Title: "Speculations--on '(Derri)da'"̓
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Title: "Speculations--on '(Derri)da'"̓
Physical Description: x, 260 leaves : ; 28 cm.
Language: English
Creator: Fletcher, Barbara
Copyright Date: 1984
Subject: English thesis Ph. D
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Statement of Responsibility: by Barbara Fletcher.
Thesis: Thesis (Ph. D.)--University of Florida, 1984.
Bibliography: Bibliography: leaves 256-259.
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Barbara Fletcher




Copyright 1984


Barbara Fletcher

I wish to dedicate this dissertation to my sister, Mary

Roth, whose love meant so much to me and my children; to my

father, Robert J. Turnbach, who loved stories; to my mother,

Mary E. Benjamin, whose faith in me is unflagging; to my

sons, John Lloyd, William Charles, and Tucker McKay, my

future; and, finally to my good friend, John Leavey, whose

humor and support were unfaltering.


I should like to thank various people on my committee

for their incalculable aid. First, my thanks to my director

Professor Gregory Ulmer, whose enthusiasm for criticism

served as an impetus for my own, and whose penetrating

questions forced me to clarify my own thought. My thanks to

Professor Alistair Duckworth and Professor John Perlette

whose reading expertise was always available to me and whose

suggestions proved invaluable. To Professor Robert D'Amico

who encouraged me and who managed to keep a straight face as

I "trampled" around in his discipline, I extend my thanks.

My thanks to Professor John P. Leavey, Jr., whose sharp

intelligence was always at my disposal and whose patience

and kindness proved inexhaustible. Professor Leavey was

kind enough to supply the English translation for La Carte

postal. Finally, I should like to thank the people at

Professional Typing whose help was as expert as it was



This dissertation is the result of a struggle to under-

stand the work of Jacques Derrida, a French philosopher who

attacks the metaphysics of presence. Part I, after briefly

summarizing a few of the contradictions generated by this

metaphysics, turns to American deconstruction. This turn

was prompted by a vague feeling that American deconstruction

had little in common with Derrida's work. I chose for

examination the work of Jonathan Culler who has written most

comprehensively on deconstruction as it is practiced in

America. Culler mistakenly identifies Derrida's reinscrip-

tion of "writing" with the empirical mark, a (concept of)

writing that represents the Voice (phonologocentrism), and

what he identifies with Derridean deconstruction turns out

to be the "difference" between (what Saussure called)

"positive terms." The dissertation then turns for an

example of a deconstructive reading strategy to the work of

Barbara Johnson. Johnson's analysis of the rhetorical

levels of Melville's Billy Budd serves as a model for any

kind of rhetorical analysis, but it in no way departs from

the principles of a classical reading model. In fact, it

serves as a demonstration of the problems that emerge from

that model. Johnson attempts to divorce the performance


level of Melville's text from its statements, but her

analysis is caught in one of its own reading positions, as,

consequently, is Melville. What I found is that the

performative is totally dependent upon the position it

criticizes (and to which all positions are reducible), the

literal-motivated, which the performative needs in order to

proceed as such.

Part II is more or less a rethinking of my own posi-

tion. What does it mean to read Derrida with classical

methods? What am I doing when I read a philosopher for

information, for a communication, for a thesis, a theme and

so forth, when these are the very things that he problema-

tizes? I am not without a "hypothesis." Derrida rein-

scribes (relocates, dislocates) the self-reflexive classical

reader (me), a reader interested in the production of a

thesis, who makes a mirror of the text, naming and identi-

fying his own images. Does this sound familiar? The

classical reader plays the fort:da game, and has fun doing

so. This is, at least, my hypothesis. Not one to be left

entirely speechless, I then turn to the work of Paul de Man,

specifically, his justly famous essay, "Semiology and

Rhetoric," and use it to learn how the speculative game

works. I then conclude with a very brief passage on specu-

lation and the Nietzschean fort:da game.



ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS . . . . . . . . . iv

PREFACE . . . . . . . . . . . . v

ABSTRACT . . . . . . . . . . . ix



Problems Within the Metaphysics of
Presence: Contradictories . . . . . 5
Problems Within the Metaphysics of Presence:
Relations . . . . . . . . . 11
Leaving Philosophy, "Philosophically" . . 16
Paleonomy . . . . . . . . . 23
Footprints . . . . . . . . . 30


Repetition . . . . . . . . . 38
The Positive Term (The Positive "Turn") . . 41
The Classical Model (We've "Grown
Accustomed" To Its Face--Almost!) . . . 60
Enter Husserl (Off Stage Directions:
He shakes hands with Saussure) . . . . 76
Footprints . . . . . . . . . 84


Footprints . . . . . . . . . 119



The Fort:Da Game . . . . . . . . 131
The Athetic Mode of Speculation . . . .154
Footprints . . . . . . . . . .169



. . . . . . 177

War Games . . . . . . .
Suspension Substitution In Other Words
Board Meeting . . . . . .
The Mock Fight . . . . ..
Station WPdM . . . . . . .
Take Two . . . . . . . .
Madly In Love With Appearances . .
Footprints . . . . . . .

THE QUICK TURN . . . . . . . . .244

Deconstruction and Text: Prosthesis .
Force: The Textual Dance . . .
Footprints . . . . . . .

. . .245
. . . 252
. . .253

WORKS CITED . . . . . . . . . . .256








Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy



Barbara Fletcher

August, 1984

Chairman: Gregory Ulmer
Major Department: English

This dissertation is a study of the work of Jacques

Derrida, a French philosopher who attacks the "metaphysics

of presence." After a brief discussion of a few of the

contradictions inherent to concepts centered on speech

("phonologocentrism"), the dissertation examines the recep-

tion of Derrida's work in the United States. Jonathan

Culler, a theoretician, mistakenly identifies Derrida's

reinscription of "writing" with the empirical mark, a

(concept of) writing that represents the Voice itself; the

unwitting result is that Culler analyzes what Saussure calls

"the positive term." Culler's work remains in a precritical

relation to Derridean deconstruction. The dissertation then

turns for an example of a deconstructive strategy of reading

to Barbara Johnson's essay on Melville's Billy Budd.

Johnson's analysis of the rhetorical levels cf the text in

no way departs from the principles of a classical reading

model and in fact her analysis is caught in one of its own

reading mechanisms. Johnson attempts to divorce the perfor-

mative level of Melville's text from its statements. But we

find that the performative is totally dependent upon the

position it criticizes (and to which all positions are

reducible) in order to proceed as such. The dissertation

then moves to a consideration of how Derrida reinscribes

(relocates, dislocates) the self-reflexive classical reader,

a reader interested in the production of a thesis, who makes

a mirror of the text, naming and identifying his own images;

the classical reader plays the Freudian fort:da game. The

dissertation then uses the work of Paul de Man, specifically

his essay "Semiology and Rhetoric," as an example of this

speculative game. The dissertation then concludes with a

brief gesture to the Nietzschean fort:da: rhythm.




Perhaps no other figure on the contemporary intellect-

ual scene has been the occasion of such heated debate as has

Jacques Derrida. Best known for his work of deconstruction,

Derrida poses a formidable challenge to the assumptions of

philosophy, synonymous for him with the metaphysics of

presence. With a waggish gesture to its idolatry of voice,

word, phallus, center (all substitutes in one way or another

for presence), he, piling syllable upon syllable, mimicking

its attempt to incorporate without remainder, christens it

"phonologophallocentrism." Now, when one considers that

philosophy has elaborated our understanding of the world no

less than of ourselves, that philosophy has supplied the

structure and vocabulary of our knowledge (presence,

essence, existence, experience, substance, subject, object,

truth, consciousness, reception, reality, phenomena, cat-

egories of time and space--indeed the catalogue seems end-

less), one soon becomes aware of the enormity of Derrida's

challenge and the importance of the debate. For philosophy

is not simply one arcane, specialized domain of knowledge.

Think for a moment of the various spheres of knowledge both

open to humankind and opened up by humankind, disparate

areas such as language, literature, psychology, physics,

biology, and so forth. Not only has the content of these

various disciplines itself originated within philosophy, but

the very means by which their boundaries are drawn come from

it. Philosophy has given us our notion of truth, has given

us a grammar of our language; it has supplied us with

differing definitions and criteria for our intellectual

activities. In short, philosophy, for better or worse,

consciously or unconsciously, structures our conceptual

apparatus and is the basis of our cultural formations.

We have also taken philosophy as a formulation of

universal truth: western rationality is rationality

"itself." How else are we to understand Jonathan Culler's

characterization of Derrida's work as showing us "that the

exercise of language and thought involves us in intractable

paradoxes, which we can not escape but only repress"

(Culler, 156:1981), other than as an underwriting of this

assumption. The unqualified acceptance of the nature of

language and thought--its very "naturalness"--is what

requires attention in this description along with the

fatalistic promotion of the necessity for a particular kind

of repression. Certainly, to consider as "paradoxical"

("seemingly" or "apparently" true, says the Random House

dictionary) the contradictions in "thought" that emerge

under the pressure of Derrida's reading is much more reas-

suring than to entertain the suspicion that perhaps what

we have taken for "thought" ("itself") is simply the

prescriptions of powerful forms of discourses united in a

common project of protecting presence in all of its various

forms, that is to say, prescriptions protecting themselves.

This brings me immediately to the question of Derrida's

relevance to the study of literature. In that literary

critics utilize concepts or philosophical principles to

examine and comment upon literary texts, their reading is a

philosophical or classical one, supported by the metaphysics

of presence. In this sense, literary critics are "doing"

philosophy and reading philosophically. Of course, this is

not to be taken as a slur. We cannot do without the classi-

cal reading, and Derrida has made that clear over and over

again. To be "guilty" of metaphysics, as one of my friends

slyly puts it, is no terrible thing. Derrida's deconstruc-

tive strategies are not replacements of the classical style.

Rather, they help resituate the philosophical. Decons-ruc-

tion is a means of reading that is not simply a "spin off"

from the classical kind. I am not trying to soft pedal the

implications of Derrida's critique, implications that are,

to my mind, political in the extreme. Watching Derrida

"solicit" or "shake" the foundations of the thought struc-

tures of our culture with what seems to be great ease is, if

I may indulge in understatement, "unsettling." I suppose I

am trying to say that, as readers, we should foster reading

and not simply one particular kind of reading.

At any rate, we might begin to approach Derrida's work

by considering problems he finds within the classical field

and problems he finds with other philosophers who attempt to

move beyond this field, but who fail precisely because they

"borrow" from a philosophy they would criticize. After

doing so, we will consider his strategy and why he deems

such a strategy necessary. What should become evident,

however, in the brief examples that follow is the way in

which the classical reading model in the hands of a rigorous

reader like Derrida can be used to point to its own prob-


Problems Within the Metaphysics of
Presence: Contradictories

One of the most devastating demonstrations of the

contradictory positions generated by the metaphysics of

presence is Derrida's analysis of Saussure in Of Gramma-

tology. Derrida delineates the way in which a theory of

language maintains two coherent positions, each of which

conflicts with the other. With regard to the metaphysics of

presence and its capacity to generate contradictory posi-

tions, Derrida remarks,

As in the dream, as Freud analyzes it, incompat-
ibles are simultaneously admitted as soon as it is
a matter of satisfying a desire, in spite of the
principle of identity, or of the excluded third
party--the logical time of consciousness.
(Derrida, 1976:245)

On the one hand, Saussure writes that "Language and writing

are two distinct systems of signs; the second exists for the

sole purpose of representing the first" (Saussure in

Derrida, 1976:30). Within the unity of the sign, the

concept is termed the signified and the -hought-sound is its

signifier. Between sense and sound, meaning and the phone,

there exists a "natural bond, the only true bond, the bond

of sound" (Saussure in Derrida, 1976:35). So language is

constituted solely by the spoken word, and writing is simply

a signifier of a sign, a sign's representation or "image."

As a simple "image" of this thought-sound, writing is

secondary, derivative, and external. On the other hand,

since Saussure has declared sign systems to be arbitrary

(language and writing as two distinct sign systems), how

writing might be supposed to "image" speech is unclear. One

might yet object that in limiting his analysis to phonetic

writing, Saussure is correct in claiming that the grapheme

"images"--better, represents--the phoneme, that the written

notation is simply a signifier of the word that is already a

unity of the signifier/signified. Nonetheless, Saussure

himself maintains that "signs used in writing are arbitrary;

there is no connection, for example, between the letter 't'

and the sound it designates" (Saussure in Derrida

1976:326-27). He then strikes at the very heart of what he

set out to protect: the privilege of sound in relation to

sense. He ultimately denies the primacy of sound and grants

it only secondary status: ". . it is impossible for sound

alone, a material element, to belong to language. It is

only a secondary thing, substance to be put to use"

(Saussure, 1966:118). More telling perhaps is his statement

concerning the nature of the "sound image" or signifier.

His description not only borrows from the very order that he

is trying to exclude ("writing"), but eliminates any possi-

bility of considering the signifier in terms of a reflection

or representation (substitute or stand-in) of the voice.

Nor has the signifier a simple relation with the reception

of its sound through the sense of hearing. As a matter of

fact, the description completely undermines the relation of

the signifier to an empirical model of perception:

The linguistic sign unites, not a thing and a
name, but a concept and a sound image. The latter
is not the material sound, a purely physical
thing, but the psychological imprint of the sound,
the impression that it makes on our senses.
(Saussure, 1966:66)

Hence the phoneme, as Derrida dryly concludes, "is the

unimaginable itself and no visibility can resemble it"


This overly brief consideration of Derrida's reading of

Saussure to which I intend to return later (see Chapter II)

serves here only as an example of contradictions within the

metaphysics of presence. It should be noted, however, how

firmly entrenched within this contradiction is the "belief"

in speech as a self-evident truth or the obvious itself. A

philosopher as astute as Newton Garver writes an extremely

sympathetic preface to the English edition of Speech and

Phenomena that, while assimilating Derrida to Aristotle (in

spite of the fact that "there can be no question of the

originality of Derrida's formulation . there is an

interesting historical precedent for some of the main points

in Aristotle" [Garver in Derrida, 1973:xxv]), misses the

point entirely. Garver's first statement signals, if

nothing else, the extreme difficulty a voice-oriented

culture experiences in understanding what Derrida calls

"writing" or in thinking of it other than as a recording

device for speech: "Like Derrida, Aristotle bases his

theory of meaning on spoken language; but what is spoken

becomes language only if it can also be written down" (xxv).

Aside from the misconstrual of the argument (not only the

equation of writing with an empiric representation, not only

the importation of Aristoltelian teleological determinations

that ensure a difference between meaningless animal sounds

and meaningful human ones--see, for example, Derrida (1982d:

236)--but also a rather murky indication of the traditional

alphabetic prejudice that overlooks other empiric forms of

writing), there is a rather touching repetition of a reading

practice that runs throughout the culture, a practice

Derrida criticizes incessantly: the constant recourse to

teleology, the infinite impulse to exert mastery by erasing

differences as quickly as possible. Nothing new here--we

find the "seed" "already" in Aristotle (". . as if every-

thing was in everything and always ahead of the cara-

van . you can always pass off the preexistence of a word

as the anteriority of a concept with which you then claim to

indebt or even impregnate everyone. You get your hands on a

brand-name, and use it everywhere" [Derrida, 1978e:82]).

