Chapter in Limited Inc, prior to that book.
And: a citation such as this will inevitably displace the original text. Such a displacement, however, could not here operate except with the same spirit as the text that is being read, which is, after all, by no means an original, however original its claims may be. It is not that I would want to suggest that we should shy away from this displacement. It is inevitable. Nor does this inevitability license a pernicious reading. The awareness of this displacement, and my prological announcement of it, would seem to characterize the entire text that might follow. I would hope that we could have always engaged in a careful reading that would not reproduce a text in its identity. If that were the case, the sublime concept of the original would be inherent in the very production of any book. A careful reading should not be a repetition of an ideal idol, rather it never could have been this: we might be inclined to name that a forgery, which Derrida would never license, nor would I. A careful reading can only have always involved the invasion of differance, the insertion of a difference and the spacing of a deferral, into the text one is reading. This invasion need not be violent:
The value of truth ... is never contested or destroyed in my writings, but only reinscribed in more powerful, larger, more stratified contexts ... interpretative contexts (that is, within relations of force that are always differential--for example, socio-political-institutional--but even beyond these determinations) that are relatively stable, sometimes apparently almost unshakable. (Limited Inc, page 146)
The displacement that is inevitable would be violent only in a reading that could only have been violent from its beginnings: and this violence could have any number of sources: for example, in a motive, in personality, in skills. Displacement is not inherently violent or pernicious or unlicensed. I am referring you to multiplication, about difference, about repetition of a different. In short I am writing about everything that one might want to characterize under the name of "hope", for if we have ever hoped for the possibility of change, then surely we have hoped for the possibility of reading a text and, subverting its hierarchies or not, to some extent displacing it, grafting it, recycling it. What else could have opened up the field of possibility for knowledge, and the archive that reproduces it?
Below is a very basic summary of the essay, which, is, in fact, surprisingly rigorous in its construction: it is an essay that opens itself up to a very precise architecture. (How to write: ‘architexture’?) The title of the essay, in fact, names the three primary moves or substitutions that Derrida would dare to witness. A grapheme is not always subjected to these absolute horizons: context, event, signature. On the contrary, there is in every grapheme, an option to cite, an implication of citationality that would dissociate the sign from truth, from intention, from authority in general.
Context : Condillac
· Page 7: Derrida first elaborates the classical theory of writing: writing is a species of the genus communication, and as such is constituted (contra speech) by an absence, which is in fact represented as non-presence or possible presence. Derrida insists, contrary to this theory, that, if it is to characterize writing qua writing at all: this absence must be absolute.
· Page 7: At the same time, this absolute absence is at once iterability, or citability, or citationality. The grapheme is always open to its iteration or reiteration. Only this could provide the absolute absence which would constitute writing as a specific form of communication, specific in its differing from other forms. What, for example would a text that we could not quote look like? There is no logically-private language. There are, of course, similarities to Wittgenstein's private language argument here.
· Page 12: Derrida announces the citability of the sign in general, be it written or spoken. The infinite iterability of signs precedes their arrival in any epistemic, grammatic, or semiotic theatre. Any sign is always already citable, or iterable.
Event : Austin
· Page 15: Derrida suggests that John Austin’s ‘ordinary language philosophy’ is determined within a strikingly unordinary exclusion. Namely, in his analysis of utterances as performative (which would of course excite Derrida for its supposed desire to substitute force for truth as the horizon conditioning the utterance in general), Austin excludes utterances that quote performative speech acts.
· Page 18: Similar to the demonstration against Condillac in the section above, Derrida posits, contra Austin, the itability of the sign in general, which is a background prior to the possible operation of any sign within any context or any event. A performative speech act (like any sign in general) such as ‘I name this boat Gilligan’, can always be iterated in a different context: on a stage or in rehearsal. This general iterability is illogicaly excluded by Austin, as an etiolations of language.
Signature : Derrida
· Page 19: In the essay’s final section, Derrida turns to a final citadel of presence, asserted by Austin and the philosophical tradition in general. This is the priority of the source as the absolute regulator of any sign in general. The source is: the speaker of an utterance, or the author of a text. Derrida will show, repeating gestures in the preceding sections of his essay, that the mark of the source, a signature for example, is just as constrained by a horizon of repetition or iterability as is any other sign. A signature must, in fact, be iterable. This is a condition of its possibility. The absolute singularity of the source, then, is always infected by its non-singularity.
· Page 20: Lastly, Derrida turns to some of the consequences of his analysis, which are devastating for any ordinary philosophy of language or philosophy of ordinary language. Summarily, the general effect of his claims is that: writing is not always a vehiculation of a semantic content, but rather an exceeding of the traditional horizon of semantics—writing goes-beyond truth, knowledge, representation, presence. To where? Nevertheless: we must retain the words writing and communication and struggle for their sake and for everything they have come to inhabit. Derrida is not discussing concepts that aren’t writing and communication. Rather, the very practice of writing in which we constantly engage is his aim. Yet, our comprehension of this practice is, he believes, already comprehended by writing, already in need of an intervention that would save writing from what we have written about it.
Note that: I have produced this outline not as an attempt to reproduce a certain argument within Derrida’s essay. For if I understand what he has written, even though it was written in 1972 (but cited again in 1977, 1982, 1988, etc.) and has now undergone twenty years of elaboration, there is already a certain closure of argument, a sense in which we could no longer argue over the truth or falsity of claims made by Austin, Searle, and Derrida. Still: that we are no longer constrained by the ideal horizons of truth or intention does not entail that our acts are devoid of any horizons of constraint whatsoever. Philosophy must still present itself as, in a certain sense, situated. How to elaborate on this ‘certain sense’? Situated where? And how? Precisely! That is the work that we would do here, that we would already have been doing here. I believe that it could never end. This is not an argument. For I would not wish to argue with you about this text and thereby multiply what we might call philosophical violence. How to name this essay then? Precisely! As both Derrida and Searle are always so prepared to remind us: there would be a great deal at stake in any name within a discourse that we had once named, and perhaps with transcendent wisdom and love, philosophy.