Deconstruction and Derrida
- Deconstruction and Derrida Simon Critchley and Timothy Mooney DERRIDIAN DECONSTRUCTION1 In the last twenty-five years or so, particularly in the English-speaking world, no philosopher has attracted more notoriety, controversy and misunderstanding than Jacques Derrida. Caricatural summaries of deconstruction and ‘deconstructionism’ abound in introductory textbooks, newspaper articles, radio and television programmes. The word ‘deconstruction’ has found a home in everyday language, and positions pro and contra Derrida are taken up and held with a vehemence that is difficult for the uninitiated to grasp. ‘Derrida’ and ‘deconstruction’ have become integral terms in the debate on the meaning of western culture in the late twentieth century. However, in this chapter I would like to take a step back from the sound and fury of the cultural debate around Derrida and sketch, as clearly and simply as possible, what appears to take place in deconstruction, that is to say, what is the method of reading employed by Derrida and what, in brief, are the consequences of the latter for the philosophical tradition. What is deconstruction? Or, as it is perhaps initially easier to give a negative response to this question, what is not deconstruction? Employing a short text of Derrida written in 1983 and published in 1985, ‘Letter to a Japanese Friend’, which was specifically written in order to aid the possible translation of the word déconstruction into Japanese, one can quickly sketch some important caveats. First, Derrida insists that deconstruction is not negative; it is not a process of demolition (which does not automatically entail that deconstruction is positive—[13.17], 390). Furthermore, deconstruction needs to be sharply distinguished from analysis, which presupposes a reduction of entities to their simple or essential elements, elements which themselves would stand in need of deconstruction. Crucially, deconstruction is not critique, either in the general or Kantian sense; Derrida writes, ‘The instance of the krinein or of krisis (decision, choice, judgement, discernment) is itself, as is moreover the entire apparatus of transcendental critique, one of the essential “themes” or “objects” of deconstruction’ ([13.17], 390). Similarly, deconstruction is not a method or way that can be followed in the activity of interpretation. This is also to say that deconstruction cannot be reduced to being a methodology (amongst competing methodologies) in the human or natural sciences, or becoming a technical procedure assimilable by academics and taught in educational institutions ([13.17], 390–1). In addition, deconstruction is not an act produced and commanded by a subject, nor is it an operation that sets to work on a text or an institution. Derrida concludes the ‘Letter’ characteristically by writing, ‘What deconstruction is not? But everything! What is deconstruction? But nothing!’ ([13.17], 392). All ontological statements of the form ‘deconstruction is x’ miss the point a priori, for it is precisely the ontological presuppositions of the copula that provide one of the enduring ‘themes’ of deconstruction. Rather, carefully avoiding the verb ‘to be’, Derrida claims that deconstruction takes place (‘a lieu’), and that it does so wherever there ‘is’ something (‘où il y a quelque chose’). Such is the enigma (Derrida’s word—[13.17], 391) of deconstruction: it cannot be defined and therefore resists translation; it is not an entity or a thing, it is not univocal or unitary. Derrida writes, paying careful attention to reflexivity of the statement, ‘Ça se déconstruit’ (‘It deconstructs itself, the Ça being both a translation of Es—the id, the unconscious—and a homophone for Sa—‘Savoir Absolu’, Absolute Knowing—[13.17], 391). It deconstructs itself wherever something takes place. However, such a formulation, although subtle and faithful, risks being unhelpful because of its generality. Having taken on board the negative caveats in the problem of defining deconstruction, I should now like to assemble a more ‘constructivist’ account of deconstruction by asking the question: how does deconstruction take place? Derrida addressed this question concisely and lucidly in Of Grammatology (1967) [13.4, 13.29], in a chapter entitled, ‘The Exorbitant. Question of Method’. The first essential point to make, however, trivial it may seem, is that deconstruction is always the deconstruction of a text. Derrida’s thinking is always thinking about a text, from which flows the obvious corollary that deconstruction is always engaged in a reading of a text. The way of deconstruction is always opened through reading, what Derrida calls ‘a first task, the most elementary of tasks’ ([13.21], 35; [13.43], 41). Any thinking that is primarily concerned with reading will clearly be dependent upon the text that is being read. Thus, Derrida’s readings are parasitic because they are close readings of texts that draw their sustenance from within the flesh of the host. What takes place in deconstruction is reading, and, I shall argue, what distinguishes deconstruction as a textual practice is double reading. That is to say, a reading that interlaces at least two motifs or layers of reading, most often by first repeating what Derrida calls ‘the dominant interpretation’ ([13.22], 265; [13.44], 143) of a text in the guise of a commentary, and second, within and through this repetition, by leaving the order of commentary and opening a text up to the blind spots or ellipses within the dominant interpretation. Now, when Derrida reads Rousseau, he organizes his reading around the word supplément. It is claimed that this word is the ‘blind spot’ (tâche aveugle [13.4], 234; [13.29], 163) in Rousseau’s text, a word which he employs but whose logic is veiled to him.2 Derrida’s reading of Rousseau traces the logic of this supplement, a logic which allows Rousseau’s text to slip from the grip of its intentions and achieve a textual position that is other than the logocentric conceptuality that Rousseau intended to affirm. Thus, Derrida’s reading of Rousseau occupies the space between the writer’s intentions and the text, or between what a writer commands and fails to command in a language. It is into this space between intentions and text that Derrida inserts what he calls the ‘signifying structure’ ([13.4], 227; [13.29], 158) of the reading that constitutes part two of Of Grammatology. How does one perform a deconstructive reading? In ‘The Exorbitant. Question of Method’, Derrida pauses in his reading of Rousseau in order to justify his own methodological principles. The signifying structure of a deconstructive reading cannot, he claims, simply be produced through the ‘respectful doubling of commentary’ ([13.4], 227; [13.29], 158). Although Derrida is acutely aware of the exigencies of the traditional instruments of commentary as an ‘indispensable guardrail’ in critical production, he claims that commentary ‘has always only protected, it has never opened, a reading’ (ibid.). Here I would like to pause for a moment to consider what Derrida could possibly mean by the word ‘commentary’ in this context: is he claiming, oblivious to the achievements of Heideggerian and especially Gadamerian hermeneutics, that there can be a pure commentary or literal repetition of a text that is not already an interpretation? Derrida corrects and clarifies the above remarks from Of Grammatology in one of his responses to Gerald Graff in the ‘Afterword’ to Limited Inc. Derrida writes that ‘the moment of what I called, perhaps clumsily, “doubling commentary” does not suppose the selfidentity of “meaning”, but a relative stability of the dominant interpretation (including the auto-interpretation) of the text being commented upon’. He continues, ‘perhaps I should not have called it commentary’ ([13.22], 265; [13.44], 143). Thus, for Derrida, the moment of commentary refers to the reproducibility and stability of the dominant interpretation of a text, for example the traditional logocentric reading (or misreading) of Rousseau. Commentary is always already interpretation and Derrida does not believe in the possibility of a pure and simple repetition of a text. However, and this is a crucial caveat, there is an unavoidable need for a competence in reading and writing such that the dominant interpretation of a text can be reconstructed as a necessary and indispensable layer or moment of reading. ‘Otherwise’, Derrida writes, echoing a sentence from Of Grammatology effectively ignored by many of its opponents and proponents alike, ‘one could indeed say just anything at all and I have never accepted saying, or being encouraged to say, just anything at all’ ([13.22], 267; [13.44], 144–5; cf. [13.4], 227; [13.29], 158). Derrida goes on to argue that the moment of ‘commentary’ or of the dominant interpretation reflects a minimal consensus concerning the intelligibility of texts, establishing what a given text means for a community of readers. Although such a search for consensus is ‘actively interpretive’, Derrida adds, ‘I believe that no research is possible in a community (for example, academic) without the prior search for this minimal consensus’ ([13.22], 269; [13.44], 146). Thus, although ‘commentary’ alone does not open a genuine reading, the latter is not possible without the moment of commentary, without a scholarly competence in reading, understanding and writing, without a knowledge of texts in their original languages (for example, Rousseau’s or Derrida’s French), without knowing the corpus of an author as a whole, without knowing the multiple contexts—political, literary, philosophical, historical and so forth—which determine a given text or are determined by that text. This is what one might call the deconstructive duty of scholarship. I would go further and claim that there is a hermeneutic principle of fidelity—one might even say ‘an “ethico-political duty”’ (‘un “devoir éthico-politique”’) ([13.22], 249; [13.44], 135)—and a minimal working notion of truth as adaequatio underlying deconstructive reading, as its primary layer of reading. If deconstructive reading is to possess any demonstrative necessity, it is initially in virtue of how faithfully it reconstructs the dominant interpretation of a text in a layer of ‘commentary’. To choose an extreme example, in Limited Inc. every word of Searle’s ‘Reiterating the Differences: A Reply to Derrida’ is repeated or re-reiterated. Derrida clearly views this as a way of responding responsibly to the brutality of Searle’s essay, which decides to ‘insult’ ([13.22], 257; [13.44], 139) Derrida’s work—for example Searle writes of ‘Derrida’s distressing penchant for saying things that are obviously false’3 rather than engaging in the necessary critical demonstration. Thus, bearing the above qualifications in mind, one might say a reading is true in the first instance to the extent that it faithfully repeats or corresponds to what is said in the text that is being commented upon. This is perhaps the reason why Derrida quotes at such length and with such regularity in his writings, and it is also the basis for his accusation of falsity against Habermas’s critique of his work in ‘Excursus on Leveling the Genre Distinction between Philosophy and Literature’, where Derrida is not cited a single time ([13.22], 244; [13.44], 156).4 Returning to Of Grammatology, it is clear that although the respectful repetition