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The Principles Of Derridas Deconstruction

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Philosophy
Wordcount: 4117 words Published: 1st May 2017

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Derridas deconstruction begins identifying a disjuncture in discursive use of language. When the principle of absolute identity or fixity is sustained as a ground for any form of philosophical inquiry, made possible by the use of language, a particular discourse can present itself as necessary truths, not merely as contingent. This is done to showcase an independent, pure reality, of the presence of things, beings, the subjects of a particular discourse. . However, once a possibility of contamination and unfixity in any one element within a discourse is recognized and accepted, a paradox (aporia) will be exposed and remain within the understanding of a discursive object.- in an example of Deconstruction I will refer to – the deconstruction of the speech-writing dichotomy.

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For Derrida, no discourse can convincingly claim the fixity of identity or consistency once we accept the fact that we are working with language and linguistic signs which functions on a linguistic system constructed differentially out of its relationship with other signs. By marking the gap and the limits of a particular limit through a ‘deconstructive’ gesture such as a close reading of a text, Derrida aims to destabilize and the scope of a text and inscribe the limit of the a metaphysical mode of thinking – ‘metaphysics of presence’ in philosophical traditions – a ‘logocentrism’ within philosophy.

For Derrida, philosophy has created a system of concepts centred on implicit privileging of presence, similar to what Heidegger claims of the primacy of ‘onto-theology’ in philosophy. Philosophy and the ‘theology of Being’ inscribed within it, grounds its enterprise on an absolute, a centre, an essence. This provides philosophical discourse an unconditional first cause – God, Soul, Atman, Consciousness ,Transcendental Ego. Philosophy in the tradition of Plato right up to Heidegger, affirms this exteriority outside through a false conception of language – in which a linguistic sign transparently mediates the transcendental / external world and the self. [1] Because of this, Derrida claims that language becomes a proxy of a philosophal discourse’s ‘metaphysics of presence’ by affirming and signifying this essence as the external ground for itself..

(I) Differance , trace, and the play of linguistic signifiers

To counter the pervasiveness of the ‘metaphysics of presence’ in Western Philosophy – Derrida uses the neologism ‘Differance’ – a playful combination of ‘differ’ and ‘to defer’, to demonstrate that the meaning of a linguistic sign is the simultaneous operation of distinction and temporality. This demonstration is to show that any meaning constructed in language is not fixed but ‘disseminated’ and cannot be located within a specific core or essence. Differance, also, however paradoxically, provides the conditions of the possibility of meaning of a linguistic sign possible.

Differance can also be transposed, through the concept of ‘trace’. In Of Grammatology, Derrida critiques Husserl’s trancendental-phenomenological presupposition of a pure presence of the moment – a moment which is pure and complete, independent from all other moments that appears itself in consciousness. In the idea of ‘trace’, Derrida shows that consciousness always contain things that are retained from previous moments, therefore a moment cannot consist of other moments separate or independent of itself. [2] Trace therefore exposes the absence of a independent, full presence that consciousness can conceive of its meaning. [3] As meaning is differential and also a process of referral from term to term, each linguistic signifier has its meaning only through its difference from other signifiers. Meaning is constituted by a network of traces are mutually implicated in one another. It is in this sense Derrida rejects the Sassaurean conception of language – constituted of linguistic signs that corresponds to the relationship between the signifier and signified. For Derrida, language is a matter of play between identity and difference within an infinite chain of signifiers.

Differance therefore precludes the stability of any linguistic referents – as a result there is no external referent to language that language itself can approach for verification. Philosophy, with its medium of language, does not then, Derrida claims, represent a stable Being, presence or reality, more accurately than literature and other forms of linguistic expression. This presents the philosopher with the inescapability of prejudices, intentions and presuppositions presenting multiple ways to describe or proscribe. which cannot be subjected to an ‘objective’ referent – truth, or essence – for the linguistic (thus, metaphysical) accuracy of any philosophical expression. Therefore, for Derrida, all attempts to refer to reality are already structured in advance by the workings of our language – even one’s self is constituted by the language and language-constituting discourses that preexists the self.

(ii) Derrida’s deconstruction of speech over writing

Derrida’s deconstructive project questions the primacy of a ‘transparent’ language and a ‘rationality’ that corresponds and addresses philosophical truths by denying the assumption that language conforms to a rational order (that can be apprehended by the cogito) of some external reality apart from human interpretation of various phenomena. For Saussure any linguistic expression is constituted by binary-oppositions for its meaning.

