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Life Death

Edited by: Pascale-Anne Brault and Peggy Kamuf
Translated by: Pascale-Anne Brault and Michael Naas
One of Jacques Derrida’s richest and most provocative works, Life Death challenges and deconstructs one of the most deeply rooted dichotomies of Western thought: life and death. Here Derrida rethinks the traditional philosophical understanding of the relationship between life and death, undertaking multidisciplinary analyses of a range of topics, including philosophy, linguistics, and the life sciences. In seeking to understand the relationship between life and death, he engages in close readings of Freudian psychoanalysis, the philosophy of Nietzsche and Heidegger, French geneticist François Jacob, and epistemologist Georges Canguilhem.
Derrida gave his “Life Death” seminar over fourteen sessions between 1975 and 1976 at the École normale supérieure in Paris as part of the preparation for students studying for the agrégation, a notoriously competitive qualifying exam. The theme for the exam that year was “Life and Death,” but Derrida made a critical modification to the title by dropping the coordinating conjunction. The resulting title of Life Death poses a philosophical question about the close relationship between life and death. Derrida argues that death must be considered neither as the opposite of life nor as the truth or fulfillment of it, but rather as that which both limits life and makes it possible. Through these captivating sessions, Derrida thus not only questions traditional understandings of the relationship between life and death, but also ultimately develops a new way of thinking about what he calls “life death.”

Author Information

Jacques Derrida (1930–2004) was director of studies at the École des hautes études en sciences sociales, Paris, and professor of humanities at the University of California, Irvine. He is the author of many books published by the University of Chicago Press. Pascale-Anne Brault is professor of French at DePaul University and is the translator of several books by Derrida. Peggy Kamuf is professor emerita of French and Italian and comparative literature at the University of Southern California. She has written, edited, or translated many books, by Derrida and others, and is coeditor of the series of Derrida’s seminars at the University of Chicago Press. Michael Naas is professor of philosophy at DePaul University and is the author of several books, most recently Plato and the Invention of Life.


“Derrida’s 1975-76 seminar, Life Death, is surely one of his greatest achievements. It begins with a deconstructive reading of François Jacob’s Logic of the Living, advancing to a critique of scientific ‘models’ in general. It then takes up Nietzsche’s notions of life and the living in terms of both biography and biology. Finally, it reads Freud’s Beyond the Pleasure Principle in an exciting and challenging way. The translation by Pascale-Anne Brault and Michael Naas is reliable and eminently readable.”
— David Farrell Krell, author of The Sea: A Philosophical Encounter

“This is a splendid translation of one of Derrida’s most challenging seminars, one that relates, in unprecedented ways, the vocabulary and concepts of historical and contemporary biology and genetics with selected and relevant works of Marx, Nietzsche, Heidegger, and Freud.”
— Dawne McCance, author of The Reproduction of Life Death: Derrida's La Vie la Mort

Audience: Professional and scholarly;