Derrida, French Father of Deconstructionism, Dies
Oct.*9,*2004 —*By Timothy Heritage
PARIS (Reuters) - French philosopher Jacques Derrida, the founder of the school of deconstructionism, has died of cancer at the age of 74, France Info radio said on Saturday.
It said Algerian-born Derrida had died on Friday of cancer of the pancreas.
Derrida, who divided his time between France and the United States, argued that the traditional way we read texts makes a number of false assumptions and that they have multiple meanings which even their author may not have understood.
His thinking gave rise to the school of deconstruction, a method of analysis that has been applied to literature, linguistics, philosophy, law and architecture.
It is heralded as showing the multiple layers of meaning at work in language, but was described by critics as nihilistic.
"In him, France gave the world one of the greatest contemporary philosophers, one of the major figures in the intellectual life of our time," French President Jacques Chirac said in a statement after learning of his death.
"Through his work, he sought to find the free movement which lies at the root of all thinking."
Born into a Jewish family in El-Biar in Algeria on July 15, 1930, Derrida began studying philosophy at the elite Ecole Normale Superieure in 1952 and taught at Paris's Sorbonne University from 1960 to 1964.
From the early 1970s, Derrida spent much of his time teaching in the United States, at such universities as Johns Hopkins, Yale and the University of California at Irvine.
His work focused on language. Challenging the idea that a text has an unchangeable meaning, Derrida said the author's intentions cannot be accepted unconditionally and that this means each text can have multiple meanings.
His ideas were seen as showing unavoidable tensions between the ideals of clarity and coherence that govern philosophy.
He was seen as the inheritor of "anti-philosophy," the school of thought of predecessors such as Sigmund Freud, Friedrich Nietzsche and Martin Heidegger.
Derrida's work was at times controversial. Some staff at Britain's Cambridge University protested when the university proposed awarding him an honorary degree in 1992, though he did eventually receive it.
In the early 1980s he was detained when he left his Prague hotel room for the airport after displeasing Czechoslovakia's Communist authorities by giving a lecture on deconstructionist theory.
Derrida was once married to Sylvaine Agacinski, who is now the wife of former Socialist Prime Minister Lionel Jospin. Derrida and Agacinski had one son.
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