of the text which ‘commentary’ produces fails to open a reading, this in no way entails that one should then transgress the text by reductively relating it to some referent or signified outside of textuality (i.e. historical material or the psychobiography of the author). To determine textual signifiers by referring them to a governing signified—for example, to read A la recherche in terms of Proust’s asthma—would be to give what Derrida calls a transcendent reading. The axial proposition of Of Grammatology is ‘il n’y a pas de horstexte’ (‘there is no outside text’ [13.4], 227; [13.29], 158), or again, ‘il n’y a rien hors du texte’ (‘there is nothing outside of the text’ [13.4], 233; [13.29], 163). One should be attentive to the nuanced difference between these two sentences: the first claims that there is no ‘outside-text’, no text outside; whilst the second claims that there is nothing outside of the text, the text outside is nothing), implying by this that any reading that refers the text to some signified outside of textuality is illusory. Within the logocentric epoch, the textual signifier (and writing, inscription, the mark and the trace in general) has always been determined as secondary, as a fallen exteriority preceded by a signified. A deconstructive reading must, therefore, remain within the limits of textuality, hatching its eggs within the flesh of the host. Thus, the ‘methodological’ problem for deconstruction becomes one of discovering how a reading can remain internal to the text and within the limits of textuality without merely repeating the text in the manner of a ‘commentary’. To borrow the adverbial phrase with which Derrida describes his reading of Husserl, deconstructive reading must move à travers the text, traversing the space between a repetitive commentary and a metatextual interpretation, ‘Traversing [à travers] Husserl’s text, that is to say, in a reading which cannot simply be that of commentary nor that of interpretation’ ([13.2], 98; [13.27], 88). By opening up this textual space that is other to ‘commentary’ or interpretation, a certain distance is created between deconstructive reading and logocentric conceptuality. The signifying structure of a deconstructive reading traverses a space that is other to logocentrism and which attempts eccentrically to exceed the orbit of its conceptual totality. In an important and explicit reference to the ‘goal’ or ‘aim’ of deconstruc-tion, Derrida writes, ‘We wanted to attain the point of a certain exteriority with respect to the totality of the logocentric epoch. From this point of exteriority a certain deconstruction of this totality… could be broached [entamée]’ ([13–4], 231; [13.29], 161–2). It is from such a point of exteriority that deconstruction could cut into or penetrate the totality, thereby displacing it. The goal of deconstruction, therefore, is to locate a point of otherness within philosophical or logocentric conceptuality and then to deconstruct this conceptuality from that position of alterity. It is at this point that the concept of double reading can be properly understood. If the first moment of reading is the rigorous and scholarly reconstruction of the dominant interpretation of a text, its vouloir-dire, its intended meaning, in the guise of a commentary, then the second moment of reading, in virtue of which deconstruction obeys a double necessity, is the destabilization of the stability of the dominant interpretation ([13.22], 271; [13.44], 147). It is the movement of traversing the text which enables the reading to obtain a position of alterity or exteriority from where the text can be deconstructed. The second moment brings the text into contradiction with itself, opening its intended meaning, its vouloir-dire, onto an alterity which goes against what the text wants to say or mean (‘ce que le texte veut dire’). Derrida often articulates this double reading around a semantic ambivalence in the usage of a particular word, like supplément in Rousseau, pharmakon in Plato or Geist in Heidegger. It is of absolutely crucial importance that this second moment, that of alterity, should be shown to arise necessarily out of the first moment of repetitive commentary. Derrida ventriloquizes this double structure through the mouth of Heidegger in De l’esprit: ‘That is why, without opposing myself to that of which I am trying to think the most matinal possibility, without even using words other than those of the tradition, I follow the path of a repetition which crosses the path of the wholly other. The wholly other announces itself within the most rigorous repetition ([13.18], 184).’ Thus, by following the path of a repetition, the Wiederholung of a text or a tradition, one inevitably crosses the path of something wholly other, something that cannot be reduced to what the text or tradition wants to say. It is at this point that the similarities between Derridian deconstruction and Heideggerian Destruktion become apparent. Indeed, Derrida initially employed the term déconstruction as an attempt to render into French the Heideggerian notions of Destruktion (de-struction, or non-negative de-structuring) and Abbau (demolition or, better, dismantling—[13.17], 388). For the Heidegger of Being and Time, the working out or elaboration (Ausarbeitung) of the question of the meaning of Being does not become truly concrete until the ontological tradition—that is, the tradition that has forgotten the question of Being, and more precisely the temporal dimension of this question—has been completely repeated (wiederholen) and deconstructed.5 In the 1962 lecture ‘Time and Being’, Abbau is presented (and presented, moreover, as a synonym for Destruktion) as the progressive removal of the concealing layers that have covered over the first Greek rending of Being as presence (Anwesenheit). The repetition of the metaphysical tradition is a dismantling that reveals its unsaid as unsaid.6 Returning to Derrida, it is the belonging together or interlacing of these two moments or paths of reading—repetition and alterity—that best describes the double gesture of deconstructive reading: the figure of the chiasmus. What takes place in deconstruction is double reading, that is, a form of reading that obeys the double injunction for both repetition and the alterity that arises within that repetition. Deconstruction opens a reading by locating a moment of alterity within a text. In Derrida’s reading of Rousseau, the concept of the supplement is the lever that is employed to show how Rousseau’s discourse is inscribed within the general text, a domain of textuality irreducible to logocentric conceptuality. In this way one can see how a moment of blindness in a logocentric text grants insight into an alterity that exceeds logocentrism. As Derrida remarks in an interview with Richard Kearney, ‘deconstruction is not an enclosure in nothingness, but an openness towards the other’.7 What takes place in deconstruction is a highly determinate form of double reading which pursues alterities within texts, primarily philosophical texts. In this way, deconstruction opens a discourse on the other to philosophy, an otherness that has been dissimulated or appropriated by the logocentric tradition. Philosophy, particularly in its Hegelian moment, has always insisted on thinking its other (art, religion, nature, etc.) as its proper other and thereby appropriating it and losing sight of its otherness. The philosophical text has always believed itself to be in control of the margin of its own volume ([13.5], 1; [13.30], x). As Emmanuel Levinas points out in ‘Transcendence and Height’, philosophy might be defined as the activity of assimilating all otherness into the Same.8 Such a definition would seem to be accurate in so far as the philosophical tradition has always attempted to understand and think the plurality and alterity of a manifold of entities through a reduction of plurality to unity and alterity to sameness. The same gesture is repeated throughout the philosophical tradition, whether it be in Plato, where the plurality of the instances of an entity (phainomena) are understood in relation to a unifying form (eidos). Or whether it be Aristotle, where philosophia protē (that is to say, metaphysics) is the attempt to understand the Being of a plurality of entities in relation to a unifying substance (ousia), and, ultimately, a divine ousia: the god (to theion). Or, indeed, whether it be in terms of Kantian epistemology, where the manifold or plurality of intuitions are brought into unity and sameness by being placed under concepts which are regulated by the categories of the understanding (and other examples could be cited). The very activity of thinking, which lies at the basis of epistemological, ontological and veridical comprehension, is the reduction of plurality to unity and alterity to sameness. The activity of philosophy, the very task of thinking, is the reduction and domestication of otherness. In seeking to think the other, its otherness is reduced or appropriated to our understanding. To think philosophically is to comprehend— comprendre, comprehendere, begreifen, to comprehend, to include, to seize, to grasp— and master the other, thereby reducing its alterity. As Rodolphe Gasché points out, ‘Western philosophy is in essence the attempt to domesticate Otherness, since what we understand by thought is nothing but such a project.’9 As the attempt to attain a point of exteriority to logocentrism, deconstruction may therefore be ‘understood’ as the desire to keep open a dimension of alterity which can neither be reduced, comprehended, nor, strictly speaking, even thought by philosophy. To say that the goal of Derridian deconstruction is not simply the unthought of the tradition, but rather ‘that-which-cannotbe- thought’ is to engage neither in sophistical rhetoric nor negative theology. It is rather to point towards that which philosophy is unable to say. Derridian deconstruction attempts to situate, ‘a non-site, or a non-philosophical site, from which to question philosophy’.10 It seeks a place of exteriority, alterity or marginality irreducible to philosophy. Deconstruction is the writing of a margin that cannot be represented by philosophy. In question is an other to philosophy that has never been and cannot become philosophy’s other, but an other within which philosophy becomes inscribed. However (and this is crucial), the paradox that haunts Derrida’s and all deconstructive discourse is that the only language that is available to deconstruction is that of philosophy or logocentrism. Thus to take up a position exterior to logocentrism, if such a thing were possible, would be to risk starving oneself of the very linguistic resources with which one must deconstruct logocentrism. The deconstructive reader is like a tightrope walker who risks ‘ceaselessly falling back inside that which he deconstructs’ ([13.4], 25; [13.29], 14). Deconstruction is a double reading that operates within a double bind of both belonging to a tradition, a language and a philosophical discourse, and at the same time being unable to belong to the latter. This ambiguous situation of belonging and not-belonging describes the problem of closure. Broadly stated,11 the problem of closure describes the duplicitous historical moment— now—when language, conceptuality, institutions and philosophy itself show themselves to belong to a logocentric tradition which is