Derrida’s Quarrel: “La Différance” at 50

DerridaDifferance3-791x1024Derrida’s Quarrel: “La Différance” at 50 in the Los Angeles Review of Books, by Birger Vanwesenbeeck.

Two days late linking to this, but…

On Saturday, January 27, 1968, Jacques Derrida, then maître assistant at the Ecole Normale Supérieure, delivered his lecture “La Différance” before the Société française de Philosophie at the Sorbonne. The invitation for this memorable evening — it has been preserved in the Derrida archives at the University of California, Irvine — indicates that the lecture was held at the Amphithéâtre Michelet, an altogether fitting locale. For just as the father of French modern historiography had revolutionized his discipline a century earlier, so Derrida was about to unravel and remake the history and practice of Western philosophy from the ground up. The opening sentence of “La Différance” is innocent and straightforward enough. “I will talk tonight about a letter,” so Derrida’s lecture notes for that evening state, “the first letter if the alphabet is to believed.” What follows, however, is a bravura performance without precedent, a one-act play with this very letter <a> at the core, a jazz improvisation whose tonic is sounded and returned to time and again no matter how far the music score has traveled.

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