The Encylopaedia of Educational Philosophy and Theory

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Jacques Derrida as a Philosopher of Education

Peter Trifonas
Ontario Institute for Studies in Education


Philosophy consists of offering reassurance to children. That is, if one prefers, of taking them out of childhood, of forgetting about the child, or, inversely, but by the same token, of speaking first and foremost for that little boy within us, of teaching him to speak—to dialogue—by displacing his fear or his desire.
Jacques Derrida, Dissemination1)

Jacques Derrida is indeed a most profound thinker of matters educational, addressing in highly provocative and original ways through, more or less, “unconventional” readings of the history of Western metaphysics, some of the most basic philosophical questions of teaching and of learning. Michel Foucault and Edward Said have suggested — albeit in derisive ways — that deconstruction is perhaps nothing else but the elaborate expression of a new didactics, a poststructural pedagogy of the text.2) And yet, on the one hand, to say Derrida presents the means to a “method” of teaching, and this only, would be wrong, for there are no directives to educational practice prescribed, no rules imposed upon the right to a “freedom-of-thinking” or responsivity, and no apriority of absolute truths to be found as could suffice to constitute the operational basis of an ideal model or mode of instruction. But, on the other hand, the “philosophemes of deconstruction” carry on the “contradictory and conflictual” polemos of a theoretical backdrop that looks forward to the real necessity of informed action transcribed across the post-structural, post-phenomenological passage from “thetic” to “a-thetic” rationality.

The “movement” of deconstruction is away from an obstinate stance of single-minded opposition ready to tear down the existing “System” and toward an economy of reflective matriculation within the structurality of the institution to a working-out of the essential trials of its undecidability at the expense of the metaphysical grounding of its architectonics. Due to the awareness of the stretched parameters of the dilemma of this “double-sided” strategem—the tensions of its aporias—open up the ethics of deconstruction with respect to the politics of education and there is no need to enact the finality of the last word on the subject, especially in the form of a statement, “of positional or oppositional logic, [overdetermined in] the idea of position, of Setzung or Stellung.”3) This would be both problematic and irresponsible given the non-adequation of the “critical demonstrativity” of Derrida’s texts with the desire for settling upon an undisputable and self-revealing truth. The metaphysico-theoretical fidelity of such a standard closing of argumentation seeking to culminate in a full-stop of studied silence would most surely contravene the unpredictable inter-spaces of the risk of writing that opens signification up to an in-sertion of the alterity of the Other and invites the creation of the difference of meaning as the disseminative interruption of a stable conditionality of the sign. There is thereby a cancelling-out, in advance, of the possibility of anycoming-to-resistance an examination of the ethico-political exigencies of deconstruction could run against in relation to a “thinking-of-the-end” as the telos of philosophy by being contrapuntal to the curricularization of pedagogy oriented from the “historico-topologico-socio-cultural” regulation of its implementational styles. Still, we must proffer reasons, and bestow “sound reasons” in good faith for the sake of the institutional reason of deconstruction as a just way of thinking and knowing. It is necessary to justify, in principle and by practice, the tendency of a hesitation to simply conclude that Derrida is a “philosopher of education,” thus, accepting responsibility for the lack of clôture to those unread or under-read texts of Derrida’s, the “educational texts,” as I have described them, writings that will always already be open before us.

And yet while attempting to summarize the importance Derrida to educational thought, I would like to follow the path of a certain non-repetition of form and formality which does not mean it is necessary to abdicate rigour or the demands of a scholarly obligation, “to substitute for what exist[s] some type of non-thesis, non-legitimacy or incompetence,”4) but rather requires the assumption that an even greater accountability be demanded of the critical invention of the transformative gesture to explain itself both now and later. For the beginnings of a path-breaking cannot take place without a careful knowledge and an immense respect or keen observance for the most ever subtle nuances of “academic tradition.” And in this way of uncompromising justness surpassing the minimal responsibility of the protocol of “good conscience,” this trail-blazing is what deconstruction does above all else or makes possible regarding the most fundamental of educational themes, “what it means to know.” Derrida has articulated as much through a prolific body of texts sometimes taken to be anathema to the history of knowledge and knowing after the legacy of the ancient Greeks. Deconstruction traverses the ethics and the politics of the logic of the Same to introduce from beyond the horizon of its impossibility the transcendence of a teaching /writing of the Other. It upsets the surety of the “phenomeno-semio-logical” foundation of the institutional history of Western epistemology at the level of its theorizing about the value of the sign, reproducibility and representation, or what is the heart of the educational future of all philosophy and science as indicative of the empirical foundation of the certainty of truth.

