This course has two aims. First, it will offer an introduction to Jacques Derrida’s work, paying particular attention to how Derrida reads texts. That is, deconstruction will be approached as a mode of interpretation. As such, each work by Derrida will be coupled with the text or texts that work interprets. So, for instance, when we read Derrida’s essay “Signature Event Context,” we will read J. L. Austin’s How To Do Things with Words; when we read Of Grammatology, we will read Rousseau’s Essay on the Origin of Languages, and so forth. Second, the course will consider the relationship between deconstruction as a mode of interpretation and the political. We will ask, what do we mean by “the political”? Is it confined to Derrida’s later works as is sometimes assumed, or has deconstruction always been political in some sense? This will allow us to consider the import of deconstruction for a critique of rights; for feminism and gender studies; and for the politics of memory, loss, and mourning.
The readings will be in English, and no prior familiarity with Derrida’s work will be required or presumed. Some familiarity with the basic tenets of formalism and structuralism would be useful, the touchstones being Shklovsky, Eichenbaum, Saussure, Benveniste, and Levi-Strauss. As far as introductory surveys of formalism and structuralism, I can recommend Frederic Jameson’s The Prison-House of Language and Kaja Silverman’s The Subject of Semiotics.
Undergraduates are not permitted to take 700-level courses.