Jacques Derrida

Working within the tradition of Western metaphysics (and particularly of linguistic systems), Jacques Derrida asserts in "Structure, Sign and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences" that any structure has always been neutralized by the process of giving it a center, or a fixed origin that serves to orient and balance the "totality" of that structure. Yet he immediately subverts this notion:

Classical thought concerning structure could say that the center is, paradoxically, within the structure and outside it. The center is at the center of the totality, and yet, since the center does not belong to the totality (is not part of the totality), the totality has its center elsewhere. The center is not the center.
(Derrida, 1117)

In playing within the realm of binaries, Derrida deconstructs such conventionally opposing ideas as inside and outside in order to disrupt our very way of thinking about dualities and in order to undermine their pre-supposed fixity.

Derrida also brings forth the notion of rupture, or decentering, where "in the absence of a center or origin, everything became discourse," or a system in which pure meaning "is never absolutely present outside a system of differences" (Derrida, 1118). The continual deferral of meaning from one signifier to another leads to a linguistic system where closure remains impossible, and thus a system which inherently has no center, only a "series of substitutions of center for center" (Derrida, 1117).

The continual deferral of meaning within a linguistic system returns us to the method of considering meaning through gender as entirely differential, where in a dualistic system of gender identification male and female are defined solely in terms of their relation to one another, or in terms of what the other is not (thus emerges such socially contrived ideas as male presence as opposed to female absence, or lack). The notion of a continual deferral of meaning likewise recalls the way in which we map meaning through language, or the way in which we comprehend space through its symbolic representation. In such terms, meaning does not exist as a stable, present center but rather arises through the continual shifting and eternally deferred symbolic map of language.

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Web page written and constructed by Laralynn Weiss, Georgetown University