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← 10. Deconstruction I

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Showing Revision 1 created 09/30/2012 by Amara Bot.

  1. Prof: So anyway,
    to get launched on today's
  2. topic, obviously we confront one
    of the more formidable figures
  3. on our syllabus,
    a person who recently passed
  4. away and who in his last years
    and into the present has had a
  5. kind of second life as a person
    who in his later work didn't at
  6. all repudiate his earlier
    thoughts or indeed his earlier
  7. style,
    but nevertheless did begin to
  8. apply central aspects of his
    thinking to ethical and
  9. political issues.
  10. He and a number of other
    writers like,
  11. for example,
    the Italian philosopher Giorgio
  12. Agamben,
    are the figures whom we
  13. identify with what's called
    "the ethical turn"
  14. in thinking about texts,
    literature and other matters
  15. that is very much of the current
    moment.
  16. Hence Derrida's reputation and
    the tendency of people
  17. interested in theory to read him
    is alive and well today,
  18. but the materials that we are
    reading for this sequence of
  19. lectures date back much earlier.
  20. The essay that you read in its
    entirety for today,
  21. "Structure,
    Sign and Play in the Language
  22. of the Human Sciences,"
    was delivered on the occasion
  23. of a conference about "the
    sciences of man"
  24. at Johns Hopkins University in
    1966.
  25. It was an event that was really
    meant to be a kind of coronation
  26. of Claude Levi-Strauss,
    whose work had burst upon the
  27. American scene only a few years
    earlier.
  28. Levi-Strauss was there.
  29. He gave a talk,
    he was in the audience,
  30. and Derrida's essay was widely
    taken--
  31. far from being a coronation of
    Levi-Strauss--
  32. as a kind of dethroning of
    Levi-Strauss.
  33. I have to tell you that
    Levi-Strauss,
  34. who is still alive,
    a very old man,
  35. expresses great bitterness in
    his old age about what he takes
  36. to be the displacement of the
    importance of his own work by
  37. what happened subsequently.
  38. What happened subsequently can,
    I think, be traced to Derrida's
  39. lecture.
  40. One of the million
    complications of thinking about
  41. this lecture and about Derrida's
    work in general--
  42. and, for that matter,
    about deconstruction--
  43. is indeed to what extent it
    really is a significant
  44. departure from the work of
    structuralism.
  45. There is a self-consciousness
    in the thinking about structure
  46. that we find in many places in
    Levi-Strauss that Derrida freely
  47. acknowledges in his essay.
  48. Again and again and again he
    quotes Levi-Strauss in
  49. confirmation of his own
    arguments,
  50. only then in a way to turn on
    him by pointing out that there
  51. is something even in what he's
    saying there that he hasn't
  52. quite thought through.
  53. So it is not anything like,
    even as one reads it in
  54. retrospect, a wholesale
    repudiation or even really a
  55. very devastating critique of
    Levi-Strauss.
  56. Derrida, I think,
    freely acknowledges in this
  57. essay the degree to which he is
    standing on Levi-Strauss's
  58. shoulders.
  59. In any case,
    this extraordinary event in the
  60. imaginations of people thinking
    about theory in the West did,
  61. however, tend to bring about a
    sense of almost overnight
  62. revolution from the
    preoccupation we had in the
  63. mid-sixties with structuralism
    to the subsequent preoccupation
  64. we had throughout the seventies
    and into the early eighties with
  65. deconstruction.
  66. Derrida was,
    of course, a central figure in
  67. this.
  68. He was here at Yale as a
    visitor in the spring for many
  69. years.
  70. He influenced a great many
    people whose work is still
  71. current throughout the United
    States and elsewhere.
  72. He--after that--had a
    comparable arrangement with the
  73. University of California at
    Irvine and his influence there
  74. continued,
    a key figure whom many of us
  75. remember from his period at Yale
    as a galvanizing presence.
  76. The idea that there was what
    was called by one critic a
  77. "hermeneutical mafia"
    at Yale arose largely from the
  78. presence of Derrida together
    with our own Paul de Man and,
  79. more loosely connected with
    them, Geoffrey Hartman and
  80. Harold Bloom--
    and also a scholar named J.
  81. Hillis Miller,
    whose departure for the
  82. University of California,
    Irvine resulted also in
  83. Derrida's decision to go there
    and be with Miller rather than
  84. to continue to stay here.
  85. That was the so-called Yale
    school.
  86. It generated extraordinary
    influence in some circles but,
  87. well beyond its influence,
    an atmosphere of hostility
  88. which had in many ways to do,
    I think, with what might still
  89. be called "the crisis in
    the humanities"
  90. as it is widely understood by
    state legislators and boards of
  91. trustees as somehow or another
    something needing to be
  92. overcome,
    backed away from,
  93. and forgotten
    >
  94. in the development of the
    humanities in academia.
  95. The reasons for this we can
    only imply,
  96. I think, probably,
    in the context of a course of
  97. this nature,
    but are nevertheless
  98. fascinating and will recur as we
    think not just about
  99. deconstruction itself but about
    the sorts of thinking that it
  100. has influenced.
  101. Now you have now read some
    Derrida.
