He studied in France and the USA before doing his French military service (1957-59) during the Algerian 'crisis' and the rise to power in France of General Charles de Gaulle. He taught at the Sorbonne from 1960 to 1964 and then at the Ecole Normale Superieure (1965-84), having visiting teaching positions in various American universities (Yale, Cornell, Johns Hopkins and the University of California, Irvine) and later held the noble position of director of Studies at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences, Paris, and Professor at the University of California, Irvine.
Using Antonin Artaud's essayist, playwright, actor & director concept of 'The Theatre of Creulty' as an example for the frenetic orientation one may have towards the limit of language -the lacunae. Derrida stressed the pointedly fantastic nature of this endeavour, by Artaud, fantastic in physical reality, which both refuses and underpins the bogus distinction between desires and objective situations.
The more one engages with and discusses the constrained forms, functions, bonds, hierarchical institutions and organised transcendences that have limited one's life, the more one can map strategies to mobilise these cultural patterns which shape and limit our materiality. Derrida executed this idea through many ways, the most radical one was when he wrote a depiction which enhanced Artaud's attempts to liberate wrote himself and potentially others into linguistic spaces of transgression in 'The Theatre of Cruelty'.
Derrida found it important to note that the Western world has hitherto been greatly involved the promise of eternity, conjuctioning with the terrestrial being. In both Derrida and Artaud's work all Edenic projections of transcendent plenitude were proven to be most baneful. Derrida's writings opened out an idea of being, that disrupted, deconstructed all officially charted maps towards an end. Yet of course it is important to keep intact analytic facilities and co-constitution of community. In consequence, to do and to understand this, every thing was called into question by Derrida, but as we can see, a paradox is prevalent here. The bind of this observation, is another means of expressing the ambivalent relation of the relative and absolute, when attempting to mediate the apparent opposition between my subjective experience of objective phenomena. To clarify, the distinctiveness particular context when elucidating Derrida's interpretation of these limits on one hand, and the ultimate interconnection at the essence of all objective phenomena on the other. Here the subjective and objective are distinguishable, and yet simultaneously they are fundamentally inseparable, the one only knowable in relation to the other. This then, that what someone does, usually traverses what they say, is the paradox of language. This is the difference that Derrida located with his theories of deconstruction.
Derrida's analysis and deconstruction of 'the stage of cruelty' comprehended that to actually honour Artaud's declarations, to put a closure on representation, would entail one to shed the entire accepted perceptual logic of our sociality, which extends to the pre-Socratic era. Derrida maintains that the idea of presence, is that which writing must be defined against. That being so, Derrida claims there is no self-identical author or subject standing behind any text that one reads or is a spectator of. To legislate its actual meanings, the precise meaning of a text, like its real origin, can only be indicated by referring to other texts to which this one responds. And since those in turn, mark divergences from still other texts, the clear source, or the true meaning, is always deferred, always elsewhere. Since neither the origin nor the precise meaning of a text can ever be made wholly explicit, there can be no real meeting between the apparatus of reader or writer/performer or observer. At least not in the traditional sense of a pure coinciding of one's self with the exact intention of a supposed performer/author, because there is a finitude of positions one can orientate themselves to, when reading a re-presentation.
In Western theatrical performance the body and its acquired, defined contour, its particular ocular prowess is foregrounded. In order to perform as if one is purely unfolding with energy, presence, and ceaseless becoming, the anatomy would have to disclose its interior. To illustrate this in regard the The Theatre of Cruelty, perhaps the performer by entering and accessing the depths and the dens of organs, follows the arborescences of the veins and exploring the connections between tubes and channels, the lacunae, which determine the function of organs, resonating with the matter surrounding. The fact that this body is derived from the localisation of the organs is largely ignored in this context and consequently their functions are limited in the Western theatre. To clarify, Derrida wrote that in order to have full presence and not representation one would be, 'released from the text and author-god, * mise en scene would be returned to its creative and founding freedom. The director and the participants (who would no longer be actors or spectators) would cease to be the instruments and organs of representation (1978: 237)'.
By exploring all the possibilities of presence Derrida traced back to where these affirmations could perhaps be fulfilled, deconstructing to where he claims to the 'eve' of the Western theatrical shift. 'This shift where 'man's' energy begins to be determined by the limitation of a body to its own organism,
The energy of the Western theater thus lets itself be encompassed within its own possibility (1978: 249).' In other words, it functions amongst a purely human matrix; the organisation of organs respond to a regulated and centralised movement towards balance and equilibrium of their own enclosure. Derrida argued that this specific dispossession of one's interconnection in the more than human nexus can be located back to the theatrical apparatus of Greek tragedy, which largely contributed to the pressure of the social field to shape themselves according to external images presented (mimesis). As Derrida wrote, 'Western Theatre has been separated form the force of its essence, removed from its its...via affirmative.. And this dispossession occurred form the origin on, is the very moment of origin...(1978: 233).'