theoretically exhausted whilst at the same time searching for the breakthrough from that tradition. The problem of closure describes the liminal situation of modernity out of which the deconstructive problematic arises and which Derrida inherits from Heidegger. Closure is the double refusal both of remaining within the limits of the tradition and of the possibility of transgressing that limit within philosophical language. At the moment of historical and philosophical closure, deconstructive reading takes place as the disturbance, disruption or interruption of the limit that divides the inside from the outside of the tradition. A deconstructive reading shows how a text is dependent upon the presuppositions of a metaphysics of presence of logocentrism, which that text might attempt either to champion or dissimulate, whilst at the same time showing how that text radically questions the metaphysics it presupposes, entering into contradiction with itself, and pointing the way towards a thinking that would be other to logocentrism. Closure is the hinge that articulates this double and strictly undecidable movement between logocentrism and its other. Deconstruction(s) take(s) place as the articulation of this hinge. Simon Critchley PHILOSOPHICAL ROOTS AND BIBLIOGRAPHICAL HISTORY Throughout the history of thought new philosophies have unfolded as reactions to or developments of previous ones, and in this way have shown their indebtedness to their forebears. There is no field outside the philosophical tradition from which a completely new thinking could spring into being. Starting from the recognition of this fact, the first part of this section seeks to show how some of Jacques Derrida’s central ideas develop out of his encounters with the work of Edmund Husserl. Charting the ground of an individual’s thought with any fidelity is always a difficult exercise, the more so in Derrida’s case. He has cited and displayed evidence of numerous influences, including Heidegger, Hegel, Levinas, Nietzsche, Freud and Saussure, and his own arguments have cast doubt on the possibility of uncovering simple origins or foundations. All this being said, however, the crucial importance of Husserl’s phenomenology can still be clearly demonstrated. Outlining Derrida’s readings of Husserl also shows that he has engaged in philosophical argumentation rather than in some esoteric anarchism that is supposedly closed off from all criticism. The second part of this section attempts to give a concise overview of Derrida’s philosophical career within the broad framework of a bibliographical history. Reference will be made to his most important works and to the way in which they follow on from certain questions articulated in the early texts. This is also a difficult task. From the close of the 1950s Derrida has published twenty-six books and innumerable articles, many of them extending into the associated regions of literary criticism, aesthetics and politics. These factors alone militate against the adequacy of short summaries and chronological surveys, quite apart from specifically theoretical objections. Perhaps the best combination of clarity and continuity lies in confining one’s attention to those philosophical concerns that stand out most strongly in the Derridian constellation. It is this approach that has been adopted here. It was as a teenager in Algeria that Derrida first became interested in philosophy. He read Sartre copiously, and was spurred into enrolling for pre-university classes after hearing a radio broadcast by Albert Camus. In 1949 Derrida went to Paris, where he commenced his studies under Jean Hyppolite at the Ecole Normale Supérieure. As far as can be ascertained, Derrida’s interest in Sartre waned from the moment he became acquainted with the work of Husserl. The latter’s phenomenology, as opposed to the version propounded by Sartre, appeared to Derrida as an inescapable method of analysis. As recently as 1980, Derrida has remarked that he still sees it, although in a different way, as a discipline of incomparable rigour.12 Derrida’s first article was entitled ‘“Genesis and Structure” and Phenomenology’. Published in 1959, this was a development of part of his master’s thesis. The problem of genesis or origin and structure had emerged as a result of Husserl’s insistence that the meanings of those objects and states of affairs taken as irreducible to what we call the conscious self are never immediately given from outside. There are no transparently intelligible meanings in phenomena which would fall like manna from a heavenly place (topos ouranios) and strike the mind ready-made. In all these cases meaning demands not just a subject but a complex subjective contribution. All of the objects or states of affairs that we can entertain must be taken as more than an amorphous fuzz of unceasing mutation. Without at least a relative constancy in phenomena, recognition and discrimination would be impossible. Yet these constancies themselves presuppose a wider horizonal structure within which we ourselves place every appearance. Recognition and discrimination point to a surround of expectations which phenomenology seeks to make explicit. We expect physical objects, for instance, to have currently invisible aspects which can be brought into view, or made present, as we vary our perspective. We also expect physical things to behave in certain ways. On this view everything experienced is implicitly contextualized, whether it pertains to the physical, scientific or cultural worlds. Unlike the Kantian categories of experience and understanding, Husserl’s horizons are not fixed but constantly evolving. Through successive acts of perception we adjust each horizon so that it more comprehensively contextualizes objects or states of affairs. Meaning emerges from a weave made up of changing horizons and their contents. This creative emergence of meaning Husserl calls constitution. To explain any constituted phenomenon adequately, we have to give a structural description of this phenomenon and of our present mode of consciousness of it. But we also have to give a genetic or originary description of the evolving horizon which the phenomenon and our mode of consciousness of it presuppose. According to Derrida, certain insoluble problems ensue from this approach, stemming from the fact that the isolation and description of the objective structures of phenomena and of the horizons through which they are revealed is, on Husserl’s premisses, an infinite task. Because we must describe ever anew our continually evolving horizons, we will at the same time be altering our correlative characterizations of the objective structures of phenomena. What now appear as foundational structures could well be shown to be derivative in the future. Being caught up in history, we can never claim to encounter closed or finished structures, that is, structures that would be immune from modification and deposition. Yet another problem is that of discerning where our horizons end and where the objective structures of phenomena begin. There are no sure criteria for distinguishing between the ‘productive’ and ‘revelatory’ aspects of certain constituted meanings. Derrida does not claim any great novelty in this analysis, and he stresses that these difficulties could never have been brought to light were they not built upon Husserl’s powers of insight. It is the critical drive in Husserl that foregrounds these problems as he attempts to get back to the things themselves, to describe faithfully the phenomena presented to consciousness. Derrida does not accept the Husserlian argument that the living present (lebendige Gegenwart) of human consciousness is the ultimate locus and ground of meaning. He takes over the structuralist position that meaning depends on sign-systems that transcend the intentional control of individual subjects. There is no self and no other than can be understood apart from signs. The move towards this position is marked in Derrida’s first book, Edmund Husserl’s Origin of Geometry, an Introduction (1962) [13.1; 13.26]. All the problems treated in this early text, according to Derrida, have continued to organize the work he has subsequently embarked upon.13 In The Origin of Geometry (1936), written shortly before his death and published only posthumously, Husserl was concerned with the communicability of ideal objects, such as geometrical formations, that are initially reached or constituted in an individual human consciousness. Being universal and non-perspectival, geometrical idealities are free from the contingencies of spatio-temporal existence, and in terms of perfection, argues Husserl, they can serve as the model for any object whatsoever. But precisely because of their ideality, they must in principle be accessible to every rational being, capable of being objects for all conscious subjects. One of the core concerns in The Origin of Geometry is to explain how a geometrical formation which is initially confined to the solitary psychological life of the first or proto-geometer can become intersubjective, that is, an object for the whole human community. Husserl’s immediate answer is that it is speech which brings ideality into the public realm, allowing the proto-geometer to share his or her discovery with others in the same community. But it is only writing that allows the discovery to be transmitted from generation to generation, thus giving it a history. Through writing or inscription, the geometrical formation is passed down to others, who add corollaries and formulate further theorems and axioms. Through successive generations, new layers are added on top of the original formation. This is the path of scientific progress, and indeed of cultural development in general, and it resembles an elevated rock stratum composed of various sedimented layers. Through encoding the original discovery, the protogeometer sends it forward in a productive passage through time. The price of productive written transmission, however, is the loss of the conscious intentional states of the protogeometer’s mind that led to his or her discovery. Writing is an autonomous field that can virtualize a discovery, separating a bare formation from the conscious acts of constitution that are communicable through the tone and facial expressions of everyday speech. This loss is itself a condition of progress, for later geometers have to take the bare formation as a readymade given so as to have the time to improve on it. Quite apart from the comparative shortness of wakeful life, our bodily needs leave us little enough time for research. All the productive arts and sciences, argues Husserl, have to progress in this way. But it is just this element of loss in writing that has led to the contemporary crisis in western civilization. We have lost our roots, our sense of where we came from, of how and why our scientific and cultural traditions began. Husserl regards this state of crisis as endemic—it can never be overcome. The intentional states of the founders of our traditions are lost for ever, and there is no returnenquiry (Rückfrage) that could recover them. But if we cannot reactivate the primordial archē of a science in our present age, argues Husserl, we can at least envisage its telos, which is that of a complete system of knowledge, of absolutely transparent and univocal understanding. This is not something that can ever be fully actualized; rather