  • For nothing can be taught or learned other than what is believed to be known and understood.

From the above premise follows the “theoretical matrix” of deconstruction. Derrida has developed its principles most conspicuously in Of Grammatology. The point is that it is indeed feasible to intervene at the base of the institutional monolith amidst the play of the forces of the particular implications and effects leading to and resulting from the exclusion of writing by metaphysics. Through the imperious dismissal of exteriority, the ethnocentric terms of the limits of signification and meaning creation are posited in the immediate (tonal) substantiality of the voice or speech for the reduction of difference within the ideal determination of the self-presence of the logos. In this sense, it is the non-ethical beginnings of the “ethicity” of the teachings of metaphysics and the “living reason” of the spoken word that warrants, because it underwrites, the closing-off of the trace of otherness. The unique importance of the “grammatological” focus when juxtaposed against the anteriority of its semiological influences is remarkably suitable here. Its consequences for education resonate when the confrontation of writing and voice within the Derridean conception of a “post-structural” version of “understanding” or “meaning-making” surpass the nomothetics of speech, a re-interpretation of philosophy through the cultural politics of the sign is necessary.

An analytical “breaking-down” of the constituent features of the reason of its prejudice concerning consciousness and language delegitimizes the onto-theological groundedness of the voice feeding a pedagogy of mimesis, an imitativeness of the example or a clarifying of explanability required for the sake of perpetuating the illusion of truth from the demands of an altogether “natural” or “good usage.” The problem of negotiating the arbitrary objectification of the semantic values of the cognitive and affective results comprising the interpretative bandwidth of the episteme framework that constructs the institutionalization of theory as praxis. I would contend that this realization brings to the fore the importance of the question of ethics for deconstruction relative to the theme of education, teaching and learning. And this is where we will already have begun to examine and articulate the pedagogical ramifications of deconstruction so prominent in the radical specificity of the scope of Derrida’s engagement with the genealogy of philosophical concepts. By enabling an investigation of the semio-logicality of the metaphysical model of cognition crucial to the scene of a “classical pedagogy” that posits the flawless transmission of signs between the relational formulizability of a “sender-receiver” dyad and, hence, the possibility of the inter-exchanging of well-received meanings, deconstruction reveals how the privileging of speech over writing is the ethnocentric outcome of comprehending the representationality of language formations or their potential for expressivity solely as an “economy of signification” involving the immediate and auto-affective substantiality of the spirit of the voice. This skepticism of the teleology of the predication of the desire to communicate can lead to a pushing-beyond the “vulgar” notion of a teaching and learning directed, without doubt, as the transference and implantation of the truth of knowledge from “above” and “outside” the psychico-experiential realm of an intersubjective violence. For example, it permits a renouncing of the tabula rasa theory of the inscriptibility of a malleable consciousness of unblemished wax to be shaped or given image by the artful engraving of a master teacher operating at the critical points of a “weakness-to-know” where the clean slate of subjective being is at the mercy of the probing intentionality of the deep etching of signs.

Derrida characterizes the conventional or classical act of teaching and learning to be the pragmatic reproduction of the “metaphysics of presence” as cultivated from the premises of the interchangeable chain-linking of its orienting function at the fabulaic center of the syntagm of the Western mythos of “pure origins,” uncorrupted beginnings. As the arche-thememe of logocentrism defining the effluence of the voice, it stands in symbolic difference and non-difference to itself, a mise en abîme of an arche-typal thinking of the plenitude of the sign that guides the conceptual immanence of an archive of cultural knowledge, be it scientific, aesthetic, philosophical, or religious, and so on, to render it replicable without a hint of doubt. For example, Derrida’s reading of Jean-Jacques Rousseau regarding the origins of language “before the letter” concentrates on the foundational and corollary arguments detailing the elements of a pedagogical method relying on the phonocentrism of an image of the natural piety of humanity to bring out the extent of the incoherence of the utopianism of an idyllic vision of a “community of speech.”

