Derrida and His Colleague

Derrida's philosophical friends, allies, and students included Paul de Man, Jean-François Lyotard, Michel Foucault, Louis Althusser, Emmanuel Levinas, Maurice Blanchot, Gilles Deleuze, Jean-Luc Nancy, Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe, Sarah Kofman, Hélène Cixous, Bernard Stiegler, Alexander García Düttmann, Geoffrey Bennington, and Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak.

Nancy and Lacoue-Labarthe

Jean-Luc Nancy and Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe were among Derrida's first students in France and went on to become well-known and important philosophers in their own right. Despite their considerable differences of subject, and often also of method, they continued their close interaction with each other and with Derrida, from the early 1970s.

Derrida wrote on both of them, including a long book on Nancy: Le Toucher, Jean-Luc Nancy (On Touching—Jean-Luc Nancy, 2005).

Paul de Man

Derrida's most prominent friendship in intellectual life was with Paul de Man, which began with their meeting at Johns Hopkins University and continued until de Man's death in 1983. De Man provided a somewhat different approach to deconstruction, and his readings of literary and philosophical texts were crucial in the training of a generation of readers.

Shortly after de Man's death, Derrida authored a book Memoires: pour Paul de Man and in 1988 wrote an article in the journal Critical Inquiry called "Like the Sound of the Sea Deep Within a Shell: Paul de Man's War". "Like the Sound..." became cause for controversy, because shortly before Derrida published his piece, it had been discovered that long before his academic career in the US, de Man had written almost two-hundred essays in a pro-Nazi newspaper during the German occupation of Belgium, including several that were explicitly antisemitic.

Derrida's essay is a defense of de Man. Derrida argues, in the main, that one cannot define all of de Man's work in light of a few newspaper articles written in de Man's early twenties. Rather, any claims about de Man's work are to be considered in light of the entire body of his scholarship. The most controversial portion of the article is a relatively short section of analysis where Derrida deconstructs de Man's essays, suggesting alternative meanings to various phrases and propositions. Critics have read this section of the essay as a weak attempt to minimize the antisemitic character of de Man's writing. This "deconstruction" of de Man's work led to a flurry of responses that, along with Derrida's own reply, nearly filled a subsequent issue of Critical Inquiry. What makes this controversy more unusual is that in other contexts Derrida spoke out strongly against antisemitism and, in the 1960s, broke with the Heidegger disciple Jean Beaufret over a phrase of Beaufret's that Derrida (and, after him, Maurice Blanchot) interpreted as antisemitic.

Derrida's translators

Geoffrey Bennington, Avital Ronell and Samuel Weber belong to a group of Derrida translators. Many of these are esteemed thinkers in their own right, with whom Derrida worked in a collaborative arrangement, allowing his prolific output to be translated into English in a timely fashion.

Having started as a student of de Man, Gayatri Spivak took on the translation of Of Grammatology early in her career and has since revised it into a second edition. Alan Bass was responsible for several early translations; Bennington and Peggy Kamuf have continued to produce translations of his work for nearly twenty years. In recent years, a number of translations have appeared by Michael Naas (also a Derrida scholar) and Pascale-Anne Brault.

With Bennington, Derrida undertook the challenge published as Derrida, an arrangement in which Bennington attempted to provide a systematic explication of Derrida's work (called the "Derridabase") using the top two-thirds of every page, while Derrida was given the finished copy of every Bennington chapter and the bottom third of every page in which to show how deconstruction exceeded Bennington's account (this was called the "Circumfession"). Derrida seems to have viewed Bennington in particular as a kind of rabbinical explicator, noting at the end of the "Applied Derrida" conference, held at the University of Luton in 1995 that: "everything has been said and, as usual, Geoff Bennington has said everything before I have even opened my mouth. I have the challenge of trying to be unpredictable after him, which is impossible... so I'll try to pretend to be unpredictable after Geoff. Once again."

Relationships and mourning

Derrida's relationship with many of his contemporaries was marked by disagreements and rifts. For example, Derrida's criticism of Foucault in the essay "Cogito and the History of Madness" (from Writing and Difference), first given as a lecture which Foucault attended, caused a rift between the two men that was never fully mended. Others, like Emmanuel Levinas and Maurice Blanchot, found in his critical engagement with their work an invitation for further discussion.

Whatever the outcome of these discussions, Derrida was often left in the unappealing position of having an opportunity for the last word in too many, as he outlived many of his peers. Death and mourning are foundational to the analysis which lead Derrida to his understanding of inheritance, interpretation, and responsibility. Beginning with "The Deaths of Roland Barthes" in 1981, Derrida produced a series of texts on mourning and memory occasioned by the loss of his friends and colleagues, many of them new engagements with their work. Memoires for Paul de Man, a book-length lecture series presented first at Yale and then at Irvine as Derrida's Wellek Lecture, followed in 1986, with a revision in 1989 that included "Like the Sound of the Sea Deep Within a Shell: Paul de Man's War". Ultimately fourteen essays were collected into The Work of Mourning, which was expanded in the French edition Chaque fois unique, la fin du monde (literally, The end of the world, unique each time) to include essays dedicated to Gérard Granel and Maurice Blanchot.