Derrida and late Wittgenstein challenged the 'traditional' understanding of language. What is similar and what particularly different in their views of language? What materials shall I read, that compare their positions?


▻ One book to try, not recent but well worth reading, is Henry Statten, Wittgenstein and Derrida, ISBN 10: 0803291698 / ISBN 13: 9780803291690 Published by University of Nebraska Press, 1986.

Also :

Simon Glendinning, On Being With Others: Heidegger, Wittgenstein, Derrida, ISBN 10: 0415171245 / ISBN 13: 9780415171243 Published by Routledge, 1998.

And :

Eve Tavor Bannet, Analogy as Translation: Wittgenstein, Derrida, and the Law of Language, New Literary History, Vol. 28, No. 4, Philosophical Thoughts (Autumn, 1997), pp. 655-672.

☛ Christopher Norris points out three possible (there may be more) ways of juxtaposing Wittgenstein and Derrida :

There are three possible lines of attack for anyone who sets out to write about Wittgenstein and Derrida. One - and up to now [1986] the prevalent approach - is to claim Wittgensteinian warrant for dismissing deconstruction as merely a species of bother-headed "continental" theory. In this view it is not worth engaging seriously with Derrida's texts, since Wittgenstein has provided a range of well-tried techniques for coaxing philosophy down from such heights of self-imposed mystification. The second line would hold, on the contrary, that Wittgenstein's arguments themselves need deconstructing, or reading with an eye to their various textual twists and complications.1 Far from offering deliverance from the prob- lems thrown up by deconstruction, Wittgenstein's texts fall prey to those same unsettling effects within language that philosophy has always been compelled to ignore or treat as a merely local (and corrigible) source of error. Despite their avowed therapeutic intent his writings inescapably rejoin that tradition of "logo- centric" thought whose inbuilt assumptions Derrida traces from Plato down to Husserl and Saussure. Properly to read Wittgenstein-attending, that is, to the textual complications as well as the express meaning-is to find oneself drawn into a labyrinth of sense where few philosophers seem willing to tread....

So far I have sketched out two positions that are often taken up by parties to the debate between Derrida and Wittgenstein, or (roughly speaking) between deconstruction and "mainstream" philosophy. But what of the third possible line of attack that I mentioned at the start of this essay? Henry Staten's book is intended precisely to establish this alternative way of approaching the main points at issue. It is wrong, he argues, to see Wittgenstein and Derrida as spokesmen for two entirely different, antagonistic styles of philosophical discourse. That they have been read this way - mostly in the context of a long-running feud between critics and philosophers - is merely the result of strategic misreadings induced by a variety of prejudicial blindspots.

Staten's corrective comes in the form of a neatly double-edged critique. On the one hand he sets out to deconstruct that standard "Wittgensteinian" ploy which consists in denying all interest and validity to questions that can't be posed in the idiom of (so-called) "ordinary language." This move is usually followed by the argument that language is one of those "forms of life" that make sense for us only in the context of our other manifold communal activities. Philosophy is powerless to explain such activities, beyond pointing up their familial resemblances and applying its veto to other, more presumptuous forms of critique. Staten firmly rejects this reading of Wittgenstein. Quite apart from its highly conservative cast - implying that "language-games," like social institutions, are beyond the reach of any radical critique - it ignores a whole dimension of Wittgenstein's text in which language does much more than beat the bounds of a straightforward stylistic consensus-view. Reading Wittgenstein alongside Derrida brings out the extent to which the former's writing partakes of "new analogies, new possibilities of syntax" that scarcely belong to ordinary language, at least as conceived in the normative account. The "forms of life" reading is a straitjacket imposed by commentators who fail to recognize the looseness of fit between culturally-sanctioned modes of understanding and language in its more heuristic or exploratory styles. Wittgenstein's most characteristic gesture, as Staten reads him, is "to imagine the liminal moments of rule learning during which it is not yet natural to go on in the standard way and something new might yet be done" (p. 101). The most characteristic move among his commentators (some of them, at least) is to appeal prematurely to some version of the "forms of life" argument which closes off any sense of these radical possibiligties. (Christopher Norris, Reviewed Work(s): Wittgenstein and Derrida by Henry Staten, Comparative Literature, Vol. 38, No. 4 (Autumn, 1986), pp. 350-359 : 350-1.)

  • Very interesting positions, thank you very much! Jun 7 '18 at 22:37
  • There is also the everlasting problem of early Wittgenstein "philosophy" being mutually exclusive with his later approach. Which Wittgenstein, the one of the Tractatus, or the one of the PhI? Jun 7 '18 at 23:08
  • 1
    I assumed and assume the Later Wittgenstein. Questions on Wittgenstein usually centre on the Philosophical Investigations and other later works. That phase of LW's work now generally prevails over the earlier phase of the Tractatus. Fair and relevant point, though - thank you. Best : GT
    – Geoffrey Thomas
    Jun 7 '18 at 23:18
  • @Luis Henrique. Thanks for comment. I have taken account of it with acknowledgement in my revised answer ('Endnote'). Best : GT
    – Geoffrey Thomas
    Jun 7 '18 at 23:31
  • Yup, I mean late Wittgenstein, it says in the question... Jun 8 '18 at 10:52

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