Introduction to Derrida

Derrida was born on July 15, 1930, in El-Biar (near Algiers), then French Algeria, into a Sephardic Jewish family, the third of five children. His given name was Jackie, though he would later adopt a more "correct" version of his first name (The Guardian). His youth was spent in El-Biar, Algeria.

On the first day of the school year in 1942, Derrida was expelled from his lycée by French administrators implementing anti-Semitic quotas set by the Vichy government. He secretly skipped school for a year rather than attend the Jewish lycée formed by displaced teachers and students. At this time, as well as taking part in numerous football competitions (he dreamed of becoming a professional player), Derrida read works of philosophers and writers such as Rousseau, Camus, Nietzsche and Gide. He began to think seriously about philosophy around 1948 and 1949. He became a boarding student at the Lycée Louis-le-Grand in Paris, which he did not enjoy, and failed his entrance examination twice before integrating Ecole Normale Supérieure. He was finally admitted at the end of the 1951–52 school year.

On the first day at the Ecole Normale Supérieure, Derrida met Louis Althusser, with whom he became friends. He also befriended Michel Foucault, whose lectures he attended. After visiting the Husserl Archive in Leuven, Belgium, he completed his philosophy agrégation on Husserl's "The Origin of Geometry". Derrida received a grant for studies at Harvard University, and in June 1957 married Marguerite Aucouturier in Boston. During the Algerian War of Independence, Derrida asked to teach soldiers' children in lieu of military service, teaching French and English from 1957 to 1959.

Following the war Derrida began a long association with the Tel Quel group of literary and philosophical theorists. At the same time, from 1960 to 1964, Derrida taught philosophy at the Sorbonne, and from 1964 to 1984 at the École Normale Superieure. He completed his Thèse d'État in 1980; the work was subsequently published in English translation as "The Time of a Thesis: Punctuations". His wife Marguerite gave birth to their first child, Pierre, in 1963. Beginning with his 1966 lecture at Johns Hopkins University, "Structure, Sign, and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences," his work assumed international prominence. A second son, Jean, was born in 1967. In the same year, Derrida published his first three books — Writing and Difference, Speech and Phenomena, and Of Grammatology — which would make his name.

In 1984, Derrida had a third son, Daniel, with Sylviane Agacinski.

Derrida travelled widely and held a series of visiting and permanent positions. Derrida was director of studies at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Paris. With François Châtelet and others he in 1983 co-founded the Collège international de philosophie (CIPH), an institution intended to provide a location for philosophical research which could not be carried out elsewhere in the academy. He was elected as its first president.

In 1986 he became Professor of the Humanities at the University of California, Irvine. The university has a major archive of his manuscripts which the courts have now determined must be returned to the family [2]. He was a regular visiting professor at several other major American universities, including Johns Hopkins University, Yale University, and New York University, and The New School for Social Research.

Derrida was a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and received the 2001 Adorno-Preis from the University of Frankfurt. He was awarded honorary doctorates by Cambridge University, Columbia University, The New School for Social Research, the University of Essex, University of Leuven, and Williams College.

In 2003, Derrida was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, which reduced his speaking and traveling engagements. He died in a Parisian hospital on the evening of October 8, 2004 (BBC story).