From De Interpretatione, chapter two, Garver quotes:

A name is a spoken sound significant by conven-
tion, without time, none of whose parts is

significant in separation . I say "by conven-
tion" because no name is a name naturally but only
when it has become a symbol. Even inarticulate
[agrammatoi] noises (of beasts, for instance) do
indeed reveal something yet none of them is a
name. (Garver in Derrida, 1973:xxv)

The desire to inseminate Aristotle with ecriture and

difference, the desire to give Jacques a (Derri) "dada," to

make Jacques (as Freud assumed his little grandson Ernst was

doing with himself) (Derri) "Da," emerges in the commentary:

Here the key concept is that of being "articu-
lated," that is, composed of segments or parts,
for which Aristotle here uses the words grammata
(elsewhere stoicheia) and grammatoi. Now grammata
are normally thought of as letters; but since a
sound cannot literally have letters, they must be
thought of here as phonemes--that is, as the parts
of a sound that can be represented by letters
[underlining mine]. The natural cries of animals
do signify something, they are signs; but they are
not symbols, and we know they are not conven-
tional, because they are not composed of articu-
late parts and cannot faithfully be transcribed in
writing [underlining mine]. So Aristotle held
that what characterizes human speech and distin-
guishes it from natural cries is the possibility
of writing (ecriture) and the internal segmenta-
tion or differentiation of even the simplest
semantic elements differencee). (xxv)

In equating articulation (phonemes represented by

letters) and difference (segmentation of the simplest

semantic elements) with the phonemic structure of language,

the whole of Garver's analysis reiterates the traditional

understanding of writing with written speech. Garver also

argues that "phonemic difference is a matter of difference

rather than either actual acoustic difference as such or

ideal difference as such," yet he recuperates difference to

a phonology, to "patterns of vocalization"--segments of

sound that writing "faithfully" transcribes. Garver's

analysis misses Derrida's point (if I may use such an

expression). Difference escapes the order of the voice, of

being voiced, is neither phonic nor phonemic. Articulation

belongs neither to the visible nor audible order. Nor can

writing ("ecriture") be reduced to its "vulgar concept"

(Derrida, 1976a:65). Far from being available to any

empiric sensibility, "the graphic image is not seen and the

acoustic image is not heard" (65).

When Derrida resorts to what he calls "writing," which

becomes, in his words, a "tool of intervention," he does not

"borrow" its metaphysical equivalent ("vulgar concept").

For the metaphysics of presence has no concept of writing as

such, only a concept of "written speech," or concepts of

writing governed by speech. Take for example, the "problem

of the picture-puzzle (rebus a transfert):

The problem of the picture-puzzle (rebus a trans-
fert) brings together all the difficulties. As
pictogram, a representation of the thing may find
itself endowed with a phonetic value. This does
not efface the "pictographic" reference which,
moreover, has never been simply "realistic." The
signifier is broken or constellated into a system:
it refers at once, and at least, to a thing and to
a sound. The thing is itself a collection of
things or a chain of differences "in space;" the
sound, which is also inscribed within a chain, may
be a word; the inscription is then ideogrammatical
or synthetic, it cannot be decomposed; but the
sound may also be an atomic element itself
entering into the composition: we are dealing
then with a script apparently pictographic and in
fact phonetico-analytical in the same way as the
alphabet. (90)

Thus, where we least expect speech, or its principles, we

find it. Consequently, Derrida's refusal to "borrow" from

the principles (also a "bankrupt" capital fund) of

metaphysics, constitutes a good deal of the "credibility" of

his "account."

Problems Within the Metaphysics of
Presence: Relations

Derrida deals with another problem within the meta-

physics of presence in his Edmund Husserl's "Origin of

Geometry": An Introduction. Here, the example is not so

much two conflicting positions being advanced simultaneously

but rather the relational character of two metaphysical

concepts the tradition has conceived as mutually exclusive

and opposed. Derrida tackles the categories of univocity

and equivocity and shows how each, instead of being distinct

from one another, repeats within itself what allows the

other to be thought.

What is univocity and why is it important to Husserl?

Univocity is unambiguous language capable of carrying

meaning not subjected to the corruption of time. For

Husserl, univocity establishes what he calls historicityy"

(as opposed to empirical history)--to which we gain access

through the reduction. Historicity is a "pure" history

concerned with "the transmission and recollection [recueil-

lement] of sense" (Derrida, 1978b:102); available to us as a

part of our common heritage, history must necessarily escape

the confines of any particular language.

Husserl distinguishes two types of equivocity; the

first--homonymy--he dismisses rather prematurely. The

second type, that of "sedimented meaning" is perceived as

more disturbing simply because the accumulation of cultural

experience allows the original meaning expressed by the

language to "enter into unforseeable configurations"

(Derrida, 1978b:101). In other words, the original intent

of the statement, because it is expressed in a language that

acquires new meanings and undergoes change through cultural

experience and history, runs the risk of becoming just one

possible intention relative to all others. This is the

equivocity that science or philosophy must deal with. As

Derrida notes, what is at stake in the preservation of this

historicity is the meaning of the tradition itself: the

collective knowledge and experience shared by people of all

times. Husserl, through the reduction, wagers that he can

restore this meaning to its original state.

Because it brings everything to view within a
present act of evidence, because nothing is hidden
or announced in the penumbra of potential inten-
tions, because it has mastered all the dynamics of
sense, univocal language remains the same. It
thus keeps its ideal identity throughout all
cultural development. It is the condition that
allows communication among generations of invest-
igators no matter how distant and assures the
exactitude of translation and the purity of
tradition. (Derrida, 1978b:102)

The necessity of univocity becomes apparent when the effects

of equivocity are examined. If equivocity is admitted, its

effects would restrict a culture to itself and would elimi-

nate any possibility of a common history by generating many

possible histories; the "truth" of a culture would thus be

irretrievable. And yet, too rigid a univocity wculd amount

to the same thing by making a history unique; it would

"paralyze it in the indigence of an indefinite iteration"

(Derrida, 1978b:102) and thus remove it from a common

understanding. If the history of a specific culture were

absolutely closed upon itself, unique, or if each were

absolutely different, there would be no possibility of a

common understanding, no translation (however broadly or

narrowly conceived) of meaning.

Faced with the Scylla and Charybdis nature of each

position, how, Derrida asks, does one who in the Hegelian

sense desires "to assume and interiorize the memory of a

culture in a kind of recollection [Errinnerung]" (102), go

about such a precarious business? The first strategy

Derrida examines is that of Joyce who wagers on equivocity.

Since equivocity already "evidences a certain depth of

development and concealment of a past" (102), Joyce puts it

to work to unveil the structural unity of all empirical

cultures. His strategy would

repeat and take responsibility for all equivo-
cation itself, utilizing a language that could
equalize the greatest possible synchrony with the
greatest potential for buried, accumulated, and
interwoven intentions within each simple pro-
position, in all worldly cultures and their most
ingenious forms (mythology, religion, sciences,
arts, literature, politics, philosophy, and so
forth) . would try to make the structural
unity of all empirical culture appear in the
generalized equivocation of a writing that, no
longer translating one language into another on
the basis of their common cores of sense, circu-
lates throughout all languages at once, accumu-
lates their energies, actualizes their most secret
consonances, discloses their furthermost common
horizons, cultivates their associative syntheses
instead of avoiding them, and rediscovers the
poetic value of passivity. In short, rather than
put it out of play with quotation marks, rather

than "reduce" it, this writing resolutely settles
itself within the labyrinthian field of culture
"bound" by its own equivocations, in order to
travel through and explore the vastest possible
historical distance that is now at all possible.

Husserl's strategy, a wager on univocity, would seem to be

the opposite, but in fact is not. Indeed, it is "the

transcendental parallel to Joyce's" (103) and provides the

theoretical ground for the validity of Joyce's structures.

Thus, although parallel, the two are not symmetrical.

Husserl's strategy:

to reduce or impoverish empirical language method-
ically to the point where its univocal and trans-
latable elements are actually transparent, in
order to reach back and grasp again at its pure
source a historicity or traditionality that no de
facto historical totality will yield of itself.
This historicity or traditionality is always
already presupposed by every Odyssean repetition
of Joyce's type . (102)

In other words, in making use of empirical and equivocal

language in order to allow any common univocal structure to

emerge, Joyce's project either presupposes a given univocity

or produces one of its own, else "the very text of its

repetition would have been unintelligible; at least it would

have remained so forever and for everyone" (103). Nonethe-

less, if equivocity presupposes univocity, univocity must

recognize its complicity with equivocity. For "absolute

univocity is imaginable only in two limiting cases" (103).

Derrida's first example: an object not only "singular,"

"immutable," and "natural," but also of a kind "whose unity,

identity, and Objectivity would in themselves be prior to

all culture" (103). Even if this unimaginable precultural

object were possible, Derrida remarks, the act of coding it

linguistically would place it in a network of relations and

opposition, would load it "with intentions or with lateral

and virtual reminiscences" (103). It would be a question

here of the linguistic burden carried by anything inscribed

within the network of language. Second example: an object

both ideal (removed from all contingency) and transcultural.

But in this case what would come to frustrate its identity

or univocity would be its own capacity for future meaning,

other possibilities of signification.

Likewise, equivocity in language is unavoidable, indeed

desirable. "The 'same' word is always 'other' according to

the always different intentional acts which thereby make a

word significative significant] (104). Consequently,

equivocity and univocity must be understood, not opposition-

ally, but relatively. Univocity, Derrida explains, must

name equivocity, determine the equivocal that, in its many

possibilities within a series, is the condition for choosing

one particular meaning over another. And Husserl formalizes

the conditions under which this is possible.

In giving it the sense of an infinite task,
Husserl does not make univocity . the value
for a language impoverished and thus removed out
of history's reach. Rather, univocity is both the
a priori and the teleological condition for all
historicity; it is that without which the very
equivocations of an empirical culture and history
would not be possible. (104-05)

What are the consequences for the metaphysics of

presence? Derrida is demonstrating that the concept of

meaning ("univocal," "equivocal," "differential": let us

sum all these up as the Voice) itself is an effect of the

metaphysics of presence. The concept of meaning is both the

a priori and the teleological condition of "meaning." The

principle (of meaning, in this case), as he will later say,

is "there before being there" (Derrida, 1980b:427), or, to

put it differently, the principle (of meaning, in this case,

but this holds true of all principles) runs ahead (of

itself) in order to produce what comes after (itself).

Hence, "its possibility is its impossibility." "Principles"

are the (im)possibility of the metaphysics of presence as

are all concepts.

Does this mean that we should immediately abandon all

conceptuality? Of course, the attempt to do so might indeed

provide an afternoon's worth of entertainment, but probably

no more. Derrida is not arguing for "nirvana." The trick,

then, is to situate conceptuality, to re-write it. We shall

come to this shortly. But for now, let us examine the

problem of attempting to leave metaphysics by means ot

metaphysics, to criticize philosophy by means of philosoph-

ical concepts.

Leaving Philosophy, "Philosophically"

We have just reviewed analyses of two different kinds

of "paradox" generated by our conceptual system. We must

remind ourselves that we are dealing with a system of

critical/philosophical concepts whose objective is to

approximate more and more a condition of truth and lay bare

a transparent order of knowledge. This system, structuring

what we call thinking, appearing to us as "natural" and
"universal," is impossible to attack and not without (if the

pun will be forgiven) reason. Vincent Desccmbes has

described Derrida's attempt to resituate this system as a

"very close contest against a formidable Master, whom we

night think certain to win at a game with rules which he

himself has fixed" (Descombes, 1982:138). Why? Without a

strategic and delicate tool of intervention aimed at dis-

turbing the very foundations of the discourse of philosophy,

every objection one might bring against this system can only

be expressed within the conceptual (philosophical) language

of that system. Every "concept," every bit of knowledge we

recognize as knowledge, every new model one might offer as

replacement for a previous one, is already a part of and is

prepared for by this system. Philosophy can incorporate the

most radical kind of content, and yet because philosophy

provides the foundation for that knowledge and structures

it, philosophy remains impervious to that content. This is

why trying to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps in order

to leap out of this field with "both feet" is impossible.

There is no sense in doing without the concepts cf
metaphysics in order to shake metaphysics. we
have no language--no syntax and no lexicon--which
is foreign to this history; we can pronounce not a
single destructive proposition which has not
already had to slip into the form, the logic, and
the implicit postulations of precisely what it
seeks to contest. (Derrida, 1978f:280-81)

The warning here is addressed to those who think they

can turn the page of philosophy or simply step outside of

it, to "metaphysicians" of unbriddled optimism. In "The

Supplement of Copula," Derrida demonstrates that Emile

Benveniste's analysis of Aristotle--Beneveniste argues that

Aristotle, far from dealing with the categories of Being,

"is simply identifying certain fundamental categories of the

language in which he thought" (Derrida, 1982d:180)--is not

only inadequate philosophically but implicitly incorporates

philosophical criticisms and must resort to distinctions,

i.e. thought/language, provided by philosophy itself. In

any attempt to turn its page, philosophy resurfaces all the

more cunningly; one now cannot even recognize its func-


In the same article, Derrida reviews two philosophical

broadjumps, those of Nietzsche and Heidegger, that fail

precisely because they leave the philosophical ground

untouched, or, perhaps equally as well, remain too firmly

planted upon it. The Nietzschean gesture takes the form of

an attack upon language and grammar, along with an analysis

of truth that is declared to be nothing but arbitrary

metaphors. As Derrida remarks,

At a given moment, then, Nietzsche has to appeal
to philosophical schemes (for example, the arbi-
trariness of the sign, or the emancipation of
thought as concerns a language), in his critical
operation against metaphysics. (1982d:179)

The distinction between thought and language (the exter-

iority of the signifier to the idea), between the sensible

(worn away to unwittingly yield) and the intelligible,

between the literal and the figurative, all of these come

from philosophy.

To declare that truth is metaphor is once more to

confirm the power of metaphysics. For Derrida, metaphor is

one of the more subtle yet important means that logocentrism

uses to cover its "tracks," so to speak.4

Metaphor in general, the passage from one existent
to another, or from one signified meaning to
another, authorized by the initial submission cf
Being to the existent, the analogical displacement
of Being, is the essential weight which anchors
discourse in Metaphysics, irremediably repressing
discourse into its metaphysical state. (Derrida,

For in securing for itself a tropical relationship with its

beginnings or source, alluded to by means of (note the

"metaphors" within the definition of metaphor, the presence

of the defined within the definition: metaphor abysses

itself5) resemblance, or correspondence, metaphor generates

and secures an unlimited surplus value, an illimitable

return on a capital investment, this security being guar-

anteed by its infinite capacity to reflect only itself.

Deriving profit on its own loss (primordial meaning posited

by means of metaphor) on its march to truth or absolute

knowledge, philosophy can always declare its mistakes, its

stumblings to be "only metaphors" without impairing its

profit, its spirituality, the gain produced by its derived

"nonmetaphoric" concepts, without fear of losing authority

or face.

Nonetheless, metaphor's very wealth becomes the occa-

sion of its poverty.6 This becomes more immediately

apparent when we examine the status of such a statement as

"truth is metaphor." On the one hand, the statement seems

to cancel the value of truth by declaring it metaphoric; yet

it does so by means of one more metaphor. If truth is a

metaphor, the truth becomes a metaphor for metaphor, an

"extra" metaphor, at once both profit and loss. For this

"extra metaphor" that "extracts or abstracts itself from

this field . as a metaphor less" is "the missing turn of

speech," missing from the system that appeals to it as its

guarantee or ground. But since the ground can no longer be

grounded, metaphysics can no longer capitalize on itself or

make a profit (Derrida, 1982d:220).

Derrida also refers to Heidegger's attempt to free the

field of language from the domination of metaphysics (in the

form of logic and grammar) that occupies it. Heidegger

assigned this liberation to "thought and poetry." We might

for the moment detour through "The Retrait of Metaphor"

where Derrida deals with a classical reading of the

Heideggerian text and briefly summarize Derrida's remarks in

order to clarify what is at stake. When Heidegger turns to

poetic thought, and from determinate metaphors to the state

of metaphoricity, this move still underwrites metaphysics.

I shall simply snip out pieces of Derrida's argument in a

somewhat grotesque fashion: in Heidegger, the metaphysical

concept of metaphor corresponds to a withdrawal ("reserve,

shelter, dissimulation, veiling, being hidden") of Being and

this moment is indissociable from the movement of presence

or truth.

