Derrrida got started early with his combination of intelligence and obscurity. Emily Eakin notes :

“In May of 1951, at the age of twenty, Jacques Derrida took the entrance exams for the prestigious École Normale Supérieure a second time, having failed, as many students do, in his first attempt the previous year. Fueled by amphetamines after a sleepless week, he choked on the written portion and turned in a blank sheet of paper. The same month, he was awarded a dismal 5 out of 20 on his qualifying exam for a license in philosophy. ‘The answers are brilliant in the very same way that they are obscure,’ the examiner wrote, encapsulating a sentiment about Derrida’s work that has since become a commonplace: ‘A

n exercise in virtuosity, with undeniable intelligence, but with no particular relation to the history of philosophy . . . .Can come back when he is prepared to accept the rules and not invent where he needs to be better informed .’”




Excluded, he developed a theoretical apparatus designed to recapture the excluded. Eakin quotes Mark C. Taylor’s summary of deconstruction: “The guiding insight of deconstruction is that every structure—be it literary, psychological, social, economic, political or religious—that organizes our experience is constituted and maintained through acts of exclusion.’ [What is excluded does not disappear but always returns to unsettle every construction, no matter how secure it seems.”


Articles by Peter J. Leithart

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