Speech and writing – the binary forms of language has been, in the history of Western philosophy has been marked by the hierarchy that priviledges speech over writing because speech, is always marked by the presence of the speaker. The speaker, signifying immediacy – has been elevated and identified with the presence of Truth. This relation of immediacy and presence of Truth establishes the superiority of speech over writing, in which Truth is obscured in the absence of a speaker. [4] Derrida notices that speech/presence and writing/absence form binary opposites in which truth-seeking discourse maintains itself my suppressing writing over speech. This privileging of speech, or a ‘metaphysics of presence’ accords speech a higher, more primary ‘value’ as bearing truth-immediacy.

In Derrida’s Of Grammatology, language, the mark of the social that demarcates sociality from mere constituents of nature, Rousseau, claims, language in the form of writing that destroys ‘presence’ actually reveals language’s’ inability to render absolute presence. [5] As Derrida understands Rousseau, writing becomes the auxillary of speech, a supplement that usurps the place of speech by ‘forgetting’ its mere vicarious role (correspondence to a referent) by making itself ‘pass for the plenitude of speech whose deficiency and infirmity it nevertheless only supplements’. [6] Rousseau, in trying to disestablish the mediative role language plays between presence and absence, however, for Derrida, is an inescapable fact. The ‘silent play’ of difference serves as the conditions of both signs and phonemes in a linguistic system, without it, language would be impossible, Derrida claims. [7] Writing differs from speech in that it neither presupposes the presence of Being, or of its transparency towards Being. Writing becomes a interpretative exercise enmeshed in a play of interpretations that takes primacy over speech. Since the differentiation of a linguistic sign preceded speech, Derrida gives writing a certain primacy over speech. In the non-transparence of presence in language, every representation is a continual play between absence and presence and any representation does not exceed the phenomena it is purported to signify.

As such, Derrida concludes that it is merely impossible to take language, as the ‘venue’ and means of philosophy, in the hopes of making transparent the relationship between the linguistic signified and signifier. [8] Derrida takes this claim a step further to challenge the idea that linguistic signifiers can convey a picture of an ‘extratextual’ reality – thus shrugging of philosophy’s metaphysical claims that implicitly point towards an ‘extratextual’, transcendent truth.. There is nothing outside the text that linguistic signifiers point towards – hence ‘there is nothing outside the text’- language constructs our world, and that ‘there is nothing outside the text. This slogan can be read also in another way, that the locus of purview of the texts can be cast to include all manner of human actions and interventions, thus disrupting the supposed dichotomy between text and non-text. Therefore, every human action and intervention action, every social relation and differential power relation, every ethico-politcal action belongs to ‘text’. However, before embracing the inclusivism of text, one needs to consider even if the pereceived world signified by language exhibit the structure of text, the relations between objects in the world might not necessarily possess the relations of the linguistic type.

(iii) What Deconstruction is not/ the limits of deconstruction

Deconstruction, in pointing out that every binary opposition is already in deconstruction, cannot then point towards any binary pair that can be seen according to an absolute difference in the system of linguistic signs. A binary – on which includes an implicit hierarchical relationship between respective binary-terms (p,41), [9] is not governed by a ‘neutral’ difference inscribed in linguistic rules, but always of a ‘violent, imposed, hierarchy’. [10] 

As has been shown, deconstruction is not a general method of reading texts, or interpretation can can be implemented from ‘outside’ a given text. One can, only possibly think then, perhaps, that deconstruction is somehow a modal predicate, a certain process of causation whereby deconstruction is the cause of the disruption of a binary opposition in linguistic signification. However, Deconstruction helps us illuminate the unfixity of inside/outside relations – of any metaphysical limits. Perhaps, it makes sense to say that limits are already ‘in deconstruction’. This corresponds, as Derrida had said earlier, that

‘Deconstruction takes place as an event that does not await the deliberation, consciousness, or organization of a subject, or even of modernity. It deconstructs it-self. It can be deconstructed [Ça se déconstruit]’ [11] 

Perhaps, then, nothing can exist outside its contexts – no existence outside it. Yet, a context itself consists of the possbility of non-closure: a context itself contains an internal logic of closure in which dictates what bounds, frames, encloses and determines any context. This trope necessarily exceeds context. Can a condition and limits of a context ever be determinable? Deconstruction acknowledges boundaries and limits, only to show the subversive ways in which they are called into question – what is now taken to be marginal and supplementary now becomes ‘central’.