Withdrawing in displaying itself or being deter-
mined as or under this mode of Being . Being
is already submitted, autrement dit, sozusagen, so
to speak, to a sort of metaphorico-metonymic
displacement. This whole of this aforesaid
history of Western metaphysics would be a vast
structural process where the epoche of Being
withholding itself, holding itself in withdrawal,
would take or rather would present an (interlaced)
series of guises, of turns, of modes, that is to
say, of figures or of tropical aspects (allures)
which we could be tempted to describe with the aid
of rhetorical conceptuality. Each of these
words--form, guise, turn, mode, figure--would
already be in a tropical situation. To the extent
of this temptation, "metaphysics" would not only
be the enclosure in which the concept of metaphor
itself would be produced and enclosed. Metaphy-
sics itself . would itself be in a tropical
position with respect to Being or the thought of
Being. This metaphysics as a tropical system
. would correspond to an essential withdrawal
of Being: unable to reveal itself, to present
itself except in dissimulating itself under the
"species" of an epochal determination underliningg
mine], under the species of an as which obliter-
ates its as such (Being as eidos, as subjectivity
(sic), as will, as work, etc.), Being would only
allow itself to be named in a metaphorico-
metonymical divergence (ecart). (Derrida,

This last remark requires the most careful consideration.

Derrida is underlining the difference between Being and a

simple determination of it as a species of a particularized

manifestation that, in its specific historical character, is

no longer Being "as such," Being "qua Being," but now a

being. As Derrida remarks, the "as" rips the "is" apart,

unstitches it. This determinate "as" puts the totality of

Being out of the order of philosophy and philosophy can no

longer order what exceeds its reach. To continue:

One would then be tempted to say: the metaphy-
sical, which corresponds in its discourse to the
withdrawal of Being, tends to reassemble, in
resemblance, all its metonymic divergences in a
great metaphor of Being or of the thought of
Being. This bringing together is the language of
metaphysics itself. (20-21)

Metaphor, since it cannot encompass the "as such," can only

deal with the "as" (i.e., "the 'species' of an epochal

determination"), with being, and not Being:

. the relation of (ontotheological) metaphy-
sics to the thought of Being, can nc longer be
named--literally--metaphoric as soon as the usage
. [is] fixed by way of this couple of metaphy-
sical opposition to describe relations among
beings. Being being nothing, not being a being,
it can not be expressed or named more metaphorico.
And therefore it dces not have, in such a context
of the dominant metaphysical usage of the word
"metaphor," a proper or literal meaning which
could be alluded to (vise) metaphorically by
metaphysics. Consequently, if we cannot speak
metaphorically on its subject, neither can we
speak properly or literally. (21)

The turn to a trope inscribed within the field of classical

rhetoric, to poetry as a way out of metaphysics, fails.

Aspiring to produce a meta-metaphorics, such metaphysical

discourse flounders on the shore of one more metaphor.

Reminding us that Sein und Zeit was never completed, Derrida

cites a remark of Heidegger's commenting on the failure of

his project.

Here everything is reversed. The section in
question was held back because thinking failed in
the adequate saying of this turning and did not
succeed with the help of the language of metaphy-
sics. (Heidegger quoted in Derrida, 1982d:179)

We have reviewed the attempt of two pre-eminent phil-

osophers to dismiss metaphysics. Each project fails either

because in reimporting philosophical schemas, philosophy

returns by way of the back door; or because in failing to

formulate a strategy adequate to the task, philosophy

declines the invitation to leave by way of the front one.

The risks of attempting to leap outside of the province of

philosophy, or of demanding ploys from it in the form of any

of the particular sciences or regional ontologies (science,

linguistics, rhetoric, science of literature and art,

religion, psychoanalysis, history, politics, and so forth)

that philosophy controls, should now be apparent. The

undoing or unstitching of metaphysics "cannot be achieved by

means of a simply discursive or theoretical gesture"

(Derrida, 1982d:xxi) and unless specific attention is paid

to philosophy's powers of reappropriation, "the philosophi-

cal order will remain activated a tergo by misconstrued

philosophical machines, according to delegation or precipi-

tation, ignorance or stupidity" (xxii). Thus, this undoing

or unstitching cannot be accomplished by means of more or

different concepts, concepts being the province of philoso-

phy and determined by presence.


Metaphysics cannot be criticized by means of itself, by

means of its "principles."

The 'metaphysical' is a certain determination or
direction taken by a sequence or 'chain.' It
cannot as such be opposed by a concept but rather
by a process of textual labor and a different sort
of articulation. (Derrida, 1982b:6)

Derrida outlines the thrust his strategy takes, the form of

such "textual labor" (which must be done practically [3])

when he speaks of palecnomy, the "preservation of old names"

(3) a style that provides reconstruction a means of inter-

vening in the field it criticizes. It is the means by which

the tradition, submitted to a certain kind of re-examina-

tion, is "re-edited" (44), "re-published." Derrida inaugur-

ates the plural style of a double science

according to which every concept necessarily
receives two similar marks--a repetition without
identity--one mark inside and the other outside
the deconstructed system and which should give
rise to a double reading and a double writing.

This double system opens on to "a double understanding no

longer forming a single system" and delimitss the space of a

closure no longer analogous to what philosophy can represent

for itself under this name" (Derrida, 1982d:xxiv). It

propagates the rhythm of a certain dance by which philoso-

phical concepts, through the structure of this double mark,

are made to "dance otherwise" (Derrida, 1982a:69). To

dance: among other things, "to bob up and down." Somewhat

later we shall speak of this "bobbing up and down" when we

discuss Derrida's remarks concerning the Fort/Da game played

by Freud's little grandson, Ernst. For the moment, and

without benefit of the demonstration, let us think of this

bobbing up and down, this Fort/Da, as the rhythmic appear-

ance and disappearance of theses, themes, meanings posed or

imposed, concepts or of a concept, their rhythmic presence

and absence. To dance otherwise: paleonomy takes the

concept and reedits or re-publishes it according to differ-

ent rhythms, the rhythms of unheard and unseen forces and

differences; it takes a step which is not (pas), which can

never simply come to be. The paleonym dances to the

arrhythmic rhythm of difference.7

Two dances, two rhythms, two repetitions. However,

these two rhythms are neither in equilibrium nor are they

symmetrical. The rhythm of the latter (Nietzsche), which is

neither positional nor oppositional, situates the rhythm of

the former (Freud), is the condition of its possibility, its

appearance and disappearance. It saves the former from

destroying itself in the blast of a single note, from

exhausting itself in a sole and undifferentiated bleat.

Why is the labor of paleonomy necessary? Why, an

imaginary interlocutor might demand, use old names? Why

does Derrida insist on making of old concepts "little

nothings" ("nothings" because no concepts are involved),

"nothing" for speculative thought to look at nor to ruminate

upon; and thus, no way for the philosopher "to be able to

say to himself, again turning on his own hinge; I will have

anticipated it, with absolute knowledge" (Derrida,

1982d:xxv) yet retain the old name? Why not, he might

continue with an aggressive persistence, new names free of

old memories which impose both weight and burden? And why,

once warned of the existence of philosophical schemas that

lie all too "ready at hand," of their treacherous methods of

infiltration, why can we not avoid them? Why can't we draw

up a complete list of such snares, catalogue their uses,

trace their histories and modifications with all the thor-

oughness available to a conscientious obsessive, and simply

remove them from the field of use? Why all this tedious

remarking and why not new names, neologisms?

Derrida's first objection to our interlocutor's optim-

ism should surprise no one. For, as one might now suspect,

our friend assumes once more that we might leap outside of

philosophy (a step which philosophy is quite prepared to

deal with dialectically), the execution of such prancing

always, unhappily, bringing us face to face with philosophy

once more. For our friend must presuppose "the signifier's

simple exteriority to 'its' concept" (Derrida, 1982b:3), and

has merely reintroduced an old philosopheme. Extending this

objection, Derrida might note that it would further reduce

the signifier to the

merely circumstantial, conventional occurrence of
the concept or as a concession without any spe-
cific effect. It would be an affirmation of the
autonomy of meaning, of the ideal purity of an
abstract, theoretical history of the concept. (5)

One is reminded here of one of those little rubber

"schmoos," an air-inflated little creature that one could

bat about without fear of knocking over, so popular a figure

during the '50s. No matter how sly the approach, no matter

how baroquely executed the punch, the thing pops up without

any discernible signs of exhaustion.

Derrida's second objection is posed more in terms of a

political and institutional critique. To attempt to leap

outside the classical system generated by these names/

concepts, structured by a hierarchy of opposition, to do so

simply by fiat, not only constitutes the interminability of

a negative theology, but more, it is

to forget that these opposition have never
constituted a given system, a sort of ahistorical,
thoroughly homogeneous table, but rather a dissym-
metric, hierarchically ordered space whose closure
is constantly being traversed by the forces, and
worked by the exteriority, that it repressed; that
is, expells and, which amounts to the same thing,
internalizes as one of its moments. (5)

In other words, these names/concepts have their Achilles'

heel that power mechanisms such as institutions are inter-

ested in protecting. And as long as these concepts are

ignored or repressed, a flatfooted, aggressive domination

will continue to operate and ensure the perpetuation of the

status quo, no matter what reform may ultimately be insti-

tuted. Certainly this is one of the most formidable

strengths of the dialectic, "always that which has finished

us, because it is always that which takes into account our

rejection of it. As it does our affirmation" (Derrida,


This brings us directly to a consideration of Derrida's

work, the relation of paleonymy to the tradition. To think

of his work in terms of primary or secondary material is

meaningless. These terms derive from the order that he is

busy putting out of order and thus are no longer adequate to

his work. Even a brief excursion into the problems of such

a classification based on the metaphysics of presence should

immediately make the absurdities apparent. Secondary

material concerns itself with the interpretation or expli-

cation of an "original" source and requires the reader to

double the text, to represent, repeat and validate the

text's self-representations by elucidating its themes,

noting its theses, formalizing its assumptions and presuppo-

sitions, its meanings in all their richness and possibility.

But the most cursory perusal of Derrida's work disabuses a

reader of the hope of finding a content of this particular

kind. On the other hand, primary material is--well--"pri-

mary," considered the vehicle of the conscious intention of

an author or, to choose a different model, a performance of

the language itself. Yet the phenomenon of a self-conscious

ego communicating something, along with that of another

self-conscious ego bent on understanding what is going on,

is simply to Derrida (as Freud said of his primary and

secondary processes) a "theoretical fiction" 9: "these

'phenomena' are not phenomena: they never appear as such"

and "cannot even be formulated ideally. Except, that is,

under the heading of 'fiction' . ." (Derrida, 1979b:217).

Here we enter the heart of the difficulty and perhaps

need to consider what Derrida is up to instead of worrying

about what he is not. Derrida actively engages texts of the

tradition yet re-works them in such a way that no adequation

or correspondence with the classical field is possible.

What he writes of in, for example, "The Pharmacy of Plato,"

since it is not based on the metaphysics of presence, is

inaccessible to the classical reading model, cannot be

derived through it; indeed, the energy of his effort is very

often directed towards undermining the rules that govern

this model. Hence, the classical opposition primary/

secondary not only does not apply to his work but, being

based on presence, the opposition itself is called into

question. Equally meaningless is the attempt to situate his

work within the traditional categories of knowledge defined

by academic institutions. Like a concept detached from a

particular discipline and deconstructed--now a paleonym--

that no longer simply belongs to the classical field, so it

is with his work. Speaking specifically of his texts'

relation to philosophy and literature, Derrida remarks:

I will say that my texts belong neither to the
'philosophical' nor to the 'literary' register.
Thereby they communicate, or so I hope at least,
with other texts that, having operated a certain
rupture, can be called 'philosophical' or 'liter-
ary' only according to a kind of paleonomy . .
(Derrida, 1981a:71)

These "ruptures" that occur in all areas of knowledge,

are named with reference to the field from which they are

taken only paleonymically. And if we "know,"

. we know something here which is no longer
anything, with a knowledge whose form can no
longer be recognized under this old name. The
treatment of paleonymy here is no longer a raising
or a regaining of consciousness. (Derrida,

I began the discussion with a consideration of philos-

ophy and recalled its power in structuring cur thought. I

will conclude these remarks with a statement of Derrida's,

the subject of which is not only "thought" but also the

occasion of making it an old name, a paleonym for "nothing."

'In a certain way, 'thought' means nothing.'
"Thought" quotationn marks: the words 'thought'
and what is called 'thought') means nothing: it
is the substantified void of a highly derivative
ideality, the effect of a difference of forces,
the illusory autonomy of a discourse or a con-
sciousness whose hypostasis is to be decon-
structed, whose 'causality' is to be analyzed,
etc. First. Secondly, the sentence can be read
thus: if there is thought--and there is, and it
is just as suspect, for analogous critical rea-
sons, to contest the authority of all 'thought'--
then whatever will continue to be called thought,
and which for example, will designate the decon-
struction of logocentrism, means nothing, for in
the last analysis it no longer derives from
"meaning." Wherever it opera ts, 'thought' means
nothing. (Derrida, 1981a:49)

"Thought" "wants to say" (vouloir dire) "nothing" (rien);

"thought" "means" (vouloir dire) "nothing" (rien).

I have been concentrating on brief examples of the

problems as elaborated by Derrida within the metaphysics of

presence, and with the difficulties of what I shall call

(for lack of a better phrase) "trying something else."

American deconstruction has offered itself as 3ust such an

alternative. Is it? In order to attempt to answer this

question, I should like to turn to the work of Jonathan

Culler, which to my mind, best theorizes deconstruction as

it is practiced in this country. Instead of taking a broad

over-view of this work, however, I am going to analyze it in

as minute a fashion as possible. Let's put the classical

reading model to work.


1. John K. Sheriff similarly desires to inseminate
only this time the expectant parent is C.S. Peirce.
(Sheriff, 1981:51-74). His equating of trace with sign,

along with his vigorous amputation of pertinent parts of
material cited from Derrida underscores the "miscarriage."
For a discussion of "the logic of pregnancy," along with
Derrida's gentle mocking of Barbara Johnson's attempt to
make Lacan big with him, see Derrida, 1980b:160-65.

2. In "White Mythology" (Derrida, 1982d), Derrida
draws a "short dialogue" from Anatole France's The Garden of
Epicurus "between Aristos and Polyphilos . subtitled 'or
the language of metaphysics'" (p. 210). In an attempt to
criticize metaphysics, Polyphilos harangues his friend, "I
think I have at last made you realize one thing, Aristos,
that any expression of an abstract idea can only be an
analogy. By an odd fate, the very metaphysicians who think
to escape the world of appearances are constrained to live
perpetually in allegory. A sorry lot of poets, they dim the
colors of the ancient fables, and are themselves but gath-
erers of fables. They produce white mythology" (p. 213). A
certain hilarity ensues, for in borrowing one of metaphy-
sics' concepts in order to criticize the metaphysicians,
Polyphilos joins the metaphysicians as does his language.
As Derrida remarks, "Parody of the translator, naivete of
the metaphysician or of the pitiful peripatetic who does not
recognize his own figure and does not know where it has
marched him to" (p. 213).

3. With regard to the sublation of the sensible into
the intelligible, Derrida remarks, "the whole of 'White
Mythology' constantly puts in question the current and
currently philosophical interpretation (in Heidegger as
well) of metaphor as a transfer from the sensible to the
intelligible, as well as the privilege accorded this trope
(by Heidegger as well) in the deconstruction of metaphysical
rhetoric" (Derrida, 1978e:13).

4. For a demonstration of the confusion on this
subject see Ryan, 1982:20. One statement in particular
seems to be representative of the difficulty with his
analysis of the way Derrida regards metaphor. "Perhaps
Derrida's most famous text on this problem is 'White Myth-
ology,' in which he argues that because all language is
metaphoric (a sign substituted for a thing) . ." Let us
arrest this statement here, for the moment. Derrida does
not argue that all language is metaphoric; this is specifi-
cally the position he attacks as the position of the meta-
physical tradition. Anyone familiar with his work on
"Rousseau" should regard such a reading as curious indeed.
If anything at all is to be learned from this analysis in Of
Grammatology (Derrida, 1976), it is his re-writing of the
tradition's naive substitutional or representational formu-
lation of the sign. "Rousseau" declares the sign to be a
supplement (an addition, but, at the same time, the replace-
ment). To describe language as metaphoric is to argue for
its identity and its origin or source. Metaphor and all its

opposites are couples that belong to philosophical dis-
course. The concept of metaphor inasmuch as there is a
concept (based on a presence substituted for) belongs to the
field to be deconstructed. Let us continue Ryan's citation:
"no metametaphoric description of language is possible that
escapes infinite regress." Derrida's analysis of this
position applies to more than the simple possibility of
description; it extends to all of language itself, its power
to say. He mocks its capitalization on itself in one of the
subtitles of the essay, "Plus de metaphor" meaning both
"more metaphor" and "no more metaphor" (see the translator's
note, Derrida, 1982d:219). It points towards the tradi-
tion's willingness to overlook the preposterous nature of
its own propositions when it suits its own needs: when, for
example, it decides to write conceptual discourse. For in
what way or to what extent does Ryan's analytic discourse
derive from metaphor?

