Critical Context

The eclectic nature of Derrida’s work, borrowing from recognized academic disciplines and using these borrowings in (to say the least) untraditional ways, places him in the grandly vague tradition of postmodernism. Though Derrida rejects all classifications of his work, including “deconstructionism,” he is clearly an important member of the group of avant-garde intellectuals, mostly but not exclusively French (Derrida is himself a Sephardic Jew, born in Algiers), who challenged the tedium of traditional French criticism, known as explication de texte, in the politically, socially, and intellectually violent 1960’s. Others in this tradition, each very distinctive in his methods and conclusions, include Jacques Lacan, Paul de Man, J. Hillis Miller, Geoffrey H. Hartman, and, more popularly, Harold Bloom and Umberto Eco. Eco’s Il nome della rosa (1980; The Name of the Rose, 1983) presents sign theory in the form of a detective novel set in the Middle Ages. Another Italian, Italo Calvino, uses deconstructionist ideas in his novels Il castello dei destini incrociati (1969, 1973; The Castle of Crossed Destinies, 1979), Le citta invisibili (1972; Invisible Cities, 1974), and Se una notte d’inverno un viaggiatore (1979; If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler, 1981). These popular works are an indication of the degree to which what had been a radical and esoteric movement has found expression in...

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