What if Derrida was wrong about Saussure?

This new book wins title of the year for me:

Russell Daylight (2011). What if Derrida was wrong about Saussure? Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press

Daylight’s fine book on Derrida and Saussure is the first critique to seek to understand Derrida’s philosophical project while testing his reading of Saussure and exploring how the argument of the Course may, despite Derrida’s influential critique, contain resources for resisting his project and thinking differently about language and meaning.” (Jonathan Culler, Cornell University)

Between 1907 and 1911, Ferdinand de Saussure gave three series of lectures on the topic of general linguistics. After his death, these lecture notes were gathered together by his students and published as the Course in General Linguistics. And in the past one hundred years, there has been no more influential and divisive reading of Saussure than that of Jacques Derrida.

This book is an examination of Derrida’s philosophical reconstruction of Saussurean linguistics, of the paradigm shift from structuralism to post-structuralism, and of the consequences that continue to resonate in every field of the humanities today.

Despite the importance of Derrida’s critique of Saussure for cultural studies, philosophy, linguistics and literary theory, no comprehensive analysis has before been written. The magnitude of the task undertaken here makes this book an invaluable resource for those wishing to interrogate the encounter beyond appearances or received wisdom. In this process of a close reading, the following themes become sites of debate between Derrida and Saussure:

  • the originality of Saussure within the history of Western metaphysics
  • the relationship between speech and writing
  • the relationship between difference and difference
  • the intervention of time in structuralism
  • linguistic relativism and the role of the language user.

This long-overdue commentary also poses new questions to structuralism and post-structuralism, and opens up exciting new terrain in linguistic and political thought.


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