Colin Wilson

Not to be Taken Too Seriously

Derrida’s rise to fame was as romantic and abrupt as that of any pop star. In 1966, at the age of 36, he attended a conference at Johns Hopkins University in Maryland and read a paper on ‘deconstruction’. It was a period when American literary criticism had run out of steam, and deconstruction seemed to offer a new breakthrough. The result was what Christopher Norris has called Derrida’s ‘rise to intellectual stardom’. Deconstruction took American literary departments by storm. Its success knocked the breath out of the old guard of ‘New Critics’; it was as shocking as if some musical theoretician had proposed to abolish the study of classical music and replace it with jazz. But it ‘took’, and within a year or two, Derrida was as famous in the universities of Europe as in America.

‘Deconstruction’ is a method of criticism, as it seems to me, that begins with the assumption that the author himself does not understand what he is trying to say, and is as likely to be wrong about it as any critic. The job of the critic is to analyse what the writer thinks are his intentions, to trace the thread of logic until it leads to a self-contradiction, or piece of muddled thinking (aporia) that gives the game away.

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • Stuck for a gift idea for Father's Day? Subscribe to Literary Review and get a FREE copy of 'An Impeccable Spy' –… ,
    • 'Gone. All gone. The ease, the pleasure, the effortless eloquence' From May 1995, Margaret Forster's withering rev… ,
    • RT : SO excited to tell you about this event! 😆 The amazing digital colourist, will be joining w… ,
    • 'Peters was unashamed and evidently unshamable, an impostor who wholly inhabited his fabrications and who indignant… ,
    • ‘At every waking moment Barbara Hepworth was aware of herself as a woman paving the way in a man’s world’ From the… ,
    • The entertaining Howard Jacobson is in conversation with Prof John Mullan at the Queen’s Park Book Festival on Sund… ,
    • 'A modest and retiring man, Thompson spent his life describing apple varieties and recommending the best – Ribston… ,