Deconstruction exposes the blindness of the figural identification of innocence prior to the exteriority of the voice as the mark of writing—e.g., the worldliness of delimited contextuality and the predictable consequence of sign-meaning correlations—through which a resistance to the difference of supplementation is operationalized by within the romantic appeal of the rhetoric used to secure the nostalgic call for the elimination of the violence of culture from the organismic whole of a society capable of pure spirited, unaffected relations of genuinely filial obligation. Derrida “turns-back” upon Rousseau the question of the social construction of concepts such as “immediacy,” “propriety,” “nature,” and so on. The point is to show the ways in which the applicability of deconstruction for the general problem of education extends from its ability to liberate the repressed contradictions always already present within the constitution of the texts on the subject referred to, using the selected terms of their expressions and expressivity to interrogate the deeper facets of a lamenting of the catastrophic passing of naive simplicity to learned experience. The non-ethical post-script of the irreversible transformation of the child is represented by the inculcated ability for the apprehension of the metaphysics of the sign, the debility of representation, (de)contextualization, removedness, supplementarity honing the displacement of the truth of the Being of being in the moment of the reversal of self-identity through teaching and learning. Deconstruction, however, if we are to believe Derrida, does not, cannot, nor does it wish to exact the death of logocentrism, to eliminate it, despite troubling the epistemic validity of a phonological prototype of signification that linearizes the relation of signans and signatum. It inhibits the reduction of the play of difference in an effort to counter-act and counter-balance for the mitigation or repression of the presence of the Other within the expression of the Same.

Behind the improbable terms of the educational connection of semiology as an “old science of signs” and deconstruction as a “new way of reading” lies the presupposition that “there has never been anything but writing,”5) a circumspection bringing to fruition the contextual over-drift or grafting-on of the grammatological to the pragmatico-theoretical field of (philosophical) anthropology. To keep within the “age” of Rousseau and a certain “auto-bio-graphical temporality” of a self-present écriture is not difficult for Derrida, when considering the structural ethnology of Claude Lévi-Strauss. For it is through the teaching of one, the former, who excludes the supplementarity of writing yet, nevertheless, wants to add-to a supposedly ideal state of human nature and provides an educational manual to do so, that another, the latter, transforms the discipline of anthropology as a science of difference wanting “to decipher, dreams of deciphering a truth or an origin that transcends play and the order of the sign, and for it the necessity of interpretation is lived as a kind of exile.”6) The ethical aspects of the deconstruction of the ethnocentrism of the description of the Nambikwara in “The Writing Lesson” of Tristes Tropiques illustrate the ramifications of the intersubjective violence Lévi-Strauss exacts upon this group of people in light of the cultural politics of a structuralist agenda dismissive of script, but still using the distinction of the graphie to hierarchize, categorize, and exoticize the Other by Western criteria of belief, knowledge, or education.

The logocentrism of semiology encompasses a theory of language and representation that reduces the elements of teaching and learning to the preserving of (self-)presence, in fact, it precludes, on a more significantly ethical plane, the possibility of the recognition of difference outside of a closed system of an authenticating set of limits, the opposite extremes for inclusion and exclusion. The cultural politics of the sign works through these opposite extremes by reinforcing the objectification of value toward the “practical” purpose of the inclusion and exclusion of entities. To say, and Lévi-Strauss does, that the Nambikwara lack the mark of “writing” and are therefore closer to nature than to culture is not only to be wrong, but also unethical, because the judgement recuperates the steroetypical image of the “primitive mind” as diachronically untaught and technologically under-nourished, in other words, as the animate presence of “Being-lacking.” It is an ethnocentric caricature of “pre-scientific genius” supporting the mytheme of the bricoleur and not a depiction of the empirical reality or the truth of the situation. With the deconstruction of the phonocentric normativity of the laws governing the intersubjective violence of the unspeakable trace of the writing of the Other, the possibility, the hope, through which we can and must learn to reflect upon the ethicity of our own thinking and practices of representation is situated in the in(deter)minable unfolding of différance.