  102. You've read all of one essay
    and you've read part of another,
  103. "Différance,"
    and you've found him very
  104. difficult.
  105. Indeed, in addition to finding
    him very difficult you've
  106. probably said,
    "Why does he have to write
  107. like that?"
  108. In other words,
    "Yeah, okay.
  109. He's difficult,
    but isn't he making it more
  110. difficult than it needs to
    be?"
  111. you say to yourself.
  112. "I've never seen prose
    like this,"
  113. you say.
  114. "This is ridiculous.
  115. Why doesn't he just say one
    thing at a time?"
  116. you might also want to say.
  117. Well, of course it's all
    deliberate on his part,
  118. and the idea is that
    deconstruction is,
  119. as a thought process,
    precisely a kind of evasive
  120. dance whereby one doesn't settle
    for distinct positions,
  121. for any sort of idea that can
    be understood as governed--
  122. this is what "Structure,
    Sign and Play"
  123. is all about--
    as governed by a blanket term,
  124. what Derrida often calls a
    "transcendental
  125. signified."
  126. We'll have much more to say
    about this.
  127. Derrida's prose style--its kind
    of a crab-like,
  128. sideways movement around an
    argument--
  129. is meant as rigorously as it
    can to avoid seeming to derive
  130. itself from some definite
    concept,
  131. because, of course,
    deconstruction is precisely the
  132. deconstruction of the grounds
    whereby we suppose our thinking
  133. can be derived from one or
    another definite concept.
  134. Also--this is to be kept in
    mind, and this is of course one
  135. of the key distinctions between
    Derrida and de Man--
  136. we'll have more to say about
    distinctions between them on
  137. Tuesday: Derrida is not a
    literary theorist.
  138. Though he sometimes does talk
    about texts that we call
  139. "literary,"
    indeed he very often does,
  140. nevertheless Derrida's position
    and the logic of that position
  141. suggest that we can't really
    reliably discriminate among
  142. genres.
  143. In other words,
    we can't use genre
  144. either as a blanket term;
    and therefore he is one of the
  145. people--
    one of the most influential
  146. people in persuading us that
    there's no such thing as
  147. literature,
    legal texts,
  148. theological texts,
    philosophical texts,
  149. or scientific texts.
  150. There is discourse,
    and to think about the field of
  151. texts is to think about
    something which is full of
  152. difference.
  153. >
  154. Needless to say,
    it's the central word in
  155. Derrida,
    which is nevertheless not
  156. classifiable or categorizable,
    and so for that reason we can't
  157. really say Derrida is
    specifically a literary
  158. theorist.
  159. Now I've been talking so far
    about difficulty and confusion,
  160. but in view of the fact that
    we're all in a state of tension
  161. about this--
    I'm in a state of tension about
  162. it too--
    let me remind us that we've
  163. already been doing
    deconstruction and that much of
  164. what's problematic in reading
    Derrida really has already been
  165. explained.
  166. Let's begin with a kind of
    warm-up sheet which we can
  167. anchor in these little drawings
    I've made [gestures towards
  168. chalkboard].
  169. Obviously, you look at these
    drawings and you say,
  170. "Ah ha.
  171. That's the vertical axis,"
    right?
  172. Of course, once we get to
    feminism, feminism will have
  173. certain ideas of its own about
    the vertical axis.
  174. We will be getting into that
    when the time comes.
  175. In the meantime the Eiffel
    Tower [gestures towards
  176. chalkboard]
    is a wonderful way of showing
  177. the degree to which the vertical
    axis is virtual.
  178. That is to say,
    if you ever saw a dotted line
  179. standing upright,
    it's the Eiffel Tower.
  180. There's nothing in it.
  181. It's empty.
  182. It's transparent.
  183. Yet somehow or another,
    if you're at the top of it--
  184. if you're in the viewing
    station at the top of the Eiffel
  185. Tower--
    suddenly all of Paris is
  186. organized at your feet.
  187. That is to say,
    it's a wonderful axis of
  188. combination that you're looking
    at.
  189. It is just there with its
    landmarks,
  190. not having the same kind of
    status as that which you are
  191. standing on,
    but rather just in a kind of
  192. row as the key signs,
    as it were, of the skyline of
  193. Paris: so you get the Notre
    Dame,
  194. the Arc de Triomphe and so on,
    all sort of lined up in a row,
  195. and there it is.
  196. Guy de Maupassant in a famous
    anecdote complained rather
  197. bitterly about this,
    according to Roland Barthes in
  198. an essay called "The Eiffel
    Tower":
  199. Maupassant often ate at the
    restaurant in the tower [up here
  200. someplace]
    [gestures towards the
  201. chalkboard]
    even though he didn't
  202. particularly like the food.
  203. "It's the only
    place," he said,
  204. "where I don't have to see
    it."
  205. In other words,
    if--as Saussure says,
  206. once again--we "put both
    feet squarely on the
  207. ground" of the Eiffel
    Tower,
  208. we're liberated from the idea
    that somehow or another it's a
  209. governing presence.
  210. If we're actually there,
    we no longer have to worry
  211. about the way it organizes
    everything around it into a kind
  212. of rigorous unfolding pattern.
