser discussed topics of Derrida’s thought – not only as the creator of a specific mode of interpretation called "deconstruction" but also as an initiator of recent ethical and political reflection, a pioneer of performatics, and a precursor of current research on experience. At the same time, the book provides a panorama of the most important changes in the humanities of the last thirty years, and in particular – the ethical, performative, and empirical turns.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title Page
  • Copyright Page
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • Citability of the eBook
  • Contents
  • Introduction. Deconstruction post mortem
  • From Metaphysics to the Ethical and the Political
  • ‘Textual Performance’ and Praising Experience
  • Part 1 Derrida and the Ethical and Political
  • The Ethical Turn
  • The Law of the Other
  • The Ethical Preconditions for Politics
  • The Political Turn
  • The Politics of Deconstruction
  • America Between Derrida and Foucault
  • Against ‘Metaphysical Correctness’
  • Deconstruction and the New Sense of the Political
  • The Otherness of the Other
  • The Political Today
  • Part 2 Derrida and Performance
  • The Performative Turn
  • Performativity and the ‘Post-s’
  • Two ‘Theatres’
  • Mime versus Mimesis
  • The Second Closure of Representation
  • Scrutinizing Austin
  • Textual Performance
  • ‘Event’
  • ‘Iteration’
  • ‘Production’
  • ‘Interaction’
  • ‘Materiality’
  • ‘Mobility’
  • ‘Effect’
  • ‘Performing’
  • ‘Scene’
  • ‘Action’
  • A Warning in Spurs
  • The Scriptor on the Scene of the Text
  • To Testify to the Event
  • Part 3 Derrida and Experience
  • The Empirical Turn
  • Life after Theory
  • Problems with Experience
  • Experience Regained
  • The Confession in Confessions
  • Epistemic Trauma
  • ‘The Experience of Writing’
  • ‘The Critical Experience of Literature’
  • ‘The Experience of Aporia’
  • Shibboleth, or ‘Only One Time’
  • The Repetition of Experience
  • Signèsponge: When the Other Becomes Mine
  • Woman Will Not be Pinned Down
  • Index

Introduction. Deconstruction post mortem

Half a century has now passed since the birth of Jacques Derrida’s deconstruction, during which time its death has been pronounced a number of times. Although deconstruction ultimately managed somehow to rise from the grave, it seemed fated to live on as a toothless bogeyman, no longer capable of evoking fear. This is hardly surprising – such is often the case with subversive ideas: they come into their own, quickly gain influence, then slowly enter a dormant phase, ultimately ending up as a museum piece. Deconstruction’s early, ‘strategic’ form,1 with its aim of ‘destabilizing’ [labilité] fossilized structures by ‘shaking’ them up and making them ‘tremble’ [soliciter],2 was well suited to the turbulent atmosphere of the 1960s and 1970s in both France and America. The term itself became a watchword for intellectuals on both sides of the Atlantic, providing them with a convenient opportunity for carrying out a ‘revolution on paper’ in the privacy of their cosy offices, without the need for carrying protest signs or chanting radical slogans. As the main ‘critical force’3 behind postmodernism and poststructuralism,4 Derrida’s project and its subsequent variations, the aims of which often ←9 | 10→departed significantly from those of its architect, proved remarkably effective. No one can deny deconstruction’s role in arousing a sense of intellectual vigilance in academia by questioning the seemingly obvious, unmasking stereotypes and dogmas, shaking up the institutional foundations of the humanities, and above all, provoking a change in thinking about the shape and duties of philosophy, hermeneutics, and the study of literature. At the time, there was indeed a very real need for ‘a profound change in the self-image of Western intellectuals’,5 which Jacques Derrida and his American disciples strove to effect. The need for such a change had been expressed earlier by Richard Rorty, the author of the passage quoted above, as well as by many others who likewise supported a fundamental reform of the ‘human sciences.’