it functions as a infinite ideal. The building up of a science on top of an original formation can be understood as a gradual process of approximation towards this ideal. The actual formation can be understood as an essential element within this process that contributes to its determination. In this regard it is described by Husserl as an ‘Idea in the Kantian sense’. Only efficacious through writing, the ideal of objective and thorough knowledge and the correlative Idea in the Kantian sense may not constitute a knowledge of origins, but they do show that our scientific and cultural objects are not meaningless when recontextualized. In his reading of this text, Derrida seeks to show that certain radical conclusions follow from Husserl’s premisses. These were already touched upon by the latter, but never developed, perhaps because he well understood the problems they would pose for a text that valorized the notion of a unique and transparent origin of geometry and of other traditions in the living present of human consciousness. Derrida is careful to emphasize Husserl’s acute awareness of the significance of language, and of writing in particular. Here we see the first direct articulation of the idea that language is more than a material body that receives an already constituted truth. Contributing to the clarification and systematization of a discovery, it is not a passive receptacle of something given readymade. Constituting ideal objects as definite and repeatable formations, it is a necessary condition of truth, in principle as well as in fact: Husserl insists that truth is not fully objective, i.e, ideal, intelligible for everyone and indefinitely perdurable, as long as it cannot be said and written. Since this perdurability is truth’s very sense, the conditions for its survival are included in its very life… freedom is only possible precisely from the moment truth can in general be said and written, i.e., on condition that this can be done. Paradoxically, the possibility of being written [possibilité graphique] permits the ultimate freeing of ideality…the ability of sense to be linguistically embodied is the only means by which sense becomes nonspatiotemporal.14 This material condition of truth can also jettison what Husserl sees as the original meaning of a truth, its intentional origin. In philosophy and literature, as well as in the natural sciences, Husserl well appreciates the possibilities of loss and misunderstanding brought into play by writing. But what he fails to account for, Derrida goes on to argue, is the possibility of the total loss of a message in the autonomous field of writing. This eventuality is to be distinguished from an empirical catastrophe, such as a worldwide burning of books and defacing of monuments. In this case writing would be materially destroyed and the message consumed. What Derrida is adverting to is the possibility of the complete disappearance of a message in a writing that remains fully intact in the world. The writing that gives life after death to a message can just as well bury that message. As Derrida points out, we can see abundant evidence of this in those prehistoric artefacts and monuments that silently defy all comprehension and translation. That which is the condition of transmission through the ages is not a guarantor of the success of any such transmission. Derrida rejects Husserl’s suggestion that the intentional origin of geometry was unique to one particular person at one time. He maintains that the unpacking of the Idea in the Kantian sense undercuts any such suggestion. This, we may recall, is the notion of an ideal object as an essential element in a process of approximation towards a complete system of objective, univocal knowledge. Derrida’s argument is that a person would have no appreciation of the ideality of geometry without possessing this notion, even if they chanced upon a bare geometrical formation in the empirical world. The proto-geometer could never understand the significance of such formations without some awareness of science, of its ultimate end.15 This awareness would include some of the conditions that a formation would have to fulfill in order to have an essential status in any science. For this reason, the Idea in the Kantian sense is not just the end of geometry—it is its very origin. Anyone who attains to this idea begins in just as original and authentic a fashion as the chronologically first geometer, since it is not specific to any one culture at any one time. Apart from a brute empirical history of ownership and copyrights, Derrida wonders whether we can ever speak of a once-off or unrepeatable origin of geometry. Since the intentional origin of geometry need not be unique to any one factual individual, geometry could in principle have an infinite number of births and birth certificates, each one upstaging its forebears. On this view, it can be difficult to divide intentional acts into ones that are original on the one hand and derivative or parasitic on the other. Perhaps the most important caveat that Derrida has in connection with The Origin of Geometry pertains to Husserl’s suggestion that what is lost in writing was a transparent plenitude in its own time. This is the idea that the proto-geometer was adequately aware in the living present of consciousness of what he or she was about in constituting an ideal formation. The fact that the meaning of an ideal object as an Idea in the Kantian sense is universally accessible, notes Derrida, does not entail that this meaning is adequately given in the present. In fact and in principle, the project within which we understand the ideality and objectivity of a formation cannot be realized in the living present of a human subject. The present meaning is given by virtue of an ideal which is deferred ad infinitum. The sign that gives the object its meaning is the sign of something for ever absent, because the realization of a complete science within which the significance of an ideal object would be transparently intelligible always recedes as we approach it. We can have the empty idea, but not that of which it is the idea. To comprehend the inability of consciousness to reach such an absolute is to comprehend the structural necessity of deferral, delay, or difference. As a structure of infinite anticipation devoid of final fulfilment, the absolute is a limit, a condition of possibility of meaning that cannot be imagined in itself alone. To make it real one would have to be an omnipotent God untrammelled by perspective and distance, eternally comprehending everything within its absolute gaze. The origin of geometry and of objectivities in general lies in a promised land which even the so-called proto-geometer never saw in the living present of consciousness. Even in its own time the past-present was never an undivided plentitude. The meaning of objectivity presupposed something that could never be brought into view. Derrida’s second book, translated as Speech and Phenomena [13.27], was published in 1967. Derrida has described this essay as the one which he likes most, because it raises in a ‘juridicially decisive’ way the ‘privilege of the voice’ as it occurs in western metaphysics in general and in Husserl in particular. He also says that this work can be read as the other side, the recto or verso, of the earlier Introduction ([13.27], 5). In the later work, Derrida focuses his attention on the Husserlian claim that the living present is based on an undivided immediacy of self-consciousness. In the Introduction, Derrida had already argued against the idea that we can ground the meaning of objectivity in an undivided present of consciousness. Now he will argue that this latter notion is a metaphysical illusion in itself. Reflective awareness or subjectivity is also dependent on the representation by the sign of something that cannot be made fully present. In his account of conscious mental life in the Logical Investigations (1900–1), Husserl makes a distinction between a signified meaning that can be fully present to consciousness and one that can be only indirectly present. A meaning of the first type can be described as an expression (Ausdruck). A meaning of the second type is anything conveyed through indication (Anzeichen). In general terms, the world of indication is composed of those signs referring to things outside direct awareness. The function of an indicative sign is that of standing in for something that is completely or partially absent. Although it has its referent or signified, this type of sign is devoid of intrinsic meaning. To be more than an empty bearer or carrier it must be given meaning by a specific intention, though it may not transmit this in its fullness. When I read a book in which the author indicates something to me, for instance, I can grasp that something without intuiting his or her background intention as well as I could intuit an intention of my own. In contrast to derivative indications, expressions are inherently meaningful and fully present to the self. They mean something and they express a meaning. Because an expression effectively includes content and object, it is a sign that almost immediately gives way to the actual thing that it signifies. Every expression can subsequently acquire an indicative function, for example when I communicate it’ to another person via speech. In this case expression is given a phonic material body. It is this vehicle that allows it to enter into the arena of intersubjectivity. I can also communicate through writing, through a graphic material body. This puts expression into the historical field that threatens the perversion and loss of meaning. Writing lacks the immediacy of speech. When I make an utterance I can hear myself speak. I concretely experience and understand an indication that has been permeated by an expression. What I say is present to me, under my intentional control. This immediacy can be lost in writing. When I write something, it can go out beyond my living present. The original immediacy is cast adrift with the indication, and fades into the dead letter on the page. Speech is the only material medium that safeguards the life of expressed intuitions, for it is a reflection of the uncontaminated immediacy of conscious life. This is why thinking is often described as a form of selfaddressed inner speech. In the actual zone of conscious life, however, Husserl does not hold that the solitary mind engages in a silent dialogue with itself. In the interior field of pre-expressive intuition, we can only imagine mercurial messages flitting through the galleries of the transcendental ego. We have no need to communicate anything at this level because our meanings are immediately experienced and understood. Not even the blink of an eye can be held to separate an intention and my intuition of it. In the pure selfrelation of reflective consciousness, the realm of signs is really quite useless (ganz zwecklos). Derrida rejects Husserl’s initial prioritization of speech over writing, which he terms phonocentrism. This privilege of the voice is regarded by Derrida as a metaphysical assumption foreign to the rigour of a thoroughgoing phenomenological philosophy. Derrida points to the fact that Husserl characterizes most conscious intentions as imperfect or unfulfilled. In perception I intend the entire bureau that I am leaning on. Yet it is only partially present to me as a hard and