Derrida elaborates a grammatological overhauling of semiology to re-think the differential and deferred relations of the iterativity of the sign, its spatio-temporal im-print, the excesses of which manifest themselves in an alterity that the teleological perspective of an “ego-logical” philosophizing cannot comprehend or care to admit. The irreducibility of différance “shows-up” the infinite exteriority of the arche-trace of the Other through the symploke, or a weaving together of the diverse strands, of deconstruction, e.g., the yoking of undecidability with the heterology of its transcendental preconditions. Upon the “unthought” difference between identity and difference, that which is the exteriority of writing, hinges the turning-point of the reversal and then displacement of the nature/culture dichotomy of metaphysics, the primary pragmatico-epistemic focus of its teaching we have been concerned with. Exposing how the teleo-phone of the logos is postponed in the self-irradiating trace of the fullness of presence, différance complicates the desire of the archive madness of the ancient thinking of the West that does not grant standing to the idea of the Other, its infusing in the idea of perpetuity, stasis, and fixed order the semblance of an outside, exteriority, to a pedagogy of the Same. Deconstruction contends, Derrida says,

… as always, [with] the institution of limits declared to be insurmountable, whether they involve family or state law, the relations between the secret and the non-secret, or, and this is not the same thing, between the private and the public, whether they involve property or access rights, publication or reproduction rights, whether they involve classification and putting into order: What comes under theory or under private correspondence, for example? What comes under system? under biography or autobiography? under personal or intellectual anamnesis? In works said to be theoretical, what is worthy of this name and what is not?7)

We would include with this proliferation of questions, the need to address the consequences of theory for the “topo-nomological” archive of the educational institution and the classification of knowledge in accordance with the historicity of the sign and the means of consignation, the construction of a gathering place of domiciliation before and after the letter.8) A de-construction of the normative rendering of what it means to think, to learn, to teach, to know begins to take root in the earliest of Derrida’s “texts” before Of Grammatology, where the non-natural ethics of speech informing the socio-theologico-philosophical violence of metaphysics are put into doubt. It would not be hyperbole to suggest that from the start this post-structural, post-phenomenological mode of intervention plays upon the thematic variability of the most fundamental and essential versions of the educational problematic of supplementarity discerning the continual transitivity of the human subject: for example, the heterogeneity of origins, the paradoxes of mimetology, childhood, reason, subjectivity, and so on as problems of mediacy and mediation. In short, it is the non-ground between presence and absence deconstruction breaks-into, slowly making it possible to imaginatively empathize or “fill-up” the openness of the abyss of this excluded space, the space of the writing /teaching of the Other, to re-approach the responsibility of the horizon of intersubjective violence and the ethnocentric teleologicality of the cultural politics of the sign.

In taking the pedagogical impetus of the grammatological re-evaluation of the ethnocentrism of the sign further afield to the Hegelian era of speculative dialectics and the Absolute Idea, Derrida has pondered the birth and death of the philosopher and, thus, the thinking and teaching of the child through life that he considers to be associated with the themes of writing and memory.9) In Glas, we read a quite startling answer to a familiar, but difficult, question:

What is education? The death of the parents, the formation of the child’s consciousness, the Aufhebung of its consciousness in(to) the form of ideality.10)

