Thursday, 31 October 2013

Jacques Derrida - Differance

Jacques Derrida Differance
1968, published in Margins of Philosophy 1972

'Differance' is a neologism coined by the French-Algerian philosopher Jacques Derrida to describe the play of (spatial) differences and (temporal) deferrals in the role of generating signified meanings. His use of the term revolves its simultaneous double signification of two apparently different meanings. 'Differance' differs from the word 'difference' only in writing - the substitute of the 'e' for an 'a' is not vocalized.

The text linked below is a transcript of a lecture delivered to the Société of The Sorbonne in 1968 in which Derrida talks us through his thinking around this term.

The essay draws on the double meaning of the french word différer - in English translated as either to differ or to defer. Derrida identifies deferring as a temporalizing effect and differing as spatial. Drawing on Saussure, he points towards the deference at play in any system of signs -the signified is never truly present -, and the differences that enable us to make sense of words - "Within the system of language, there are only differences". Derrida places 'differance' here - neither a concept nor a word, but the possibility of conceptuality itself. 'Differance' is what makes the movement of signification possible, it produces the differences that makes language possible.

When Derrida talks about 'writing' or 'text' it serves us well to remember his often quoted statement that "Nothing is outside of the text" (1) - far from a reductive statement that priveleges writing above all else, this indicates his expansive thinking of what constitues writing: "And thus we say “writing” for all that gives rise to an inscription in general, whether it is literal or not and even if what it distributes in space is alien to the order of the voice: cinematography, choreography, of course, but also pictorial, musical, sculptural “writing.” One might also speak of athletic writing, and with even greater certainty of military or political writing in view of the techniques that govern those domains today." (2)

Derrida draws a distinction between language and speech, arguing that speech participates in an existing language and is constituted by it; it is language that makes speech possible: Differance is speech's relationship to language.

(1) "...That Dangerous Supplement..." in Of Grammatology
(2) The End of the Book and the Beginning of Writing in Of Grammatology