  213. After all, there's a very real
    sense in which we infer the
  214. Eiffel Tower from its
    surroundings.
  215. It's built in the nineteenth
    century.
  216. It's by no means causative of
    the skyline of Paris.
  217. It's something that comes in
    belatedly just as langue
  218. comes in belatedly with
    relation to speech.
  219. The Eiffel Tower is a
    virtuality that organizes
  220. things, as one might say,
    arbitrarily.
  221. Sort of as a reflection on
    these same ideas,
  222. you get the famous poem of
    Wallace Stevens.
  223. I am sure you recognize this as
    Stevens' "Anecdote of the
  224. Jar," but I will quickly
    quote to you the poem.
  225. I placed a jar in Tennessee,
    And round it was, upon a hill.
  226. It made the slovenly wilderness
    Surround that hill.
  227. The wilderness rose up to it,
    And sprawled around,
  228. no longer wild.
  229. [As Derrida would say,
    the center limits free play,
  230. right?]
    The jar was round upon the
  231. ground
    And tall and of a port in air.
  232. It took dominion everywhere.
  233. The jar was gray and bare.
  234. It did not give of bird or
    bush,
  235. Like nothing else in Tennessee.
  236. In other words,
    it is arbitrarily placed in the
  237. middle of the free play of the
    natural world,
  238. a free play which is full of
    reproductive exuberance,
  239. full of a kind of joyous excess
    which is part of what Derrida's
  240. talking about when he talks
    about what's "left
  241. over": the surplusage of
    the sign,
  242. the supplementarity of
    the sign.
  243. There's an orgasmic element in
    what Derrida has in mind,
  244. so that when he speaks of
    "the seminal adventure of
  245. the trace,"
    toward the end of your essay,
  246. you want to put some pressure
    on that word
  247. "seminal."
  248. Well, in any case the jar is
    just arbitrarily in the middle
  249. of that, organizing everything
    without participating in the
  250. nature of anything.
  251. It is, in other words,
    a center which is outside the
  252. structure: "a center which
    is not a center,"
  253. and we'll come back to that in
    a minute.
  254. Now the Twin Towers--and I
    first started using this example
  255. decades before 2001--
    the Twin Towers have a kind of
  256. poignancy and pathos today that
    they would not have had then;
  257. but what they suggest is in a
    way today--which overwhelms us
  258. with grief--the ephemerality of
    the vertical axis.
  259. The Twin Towers had the same
    function in New York that the
  260. Eiffel Tower has in Paris.
  261. It was a wonderful place from
    which to see the city,
  262. a wonderful place from which to
    feel that everything was
  263. organized at its feet.
  264. There's a very fine essay about
    the Twin Towers--again,
  265. long before 2001--by Michel de
    Certeau, which makes this
  266. argument in sustained form.
  267. I recommend it to you.
  268. In any case,
    it's another example that we
  269. can take from our experience of
    the uneasy sense we may have
  270. that to infer a spatial moment
    from which the irreducibly
  271. temporal nature of experience is
    derived--
  272. to infer a moment from the
    fact of this experience
  273. as a necessary cause of
    it--
  274. is always problematic.
  275. It always necessarily must,
    as Derrida would say,
  276. put this sense of a spatial
    full presence of everything
  277. there at once in systematic
    order--
  278. as Derrida would say,
    must put that "under
  279. erasure."
  280. In other words,
    in a certain sense you can't do
  281. without it.
  282. Derrida never really claims
    that you can do without it.
  283. If you want to get a sense of
    structure,
  284. you've got to have some sort of
    inference of this nature,
  285. but at the same time it had
    better be in quotes
  286. because it is always tenuous,
    ephemeral, dubious even as to
  287. its existence,
    and necessarily needs to be
  288. understood in that way.
  289. All right.
  290. Now other ways in which we've
    already been involved in the
  291. subject matter of what you've
    been reading today:
  292. take a look at page 921,
    a couple of passages in which
  293. Derrida is quoting Levi-Strauss
    on the nature of myth.
  294. Once having quoted you these
    two passages from Levi-Strauss,
  295. here's where I'll return just
    for a moment to Levi-Strauss's
  296. analysis of the Oedipus myth and
    show you how it is that Derrida
  297. is both benefiting from what
    Levi-Strauss has said and
  298. ultimately able to criticize
    Levi-Strauss's position.
  299. Bottom of the left-hand column,
    page 921:
  300. "In opposition to
    epistemic discourse [that is to
  301. say,
    the kind of discourse which has
  302. some principle or transcendental
    signified or blanket term as its
  303. basis--
    in other words,
  304. something which in a given
    moment makes it possible for all
  305. knowledge to flow from it],
    structural discourse on
  306. myths--mythological
    discourse--
  307. must itself be
    mythomorphic.
  308. It must have the form of that
    of which it speaks."
  309. [And Derrida then says]
    This is what
  310. Lévi-Strauss [himself]
    says in [the following passage
  311. taken from one of Levi-Strauss'
    most famous books]
  312. The Raw and the Cooked.
    I just want to quote the end of
  313. it, the middle of the right-hand
    column, still on page 921.