What Deconstruction is not, then, a principled method, an ethical generality, an attitude of nonconformity. Deconstruction is not a ‘critique’ in an epistemic sense, aiming to lead discourse closer to truth by aleatoric gestures, or performing a discursive operation. Again, this characterisation of deconstruction is not to affirm deconstruction of its ontological necessity by way of negative statements about it (a negative metaphysics). Deconstruction is not to question the traditional assumptions of philosophy from another ‘more complete’ or ‘accurate’ philosophical system – an outside that can be conclusively identified, reducible to an ‘essence’. Deconstructive thinking occurs as the disruption and interruption that establishes the outside from the inside. Deconstruction to be distinguished from analysis: which presupposes reduction of entities to simple, ‘essential’ elements would stand in need of deconstruction: deconstruction is not ‘critique’ in the Kantian sense. [12] Deconstruction would affirm that any deconstructive gestures can also take a posture of metaphysical ‘closure’ – ‘the double refusal of both remaining within the limits of (linguistic) tradition and of the possibility of transgressing that very limit’. [13] 

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This logic corresponds to the idea that Deconstruction halts every ‘existential signifier’ by questioning the impossibility of positing every ‘is’, a refusal to affirm any presence of any thing that might be taken to affirm a thing’s albeit obscure, essential quality. Deconstruction consists of ‘deconstructing’, is to ‘put out of joint’, [14] Derrida claims, the authority of existential quantifiers. By not actually positing existential qualifiers such as these it may thus illuminate and unsettle what has been taken as a given in logocentric discourse, an unchanging identity, fixatedness of concepts such as justice and politics, or truth itself. All affirmations of the type deconstruction is X is to miss the point that deconstruction is not reducible to any essential feature.

(iv) Deconstruction and aporetic thinking

As shown earlier, the binary of speech and writing can only be made understandable by a logical contradiction: an aporia. This aporetic moment can be shown only by seeing the speech and writing as opposites and takes the form of something that cannot be explained through standard syllogistic logic. What constitutes a deconstructive gesture therefore, begins with the encounter with an aporia. In this case such encounter can be ‘deconstructive’, but it does not, as binary logic does, rule out that deconstruction can be made also philosophical, political and ethical at the same time.

Deconstruction becomes the impossible condition of possibility of opposition, such as the opposition of speech over writing in which Derrida, in showing that when writing comes before speech, inverting the traditional Platonic hierarchy of speech over writing, the liberates the concept of writing from the occlusion and oppression, in traditional linguistic systems, of how it can be read as the origin of speech. In accepting the dismantling of the binary distinction of speech over writing, one no longer uses the term ‘writing’ in the sense of adhering to the conceptual limits that provides ‘writing’ a certain meaning from within the linguistic structure of an opposition. A realization that a ‘new’ concept of writing needs to be actualized, even if it is not specifically a ‘concept’ in a traditional sense employed in a previous linguistic regime (that marks its limits and temporal boundaries )- an impossible condition but a condition of possibility of understanding. As Derrida states

which is not really a ‘concept’ at all inasmuch as the very concept of a concept depends on an idea of difference-as-presence, allowing one to say of something that ‘it’ is. ‘By means of this double, and precisely stratified, dislodged and dislodging, writing, we must also mark the interval between inversion, which brings low what was high, and the irruptive emergence of a new “concept,” a concept that can no longer be, and never could be, included in the previous regime’ . [15] 

(v) Ethical-political responsibilities of Deconstruction

Derrida, in deconstruction, therefore does not reduce texts to absurdities – he seeks to expose the irreducible undecidable internal tensions and aporias that can negate all certainty imposed in the quest of epistemic certitude that affirms an apprehending subject. Deconstruction opposes syllogistic logic and adopts both/and approaches, where we seek to uncover heterogeneities when there is settled synthesis. At heart of what we take to be the same, then, is already otherness and difference. Therefore, what is dominant – the logic of the same, is deeply imperialistic as discursively violent since we cannot do justice to the Other, and the otherness that actually lies within the same as one cannot exhaustively establish metaphysical boundaries that separates the self and the other, internality from exteriority. Negating absoluteness and thereby positing ultimate limits to contain the ‘purity’, or essentiability of an object – deconstruction questions our ability to render an absolute distinction between logic and rhetoric, philosophy and literature, theory and practice, ethical and non-ethical actions. To side with one is an act of undecidability, without recourse to an ultimate precedent. This decision in undecidability, even constitutive of it – a condition of possibility – is one of many ethical aporias beings traverse.

