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Writing and Difference Reprint, 1993 Edition
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Essay #5 is devoted to structuralism's rival, phenomenology. Just as essay #10 suggested that structuralism can't conceive of a structure with a fluid center, and essay #1 suggested that structuralism tends to impoverish literary texts because it can't account for certain textual energies, this essay insists that Husserl's phenomenology cannot do justice to origins, cannot think genesis. Unhappily, this is a dense and difficult piece of writing.
Next take up essay #9. Derrida is interested here with Hegel's attempt to repress the free play of signification via conceiving philosophy as a totality. Derrida also discusses Bataille's attempt to think the unthought of the Hegelian system, to ascertain what, if anything, can elude such philosophical closure. This is a great essay, but familiarity with Hegel's Master/Slave dialectic is a prerequisite.
If you have read Foucault's MADNESS AND CIVILIZATION, you'll want to read essay #2. Here Derrida attempts to call into question that book's major thesis by arguing that Foucault misreads Descartes. This essay is nicely structured but, for this reviewer at least, not terribly convincing. I also feel that essay #7, on Freud, is not a success. It is so difficult, so tedious, that most readers will cease to care about Derrida's point long before he gets around to making it.
Happily, there are two essays (#6 and #8) dealing with the writings of that fascinating artist/lunatic Antonin Artaud. They are both pretty dazzling, but I suggest taking on #8 first. There are also two rather short, amusing pieces on the Jewish thinker Edmond Jabes (essays #3 and #11). He appears to be something of a kindred spirit to Derrida.
Finish up with essay #4, the longest and most ambitious in this collection. Echoing themes from essay #9, here Derrida takes on the early writings of Emmanuel Levinas and his claim to have stepped outside of metaphysics. It's a demanding, but fascinating piece of writing.
The first essay in this collection `Force and Signification,' attempts to apply a philosophical rigour to the analysis of literature, wherein Derrida explains Flaubert, Mallarme, and a number of others. `Cogito and the History of Madness' is an extremely famous essay about Foucault which triggered a feud between the two intellectuals that would never fully be mended. In it, Derrida argues that Foucault's book does not address the Cartesian notion of the Cogito adequately in the History of Madness, and that Foucault ultimately relies on the same principles of the enlightenment while attempting to expose the dynamics of its power simultaneously. The essay (along with violence and Metaphysics) is a perfect example of Derrida's capacity to deconstruct. However, he moves very quickly and without and assistance to the reader. If you have not read the author Derrida is deconstructing he will simply leave you in the dust.
The latter essays in the book deal primarily with Artaud, Freud, Bataille, Hegel, Heidegger, Levi-Strauss, and metaphysics and language generally. The essay on Levi-Strauss (Structure, Sign, and Play) is a particularly damning lecture delivered at Johns Hopkins University and left irreparable damages to the structuralist movement at the time. `Writing and Difference' is an important collection of critical texts for 20th century philosophy, and it should remain an important work for many ages to come.
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I had already conquered Derrida's "Grammatlogy"; and that is the best reference for the totality of his position.