  314. Levi-Strauss says:
    "In wanting to imitate the
  315. spontaneous movement of mythical
    thought,
  316. my enterprise,
    itself too brief and too long,
  317. has yet to yield to its demands
    and respect its rhythm.
  318. Thus is this book on myths
    itself and in its own way a
  319. myth."
  320. In other words,
    here is a moment when
  321. Levi-Strauss is admitting
    something about his own work
  322. which he is not admitting in his
    analysis of the Oedipus myth in
  323. the essay from Structural
    Anthropology that you read
  324. last time.
  325. What Levi-Strauss is saying
    here is that his approach to
  326. myth is itself only a version of
    the myth.
  327. That is to say,
    it participates in the mythic
  328. way of thinking about things.
  329. It uses what in the
    Structural Anthropology
  330. essay he calls
    "mythemes"
  331. or "gross constituent
    units" of thought.
  332. It deploys and manipulates
    those gross constituent units of
  333. thought in the ways that we saw,
    but notice what Levi-Strauss is
  334. saying in that essay as
    opposed to the passage
  335. Derrida has just quoted.
  336. He says in effect,
    "This form of the myth is
  337. scientific.
  338. One of the versions that I have
    made use of to arrive at this
  339. scientific conclusion is,
    for example,
  340. Freud's version of the Oedipus
    myth.
  341. In other words,
    Freud, Sophocles,
  342. all of the other versions I
    have at my disposal,
  343. have equal merit as versions,
    but none of them is a
  344. transcendental signified,
    none of them is a blanket term,
  345. and none of them is the causal
    explanation or meaning of the
  346. myth.
  347. The meaning of the myth is
    discoverable only in my
  348. science."
  349. Now, of course,
    Freud himself thought he was a
  350. scientist, and his reading of
    the myth was also supposed to be
  351. scientific.
  352. What was Freud's reading of the
    myth about?
  353. Two or one!
  354. >
  355. It was, in other words,
    about the problem of incest,
  356. the problem of the
    over-determination of blood
  357. relations and the
    under-determination of blood
  358. relations.
  359. It was a thorough examination
    of that problematic leading to
  360. the conclusion that that's what
    the myth was about.
  361. In other words,
    Levi-Strauss's conclusions are
  362. already anticipated in Freud.
  363. Furthermore,
    what is Levi-Strauss doing?
  364. He's denying the influence of
    Freud, right?
  365. It's my myth,
    not his myth--right?--which of
  366. course is precisely what happens
    in the primal horde.
  367. It is a perfect instance of the
    Oedipus complex.
  368. Levi-Strauss is repudiating the
    father and,
  369. in repudiating the father,
    showing himself to fall into
  370. the very mythic pattern that
    Freud had been the first to
  371. analyze.
  372. Okay?
  373. So when you say that what
    you're doing is scientific in a
  374. context of this sort,
    you are making yourself
  375. vulnerable.
  376. The moments in this essay in
    which Derrida is criticizing
  377. Levi-Strauss are those moments
    in which Levi-Strauss has
  378. unguardedly said something on
    the order of "My work is
  379. scientific";
    but there are lots of
  380. occasions, and he always quotes
    Levi-Strauss to this
  381. effect,
    when Levi-Strauss is not saying
  382. that--
    when Levi-Strauss is conceding
  383. that his work,
    that is to say his viewpoint,
  384. disappears unstably into the
    thing viewed.
  385. All right.
  386. Now also take a look
    at--because we've been doing
  387. this too--
    take a look at page 917,
  388. the left-hand column,
    where Derrida is talking not
  389. about Levi-Strauss but about
    Saussure.
  390. Here he's talking about the
    nature of the sign,
  391. and he is concerned,
    very much concerned,
  392. about this relationship between
    the concept and the sound
  393. image--
    which is to say,
  394. the signified and the
    signifier--
  395. that is the basis of the
    science of Saussure:
  396. that is to say,
    the relationship that's
  397. involved in the pairing of
    signified and signifier is the
  398. basis,
    the cornerstone,
  399. of the science of Saussure.
  400. So here's what,
    a little more than halfway
  401. down, the left-hand column,
    page 917, Derrida has to say
  402. about that.
  403. He says:
    … [T]he signification
  404. "sign"
    has always been comprehended
  405. and determined,
    in its sense,
  406. as sign-of, signifier referring
    to a signified,
  407. signifier different from its
    signified.
  408. If one erases the radical
    difference between signifier and
  409. signified,
    it is the word signifier itself
  410. which ought to be abandoned as a
    metaphysical concept [which is
  411. to say,
    a transcendental signified:
  412. in other words,
    the idea that the concept in
  413. some sense generates the
    signifier--
  414. right?--which is the basis of
    Saussure's thinking about this].
  415. Here's where I come back to
    that example that I already gave
  416. you with a question mark next to
    it when I was talking about
  417. Saussure.
  418. Suppose I think of the
    relationship between
  419. "signified"
    and "signifier"
  420. as the relationship between two
    terms--
  421. because after all,
    one way of signifying the
  422. concept "tree"
    [gestures towards the board]
  423. is to write the word
    "tree"
  424. and put quotation marks about
    it.
