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"The English version of Dissemination [is] an able translation by Barbara Johnson . . . . Derrida's central contention is that language is haunted by dispersal, absence, loss, the risk of unmeaning, a risk which is starkly embodied in all writing. The distinction between philosophy and literature therefore becomes of secondary importance. Philosophy vainly attempts to control the irrecoverable dissemination of its own meaning, it strives—against the grain of language—to offer a sober revelation of truth. Literature—on the other hand—flaunts its own meretriciousness, abandons itself to the Dionysiac play of language. In Dissemination—more than any previous work—Derrida joins in the revelry, weaving a complex pattern of puns, verbal echoes and allusions, intended to 'deconstruct' both the pretension of criticism to tell the truth about literature, and the pretension of philosophy to the literature of truth."—Peter Dews, New Statesman

400 pages, Paperback

First published February 1, 1972

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About the author

Jacques Derrida

524 books1,477 followers
Jacques Derrida was the founder of “deconstruction,” a way of criticizing not only both literary and philosophical texts but also political institutions. Although Derrida at times expressed regret concerning the fate of the word “deconstruction,” its popularity indicates the wide-ranging influence of his thought, in philosophy, in literary criticism and theory, in art and, in particular, architectural theory, and in political theory. Indeed, Derrida's fame nearly reached the status of a media star, with hundreds of people filling auditoriums to hear him speak, with films and televisions programs devoted to him, with countless books and articles devoted to his thinking. Beside critique, Derridean deconstruction consists in an attempt to re-conceive the difference that divides self-reflection (or self-consciousness). But even more than the re-conception of difference, and perhaps more importantly, deconstruction works towards preventing the worst violence. It attempts to render justice. Indeed, deconstruction is relentless in this pursuit since justice is impossible to achieve.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 46 reviews
Profile Image for Gregsamsa.
73 reviews343 followers
August 13, 2013
This was assigned to me in grad school in the 90s and it did me terrible damage, peeling back the skin of unexamined unities and making me feel naive and lazy in every particle and motion of my existence. It paralyzed my own writing by infecting me with a terribly self-conscious need to stave off simplistic certainties with annoying insecty swarms of quotation marks, alighting on every sticky key term I felt could only be used in the most provisional sense.

I got over it, and remember the experience with the amused distance of a past lsd experience. It was an ecstasy of a kind. So many other reviewers here had quite different experiences and harbor potent negative emotions about it (check out the reviews of Grammatology--sheesh!). I'm grateful that didn't happen to me.

Perhaps I was prepared because as a kid I would eavesdrop on my elders at our synagogue having the most intriguingly "meta-" arguments involving the oddness that springs from that irreducible space between a thing and the word(s) that stand for it. With the exception of onomatopoeia, it's arbitrary, something I realized in my childlike way back when I discovered that if you repeat a word long enough it empties itself of its simple plainness of self-evident meaning and becomes a strange thing. This isn't exactly what DCon is about but the whole depends on that premise. For people who lost patience or want to dismiss it as a bunch of empty blather I'd suggest giving a second look to the essay Plato's Pharmakon, taking it slowly and keeping in mind that he is not only saying something in the usual way, but his work is simultaneously performative: he's doing something that also demonstrates. And language about language about language must necessarily skirt the boundaries of obvious literal sense. Read with a generous adventurous mind, without disregarding rigor, and the realization that some of the opaque effects are a deliberate way to make an utterance seem to mean two different things in successive readings, and some things just don't translate, from French or from that man's mind
145 reviews11 followers
December 11, 2008
Contains one of the two most important, reasonably readable essays for understanding Derrida, "Plato's Pharmacy." Most of Derrida is very difficult to read, sometimes on purpose. This essay requires some knowledge of Plato and some willingness to do some background reading but it is much more accessible than most of Derrida's writing. Plato's pharmacy is a very careful reading of a short Platonic dialogue, The Phaedrus. The basics: Plato makes a case for how writing lies, how writing is a kind of drug and how oral communication (dialectic) is the only method for getting to truth. Derrida takes this notion apart piece by piece in an excellent analysis and leads to the core Derridean issues of how language always both informs and lies.
For philosophy buffs, this is big stuff, since a lot of the history of philosophy has been about trying to get to the truth through language.
For criticism (literary, art, etc.) buffs this is big stuff because it provides modern criticism with the means for doing deconstruction, the method of showing that creative works (or in Derrida's case, all works), contain their contrary.
Derrida says it other times in other ways, but here he says it clearly and carefully using a source text that is very easy to read. Unusually clear for Derrida.
I think that beginners in philosophy might be able to read this and understand it, but I have read too much philosophy so I am not going to guarantee this.
14 reviews
November 29, 2007
On one hand, it's brilliant and thought provoking.

