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Jacques Derrida “Différance”

Derrida, Jacques 1986. Différance. – Derrida, Jacques. Margins of Philosophy. Chicago: University of Chicago Press: 1-27.

[…] contrary to a very widespread prejudice, there is no phonetic writing. There is no purely and rigorously pho-netic writing. So-called phonetic writing, by all rights and in principle, and not only due to an empirical or technical insufficiency, can function only by admitting into its system nonphonetic “signs” (punctuation, spacing, etc.). […]The inaudible opens up the apprehension of two present pho-nemes such as they present themselves. If there is no purely phonetic writing, it is that there is no purely phonetic phone. The difference which establishes phonemes and lets them be heard remains in and of itself inaudible, in every sense of the word. (5)

Now if differance is (and I also cross out the „is“) what makes possible the presentation of the being-present, it is never presented as such. It is never offered to the present. (6)

Differance is not only irreducible to any ontological or theological—ontotheological—reappropriation, but as the very opening of the space in which ontotheology—philosophy—produces its system and its history, it includes ontotheology, inscribing it and exceeding it without return. (6)

The problematic of writing is opened up by putting into question the value arkhe. (6)

In the delineation of differance everything is strategic and adventurous. Strategic because no transcendent truth present outside the field of writing can govern theologically the totality of the field. Adventurous because this strategy is not a simple strategy in the sense that strategy orients tactics according to a final goal, a telos or theme of domination, a mastery and ultimate reappropriation of the development of the field. Finally, a strategy without finality, what might be called blind tactics, or empirical wandering iithe value of empiricism did not itself acquire its entire meaning in its opposition to philosophical responsibility. (7)

Différer in this sense is to temporize, to take recourse, consciously or unconsciously, in the temporal and temporizing mediation of a detour that suspends the accomplishment or fulfillment of “desire” or “will,” and equally effects this suspension in a mode that annuls or tempers its own effect. (8)

The other sense of differer is the more common and identifiable one: to be not identical, to be other, discernible, etc. When dealing with differen(ts)(ds), a word that can be written with a final ts or a final ds, as you will, whether it is a question of dissimilar otherness or of allergic and polemical othemess, àñititerval, a distance, spacing, must be produced between the elements other, and be pro-duced with a certain perseverence in repetition. (8)

The sign is usually said to be put in the place of the thing itself, the present thing, “thing” here standing equally for meaning or referent. The sign represents the presence of its absence. It takes the place of the present. When we cannot grasp or the thing, state the present, the being-present, when the present cannot be presented, we signify, we go through the detour of the sign. We take or give signs. We signal. The sign, in this sense, is deferred presence. […] According to this classical semiology, the substitution of the sign for the thing itself is both secondary and provisional: secondary due to an original and lost presence from which the sign thus derives; provisional as concerns this final and missing presence toward which the sign in this sense is a movement of mediation. (9)

What is written as differance, then, will be the playing movement that “pro-duces”—by means of something that is not simply an activity—these differences, these effects of difference. This does not mean that the difference that produces differences is somehow before them, in a simple and unmodified—in-different— present. Differance is the non-full, non-simple, structured and differentiating origin of differences. Thus, the name “origin” no longer suits it. (11)

[…] we will designate as differance the movement according to which language, or any code, any system of referral in general, is constituted „historically“ as a weave of differences. “Is constituted,” “is produced,” “is created,” “movement,” “historically,” etc., necessarily being understood beyond the metaphysical language in which they are retained, along with all their implications. (12)

It is because of differance that the movement of signification is possible only if each so-called “present” element, each element appearing on the scene of presence, is related to something other than itself, thereby keeping within itself the mark of the past element, and already letting itself be vitiated by the mark of its relation to the future element, this trace being related no less to what is called the future than to what is called the past, and constituting what is called the present by means of this very relation to what it is not: what it absolutely is not, not even a past or a future as a modified present. An interval must separate the present from what it is not in order for the present to be itself, but this interval that constitutes it as present must, by the same token, divide the present in and of itself, thereby also along with the present, everything thatis thoughron The basis of the present, that is, in our metaphysical language, every being, and singularly substance or the subject. In constituting itself, in dividing itself dynamically, this interval is what might be called spacing, the becoming-space of time or the becoming-time p1 space (temporization). And it is this constitution of the present, as an “originary” and irreducibly nonsimple (and therefore, stricto sensu nonoriginary) synthesis of marks, or traces of retentions and protentions (to reproduce analogically and provisionally a phenomnological and transcendental language that soon will reveal itself to be inadequate), that I propose to call archi-writing, archi-trace, or differance. Which (is) (simultaneously) spacing (and) temporization. (13)

This implies that the subject (in its identity with itself, or eventually in its consciousness of its identity with itself, its self-consciousness) is inscribed in language, is a “function” of language, becomes a speaking subject only by making its speech conform—even in so-called “creation,” or in so-called “transgression”—to the system of the rules of language as a system of differences, or at very least by conforming to the general law of differance, or by adhering to the principle of language which Saussure says is “spoken language minus speech.” (15)

Thus one comes to posit presence—and specifically consciousness, the being beside itself of consciousness—no longer as the absolutely central form of Being but as a “determination” and as an “effect.” (16)

Thus, differance is the name we might give to the “active,” moving discord of different forces, and of differences of forces, that Nietzsche sets up against the entire system of metaphysical grammar, wherever this system governs culture, philosophy, and science. (18)

The alterity of the “unconscious” makes us concerned not with horizons of modified—past or future—presents, but with a “past” that has never been present, and which never will be, whose future to come will never be a production or a reproduction in the form of presence. Therefore the concept of trace is incompatible with the concept of retention, of the becoming-past of what has been present. One cannot think the trace—and therefore, différance-_on the basis of the present, or of the presence of the present. A past that has never been present […] (21)

Not only is there no kingdom of difference but difference instigates the subversion of kingdom. Which makes it obviously threatening and infallibly dreaded by everything within us that desires a kingdom, the past or future presence of a kingdom. And it is always in the name of a kingdom that one may reproach difference with wishing to reign, believing that one sees it aggrandize itself with a capital letter. (22)

Since the trace is not a presence but the simulacrum of a presence that dislocates itself, displaces itself, refers itself, it properly has no site—erasure belongs to its structure. And not only the erasure which must always be able to overtake it (without which it would not be a trace but an indestructible and monumental substance), but also the erasure which constitutes it from the outset as a trace, which situates it as the change of site, and makes it disappear in its appearance, makes it emerge from itself in its production. […] The paradox of such a  structure, in the language of meta-physics, is an inversion of metaphysical concepts, which produces the following effect: the present becomes the sign of the sign, the trace of the trace. It is no longer what every reference refers to in the last analysis. It becomes a function in a structure of generalized reference. It is a trace, and a trace of the erasure of the trace. (24)

How to conceive what is outside a text? That which is more or less than a text’s own, proper margin? For example, what is other than the text of Western metaphysics? It is certain that the trace which “quickly vanishes in the destiny of Being (and) which unfolds . . . as Western metaphysics” escapes every determination, every name it might receive in the metaphysical text. It is sheltered, and therefore dissimulated, in these names. It does not appear in them as the trace “itself.” But this is because it could never appear itself, as such. (25)

Such is the question: the..alliance of speech and Being in the unique word, in the finally proper name. And such is the question inscribed in the simulated affirmation of differance. It bears (on) each member of this sentence: “Being / speaks / always and everywhere throughout / language.” (27)

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