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Philosophy Jacques Derrida
Jack Reynolds, Peter Gratton
  • LAST REVIEWED: 14 November 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 13 January 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396577-0114


Jacques Derrida (b. 1930–d. 2004) was one of the most famous philosophers of the 20th century, and he has remained so since his death in 2004. Derrida’s work was described by Hélène Cixous as the greatest ethico-political warning of our time, and he was remarkably prolific. It is unlikely that anyone has read all of Derrida’s work, and there are around fifty books still to be published in both French and English from his lecture notes, which are almost all completed prose of philosophical subtlety (for more on this, see the Derrida Seminars Translation Project). He was especially indebted to philosophers such as Edmund Husserl, Martin Heidegger, and Emmanuel Levinas, along with various literary figures (e.g., Mallarmé, Joyce, Celan, etc.), and he developed a manner of reading and engaging with texts and ideas that came to be known as “deconstruction,” which was infamous throughout the 1980s and 1990s, especially in Anglo-American countries, where Derrida was arguably most influential. Derrida deliberately resisted any simple definition of deconstruction, instead preferring pithy and enigmatic remarks such as “deconstruction is justice.” Nonetheless, deconstruction is standardly thought to involve a scholarly reading of texts according to traditional standards, while also attempting to reveal dimensions of the text that resist or problematize the overt argument. These points may occur in apparently marginal and peripheral places but still destabilize both the author’s stated intentions and the textual system in question. The singularity of each text, however, precludes deconstruction being a neutral “method” that might be taken up and robotically deployed upon any and all texts. Derrida’s later philosophy is less textually embedded, instead becoming increasingly concerned with ethico-political concepts, such as democracy, responsibility, justice, friendship, forgiveness, hospitality, and the gift. Here his concern was with an aporetic or paradoxical logic to these concepts and to the experience of them, which leaves them open and incomplete. Without doing the disservice of offering further such short and ultimately unsatisfactory summaries of Derrida’s immense corpus, this bibliography aims to introduce the reader to some of the most influential of Derrida’s own texts, as well as provide a means for navigating the vast secondary literature that is out there. With regard to Derrida’s own texts, it has not been possible to provide summaries of all of them. Instead, this bibliography highlights just some of the most significant of those texts in regard to a given area or theme with which Derrida was concerned, while also having annotated entries on some of the most significant secondary literature that is about Derrida’s work, even if it extends or transforms it. While this article is primarily focused on texts in the English language, also included are some of the most significant writings on Derrida in French.

Introductory Works

Derrida is well known for the sophistication and complexity of his written work. He has also been the author of a vast number of books and articles. As such, the task for the introductory writer on Derrida is a difficult one. While nothing can replace reading Derrida’s own works, what follows is a selection of the best and most influential of these texts. Deutscher 2006 moves from Derrida’s earliest work to show the connections to his later writings. Other helpful introductory texts tend to have more of a thematic focus, for example, emphasizing his thinking on literature and the arts as with Royle 2003, or they focus on community and politics as with Glendinning 2011 and Caputo 1996, or they focus on his engagements with different philosophers, which is characteristic of Gaston 2008 and Norris 1988. Thematic introductions to Derrida’s thought can be found in the various essays contained in Reynolds and Roffe 2004, while Wortham 2010 takes a different approach in introducing Derrida’s thought via an A-Z compilation of key terms and concepts, and is one of the best texts of this kind.

  • Caputo, John D. Deconstruction in a Nutshell: A Conversation with Jacques Derrida. New York: Fordham University Press, 1996.

    Caputo’s commentaries are typically clear and helpful, and the interview with Derrida at the end of the book is also lucid and insightful. One of the best sources on introducing Derrida is Derrida himself, especially in interviews contained here.

  • Deutscher, Penelope. How to Read Derrida. New York: Norton, 2006.

    Just over one hundred pages, Deutscher’s book does a succinct job covering the central elements from Derrida’s work, both early and late.

  • Gaston, Sean. Starting with Derrida. London: Continuum, 2008.

    Gaston provides an introduction of Derrida through his readings of Plato, Aristotle, and Hegel, focusing on his rethinking of canonical questions about space and time, the soul, and the nature of history.

  • Glendinning, Simon. Derrida: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011.

    DOI: 10.1093/actrade/9780192803450.001.0001

    The material on ethics and politics is of particular interest, and Glendinning continues to read Derrida in relation to some work in analytic philosophy.

  • Norris, Christopher. Derrida. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1988.

    One of the first English-language books on Derrida’s philosophy, it resolutely insists on a philosophical interpretation of Derrida against the reception in literary theory by Paul De Man, Jonathan Culler, and others, and remains one of the best introductions to Derrida’s work.

  • Reynolds, Jack, and Jon Roffe, eds. Understanding Derrida. London: Continuum, 2004.

    Contains short essays on many of the central themes that concerned Derrida across his oeuvre, as well as an annotated guide to reading Derrida’s own texts at the end of each chapter.

  • Royle, Nicholas. Jacques Derrida. London: Routledge, 2003.

    Provides separate chapters for important Derridean terms. Royle’s work is specifically helpful for those looking to understand Derrida’s relationship to alternative approaches to literature.

  • Wortham, Simon M., ed. The Derrida Dictionary. London: Continuum, 2010.

    Containing A–Z entries of Derrida’s most famous tropes, this book brings together some of his best-known readers to describe major aspects of his work. Not a typical dictionary, many entries are essays in themselves and readers are expected to read a variety of entries around a theme in order to understand better what is at stake.

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