began his philosophical career with a set of problems from continental philosophy (Kant, Hegel, Husserl, Heidegger) and then moved
to a critique of structural linguistics, structuralism as a method, philosophy of language, and the metaphysics
of language as a system of signs.
It helps to have a sense of the background of philosophical moves that make Derrida's critique important:
The Kantian method:
- Seeking out the conditions of possibility (preconditions) for something to appear, happen, or be part of human knowledge or belief, and not focusing on the contents or objects themselves. Termed the "transcendental" critique, since it seeks the conditions of possibility not in things themselves or in pure ideas in the mind, but in the necessary combination of a pre-existing framework (not observable in experience because it makes any experience possible at all) and what we claim to know.
- Example: Kant argued that space and time are not observable material things because they are the grounds of possibility for any human experience, knowledge, consciousness: space and time are not data or items of experience (for the human mind) because they provide the conditions of possibility for any experience.
- What follows: what we experience and claim to know about the world appear to us only as human minds understand them. Thus there is a division between "things in themselves" and their mental appearance. (Foucault extends the Kantian division to words and things, discourses as conditions for the appearance of things in our knowledge or truth systems vs. real things in the material world).
- Attempting to bring conditions and processes of which we are ordinarily unconscious or unaware to a conscious level for understanding and critique.
- In attending to the problem of major cultural/philosophical metaphors and the cultural structures based on them, Derrida is following a Hegelian move in showing that each philosophical generation points out some unconscious presuppositions built into the vocabulary of its predecessors,
thereby enlarging the relevant metaphorics for philosophical problems (to then be deconstructed by the next generation).
Derrida: having one more (last?) round with the big questions: Truth, God, the ghosts of philosophy past (Plato, Descartes, de Saussure, Heidegger), the ideological foundations of Western culture
- Critiquing the grounds and foundations that culture takes for granted in the key terms on which the culture is based.
- Derrida's prose is often difficult because he is aware of the problem of metalanguage (the vocabulary, terms, phrases, and metaphors used in describing philosophy and culture as expressed in words), and the twists and turns of metaphor and rhetoric we necessarily buy into when writing and making arguments.
of linguistics and main traditions of Western "Realist" philosophy:
is a tissue of metaphors which creates a series of metaphysical illusions that certain philosophies
and ideologies have exploited (religions, totalitarian governments)
and used metaphor-based-illusions into unquestioned, permanent, natural categories.
- Derrida thus begins with a critique of realism and foundationalism: dismantling the assumption that language can (or does naturally) represent, reflect, or correspond to real things outside of language and the human mind.
- Derrida pointed out that our inherited theory
of signs (from de Saussure) also entails an unacknowledged metaphysics:
- "presence": things, ideas, concepts are thought to be somehow "present" in thought or in some objective transcendental realm and reflected in words.
as representations of essences, real things outside of signs, language,
- Always being in language, we must acknowledge the structure of presences and absences that constitute signs and meanings: in speaking and writing, we always have something perceived as present (signifiers [sign vehicles] in verbal sounds, marks and letters, images) and something absent (meanings, beliefs, values not present in signs but supplied by our knowledge of the system of relationships in which they appear).
Sign, and Play:" The lecture and essay that introduced Derrida to the US and English-speaking world (1966): questions the idea of "structure" (internally self-sufficient, unified system) in structuralism, and absolute truths outside a system of signs
in "center" and outer structure seemed unquestioned in philosophy and ideology.
decenters the idea of structure and sign system.
of inner and outer (inside content/outside form), speech and writing
says there is no there there, centers are an illusion, a mirage
secure, transcendental signified (God, truth, being, etc.) when
signs and signification are rigorously examined.
systems are thus related to totalitarianism and imperialisms (a
political move within deconstructive theory)
set up play of significations in chains of supplements and deferrals.
- "Play" here
means slippage, vacillation, substitution, supplements (not
random or without rule): meaning is generated within a sign
system by a "play" of supplements (chain of interpretations
or substitutions of signs)
about speech and writing entail an embedded and unacknowledged
and thought are based on a set of unquestioned oppositions, a system
of differences, differentiations, categories that mutually entail
oppositions are taken as given, natural, obvious, what goes without
saying. The sign structure of language, especially writing--externalized
or stored or deferred language--is a model for deconstructing the
symbolic code that presents itself as obvious and given rather
mutual entailment in our binary structures is obscured in ideologies
and a cultural hierarchizing of the binary tandem, emphasizing
one part of the binary structure as higher than the other rather
than seeing them as mutually necessary to the existence of the
structure per se.
is the procedure of thinking against the obvious, exposing that
what seems natural and given in our meaning systems is in fact
constructed (structured), that is, not natural, and embedded
in and sustained by cultural systems of belief and ideology.
|Logos (inner unified meaning)
Greek term for "meaning," "order," "structure")
(words, many statements chasing Logos)
Thing - Being
(image, mediation, sign)
Thought - Intention
Expression and other external signs
how writing and speech can occupy the same side of the binary opposition.
is everywhere saturated, inscribed, with the properties of writing:
all language is a form of "arche writing," marked by temporality:
a succession of signs in time, spacing between signs, differences,
absences not presences.
illusion of stability, through "trace". Deconstruction cancels
the search or need for origin, since there is no grounding origin
for language or signs.
function only in a network, chains of signs, traces of differential
connections in the network, differences and deferrals.
Deconstruction as Disclosure of Internal and Systemic Contradictions:
Examples of Other Cultural Binaries
- Deconstruction is not about the demolition truth or reality, but about subverting illusions in our language and ideologies that pretend to provide unquestionable natural or universal grounds for belief and knowledge.
- Deconstruction is not so much something we can do, but something we are in.
- But we can recognize the metaphorics of ideologies and beliefs and challenge real-world politics, policies, debates that pretend to justify their rightness through a tissue of over-loaded metaphors that can't provide absolute foundations.
|Sexual actor, aggressor
||Sexual receiver, prey
- How do these and other unacknowledged cultural constructs continue to play
- One result of working through deconstruction is Rorty's view that we need to use open debate and argument to find persuasive ways to bring about a better world, not from absolute foundations, but from descriptions of what we want to embrace. (As he affirms in the title of a book of his interviews, "Take care of freedom, and truth will take care of itself.")