NE ME RACONTE PLUS D'HISTOIRES: DERRIDA AND THE PROBLEM OF THE HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY

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ABSTRACT

This essay reads Derrida's early work within the context of the history of philosophy as an academic field in France. Derrida was charged with instruction in the history of philosophy at the École Normale Supérieure, and much of his own training focused on this aspect of philosophical study. The influence of French history of philosophy can be seen in Derrida's work before Of Grammatology, especially in his unpublished lectures for a 1964 course entitled “History and Truth,” in which he analyzed the semantic richness of the word “history.” According to Derrida, “history” comprised both the ideas of change and of transmission, which allowed the writing of history at a later time. In the Western tradition, Derrida suggested, philosophers had consistently tried to reduce the idea of history as transmission, casting it simply as empirical development in order to preserve the idea that truth could be timeless. Derrida's account of the evolving opposition between history and truth within the history of philosophy led him to suggest a “history of truth” that transcended and structured the opposition. I argue that Derrida's strategies in these early lectures are critical for understanding his later and more famous deconstruction of speech and writing. Moreover, the impact of this early confrontation with the problem of history and truth helps explain the ambivalent response by historians to Derrida's analyses.

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