5. "Each time a rhetoric defines metaphor, it implies
not only a philosophy but a conceptual network within which
philosophy as such constitutes itself. Each thread, in this
network, forms in addition a turn of speech, one might say a
metaphor if this notion were not too derivative here. The
defined is therefore implicated in the defining agent of the
definition" (Derrida, 1978e:15).

6. See Derrida's remarks in "The Retrait of Metaphor"
(Derrida, 1978e) on the philosophical schema of us or usure,
that incorporates the motif of "wear and tear" (p. 15) along
with that "of interest, of surplus value, of fiduciary
calculus or of usury rate" (p. 17). As he says, referring
to "White Mythology" (Derrida, 1982d), "The 'Exergue'
announces clearly that it is not a question of accrediting
the scheme of the us but of deconstructing a philosophical
concept, a philosophical construction erected on this schema
of worn out metaphor or privileging, for significant rea-
sons, the trope named metaphor" (p. 14). The schema of wear
and surplus value, or loss and profit, will take on greater
import in Part II of this study.

7. For a comparison between the Freudian Fort/Da, the
rhythm of the appearance and disappearance of the text's
self-representation, and the Nietzschean Fort/Da, a rhythm
neither oppositional nor contradictory, a rhythm that does
without consciousness, see Derrida, 1980b:433-37.

8. For example, see Derrida, 1982a. Here, Derrida
questions feminism's docile acceptance of a metaphysical
concept, the "identity" of "woman" begun in Spurs (Derrida,

9. See Derrida's remarks in Derrida, 1979c:219.
Theoretical fictions are "regulatory ideals" and are con-
trolled by a teleology within the metaphysics of presence.


10. The reader needs to keep in mind the vouloir-dire
coupled with rien in the French text, the implications of
which are two that come immediately to mind. First,
"thought" does not want to say any thing, to present a
presence (meaning, signified, referent). Second, "thought"
means "nothing"--a "bit of nothing" (rien, and not the neant
of Sartre).


If thought means or wants (to say) "nothing" (rien and

not Sartre's neant), hence "a bit of nothing," (Derrida,

1982b:196) as it is re-written by Derridean deconstruction,

in the American version of deconstruction thought engages in

endless speeches about itself and the way it "means." I

want to cite a statement of Derrida's concerning the problem

of meaning that unites what at first might be considered two

strange bed-fellows: phenomenology and semiotics.

Thus, whether or not it is "signified" or
"expressed," whether or not it is "interwoven"
with a process of signification, "meaning" is an
intelligible or spiritual ideality which eventu-
ally can be united to the sensible aspect of a
signifier that in itself it does not need. Its
presence, meaning, or essence of meaning, is
conceivable outside this interweaving as soon as
the phenomenologist, like the semiotician, alleg-
edly refers to a pure unity, a rigorously identi-
fiable aspect of meaning or of the signified.
(Derrida, 1981a:31)

Within phenomenology, meaning derives from the consti-

tutive power of consciousness, and is maintained in its

original sense giving act through concepts that, as ideal-

ites, can be repeated and reproduced, without alteration or

loss, through language. For semiotics, meaning is a product

of the language system itself. It might conceivably be

argued that because semiotics simply shifts the object of


analysis--meaning (albeit defined in a somewhat broader

sense of signification) from the "inside" (consciousness) to

the "outside" (language system)--semiotics merely replaces

consciousness with the language system as the locus of

meaning, the varying possibilities of which the system

itself generates. Thus, semiotics would constitute an

inversion of the phenomenological model, exchanging one

place of derivation for that of another. On the one hand,

this is, of course a ghastly oversimplification, but, on the

other, it points to the problem of "place," or "position,"

illustrates the way both place and position within the

tradition can be changed without changing the place or

position, without disturbing the ground. Whatever sub-

stantial and important differences are involved in these

two systems, along with the impressive and considerable

insights each has achieved, one origin is exchanged for

another. Why is it possible for one system to replace

another without provoking any fundamental disruption? Since

the concepts each makes use of draw from a "mutual fund,"

their grounds inevitably have something in common.

Since these concepts are not elements or atoms
taken from a syntax and a system, every particular
borrowing brings along with it the whole of
metaphysics. (Derrida, 1978f:280)

Jonathan Culler's book, On Deconstruction (Culler,

1982), is perhaps the most lucid and comprehensive work to

date on American deconstruction. But what his work best

shows is that American deconstruction is an analysis of

"meaning," an analysis of a concept or principle of the

metaphysics of presence by means of principles drawn from

(or on the "account" of) the metaphysics of presence.

Principles, as was noted earlier, rush ahead in order to

produce what comes after. Why is this problematic? First,

the defined is already present in the definition; any

definition of a principle is, in principle, a principle.

Secondly, if they are "there before being there," they have

neither meaning nor referent, signified nor object: they

have no content. They are "ideal." "Principles" fall

within the realm of the Kantian Idea. They regulate (and

here is another problem), ideal objects. All of these are

targets of deconstruction, which assigns them to the realm

of hypotheses (prosthetic devices). As hypotheses, princi-

ples (undemonstrable "in principle") function like Plato's

"beyond of all Being," fictions that work like "fathers" who

inseminate and activate the philosophical machine a tergo.

At times, Derrida reminds us that fictions cite the language

of metaphysics and call those citations "fictions": they

are "the language of metaphysics" (Derrida, 1975b:52;

Derrida, 1982d:210). As is, we must remind ourselves, the

philosophical concept of fiction that is also presented to

us with the label "fiction" attached. There is no point in

using metaphysical principles if one wants to unsettle

metaphysics. And analyses that utilize metaphysical princi-

ples, even to pit one against the other, can only generate

more metaphysics.

My examination of Culler's work attempts to explain

most economically why those critical discourses in this

country that aspire to the status of deconstruction (under-

stood as a critique of the metaphysics of presence) fail.

Culler's work fails at the theoretical level because it

repeats one of the same contradictions that runs throughout

Saussure's work. At the practical level, American decon-

struction fails because each "deconstruction" labors within

the space of meaning. And this brand of deconstruction,

because it labors within that space of meaning--sometimes

called "differential," sometimes "indeterminate," sometimes

"negative"--is again a repetition of Saussure's contradic-

tory gesture and shares in it. If I consider Culler, who

has instituted theoretical statements on the basis of this

contradiction, statements that encompass the work of those

figures he describes, then I will indirectly be addressing

my remarks to those same practitioners. While Culler's book

is an important contribution to the field and contains

extremely valuable insights into current literary concerns,

its statements, constituted by a Saussurian contradiction,

perpetuate that contradiction (but now, under the name of

"deconstruction"). Let us see how the "logocentric repres-

sion of writing" is still in full force, at the level of

theory. Afterwards, we shall turn to a work of a specific


I am going to begin with some of Culler's conclusions,

and from them, work to their premises.


For Culler, deconstruction leads to an indeterminacy of

meaning that comes about as a result of the condition of the

sign's possibility: replication or repetition. How does

Culler understand the implications of repetition? Repeti-

tion leads to an indeterminacy of meaning because it is

impossible for "final meanings to arrest the movement of

signification" (1982:188) for the simple reason that "what

we may at one point identify as a signified is also a

signifier" (188). That it is impossible to separate the

signifier and signified is, of course, one of the moments in

Saussure's text that most radically challenges logocentrism.

As Derrida states, Saussure insisted

. against the tradition, that the signified is
inseparable from the signifier, that the signified
and the signifier are the two sides of one and the
same production. (Derrida, 1981a:18)

Thus, for Culler, repetition sets in motion the ceaseless

movement of the sign. It will be part of our project to

determine as precisely as possible how the sign functions in

his system. In order to clarify this interminable activity

of the sign, Culler cites Peirce:

. it follows from the purely differential,
nonsubstantial nature of the sign that the differ-
ence between signifier and signified cannot be one
of substance and that what we may at one point
identify as a signified is also a signifier
[underlining mine]. There are no final meanings
that arrest the movement of signification.
Charles Sanders Peirce makes this structure of
deferral and referral an aspect of his definition:
a sign is "anything which determines something
else (its interpretant) to refer to an object to
which itself [sic] refers (its object) in the same
way, the interpretant becoming in turn a sign, and

so on ad infinitum. . If the series of
successive interpretants come to an end, the sign
is thereby rendered imperfect at least.

Why do we start with an identifiable signified that we may

also then, after such a recognition, treat as a signifier.

What necessity compels our starting with the signified? If

we were to start with the signifier (reverse the order3,

could we necessarily identify it with a signified? Under

what conditions would this be possible? This question

guides the reading that follows.

The structure of "deferral and referral" is comprised

of a "redoubling"--a signified that only as a signified

becomes a signifier, but an "interpretable signifier." An

interpretable signifier is a unit of meaning that, however

provisional or indeterminate, is first and foremost a

signified. If there are no "final" meanings, there are

already in place signifieds that call for additional inter-

pretations, additional meanings, additional signifieds.

Thus, the process of substitution is grounded in a center or

a meaning (that meaning that presents itself as the possi-

bility of additional meanings, interpretations), a stable

moment in this system from which the possibility of substi-

tution arises, which itself cannot be substituted for

without calling this system into question. Culler under-

stands the problem of repetition starting from a first

meaning, already the union of signifier/signified in its

most conservative and classical sense. The sign calls for

repetition (another interpretation), and repetition always

starts from an already constituted present signified, a

meaning, an interpretation. Culler defines indeterminacy as

the impossibility of checking this activity of the already

meaningful sign. It is simply the problem of sign closure:

the possibility of endless replication is not an
accident that befalls the sign but a constitutive
element of its structure, an incompletion without
which the sign would be incomplete. (1982:188-89)

Repetition, then, is subordinated to that first instance or

meaning event that becomes the basis for repetition, repeti-

tion of another instance or meaning event; repetition both

sets the system in motion4 and grounds it at the same time.

This is classical repetition.

The rest of the passage cited above will help us

appreciate Culler's position more clearly.

However, literary critics should exercise caution
in drawing inferences from this principle. While
it does enjoin skepticism about possibilities of
arresting meaning, of discovering a meaning that
lies outside of and governs the play of signs in a
text, it does not propose indeterminacy of meaning
in the usual sense: the impossibility or unjusti-
fiability of choosing one meaning over another.
On the contrary, it is only because there may be
excellent reasons for choosing one meaning rather
than another that there is any point in insisting
that the meaning chosen is itself also a signifier
that can be interpreted in turn. The fact that
any signified is also in the position of a signi-
fier does not mean that there are no reasons to
link a signifier with one signified rather than
another; still less does it suggest, as both
hostile and sympathetic critics have claimed, an
absolute priority of the signifier or a definition
of the text as a galaxy of signifiers. "The
'primacy' or 'priority' of the signifier," writes
Derrida, "would be an absurd and untenable expres-
sion. . The signifier will never by rights
precede the signified, since it would no longer be
a signifier and the signifier signifierr' would
have no possible signified." . The structural
redoubling of any signified an interpretable

signifier does suggest that the realm of signi-
fiers acquires a certain autonomy, but this does
not mean signifiers without signifieds, only the
failure of signifieds to produce closure.

Let us note first of all that as soon as we situate the

sign within the impossibility of arresting its movement, we

are discussing what Umberto Eco calls "unlimited semiosis"

("continual shifting which refer a sign back to another

sign or string of signs" [Eco, 1976:71]). Second, recourse

to signifierr" derives not from any specificity of its own

but arises solely from the motivating instance of a part-

icular meaning chosen initially. Third, what are we talking

about when we introduce the possibility of meaning (signi-

fied, concept)? Everything points to the word written on

the page, the image of the spoken word. With its focus on

the word, the material entity, Culler's analysis relies on

the most conservative and classical gesture of Saussure and

reintroduces precisely what Saussure himself should have

problematized: positive terms.

The Positive Term (The Positive "Turn")

Speaking of Saussure, Culler states that

he [Saussure] concludes that "in the linguistic
system there are only differences, without posi-
tive terms." . This is a radical formulation.
The common view is doubtless that a language
consists of words, positive entities, which are
put together to form a system and thus acquire
relations with one another, but Saussure's analy-
sis of the nature of linguistic units leads to the
conclusion that, on the contrary, signs are the
product of a system of differences; indeed, they
are not positive entities at all but effects of
differences. (120-21)

This is not entirely accurate. As a matter of fact when

Saussure develops the negative and differential relations of

the language system (bracketing from it the facts of

speech), he states that these relations apply only to the

signifier and the signified understood if "they are consid-

ered separately"; the word, or the union of sound and sense

(the total sign) is indeed a positive term. Let us turn to

Saussure for a moment. He has just finished elaborating on

the negative and differential relations that are constitu-

tive of the signifier and signified when considered apart.5

These negative, differential relations do not appear within

experience, nor are they differences that can be apprehended

by consciousness. He calls the signifier a "sound image"

that is not a "material sound, a purely physical thing."

(This is important to Derrida's analysis because this "sound

image" cannot be understood with reference to any presence

or perception.) Now, as soon as one begins to talk about a

material manifestation, i.e., the union of signifier and

signified as sign, one has a positive term. Let us review

the passage and the reservations of Saussure that follow it.

Everything that has been said up to this point
boils down to this: in language there are only
differences. Even more important: a difference
generally implies positive terms between which the
difference is set up; but in language there are
only differences without positive terms. Whether
we take the signified or the signifier, language
has neither ideas nor sounds that existed before
the linguistic system, but only conceptual and
phonic differences that have issued from [my
underlining] the system. The idea or phonic
substance that a sign contains is of less impor-
tance than the other signs that surround it.
(Saussure, 1966:120)

Notice that as Saussure refers to the effects exercised by

differences, he is discussing, not the sign, but the signi-

fier or signified. Here are the reservations and the


But the statement that everything in language is
negative is true only if the signified and the
signifier are considered separately; when we
consider the sign in its totality, we have some-
thing that is positive in its own class . .
Although both the signified and the signifier are
purely differential and negative when considered
separately, their combination is a positive fact.
. When we compare signs--positive terms--with
each other, we can no longer speak of difference;
the expression would not be fitting, for it
applies only to comparing two sound-images, eg.
father and mother, or two ideas, the idea "father"
and the idea "mother"; two signs, each having a
signified and signifier, are not different but
only distinct. (121)

This is one point where Saussure ignores the whole import of

his own analysis. He has analyzed the signifier in such a

way that it exceeds or falls short of consciousness; it is

nothing that can be subsumed under, by, or within presence.

Nor is the signifier "linguistic," if by that we understand

a phonic character. Indeed, it is made up of nothing, that

is to say, of no presence; neither material, substantial,

perceptual, nor phenomenal. At this point, neither is the

signified. These conditions, however, do not affect the

whole sign or positive term, as he calls it; and the fact

that they do not constitutes one of his logocentric ges-

tures. For in the structure of the positive term, he

reintroduced what in his most radical moment, he excludes:

the Voice, the union of sound and sense, concept and voice,

the "thought-sound" or "phonic and conceptual differences."

. two signs, each having a signified and
signifier, are not different but only distinct.
Between them there is only opposition. The entire
mechanism of language, with which we shall be
concerned later, is based on opposition of this
kind and on the phonic and conceptual differences
that they imply. [last part, underlining mine]

"Difference" pertains only to the signifier and signified

(considered separately), not to the phonic and conceptual

character of the sign which has only distinction (not

difference). Once phonic and conceptual characteristics

come into consideration, we are dealing with the old meta-

physical sign made up of the classically conceived signifier

(material and substantial, the phonic and its written image)

and signified (the concept, the idea: semantics); the

signifier is simply the representative of the represented:

presence, the voice.