On the other hand, it's Derrida.
Profile Image for Vincent Saint-Simon.
100 reviews6 followers
October 9, 2007
Sirs and Madams,

People say that nothing good came from post-structuralism. Those ignorant swine never had the gumption to say it to Derrida's face. There is no more beautiful discussion of Platonic metaphysics anywhere. One of kind, and one of a century (literally).


Profile Image for Alex Obrigewitsch.
418 reviews82 followers
December 4, 2014
Derrida's triptych of essays, in formation with the prefece that is no preface but is disseminated throught the entirety of the work, whose tripartite formation is not so much distinguished into three as folded up and intertwined into one (or many more, as it weaves its threads out beyond itself), is a working of deconstructive beauty.
My only gripe is now having to read Sollers' Numbers, which is no negative point at all.
A key to the Derridian text (which is no text in-itself and yet of all text(s)).
Profile Image for James.
Author 4 books17 followers
October 21, 2007
Incredibly dense but pretty essential stuff. Derrida sets out most of his main points here: that there's no definite "inside/outside" of a text; that some concepts can't be defined as either/or; that some texts don't signify anything exterior to themselves. It's a long and hard slog at times, full of footnotes and breathtakingly convoluted sentences. That said, when it's at its best, as in the extended discussion of the pharmakon in Plato, it is breathtaking and sets the mind reeling with joy.
Profile Image for Gwynbleidd.
3 reviews18 followers
July 21, 2017
Intelectual swindler. Boundless disgust. Vomitive throughout.
Profile Image for RC.
209 reviews29 followers
July 14, 2016
Like a You Tube Mix of Derrida's greatest hits (or themes): perhaps a bit redundant at times, but clearer than many of his other books in setting out his core ideas (e.g., the trace, our lack of mastery over the text -- in what we mean to say and in what we interpret, screens that connect and separate, and, in creating a blank of difference, allow for the space of writing across difference, and, above all, the play of meaning, escaping the proper name of the author, escaping the titled text, and escaping our attempts at fixed readings that seek to halt the play of language that is always on the way). This was a good refresher on Derrida, and would probably be a good entry point to his work for the novice. I would give this four stars, but the fifth star is for the book's usefulness as a (relatively) clear introduction to Derrida's themes.

I enjoyed reading this immensely, but the somewhat striking lack of any index, bibliography, reference list, glossary, or even blank pages at the end of the book drove home for me the point that this is a book not of cold analysis, but of pleasure, which is appropriate: Derrida is writing about the play of language, and much of his argument goes to an acceptance of the pleasurable constant play in language -- in all senses of the term "play." Derrida argues weirdly, graphically, in roundabout ways, against attempts at definitive readings, at readings (or writings) that pretend to mastery of texts that are never quite under the control of either titular writer or reader.

What is the value of pleasure in one's (self-)education? I spent a lot of time wringing my hands, as a conflicted former English major, worrying about this question: Shouldn't we be doing hard work and struggling to learn physics and chemistry and applied mathematics to build things and save lives and improve the lot of humanity? Instead we're lying around drinking rosé reading masturbatory French concrete poetry by some weird dude who keeps saying the same thing in different ways (i.e., the only thing we really know is that we can't really know what we are saying (or reading), and that ultimately means that we can't really know ourselves, though it also means that we know the other perhaps as well as we know our self given that we are both inhabited by and constituted by this outside of language that is our only route to self-understanding, but which always leads elsewhere)? That's great, but is that an education? Maybe.
Profile Image for Elizabeth.
43 reviews8 followers
May 27, 2008
i really get off on this book. i have to read it in carefully managed circumstances w/ very little other stimulation. it brings me to higher minds which pertain to & inspire my ideas of presence v. absence & the meaning generated from contradiction, that are part of my "Rhonda" fiction i'm writing. (now is that titillating? i'm working on marketing.) anyway also derrida brings me great entertainment in his ridiculously obtuse statements such as here's one i found: "The true is repeated; it is what is repeated in the repetition, what is represented and present in the representation. It is not the repeater in the repetition, nor the signifier in the signification." i find this wildly entertaining, hilarious, and in some miniscule portion enlightening, at the same time. here's more titillation, this time from him in a footnote: "Writing, pedagogy, [and] masturbation . . share the property of being . . at once something secondary, external, and compensatory, and something that substitutes, violates and usurps." --see?! what images it brings me? it reminds/ evokes for me the trope (/reality) of: intellectual sex, w/ its strains of puritanism, combined with a ribaldry and perversion that exceed reg'lar-people getting-it-on. in other words, bringing a lot of vocabulary to the down&dirty.
Profile Image for Conor Slattery.
3 reviews3 followers
July 15, 2009
Honestly, as many other have said, this is worth it for "Plato's Pharmacy" alone. Derrida follows the various translations that translators have used for translating the greek word to pharmakon: the greek word conveys senses of remedy, poison, drug, narcotic, magic potion, love philtre, and cure. Derrida shows how the various translations point towards the whole metaphysical situation of the binary. The pharmakon, however, is a trace which is both absent and present. Derrida sees writing as a constant joker, always referring outward, and yet a site of context within itself. Derrida also brings Plato to his knees in a brilliant critique that turns Sophocles into a magician and a Stoic -- his biggest foes.