  425. So if I take away the quotation
    marks, all I have is the word
  426. with no indication that it's a
    concept.
  427. Notice that this is now a
    relationship which Jakobson
  428. would call
    "metalingual."
  429. What it suggests is that
    "tree"
  430. is another word for
    "arbor."
  431. In other words,
    it's a relationship not between
  432. a signified and a signifier but
    between a signifier and a
  433. signifier,
    so that the binarism of the
  434. relationship is broken down,
    and we begin to understand the
  435. combinatory structure of speech
    or writing as one signifier
  436. leading to another--
    I think-- signifier:
  437. Derrida says in effect,
    "Let's banish the word
  438. 'signifier,'"
    but he might as well say,
  439. "Let's banish the word
    'signified.'"
  440. I think a signifier,
    and it triggers by
  441. association--as Saussure would
    say--
  442. it triggers by association a
    subsequent successive signifier,
  443. which triggers another,
    which triggers another.
  444. That's what gives us,
    in the language of
  445. deconstruction,
    what we call "the
  446. chain," the signifying
    chain: not an organizational
  447. pattern but an ever
    self-replicating and
  448. self-extending pattern,
    irreducibly linear and
  449. forward-progressing through a
    sequence of temporal
  450. associations.
  451. One of the things that happens
    when you demystify the
  452. relationship between a concept
    and a signifier or a sound image
  453. is that you also demystify the
    relationship between a
  454. set of associations,
    which exist somehow in space,
  455. and the way in which
    association actually takes
  456. place,
    which is necessarily in time:
  457. in other words,
    if one signifier leads to
  458. another--if like history,
    where there's one damn thing
  459. after another,
    speech is one damn signifier
  460. after another--
    then that is actually the
  461. nature of the associations that
    Saussure has been talking about
  462. in the first place.
  463. But it doesn't exist in a
    systemic space;
  464. it exists in an unfolding time,
    right?
  465. These are some of the
    implications of no longer being
  466. satisfied with the way in which
    a sign can be understood as a
  467. concept to which we attach
    belatedly a signification,
  468. a signifier.
  469. What we have is a situation in
    which we find ourselves caught
  470. up in a stream of signification,
    all of which is,
  471. in a certain sense,
    there before we came along and
  472. are moved,
    as down a stream,
  473. by the way in which one
    signifier succeeds another in
  474. ways that later on,
    as we take up concepts like
  475. "supplementarity"
    and différance,
  476. we can think of a little bit
    more precisely.
  477. Okay.
  478. So now finally then,
    there's one other way in which
  479. Derrida's essay from the very
    outset confirms what we've been
  480. saying about the crisis of
    structuralism being the need to
  481. deny ordinary understandings of
    genesis or cause.
  482. In structuralism,
    if something emerges,
  483. it emerges from between
    two things.
  484. That is to say,
    it's not this and it's
  485. not this,
    or it "emerges"
  486. as that which is not this,
    not this.
  487. It doesn't, in other words,
    derive from an antecedent
  488. single cause as an effect.
  489. It emerges, on the other hand,
    as difference within a field.
  490. Now that's what Derrida is
    talking about with extraordinary
  491. intensity of complication in the
    first paragraph of your essay,
  492. page 915, left column,
    first paragraph:
  493. his first words uttered at the
    famous conference in- at Johns
  494. Hopkins in 1966.
  495. He says:
    Perhaps something has occurred
  496. in the history of the concept of
    structure that could be called
  497. an "event"
    [évênement,
  498. something which emerges,
    something which is there now
  499. and wasn't there before]…
    That's the most problematic
  500. issue for structuralism.
  501. When structuralism thinks about
    how yesterday things were
  502. different from the way they are
    today,
  503. it has to say:
    yesterday there was a certain
  504. synchronic cross-section of
    data,
  505. and today there's a slightly
    different synchronic
  506. cross-section of data.
  507. But structuralism is unable and
    furthermore--
  508. much more
    importantly--unwilling to
  509. say anything about how
    yesterday's data turned into
  510. today's data--
    in other words,
  511. to say anything about
    change.
  512. It sees successive
    cross-sections,
  513. and it calls that
    "history."
  514. I am anticipating here,
    and we'll come back to this in
  515. other contexts:
    but it doesn't say "one
  516. thing led to another";
    it says "one thing after
  517. another"--in my facetious
    reference to history as I have
  518. already given it to you.
  519. Now this is what Derrida is
    deliberately struggling with in
  520. this first paragraph:
    … an "event"
  521. [quote,
    unquote], if this loaded word
  522. did not entail a meaning which
    it is precisely the function of
  523. structural--
    or structuralist--thought to
  524. reduce or to suspect.
  525. But let me use the term
    "event"
  526. [quote, unquote]
    anyway, employing it with
  527. caution and as if in quotation
    marks.
  528. In this sense,
    this event will have the
  529. exterior form of a
    rupture [that is to say,
  530. an emergence among things,
    right--a rupture:
  531. the volcano parts and there you
    have lava,
  532. right--an event]
    and a redoubling [a
  533. redoubling in the sense that
    "something has
  534. happened"].
  535. As Bob Dylan would say in
    effect, "Something has
  536. happened, but it's not something
    new.