While it would be wrong to trivialize the role that Derrida’s deconstruction and its offshoot deconstructionism played during that period, their main achievements are now largely historical events, and can (and even should) be considered fan important but closed chapter in the history of twentieth-century humanistic thought. Though deconstruction once provided an effective means for reassessing various intellectual (already ‘exhausted’) traditions during the early, critical phase of postmodernity and poststructuralism,6 now that it has fulfilled its ‘mission’,7 there is little sense in discussing it further. This is particularly true given that the humanities (along with philosophy and literary studies) today are preoccupied with a completely different set of issues, among them, the search for new ways to draw positive conclusions and build positive projects from the ‘fragmented’ accomplishments of various earlier ‘posts’ (postmodernism, poststructuralism, etc.).

←10 | 11→

This has led to a number of so-called ‘turns’ in the humanities – including the ethical, political, performative, and empirical8 turns (followed by many others) – a few of which are discussed in detail in this book. In efforts to diagnose their causes, two perspectives have gained prominence: the first view is that these ‘turns’ are a direct or indirect consequence of earlier critical trends (including deconstruction),9 and thus a product of ‘late’ (or ‘very late’) postmodernity and poststructuralism. The second, competing view is that everything that has occurred in thinking in the humanities since the early 1980s has been a reaction against allegedly ‘revisionist’ (and therefore negative) tendencies, a ‘resistance movement’ that arose in opposition to ‘critical theory’, which was already in decline. Proponents of the first view generally value the impact of the critical phase of deconstruction, especially its reexamination of two enormous monoliths – philosophy and literary studies – and stress that without the radical gestures of the thinkers involved in the early phase of this movement, the subsequent transformations that occurred in various disciplines in the humanities would never have been possible. Supporters of the second view, in turn, tend to question the value of the early phases of the ‘posts’, seeing this period in the history of twentieth-century humanistic thought as a strange and incomprehensible interruption, during which a group of fanatical intellectuals were determined to destroy the greatest achievements of humankind, including a cultural heritage that represented the endeavours of countless generations, reaching back to ancient times. Such opinions are still commonly expressed, and deconstruction remains the primary target of these harsh assessments. Another very common view is that the ethical and political turns in the humanities provided the proverbial ‘wooden stake’ that finally put an end to the deconstructive daemon recklessly conjured up by a certain French philosopher.

The mild irony in this last sentence suggests my own inclinations to support the first of these views – a position I will try to defend it in this book. I believe that even if so-called ‘critical theory’ (a term often used to designate the early ←11 | 12→stages of postmodernity and poststructuralism) did not directly shape the positive projects in the humanities that followed deconstruction, it undoubtedly prepared the ground for these subsequent shifts. I also firmly believe that Derrida’s thought played a key role in this overall process of reform. Moreover, many currently fashionable terms, such as ‘ethics’ and ‘politics’,10 or ‘performativity’ and ‘experience’, terms which today light up the faces of scholars of the humanities, first appeared some time ago, times some today might even call ‘prehistoric’. These terms can already be found (being used in way very similar to today) in the earliest period of Jacques Derrida’s philosophical project (that is, in the 1960s and 1970s), when, contrary to what is often believed, he was not focused exclusively on sawing off the branches on which the great Western thinkers had been safely perched for twenty-one centuries. I would even go so far as to assert that in many respects Derrida’s work still awaits proper interpretation and holds a great deal of unrealised potential. I thus hope that reading his works once again, this time approached from a certain distance and viewed as a precursor to new tendencies in the humanities, will prove interesting to those researching these issues today. Jacques Derrida will thus be the main protagonist of this book, though I am well aware that despite its length, I will only be able to briefly touch upon the rich variety of themes that encompass his gargantuan legacy.11

In my rereading of Derrida’s texts, I have deliberately focused on the early stage of the development of his views. This does not mean that I do not value the philosopher’s later or very late achievements – quite the opposite. What interests me most here, however, are two things: first, how even in his early critical writings, Derrida addressed ethical and political issues, as well as the issues of performativity and experience; second, the exceptional clarity with which he predicted many of the developments that years later would guide the main directions of thought in the twenty-first-century humanities. The theme of this book will therefore be the participation of Derrida’s thought in the ethical, political, performative, and empirical turns, the specifics of which I will try to detail in the pages that follow.