The rest of the essays, especially "La Dissemination" are very good. Probably Derrida's most consistently strong essay collection.
Profile Image for Joey.
48 reviews4 followers
October 12, 2007
So I've read some of Plato's Pharmacy and Différance.

My understanding of Derrida is so peripheral - I don't really get it, especially while I'm reading it. This frustrates me because I understand some of his points when I read other people writing about him, or listen to other people explain it. It seems that he makes everything hard because hes quite coy and loves fucking with the reader with puns and language games and complicated writing (constant allusion).

I'm not saying he shouldn't do these things either, I'm just admitting that I'm not all that interested to trek through his complicated prose. His approach also really narrows down his audience, as he is writing to a small few. I'm definitely not a huge fan of this type of writing, although I understand its importance.
Profile Image for Alex.
53 reviews12 followers
July 31, 2017
I have to tell Goodreads that I finished this book so that I can get an extra tic on my yearly challenge, but at the same time is this is not the kind of book that one ever stops reading. Once opened, it is never really closed, and it is always already open. Il y a lá cendre.

Plato's Pharmacy was the first long Derrida essay that I read to completion, and it's easy to recommend as a starting place. For me, however, The Double Session is the most extraordinary work in this extraordinary collection. It's a dense and difficult masterpiece that operates in the margins of literature and philosophy. Why not call it a work of art?
Profile Image for Spoust1.
55 reviews46 followers
June 22, 2010
Review pending re-reading. The preface, "Outwork," and "Plato's Pharmacy" are essential. I recall being unimpressed by "The Double Session" and annoyed by "Dissemination."

Update: My re-reading of "The Double Session" went very well. It is hailed - and "hailed" is the appropriate word, given the strange status Derrida has - as one of Derrida's most important texts on literary criticism. Apparently it takes two readings to begin to appreciate.

More later.
Profile Image for Graham McGrew.
21 reviews1 follower
July 19, 2014
(I didn't read the whole book, just "Plato's Pharmacy" (and the translator's introduction)). Subterranean presence of pharmakos haunting Phaedrus. Taking grave matters lightly, at play in the field of signs, getting the nothingness back into words?
Profile Image for Caspar Bryant.
690 reviews26 followers
January 1, 2022
It's nice to me that I started this reading year with Derrida and here is the last book of the year wherein we parricide and disseminate and beware the pharmakon. Perhaps the pharmakon-ambiguity is my doubled (folded, hymenic?) experience of reading him. Dissemination is a major installment in JD's oeufvre so I'm glad I made it I've actually not too much Derrida I feel I need to read before I get to rereads. Anyway in my end is my beginning East Coker thank very much.

This is a series of what we're unsure about calling essays of which I had varying responses. Derrida opens with what the translation calls 'Outwork' which is a kind of essay/preface on prefaces? JD's focus here is Hegel, the preface to the PoS and the introduction to the Logic. As masterfully achieved as we'd hope from the big man and it's nice to see some love for Hegel. I believe each of the essays in this book operates upon a kind of Hegelian sensibility but I'd wait for a reread to confirm.

The big draw here is the essay Plato's Pharmacy, which, if we are familiar enough with Phaedrus, would be a decent place to start with Derrida. It's not too terminological and he's keen to ground the piece in the text while also playing with the ambiguity of pharmakon as cure/poison, pharmakos, pharmako scapegoat and so forth. It's brilliant and worth reading if you have patience and a good knowledge of Phaedrus (though the essay branches well beyond that text in Plato's corpus).

