Original Articles

Derrida’s Quasi-Transcendental Thinking

Published in: South African Journal of Philosophy
Volume 23, issue 3, 2004 , pages: 244–266
DOI: 10.4314/sajpem.v23i3.31396
Author(s): Andrea HurstPhilosophy, Centre for Advanced Studies University of Port Elizabeth, South Africa


Instead of paralysing readers with a technical account of its nature and genealogy, I aim to accumulate a sense of Derrida’s quasi-transcendental thinking over a series of expositions. I begin with a critical account of the most prevalent misreading of Derrida’s work, generated by attempts, such as Rorty’s, to place it on one side of a clear duality that sets old-fashioned “philosophical” foundationalism against contemporary anti-foundationalist “textuality.” In contrast, through an analogy between what occurs in the giving of a gift and the happening of différance, I shall try to articulate the more complex, quasi-transcendental “logic” of Derrida’s thinking, which refuses a clear-cut “either/or” choice between the poles of this duality, precisely because these alternatives stand in a relation, not of analytical contradiction, but of aporia, or dilemma. If this exposition proves to be too abstruse and metaphysical for some, a second, more practical, example concerning the aporias of ethical decision-making should go some way towards compensation. Through these expositions, I aim to show that a complex, quasi-transcendental way of thinking serves as a more sophisticated and accurate key to the interpretation of Derrida’s texts than attempts to reduce it to the anti-foundationalist side of supposedly contradictory opposites. To support this claim, I return with a critical eye to Rorty’s rejection of Jonathan Culler’s argument that Derrida must and does maintain a philosophy/literature distinction, and of Christopher Norris’s explanation for Derrida’s claim that one cannot escape philosophy. I also try to answer Rorty’s rejection of the very idea of quasi-transcendentality by reducing this mode of thinking to a mere restatement of the co-implication of binaries. I conclude with a brief outline of what deconstructive practice amounts to when understood in the light of quasi-transcendental thinking.

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