(This will not have been a preface to a critique of Edmund Husserl written under the name Jacques Derrida in a book you called Speech and Phenomena.
* Derrida, Jacques. La Voix et le phénomène: Introduction au problème du signe dans la phénoménologie de Husserl. Epiméthée: Essais philosophiques. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1967. 2d ed. 1972. 3d ed. 1946. 4th ed. 1983.
* Derrida, Jacques. Speech and Phenomena, and Other Essays on Husserl's Theory of Signs. David B. Allison, tr. Preface by Newton Garver. Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1973. Pbk. 1979. Translation of La Voix et le phénomène.
It was a book that already will not have been the book in which the most thorough critique of phenomenology will have been presented, for its form was already, in 1967 deconstructed in the one we would have also named Of Grammatology, but to which I can now not refer. There would also have been others, if not for, "if not for", ""if not for" what? (Perhaps the closure of an opening, the site at which we would forever have been inscribed within a citation.) Below I will trace for you one of the things which I would have read in that book.)

Jacques Derrida deconstructs Edmund Husserl

Derrida claims in Speech and Phenomena that we can read in the Logical Investigations of Husserl, in the first section of that book specifically, an obedience to a metaphysical principle that Husserl himself would not recognize as metaphysical. That the whole of these investigations is devoted to a phenomenology that rigorously and systematically adheres to a distinction, in signs, between expression and indication, a distinction that furthermore, privileges the former over the latter, betrays that Husserl’s entire investigations are, in fact, metaphysical throughout, at least insofar as they follow the line of this metaphysical distinction with perfect rigor. Derrida, it is famously known, would name this distinction according to the metaphysics of presence and I hope that I would have here helped to explain what such a term could have meant.

It would be good to first look at Husserl’s indebtedness to Franz Brentano’s intentionality thesis in order to grasp the context for Husserl’s own phenomenological picture of consciousness and perception. Brentano follows the positivist Auguste Comte in denying the possibility of introspection, that is the distinguishing of our perceptions from our conscious awareness of our perceptions. Brentano asserts that in being aware of a representation we are always already aware of the act of representing it to ourselves. We can perceive mental acts, but we cannot observe them.

This solves the problem of an infinite chain of awareness that would be the residue of the separation of perception from awareness of perception. If we uphold that separation, to be aware of a sound would also be to be aware of being aware of a sound, and that would also be to be aware of being aware of being aware of a sound and so on ad infinitum. Awareness of a perception, on this picture, is always of the second order. Within this infinite chain of awareness we are wedded to a Humean problematic of identity: a perception would never give rise to the repetition of itself, only instead representing each time an altered perception (the table from x1, y1, z1, t1 and the table from x2, y1, z1, t2, etc.) of which we are later, in observation, made aware. Distinguishing perception from awareness of it gives us the hopeless job of unifying varied awarenesses, which as Hume showed, could never be gathered within a self-identical object. In order to deny the empiricist’s unsolvable problem of associating one disparate perception to another, Brentano simply asserts that we are always already aware of every representation to ourselves. A mental phenomenon contains its primary object and an awareness of it which is ‘the secondary object of perception’ (but also of the first order). All mentality is, in other words, already intentional or directed towards an object. (This is in fact the distinguishing mark of the mental: “We can define mental phenomena by saying that they are those phenomena which contain an object intentionally within themselves” (Psychology from an Empirical Standpoint, 89).) Brentano seeks the unity of the perceived object in the immediacy of our intentional awareness of the two perceptions. The unification now can occur at the level of the repetition of an ideal object which would always already be in itself unified.

The ideal objects of mental phenomena need not be submitted to any sort of empirical reduction or analysis. That this atomistic analysis does not occur saves us from the hopeless task of unifying our perceptions of ‘the real’. For Brentano, as later elucidation in Meinong would explicate, the object of thought exists even if the object of thought does not subsist, i.e., is not actual or real -— for example in, ‘the round square does not exist’ there is an object corresponding to the round square not existing. Reality does not pertain to this thing or that (for example, a house) but rather to a proposition, which can also be an object of thought, though its reality is not continent upon this mental phenomenon occuring.

Husserl follows this line of reasoning when, for example, he writes of expressive speech that it is, “phenomenally one with the experiences made manifest in it in the consciousness of the man who manifests them” (LI, §5, 275). That is, experience is self-present in the present taken as now. Further, the ideality of phenomena is expressed by Husserl in writing, for example, “Each instance or part of speech, as also each sign that is essentially of the same sort, shall count as an expression, whether or not such speech is actually uttered, or addressed with communicative intent to any persons or not” (ibid.). Here Husserl explicates his distinction between “expression” and “indication” with which the LI formally began. Expression is speech proper. From “indicative signs” Husserl distinguishes, “meaningful signs, i.e., expressions” (ibid.). Excluded from expression, and thereby relegated to indication (which would already be meaningless), would be such things as “facial expressions and the various gestures which involuntarily accompany speech” (ibid.) as well as other contextualizations such as culture, rhetoric, locale, and of course also writing. Meaning occurs only in speech, which alone can ‘mean’, according to the rigorous guard of a speaker who says what he wants to say, i.e., what he means to say. In writing, as in gesture, or translation, or rhetorical theatres, what one means to say cannot be guarded over so carefully.

