From Ironist Theory to Private Allusions: Derrida

Richard Rorty, “From Ironist Theory to Private Allusions: Derrida,” in Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989): pp. 122-140.


Derrida stands to Heidegger as Heidegger to Nietzsche. Each is the most intelligent reader, and most devastating critic, of his respective predecessor. That predecessor is the person from whom each has learned most, and whom he most needs to surpass. Derrida continues to think about the problem which came to obsess Heidegger: that of how to combine irony and theorizing. But he has the advantage of having observed Heidegger’s failure, as Nietzsche and Heidegger had the advantage of having observed Hegel’s.

Derrida learns from Heidegger that phonemes matter, but he realizes that Heidegger’s litany is just Heidegger’s, not Being’s or Europe’s. His problem becomes, as he says at the end of “Différence,” to think the fact that “there is no unique name” – or, more generally, no definitive litany – “without nostalgia, that is, outside of the myth of a purely maternal or paternal language, a lost native country of thought.” He wants to figure out how to break with the temptation to identify himself with something big – something like “Europe” or the “call of Being” or “man.” As he says in his reply to Heidegger’s Letter on Humanism, Heidegger’s use of “we” arises out of the “eschatoteleological situation” which is “inscribed in metaphysics.” The trouble with Heidegger’s thinking of “the presence of the present” is that it “can only metaphorize, by means of a profound necessity from which one cannot simply decide to escape, the language that it deconstructs.”

Cambridge University Press