While I never quite agreed with his philosophy, and have trouble with his contribution to literary studies, it remains true that he was one of the towering figures of 20th century academia. Without him, we would have no literary criticism as we know it now, and Continental Philosophy would have been much less robust.
Derrida was known as the father of deconstructionism, a branch of critical thought or analysis developed in the late 1960s and applied to literature, linguistics, philosophy, law and architecture.
Derrida focused his work on language, showing that it has multiple layers and thus multiple meanings or interpretations, challenging the notion that speech is a direct form of communication or even that the author of a text is the author of its meaning.
Deconstructionists like Derrida explored the means of liberating the written word from the structures of language, opening limitless textual interpretations. Not limited to language, Derrida’s philosophy of deconstructionism was then applied to western values.
The deconstructionist approach has remained controversial, with detractors even proclaiming the movement dead. So divisive were Derrida’s ideas that Cambridge University’s plan to award him an honorary degree in 1992 was forced to a vote which he won.
As Derrida grew ill, death haunted him. In a Le Monde interview in August, Derrida said that learning to live means learning to die.
“Less and less, I have not learned to accept death,” he was quoted as saying. “I remain uneducable about the wisdom of learning to die.”