To assert, as Culler does, that "any signified is also

in the position of a signifier," and then to determine the

import of this statement as a problem of sign closure, of

interpretation, of meaning (no matter how provisional or

indeterminate) once more determines the sign classically.

The sign is again a material manifestation, once more

subordinated to thought, to meaning, to consciousness.

Indeed, one might say that Culler's analysis, in spite of

what he says, deals only with positive terms, the Voice


The pressure of the positive term runs throughout and

affects the whole of Culler's analysis of "deconstruction"

(while it applies inaccurately to Derrida's work, it applies

quite accurately to the work of the others that Culler

includes under this rubric and characterizes what they are

doing quite precisely).

Let us examine the way writing for Culler is simply

confirmed in its metaphysical, material, substantial

meaning. Writing on the practice of American deconstruc-

tors, Rodolphe Gasche points out a very important distinc-


The notion of writing (of text, and of literature,
as well) as used by modern deconstructive criti-
cism refers in general only to the phenomenolog-
ical experience of writing as something present in
all discourses and texts . Derrida's notion
of writing and of the trace presupposes a pheno-
menological reduction of all the mundane regions
of sensibility (but also of the intelligible).
Being anterior (yet not as an essence) to the
distinctions between the regions of sensibility,
and consequently to any experience of presence,
the trace or writing is not something which can be
said to be present in all discourses. The regions
of sensibility and of presence are "only" the
regions where writing as arch-writing appears as
such, becomes present by occulting itself. Thus,
the evidence in question, since it confuses and is
unaware of distinctions as important as those
between appearance and appearing, between appear-
ance and signification, consists of a fall back
into a phenomenological apprehension of writing as
something readable, visible, and significant in an
empirical medium open to experience. (Gasche,

Richard Rorty, an analytic philosopher whom Culler quotes,

similarly understands writing in its metaphysical represen-

tation. Let us begin here. Rorty puts himself in Derrida's

shoes (always a dangerous "feat" as we shall see when we

come to the lesson of the fort:da game) to pose what he

considers Derrida's question and then supplies his own

logocentric answer. If, Rorty asks, "philosophy is a kind

of writing," why do philosophers resist this characteriza-

tion? What is the threat of writing? Notice the definition

of writing implied by the answer. For philosophers, Rorty


Writing is an unfortunate necessity; what is
really wanted is to show, to demonstrate, to point
out, to exhibit, to make one's interlocutor stand
and gaze before the world. . In a mature
science, the words in which the investigator
"writes up" his results should be as few and as
transparent as possible. Philosophical writing,
for Heidegger as for the Kantians, is really aimed
at putting an end to writing. For Derrida,
writing always leads to more writing, and more,
and still more. (Culler, 1982:90)

I think the statement "speaks for itself"; it is quite clear

that "writing," for Rorty, consists of (and is a somewhat

lamentable need to) committing one's thoughts to paper, of

writing them up, of "imaging" and "representing" them.

Culler's understanding of writing belongs in the same

empirical and experiential realm.

Writing presents language as a series of physical
marks that operate in the absence of the speaker.
They may be highly ambiguous or organized in
artful rhetorical patterns. (91)

Evidently it does not occur to Culler to question how or why

these "physical marks" can function in such a strange and

ineluctable manner. It does not seem to occur to him that

they can do so only if one assumes that these "physical

marks"--and this is phonologocentrism itself--"paint" or

"image" the voice, represent the voice, and are the signs of

(already unified) signs: the Voice. Should we not be

reminded here of why in (Derrida's reading of) Rousseau,

writing, the supplement, the "representative image" is

"dangerous"? Might we not recall that it is so because the

supplement makes[] one forget the vicariousness of its own

function and makes] itself pass for the plenitude of a

speech whose deficiency and infirmity it nevertheless only

supplements" (Derrida, 1976:144)?

When Culler directly addresses the metaphysics of

presence, in order to demonstrate the flaws in the concept

of presence, the real difficulty he seems to find is that it

is composed primarily of its own modified forms. Thus,

What is proposed as a given, an elementary con-
stituent, proves to be a product, dependent on or
derived in ways that deprive it of the authority
of simple or pure presence. (Culler, 1982:94)

Here is an example. It is one of Zeno's paradoxes that

"illustrates more convincingly . the difficulties of a

system based on presence" (94).

Consider, for example, the flight of an arrow. If
reality is what is present at any given instant,
the arrow produces a paradox. At any given moment
it is in a particular spot; it is always in a
particular spot and never in motion. We want to
insist, quite justifiably, that the arrow is in
motion at every instant from the beginning to the
end of its flight, yet its motion is never present
at any moment of presence. The presence of motion
is conceivable, it turns out, only insofar as
every instant is already marked with traces of the
past and future. Motion can be present, that is
to say, only if the present instant is not some-
thing given but a product of the relations between
past and future. Something can be happening at a
given instant only if the instant is already
divided within itself, inhabited by the nonpre-
sent. (94, underlining mine)

Admittedly, this is only an example and used, one must

suppose, for its heuristic value. But the example, at the

very least, is confusing and misleading. It is confusing to

use the word "trace" with reference to the past and future,

all simply modified forms of presence itself, moments of

presence that are past, and moments of presence yet to come.

Such use also places "trace" within what Gasche calls a

mundane region of sensibility. Additionally, it is con-

fusing to consider the present as simply divided, marked by

the nonpresent when "nonpresent" is also determined as a

modified form of presence. "Nonpresent" in Derrida's

vocabulary refers to nothing that can be equated with the

ordinary experience of time, with grammatical tenses, or the

experience of consciousness; indeed "nonpresent" problema-

tizes all of these. And it is equally confusing to talk

about the present as a product when again the "product" is a

product merely by virtue of its relation to past (one

presence) and future (another presence).

Presence is problematic only on the basis of this

infiltration of past and future. Thus,

the present instant can serve as ground only
insofar as it is not a pure and autonomous given.
If motion is to be present, presence must already
be marked by difference and deferral. (27)

As the present is only marked by other presence, it is only

marked by itself; hence no disturbance is produced in the

field. Culler's analysis encourages us to conclude that

Derrida argues that presence is suspect because it is

derived from modified forms of presence.

This model does not change appreciably when Culler

turns to an analysis of language. He situates its discus-

sion between (the concept of) structure and (the concept of)

event. Again, the passage I cite is a long one, but quite

instructive. Culler argues,

The meaning of a word, it is plausible to claim,
is what speakers mean by it. A word's meaning
within the system of a language, what we find when
we look a word up in a dictionary, is a result of
the meaning speakers have given it in past acts of
communication. And what is true of a word is true
of language in general: the structure of a
language, its system of norms and regularities, is
a product of events, the result of prior speech
acts. However, when we take this argument seri-
ously and begin to look at the events which are
said to determine structures, we find that every
event is itself already determined and made
possible by prior structures. The possibility of
meaning something by an utterance is already
inscribed in the structure of language. The
structures themselves are always products, but
however far back we try to push, even when we try
to imagine the "birth" of language and describe an
ordinary event that might have produced the first
structure, we discover that we must assume prior
organization, prior differentiation.
As in the case of causality [he refers to an
analysis preceding the section that I am discus-
sing], we find only nonoriginary origins. If a
cave man is successfully to inaugurate language by
making a special grunt signify "food," we must
suppose that the grunt is already distinguished
from other grunts and that the world has already
been divided into the categories "food" and
"nonfood." Acts of signification depend on
differences, such as the contrast between "food"
and "nonfood" that allows food to be signified, or
the contrast between signifying elements that
allows a sequence to function as a signifier. The
sound sequence bat is a signifier because it
contrasts with pat, mat, bad, bet, etc. The noise
that is "present" when one says bat is inhabited
by the traces of a signifier only insofar as it
consists of such traces. As in the case of
motion, what is supposedly present is already
complex and differential, marked by difference, a
product of differences.
An account of language, seeking solid foun-
dation, will doubtless wish to treat meaning as
something somewhere present--say, present to
consciousness at the moment of a signifying event:
but any presence it invokes turns out to be
already inhabited by difference. However, if one
tries instead to ground an account of meaning on

difference, one fares no better, for differences
are never given as such and are always products.
A scrupulous theory must shift back and forth
between these perspectives, of event and structure
or parole and langue, which never lead to a syn-
thesis. Each perspective shows the error of the
other i an irresolvable alteration or aporia.

First, I want to take the very last statement further.

Each perspective (each full and present moment: structure

itself, event itself) does not need its other in order for

either to manifest its own error. Each demonstrates its own

error by itself quite capably. Derrida has criticized the

notion of structure in his essay, "Force and Significa-

tion." Borrowing from this essay, we might say that the

whole notion of structure is a search for and an appeal to

simultaneity. Simultaneity requires the articulation of

events (as simultaneous). But the very articulation of

events dispels the possibility of simultaneity. Structure

is the "myth of a total reading or description, promoted to

the status of a regulatory ideal" (Derrida, 1979c:24,

underlining mine). Similarly, the concept of pure event, in

that it is, as Culler himself has demonstrated in the most

metaphysical terms possible, compounded with other pre-

sences--past presence (inhabited by traces of forms one is

not uttering but had uttered before, or will have uttered)--

should be sufficient to begin to call itself into question.

But there is another way that Culler's example of a "decon-

struction" is equally confusing: "deconstruction" is

founded on the difference between two presence, two posi-

tive terms: eventI0 and structure or parole and langue. If

the two self-present meanings produce an aporia, then the

aporia is derived from, dependent upon, and secondary to the

two meanings.

Inasmuch as the concepts of structure and event, in

Culler's analysis, are oriented by the presence of meaning,

the concept, intention, in short all the values of commun-

ication questioned by Derrida, it is not surprising that

Culler should speak of language as an expression of ideas

("the meaning speakers have given it in past acts of com-

munication"). Thus, it follows that the analysis remains

caught in a circle of exchange, event for structure, struc-

ture for event, without ever questioning the individual

status of each, or the assumption of their meaningfulness.

Oriented by semantics, by meaning, instead of resituating

the origin, his analysis in its infinite regress (maintained

by the concept of presence itself) simply generates another

concept of the origin, that of a nonoriginary origin,

nonoriginary because the individual moments of presence are

too many, too rich, too infinite to be arrested or simply

located. The substitute can always be substituted for by

another substitute, for example, another structure/event

determined and itself preceded by one more. The whole

analysis of the origin ("nonoriginary") is guided by tele-

ology and smacks of the "infinite task" of phenomenology.

For if in fact the recuperation of the origin is impossible,

it is in principle available "at infinity."11

Let's take another example (this will take a little

time but it is instructive), one that Culler offers as "a

compact instance of the general procedures we encounter in

the work of Jacques Derrida" (1982:88). It is a good

example of the assertion/denial structure in one of its

various forms that runs throughout most American deconstruc-

tion. In this specific instance, (philosophical) concepts

of experience are asserted and then denied by (philosophi-

cal) concepts of rhetoric.

An individual experiences pain, and this pain motivates

that person to search out the cause of the pain. Sure

enough the culprit takes shape in the form of a pin. Now,

by reversing the perceptual order, one establishes a causal

sequence between pain and pin: pin, therefore pain. Culler

then quotes Nietzsche whose analysis Culler expressly

identifies with Derrida's style (an identification that

Derrida might criticize as a "continuist assimilation or

setting into filiation," as though Derrida were attempting

no more than an "extension or a continuous radicalization"12

of the Nietzschean movement):

The fragment of the outside world of which we
become conscious comes after the effect that has
been produced on us and is projected a posteriori
as its "cause." In the phenomenalism of the
"inner world" we invert the chronology of cause
and effect. The basic fact of "inner experience"
is that the cause gets imagined after the effect
has occurred. (86)

The comment that follows these remarks sets up rhetoric as

the controlling and constitutive category.

The causal scheme is produced by a metonomy or
metalepsis (substitution of cause for effect); it
is not an indubitable foundation but the product
of a tropological operation. (86-87)

This is followed by a series of precautionary remarks

concerning the nature of deconstruction, what it is up to,

and what it isn't up to. It cannot and does not scrap the

principle of causality since it relies upon the notion of

cause itself, cause here being the experience of pain.

To deconstruct causality one must operate with the
notion of cause and apply it to causation itself.
The deconstruction appeals to no higher logical
principle or superior reason but uses the very
principle it deconstructs. The concept of causa-
tion is not an error that philosophy could or
should have avoided but is indispensable--to the
argument of deconstruction as to other arguments.

Furthermore, Culler admonishes, this specific deconstruction

is not to be confused with Humean skepticism, although there

are affinities with it. Hume eliminates causality because

it is unobservable within what upon examination simply

presents itself as moments of "contiguity and temporal

succession." Deconstruction will work with "contiguity and

succession" in a similar manner, but at the same time, it

will make use of the notion of cause in its own argument.

If "cause" is an interpretation of contiguity and
succession, then pain can be the cause in that it
may come first in the sequence of experience.
This double procedure of systematically employing
the concepts or premises one is undermining puts
the critic in a position not of skeptical detach-
ment but of unwarrantable involvement, asserting
the indispensability of causation while denying it
any rigorous justification. (87-88, underlining

We have now arrived at a point where we can determine

what "deconstruction" is up to:

the deconstruction reverses the hierarchical
opposition of the causal scheme. The distinction
between cause and effect makes the cause an
origin, logically and temporally prior. The
effect is derived, secondary, dependent upon the
cause. Without exploring the reasons for or the
implications of this hierarchization, let us note
that, working within the opposition, the decon-
struction upsets the hierarchy by producing an
exchange of properties. If the effect is what
causes the cause to become a cause, then the
effect, not the cause, should be treated as the
origin. By showing that the argument which
elevates cause can be used to favor effect, one
uncovers and undoes the rhetorical operation
responsible for the hierarchization and one
produces a significant displacement. If either
cause or effect can occupy the position of origin,
the origin is no longer originary; it loses its
metaphysical privilege. A nonoriginary origin is
a "concept" that cannot be comprehended by the
former system and thus disrupts it. (88)

Here is a wonderful example of "the philosophical order"

being "reactivated a tergo by misconstrued philosophical

machines, according to delegation . ." (Derrida,

1982d:xxii). What is Culler saying here, and what does it

have to do with delegation? Let me speak for a moment in

the mode of delegation in order to show what is going on.

"That meaning, that meaning right there, the meaning pro-

duced by those rhetorical operations that are also there,

that meaning and those operations, they aren't there."

Freud would have a picnic here.

In that "rhetorical operations" organize distinctions

(presence of cause, presence of effect--better yet--presence

of the principle of cause; presence of the principle of

effect, both "there before being there") and found the

ground of these categories (by means of which experience is

comprehended), rhetoric functions as a transcendental

signified. Everything is referred to rhetoric, even as it

itself is assumed and asserted in its metaphysical (concep-

tual) value. The conceptual value of these derived cate-

gories remains "untouchable." Thus, an explanation of "our"

"experience" of "pain" merely shifts from perception/

consciousness to these operations, but "undoing" rhetorical

operations simply proves one a good rhetorician. One system

substitutes for another, just as one concept substitutes for

another (cause, effect; effect, cause): "Either cause or

effect can occupy the position of origin." Of what help is

the concept of the "nonoriginary origin"? It would seem

either to mask philosophy's oldest trick, the "infinite

regress," or unwittingly appeal to the de facto/de jure

opposition: in fact, we finite minds are unable to deter-

mine which comes first, but in principle (unless we are

merely advancing simply opinion) it is there. And indeed,

rhetorical operations (and they are finally semantic opera-

tions) act as first principle and cause (cause of both cause

and effect). Does it matter a great deal to the metaphysics

of presence if we describe the origin in terms of either

cause or effect as long as we maintain causes, effects, and

let us not forget, the concept of "experience," along with

the "subject" who experiences? I am not arguing that these

concepts must be denounced and renounced, but these "con-

cepts" are not functional within a deconstruction.

Deconstruction certainly deconstructs the metaphysics of

presence, but it does not do so by means of the principles

of metaphysics.

As long as we change places without changing the place,

no disruption of this system is effected. Furthermore,

since experience itself has always been determined as a

relation with presence (and there is no exception in

Culler's analysis), I am not so sure that Derrida would

accept the terms of the argument, and indeed, I am not so

sure that upon further consideration, Culler might either.