←12 | 13→

From Metaphysics to the Ethical and the Political

Geoffrey Bennington once rightly noted that although ‘Derrida has never written a work of political philosophy’, he is considered today to be the thinker who had the greatest impact on our contemporary understanding of ‘politics’ and on the direction of the political current in the humanities.12 According to Bennington, this was primarily a result of the radical nature of both the philosopher’s views and of deconstruction as a specific mode of reading and an original means for practicing political criticism. Many researchers of Derrida’s accomplishments, however, claim that he made his first ‘political turn’ in 1985,13 and only then began to take up more distinctly political issues. They most often point to books such as The Other Heading (1992), devoted to questions of identity (the national and cultural identity of Europe);14 Spectres de Marx (1993), a critical reading of the writings of Marx; and Politique de l’amitié (1994),15 in which Derrida presented the idea of friendship as a relationship with the Other resistant to ‘political appropriation’. It is also commonly believed that the ‘ethical turn’ in the philosopher’s thought first occurred in Donner la mort (i.e. in 199216), where he deconstructed the relations between philosophy and religion.

Bennington argues, however, that from the very beginning, Derrida’s reflections, especially his deconstructive readings of philosophical texts, were clearly ethical and political in nature, and that the ethical and political ←13 | 14→implications of deconstruction were always what mattered most to Derrida,17 but that he began to address these subjects directly only in his later works. This opinion is certainly well founded – although his legacy includes numerous instances where he deals directly with these questions, including his comments on the works of Emmanuel Levinas, Walter Benjamin, Jan Patočka, Carl Schmidt, and Karl Marx, as well as in many other statements in which he addresses such issues as justice, the law, identity, responsibility, intolerance, cosmopolitism, discrimination, terrorism, etc. However, all of his early reading practices had clear ethical and political implications. These practices, however, could indeed give one the impression of Derrida exhibiting a narcissistic focus on texts themselves, a commonly repeated charge against the philosopher is one of ‘autistically’ separating himself from the problems of the so-called outside world, and even of an ‘active ignoring’ of them.18 Although he repeatedly denied these accusations, he earned the opinion of a thinker who, as Terry Eagleton ironically described it, deeply believed that ‘there is nothing in the world but writing’,19 and cultivated a formalism more formalistic than formalism. These accusations intensified, especially in the wake of the ethical and political turn in the humanities (particularly in the US) in the early 1980s, precipitating an avalanche of scathing attacks on deconstruction and deconstructionism, which were even labelled ‘poststructuralist formalism’.20 A particularly radical American left was behind these ←14 | 15→attacks – its representatives admitted they appreciated Derrida’s leftist views, but saw them as insufficiently leftist,21 and moreover, wanted political declarations, which were antithetical to Derrida’s thinking. The ambiguity and obscurity present in the philosopher’s practices, and in his entire intellectual project, were fully intentional, because – as Pericles Trifonas aptly puts it – he considered his ‘journey of deconstruction’ as a ‘curiously convoluted and arduous path of away from the thesis;’22 this, however, did not make critical reception of his views any easier, but instead, complicated it considerably.

The situation was made worse by the fact that Derrida (like many other postmodern thinkers) was, above all, a critical philosopher,23 which too many are quick to forget, and that many of his statements were clearly polemical and not meant to been taken literally. The best example of this was the constant confusion surrounding the infamous phrase, ‘there is nothing outside the text’ [il n’y a pas de hors-texte], which may go down as one of the most outlandishly misinterpreted statements in the modern history of the humanities. This sentence has been hailed as crowning proof of Derrida’s ‘textual isolationism’ and his supposed separation of the text from everything extra-textual. Of course, taken out of context, this could indeed confirm the explicit désintéressement of its inventor towards the ‘extra-textual world’. However, just as this phrase never really merited its incredible popularity, it likewise did not deserve all the criticism it generated – criticism which can still be heard today. Derrida’s infamous phrase, which first appeared in his reading of Rousseau’s Confessions,24 did not actually refer to texts themselves, but to methods of reading them, what Derrida ←15 | 16→called ‘external methods’.25 As he explained in On Grammatology, by means of this concise (‘critical’) term, he merely wanted to say that the reading process should proceed from text to the world (and not vice versa), because, as he explained, ‘what one calls the real life of these existences ‘of flesh and bone’ (the protagonists of Rousseau’s Confessions – my comment – AB), beyond and behind what one believes can be circumscribed as Rousseau’s text, there has never been anything but writing’ The reason for this is simple – it was recorded in writing, i.e. in Rousseau’s text [OG 157–160].26 Derrida’s infamous proposition was therefore a concise critical formula targeted at specific methods, rather than a thesis concerning the specific character of texts. Nor did it in any way imply that nothing exists apart from texts (‘writing’).27 This charge grew at one point into ‘crowning proof’ of the philosopher’s anti-political stance. Derrida explained in many interviews that he was referring to research protocols and their metalanguage, and not to texts,28 but this had almost no effect.