By not recognizing the internal limits immutable posited in order to secure a discourse – ethics, politics and philosophy intertwine with each other, so too does subjectivity, the Other and community. Any ethical or political action thus includes the responsibility of facing up to an indeterminate other when the violence of institutional categorization (implicit in discourse) is exposed through deconstruction. Deconstruction can be seen as an openness towards an Other of discourse, disrupting any totalizing -centrisms to name a few: phonocentrism, ethnocentrism, or phallagocentrism. In fact,this amorphous responsibility to an indeterminate Other, is the ultimate ethical act when compared to dominant ethical paradigms that the right action can be merely ‘read off’ a suitable ethical theory or a categorical duty legislated to oneself; as these pregiven injunctions on how to act relinquishes a certain part of moral responsibility constitutive of agency. As Derrida mentions:

” a decision that comes into being only in a scheme that exceeds the calculable program that would destroy all responsibility… [there] can be no moral or political responsibility without this trial and passage by way of the undecidable” [16] 

In the ethical implications of the ‘play of presence and absence’, there lies the question of how do we attend to our normal ethical responsiblities while not attending to the different, innumerable, Other who, perhaps, have no formal claim to ethical attention and assistance because they are not representable within discursive/linguistic means – provides an irreducible aporia if we were to take an ontology of difference seriously. As expressed earlier, deconstruction acknowledges boundaries and limits, but only to show the subversive ways in which they are called into question – what is now taken to be peripheral and supplementary now becomes ‘central’, giving recognition to what was previously suppressed, or that cannot be represented in any discursive or ethical order.

(vi) Deconstruction and Hermeneutics

By situating Derrida in dialogue with Gadamer’s hermeneutics, I believe that we can illuminate how hermeneutics can serve as a propaedeutic to deconstruction. The pervasiveness, then, of differance, provides the impetus of deconstruction to address a pathology: the relentless desire of the cogito or traditions in thinking that desires coherence, unity and harmony. Derrida himself, have been a critic of the ‘metaphysics of presence’, but paradoxically, he is as insistent that it is, for us, impossible to abandon, or ‘escape’ from metaphysics. Deconstruction uses the very metaphysics and linguistic resources it seeks to deconstruct., not stepping out of our historical horizons.

In this case Deconstruction echoes the message that Hermeneuticists have been pondering – that we are always already interpreting from our own historical traditions in which differance is serves as ontological understanding that within a specific linguistic game. An implicit claim is textual meaning always suppresses alternative meanings, an Other. In Derrida, a text has many different potential meanings not brought to fore – while in Gadamer, textual meanings are inexhaustible. [17] In understanding, Derrida seeks to find the trace of the Other embedded in the instrinsic violence of dominant meanings. This is also an iterative process – Deconstruction does not stop where it has identiified an oppressed Other, in identifying any conception of justice it will always suppress other meanings. Justice contains therefore, the trace of the Other suppressed, an injustice. [18] 

In Hermeneutics, interpretation begins from one’s ungrounded horizon – a hermeneutic situation in which we cannot escape our metaphysics embedded in our linguitic resources. Gadamer supplants Derrida’s skepticism of the violence of our pre-understanding and prejudices by telling us that prejudices not only opens us to the possibility of understanding the Other embedded in our discourses – bringing to fore Deconstruction’s normative understanding.

vii) Conclusion

Deconstruction, as we have seen, is not a principled method of textual analysis that disempowers discourses to mere ungrounded and unstable network of signifiers, ad infinitum. Deconstructive moments serves first to identify the binary opposites that undergird all metaphysical discourse implict in language – and dismantle it; second, mark the anxiety that comes with the instability of linguistic references, and third, reveal the limits of a discouse that presupposes a certain metaphysics. In Deconstruction, one brings about the possibility of an ethical responsibility constitutive of agency in the form of identfying the Other, and the Other within oneself.


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