black horizontal surface that I see with my eyes and touch with my elbows. In imagination I intend the cellars of Ludwig of Bavaria’s fairytale castle. These are only present to me in so far as they can be envisaged without acquaintance or description. It is linguistic signs that stand in for these absences. We use these to denote objects and states of affairs that are either indirectly given or not given at all. On this description, signs can operate perfectly well in the complete absence of their object, and indeed this is one of their essential functions. But what about cases where the object, so to speak, is the human subject itself? We have to ask whether propositions with reflexive pronouns are properly meaningful in the absence of the subject that communicates them. Husserl draws back from affirming this. He admits that we can understand the ordinary everyday meaning of a mathematical proposition, for example, quite apart from the circumstances of our use of it. We can read it without thinking of a particular person. But in a statement that uses the word ‘I’, such as ‘I am alive’, Husserl states that we can glean its proper meaning only from the individual intentions that permeate it at the time of its utterance or inscription. If we were to read this statement without knowing who wrote it, says Husserl, it might not be meaningless, but it would be alienated from its normal meaning. According to Derrida, however, such a proposition can and does function normally in the absence of a speaker or writer. ‘I am alive’ retains its normal meaning even when the original subject is dead or fictitious. The meaning borne in the reflexive sign or proposition does not have to be fulfilled by a personal intuition. Language has a life of its own in writing, and there is no good reason to think why the situation is any different in speech. Here also we have to allow for the transmigration of signs that have their own meaning. If the expressed personal intuition that my voice breathes into the sign were to give it its normal meaning, and if this were to stay with the sign, then everyone would have to use my own private language. According to Derrida: The absence of intuition—and therefore of the subject of the intuition—is not only tolerated by speech; it is required by the general structure of signification, when considered in itself. It is radically requisite: the total absence of the subject and object of a statement—the death of the writer and/or the disappearance of the objects he was able to describe—does not prevent a text from ‘meaning’ something. On the contrary, this possibility gives birth to meaning as such, gives it out to be heard and read. ([13.2], 104; [13.27], 93) In the world that we actually find, the meaning of each and every sign is independent of whatever momentary intentional fulfilment the speaking or writing subject may give it. Precisely because he recognizes that language has its own life, Husserl tries to limit normal or proper meaning to the here and now of the speaking subject. Yet this subject, implicated in a living medium not under its control, has to stand like a watchguard over its utterances. We often enunciate a statement and immediately qualify it, aware that our intention does not encounter a neutral container. We hang around so as to catch certain ‘normal’ implications of the sign that we were not sufficiently aware of at the time of speaking or writing. And it could even be argued that writing is better than speaking inasmuch as it focuses the mind and enables greater clarity of expression, though again this is not safeguarded from perversion or loss in either medium. Derrida is not content with exposing phonocentrism as an unjustified prejudice. He wants to show that the conception of an immediate, self-identical consciousness reflected in expression and subsequently cast into an impure world of indication itself falls down. Husserl argues that signs are redundant in the self-relation because we are present to ourselves in an undivided now, though he is very careful to qualify this last idea. This can be seen in a series of lectures which he composed between 1893 and 1917 and later published as On the Phenomenology of the Consciousness of Internal Time in 1928. Husserl here rejects out of hand any recourse to the notion of detached atomic instants of consciousness. Our conscious processes are always ongoing and interconnected, making up a flowing stream. Within this stream every present moment or immediate now of selfconsciousness carries an inheritance from the past (retention) and an anticipation of the future (protention). The past that is held in retention is different from a past that has to be reproduced. Reproduction is the recreation of an event that is completely over, one that lies in the more distant past. It is the reactivation of a dead event and it always involves some vagueness and distortion. Retention is the holding of an immediately lapsed past in the present moment of consciousness. It would be analogous to the hum of a dinner-gong that echoes on in my ears. The present-past of retention avoids the inevitable imperfection of reproduction, because there is no significant temporal lapse between the present moment and the immediately past one that makes up the content of the retention. I have to be conscious of the retentional content in the present moment to be conscious of the latter’s immediacy. This can only be identified when I have an immediate past against which it can be contrasted. As stated above, the present moment also involves a protention. This is an anticipation of the next moment of awareness, the one that will immediately follow the now. Implicit in self-consciousness is the expectation that the now will pass into a new moment within which I shall be just as present to myself as I am in this one. I could of course switch attention, be knocked unconscious or drop dead, but the suspension or cessation of selfconsciousness cannot be experienced or imagined per se. I cannot know what it is like not to be self-aware; since by definition one cannot be cognizant of such a state when one is in it. Barring accidents then, self-consciousness (the ground of human subjectivity) is understood as something ongoing, not as a once-off act. It has an ideal and repeatable character. Every protention is the expression of this understanding, anticipating as it does the repetition of the present moment of self-awareness. Reflective consciousness can be extensive and continuous because each moment contains the ‘about to be’ as well as the ‘just gone’. Through protention and retention, past, present and future are connected in each individual moment of reflective awareness. On Derrida’s reading, Husserl is correct and prescient to recognize that each moment of self-consciousness involves retentions and protentions. But it is this very recognition that opens up a fissure in the claim that the now is something pure, unified and devoid of signification. It has been possible to present the now to consciousness only by setting it against something different, the immediately past now. It has been possible to present it as part of an unbroken unity only by anticipating the moment that will immediately succeed it. Consciousness of the selfsame, the now, always requires consciousness of the other, the not-now. Put another way, that which is different has to be held over and anticipated within the same so as to produce immediacy and continuity, the essential characteristics of a conscious subject. Derrida describes this retentional and protentional process as autoaffection. It constitutes rather than being constituted: ‘This movement of difference is not something that happens to a transcendental subject; it produces a subject. Auto-affection is not a modality of experience that characterizes a being that would already be itself (autos). It produces sameness as self-relation within self-difference; it produces sameness as the nonidentical’ ([13.2], 92; [13.27], 82). Derrida is arguing against the idea of a self-identical now and hence of a primordial and self-contained subjectivity. To be itself the now has to point to moments beyond itself. Because they are actual forms of pointing, retention and protention can effectively be understood as signs of what has lapsed and what is pending. But is this admission of signs into the now of reflective consciousness also an invasion by indication? Taking retention on its own, one could argue that since it perfectly captures the past as it was in its own time, it is a fulfilled or expressive sign. In the case of protention, however, the situation seems different. The pending moment which I point to in the now will in turn point to another moment, and the cessation of this process is unimaginable—it could proceed to infinity. What I point to will never fulfil the present sign, because it will not itself be a selfreferential plenitude. When one comes to look backwards, one sees that the situation was in fact the same. The present moment was itself anticipated in a previous moment, and that moment was also anticipated, right back to a primal moment of reflection that cannot be isolated because there was no antecedent reflection to identify it against. (The antecedent moment would be an unconscious trace hidden from view.) The most recent protention anticipating the immediate now passed over into a retention on the arrival of this present moment, and from this it can be concluded that both protention and retention (one of which collapses into the other) are condemned to an unfulfilled and indicative function. The present moment cannot fulfil that which pointed to it in the past, and the pending moment will not fulfil that which is pointing to it in the present. Difference doubly contaminates the now. It only allows self-presence through a Janus-faced indication of an indefinite past and future. Presence is always already outside of itself, and so on without a definite end. Derrida concludes his reading by adverting to a strangely prophetic passage from the first volume of Husserl’s Ideas (1913). Husserl remembers walking through the Dresden Gallery and seeing a painting by Teniers. This represents a gallery of paintings, each of which represent further paintings in an endless regress. In this passage, as Derrida interprets it, can be glimpsed the fate of phenomenology. This raises the question of whether Husserl in some way reaches deconstruction avant la lettre. In the course of Speech and Phenomena Derrida speaks of Husserl’s ‘admirable’ analysis of internal time consciousness, an analysis which he further characterizes as one of ‘incomparable depth’ ([13.2], 94 n. 1; [13.27], 84 n. 9). It seems strange that Husserl failed to see where this analysis was leading. The explanation, for Derrida, lies in the fact that the idea of unmediated or perfect presence is a pervasive and hidden prejudice carried forward from ancient times. The emphasis on the ‘now’ as an Archimedean point, the ground of immediacy and certainty, is one particular manifestation of this. So powerful is the prejudice that even Husserl, the first to provide the means for its circumscription, none the less remains under its sway. He stands on the very threshold of the deconstruction of the metaphysics of presence. A brief overview of Derrida’s career could well begin with the essays from his formative period in Writing and Difference (1967) [13.3; 