I am drawing attention to these facts primarily because in most negative evaluations of the writings of Derrida and other postmodern thinkers, the critical goals of their achievements – which were primarily metaphilosophical, metatheoretical, and even metacritical in nature – have not been adequately considered. The ‘posts’ share a common nature, a common set of properties described long ago by their greatest apologist, Jean-François Lyotard,29 and a common project aimed at ‘twisting’ (in the sense of Heidegger’s Verwindung) various traditions considered to be anachronistic, exhausted, ideologized, and ←16 | 17→even oppressive, and subjecting them to critical examination. The numerous formulations put forth by representatives of this trend were, therefore, fully intended as provocations – but as provocations directed at methods, systems of thought, and discourses, and not at their subjects. This aim was also served by certain condensed formulae, which, unfortunately, were likewise too often read in a straightforward manner, rather than in their critical context. Like Derrida’s ‘text’, equally infamous (and bizarrely interpreted) catchphrases like Foucault’s ‘death of man’, Barthes’ ‘death of the author’ or Derrida’s ‘end of man’ were treated in a like manner. These too did not refer to the (human) subject as such, but to a specific form of philosophical, literary critical and anthropological (and humanist in general) discourse, which dominated in western thought. Therefore, these were not calls for the genocide of homo sapiens – and as ridiculous as it may seem, such accusations were made against them. Even today, claims are made that these three men (Barthes, Derrida and Foucault) intended to ‘destroy’ the (philosophical and authoritative) subject; in truth, they sought only to change the position of the subject in philosophical and literary critical discourse. More specifically, to use Derrida’s term, they wanted to deprive it of the ‘punctual simplicity’30 provided by universal and unchangeable theoretical categories that had languished in philosophy since at least Descartes, and to ‘situate’ it instead.31

Such problems in understanding Derrida’s critical intentions were particularly evident when the ethical and political implications of deconstruction were at the centre of dispute and discussion, and thus, during a time when enthusiasts of ‘politics in the Academy’ (America in the 1980s) saw the humanities as being insufficiently ‘engaged’ in real-world problems, and considered this a cardinal ←17 | 18→sin. Assessing Derrida’s philosophical project proved an extremely difficult task at the time, due to the fact that he programmatically refrained from ‘frontal critiques’. This was why he invented a clever way of reading called ‘deconstruction’: so that all the things he wanted to challenge, and this included oppressive ideologies, the reasons behind various forms of exclusion, and the possibilities for practicing ethics and politics in humanistic discourse, could ‘reveal themselves’32 during the course of a text’s reading. The assumption that an example works better than a lecture or – to use Austin’s well-known terms – that the performative creation of certain ‘effects’ has a much greater causative power than their assertion33 – was undoubtedly justified, though few were able to decipher them properly at the time. For many of Derrida’s critics, both the ‘implicit’ style of his practices and their performative character simply went unnoticed. Because of this, in the wake of the political turn in the United States, a shift in popularity began toward another French philosopher, Michel Foucault, although his beliefs did not differ so much from Derrida’s reflections, and in many aspects, the ideas of the two philosophers clearly complemented one another.34

