From Life to Survival

From Life to Survival

Derrida, Freud, and the Future of Deconstruction

Robert Trumbull


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Contemporary continental thought is marked by a move away from the “linguistic turn” in twentieth-century European philosophy, as new materialisms and ontologies seek to leave behind the thinking of language central to poststructuralism as it has been traditionally understood. At the same time, biopolitical philosophy has brought critical attention to the question of life, examining new formations of life and death. Within this broader turn, Derridean deconstruction, with its apparent focus on language, writing, and textuality, is generally set aside.

This book, by contrast, shows the continued relevance of deconstruction for contemporary thought’s engagement with resolutely material issues and with matters of life and the living. Trumbull elaborates Derrida’s thinking of life across his work, specifically his recasting of life as “life death,” and in turn, survival or living on. Derrida’s activation of Freud, Trumbull shows, is central to this problematic and its consequences, especially deconstruction’s ethical and political possibilities. The book traces how Derrida’s early treatment of Freud and his mobilization of Freud’s death drive allow us to grasp the deconstructive thought of life as constitutively exposed to death, the logic subsequently rearticulated in the notion of survival. Derrida’s recasting of life as survival, Trumbull demonstrates, allows deconstruction to destabilize inherited understandings of life, death, and the political, including the dominant configurations of sovereignty and the death penalty.


Robert Trumbull:
Robert Trumbull teaches Philosophy at Seattle University.