13.28]. This collection includes the first article on genesis and structure and also ‘Force and Signification’ and ‘Structure, Sign and Play’, where the earlier analysis can be seen applied to modern structuralism. Whilst agreeing with the structuralist critique of a subjectivity that would be anterior to the world of signs, Derrida sees the general enterprise as misled in its tendency to construct closed sign-systems that are abstracted from time and change, and, having done this, to characterize these as transcendental realities that determine meaning in general. The dream of unearthing foundational structures centred on some fixed theme is a metaphysical illusion which sustains itself only by concealing the dynamic and ongoing process of constitution through which meanings emerge and mutate. The point at which this strategy is made evident is the point at which structuralism’s fabrications begin to tremble and show their cracks. It is here that deconstruction takes its hold. In ‘Violence and Metaphysics’, Derrida engages with the thought of Emmanuel Levinas. Characterizing the history of philosophy since Parmenides as a totalitarian wasteland, Levinas calls for an openness to the experience of the other that lies beyond the dominion of reason, whose logos has always been one of violence and power. The only ethical relationship to this other, or others, is one of infinite responsibility and respect. Whilst greatly admiring the approach of Levinas, Derrida argues that he does not pay due attention to Husserl’s studies of intersubjectivity or to Heidegger’s ‘destruction’ of those forms of thought that proceed from a determinate precomprehension of Being. Derrida also maintains that ordinary language and the philosophical discourse that proceeds from it cannot be escaped in the way that Levinas would like. Since the other can only be revealed through discourse—the opening of peace as well as of war—the attempt to transcend this risks its suppression, which would result in the worst violence. In ‘Freud and the Scene of Writing’, Derrida examines Freud’s metaphor of the mystic writing pad, where the unconscious is likened to a text and the structures and layers of this text compared to forms of writing. This text, Derrida will argue, is a weave of signs based on lost traces which involves intervals spaced out in time just as in the world of conscious awareness. It would be one more ruse of reason to see the unconscious text as embodying primordial truths that could be brought to the surface and transcribed, like an original that is somehow reproduced. Even the most radical of critiques run the danger of confirming presence at a deeper level, and metapsychology is no exception. This theme of covertly reinstating what one seeks to reject recurs throughout the remaining essays and through the later Derrida. Of Grammatology (1967) [13.4; 13.29] is an extended reworking of an article of the same name that Derrida originally published in two parts in 1965. The book incorporates many of the conclusions reached in Speech and Phenomena, and its purpose, according to Derrida, is to make enigmatic the concepts of proximity and of the proper that are included in the concept of presence. The deconstruction of these begins with the deconstruction of consciousness. Derrida explicitly generalizes the concept of the indicative sign to include anything that can possibly appear, whether it is ‘originally’ in consciousness or in the world of sense-experience. All ‘present’ things are internally constituted by variation of phonic and graphic marks or protentions and retentions. The manifest is what it is through being always ready set against irreducible absences. There is never a thing in itself that could come to glow in the luminosity of its own presence. Derrida rejects the belief that a sign or sign-system can eventually fall away before the naked object, like a veil that would drop from our eyes. This is the myth of the transcendental signified, of a terminus to the play of signs somehow outside that play. It recurs in various guises throughout the philosophical tradition, as God, or matter, or absolute knowledge, or the end of history. It remains a myth because it is never realized. In the absence of the transcendental signified we are left with the apparent limitlessness and pervasiveness of the play of signs. In this sense it can be held that everything is writing, with every instantiation of this general writing making up a text. (To give a crude example, the red sky in the morning is a set of signs written on the blank sheet of the sky. This text points to an indeterminate series of other events that will probably include a storm.) All meanings are inscribed in a text and point to other meanings in other texts. The world would be the most general text, though it is never closed or finished. The history of philosophy can be read as a sustained attempt to suppress such a seemingly endless play. The ideal of the transcendental signified, according to Derrida, is the obverse side of logocentrism, which is the affirmation—in whatever form—of a pre-ordained order, of a univocal and proper meaning to all things that merely awaits discovery. Because it poses a threat to the communication of every supposed univocity, graphic writing has traditionally been relegated to the role of a dangerous and accidental supplement, with Rousseau providing the most notable example of such a strategy. Writing has been understood as something subsequent to a pre-given plenitude. But Derrida argues that there is another meaning to supplementarity which has been all but ignored in the philosophical canon. The supplement is also that which is required to make up for a lack. If graphic writing were no longer seen as exterior and accidental, the way would be paved for the recognition of general writing as the weave of differences that inhabit and make possible all forms of presence. It is not by accident that Rousseau conceives of writing as an unhappy mischance, the root of dissemblance and impropriety. Writing has to be suppressed if he is to uphold the logocentric illusion of a prelapsarian state of nature. Rousseau most clearly demonstrates the inevitable violence of metaphysics, which equates propriety with pure presence through the debasement of writing. The year 1972 saw the publication of three further books by Derrida: Margins of Philosophy [13.5; 13.30], Dissemination [13.6; 13.31] and Positions [13.7; 13.32]. Margins is made up of eleven articles written from 1967 on. Most of these are applications of a practice of reading whose theoretical grounding is effectively completed in the second article of the collection, entitled ‘Différance’. This piece can also be read as a summary of the earlier works. Derrida presents différance as the development of Saussure’s insight that in language there are only differences. It is also presented as an outcome of the important Heideggerian notion of ontological difference, the difference between Being and beings considered as such: It is the domination of beings that différance everywhere comes to solicit, in the sense that sollicitare, in old Latin, means to shake as a whole, to make tremble in entirety. Therefore, it is the determination of Being as presence or as beingness that is interrogated by the thought of différance. Such a question could not emerge and be understood unless the difference between Being and beings were somewhere to be broached. First consequence: différance is not. It is not a present being, however excellent, unique, principal, or transcendent. It governs nothing, reigns over nothing, and nowhere exercises any authority. It is not announced by any capital letter. Not only is there no kingdom of différance, but différance instigates the subversion of every kingdom…. Since Being has never had a ‘meaning’, has never been thought or said as such, except by dissimulating itself in beings, then différance, in a certain and very strange way, (is) ‘older’ than the ontological difference or than the truth of Being. ([13.5], 22–3; [13.30], 21–2) Being is not a meaning that commands from a lofty height. It emerges from beings and they from it. In a similar way the intelligible needs the sensible and the natural the cultural. Différance is the productive movement of differing and deferring. Every concept is deferred in signifying a plenitude without realization and differed in gaining identity from that which it is not. Différance is not a concept, but that which makes concepts possible. It is not an essence, for it assumes a different form in each relation and does not exist before these. In the third article, ‘Ousia and Grammē’, Derrida examines a note by Heidegger concerning Aristotle on time. Aristotle first posed the problem of how Being can be determined as presence without determining time as external to substance, and hence as non-present and nonexistent (the no-longer and the not-yet). According to Derrida, Heidegger seriously neglects Aristotle’s investigations. Furthermore, Heidegger’s own critique of ‘vulgar temporality’ succumbs—despite its significance—to the aporia or perplexity outlined by Aristotle. Authentic existence is characterized as primordial temporality and inauthentic existence as derivative temporality. In this opposition of the primordial and the derivative Derrida observes a covert reintroduction of Being as selfpresent substance. ‘The Ends of Man’ addresses the question of humanism, concentrating on Heidegger’s critique of the general ideology. Derrida describes this critique as unsurpassed in the ‘archeological radicalness’ of the questions that it sketches. No metahumanist position can neglect the opening of these questions without being peripheral and secondary ([13.5], 153; [13.30],128). Heidegger wishes to transcend humanism so as to discover the proper essence and dignity of man, his humanitas. He seeks to move towards an understanding of man as an openness to the mystery of Being, one who will shepherd the true meaning of Being in the proximity of the near. Derrida regards this alternative as a subtle variant of traditional humanism. Heidegger’s evocations of the proper and of proximity indicate a logocentric ideal, a real meaning of Being and of the self that can be epiphanically revealed to those who attain to the right attitude. In Dissemination [13.6; 13.31] Derrida writes on Sollers, Mallarmé and Plato. In the best-known essay, ‘Plato’s Pharmacy’, phonocentrism is traced back to the Phaedrus dialogue, where writing is condemned for endangering the truth of the living voice and reinstated as the inscription of eternal law in the soul. Writing is ambiguously characterized as poison and cure, this being its most charitable characterization in the western tradition. The extended preface or ‘Outwork’ to Dissemination attacks the historical conception of the book as the best form of encapsulating authorial intentions in the graphic medium, since it has a definite structure of beginning, expanding and ending. Derrida reactivates his claim that the différance in all conscious activities usurps transparency and mastery in every form of every medium. The book is a concatenation of irreconcilable elements and forces from which meaning is onanistically disseminated or scattered to the four winds. Positions [13.7; 13.32] is a series of interviews held with Derrida so as to clarify his own project and its relationship with other