However, according to many of those following the changes that have been taking place in the humanities over the last half-century, it was Derrida and his practices that sparked the trend known as the ‘ethical and political turn’, which so thoroughly transformed the humanities in the US in the 1980s, and whose consequences are still being felt today, not only there, but to a lesser extent also in Europe. After all, even the earliest practices of deconstruction did not consist solely of revealing contradictions between the conceptual project behind a text and its rhetorical ‘execution’, or – as Rorty once put it – ‘between form and intention’ [D 200]. In fact, this was only an intermediate stage. What they were above all – as Derrida so often and seemingly ineffectively reminded – were analyses of the covert mechanisms by means of which conceptual hierarchies were constructed in humanistic discourse, and studies of the ←18 | 19→hidden (‘microphysics’ – as Foucault would say) manifestations of repression inherent in the seemingly ideologically neutral great systems of Western philosophy. These analyses were carried out in a very specific way in the course of readings of literary and philosophical texts. Derrida called this ‘double practice’ [PO 41],35 reminiscent to some extent of the well-known strategy of ‘Aesopean speech’,36 that is, when someone seems to be talking about one thing, but is in fact discussing something completely different. Derrida’s practice of deconstruction was based on a similar principle. While at first glance, it seemed only to be a reading of texts, in truth, it was not aimed at ‘destroying’ texts – as is so commonly and unthinkingly repeated – but at undermining their conceptual foundations: the metaphysical systems and conceptual foundations that were the basis for their existence. By practicing this kind of reading, Derrida not only challenged the myth of the rhetorical neutrality of philosophical (and theoretical) language, but above all proved that the Metaphysics of Presence (as Heidegger referred to it)37 – the most important intellectual tradition, one that laid the foundations for the humanities – was a kind of ‘Great Ideology’ that marginalized or eliminated everything that could threaten the conceptual purity of its systems. He showed how these systems had eliminated troublesome categories such as ‘body’, ‘senses’, ‘emotions’, ‘matter’, ‘writing’, ‘event’, etc. – that is, anything considered to be ‘other’ – because they were perceived as a threat to rationalist, disembodied, idealized and ‘aseptic’ metaphysical thought. This allowed these systems to sustain their ‘theoretical fictions’ for centuries,38 especially the idea of the philosophical subject (a product of such thinking) as an ←19 | 20→entity devoid of a body and emotions, one that is asexual, ahistorical, and free of cultural, sexual, ethnic, racial, or other entanglements – in a word, ‘pure’, rising up like a monument to a centuries-long tradition and giving it a desirable but equally utopian stability. He said moreover that these ‘metaphysical bonds’39 burdened all of our thinking, and had specific repercussions in the political and social spheres, where they likewise led to the consolidation of certain hierarchies and exclusions. Seen from this side, Derrida’s deconstruction, as – I repeat once again – an in-depth study of the implicit (philosophical) mechanisms of exclusion and unacknowledged sources of violence present in Western thought, showed not only the philosopher’s keen interest in the ‘extra-textual world’, but can also be easily regarded as the intellectual underpinnings of the ethical and political turn in the humanities.

This fact has been emphasized by many commentators of Derrida’s works, and was also recently recalled by the ‘guru’ of American performance – Richard Schechner. It is worth quoting a somewhat longer fragment of his statement:

To Derrida, cultures are palimpsests of official and counter-hegemonic graffiti. Every writing is a power struggle […]. Even simple binaries such as ‘day/night,’ ‘white/black,’ ‘man/woman’ inscribe power. In Western languages, by reading the term on the left first we perform its authority over the term on the right. To reverse terms is to perform a new power relation: ‘black/white’ is different than ‘white/black.’ From this perspective, history is not a story of ‘what happened’ but an ongoing struggle to ‘write,’ or claim ownership, over historical narratives. Yet every narrative, no matter how elegant or seemingly total, is full of holes, what Derrida calls ‘aporia’ – open spaces, absences, and contradictions. Nothing can be totally erased. These aporias leak various pasts and alternatives into the present order of things.

The authorities – ‘those who author’ – attempt to make the present take on the appearance of being the outcome of an inevitable process (fate, destiny, historical necessity). But this ineluctable continuity – a knowable past that determines a stable present leading to an inevitable future – is a fiction. The past is full of holes; the present is provisional, the future not known. All historical narratives are haunted by what/who is erased, threatened by what/who demands representation. The struggle to write history, to represent events, is an ongoing performative process full of opinion and other subjectivities.40

The desire to meticulously expose everything that had been ‘erased’ from this narrative, and which demanded to be brought back to the surface, i.e. the ←20 | 21→kind of ‘interventionism’41 that Derrida practiced, had since the early days of deconstruction attracted a wealth of supporters on American campuses to his writings. Although Derrida’s work dealt with the ideological debts of Europe’s most important philosophical tradition, it was possible – especially given the political climate in America in the late 1960s – to carry his thoughts over into different contexts and draw various conclusions from them. I must admit that these implicit ethical and political reasons for reading Jacques Derrida interest me much more than the beliefs he expressed outright. I will also try to prove in the pages that follow the topicality of his reflections for today’s more politically-oriented thinking in the humanities.42

