Of Grammatology – “The Exorbitant. Question of Method
“There is nothing outside the text.” By this he questions the relation of language with reality. Culture and individuals are constructed through networks. Every text is connected to other texts. Meaning is created by difference not by presence. But this translation maintains the inside/outside opposition that the statement in fact aims to overturn. The text is already an attempt to include its own outside. There is no outside of that. The word supplement, which in French means both “substitute” and “addition”, is used by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, in only one of its senses at a time, but it necessarily always carries in it the other, thereby drawing together some threads in the text in ways that Rousseau seems not to have intended. As Derrida explains, “the reading must always aim at a certain relationship, unperceived by the writer, between what he commands and what he does not command of the patterns of the language that he uses. Instead of choosing between incompatible or contradictory readings, Derrida attempts to understand the double binds and tensions that are articulated in the text. Rousseau, standing between the Enlightenment and Romanticism, is a figure whose writings are symptomatic of the fissures in the logocentric system that he both reproduces and resists. In order to see a relationship in a particular language between patterns one commands and patterns one does not command, Derrida has to work within the space between the signified (what is meant) and the signifier (the vehicle for conveying that meaning). The noncoincidence of the two sides of the sign can never be overcome: indeed, we detect a signified when a signifier doesn’t quite coincide with it. The signifier, for Derrida, thus functions as a “trace” that gives the impression that a signified was prior to it, even though the only evidence for that signified is the trace itself. Derrida takes the concept of difference from Saussure and adds to it the dimension of temporality that Saussure’s static (or synchronic) structure does not allow. In doing so, Derrida uncovers a significant contradiction in Saussure: although Saussure thinks he can eliminate writing as secondary and keep speech as essential, he treats language as fixed in time and thus as if it were a dead language –a language that we can only know in writing. To mark the combination of such synchronic and diachronic differences, Derrida juxtaposes two grammatical extensions of the verb différer (translated into English by two different verbs, “to differ” and “to defer”):
· Différence, a noun that implies synchronic comparison
· Différance, a noun of identical pronunciation that invokes a process –the temporal process of deferring or postponing.
The structure of language in real time –always changing, and always changing in more than one way- involves both of the senses, but, ironically, a difference (between “e” and “a”) meant to be perceived only in writing has become, in English, recognizable in speech: “Derridean différance does not escape the privileging of voice that it was designed to counteract. Derrida claims that writing is more fundamental than speech. This has often been misunderstood or taken literally. It is as though Derrida is not aware of the fact that babies learn to speak before they learn to write, or that some societies have oral cultures on which writing (Western and imperialistic) has been imposed.