  537. It is, in fact,
    a replication of what was
  538. unbeknownst to you because,
    Mr.
  539. Jones, you don't know very much
    of what was,
  540. unbeknownst to you,
    there always--as Derrida says--
  541. already: something that emerges
    but at the same time presses on
  542. us its status as having already
    been there,
  543. always already been there."
  544. All right.
  545. So in all these sorts of ways,
    understanding structuralism as
  546. a problematic critique of
    genesis--
  547. because it's still very hard to
    grasp,
  548. to accept the notion of things
    not having been caused--
  549. why can't we say things
    were caused,
  550. just for example?--the notion
    of the sign as an arbitrary
  551. relationship between a
    substratum of thought which is
  552. then somehow or another hooked
    onto a derivative series or a
  553. system of signifiers;
    the notion of getting outside
  554. of myth and being scientific,
    and the notion that we can
  555. ascribe reality to the vertical
    axis--
  556. all of these are ways of
    questioning the integrity,
  557. the security within its skin,
    of structuralism we have
  558. actually already undertaken.
  559. I only want to suggest to you
    with this long preamble that
  560. much of the work that lies
    before us is actually in the
  561. past and we have already
    accomplished it.
  562. Now "Structure,
    Sign and Play"
  563. is a critique of
    "structurality."
  564. It's not just a critique of
    structuralism.
  565. It's a critique of the idea of
    anything that has a center,
  566. one which is at the same time
    an enabling causal principle.
  567. In other words,
    I look at a structure and I say
  568. it has a center.
  569. What do I mean by a center?
  570. I mean a blanket term,
    a guiding concept,
  571. a transcendental signified,
    something that explains the
  572. nature of the structure and
    something also,
  573. as Derrida says,
    which allows for limited free
  574. play within the structure;
    but at the same time the
  575. structure has this kind of
    boundary nature.
  576. It may be amoeboid but it still
    has boundaries--right?--and so
  577. at the same time limits the free
    play within the structure.
  578. That's like the New Critics
    saying that a text has
  579. structure.
  580. It has something that actually
    in the phenomenological
  581. tradition is called an
    "intentional
  582. structure."
  583. Kant calls it
    "purposiveness"--
  584. that is to say,
    the way in which the thing is
  585. organized according to some sort
    of guiding pattern.
  586. But to speak of an intentional
    structure as a center is not at
  587. all the same thing as to speak
    of an intending person,
  588. author, being,
    or idea that brought it into
  589. existence,
    because that's extraneous.
  590. That's something prior.
  591. That's genesis.
  592. That's a cause, right?
  593. The intending author,
    in other words,
  594. is outside, whereas we can
    argue that the intentional
  595. structure is inside.
  596. But that's a problem.
  597. How do you get from an
    intending author to an
  598. intentional structure and back?
  599. A center is both a center and
    not a center,
  600. as Derrida maddeningly tells
    us.
  601. It is both that which organizes
    a structure and that which isn't
  602. really qualified to organize
    anything, because it's not
  603. in the structure;
    it's outside the structure,
  604. something that imposes itself
    from without like a cookie
  605. cutter on the structure,
    right?
  606. This then is an introductory
    moment in Derrida's thinking
  607. about centers.
  608. On page 916 in the lower
    left-hand column,
  609. he talks about the history of
    metaphysics as a history of
  610. successive appeals to a center:
    that is to say,
  611. to some idea from which
    everything derives,
  612. some genesis or other that can
    be understood as responsible for
  613. everything that there is.
  614. The list is very cunningly put
    together.
  615. This is bottom of the left-hand
    column.
  616. It's not necessarily
    chronological,
  617. but at the same time it gives
    you a sense of successive
  618. metaphysical philosophers
    thinking about first causes,
  619. origins, and about whatever it
    is that determines everything
  620. else.
  621. I'll just take up the list
    toward the end:
  622. "transcendentality,
    consciousness,
  623. or conscience,
    God, man, and so forth."
  624. Notice that though the list
    isn't strictly chronological,
  625. man nevertheless does succeed
    God.
  626. In other words,
    he's thinking about the
  627. development of Western culture.
  628. In the Middle Ages and to some
    extent in the Early Modern
  629. period, we live in a theocentric
    world.
  630. Insofar as he understands
    himself as man at all,
  631. man understands himself as a
    product of divine creativity,
  632. as something derived from God,
    as one entity among all other
  633. entities who participate and
    benefit from the divine
  634. presence.
  635. But then of course,
    the rise of the Enlightenment
  636. is also the rise of
    anthropocentrism,
  637. and by the time the
    Enlightenment is in full cry you
  638. get everybody from Blake to Marx
    to Nietzsche saying not that God
  639. invented man,
    but that man invented God.
  640. Man has become the
    transcendental signified.
  641. Everything derives now in this
    historical moment from human
  642. consciousness,
    and all concepts of whatever
  643. kind can be understood in that
    light.
  644. But then of course he says,
    having said "man,"
  645. >
  646. he says "and so
    forth."
  647. In other words,
    something comes after man.
  648. Man is, in other words,
    an historical moment.