At least not as univocally as this example might itself

suggest. For a little further on, Culler states that,

"Among the familiar concepts that depend on the value of

presence are: "the immediacy of sensation" (93). What then

is the value of the above example that asserts the "experi-

ence of pain," that denies it as "experience," denies it as

the rhetorical operation of cause/effect, only to assert it

as the rhetorical operation of effect/cause. Experience

(that is not) is the effect of a rhetorical operation (that

is); experience (that is not) is a product of rhetorical

operations working on consciousness (which certainly is

here). What about the value of the "subject" who does not

experience "experience," but experiences rhetorical opera-

tions? I think perhaps this "subject" is a little too

unified, too self-present, too quickly names (and thereby

masters) its experience. I suspect that one question a

deconstruction might first ask would involve what is meant

by "experience," in particular, an experience of "pain."

Indeed, we need only march Freud on stage in order to

complicate this question infinitely. Freud would certainly

give the "consciousness" of this "subject" a bit more

trouble than Culler does.

With reference to Derrida's work, Culler's analysis

proceeds as though Derrida were trying to explain phonologo-

centrism the better to codify it, and without any attempt to

"tamper" with this "centrism" or to "touch" it, to make it

deviate from (itself). The procession of (nonoriginary)

origins is not the most curious moment of the analysis.

That surely must be reserved for the way in which the

analysis presents the world as already written ("If a cave

man is successfully to inaugurate language by making a

special grunt signify 'food,' we must suppose that the world

has already been divided into the categories 'food' and

'nonfood'" [underlining mine]), along with the equation of

the "signifying element" with its material sound manifesta-

tion, an equation that ignores not only Saussure's defini-

tion (although Culler repeatedly acknowledges Saussure's

definition, he never alters his analysis to draw the conclu-

sions demanded), but perhaps more particularly by-passes

Derrida's reading of Saussure in the first part of Of

Grammatology. These two moments must surely rank as the

strangest in the whole book, for they advance the most

determined, classical understanding of the sign, only to
pose it as its own most formidable critique. Thus, in

spite of the fact that Saussure insists that the signifier

is not a material entity, not the sound, not identical to

what we ordinarily think of as the signifier in any classi-

cal sense, in Culler's hands, the whole system of language

made up of "sound sequences," of signifiers--defined as

heard, perceptual differences, their "contrasts"--once more

becomes the Signifier of the Signified, the totality of What

Is, i.e., concepts (to the already constituted and differen-

tiated, better, distinct--since we are dealing with positive

terms--meaningful categories of "food" and "nonfood" which

precede the sound system, we may simply add all the rest).

Like Saussure whom he frequently cites, Culler acknow-

ledges that sound cannot belong to the system ("Sound

itself, he [Saussure] argues convincingly, cannot belong to

the system" [1982:98]), but, like Saussure, Culler ignores

what he is saying. When it comes to a "speech act" the

whole problem of the signifier, its nonphenomenal character,

its negative and differential status, disappears to leave us

in the presence of meaning represented by sound or what

functions as its synonym: "noises." "Noises count as

language only when they serve to express or communicate

ideas" and sound only "permits the manifestation of the

system in acts of speech" (98). We are once more situated

within the most classical and conservative space of

Saussure's analysis: meaningful noise or sound, the unity

of sound and idea, of voice and concept. As Derrida points

out in his analysis of the conservative side of Saussure,

Now the word (vox) is already a unity of sense and
sound, of concept and voice, or, to speak a more
rigorously Saussurian language, of the signified
and the signifier. (1976:31)

It is precisely this ideal that will lead to a representa-

tion of writing as an image of speech. As Derrida states,

. there would be first a natural bond of sense
to the senses and it is this that passes from
sense to sound: "the natural bond," Saussure
says, "the only true bond of sound" . This
natural bond of the signified (concept or sense)
to the phonic signifier would condition the
natural relationship subordinating writing (visi-
ble language) to speech. (31)

This model of writing as written speech is the aim of

Derrida's attack. But it is only as this model that we can

make sense of Culler's description of writing.

Writing presents language as a series of physical
marks that operate in the absense of the speaker.
They may be highly ambiguous or organized in
artful rhetorical patterns. (Culler, 1982:91)

Again, Culler invokes the de facto/de jure opposition. In

fact, the speaker is absent, but in principle either he or

his voice is there. For the absence is determined classi-

cally, as a continuous, modified form of presence (meaning)

that extends the domain of the self-spoken word into what is

conceived as a field homogeneous with it, enabling speech to

represent itself more powerfully, for speech now leaps over

distance, over tall buildings and makes itself heard. In

what way other than as an image of the meaningful voice, as

the representation of the voice, can "physical marks" be

considered "highly ambiguous or organized in artful rhetor-

ical patterns" unless these marks are determined

teleologically as images of the Voice, the unity of sound

and sense, its meaningfulness?

Let us pause here for a moment and recall the classical

model of writing outlined by Derrida in "Signature Event

Context." It should demonstrate that Culler's concept of

writing fits the classical model and has very little in

common with what Derrida is attempting to delineate.

The Classical Model (We've "Grown Accustomed
To Its Face"--Almost!)

Writing, classically understood, is communication, a

means of extending speech, of transferring a content"

("meaning": within phenomenology, those created by the

speaker; within semiotics, those made available by the

language system). Speaking of this model, Derrida remarks,

If one takes the notion of writing in its usually
accepted sense . one indeed must see it as a
means of communication . which extends very
far, if not infinitely, the field of oral or
gestural communication. . When we say that
writing extends the field and powers of a locu-
tionary or gestural communication, are we not
presupposing a kind of homogeneous space of
communication? (Derrida, 1982d:310)

According to the classical model, when we write, we do so in

order to convey our "thought," "ideas," or "representa-

tions": we "express" ourselves. Certainly, a reading

guided by this model will always measure itself against what

it considers the truth expressed by writing and struggle for

a faithful interpretation of the consciousness that moti-

vates it. Or we might even treat the piece to a semiotic

analysis in order to discover the rules that govern the

production of its "message." Notice that once more, we are

within a circle. Meaning precedes what produces it; the

mark, the sign, both are submitted either to thought or

consciousness, or to the system itself, the Signified of

which language is merely the signifier.

How do iterability and absence function in this model?

Of course, in a very classical manner. Someone thinks some-

thing, and desiring to express it to a reader (who can just

as easily be the writer), commits it to writing. Whether we

conceive of the piece as a production of the consciousness

of the writer, or as a production made possible by the

language system itself really makes no difference as far as

the function of writing itself is concerned. For writing is

the extension, the image, reproduction, representation, or

protrait of either one. Now, having recorded or repeated

these thoughts or ideas using the necessary coding elements

that permit recognition, writing then functions in the

writer's absence, as the voice, and because it images the

voice, it can be read and is accessible to the reader at any

time. The richer the meaning of the writing, the richer the

devices through which a semantic transfer is effected, the

more respect and value the piece is accorded.

Thus, the two fundamental assumptions of this model are

the homogeneity between "voice" and writing (the one reduced

to a simple extension of the other), and the value of

absence in relation to writing that functions not as an

absence at all but as a continuous modification of the

presence of the Voice. The first leads us to think of

writing as the image or picture of speech; the second allows

this speech to operate, under the most varied conditions of

citation and context, as meaningful. No matter how we

reshape a written fragment by means of these operations,

because the fragment represents a meaningful voice, it

represents meaning itself.

But this model is precisely what Derrida questions. As

he points out in his essay, the relation between speech and

writing in this model is silently governed by the concept of

analogy, one that however refined throughout the history of

metaphysics, by virtue of the presence of meaningfulness in

the first instant and its homogeneity with the field of

writing--these first premises--always assumes a continuous

relationship of transfer (speculative borrowing from one

field to the next, the transfer of one presence to another

kind) between idea/sign, perception (presentation)/represen-

tation. Using Condillac as a general example of

. a philosophical discourse which like all
philosophy presupposes the simplicity of the
origin and the continuity of every derivation,
every production, every analysis, the homogeneity
of all order. . (1982d:311),

Derrida remarks that,

The philosophical operation that Condillac also
calls "to retrace" consists in traveling back, by
way of analysis and continuous decomposition,
along the movement of genetic derivation which
leads from simple sensation and present perception
to the complex edification of representation:
from original presence to the most formal language
of calculation. (314)

The founding moment always consists of a presence, a

transferable, transposable unit of meaning, or perception.

Within the field chosen to represent these presence, the

absence of that original form of presentation, as it is only

a simple modification, assumes the value of an "accident"

that exerts no real pressure or force of its own. Absence

exercises no real specificity on the structure of writing.

Hence, writing stands for the voice, the unity of sound and

sense, either of a particular subject or the anonymous one

of culture.

The value of absence, then, can be used either to

confirm the power of the voice, or disrupt it. If the

written mark has the power to function in the absence of the

sender, and we think of this absence as a simple problem of

non-proximity or distance, then it is an absence that is

always subject to recuperation. But if the absence in

question refers to an absence of a more radical kind, then

far from pertaining to a communication situation in terms of

sender and receiver, it pertains to the structure of the

mark itself. And what is of paramount importance concerning

this absence is not what the mark can "carry" or "transfer,"

but its relation to iterability.

. this absence is not a continuous modifi-
cation of presence; it is a break in presence,
"death," or the possibility of the "death" of the
addressee, inscribed in the structure of the mark
(and it is at this point . that the value or
effect of transcendentality is linked necessarily
to the possibility of writing and of
"death" . .). A perhaps paradoxical consequence
of the recourse I am taking to iteration and to
the code: the disruption in the last analysis,

of the authority of the code as a finite system of
rules; the radical destruction, by the same token,
of every context as a protocol of a code. (316)

When one considers the minimal requirements in order

for a mark to function as legible, one soon finds out that

it necessitates very little indeed. The mark can function

in the absence of the sender and in the absence of the

receiver: neither are a necessary part of its structure;

therefore, the value of absence cannot be thought in rela-

tion to them. Absence must be conceived in its relation to

the mark, then. The mark can also--and here, Derrida adds

Husserl's analysis to his own--function in the absence of a


If I say, while looking out the window, "The sky
is blue," the statement will be intelligible . .
even if the interlocutor does not see the sky;
even if I do not see it myself, if I see it
poorly, if I am mistaken, or if I wish to trick my
interlocutor. Not that it is always thus; but the
structure of possibility of this statement
includes the capability of being formed and of
functioning either as an empty reference, or cut
off from its referent. Without this possibility
which is also the general, generalizable, and
generalizing iteration of every mark, there would
be no statements. (318-19, underlining mine)

The mark can also function in the absence of a signified.

Derrida provides three examples of a readability without a

signified still conceivable within the classical model.

This is still the classical model because these instances

are thought of as the exception to the rule, the "accident,"

the variant trait.

I can manipulate symbols without in active and
current fashion animating them with my attention
and intention to signify. . Certain state-
ments can have a meaning, although they are

without objective signification. . "Square
circle" marks the absence of a referent . and
also the absence of a certain signified, but not
the absence of meaning . the crisis of meaning
(nonpresence in general, absence as the absence of
the referent--of perception--or of meaning--of the
actual intention to signify) is always linked to
the essential possibility of writing. . .
Finally, there is what Husserl calls Sinnlosigkeit
or agrammaticality . "green is or" or "abraca-
dabra." . it is only in a context determined
by a will to know, by an epistemic intention, by a
conscious relation to the object as an object of
knowledge within a horizon of truth--it is this
oriented contextual field that "green is or" is
unacceptable. But since "green is or" or "abra-
cadabra" do not constitute their context in them-
selves, nothing prevents their functioning in
another context as signifying marks. (319-320)

If we conceive of absence as incidental to the mark,

then we regard this absence as a simple variant function of

an invariant structure that for the most part (separate from

and in spite of these exceptions) does refer, does have a

signified and so forth. The absence of referent and signi-

fied is no more than the exception to the rule. Thus, if I

write "dog," however you go about reading or understanding

the word (i.e., referring to a determinable and classifiable

entity; or derived from a language system and meaningful

only within that system), the absence in question does not

seem to apply to this example.

That of course is the classical position. The assump-

tion upon which this position rests is that the absence in

question is necessary to each and every example. For

"necessity," however, one must substitute "must be able to,"

which is an entirely different matter. Once conceived as a

"must be able to," this absence can no longer be considered

as a simple exception because the structure of the mark

demands that the mark itself must always be able to function

in such a way.

. if one admits that writing (and the mark in
general) must be able to function in the absence
of the sender, the receiver, the context of
production etc., that implies that this power,
this being able, this possibility is always
inscribed, hence necessarily inscribed as pos-
sibility in the functioning or the functional
structure of the mark. Once the mark is able to
function, once it is possible for it to function,
once it is possible for it to function in case of
an absence etc., it follows that this possibility
is a necessary part of its structure, that the
latter must necessarily be such that this func-
tioning is possible; and hence, that this must be
taken into account in any attempt to analyze or to
describe, in terms of necessary laws, such a
structure. Even if it is sometimes the case that
the mark, in fact, functions in-the-presence-of,
this does not change the structural law in the
slightest. . Such iterability is inseparable
from the structural possibility in which it is
necessarily inscribed. To object by citing cases
where absence appears in fact not to be observable
is like objecting that a mark is not essentially
iterable because here and there it has not in fact
been repeated. (Derrida, 1977b:184)

To recognize that the mark must be able to function in such

a way renders the status of the mark, that is to say, the

status of all marks as undecidable. Undecidability has in

this sense no relation to cognition at all, since the marks

of cognition are included within this structure. It relates

to the structure itself. To comprehend this possibility of

the mark is to understand (but what possible meaning could

that word have here?) that there might--indeed must--always

be nothing to understand, and that there might--must--always

be no "one" to perform an act of understanding. Such a

statement, itself conveyed by means of the mark, can be

substituted for by any and every other mark, each of which

always and necessarily must be able to function in the same

way: "in the absence of." Here, there is no certain

"uncertainty," no determinate "indeterminacy." For the

"content," the "information," the "knowledge" the mark

pretends to offer is constantly undermined by the mark's own

requirements--that it must necessarily be able to function

in the absence of any reference, any meaning.

To insist that the value of absence be understood other

than as a modified form of presence involves four conse-

quences that alter the face of the classical model of

writing. I cite from Derrida's essay, "Signature Event


1) the break with the horizon of communication of
consciousness or presence, and as the linguistic
or semantic transport of meaning; 2) the subtrac-
tion of all writing from the semantic horizon or
the hermeneutic horizon which, at least as a
horizon of meaning, lets itself be punctured by
writing; 3) the necessity of, in a way, separating
the concept of polysemia from the concept I have
elsewhere named dissemination, which is also the
concept of writing; 4) the "linguistic" context,
whose theoretical determination or empirical
saturation are, strictly speaking, rendered
impossible or insufficient by writing. . ."
(Derrida, 1982d:316)

The requirements of the mark also pertain to all order of

signs. Absence: repeatability or iterability, but of

nothing that means, refers, signifies, transmits, or trans-

fers. Repetition as the repetition of "nothing":

It is because the unity of the signifying form is
constituted only by its iterability, by the possi-
bility of being repeated in the absence not only
of its referent, which goes without saying, but of
a determined signified or current intention of

signification, as of every present intention of
communication. This structural possibility of
being severed from its referent or signified (and
therefore from communication and its context)
seems to me to make of every mark, even if oral, a
grapheme in general, that is, as we have seen, the
nonpresent remaining of a differential mark cut
off from its alleged "production" or origin. And
I will extend this law even to all "experience" in
general, if it is granted that there is no exper-
ience of pure presence, but only chains of differ-
ential marks. (Derrida, 1982d:318)

It should be somewhat easier now to understand

Derrida's reservations concerning context. Context func-

tions in relation to presence, in relation to meaning. But

if the differential mark can always have nothing to do with

meaning, or a referent, must always be able to function in

its absence, then the value of the "concept" of context no

longer commands the field under consideration. Derrida

reinscribes the concept of context when he states that while

"no meaning can be determined out of context . no

context permits saturation" (Derrida, 1979a:81).

Culler interprets Derrida's comments on context in a

manner that misses the point.

