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Disharmonious Continuity

Critiquing Presence with Sartre and Derrida

Gavin Rae

Keywords: Jacques Derrida; Jean-Paul Sartre; Martin Heidegger; ontology; presence

The traditional interpretation of the Sartre-Derrida relationship follows their own insistence that they are separated by a certain irreducible distance. Contemporary research has, however, questioned that assessment, mainly by reassessing the thought of Sartre to picture him as a precursor to poststructuralism/deconstruction. This article takes off from this stance to suggest that Sartre and Derrida are partners against a common enemy—ontological presence— but develop different paths to overcome it: Sartre affirming nothingness and Derrida affirming différance. While much work has been done on these concepts, they have rarely been used as the exclusive means through which to engage with the Sartre-Derrida relationship. Focusing on them reveals that while Sartrean nothingness and Derridean différance are oriented against ontological presence, the latter entails a radicalization of the former. Their relationship is not then one of opposition but rather one of disharmonious continuity.

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