The constant impact of external 'Ideals' consequently disconnected the spectator from their own carnal inheritance and perception. Derrida speculated on the potential, via affirmative, stipulates Artuad's will, a necessity to establish the specificities of presence. Derrida's reading of Artuad drew upon the understanding of the body that is in a state of constant flux. This view is inspired by the work of Frederick Nietzsche, Luce Irigaray, Michel Foucault , and Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari. These thinkers outlined the presence of 'a body' as a material composition; fluids, forces, affect and constitute a body which proceeds and exceeds the phenomenological self. Hence, the body is not pre-given, but always emerging within a process of relations, which defines its singularity. These ideas of the body move away from the dualism's that split a field of intensive forces into Cartesian mind as opposed to body, spirit to substance and so on. Derrida deciphered this apriori state which Artaud was opening out to be 'the void...And it is into this opening that we wish to enter here (1978: 233)' Since he does not want to confuse the bodies potential just purely to the organism, its most visible and recognisable form, Derrida repeatedly stated that the experiencing body is emphasised by Artaud as an open and incomplete entity, not a self-enclosed object but one that is a conduit with the matter which surrounds it.
'The stage will no longer represent, since it will not operate as an addition, as the sensory illustration of a text already written, thought, or lived outside the stage, which the stage would then only repeat but whose fabric it would not constitute. 'The stage...will no longer re-present a present...whose plenitude would be older than it, absent from it...if representation means the surface of a spectacle displayed for spectators, It will not even offer the presentation of a present, if present signifies that which is maintained in front of me. Cruel representation must permeate me, And nonrepresentation is, thus original represetation, if representation signifies, also the unfolding of a volume, a multidimensional milieu an experience which produces its own space (1978: 237)'. This de-centering of 'man' Derrida purported to, in regard to Artuad's visions, 'The divine has been ruined by God. That is the say, by man, who in permitting himself to be separated from life by God, in permitting himself to be usurped from his own birth, became man by polluting the divinity of the divine (1978: 243).' The divine is tangible when understood in relation to the arrangement of the bodily sensorium, which can articulate through multiple ways encountering itself within the cosmos. These senses are pathways which continually open outward from the perceiving body. Derrida wrote that Artuad's want was for a renewal of these sensibilities, rather than a return to a pure state that never was, 'Western theatre must be reawakened and reconstituted in order to revive the implacable necessity of affirmation (1978: 233).' Here the possibility of altering the reification of the sensorium is entertained. Implying that perhaps this would ordain one with the ability to slip out of the perceptual boundaries that demarcated their particular culture, and cease to be representation.
In order to conjure and explore 'The void, the place that is empty and waiting for this theater which has not yet "begun to exist"(1978: 233)', Derrida very specifically grounded this deconstruction upon the transformation of the body, 'whatever can be said of the body can be said of the theatre...rebirth doubtless occurs through - Artuad recalls this often - a kind of reeducation of the organs. But this reeducation permits the access to a life before birth and after death (1978: 233).' Here we can clearly see, he reiterated Artaud's journey of the complex search for a re-education of the organs in his theatre. This erudition recognised the integration of a process of intensification that is a regeneration. Given this, Derrida concedes that the common perspective of life span would oscillate in another way (once), 'But repetition steals the centre and the locus, and what we have just said of its possibility should prohibit us from speaking both of death as a horizon and of birth as a past opening.(1978: 249)'. Analogous to this particular interpretation of birth and death's effacey, is psycho-analysis. This particular interpretive strategy also extended to the Platonic realm, to explain these deep seated perspectives. The pleasure principle formulated by Freud is one which Derrida connotes in the idea of rebirth. The principle discussed is the complementary of Eros and Thanatos, which is turned into an affirmation of the necessary link between life and death. Eros and Thanatos, according to Freud, are two energetic drives one directed towards life, the other towards death. The pleasure principle turns death into the end which needs to be carried through in order for a new cycle to start. However, in lieu of Artuad, Derrida wrote, 'The theater of cruelty is to be born by separating death from birth and by erasing the name of man (1978: 233)'.
