Who Was Jacques Derrida?: An Intellectual Biography

Hardcover (Print)
Used and New from Other Sellers
Used and New from Other Sellers
from $2.99
Usually ships in 1-2 business days
(Save 90%)
Other sellers (Hardcover)
  • All (23) from $2.99   
  • New (9) from $13.98   
  • Used (14) from $2.99   


Who Was Jacques Derrida? is the first intellectual biography of Derrida, the first full-scale appraisal of his career, his influence, and his philosophical roots.  It is also the first attempt to define his crucial importance as the ambassador of "theory," the phenomenon that has had a profound influence on academic life in the humanities. Mikics lucidly and sensitively describes for the general reader Derrida's deep connection to his Jewish roots. He succinctly defines his vision of philosophy as a discipline that resists psychology. While pointing out the flaws of that vision and Derrida’s betrayal of his most adamantly expounded beliefs, Mikics ultimately concludes that “Derrida was neither so brilliantly right nor so badly wrong as his enthusiasts and critics, respectively, claimed." 

Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews


"A concise study that...seks a middle path between the ''intense celebration and intense scorn'' that Derrida inspired when he was alive."--Benjamin Ivry, Foreward

— Benjamin Ivry

Morris Dickstein
"David Mikics is the real thing, a gifted, polymathic reader. Writing not as a polemicist but as a humane, interpretive critic, he cuts right through the raging conflicts and often pointless debates about Derrida's work."—Morris Dickstein, CUNY Graduate Center
Adam Zagajewski
"David Mikics's portrait of Jacques Derrida has a colossal value for poets and dreamers like myself. It's a lucid and sober presentation of a thinker who influenced so strongly huge parts of American literary mind."—Adam Zagajewski
Foreward - Benjamin Ivry
"A concise study that...seks a middle path between the 'intense celebration and intense scorn' that Derrida inspired when he was alive."—Benjamin Ivry, Foreward
Publishers Weekly
The ideas of the arch-deconstructionist philosopher are illuminated but not entirely clarified in this ambivalent study. Mikics (A New Handbook of Literary Terms) gives an insightful and blessedly readable rundown of Derrida's debt—and objections—to such thinkers as Husserl, Sartre, Nietzsche and Freud. He's less successful at explicating Derrida's own doctrines—the resistance of language to stable meanings, the opacity of the self, the relativism of morals—perhaps because Derrida disdained the very concept of explicability. The author frames his subject as a skeptic trying to expunge psychology and metaphysics from philosophy, but the quotations he proffers—“Justice remains to come, it remains by coming, it has to come, it is to come, the to-come”—make Derrida seem as “semi-intelligible” as detractors claim. Mikics is most compelling when he criticizes Derrida—for misrepresenting other philosophers, for betraying his own principles and for his weaselly defense of the anti-Semitic writings of literary critic Paul de Man, an exercise in deconstructionism as sophistry and deceit. Mikics finds Derrida “neither so brilliantly right nor so badly wrong” as reputed, but his sharp portrait can make Derrida, in certain lights, seem very wrong indeed. (Dec.)
Library Journal
In one of the best books on Derrida and deconstructionism, the French skepticism that suggests we live in a sea of language in which we can never quite find our bearings, Mikics's (The Romance of Individualism in Emerson and Nietzsche) writing is clear, comprehensive, balanced, and fun to read. That said, he provides no certain answer to the question posed in the title. Instead, this looks mostly at Derrida's experience in America. Quoted as saying, "America is deconstruction," Derrida thought Americans had deconstructed most of the constraining systems of French academia. This also looks at Derrida's concepts of morality, his interest in Marxism, Emmanuel Lévinas, and, to Mikics's apparent dissatisfaction, his defense of Paul de Man and Martin Heidegger against charges of Nazism. Here, Mikics tries to unravel Derrida's enigmatic past, but it is clear he is unable to grasp the complexity of 1960s French philosophy and makes the mistake of calling all of Derrida's French Communist and intellectual contemporaries Stalinists. VERDICT Those who are drawn to Derrida and his philosophy should turn to Marko Zlomislic's The Aporetic Ethics of Jacques Derrida instead, but this can still be enjoyed by anyone with an interest in new ideas.—Leslie Armour, Dominican Univ. Coll., Ottawa
Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780300115420
  • Publisher: Yale University Press
  • Publication date: 12/1/2009
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 296
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

David Mikics is professor of english at the University of Houston. He published his last book, A New Handbook of Literary Terms, with Yale University Press.

Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Be the first to write a review
( 0 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star


4 Star


3 Star


2 Star


1 Star


Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Noble.com Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & Noble.com that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & Noble.com does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at BN.com or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation


  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & Noble.com and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Noble.com Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & Noble.com reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & Noble.com also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on BN.com. It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously

    If you find inappropriate content, please report it to Barnes & Noble
    Why is this product inappropriate?
    Comments (optional)