‘Textual Performance’ and Praising Experience

In publications devoted to Jacques Derrida, the ethical and political aspects of his work are among the issues most often discussed. The situation is quite different when it comes to the performativity of his practices and his treatment of the issue of experience. These aspects are rarely discussed, if at all, and only in the form of very general references or casual mentions. Meanwhile, at least in my opinion, the performative mode in the reading and writing practices of Derrida, which in his project are inseparable from the ethical and political ‘effects’ of deconstruction, allows him to be seen as one of the important precursors of the so-called ‘performative turn’. This is not only because of his famous polemic with Austin and Searle, or his remarks on Artaud,43 but, above all, because of the specific shape his gives his texts. Although Rodolphe Gasché once observed that, without Derrida, the performative turn in the United States would not have been at all,44 this claim should be treated as an overstatement; nevertheless, the contribution of Derrida’s thought to this trend was certainly much greater and more valuable than can be seen from these examples alone.

←21 | 22→

David Wood, one of the most attentive readers of Derrida’s writings, once described his method of philosophizing as ‘performative reflexivity’.45 I will try to show how Derrida practiced something that could be called ‘textual performance’ – a specific way of reading literary and philosophical texts that imitates the properties of performance (in today’s meaning of the term). Finally, I will attempt to assess the contribution of Derrida’s philosophy to current thinking on the problem of experience, seeing in his views a number of ‘traces’ that anticipated the current interest of philosophy in this category and of literary studies in the empirical dimension of literature. Investigations of these types can be commonly observed today, especially in cultural theories of literature, which postulate a turn in literary studies towards the ‘poetics of experience’.46 Reading Derrida’s work in this light seems to me significant, because one can see in it a number of important, but also previously unnoticed thoughts on this subject. Admittedly, Derrida’s path to experience was a complicated (one might even say twisted) one, but from very early on, he devoted a surprising amount of space in his work to this subject. In short, by explicitly criticizing empiricism (which stands in opposition to rationalism in the metaphysical tradition with its dualistic optics that also encapsulates experience), he did not praise experience as much as his did ‘experiencing’, although he did not begin to express this praise explicitly until quite late. In his readings, he even tried to address (experimentally) the very nature of experience, practicing something that David Wood aptly described as ‘the experience of experience’.47 I deliberately address this subject in the last part of this book because the term ‘experience’ (in Derrida’s mind as well) combines all of the aspects (ethical, poetic and performative) I discussed earlier, although of course it cannot be reduced only to these.

In an interview given some years back on Polish television, Jacques Derrida said

I am constantly looking for another place, or, rather, through me other places look for a place for themselves, look for another means of ‘occurring’, of ‘happening’, and thus another means of historical or political experience.48

←22 | 23→

I think that regardless of how we judge his achievements today, he was undoubtedly a thinker who was ‘constantly seeking’. Seeking new possibilities for ethical and political engagement, other means of performative action, as well as all the possible benefits that might arise for us from this experience. Thanks to this – even many years after the historical ‘death’ of deconstruction – his work can still provide valuable inspiration. So I have hope that my rereading of Derrida’s writings – which are quite different from my readings a decade earlier – will also present a completely different Derrida: one much closer to our current fascinations, in no way imprisoned in an ‘enchanted circle of texts’, but carefully and patiently tracking the smallest traces of contact between what is ‘written’ and life itself.

←23 |
 24→←24 | 25→

1 Derrida described his early deconstruction practices as a ‘general strategy of deconstruction’, which differed from later variants. See e.g. J. Derrida, Positions, trans. A. Bass. Chicago 1981, p. 41. Hereinafter PO, followed by the page number.

2 Derrida’s term, see ‘Différance’, Margins of Philosophy, trans. A. Bass. Chicago 1982. pp. 1–29. Hereinafter DI, followed by the page number. See also J. Derrida, Writing and Difference, trans. A. Bass. Chicago 1978. Hereinafter WD, followed by the page number.