intellectual movements. It can lay claim to being one of the more illuminating introductions to his thinking. According to Derrida, deconstruction is not a simple overturning of traditional philosophical prejudices or ‘violent hierarchies’. It is best conceived as a double gesture of unseating the privileged motifs within texts (speech, nature, spirit, etc.) and then showing how the opposites on which they depend are sited within a subtext or shadow-text. The so-called master text is always haunted by a double that dislocates it rather than destroying it. Différance produces two texts or two ways of looking that are at once together and separate. Glas (1974) [13.8; 13.33] can be interpreted as a rather jarring example of deconstructive work in progress.16 Hegel’s discourses concerning God, law, religion and the family are presented on one side of each page and Jean Genet’s somewhat different treatment of the same topics on the other. Derrida’s running commentary oscillates somewhere between the two. The subtlety of this rather inaccessible performance may lie in showing that the reader always becomes a writer to extract sense. It could also be viewed as a once-off experiment in hyper-Joycean equivocity, for Derrida never again presents a work in this precise format. With Spurs (1978) [13.10; 13.35], Derrida moves to a consideration of sexual difference. He focuses his attention on Nietzsche’s strange denunciation of woman as the nexus of untruth and subversion, which on first sight might appear as one more rendering of Schopenhauer’s misogynism. Derrida draws out of Nietzsche’s cryptic remarks an anticipation of some of the themes in modern feminist criticism, since the latter was never noted for his love of the established order or of traditional conceptions of truth. In The Post Card (1980) [13.12; 13.37], Derrida develops at length the theme—already seen at length in his work on the origin of geometry—of messages that fail to reach their destinations. In the course of readings of Freud, Lacan and Heidegger, he compares general writing to a telecommunications service that is quite capable of suffering hitches and breakdowns. The little postcard that is open to all symbolizes the fragility of meanings always already cast into space and time. Even messages that reach their addressees without too much delay can be misunderstood, whether they come from the subconscious, from the mystical contemplation of being, or from ‘external’ sources. Most of Derrida’s work since the late 1970s has concentrated on literature and its genre distinction with philosophy on the one hand and on matters ethical and political on the other. A good example of the first set of interests can be seen in Parages (‘Regions’) (1986) [13.15], which engages with the work of Maurice Blanchot. Derrida has also written on Ponge, Celan and Joyce. The increased concern with ethics and politics first emerges in The Ear of the Other (1982) [13.1; 13.38], which was based on a colloquium held in Montreal in 1979. Derrida’s remarks emerge out of considerations of the philosophical problems of autobiography and translation. He stresses that whilst différance undercuts authorial mastery and makes every interpretation a misreading, it does not destroy personal responsibility. The fact that statements and writings immediately take on a life of their own is an argument for eternal vigilance. One should at least attempt to foresee possible misinterpretations of one’s works. Though the exercise cannot always succeed, it may minimize certain dangers inherent in inscription. These dangers have been well shown in the use that at least one ideology has made of the work of Nietzsche. We have to proceed as if every part of what we say and write could be taken out of context. Psyché: Inventions de l’autre (‘Psyche: Inventions of the Other’) (1987) [13.17] includes articles on Reconstructive methodology, sexual difference, racism and nuclear deterrence. In ‘Racism’s last word’, written for an itinerant exhibition of art against apartheid, Derrida scrutinizes this very word. Apartheid is the appellation for one of the world’s ultimate forms of racism. It signifies the violence of the talking animal that can make words discriminate rather than discern. Though it claims to represent a state of law derived from a natural or divine right, the day will come when this word will resonate in its own emptiness. Yet the collapse of what it signifies will be credited not just to the triumph of moral standards but to the laws of liberal economics that have come to determine this system as ‘inefficient’. These laws of the market are another standard of calculation to be analysed. In ‘No Apocalypse, Not Now’, Derrida attacks certain consequentialist assumptions in the logic of nuclear deterrence. The leading idea in the nuclear arms race has been that each advance in destructive capability will so impress the opposition as to make catastrophe more unlikely. Derrida notes that this assumes that the ‘best intentions’ would always be ‘correctly interpreted’ by the other side. The seeming success of this strategy has also pleased the military-industrial complex. Expensive contracts can be made without any apparent increase in danger. In the lengthy afterword to Limited Inc. (1988) [13.22; 13.44], the full record of Derrida’s critique of the work of J.L.Austin and exchange with John Searle, Derrida tries to clarify questions concerning the aim and extent of the activity of deconstruction. Derrida states that although the themes of full presence and immediacy have been subjected to deconstruction, he has never argued for an untrammelled free-play of meaning. There can be a relative stability of meaning in texts; the point being made is only that this is not self-sufficient, immutable or indestructible. The double reading revealing a double text shows that the dominant meaning or interpretation of a text cannot live up to all its claims. In undoing conceptual hierarchies deconstruction seeks to achieve a more just balance. It does not suspend or reject the possibility of truth or of communication. With Memoires for Paul de Man (1988) [13.21; 13.43] and Du droit à la philosophie (1990) [13.23], Derrida has included essays concerning the responsibilities and position of the intellectual in the modern or post-Enlightenment world.17 He has maintained that the freedom of the academic world is only an abstract one, since the members of this world are effectively excluded from the fields of ethical and political decision-making. One of the crucial roles of the university in a technocratically managed society, according to Derrida, has been to provide a place where trouble-makers can be properly corralled and the compliant properly funded. As can be imagined, these analyses have not contributed greatly to Derrida’s popularity amongst certain academics. The most intriguing question that the essays in these books have raised—as with much of Derrida’s work over the last few years—is that of the future direction of his project. Whilst his concentration on ethics and politics could be read as the unfolding of the hitherto unseen and positive aspects of deconstructive practice, it does not involve a clear advance on the theoretical groundwork already sketched in the 1960s. Furthermore, Derrida has not spoken of any departure from or revision of the existing body of texts. All the comments he has made on his work have been more or less explanatory in nature. It remains to be seen what new paths may be opened in the future by this most controversial of modern thinkers. Timothy Mooney NOTES 1 This section reworks certain arguments from the opening sections of The Ethics of Deconstruction: Derrida and Levinas [13.73]. 2 This formulation implies, of course, a certain delusion on Rousseau’s part, namely that he did not mean to say what he actually said and that what he actually meant to say is in contradiction with what is said in his text. Such a line of thought recalls Paul de Man’s objections to Derrida in ‘The Rhetoric of Blindness: Jacques Derrida’s Reading of Rousseau’, in Blindness and Insight: Essays in the Rhetoric of Contemporary Criticism, 2nd edn (London: Methuen, 1983), pp. 102–41, where de Man goes so far as to claim that ‘Rousseau’s text has no blind spots’ (p. 139). Consequently, ‘there is no need to deconstruct Rousseau’ (ibid.). However, de Man continues, there is a profound need to deconstruct the established tradition of Rousseau interpretation which has systematically misread his texts. Thus, although de Man claims that Derrida is Rousseau’s ‘best modern interpreter’ (p. 135), one who has restored ‘the complexities of reading to the dignity of a philosophical question’ (p. 110), Derrida is still blind to the necessarily ambivalent status of Rousseau’s literary language (p. 136). Derrida fails to read Rousseau as literature. Of Grammatology is therefore an exemplary case of de Man’s thesis on the necessary interaction of blindness and insight in the language of criticism. In defence of Derrida, let me briefly say that despite de Man’s many insights, his blindness to Of Grammatology consists in the fact that he reads the latter as a critique of Rousseau and not as a double reading. Derrida is no more speaking against Rousseau than he is speaking for him. Indeed, one might go so far as to say that the proper name ‘Rousseau’, whose texts Derrida comments upon, simply signifies the dominant interpretation (or, for de Man, misreading) of Rousseau; that of the ‘époque de Rousseau’ ([13.4], 145; [13.29], 97), an interpretation that sees Rousseau simply as a philosopher of presence, and which ascribes to him the fiction of logocentrism, a fiction that extends even to modern anthropologists like Lévi-Strauss, whose structuralism, it must be remembered, is Derrida’s real target for so much of part two of Of Grammatology. 3 J.Searle, ‘Reiterating the Differences: A Reply to Derrida’, Glyph, 2 (1977): 203. 4 J.Habermas, The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity, trans. F.Lawrence (Oxford: Polity Press, 1987), pp. 185–210. 5 Cf. Heidegger, Sein und Zeit, 15th edn (Tübingen: Max Niemeyer, 1984), p. 26, trans. J.Macquarrie and E.Robinson as Being and Time (Oxford: Blackwell, 1962), p. 49. 6 Cf. Heidegger, Zur Sache des Denkens (Tübingen: Max Niemeyer, 1969), p. 9, trans. J.Stambaugh as Time and Being (New York: Harper & Row, 1972), p. 9. 7 R.Kearney, Dialogues with Contemporary Continental Thinkers (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1984), 124. 8 Cf. E.Levinas, ‘Transcendence et hauteur’, Bulletin de la Société Française de la Philosophie, 56:3 (1962):92. 9 R.Gasché [13.61], 101. 10 Dialogues with Contemporary Continental Thinkers, 108. 11 For a detailed discussion of closure in Derrida, see ‘The Problem of Closure in Derrida’, in [13.73], 59–106. 12 J.Derrida, ‘Ponctuations: Le Temps de la thèse’, in Du droit à la philosophie [13.23], 444, trans. K.McLoughlin, ‘The Time of a Thesis: Punctuations’, in A.Montefiore (ed.), Philosophy in France Today (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983), p. 38. 13 Ibid., p. 446, trans. pp. 39–40. 14 Derrida, Introduction à l’origine de la géométrie par Edmund Husserl [13.1], trans. [13.26], 90. For a detailed outline of Derrida’s Introduction and its influence on his later work see R.Bernet, ‘On Derrida’s “Introduction” to Husserl’s Origin of Geometry’ in J.Silverman (ed.) [13.70], 139–53. 