A radical critique of Western philosophy, a disorientating reading of familiar texts, a stunning verbal agility, not to mention a disconcerting tendency to ‘deconstruct’ his critics – all this already adds up to a formidable and subversive intellectual enterprise. But Derrida does not make things easy for his readers. His elliptical and convoluted style is quite deliberate. Refusing to make clearcut distinctions between the philosophical and literary uses of language, and contesting the view that any such thing as an ‘objective’ account or summary of a philosophical text is possible, he embodies this theoretical position in texts that forbid consoling illusions of simplicity.
The characteristic British suspicion of thinkers who do not choose to express themselves plainly in ordinary man-in-the-street language may well blunt his impact in Britain for some time, despite English translations of his first four books. One thinks of the uncomprehending hostility that once greeted Sartre and Heidegger. Critics on