  649. There are lots of people who
    have pointed out to us that
  650. before a certain period,
    there was no such thing as man,
  651. and in a variety of quite real
    senses,
  652. after a certain moment in the
    history of culture,
  653. there is also no such thing as
    man.
  654. The argument Derrida is making
    about the emergence of his
  655. "event"
    is that a new transcendental
  656. signified has actually
    substituted itself for man.
  657. In other words,
    the world is no longer
  658. anthropocentric;
    it's linguistic.
  659. Obviously, the event that
    Derrida is talking about--the
  660. emergence, the rupture,
    an event which makes a
  661. difference--is the emergence of
    language.
  662. What I really want to talk
    about here is something that is
  663. on page 916, the right-hand
    column:
  664. The moment [of emergence--the
    event,
  665. in other words,
    about halfway down]
  666. was that in which language
    invaded the universal
  667. problematic [in other words,
    that moment in which language
  668. displaced the previous
    transcendental signified,
  669. which was man];
    that in which,
  670. in the absence of a center or
    origin,
  671. everything became
    discourse--provided we can agree
  672. on this word--
    that is to say,
  673. when everything became a system
    where the central signified,
  674. the original or transcendental
    signified,
  675. is never absolutely present
    outside a system of differences.
  676. He's making a claim for
    language while erasing
  677. it.
  678. In other words,
    he's painfully aware that
  679. language is just the new God,
    the new Man.
  680. Many critiques of
    deconstruction take the form of
  681. saying that deconstruction
    simply instrumentalizes
  682. language,
    gives it agency,
  683. and gives it consciousness as
    though it were God or man and
  684. then pretends that it isn't.
  685. This is a common response to
    deconstruction.
  686. Derrida is aware of it in
    advance.
  687. He says in effect, "Look,
    I know we're running this risk
  688. in saying everything is
    language,"
  689. or,
    if you will here,
  690. everything is discourse.
  691. At the same time,
    we are saying something
  692. different,
    because hitherto we had this
  693. problem: in other words,
    we had the problem of something
  694. being part of a
    structure--
  695. that is to say God is immanent
    in all things,
  696. human consciousness pervades
    everything that it encounters--
  697. in other words,
    something which is part of a
  698. structure but which is at the
    same time outside of it.
  699. God creates the world and then
    sort of, as Milton says himself,
  700. "uncircumscrib'd
    withdraws,"
  701. right?
  702. God is not there.
  703. God is the Dieu
    caché:
  704. God is the hidden God who is
    absent from the world and is,
  705. in effect, also the structure
    of the world.
  706. The same thing can be said of
    man.
  707. Man brings the sense of what
    the world is into being and then
  708. stands aside and somehow sort of
    takes it in through an aesthetic
  709. register or in some other remote
    way.
  710. Language doesn't do that.
  711. Language is perpetually
    immersed in itself.
  712. Derrida is claiming that
    language is different in the
  713. sense that it makes no sense to
    talk about it as standing
  714. outside of what's going on.
  715. This is an essential part of
    the critique of structuralism.
  716. Language is not other
    than speech;
  717. it is perpetually manifest in
    speech, right?
  718. It's simply a distinction that
    can't be maintained,
  719. which is why he calls it an
    "event."
  720. In other words,
    something of significance has
  721. happened, Mr.
  722. Jones, and that is language,
    right?
  723. All right.
  724. So I suppose in the time
    remaining and,
  725. alas, there isn't a lot of it,
    we'd better ask what
  726. "language"
    is.
  727. We've talked about it.
  728. We've had a great deal to do
    with it, but of course we still
  729. haven't the slightest idea what
    it is.
  730. Soon we'll know.
  731. First of all,
    we'd better say,
  732. as is already clear from what
    we've been quoting,
  733. language is not quite
    Saussurian.
  734. That is to say,
    it is not a system of signs
  735. understood as stable
    relationships between a concept
  736. world and a world of signifying.
  737. It is not a world in which
    language can be understood as
  738. somehow or another a means of
    expressing thought.
  739. Deconstruction calls into
    question the distinction between
  740. language and thought in calling
    into question the distinction
  741. between signifier and signified,
    so it's not quite
  742. Saussuria--even though,
    as Derrida says,
  743. it can't do without a
    Saussurian vocabulary.
  744. Another problem is--and also
    related to the critique of
  745. Saussure--
    is that this idea that what's
  746. inward,
    what is essential,
  747. is something that can be
    voiced and should be
  748. voiced;
    so that if I think a sign is a
  749. way of talking about the
    expression of a thought,
  750. notice that I call--if I am
    Saussure--
  751. that expression a "sound
    image."
  752. In other words,
    language, according to Derrida,
  753. in the Saussurian tradition
    seems to privilege sound over
  754. script, over what is graphic.
  755. He claims that this is a hidden
    bias in the whole history of
  756. metaphysics.
  757. Why, in other words,
    should we think of language as
  758. speech, as voice?
  759. Why do we think of voice--in
    the sense of the divine
  760. logos,
    the word: "in the
  761. beginning was the word"--
    why do we think of voice as a
  762. kind of fully present
    simultaneity that is absolutely
  763. present precisely in
    consciousness or wherever it is
  764. that we understand language to
    derive from?
