Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Derrida's Theory of Writing

Derrida’s theory of writing, although couched in complex wording and phraseology, has a relatively simple project: to show that texts are inherently contradictory by demonstrating that its false dichotomies and other exaggerations distort and falsify reality from a certain perspective. His theory about the problem of reading is necessarily about this. When reading the texts of Heidegger and Saussure, as well as when they are writing texts, readers and writers tend to focus and dwell, and exaggerate in our minds, the points the other is making. This doubly an exaggeration since the text itself has done the same thing to itself.

In reading excerpts from his essay Of Grammatologie and Differance, one difficulty is that there are so many points he is making and so many possible points to “deconstruct” Derrida’s writings themselves. But to have one suggestion will open an entire field of investigation into his own texts, which, to do that one must have already bought into the project of deconstructing, and thus the problem of reading too much into his writing becomes problematic. “All dualisms…as well as monisms… are the unique theme of a metaphysics whose entire history was compelled to strive forward the reduction of the trace.” So how is a grammatology of interpreting texts even possible?

The “trace” is a word Derrida uses to describe the origin of some kind of primitive state of writing. It is no more “an effect than it is a cause.” That is to say, it’s a false dichotomy in some sense. But even “false” and “dichotomy” fail to capture the essence of what Derrida means. He says that “trace” is “nothing”. It is not an entity, a res, and exceeds the question, “What is?” Here we may no longer even trust the distinction between fact and principle, we are told. It has its own unity, without our interpretations he seems to suggest, and we must not disturb it. Somehow, we are supposed to let the original unity of thought to presence itself, without letting it give rise to confusion.

Non-linear writing, he says, is nearly the entire history of writing before Nietzsche. Linear thought is a reduction of history, just one way that this style of writing exaggerates reality. We can see how Nietzsche’s monologue style of writing would be preferred, since it is more faithful to exposing the prejudice of linear-writing. Monologues are part of the “de-sedimenting” of linear-writing. We are re-reading the past according to a “different organization of space.” Science, it must be noted, is inherently linear, stuffy, and prejudiced. Scientific writing has its own “onto-theology” and its style of writing itself says a great deal about how it views reality. This incompetence of science is likewise an incompetence of philosophy. Derrida says, “Because we are beginning write differently, we must begin to re-read differently.” Science, like declarative and omni-expounding writing styles, is thus an “infinitst theology,” which are “always logocentric.” The suggestion is that scientific-writing would be more faithful to reality if it were more ”Nietzschean”, although Derrida does not explicitly say this. And Derrida is calling for an end to these more false styles of writing, which is why he uses apocalyptic words like “eschatological” and so on.

This linearist concept of time, which abandons a certain metaphysics of presence, is therefore one of the deepest adherences of the modem concept of the sign to its own history. For at the limit it is indeed the concept of the sign itself, and the distinction, however tenuous, between the signifying and signified faces, that remain committed to the history of classical ontology. The parallelism and correspondence of the faces or the planes change nothing.

Derrida encourages us, when we feel this way about a text, to have a kind of Nietzschean laughter or Heideggerian hope. He seems to suggest a ‘let’s dance’ attitude about the platitudinous aspect about a text.

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