In fact, this lack of guard runs all the way down and Husserl even criticizes that normal discourse is expressive. “All expressions in communicative speech function as indications” (LI, §7, 277). In a conversation, for example, the idealized meaning of my speech is subject to the contours of the physical (for example, the space between you and I, but more importantly the mere physicality of vocalization and the absence of even just a part of the meaning-intention) and is therefore subject to the rules of the indicative. In speaking to another, the idealized meaning-intention is not completely guarded from the infection of the physical. Derrida writes that, “indication takes place whenever the sense-giving act, the animating intention, the living spirituality of the meaning-intention, is not fully present” (38). And it never could be fully present in communication, because, “The hearer perceives the speaker as manifesting certain inner experiences, and to that extent he also perceives these experiences themselves: he does not, however, himself experience them” (LI, §7, 278). In other words, the hearer does not fully perceive the meaning-intention. And how could the hearer? It would not be possible to be aware of the ‘inner’ experience without also having experienced that experience. The hearer, in other words, is in precisely the position that Brentano was calling non-mental: non-mentality occurs where experience is not simultaneous with awareness of itself. A hearer is only aware of an experience, but does not experience the experience: this is like the empiricist’s perceiving agent who is always aware of an experience after the fact, and therefore never fully able to intuit the truth of the experience.

The self-presence of experience is present, in fact, only in the consciousness of the experiencing I. This phenomenology cannot be represented in a language. Even in soliloquy, a person cannot represent their experiences in a language. “If the subject indicates nothing to himself, it is because he cannot do so, and he cannot do so because there is no need of it” (Derrida, 58). There would be no reason to indicate one’s experiences to one’s self, for experience is always already aware of that which it experiences according to Brentano’s intentionality thesis. We do not communicate anything to ourselves, even if we imagine that we are doing so: “In a monologue words can perform no function of indicating the existence of mental acts, since such indication would there be quite purposeless. For the acts in question are themselves experienced by us at that very moment im selben Augenblick” (LI, §8, 280).

This is the heart of the matter.

What is at stake here is the entire presence of the present, the presentation of the now, which is experienced in the very blink of an eye, im selben Augenblick. What is at stake is, in fact, the simultaneity of experience and awareness of experience, the very foundation of a phenomenology. It is the self-presence of the now under which we supposedly achieve immediate perception of phenomena, and can gather them within our experience as repetitions of the same ideal object. Derrida would read this presence of the now as thoroughly metaphysical. He will show that it does not precede the repetition of an ideality, but rather that repetition would precede the moment. Repetition, the trace, would already be prior to the ideality of the phenomenological object. The repetitive “is irreducible in presence or in self-presence” and “is always older than presence and procures for it its openness”, and so we are “prevented from speaking about a simple self-identity ‘im selben Augenblick’ ” (Derrida, 68). The presence of the now to consciousness is always already infected by that very repetition of the ideal which phenomenology sought to establish within experience in the first place. The ideality of the object guarantees that it would be infinitely repeatable. This repeatability alone establishes the object as a presence to consciousness. This presence, the very presence of the present now, is dependent, in other words, upon the repetition of the ideal object, which can, of course, only occur in some temporal sequence. The very now by which phenomenology seeks to establish knowledge is already infected with the lateral motions of repetition. There can be no now in phenomenology.

For Derrida, the iterability infecting the present is demonstrated neatly in the phenomenon of meaningful language, from which Husserl sought so rigorously to exclude everything that is not essential to meaning, ending up, of course, with a language that could never be spoken, not even to one’s self, but would nonetheless by an ideal repetition of the phenomenal object, just as, for Meinong or Russell also following Brentano, a proposition does not rely on actuality in order to be real. Yet even this purity of expression that is only meaning would also be infected, Derrida shows, with the very possibility of its own iterations, thereby carrying it off into indication.

Taking the word 'I' as example, Husserl writes that, “In solitary speech the meaning of ‘I’ is essentially realized in the immediate idea of one’s own personality” (LI, 316). This immediate idea guarantees the presence of the I whereby I can refer to myself, who am only a repetition of the idealized I that I can actually perceive immediately. Derrida questions the very suggestion of this. The notion of an ‘I’, like any other, could be meaningful only if it is also intelligible in the absence of its object, that is myself. “Whether or not I have a present intuition of myself, ‘I’ expresses something; whether or not I am alive, I am ‘means something’ ” (Derrida, 95). Were the word ‘I’ only intelligible in a circumstance where I actually exist, we could not understand the word ‘I’ when its speaker or author were unknown to us, fictional, or even dead. In fact, were it not possible for the object of ‘I’ to be nonexistent, we could not understand what would be meant by this word, we could never realize what it means. What would an object that could never not exist be and why would we express it to ourselves in meaningful soliloquy? Is this not just as pointless as an indication made to one’s self? The meaningfulness of ‘I am’ is infected with the very possibility of what it denies, namely my own death. Were my own death not possible, ‘I am’ would not mean anything. “The statement ‘I am alive’ is accompanied by my being dead, and its possibility requires the possibility that I be dead; and conversely” (Derrida, 96-97).

Just as the repetition of the ideal object infects the self-presence of the present, the repetition inherent in any word that would be meaningful infects its very identity. A word that could not be repeated, even in the absence of its object, would not mean anything. Derrida would later summons this infinite citability of the sign against a whole host of philosophical history. What it reveals, there as here, is a metaphysics of presence: a privileging of ‘truth’ and ‘the project of knowledge’. “The whole phenomenological discourse is, we have sufficiently seen, caught up within the scheme of a metaphysics of presence which relentlessly exhausts itself in trying to make difference derivative” (Derrida, 101). Phenomenology is a metaphysics of presence that would have strived to idealize an object which could be unified in its repetitions, the difference of these repetitions derived afterwards from within their unity. The very project of a phenomenology, Derrida would have hoped to show, would already have been infected with the differance (both in the sense of a deferral and a differentiation, yet also prior to these) according to which any unity could even have been a repetition of itself. Would not the very concept of a unity already have relied upon a repetition, the possibility of which would be prior to any unity? Could there have been a unity without the possibility of its repetition?


Quotes are taken from:
Derrida, Jacques. Speech and Phenomena.
Husserl, Edmund. Logical Investigations.

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