3 J. Culler’s term. See On Deconstruction. Theory and Criticism after Structuralism. New York 1982. Hereinafter OD, followed by the page number.

4 Although I consider poststructuralism to be a current within postmodernity (especially given Derrida’s views, for which structuralism as a philosophical current was the latest strong accent within the metaphysical tradition); nevertheless, although the issues that most interested many poststructuralists were not always the same ones being addressed by postmodern thinkers, critical postmodernity (postmodernism) undoubtedly enriched the intellectual resource base available for their investigations. Poststructural criticism, broadly speaking, was much more interested in the problems of literature as a discipline (in particular the problematics of modern theory) than the problems of philosophy as a discipline (in particular the problematics of the Metaphysics of Presence, as Heidegger described it). In the thinking of Derrida, these two currents of reflection merged, but this was not the case with many other poststructuralists for whom criticism of the metaphysical philosophical tradition was a tangential concern. Therefore, in most cases, I refer to poststructuralism and postmodernity separately. See e.g. S. Weber, ‘Postmoderne und Postatrukturalismus’, Ästhetik und Kommunikation 1986, vol. 17, no. 63, pp. 105‒122. See also my essays ‘Po czym rozpoznać poststrukturalizm?’ and ‘Podsumowanie (poststrukturalizm w pigułce)’ in AT.

5 R. Rorty, ‘Deconstruction’, The Cambridge History of Literary Criticism, Volume 8: From Formalism to Post-Sructuralism. Cambridge 1995, pp. 166‒196. Hereinafter D, followed by the page number.

6 I consider the critical phase of postmodernism and poststructuralism to be the period from the late 1960s to the early 1980s, sometimes (especially in American terminology) also called the phase of ‘critical theory’.

7 I wrote about this in detail in my book Dekonstrukcja i interpretacja. Kraków 2001 (hereinafter DI, accompanied by the page number), particularly in the chapter ‘Misja dekonstrukcji’.

8 The term ‘turn toward experience’ is more commonly used, but I have chosen to use the term ‘empirical turn’, which possesses a certain elegance, though reservations could be raised against it (especially in the context of Derrida’s thought. For more, see the section in this book titled ‘Derrida and Experience’).

9 This lasted more or less from the late 1960s to the early 1980s. I have written about this in e.g. my book Anty-Teoria literatury. Kraków 2006 (hereinafter AT, followed by the page number), and in the chapter ‘Poststrukturalizm’, Teorie literatury XX wieku. Kraków 2006, co-written with M. P. Markowski. Hereinafter TL, followed by the page number.

10 Of course, as terms in theoretical and literary discourse.

11 I do not deny that Derrida himself will interest me here much more than the American deconstructionists, whose views I consider to be secondary and not always consistent with his ideas. I refer to the latter’s practices only in the first two parts of the book, in connection with their participation in the ethical and political turn in the humanities in America. I have devoted a separate book to the history of American deconstructionism and its complex relationships with Derrida’s thought: Poststrukturalizm w Ameryce [Poststructuralism in America], currently in press.

12 G. Bennington, ‘Derrida and Politics’, Interrupting Derrida. London‒New York 2000, p. 18. The most eloquent confirmation of this opinion was a book published in 2007, after the philosopher’s death, Adieu Derrida (referring in the title to Derrida’s Adieu à Emmanuel Lévinas, written after the death of the author of Totality and Infinity), in which the most important contemporary political thinkers (including Alain Badiou, Etienne Balibar, Jean-Luc Nancy, Jacques Rancière, and Slavoj Žižek) paid tribute to the philosopher, emphasizing repeatedly that he had perhaps the greatest influence on the shaping of their views. See Adieu Derrida, ed. C. Douzinas. New York 2007.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Open Access
Publication date
2019 (August)
Philosophy of Politics Ethical Turn Performative Turn Empirical Turn Contemporary Humanities Experience
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2019. 414 S.

Biographical notes

Anna R. Burzyńska (Author) Jan Burzyński (Revision)

Anna Burzyńska is a Full Professor of literary studies and the head of the Department of Literary Theory at the Jagiellonian University. She is an author of numerous academic works devoted to changes in the contemporary humanities.


Title: Deconstruction, Politics, Performatics