Jacques Derrida (1930-2004) was something of an intellectual celebrity. He was born in Algiers and denied a place at the local school because he was Jewish. He subsequently devoted a great deal of time to football and as a consequence failed to gain entrance to the Ecole Normale Superieure in Paris at the first attempt. He was successful on the second, and wrote his dissertation on Edmund Husserl – he later claimed that Husserl and Heidegger were the greatest influences on his thinking.

His reputation was established in 1967 when three of his books were published – Of Grammatology, Writing and Difference and Speech and Phenomena. In his lifetime he produced over forty books.

Derrida’s “deconstructionism” is based upon his claim that the concept of subject matter does not exist – something giving a structure, focus and boundary to one’s thinking. As A C Grayling says of Derrida:

“To think that there is something that can be grasped in a discourse is to continue to be imprisoned by a ‘metaphysics of presence’. There is neither subject matter nor ‘truth’, there are only perspectives and their deferral, this latter being the continual escape of meaning from the effort to pin it down, the escape of a text or utterance from efforts to attach it securely to a definite sense.” (Grayling 2019: 504).

No wonder I have been warned that Derrida is difficult. How can I pin down his philosophy? Or is it a philosophy of not being pinned down?

It is helpful to our understanding of Derrida’s position to refer to the writings of William of Ockham whose nominalism was based on the belief that there are no universal truths, that theory in as far as it exists, is purely a convenience to thought and that dualities are largely meaningless.

Derrida’s concept of differance (a combination of the words different and deferment) is probably one of the most important in post modernism – the idea that all words, in order to explain meaning point to other words that equally can be deferred to another. And by this logic – he came to the conclusion that everything is text.

So where does this approach apply to the image? An image is a system of signifiers that point, not to presence or reality, but to other signifiers that in their turn, point onward in a never-ending cascade of signification and infinity. So the effect of this is that, according to Derrida, there are infinite meanings and interpretations of an image, just as there are in a textual context.

Where does this never-ending deferral end? Does it end with meaning within the being of the object or person as object? All signification resolves in the being, not in the presence of the being.



GRAYLING, A C. 2019. The History of Philosophy. London: Viking.

RYAN, Robert James. 2019. Intuition, Expertise and Judgement in the Assessment and Capture of Photographic Images. PhD at the University of Gloucestershire.

Alison Price

Alison Price

My name is Alison Price and for the past ten years I have travelled the world photographing wildlife, including Alaska, Antarctica, Borneo, Botswana, the Canadian Arctic, Kenya, Rwanda, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
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