Using this quotation as a heuristic tool to approach some final comments on the question of the contradiction Derrida finds in the proposal for a speculative didactics of infinitizing and hyperstatic memory G. W. F. Hegel lays out for a solicited “report” on Philosophy curricula would seem to be appropriate and somewhat precarious at the same time. But, nevertheless, for us, it will have already been necessary, if not essential, given its direct relation to any consideration of the topic of deconstruction and pedagogy at hand. The ideological symmetry between the text and the context of the report Derrida puts into question re-inforces the need for the auto-bio-graphical projection of the image of the child, before the end of philosophy and after the beginning of schooling, that Hegel submits to an eager State ministry ready to support an “instruction of memory.” For a questioning and critical consciousness does not a good citizen always make from the perspective of the-powers-that-be. And yet, the symbolic death here is not only of the parents, the decrease of their ability to have influence over the thinking of their dependent and powerless offspring. It is also the passing away of “the child” as such, a being of “non-knowledge” whose re-birth is achieved by the Hegelian propaeduetic through the retranslation or return of the essence of subjective formativity to a safe-keeping of the “mobility” of consciousness within the bounds of the dialectical sublation of the idealizing moment of absolute insight or the Idea of Reason, the faculty represented most by the eternal logic and “Right” of the State. For Derrida, the fundamental problem is that of the acceptability of such provocatively generalizing recollections put forward as the result of a self-fulfilling prophecy of a vision of the truth of a past connected to a present future that is all too removed from a time of reflection far-gone and well-lost. Because the auto-affective nature of the image of the pre-philosophical “child-Hegel” cannot but re-gather the presence of the sign of the Self toward an inwardly reflecting point of imaginative centration reconciling elements of fact with those of fiction to comprise the temporal bridge between the “then” and the “now,” to resurrect in the annals of memory the gathering power of an ideal re-creativity is to more or less pursue the path to the teaching of false example, an exemplary teaching of falsehood coveting a prosopopoeia of the wishful apostrophe. So, the difference of consciousness and self-consciousness builds the symptomatic tensions of a hidden economy of loss that becomes evident in the rewriting of anamnesis after the deconstructive rereading of the report Hegel signs. The problematic synthesis of these antinomies of the relève of subjective identity comments on the theoretical validity of the example of the unsupplemented age of childhood, where the speculative schematism connecting empirical being to its “past being”—a Being-past (Gewesenheit)—is framed according to the productive representation of a dialectical modality of circularly coherent reflexivity closed unto the reason of itself. The exteriorization of memory, its removal from the interiority of self-absorbing thought, “stays with traces, in order to ‘preserve’ them, but traces of a past that has never been present, traces which themselves never occupy the form of presence and always remain, as it were, to come—come from the future, from the to come.”11) And the signature of the proper name of Hegel as a life-writing of “the Self,” in this sense of the auto-genetic reproduction of the metaphorical singularity of subjective identity, is an attempt to secure control over the hermeneutic effects of the aftermath of the ends of inscription by concretizing in the otherwise plain and customary mark of referential authority the pedagogical truth of the figure of the child prior to the experience of philosophy and the difficulty of thinking. Its be-latedly teleologizing function of identifying difference that serves to “fill-in-the-spaces” of the socio-cultural puzzle of the categorical status of beings is a symbolic sanctioning of the logic to institute and implement a speculative curriculum of rote-memorization for the teaching and learning of philosophy. The Hegelian model of pedagogy so defined within the possibility of the repeatability of the proper name, as such, is a progession of delay and derivation following the semantic after-effect of the originating source of the truth of the sign. And the time lag of its already-not-yet (déjà-pas-encore) structure authenticates the pragmatic working-out of the educational configuration of speculative dialectics by sustaining, in its formal processes of dictation and memorization, the means to a looking-back toward the generation of a “first” and “correct” meaning of a signifier to confirm its accuracy through the unmediated transmissibility of its proof. It should be clear considering what we have stated about the ethics of deconstruction up to now that Derrida could not support a mnemotechnical pedagogy favouring the passing of knowledge from the “expert teacher” to the “obedient student” or an institution that encourages the (re-)playing and perpetuation of these monodimensional roles. Having become important as the interactive site of competing interests and diffential forces, the scene of teaching is the territorial mainstay of the political struggle its participants wage for the right of opportunity to intervene in the planning or actualization of curricular possibilities. Derrida, it would seem from reflections made about the commitment of his involvement with the GREPH (since 1974),12) has taken this activist role very seriously for the sake of saving the discipline of philosophy from those elected powers that have considered it an esoteric and dangerous subject, a part of the French educational system not worth the trouble of dealing with or keeping at bay. To the point where it was decided not to write a “thesis”—a dissertation would most certainly have been a chance to secure an eminent position suitable for a scholar of such international stature13)—because

…it was neither consistent nor desirable to be a candidate for any new academic title or responsibility. Not consistent given the work of political criticism in which [he] was participating, not desirable with regard to a little forum that was more internal, more private and upon which, through a whole endless scenography of symbols, representations, phantasies, traps and strategies, a self-image recounts all sorts of interminable and incredible stories to itself.14)

But as regards the type of interference deconstruction can provide to alter the onto-encyclopaedic reason of the educational institution, to make its charity more equitable to acknowledging and accepting the logic of the Other, Derrida has never promoted the general dismantling of the architectonics of the pedagogical system. Rather, the focus of attention has been on finding a more “neutral” and less contentious site from which to interrogate the axiomatics of the apparatuses of teaching and learning, one that effaces the tensions of the historico-political codification of the academic/bureaucratic dualism tranquilizing the co-operative processes of reflective transformation. Derrida explains,

It is this complementarity, this configuration [‘often scarcely readable, but solid, between the most immobilized, contracted academicism and all that, outside the school and the university, in the mode of representation and spectacle, taps almost immediately into the channels of the greatest receivability’15)]—everywhere that it appears—that we must, it seems to me, combat. Combat simultaneously, and joyously, without accusation, without trial, without nostalgia, with an intractable gaiety. Without nostalgia for more discreet forms, sometimes (sometimes only) more distinguished, less noisy, that in large part will yesterday have prepared the way for what we inherit today.16)

