Introduction:
Derrida and the Time of the Political
pheng cheah and suzanne guerlac
The main purpose of this collection of essays is to o√er a critical assessment
of Derrida’s later work on the political, with respect to its position within his
entire corpus and to its contribution to the study of the political and politics.
Skepticism concerning the importance of deconstruction for political think-
ing has been widespread among American critics, especially those curious
about the relation between deconstruction, Marxism, and socialist politics.
The impatient series of questions that the American Frankfurt School social
theorist Nancy Fraser posed at the beginning of her 1984 polemic is repre-
sentative: ‘‘Does deconstruction have any political implications? Does it
have any political significance beyond the Byzantine and incestuous strug-
gles it provoked in American academic lit crit departments? Is it possible—
and desirable—to articulate a deconstructive politics? Why, despite the rev-
olutionary rhetoric of his circa 1968 writings, and despite the widespread,
often taken-for-granted assumption that he is ‘of the left,’ has Derrida so
consistently, deliberately and dexterously avoided the subject of politics?’’∞
The essays in this volume engage with the multifarious ways in which
deconstruction directly bears on the delimitation of the political sphere and
the implications of Derrida’s thought for urgent instances of concrete poli-
tics. Needless to say, considerable work has been done on the question of
deconstruction and politics, and we can give only a very selective and brief
indication of the existing secondary literature here. Partly in reaction to the
overly literary focus of the now defunct Yale School, more politically minded
literary theorists of a Leftist persuasion in the late 1970s and the 1980s, most
notably Gayatri Spivak and Michael Ryan, sought to articulate deconstruc-
tion together with Marxism, either by arguing for the usefulness of de-
constructive concepts such as diÎrance and trace for Marxist ideology cri-
tique even as they tried to supplement deconstruction with critical social
theory, or by reading Marx as a deconstructivist avant la lettre who demon-
strated the ‘‘textual’’ character of value and the capitalist system.≤
The implications of deconstruction for feminist theory and politics, espe-
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