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Raoul Moati reviews Derrida

Jacques Derrida. Heidegger: The Question of Being and History. Trans. Geoffrey Bennington. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016. 288 pp.

Review by Raoul Moati

Heidegger: The Question of Being and History is the transcription of the course that Jacques Derrida taught at the Ecole Normale Supérieure in Paris during 1964–65. It is part of an important new series published in France of Derrida’s yet unpublished courses and lectures at the Sorbonne, Ecole Normale Supérieure, and EHESS (several places where Derrida taught in France). This course is probably one of the most important of the series, as it was taught when Derrida was writing three of his major works: Speech and Phenomena, Of Grammatology, and Writing and Difference (all published in 1967). In these three books Derrida will propose a deconstructive approach of Edmund Husserl, Emmanuel Levinas, Claude Levi-Strauss, and others, inspired by a philosophical-deconstructive move, the origins of which Derrida finds in Martin Heidegger’s work. The Derridean notion of “deconstruction” as one knows is a translation of Heidegger’s notion of Destruktion. It is interesting to note, nevertheless, that at the time of the course Derrida hasn’t yet adopted the translation. Instead, he rejects it in favor of  “solicitation” and “shaking up,” which, as the editor reminds us, Derrida will not retain for long. This is just one of the reasons the publication of this course on Heidegger is so important.

For exegetical reasons, the course is also important because Derrida proposes a reading of Heidegger as a continuous work (mostly, today, we separate Being and Time from the later works, insisting on the discontinuities between them). It should also be pointed out that Derrida deals here mostly with parts of Being and Time that were not yet translated into French, introducing aspects of this major book that were relatively unknown to his French audience—especially the developments about the historicity of Dasein. And by focusing on the concept of historicity, Derrida shows that Heidegger’s question of Being is also the paradigmatic question of the history of metaphysics.

The course is also important for the ways in which it suggests how Derrida will later radicalize Heidegger’s notion of ontological difference into his own notion of differance. This radicalization of the Heideggerian notion of difference into the Derridean differance implies that Derrida had to create the connection—not established by Heidegger—between the question of the historicity of meaning and the question of writing (that connection is already at stake in Derrida’s work of 1953 and 1962 on Husserl).

We are dealing, then, with a very important publication regarding both Heidegger’s work on the one hand—giving us access to Derrida as a clarifying lecturer of Heidegger’s philosophy—and Derrida’s work on the other hand, as most of the concepts that are going to be operative in Derrida’s own work—such as writing, graft, text—are already present in this masterful reading of Heidegger. In effect, the course presents Derrida analyzing and radicalizing Heidegger’s thought of history and difference. Not only was Derrida an impressive reader of Heidegger’s thought but he could introduce it masterfully as well. And it’s here that we really see in his lectures on Heidegger the new philosophical horizons that will lead to the publication in 1967 of his own philosophical accomplishments.