Context is boundless in two senses. First, any
given context is open to further description.
There is no limit in principle to what might be
included in a given context, to what might be
shown to be relevant to the performance of a
particular speech act. This structural openness
of context is essential to all disciplines . .
Meaning is determined by context and for that very
reason is open to alternation when further possi-
bilities are mobilized. . Context is also
unmasterable in a second sense: any attempt to
codify context can always be grafted onto the
context it sought to describe, yielding a new
context which escapes the previous formulation.
Attempts to describe limits always make possible a
displacement of those limits. . (Culler,
1982:123-24, underlining mine)

The concept of context applies to meaning (presence; refer-

ent and/or signified). But meaning is teleologically

imposed on sounds of the voice, and context is then tele-

ologically imposed on meaning. In a sense, Culler is

presenting a very good case for the teleology we must

necessarily have recourse to in order to control the seman-

tic effect of the language of metaphysics. But if we were

to entertain the notion that context cannot saturate because

we are no longer concerned simply, only, and purely with

meaning, we might find ourselves traveling in an entirely

different direction.

Part of the problem with Culler's analysis of context

is that he assumes the occurrence of a meaning-event, a

meaning-event that Derrida questions. Meaning-events for

Culler can always be modified by another context in order to

produce another meaning event. For example,

This structural openness of context is essential
to all disciplines: the scientist discovers that
factors previously disregarded are relevant to the
behavior of certain objects; the historian brings
new or reinterpreted data to bear on a particular
event; the critic relates a passage or a text to a
context that makes it appear in a new light.

But, for a meaning event even to present itself--and I

include here provisional interpretations of that event ("it

could mean this"; "it could mean that") assumes complete

contextualization. It also assumes a linear model of time

(questioned by Derrida) and a linear model of reading

(questioned by Derrida).

Iterability undermines the concept of context. For to

assert that context is capable of saturating what it sur-

rounds or presents is to assert that the iterability conse-

quent upon the absence necessary to the structure of the

mark once more operates as an accident. Thus, it would not

pertain to a particular mark functioning within a particular

context (or, what I above called a meaning-event). Further-

more, iterability would then consist of the repetition of

something (e.g., the classical mark repeating itself), some

meaning, some referent, a determinate and present unit.

This would reduce the iterability of the mark, its nonpre-

sent remainder, to a component of the voice heard, the

writing seen, and thus once more to the field of conscious-

ness and/or perception.

The nonpresent remainder, however, is not a presence,

nor is it a modification of presence; it is not a material

element. Because of the remainder, it is no longer possible

to identify the mark or writing with its simple material


The iterability of an element divides its own
identity a priori, even without taking into
account the fact that this identity can only
determine or delimit itself through differential
relations to other elements and that it hence
bears the mark of the difference. It is because
this iterability is differential, within each
individual "element" as well as between the
"elements," because it splits each element while
constituting it, because it marks it with an
articulatory break, that the remainder, although
indispensable is never that of a full or fulfil-
ling presence: it is a differential structure
escaping the logic of presence or the (simple or
dialectical) opposition of presence to absence.
(Derrida, 1977b:190)

This "difference" is neither the difference between sounds

of language nor between its written forms. To locate the

analysis on the level of such a materiality is to locate it

on the level of the Saussurian positive term. Difference

would then be derived from differences in sound, appearance,

or presence. But the remainder removes the mark from a

metaphysical structure.

Like the trace it is, the mark is neither present
nor absent. This is what is remarkable about it,
even if it is not remarked. This is why the
phrase of Sec [Derrida refers, here, to a previous
essay, "Signature Event Context," preoccupied with
the same concerns] speaks of the "nonpresent
remainder of a differential mark cut off from its
putative 'production' or origin." Where does this
break [coupure] take place? To situate it, it is
not necessary . to imagine the death of the
sender or the receiver [underlining mine] . .
The break intervenes from the moment that there is
a mark, at once [aussi sec]. And it is not nega-
tive, but rather the positive condition of the
emergence of the mark. It is iterability itself,
that which is remarkable in the mark, passing
between the re- of the repeated and the re- of the
repeating, traversing and transforming repetition.
Condition or effect--take your pick--of iterabil-
ity. As I have done elsewhere, I will say that it
cuts across [recoupe] iterability at once, recov-
ering it as though it were merging with it,
cutting the cut or break once again in the remark.

This little "nothing" of iterability frustrates an equiva-

lent, symmetrical repetition (identity of presence). It is

the death (no consciousness, no perception, nothing that the

dialectic can encompass) that, not being opposed to "life,"

but always already fracturing it, dividing and multiplying

it, creates the possibility of life, of meaning, of con-

sciousness, of perception. It gives all these a space.

Death, nothing, assymetrical repetition, iterability, the

hitch, the blink, the limp, the dance, rather than rigid-

ifying or petrifying the mark, destroys the stoniness of the

presence that erects itself in the form of an absolute

truth, knowledge, meaning, consciousness, perception,

derived presence as a phallic moment that feigns castration,

that is to say, pretends to be cut or severed from another

plentitude of presence.16 This "bit of nothing" allows the

mark to "live on," to "survive" survivevre", ("sur"


The concept of context and code attempt to enclose or

incorporate without remainder. Context or code remain the

"ethical and teleological discourse of consciousness"

(Derrida, 1982d:327), and functions as a guard: police.

Both concepts aim to make present an intention or a meaning,

to actualize them. Thus we speak of a context which delim-

its or determines how something (intention, statement,

expression, description, systematic determination) is to be

understood; or of a code, a set of rules or system of axioms

which when applied to an object aims toward the presentation

specific to the object of its domain (e.g., literary code,

philosophical code, phychoanalytic code, mathematical code,

linguistic code, and so forth). Nonetheless, both context

and code, by virtue of the iterability that constitutes

them, are always already also other than what they mean (to


Iterability alters, contaminating parasitically
what it identifies and enables to repeat "itself";
it leaves us no choice but to mean (to say)
something that is (already, always, also) other

than what we mean (to say), to say something other
than what we say and would have wanted to say, to
understand something other than . etc.

No meaning, no code, no context is adequate to itself, no

meaning, no code, no context can incorporate without remain-


Limiting the very thing it authorizes, trans-
gressing the code or the law it constitutes, the
graphics of iterability inscribes alteration
irreducibly in repetition (or in identification):
a priori, always and already, without delay, at
once, aussi sec. . (200)

Iterability undoes the logic of opposition between "species

of repetitions"

. (for instance, serious/nonserious, literal/
metaphorical or sarcastic, ordinary/parasitical,
strict/ non-strict, etc.) Iterability blurs a
priori the dividing line that passes between these
opposed terms, "corrupting" it if you like,
contaminating it parasitically, qua limit. What
is remarkable about the mark includes the margin
within the mark. The line delineating the margin
can therefore never be determined rigorously, it
is never pure and simple. The mark is re-markable
in that it "is" also its margin. (209-210)

But again, this does not mean that iterability lends itself

to idealization, to perception, to a representation as what

is written on the page, as an ambiguity or equivocal

meaning, to essence, to substance.

. the unique character of this structure of
iterability, or rather of this chain, since
iterability can be supplemented by a variety of
terms (such as difference, grapheme, trace, etc.),
lies in the fact that, comprising identity and
difference, repetition and alteration, etc., it
renders the project of idealization possible
without lending "itself" to any pure, simple, and
idealizable conceptualization. No process
process ] or project of idealization is possible
without iterability, and yet iterability "itself"
cannot be idealized. For it comports an internal

and impure limit that prevents it from being
identified, synthesized, or reappropriated, just
as it excludes the reappropriation of that whose
iteration it nonetheless broaches and breaches
[entame]. (210)

We should now be in a position to appreciate the

considerable gap that separates Culler's deconstruction from

that of Derrida's, as it is theorized by Culler. Culler

continually equates the signifier with the material manifes-

tation of sound as he does the written word to its image.

The evanescence of the signifier in speech creates
the impression of the direct presence of a
thought, but however swiftly it vanishes, the
spoken word is still a material form which, like
the written form, works through its differences
from other forms. If the vocal signifier is
preserved for examination, as in a tape recording,
so that we can "hear ourselves speak" we find that
speech is a sequence of signifiers just as writing
is, similarly open to the process of interpreta-
tion. (Culler, 1982:108)

Thus, for Culler the signifier is the material form heard,

and writing is the material form seen, the form seen of the

spoken word.18 What Culler forgets is that the signifier

for Saussure is nothing that can be represented, nothing

that can be reduced to a presence (no matter how "evanes-

cent"). He also seems to forget that Derrida insists that

these negative, differential conditions, "the condition for

signification, this principle of difference affects the

whole sign, that is, both the signified and the signifying

aspects" (Derrida, 1973:139). To extend these conditions to

the whole sign is at once to make problematic the possibil-

ity of discussing "acts of signification." If, however, one

forgets that the statement "the signified is always in the

position of a signifier" indicates that the concept of

signification itself is threatened, one, like Culler,

interests oneself in meaning, the concept, the ideal object,

the signified, the "positive term," the pure signified of

the metaphysical tradition. Contradicted by Saussure's own

analysis yet, and nevertheless, imposed by logocentrism, the

proposition is then inverted to become "the signifier is

always in the position of a signified"; then, and only then,

does the possibility of interminable interpretation such as

is called for by Culler's analysis arise. Oddly enough,

Culler himself presents a good argument for an end to this

interminable speech (Culler, 1981:3-17).

There is no signifierr" in Culler's system. There is,

however, a reiteration of the classical sign with a metaphy-

sical concept of difference thrown in. Writing is yet the

sign of the voice, the signifier of an already unified

(voice/concept; sound/sense) sign, thus, the sign of a sign,

inescapably derived from thought, submitted to thought, to

consciousness, to meaning, to presence, to the concept, to

an origin. This explains why Culler has no difficulty

identifying self-reflexive criticism or the "negative

insights" of De Man with Derrida's work. His understanding

of Derrida is based on a rather loose reading of Derrida's

critique of Saussure and this reading allows Culler to

identify deconstruction with differential meaning, indeter-

minacy of meaning, or meanings undermining other meanings.

These strategies are all founded on a metaphysical

understanding of language. And all of the critics Culler

discusses (with the exception of Derrida) are, inadvertently

or not, working with the Saussurian positive term. So, con-

sciousness, itself, reappropriates Derrida's work for

itself, enriches itself, and its knowledge of itself by

means of deconstruction (or its version of deconstruction);

it adjusts the reflexive capacity to take Derrida into its

own account. Consciousness conquers itself, knows what it

does not know, but, at the same time, if there is something

that it thinks it does not know, that thing will not be long

in becomingn.

Derrida's reading of Saussure as a critique of logocen-

trism calls the sign into question, not in terms of sign

closure, but in terms of its possibility, its capacity to

re-presence, to represent. The signifier (inseparable from

the signified but never as a positive term) is neither the

spoken word that is heard, the written word seen (the image

of the union of the concept and voice that appears on the

page), nor the semiotic image that appears in the world; all

of these are representers of the representatives of repre-

senteds. All of these operate as signs of already unified

signs: in principle (if not in fact), the Voice.

Enter Husserl (Off Stage Directions:
He shakes hands with Saussure)

Let us review what, for Derrida, constitutes the

radical moments of the Saussurian critique. What Saussure

states concerning the signifier is at once generalizable to

the total sign, linguistic or otherwise.

The linguistic signifier . is not [in essence]
phonic but incorporeal--constituted not by its
material substance but the differences that separ-
ate its sound image from all others. (quoted in
Derrida, 1976:53, underlining mine)

With regard to language in its narrow sense, this "sound

image" or signifier, is not the sound heard; thus it is

reducible neither to "noise" nor to the phenomenological

voice. The "sound image" or "psychic imprint" as Saussure

calls it,

. is the structure of the appearing of the
sound [1'apparaitre du son] which is anything but
the sound appearing [le son apparaisant]. The
sound image is what is heard; not the sound heard
but the being-heard of the sound. Being-heard is
structurally phenomenal and belongs to an order
radically dissimilar to that of real sound in the
world. One can only divide this subtle but
absolutely decisive heterogeneity by a phenomen-
ological reduction (last sentence, underlining
mine). The latter is therefore indispensable to
all analyses of being heard, whether they be
inspired by linguistic, psychoanalytic, or other
preoccupations. (63)

Any analysis that derives from this "material" (the sound

heard in the world) level is classical, metaphysical; o/a,

for example, are phonemes that "paint" or "represent" the

sound heard in the world (the sound appearing), the sound of

the voice, or when committed to writing (which when confined

as a representational structure is always the "vulgar" and

classical concept) represents the sound of the voice. Thus,

its written notation functions as the sign of the voice--the

sign of the sign. Any signifier understood as a material

manifestation (the image of my mothers' face, for example,

or the representer that I use to recall her face when she is

removed from my visual field) belongs to that realm of the

world yet to be subjected to a phenomenological reduction,

that is to say, to the realm of consciousness and/or percep-

tion, that realm developed and supported by the metaphysics

of presence. When Derrida writes that "the phoneme is the

unimaginable itself, and no visibility can resemble it"

(45), he is detaching the phoneme from the way in which it

has been traditionally conceived, and it is not enough to

make use of this word to imply the distinction he is

insisting upon. The phoneme is neither represented by the

written o/a, nor their sounds; nor can it be used in a

material form of presence as a support for the metaphysical

structures erected on this basis. In order to refine the

analysis of the signifier (even to its smallest component),

Derrida all along has been joining Saussure with Husserl.


The psychic image of which Saussure speaks must
not be an internal reality copying an external
one. Husserl . criticizes this concept of
"portrait" in Ideen I. . (64)

The psychic image, then, does not "exist"; it does not take

the shape or form of (a) presence. But we must be careful

here, not to simply invert this structure and turn it into a

negative moment, the simple absence of presence that could

in itself function as a ground, as a transcendental absence

which fully present in its negativity would provide the

founding instance or center from which all substitutions

follow. Again, play, the differences of forces, would only

be inscribed within the world, contained. Similarly, when

we import meaning into this structure, "acts of significa-

tion," we are no longer dealing with a negative and differ-

ential structure, but are once more within the traditional,

classical, metaphysical field that conceives of writing as

written speech, as the sign of the already constituted unity

of sense and sound, concept and voice: Saussure's "thought

sound." As Derrida insists, "The graphic image is not seen;

and the acoustic image is not heard" (65). What is seen and

heard (the materiality of what presents itself as presence)

must be bracketed.

The study and function of language, of its play
presupposes that the substance of meaning and,
among other possible substances, that of sound be
placed in parenthesis. The unity of sound and
sense is indeed here . the reassuring closing
of play. (57)

The substance of meaning belongs to the worldly region.

It is a function of perception/consciousness, mediated by

the conceptual, the appearance of phenomena determined by

interpretation. This is what justifies calling our response

to the world an activity of reading; but the reading is

derived and secondary, "preceded by a truth, or a meaning

already constituted by and with the element of the logos"

(1976:14). It is determined by a classical conception of

the sign as a representational structure, a stand-in. When

our eyes rest upon the written word, our ears register the

spoken one, what we read are classical signifieds (positive

terms), just as when our eyes gaze upon objects in the

world, in that we know, identify, and interpret what we are

gazing upon, we are reading classical signifieds. Hence,

reading language and observing the world as long as it is

governed by the classical model of the sign, the metaphysics

of presence, will remain activities oriented by and towards

the production of meaning. But in Saussurian terminology,

we are really dealing only with "positive terms," which are

not different, but only distinct. Once more,

When we compare signs--positive terms--with each
other, we can no longer speak of difference . .
two signs, each having a signified and signifier,
and are not different but only distinct.

This is why I stated earlier, that within the language of

metaphysics, there really is no "difference." Any differ-

ence would simply pertain to a semantic distinction having

to do with the concept or signified. For the concept of

distinction can only be maintained by the presence of a

presence. And even without taking into account the formi-

dable disruption introduced by the unheard, unseen, nega-

tive, differential character of the Saussurian signifier,

distinctions are contradicted by the requirements of the

sign as an iterable structure. These distinctions are

problematic because, as presence, as the self-identity of

concepts, they would not allow for repetition. First, the

repetition of an identity would not constitute a repetition;

second, repetition would be derived from what repetition

itself makes possible. Repetition would be governed by the

"first time." However, there is no "first time" that is not

immediately constituted by repetition.

