, Volume 32, Issue 1, pp 33-51
Date: 02 Apr 2009

Foucault and Derrida: The Question of Empowering and Disempowering the Author

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Abstract

This article focuses on Michel Foucault’s concepts of authorship and power. Jacques Derrida has often been accused of being more of a literary author than a philosopher or political theorist. Richard Rorty complains that Derrida’s views on politics are not pragmatic enough; he sees Derrida’s later work, including his political work, more as a “private self-fashioning” than concrete political thinking aimed at devising short-term solutions to problems here and now. Employing Foucault’s work around authorship and the origins of power, I show that Derrida is indeed fashioning himself. This self-fashioning is not merely private or fanciful. Rather, I argue that Derrida can be read as employing what Foucault would call “technologies of the self” to not only show the play of possibility and impossibility at work in all politics and thought, but also to use his savoir to create two important and potentially constructive power structures. First, there is the power of deconstruction itself as a “militant critique” that calls for a forceful and irreducible justice. Second, there is the power of Derrida himself, understood as leaving behind a legacy of himself as the “originator” of deconstruction and as a public intellectual.