Thereafter we get The Double Session which runs through Philebus but mostly Mallarmé's Mimique and spends a lot of time philosophizing the hymen which turned out rather well. It's a strong essay but I feel I'd need to revisit after acquainting myself further with Mallarmé. Love all the same. Kill daddy etc etc

last essay I was less of a fan of perhaps because I've never read Sollers and in a way he seems to have been restricted to France. It was difficult to work out how useful this essay was, as is the case when one is unfamiliar with JD's subject matter. Know him and the pre-text, is my best advice. But this essay (Dissemination) I did find myself enjoying as it went on, cluttered and kabbalistic as it appeared.

So goes the deconstructed year. I really love him- his passion is universal and matched only by the warmth and playfulness one encounters in the text itself. More JD soon I hope.
Profile Image for Kev.
75 reviews
September 11, 2021
Daddy Derrida on prime form here. All about that stuff that makes people either completely love him or find it impenetrably opaque. I'm the former, obvs.

So this is the foundation of a lot of the stuff that maybe gave him the position he has. It's immediately compelling to think of Derrida as a writer with a 'system' (which is usually called deconstruction, sometimes differance) but this book left me thinking that what he does better than anyone else is to read things very closely. Close readings will tend towards an agenda but daddy Jacky's is something like 'reading, writing in general'. An ever careful registering of the close pairings of terms, etymology, the chain of signifiers etc. Critically, I was just thinking, this is interpretation which respects the death of the author but not entirely, and also avoids the paralysing, hegemonic effect of psychoanalytical (or psychoanalysis-informed) interpretations.

There's a brilliant essay at the front from translator Barbara Johnson (I hope it also exists independent of this book) making this a collection of four great esssays. Jacky's work is, I think, historically the earlier manifesting of some of his key ideas - dissemination, the hymen, the pharmakon... Always alluding to an endless plenitude of interpretations, never allowing its sublimity to stop him from centring the human-ness, the sociality and situatedness of a writing.

Possibly of interest to the more poetically inclined of those of you reading, there's a lot on the notions of what big D terms 'paragrammatical' - those elements within poetry which are decidedly connotative but not directly so. Space on the page and its consideration in (alleged) contrast to the words, the nature of the vellum, the 'graft' which is writing (ie, a sort of violence rather than an insemination).