15 Neither Derrida nor Husserl would ever deny the bare logical objectivity of a geometrical truth, that the three angles of a triangle make up two right-angles in two-dimensional space, for example. What they are claiming is that a particular objectivity is only philosophically significant when set within a wider context. For a more detailed explanation of this claim, see the Introduction, pp. 31–3 (trans. pp. 47–8). 16 Leavey has provided a concordance of references to Hegel in his Glassary (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1986). SELECT BIBLIOGRAPHY The most exhaustive bibliography on the publications of Derrick is by A.Leventure, ‘A Jacques Derrida Bibliography: 1962–1990’, Textual Practice, 5:1 (spring 1991). Reprinted in amended form in D.Wood, Derrida: A Critical Reader. Another useful bibliography is by J.P.Leavey Jr and D.Allison, ‘A Derrida Bibliography’, Research in Phenomenology, 8 (1978):145–60. Also useful is the list given by P.Kamuf (ed.) in A Derrida Reader: Between the Blinds (New York and London: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1991). Many of Derrida’s articles have been published several times in French and English in a bewildering variety of books and journals. I have confined the following list to his published books. Primary texts 13.1 Introduction à l’origine de la géométrie par Edmund Husserl, Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1962. 13.2 La Voix et le phénomène: Introduction au problème du signe dans la phénoménologie de Husserl, Paris: Presses Universitaries de France, 1967. 13.3 L’Ecriture et la différence, Paris: Editions du Seuil, 1967. 13.4 De la grammatologie, Paris: Editions de Minuit, 1967. 13.5 Marges de la philosophie, Paris: Editions de Minuit, 1972. 13.6 La Dissémination, Paris: Editions du Seuil, 1972. 13.7 Positions, Paris: Editions de Minuit, 1972. 13.8 Glas, Paris: Editions Galilée, 1974. 13.9 L’Archéologie du frivole: Lire Condillac, Paris: Denoël-Gonthier, 1976. 13.10 Eperons: Les Styles de Nietzsche, Paris: Aubier-Flammarion, 1978. 13.11 La Vérité en peinture, Paris: Aubier-Flammarion, 1978. 13.12 La Carte postale: De Socrate à Freud et au-delà, Paris: Aubier-Flammarion, 1980. 13.13 L’Oreille de l’autre: Otobiographies, transferts, traductions: Textes et débats avec Jacques Derrida, ed. C.Levesque and C.V.McDonald, Montreal: VLB Editions, 1982. 13.14 D’un ton apocalyptique adopté naguère en philosophie, Paris: Editions Galilée, 1983. 13.15 Parages, Paris: Editions Galilée, 1986. (A collection of essays translated in several English language texts.) 13.16 Schibboleth, pour Paul Celan, Paris: Editions Galilée, 1986. 13.17 Psyché: Inventions de l’autre, Paris: Editions Galilée, 1987. [A collection of essays translated in several English language texts.] 13.18 De l’esprit: Heidegger et la question, Paris: Editions Galilée, 1987. 17 Derrida’s comments on the modern university clearly display the influence of Heidegger, as he would be the first to admit. An interesting comparison can be made between this aspect of Derrida’s work and the more recent writings of the Austro-American philosopher Paul Feyerabend. In particular see the latter’s Farewell to Reason (London and New York: Verso, 1987). 13.19 Ulysse Gramophone: Deux mots pour Joyce, Paris: Editions Galilée, 1987. [Two essays translated in separate English language texts.] 13.20 Signéponge, Paris: Editions du Seuil, 1988. 13.21 Mémoires pour Paul de Man, Paris: Editions Galilée, 1988. 13.22 Limited Inc. Paris: Editions Galilée, 1990. 13.23 Du droit à la philosophie, Paris: Editions Galilée, 1990. [A collection of essays translated in several English language texts.] 13.24 Le Problème de la genèse dans la. philosophie de Husserl, Paris: Presses Universitaries de France, 1990. [A printing of Derrida’s master’s thesis.] 13.25 L’Autre Cap, Paris: Editions de Minuit, 1991. Translations 13.26 Edmund Husserl’s Origin of Geometry: An Introduction, trans. J.P.Leavey, Jr, Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1989, rev. edn. 13.27 Speech and Phenomena and Other Essays on Husserl’s Theory of Signs, trans. D.B.Allison, Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1973. 13.28 Writing and Difference, trans. A.Bass, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978. 13.29 Of Grammatology, trans. G.C.Spivak, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1975. 13.30 Margins of Philosophy, trans. A.Bass, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982. 13.31 Dissemination, trans. B.Johnson, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981. 13.32 Positions, trans. A.Bass, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982. 13.33 Glas, trans. J.P.Leavey, Jr, and R.Rand, Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1986. 13.34 The Archeology of the Frivolous: Reading Condillac, trans. J.P.Leavey, Jr, Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1987. 13.35 Spurs/Eperons, trans. B.Harlow, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979, bilingual edn. 13.36 The Truth in Painting, trans. G.Bennington and I.McLeod, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987. 13.37 The Post Card: From Socrates to Freud and Beyond, trans. A.Bass, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987. 13.38 The Ear of the Other: Otobiography, Transference, Translation: Texts and Discussions with Jacques Derrida, trans. P.Kamuf and A.Ronell, Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1988, rev. edn. 13.39 ‘Of an Apocalyptic Tone Recently Adopted in Philosophy’, trans. J.P. Leavey, Jr, The Oxford Literary Review, 6:2 (1984):3–37. 13.40 ‘Shibboleth’, trans. J.Wilner, in S.Budick and G.Hartman (eds), Midrash and Literature, New Haven; Yale University Press, 1986, pp. 307–47. 13.41 Of Spirit: Heidegger and the Question, trans. G.Bennington and R.Bowlby, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989. 13.42 Signéponge/Signsponge, trans. R.Rand, New York: Columbia University Press, 1984, bilingual edn. 13.43 Memoires for Paul de Man, trans. E.Cadava, J.Culler, P.Kamuf, and S. Lindsay, New York: Columbia University Press, 1989, rev. edn. 13.44 Limited Inc., ed. G.Graff and trans. J.Mehlmann and S.Weber, Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1988. 13.45 The Other Heading: Reflections on Today’s Europe, trans. P.-A.Brault and M.G.Naas, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1992. 13.46 Acts of Literature, trans. D.Attridge, London: Routledge, 1992. [A collection of essays by Derrida from several sources.] Criticism: introductory works 13.47 Atkins, D.G. ‘The Sign as a Structure of Difference: Derridean Deconstruction and Some of Its Implications’, in R.De George (ed.), Semiotic Themes, Lawrence: University of Kansas Press, 1981, pp. 133–47. 13.48 Cascardi, A.J. ‘Skepticism and Deconstruction’, Philosophy of Literature, 8:1 (1984):1–14. 13.49 Cousins, M. ‘The Logic of Deconstruction’, The Oxford Literary Review, 3:2 (1978):70–7. 13.50 Descombes, V. Modern French Philosophy, trans. J.Harding and L.Scott-Fox, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980. 13.51 Eldridge, R. ‘Deconstruction and its Alternatives’, Man and World, 18 (1985):147– 70. 13.52 Gasché, R. ‘Deconstruction as Criticism’, Glyph, 7 (1979):177–216. 13.53 Hoy, D.C. ‘Deciding Derrida: On the Work (and Play) of the French Philosopher’, London Review of Books 4:3:3–5. 13.54 Kearney, R. Modern Movements in European Philosophy, Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1986. 13.55 Norris, C. Deconstruction: Theory and Practice, New York and London: Methuen, 1982. 13.56 Norris, C. Derrida, London: Fontana, 1987. 13.57 Rorty, R. ‘Philosophy as a Kind of Writing: An Essay on Derrida’, in Consequences of Pragmatism, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1982, pp. 89–109. 13.58 Wood, D. ‘An Introduction to Derrida’, Radical Philosophy, 21 (1979): 18–28. Criticism: more detailed works 13.59 Caputo, J.D. Radical Hermeneutics: Repetition, Deconstruction, and the Hermeneutic Project, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987. 13.60 Culler, J. On Deconstruction: Theory and Criticism after Structuralism, Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1982. 13.61 Gasché, R. The Tain of the Mirror: Derrida. and the Philosophy of Reflection, Cambridge, Mass, and London: Harvard University Press, 1986. 13.62 Giovannangeli, D. Ecriture et repetition: Approche de Derrida, Paris: Union Générale d’Editions, 1979. 13.63 Hartman, G. Saving the Text: Philosophy/Derrida/Literature, Baltimore, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1982. 13.64 Harvey, I. Derrida and the Economy of Difference, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1986. 13.65 Kofman, S. Lectures de Derrida, Paris: Editions Galilée, 1984. 13.66 Llewelyn, J. Derrida on the Threshold of Sense, London: Macmillan, 1986. 13.67 Melville, S. Philosophy Beside Itself: On Deconstruction and Modernism, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1986. 13.68 Sallis, J. (ed.) Deconstruction and Philosophy: The Texts of Jacques Derrida, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987. 13.69 Silverman, H.J. (ed.) Hermeneutics and Deconstruction, Albany: State University of New York Press, 1985. 13.70 Silverman, H.J. (ed.) Derrida and Deconstruction, New York and London: Routledge, 1989. 13.71 Wood, D. and Bernasconi, R. (eds) Derrida and ‘Différance’, Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1988. Criticism: critical and comparative works 13.72 Altizer, T.J. et al. Deconstruction and Theology, New York: Seabury Crossroads, 1982. 13.73 Critchley, S. The Ethics of Deconstruction: Derrida and Levinas, Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1992. 13.74 Dasenbrock, R.W. (ed.) Redrawing the Lines: Analytic Philosophy, Deconstruction, and Literary Theory, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1989. 13.75 Dews, P. Logics of Disintegration: Post-structuralist Thought and the Claims of Critical Theory, New York and London: Verso, 1987. 13.76 Evans, J.C. Strategies of Deconstruction: Derrida and the Myth of the Voice, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1991. 13.77 Ferry, L. and Renaut, A. French Philosophy of the Sixties: An Essay on Antihumanism, trans. M.H.S.Cattani, Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1990. 13.78 Frank. M. What is Neostructuralism?, trans. R.Grey and S.Wilke, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1989. 13.79 Greisch, J. Herméneutique et grammatologie, Paris: Editions du CNRS, 1977. 13.80 Lacoue-Labarthe, P. and Nancy, J.L. (eds) Les Fins de l’homme: a partir du travail de Jacques Derrida, Paris: Editions Galilée, 1981. 13.81 Michelfelder, D. and Palmer, R. (eds) Dialogue and Deconstruction: The Gadamer-Derrida Encounter, Albany: State University of New York Press, 1989. 13.82 Rapaport, H. Heidegger and Derrida: Reflections on Time and Language, Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1989. 13.83 Rose, G. Dialectic of Nihilism: Post-Structuralism and Law, Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1984. 13.84 Ryan, M. Marxism and Deconstruction: A Critical Articulation, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1982. 13.85 Staten, H. Wittgenstein and Derrida, Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press 1984. 13.86 Wood, D. (ed.) Derrida: A Critical Reader, Oxford, Blackwell, 1992.
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