Deconstruction has been misrepresented by many critics, theorists, and philosophers unable or unwilling to take an account of and provide an accounting for its ethical and political implications, preferring instead to eschew or disregard both its effectivity in responsibilizing the principles of action or its informing of the reason of pragmatic utility. Attenuating the thematic scope of the analysis on the Derridean call to rethink the grounds of academic responsibility, e.g., the motivational imperative to respond according to a principle of “Right,” any reading of deconstruction in relation to educational philosophy must attend to the aporia of what is beyond the rationality of the institution of the university. There is a bridge to be built between the double-sided precipice of deconstruction, on the one hand, and the self-effacing void of metaphysics, on the other. This, of course, involves the question of responsibility and what is “proper” and “right,” of “the law” and “the political”: not to raise fears about the unjustifiable eradication of the university, an institution old and dear, as ancient as philosophy itself, a traditional knowledge structure that is the structure of knowledge, very much in need of painstaking reconstitution, but to allay them in the well-meaning desire to rejuvenate serious exchange on the reason for its being. What Derrida does through deconstruction is to set-up the positive parameters within which we can discourse on the subject ethically without barriers or boundaries, though not without obligation and the danger of failure. “The Principle of Reason: The University in the Eyes of its Pupils” shows how its discourse works on the figural play of the tropic framework circumscribing the living and metaphorical dimensions of these negative perimeters to broach the educational question of foundation and of ground, of principle and of law, of departure and destination. Essentially, by relating the foci of these complementary pairings Derrida introduces—that are very different and yet also thematical the same—to the topological formativity of the structure of the institution itself, it has been possible to reread the ethico-political undertext of this instance of deconstruction through the metaphorical register of the text on the theme of the historicity of reason. We cannot dismiss, in this case, the use of the example of Cornell University, with its bridges stretching the campus across an abyss, as the living symbol or animate example of the parable being retold while its speaker is taking the first steps through the ordeal of this inaugural lecture toward the expressing of gratitude, re-turning its gift-counter-gift for the honour of being selected to a prestigious appointment. The specific conditions of the discourse—demanding a specific type of rhetorical demeanour appealing to an axiology of symbolic exchanges—generate the opportunity Derrida takes to comment on the interstices of text-context relations that construct the epistemic and empirical values of the constative and performative aspects of the academic responsibility Derrida culls after the “double science” of deconstruction. And this, more, than less, translates the emphatic urgency of the topic or theme of this lecture and the timeliness of its message for a sustained re-appraisal of the ethics of academic responsibility patterned after the principle of reason. What Derrida shows is that there is no overcoming (Überwindung) of the techno-philosophical grounding of intellectual freedom or action within the speculum of an all-seeing, all-knowing university, the oto-scopic-bio-graphic sensibility of an instrumental and poietic landscape of the idea of the modern mind. And deconstruction does not—it cannot—claim to “come-down” upon the reason of the institution with a full-forced vengeance in search of justice for it has no grudge to vindicate, no end to finagle, it is not outside the law. But this is not altogether true. It is outside the law. Rather, Derrida would say, and he has,

Deconstruction is justice. It is perhaps because law (droit) (which I will consistently try to distinguish from justice) is constructible, in a sense that goes beyond the opposition between convention and nature, it is perhaps insofar as it goes beyond this opposition that it is constructible and so deconstructible and, what’s more, that it makes deconstruction possible, or at least the practice of a deconstruction that, fundamentally, always proceeds to questions of droit and to the subject of droit. (1) The deconstructibility of law (droit), of legality, legitimacy ot legitimation (for example) makes deconstruction possible. (2) The undeconstructiblity of justice also makes deconstruction possible, indeed inseparable from it. (3) The result: deconstruction takes place in the interval that separates the undeconstructibility of justice from the deconstructibility of droit (authority, legitimacy, and so on). It is possible as an experience of the impossible, there where, even if it does not exist (or does not yet exist, or never does exist), there is justice.17)