. there is no word, nor in general a sign,
which is not constituted by the possibility of
repeating itself. A sign which does not repeat
itself, which is not already divided by repetition
in its "first time" is not a sign. (Derrida,

Iterability dissolves the signified in its classical sense;

it disembeds what attempts to embed itself, and all that is

left is repetition, but of no thing, no meaning, no refer-


The signifying referal therefore must be ideal--
and ideality is but the assured power of repeti-
tion--in order to refer to the same thing each
time. (246)

To call any representation (the written word, the spoken

word, the visible gesture) that functions as the represen-

tative of a represented a signifier in the most rigorous

Saussurian sense is only to demonstrate the full force of

logocentrism. Certainly this is one explanation of why

Derrida has often expressed reservations towards the concept

of the signifierr." When Culler, for example, speaks of the

"structural redoubling of any signified as an interpretable

signifier," he has reduced the signifier to a meaning, to

the concept, to the signified in its most classical sense.

When Culler defines writing as presenting

. language as a series of physical marks that
operate in the absence of the speaker [that] may
be highly ambiguous or organized in artful rhetor-
ical patterns. (Culler, 1982:91)

he ignores Saussure's most radical gesture (as does Saussure

himself). Derrida says of this reduction,

If one erases the radical difference between the
signifier and signified, it is the word 'signi-
fier' itself which must be abandoned as a meta-
physical concept. (Derrida, 1979f:281)

With this reduction of the signifier to a signified ("inter-

pretable signifier"), once more

. the word [mot] is lived as the elementary
and undecomposable unity of the signified and the
voice, of the concept and a transparent substance
of expression. (Derrida, 1976a:20)

To conceive of the signifier in the Saussurian manner,

however, should lead us to other conclusions concerning the

possibility of a classical signified, a meaning, a concept,

a being, an entity, and so forth. If the difference between

the two is irreducible in a radical way, in a way that

challenges phonologocentrism, then the concept of the

signified, the concept of meaning, the conceptual itself,

all these must be rethought and resituated in a field that

they no longer command.

The signified face, to the extent that it is still
originarily distinguished from the signifying
face, is not a trace; by rights, it has no need of
the signifier to be what it is. It is at the
depth of this affirmation that the problem of
relationships between linguistics and semantics
must be posed. (73)

Thus, resistant to every possible manifestation of presence,

every possible medium made use of by signification, every

mode of perception--sensible or intelligible--the signifier

is to be found neither in the form of a linguistics nor in

the form of the "vulgar concept" of writing that Derrida has

subjected to deconstruction. Consequently,

That the signified is originally and essentially
(and not only for a finite and created spirit)
trace, that it is always already in the position
of the signifier

which is not an "interpretable signifier," for that would

really be the reverse of this proposition (the signifier in

the position of the classical signified),

is the apparently innocent proposition within
which the metaphysics of the logos, of presence,
of consciousness, must reflect upon writing as its
death and its resource. (73)

Where are we now? Has the classical reading model

demonstrated itself to be of any use? The question can be

answered in the affirmative. This reading model has enabled

us to discern how, at the theoretical level, Culler's theory

of deconstruction is still complicit with the metaphysics of

presence. Deconstruction as theorized by Culler works with

positive terms ("fictions"), asserting one, only to deny it

by means of another, an act of negation that affirms the

affirmative (the positive: presence) even as it speaks

against it. Deconstruction in Culler's hands is an analysis

of semantics by means of semantics or principles (events of

meaning) that are in themselves concepts. Deconstruction

borrows metaphysical principles in order to analyze metaphy-

sics; in other words, it borrows philosophical concepts in

order to analyze the philosophical concepts it presupposes

and imposes.

The classical reading model has also enabled us to

ascertain how American deconstruction (exemplified by

Culler), working with the empirical, perceptual, and

semantic elements of writing, still subordinates writing to

the Voice. Clearly, then, the classical reading model is

useful in its own right and good for something (some

"thing": presence, referent, signified, and so forth). Now

that we have examined American deconstruction at the theo-

retical level, it is time to turn to an example of its

application, to a critic whom Culler has characterized as

one of its "best practitioners." Again, I shall make use of

this same reading model which is, one might say, becoming

something like a crutch, a wooden leg, assisting me in my

movement from figure to figure, from place to place, posi-

tion to position. Another story, then!


1. This is an observation that Jonathan Culler makes
in his book, Saussure (Culler, 1976). He then reasons in
this manner: "This is so, but the answer to this objection
is that there can be no production of meaning without
system. If one were able to escape from semiotic systems
entirely, if one could free oneself from their constraints,
then one would be free to assign meaning arbitrarily but
meaning would not be produced. Moreover, the meanings
assigned would have to come from somewhere and encountering
no resistance, they would generally be facile, uninter-
esting" (p. 113). Of course, as long as we are interested
in the metaphysics of presence, with its preoccupation with
meaning, the concept, the signified, this seems not only
quite probable, but indeed inevitable. But as far as this
relates to Derrida, it misses the point entirely. Further-
more, with reference to meaning functioning "arbitrarily,"
Derrida simply points out, . that person would have
understood nothing of the game who, at this [du coup], would
feel himself authorized merely to add on; that is, to add
any old thing. He would add nothing: the seam wouldn't
hold. Reciprocally, he who through "methodological pru-
dence," "norms of objectivity," or "safeguards of knowledge"
would refrain from committing anything of himself, would not
read at all. This same foolishness, the same sterility,
obtains in the "not serious" as in the "serious." The

reading or writing supplement must be rigorously prescribed,
but by the necessities of a game, by the logic of play,
signs to which the system of all textual powers must be
accorded and attuned" (Derrida, 1982b:64).

2. Derrida analyzes the concept of principle as a
regulatory ideal along with the problems of ideal objects in
Derrida, 1978b. Teleology produces and governs each. He
also satirizes the Kantian Idea unmercifully in Derrida,
1978c. This is not to say that we can do without these
constructions any more than we can do without the language
of metaphysics. But being based on presence, these concepts
are all targets of Derrida's attack.

3. Peirce's remarks can lead us to other consider-
ations. Instead of taking the signified as a point of
departure as Culler does, consider the effects of starting
with a signifier or representer. Meaning, the concept, the
signified should then arouse suspicion precisely because it
is constantly "on the move." The next question might ask
why is it that it has such difficulty "presenting" or
"representing" itself. (Notice also that in starting with
the signified, the structure of deferral and referral is
made derivative. Derrida continually warns against this.
See for example, "Differance" [Derrida, 1973]). Addition-
ally, there is an odd moment when Culler quotes Derrida on
the problem of meaning. "What if, Derrida suggests, the
meaning of meaning (in the most general sense of meaning and
not of indication) is infinite implication? If its force is
a certain pure and infinite equivocalness, which give
signified meaning no respite, no rest, but engages it within
its own economy to go on signifying and to differ/defer?"
(1982:133). Culler understands Derrida's question as a
statement of his position when a more careful reading of
this question shows that it is one he is posing for struc-
turalist theory. Derrida is demonstrating that structural-
ism is caught in an image of the language system as purely
spatial (structuralism falls for a metaphor and as he says
of metaphor in general, this "passage from one existent to
another, or from one signified meaning to another, author-
ized by the initial submission of Being to the existent, the
analogical displacement of Being, is the essential weight
which anchors discourse in metaphysics, irremediably repres-
sing discourse into its metaphysical state" (Derrida,
1978f:27). This purely spatial "order of coexistences"
is called into question by the infinite movement. It is
imperative in reading Derrida to separate the position he
criticizes from the way in which he either questions it or
rewrites it.

4. Culler quotes the "two interpretations of inter-
pretation," in "Structure Sign Play" (Derrida, 1982d),
identified with Levi-Strauss, the latter, with Nietzsche.

Whether or not he is aware of it, and in spite of his own
admonishment, Culler chooses the former.

5. See Derrida, 1976. Derrida discusses the impli-
cations of the negative and differential condition of the
signifier in Chapter 2, Part I. Saussure excludes sound
from the system along with material substances that present
themselves to either eye, ear, indeed, any sensory mode.
All that is essential are differences. But as these are not
differences of substance or presence, then both the voice
and the concept are initially ruled out. However, Saussure
continually overlooks the problem that his own "model"
introduces and thus invokes both the voice and the concept
continually. And for this reason (one among others, cer-
tainly) Derrida constantly reminds us that we must oppose
Saussure to himself.

6. Notice that "conceptual and phonic differences"
issue from (but are not the constituting elements of) an
already constituted system of differences that are neither
seen nor heard, are neither material nor substantial.

7. Here is an instance where we must oppose Saussure
to Saussure, and we may be sure that Derrida does. Why
don't these conditions effect the whole sign? Because the
tradition is governed by the Voice: meaning, the signified,
the concept. See "Differance" in Derrida, 1973:139. In
addition, Saussure's qualification of the sign as distinct
(and not different) should help us understand why Derrida
often argues that there are no differences within the
metaphysics of presence other than empiricistt and impres-
sionistic" ones, that is to say, "alleged differences"
(Derrida, 1982d:230).

8. Culler uses the "word," the material entity of the
dictionary, the total sign or positive term (voice/concept).
Notice also that for Culler, meaning is inherent, "inscribed
in the structure of language." The foundation of Culler's
argument is communication, the communication of meaning from
one subject to another. His understanding of Derrida's
arguments often has much in common with what Derrida
expressly criticizes, particularly in Positions with respect
to semiotics and communication. . communication . .
in effect implies a transmission charged with making pass,
from one subject to another, the identity of a signified
object, of a meaning, or of a concept rightfully separable
from the signifying operation. Communication presupposes
subjects (whose identity and presence are constituted before
the signifying operation) and objects (signified concepts, a
thought meaning that the passage of communication will have
neither to constitute, nor, by all rights, to transform). A
communicates B to C. Through the sign the emitter communi-
cates something to a receptor" (Derrida, 1981a:23-24).

Also, we might inquire if it is sheerly coincidental that
the examples of differences Culler offers all depend upon

9. See Derrida, 1978f for this essay. Elsewhere with
regard to the concept of structure, Derrida remarks, "Every-
thing depends upon how one sets it to work. Like the
concept of the sign . it can simultaneously confirm and
shake logocentric and ethnocentric assuredness" (Derrida,
1981a:24). To posit or assert this concept, as Culler does
in his analysis, and then deny it on the basis of another
concept, is to set in motion the mechanism of a traditional

10. Since we are purportedly working with a critique
of the metaphysics of presence, shouldn't we ask ourselves,
"What event? The event itself?" We might then move on to
the problem of "signs" of an event. If we are dealing with
a sign, does an event take place? And when the sign itself
is paralyzed in its capacity for representing (an event or
anything else), then what nameable "presence" could possibly
be taking place? For a critique of the concept of event,
See Derrida, 1982d "Signature Event Context. Also cf.

11. Derrida deconstructs the de facto/de jure opposi-
tion in his work on Husserl. For a good discussion of the
implications of his deconstruction, see Vincent Descombes,
1982:136-152. Culler assumes that the "nonoriginary origin"
is meaningful and it is this teleology that orients his
analysis. In order to operate within such an assumption,
one must posit the existence of an infinite being in order
to guarantee the truth of such an assumption. As Descombes
remarks, "If truth is identical with the true for myself, I
must then be the Cartesian God, creator of eternal truths,
as Sartre would have it, and perhaps also Husserl; other-
wise, truth is no more than a 'value' or a 'point of view,'
a 'perspective.' So that the identification of being with
meaning should not entail the relegation of the phenomenon
to simple appearance, I have to be God. However, this
divinity is postponed indefinitely. We know in advance that
fact and right will never coincide" (p. 144). See also
"Form and Meaning" in Derrida, 1973, in particular:126-128.

12. See Derrida, 1978e:12. Derrida is not simply
"extending" or radicalizingg" the tradition, its already
stated positions; he is resituating it.

13. See Searle, 1983. Searle calls this analysis a
"tissue of confusion" (p. 74) and rightly concludes that
"Derrida also emerges as much more superficial than he is"
(p. 77) in Culler's hands.


14. Perhaps this should remind us of how firmly rooted
phonologocentrism is. It should also serve as a warning to
the reader that my own analysis, far from being passively
accepted, must be carefully scrutinized.

15. See "White Mythology" in Derrida, 1982d, for a
discussion of the teleology that governs the transformation
of "noise" (meaningless sounds) into meaning or "saying what
is" (236).

16. Derrida joins the concepts of sexuality to the
metaphysics of presence and its language. It is worth
citing once more from Of Grammatology. "In as much as it
puts into play the presence of the present and the life of
the living, the movement of language does not, one suspects,
have only an analogical relationship with 'sexual' auto-
affection. It is totally indistinguishable from it even it
that totality is severely articulated and differentiated"
(Derrida, 1976a:16). Castration is the fiction of the
present presenting itself. "Castration--always at stake--
and the self-presence of the present. The pure present
would be the untouched fullness, the virgin continuity of
the nonscission, the volume that, not having exposed the
roll of its writing to the reader's letter-opener, would
therefore not yet be written on the eve of the start of the
game. But the pen, when you have followed it to the end,
will have turned into a knife. The present can only present
itself as such by relating back to itself: it can only aver
itself by severing itself, only reach itself if it breaches
itself, complyingg with itself in the angle, along a break
brisure (brisure: "crack" and "joint," created by a hinge,
in the work of a locksmith. Littre); in the release of the
latch or the trigger. Presence is never present. The
possibility--or the potency--of the present is but its own
limit, its inner fold, its impossibility--or its impotence.
Such will have been the relation between presence and
castration in play and at stake" (Derrida, 1982b:302-303).
Castration operates as a simulacrum of a simulacrum; both
castration and the self-presentation of the present are
feigned fictions.

17. For a discussion of the graphic play involved
here, see "Living On: Border Lines" (Derrida, 1979a).

18. See Derrida, 1981a. Derrida has expressed reser-
vations about "matter" and "materialism" for both are
metaphysical concepts and form the locus of metaphysical
values. "If I have not very often used the word 'matter,'
it is not, as you know, because of some idealist or spirit-
ualist kind of reservation. It is that in the logic of the
phase of overturning this concept has been too often rein-
vested with 'logocentric' values, values associated with
those of thing, reality, presence in general, sensible
presence, for example, substantial plenitude, content,


referent, etc. Realism or sensualism--"emlrpiricism"--are
modifications of logocentrism. (I have often insisted on
the fact that 'writing' or the 'text' are not reducible
either to the sensible or visible presence of the graphic or
the 'literal.') In short, the signifier 'matter' appears to
me problematical only at the moment when its reinscription
cannot avoid making of it a new fundamental principle which,
by means of theoretical regression, would be reconstituted
into a 'transcendental signified.' It is not only idealism
in the narrow sense that falls back upon the transcendental
signified. It can always come to reassure a metaphysical
materialism. It then becomes an ultimate referent,
according to the classical logic implied by the value of
referent, or it becomes an 'objective reality' absolutely
"anterior" to any work of the mark, the semantic content of
a form of presence which guarantees the movement of the text
in general from the outside" (1981a:64-65). The privileging
of rhetorical operations would also seem to function in this


One of the most common words in the vocabulary of

American deconstruction is "difference." In the most

ordinary sense of the word, difference in the presence of a

conceptual space separating two stable differends or poles

either in the form of what Aristotle, for example, called a

contrariety (one, two), or that of contradiction (male/

female). Difference here is produced and stabilized between

two present moments. Notice that the spacing is created by

the two terms and that the two terms create the difference.

There is a second type of difference, slightly more

complicated, but still rooted in presence. I shall take as

an example the way in which Barbara Johnson employs differ-

ence in her very excellent book, The Critical Difference.

Such an analysis should enable us to distinguish between

difference and difference, the former being confined to and

operating on the level of the sign, and the latter which

. can no longer be understood according to the
concept "sign" which has always been taken to mean
the representation of a presence and has been
constituted in a system (of thought or language)
determined on the basis of and in view of pre-
sence. (Derrida, 1973:138)

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