  765. What's so special about voice?
  766. Why do they say all of these
    terrible things about writing?
  767. Writing is no different from
    voice.
  768. Voice, too, is articulated
    combinatorially in time.
  769. Voice, too, can be understood
    as inscribed on the ear.
  770. This is a metaphor that Derrida
    frequently uses,
  771. as a kind of writing on the
    ear.
  772. The distinction,
    which Derrida takes to be
  773. metaphysical,
    that Saussure wants to make
  774. between something primary,
    something immediate and
  775. underivative--
    voice--and something merely
  776. repetitious,
    merely reproductive,
  777. merely a handmaiden to voice--
    namely writing--needs to be
  778. called into question.
  779. Now this is the point at which
    we need to say something about a
  780. number of key terms that Derrida
    uses to sustain this sort of
  781. criticism of traditional ideas
    of language.
  782. The first has to do with the
    notion of supplementarity.
  783. A supplement,
    he points out,
  784. is something that either
    completes something that isn't
  785. complete or adds to something
    that already is complete.
  786. For example, I take vitamin C.
  787. I also drink a lot of orange
    juice,
  788. so I've got plenty of vitamin
    C, and if I take a vitamin C
  789. pill I am supplementing
    something that's already
  790. complete;
    but if I don't drink any orange
  791. juice,
    then of course if I take a
  792. vitamin C pill I am
    supplementing something that's
  793. not complete,
    but either way we always call
  794. it a supplement.
  795. It's very difficult even to
    keep in mind the conceptual
  796. difference between these two
    sorts of supplement.
  797. Now a sign traditionally
    understood is self-sufficient,
  798. self-contained.
  799. Saussure has made it a
    scientific object by saying that
  800. it's both arbitrary and
    differential,
  801. but a sign understood under the
    critique of deconstruction is
  802. something that is perpetually
    proliferating signification,
  803. something that doesn't stand
    still,
  804. and something that can't be
    understood as self-sufficient or
  805. independent in its nature as
    being both arbitrary and
  806. differential.
  807. It is a bleeding or spilling
    into successive signs in such a
  808. way that it perpetually leaves
    what Derrida calls
  809. "traces."
  810. That is to say,
    as we examine the unfolding of
  811. a speech act,
    we see the way in which
  812. successive signs are
    contaminated.
  813. That's not meant to be a bad
    word but suggests being
  814. influenced,
    one might say,
  815. in the sense of "open the
    window and influenza,"
  816. by those signs that precede it.
  817. Supplementarity is a way of
    understanding the simultaneously
  818. linear and ever proliferating,
    ever self-complicating nature
  819. of verbal expression.
  820. Now différance is
    a way, among other things,
  821. of talking about the difference
    between voice and writing.
  822. There is a difference between
    voice and writing even though
  823. they have so much in common.
  824. Voice and writing,
    by the way, are not a stable
  825. binary.
  826. There are no stable binaries in
    Derrida.
  827. The difference between voice
    and writing is that writing can
  828. give us all kinds of indication
    of difference that voice can't
  829. give us.
  830. Part of the interest of
    misspelling
  831. différance,
    as Derrida insists on doing,
  832. is that we can't,
    in terms of voice as sound,
  833. tell the difference between
    différance and
  834. différence.
  835. Actually, one can,
    slightly, but it's not a
  836. difference worth lingering over.
  837. Différance,
    in other words,
  838. with its substitution of the
    a--
  839. and remember the riff in the
    essay
  840. "Différance"
    on a as a pyramid,
  841. as alpha, as origin,
    and as killing the king because
  842. the king,
    remember, is the transcendental
  843. signified: God,
    man and so forth.
  844. The riff on the a in
    différance as all
  845. of those things is something
    that we can only pick up if we
  846. understand language as writing,
    because in speech these modes
  847. of difference don't register.
  848. Différence (with
    an e) is simply the Saussurian
  849. linguistic system,
    a system of differences
  850. understood as spatial:
    that is to say,
  851. understood as available to us
    as a kind of smorgasbord as we
  852. stand in front of it.
  853. Différance
    introduces the idea of
  854. deferral and reminds us that
    difference--
  855. that is to say,
    our understanding of
  856. difference,
    our means of negotiating
  857. difference--
    is not something that's
  858. actually done in space;
    it's done in time.
  859. When I perceive a difference,
    I perceive it temporally.
  860. I do not understand the
    relation among signs as a
  861. simultaneity.
  862. I want to, if I want to pin it
    down scientifically,
  863. but in the actual--as Joyce
    would say--
  864. stream of consciousness,
    I understand difference
  865. temporally.
  866. I defer difference.
  867. I unfold.
  868. I successively negotiate
    difference, and in doing that I
  869. need the concept of
    différance.
  870. All right.
  871. There a couple of things that I
    want to say about the key moves
  872. of Derrida.
  873. I will mention those next time.
  874. I will also look over my notes
    and see what I might say further
  875. about these troublesome terms
    and their relation to Derrida's
  876. understanding of language so
    that Tuesday our introduction
  877. will still have to do with
    Derrida and then we'll move into
  878. thinking about de Man.