The “real-as-absent” ground deconstruction covers, on both sides, as it were, of how one should not speak of the university is the situation of its re-positioning of ethics toward the possibility and impossibility of justice, that is, the undecidable responsibility symptomatic of the irreducible difference of an academic community in extensio. This “double-edged” pragrammatology Derrida endorses, a metacontextual metadiscursivity critical of the sign of reason embedded within and exemplified by the regulatory principles of the institution, does not refer to a pre-destined plan of action, demands no disciples or followers, concede to the direction of no political program. Instead, it invites interpretation and invention that will produce a performative intelligibility or an inkling of purpose “yet-to-come” (avenir) out of the non-projection of a justification. The notion is terrifying for some and self-mockingly illogical for others, especially concerning issues of institutionalized practice, pedagogical or techno-scientific, for example, and other research areas we have delineated pertaining to the disciplinary system of the university. But considering the outcome of reason once rendered for a future action is a moment of insurance or assurance already finite and past, there is no immanence of aspirations left other than a feigning of presence suffered as a remote-controlling of praxis toward the unconditionality of what is the certainty of a non-end, the non-end of certainty.

To end, I would like to cite Derrida himself, for what he has admitted with respect to the risk and necessity of his own educational journey of/through deconstruction as a curiously convoluted and arduous path that eventually lead him to his post of Directeur d’Études: Institutions de Philosophie traces the openings of deconstruction unto the horizons of the future and the possibility of an authentic pedagogy without boundaries or margins. When asked by Jean Hyppolite to explain the direction of his thinking, Derrida replied, “If I clearly saw ahead of time where I was going, I really don’t believe that I should take another step to get there.”18) I will leave you to fill in the rest.


Encyclopaedia of Philosophy of Education
10/05/2002


1) Jacques Derrida, Dissemination, trans. Barbara Johnson (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981), 122.
2) See Edward Said, “The Problem of Textuality: Two Exemplary Positions” Critical Inquiry 4 (1978): 673–714 and Michel Foucault, Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason, trans. Richard Howard (New York: Random House, 1965). In an appendix to the 1972 edition (the original was published in the form of a Thèse d’Etat in 1961), Foucault responds to what he perceived to be an “attack” on his work by Derrida in the “lecture” “Cogito and the History of Madness,” trans. Alan Bass, in Writing and Difference, 31–63 by describing deconstruction as nothing more than a conservative and well-entrenched “pedagogy of the text.”
3) Jacques Derrida, “The Time of a Thesis: Punctuations,” trans. Kathleen McLaughlin, in ed. Alan Montefiore, Philosophy in France Today (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983), 42.
4) Ibid., 42.
5) Jacques Derrida, Of Grammatology, trans. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1974),158.
6) Jacques Derrida, “Structure, Sign, and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences,” trans. Alan Bass, in Writing and Difference (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978), 427.
7) Jacques Derrida, Archive Fever: A Freudian Impression, trans. Eric Prenowitz (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996), 4–5.
8) See ibid.
9) This is evident in Jacques Derrida, Dissemination.
10) Jacques Derrida, Glas, trans. John P. Leavey Jr. and Richard Rand (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1986), 132
11) Jacques Derrida, Memoires for Paul de Man, trans. Cecilia Lindsay, Jonathan Culler, and Eduardo Cavava (New York: Columbia University Press, 1986), 58.
12) See Jacques Derrida, “The Time of a Thesis.”
13) And, indeed, it was the reason Derrida was persuaded to submit his candidacy for a doctorate based on published texts, as he was encouraged to do so in order to be elected to the Collège de France, in succession of Paul Ricouer. The chair was eventually suppressed by the Ministry of Education. And those colleagues who had extended to Derrida the “invitation” to apply for the post, eventually vote against him and he is given another position, the one he currently holds, on certain conditions.
14) Derrida, “The Time of a Thesis,” 48.
15) Jacques Derrida, “Philosophie des États Généraux,” in États Généraux de la Philosophie (16 et 17 juin 1979) (Paris: Flammarion, 1979), 43. Editor(s) not specified. (All translations from this text are my own.).
16) Ibid., 43. Derrida here explains what deconstruction ought to inspire in remarks made to the États Généraux de la Philosophie, a meeting of approximately twelve hundred participants who congregated at the Sorbonne on June 16–17 of 1979 to find common ground through which to combat the deteriorating situation of the discipline of Philosophy.
17) Jacques Derrida, “Force of Law: The ‘Mystical Foundation of Authority,’” trans. Mary Quaintance, in Deconstruction and the Possibility of Justice, eds. Drucilla Cornell, Michel Rosenfeld, and David Gray Carlson (New York: Routledge, 1992), 15.
18) Derrida, “The Time of a Thesis,” 36.
 
 

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