It's not for everyone. I get that. But I do love the big D.
Profile Image for Helena.
805 reviews1 follower
February 27, 2020
dei første 200 sidene (som eg har lese), pluss dei resterande 200 (som eg ikkje har lese, men eg har lese DRIDmøje teori for dette, og...) representerer alt arbeidet eg gjorde mot å skrive theory and practice of literary criticism-essayet mitt om new historicism og derrida (som eg fRAMLEIS ikkje fatter), og at eg etter å ha snakka med academic advisoren min bestemte meg for å bytte problemstilling. igjen. eg lover eg skal gje meg no (aller helst for min eigen del, 22 dagar igjen)
Profile Image for Phillip.
20 reviews
December 9, 2012
After reading this book you come away thinking that a lot of the confusion that arose over the reception of Derrida's work stems to a certain degree from Derrida's texts themselves. There are numerous passages throughout this book where Derrida seems to go far beyond a critique of transcendental presence in actually trying to argue that perception itself is an outcome of the differential process. This derives from what Derrida is speaking of when he speaks of visibility, of what is. If what Derrida is talking about in these instances is transcendental visibility or being, then I have no problem with the argument. If on the other hand Derrida actually wants to argue that all our present perceptions are nothing but the outcome of the movement of the differential process then I really have to disagree. Quite simply as Derrida himself states numerous times, the condition of possibility for metaphysical coherence is equally the condition of impossibility of metaphysical presence. Metaphysical presence is erased by the movement of the trace. The problem is that Derrida equivocates, seeming to want to argue that metaphysical presence is present for long enough so as to reduplicate itself so as to produce these trace effects. The problem is that if this were rigorously taken to be the case there would be literally nothing in question, and this is not to speak of the nothing of ideality. Metaphysics could never even become a question if we were simply located within a network of textual relations. Derrida's solution to this is to propose some idea of pure difference, and this is where for me he becomes another transcendental philosopher, precisely in the mode of those transcendental philosophers he is critiquing. As Rorty says Derrida wants to argue that differance isn't a concept and has no relation with traditional philosophical logic but I'm sorry if it looks like a concept and behaves like a concept, well you get the idea. Pure difference is to sustain the analysis at the textual level when the theses that have produced the problem do implicitly lead to the positing of some kind of extra-textual condition. I can't help but feel that Derrida is so in love with writing that his position is more the product of his love of writing which legitimizes this interminable cycling through of themes and unfolding of relations between them, than being a working out of philosophical questions in hand. Having said that I still liked this book, particularly the analysis of mimicry, but I thought the final essay was way to long for the conceptual material that was being developed.
Profile Image for Yakut Akbay.
20 reviews18 followers
April 10, 2016
The book consists of three parts, in which Derrida, as usual, unweaves texts of various philosophers, one of them being Socrates. Derrida deconstructs Socratic dialogue in the essay 'Plato's Pharmacy' aiming to reveal the inconsistencies written by Plato. Throughout the myth about the god of writing Theuth, there appear a number of binaries, such as a philosopher/a sophist, inside/outside, king/subject, good memory/evil memory, etc. In each of these binaries, the left side is always privileged and favoured, whereas the ones on the right are marginalized and repressed. By doing so, Derrida criticizes the foundations of Western philosophy which rests its praxis upon logocentrism. However, he also exposes how Socrates himself resorts to myth to explain the truth about writing. It is best illustrated through the word pharmakon which has two major meanings opposed to each other: a poison and a medicine. Since Socrates regards writing as a pharmakon, it embraces both qualities the good and the bad ones. Eventually, Derrida overthrows binaries explaining how they are intertwined. Derrida infers that writing that has been pushed to the outside, becomes part of interior to serve as supplementary to logos or speech. The author shows that Socrates and Plato, being wise men or 'true' philosophers, who were opposed to sophists, wizards, poets, etc, are, in fact, related to them. This book can be considered a guide to Derridean Deconstruction.
Profile Image for Michael.
392 reviews
October 23, 2010
This review will have to suffice for all of my reviews of Derrida's philosophy. Derrida is undoubtedly one of the great minds of 20th Century philosophy. Nonetheless, I have never finished a text of his without thinking that the fundamental insight presented was not more trouble than it was worth. Yes, his readings of Plato, Marx, Hegel and Heidegger are thoughtful and unpack the text in interesting ways. However, to get at what is interesting, the reader has to get through so many cognitive hoops that Derrida undermines the worth of his own interpretation.
Profile Image for Nikki.
354 reviews14 followers
June 19, 2011
We were assigned the 100 page section Plato's Pharmacy. I was pleasantly surprised by the accessibility of this text in comparison to the other Derrida reading we were assigned. Derrida closely examines Plato's Phaedrus, opening my eyes to new ideas about this text. I need to continue playing with the ideas to let them sink in; there's definitely a lot packed in here! It was neat to revisit the Phaedrus and consider how much is in it itself and realize how many ways there are to dissect it.
Profile Image for Isla McKetta.
Author 6 books50 followers
February 16, 2012
I LOVED the preface of the book. The ideas inspired me to play with and look at language. After that, I got deeply lost (and not in a good way) in Derrida's complex language and ideas and felt I never could catch up. There were some gems along the way, but for the most part this book was well over my head. I found myself while reading this book wishing he would get on with it and say something (anything) I cared about. I think I am no longer the right audience for obtuse academic writing.
Profile Image for Liz.
15 reviews1 follower
February 16, 2008
Reading Derrida is, for me, akin to reading the Satanic Verses - I feel there is always such a wealth more than I have gotten from my first reading, and second, and third ... This one is by far one of my favorites, perhaps because Plato is so close to my heart.
Profile Image for Katrinka.
595 reviews24 followers
March 26, 2012
Every other book I've read by Derrida I've loved and found tremendously illuminating. I appreciate the thoughts here on citationality and the text-- but this tome might be the man's Finnegan's Wake, without the latter's fantastic wrap-up at the end.
Profile Image for Nick.
22 reviews2 followers
February 20, 2014
I've a love/hate relationship with Derrida, as his theories are very enlightening yet *very* rigorous. ...definitely a good start to gleaning how metanarratives and mythologemes are embedded within language.
Profile Image for Ryan.
61 reviews16 followers
November 6, 2007
Amazing. Derrida deconstructs Western metaphysics writ large.
35 reviews6 followers
January 30, 2008
not that I really understood it, but I have fond undergraduate memories of trying to figure out what the hell he was saying during my senior seminar.
Profile Image for Jason .
4 reviews
July 9, 2008
it changed my head.

the writing style is so fun and literary. it's fun catching all the metaphors that we use, ones we don't realize that we use.
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