Jacques Derrida and the Life Sciences

By Francesco Vitale
Translated by Mauro Senatore

Subjects: Continental Philosophy, Philosophy, Philosophy And Biology, Philosophy Of Science
Series: SUNY series in Contemporary Continental Philosophy
Paperback : 9781438468846, 256 pages, July 2018
Hardcover : 9781438468853, 256 pages, March 2018

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Table of contents


1. Toward Biodeconstruction

2. Between Life and Death: Différance

3. The Absolute Programme

4. The Text and the Living

5. Between Life and Death: The Bond

6. Beyond Life and Death: Autoimmunity

7. Living On: The Arche-performative


Analyzes Derrida’s 1975 seminar “La vie la mort” as a deconstruction of biology with relevance to his work more broadly.


In Biodeconstruction, Francesco Vitale demonstrates the key role that the question of life plays in Jacques Derrida's work. In the seminar La vie la mort (1975), Derrida engages closely with the life sciences, especially biology and evolution theory. Connecting this line of thought to his analysis of cybernetics in Of Grammatology, Vitale shows how Derrida develops a notion of biological life as itself a sort of text that is necessarily open onto further articulations and grafts. This sets the stage for the deconstruction of the traditional opposition between life and death, conceiving of death as an internal condition of the constitution of the living rather than being the opposite of life. It also provides the basis for the deconstruction of the rigidly deterministic concept of the genetic program, an insight that anticipates recent achievements of biological research in epigenetics and sexual reproduction. Finally, Vitale argues that this framework can enrich our understanding of Derrida's late work devoted to political issues, connecting his use of the autoimmunitarian lexicon to the theory of cellular suicide in biology.

Francesco Vitale is Professor of Aesthetics at the University of Salerno, Italy. He is the author of The Last Fortress of Metaphysics: Jacques Derrida and the Deconstruction of Architecture, also published by SUNY Press, and the author and editor of several books in Italian on Derrida and contemporary French philosophy. Mauro Senatore is a British Academy Fellow at Durham University in the United Kingdom and Adjunct Professor of Contemporary French Philosophy at the Instituto de Humanidades, Universidad Diego Portales, Santiago, Chile. He is the author of Germs of Death: The Problem of Genesis in Jacques Derrida, also published by SUNY Press.


"…a remarkable book." — Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews

"This book is extremely interesting and engaging, and provides a very original and timely perspective on Derrida's work. Its greatest strength is bringing together Derrida's 'deconstruction' in his analysis of the life sciences under the heading of 'biodeconstruction.' This term is simple but ingenious, and captures beautifully the material dimension of Derrida's work." — Nicole Anderson, author of Derrida: Ethics Under Erasure