Nietzsche, Freud and Derrida: Putting the Post in Post-Modernism

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To half the world they were geniuses, to the other half frauds. Forever controversial, Nietzsche and Freud overturned the wisdom of centuries past with their ideas about what governs behaviour. To these men, humanity was beset with neurotic impulses; and efforts to understand the world using reason and logic were destined to fail since the entire species was held captive by drives they either pretended did not exist or were too embarrassed to acknowledge. Although their influence did recede, many of their most troubling conclusions remained: We had to accept we were not what we thought we were.

Freud and Nietzsche helped usher in an even more radical perspective about human nature and knowledge itself: post-structuralism. Camille Paglia proclaims it “a plague upon the heart and the mind … utterly meaningless.” Yet at many institutions of higher learning, post-structuralism has become the predominant mode of critical discourse. What is post-structuralism? Is it a pivot point or passing fad? Why does it arouse such feelings of adoration and contempt? And how do Nietzsche and Freud inform the work of famous post-structuralists such as Derrida, Lacan and Foucault?

We’ll examine seminal works from Nietzsche and Freud and link their ideas to the practice of post-structuralism and deconstruction. While some exploration of the theory of post-structuralism is unavoidable, the emphasis with the other readings will be on how this critical approach is used. Decide for yourself whether post-structuralism is a revelation or a lot of malarkey. This seminar is for all who are curious, fearful or skeptical.

“Freud says […] there are three great narcissistic wounds in Western culture: the wound inflicted by Copernicus; the one made by Darwin […] and the wound made by Freud himself, when he in turn discovered that consciousness rests on the unconsciousness.”

– Michel Foucault



John Riley has spent over 30 years leading seminars as a faculty member at Benedictine University and Morton College, and as a learning consultant for the Great Books Foundation. Currently, John is a tutor for Chicago CRED, which assists young adult men in gaining employment skills, and is chair of the program committee for Chicago Youth Programs, which seeks to improve the career and college readiness of youth in underserved communities.


Use to find the required editions.

Beyond Good and Evil, by Friedrich Nietzsche, translated by Walter Kaufmann
(Vintage, 1989)
ISBN-13: 978-0679724650

Civilization and Its Discontents, by Sigmund Freud, translated by James Strachey
(W.W. Norton & Company, 2010)
ISBN-13: 978-0393304510

Writing and Difference, by Jacques Derrida, translated by Alan Bass
(University of Chicago Press, 2017)
ISBN-13: 978-0226502830

John will also provide electronically a compendium of readings by Michel Foucault, Jacques Lacan, and Jean Baudrillard, along with supporting information to assist in understanding.

Participants are required to obtain the specified edition to facilitate the group’s ability to find and cite portions of the text during discussion. Details will be provided at registration.

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