The continual focus away from humanism towards the reintegration and reconfiguring of the body into a more superfluous apparatus, Derrida continually assumes the readers awareness of this potential and the developments which have supported this vanguard. Further, we witness another of his diversions from Freud, who wrote in regard to liberal humanism,'With every tool * is perfecting his own organs, whether motor or sensory, or is removing the limits to their functioning. Motor power places gigantic forces at his disposal...By means of spectacles he corrects defects in the lens of his own eyes; by means of the microscope he overcomes the limits of visibility set by the structure of his retina...Man as it were becomes a kind of prosthetic God (Freud, 1929: 90)'.
This process of Artuad's re-education of the organs, disentangles the body with the Platonic world of representation, and is complexified as an assemblage of elements and forces both physical and biological. This Derrida recognised along with the fact that the body is one of the levels of structure through which discourse operates, where it would appear that the body is always, already reconfigured in terms of identities and selves, no matter how partial they are. Repeatedly he talked of the will of Artuad and he positions him, 'against a certain Freudian description of dreams as the substitutive fulfilment of desire, as the function of vicariousness: through the theatre, Artuad wants to return their dignity to dreams and to make of something more original, more free, more affirmative than an activity of displacement (1978: 243)'.Derrida portrayed this re-birth as analogous to an act of will, a thrust towards greater consciousness. The Theatre of Cruelty was seen to be active in an act, a performance of creation where a new form and context of life is reborn.
Derrida reminded us that Western theatre alienates and draws our senses into a dance that endlessly reiterates itself without variation for fear of the unknown, 'Repetition separates force, presence, and life form themselves This separation is the economical and calculating gesture of that which defers itself in order to maintain itself, that which reserves expenditure and surrenders to fear (245)'.
The fact that danger in human relationships were for Derrida, a repetition, a patterned force of self destruction and abuse, that our organs are programmed to operate by, is certainly tragedy in itself.
On the other hand if 'change' is the rule, and the body a system of flows, as soon as utterances are recorded in writing, they acquire an autonomy and a permanence as it is separated from the evolving ecological matrix. Because language is spun out of the silence of fluctuating sensorial experience, Derrida reiterated that 'Writing is space itself and the possibility of repetition in general. This is why "We should get rid of our superstitious valuation of texts and written poetry. Written poetry is worth reading once and then should be destroyed" 247
But Derrida's semiotic argument hinged on the fact that even though speech encounters disclose themselves to immediate perception, as vectored styles of unfolding, not as finished matter; the dynamic ways of engaging the senses and modulating the body is limited by the habit of ocular-centric ways of being. Here the formal structure between La Langue and La Parole remained enigmatic, that is, the relation between the formal structure of language and the expressive act of speaking. Derrida speculated that for Artuad writing usurps the power of speech, 'Plato criticises writing as a body: Artaud criticises it as the erasure of the body, of the living gesture which takes place only once (1978: 247)'. Thus Derrida stated in regard to this wild particpatiory logic that attempts to ramify and elaborate itself, as 'the eve of the origin of languages, and of the dialogue between theology and humanism whose inextinguishable reoccurrence has never not been maintained by the metaphysics of western theater (1978: 240)'. Derrida concluded that to modulate ones sensory experience of the world around us is to render even the most mundane, communicative capacity of language incomprehensible. Yet, not all forms of writing systems have fostered this thorough abstraction of spoken qualities from embeddedness in corporeal situations. Derrida, implicitly referred to a sacred conventionalised pictographic system, Egyptian hieroglyphics, as a speech before words, 'The word is the cadaver of psychic speech, and along with the language of life itself "the speech before words" must be found again. Gesture and speech have not yet been separated by the logic of representation (1978: 240).20' He assumes the readers historical knowledge of this sacred wane, 'We have seen the reasons why hieroglyphics had to be substituted for purely phonic signs. It must be addressed that the latter communicates less than the former with the imagination of the sacred (1978: 243). An ideogram is often a pictorial character that refers not to the visible entity that it explicitly pictures but to some quality or other epiphenomenon readily associated with that entity. By using the alphabet to represent the sounded breath, the Greek scribes de-sacrelised the breath and the air in the codified representation. He recognised how the glyphs continually reminded the reading body of 'the imagination of the sacred'; signatures not only of the human form but of other animals, trees, sun, moon, not pondered as eternal and unchanging. The erasing of these pictorially derived systems entailed a somatic shift of sensory participation away from the gestures of the surrounding landscape.
Derrida explored the consequences of this curious vanishing throughout the trajectory of philosophy, a tradition that ceaselessly forgets, or represses, its dependence upon writing. That is, language is a human power, whose divine resonance is sombred. Derrida dissected with steely and analytical precision, narratives capable of defining an already sad and profligate self hood. Derrida stressed the pointedly fantastic nature of this endeavour, fantastic in physical reality, which both refuses and underpins the bogus distinction between desires and objective situations.