Friday, February 26, 2010

Writing and Difference

Derrida, Jacques. Writing and Difference. Trans. Alan Bass. Chicago, IL: The University of
Chicago Press, 1978.

Derrida's essays focus on the deconstruction of thought and writing of canonical thinkers such as Foucault, Descartes, Levinas, Freud, Hegel, and Levi-Strauss. In doing so, Derrida does not seek to provide an oppositional stance from which to argue, or in his own terms, not “introducing [a] foreign substance” into the debate that serves as “an aggression and an infidelity” (154), but instead “draws upon the concepts of a mode of thought in order to exhaust it” (270). In a manner of speaking, Derrida attempts not to erase a discourse, but to interact with established thought patterns in such a way that his writing “multiplies words...engulfs them too, in an endless and baseless substitution” (274). As such, when Derrida “shakes” a mode of thought through its intensification, what he produces is difference, or more precisely, that “irreducible difference” (293) between concepts. What must be highlighted though, is the fact that difference “is not an essence, as it is not anything” (203). We can only speak about it as a trace, something transitive that can never be solidified into a presence. Derrida, in the face of such ineffability, promotes not an anxiety that laments “the lost or impossible presence of the absent origin” (292), but rather affirms “play,” or a world that revels in “the innocence of becoming, the affirmation of a world of signs without fault, without truth, and without origin” (292). Throughout the course of the text, Derrida creates concepts of great interest to poets and poetry: parole souffle, or language that is spirited away and reawakens the “sonority, intonation, intensity. And the syntax governing the succession of words” (188); the “sliding” of language, which is the manner in which a word moves toward “other objects” and words through a series of “ruses...stratagems...and simulacra” (262-3); and the “supplement,” which is fostered in the “movement of play” and creates “a surplus” in language, but a surplus that is always “floating” through it (289). And what needs to be avoided in Derrida's view? For starters, one should be done with metaphor because “the analogical displacement Being” inherent to the poetic technique “irremediably repress[es]” language and discourse “into its metaphysical state” (27). Likewise, representational writing needs to be avoided because, simply stated, “representation is death” (227). In contradistinction to representation, “the materiality of a word” should be harnessed so that the word “becomes poetry” (210). Ultimately, then, Derrida's concepts leave the poet “exiled from speech” (67) in order to save it.

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