Protocol #2

Seminar - September 20, 2004

CLT 601: Deconstruction and Criticism

Prof. Silverman

Christian Walker



1.       Clarifications regarding Husserl’s phenomenology

2.       Sartre

3.       Difference/Differance

4.       Semiology (term preferred by Saussure/Barthes, contre Eco’s term ‘Semiotics,’ which falls back upon proto-pragmatist Charles S. Peirce’s usage)

5.       Heidegerrian Hermeneutics

6.       Derrida’s “Living On”


Began with Kascha’s protocol of 9/13/04.


Clarifications regarding Husserl’s phenomenology

Clarified eidetic vs. transcendental reductions

Clarified transcendent vs. transcendental (what is relation of this dichotomy to the eidetic reduction?):

Transcendent—empirical existence; the cup transcends an undifferentiated whole.

Transcendental—cupness, regardless of whether cup empirically exists.  Pure consciousness, pure subjectivity, after the reduction, when experienced by the subject as an essence.

Good question re “walking” as a phenomenon.  Verbs can still be both transcendent and transcendental.




Transcendence is to become an essence.  Existence is not differentiated, whereas essence is.  No essences in consciousness—it is empty, nothingness.  Consciousness is pure freedom, has no content, is bound by nothing.


The cup is constituted by our consciousness that is aware that it is a cup.  There is an existence that precedes and enables such awareness, to which that awareness is testament.  Because I’m aware of the cup, I can say there is existence of something that we call a cup, as well as existence of myself as an agent of that awareness.  The totality of existence is attested to by this awareness.  Because I exist, the totality exists (the totality is similar to the above “undifferentiated whole.”)


This is the situation engaged in Sartre’s Nausea.  Beneath the bench and the tree, it is not essence which is there, but rather (mere/pure) existence, the incomprehensibility of which makes him sick.  Existence has no materiality, unlike an object with a discrete essence.  (For S, there is no difference between bench and benchness.)

All essences outside consciousness for Sartre.

All essences within consciousness for Husserl.


Everything is/has an essence, but Existence is even more elemental.  Unbounded awareness is the result.


Every time I attempt to become aware of the cup, I constitute myself as ‘not the cup.’  This leads again to a sense of consciousness as permanently free.  Everything one constitutes is an object of consciousness but also is outside of consciousness.  Thus, the “I” is not bound in any way, but is completely free.  The ego, or “me,” however, is not free as such.


Unlike in Husserl, Sartre says that the “I” who is reflecting is not the same object that is doing the reflecting (which is the “me”).  Closest empirical understanding we obtained was the comment that the “I” is the object that calls itself “I.”  (Perhaps it is the “I” that knows it is an object calling itself “I”…)




The spell-check doesn’t allow the spelling of “differance,” thus marginalizes it, thus creating the space, or act, to be interrogated.


French term “différer” has a temporal sense of deferral until later time as well as a sense of spatial differencing, i.e., physical distinction.  Thus it connotes both a putting off and a bringing forth.  This duality is created in the move from speech to writing, as evidenced by the title, “Writing and Difference,” which in French is “L’Écriture et la Différence.”  When spoken instead of written, the latter becomes ambiguous with regard to both the conjunction “et” as well as the spelling of “difference,” such that only in writing does the difference between “et” and “est,” or “difference” and “differance” become clear.  Thus, the move from speech to writing creates an awareness of the difference or duality between the two possibilities in each case.




General science of signs.  Developed by Saussure at same time as Husserl developed his phenomenology (1910-20s).  See Saussure’s Course in General Linguistics.  His main research was in Indo-European linguistics.


The sign comprises the signifier (signifiant) and the signified object (signifié).  Saussure does not differentiate between the concept and the object, however, so that for him, on a semiological level, the concept “tree” in the mind is identical to the physical object in the world that is a tree.  The signified is therefore the unified concept-object, to which the signifier refers.


But a signifier and signified cannot constitute a meaningful sign independently of a system.  They can only do so in relation to other signs within an established linguistic matrix.  Signs only have meaning as a function of their difference from other signs.



       S       S        S                     S = Signifier 

       S       S        S                     S = Signified



         difference = meaning


Each sign obtains its meaning by virtue of its difference from all of the other signs.

Not every sign has the same value, thus meaning contains an element of value but is not synonymous with value.


Linguistic meaning is semiological, as opposed to sensory (i.e., intellectual vs. sensory), even though speech happens by making sounds. 


More important than the arbitrariness of the sign is the distinction between signs in the system.  There are synchronic and diachronic differences.

Synchronic is horizontal, between individual signs.

Diacrhonic is vertical, or linear/historical.



Heidegerrian Hermeneutics

The meaning of Being of beings is a question of interpretation, from being toward Being, and thus embodies a vertical movement in phenomenology, or what H calls the ontico-ontological movement.  Importantly, despite its epistemological verticality, this movement is a-historical, bringing it closer in essence to the synchronic semiotic relationship rather than the diachronic one (which is historical).  The production of meaning in semiology as such, i.e., outside of history, is synchronic, a product only of horizontal delineation between signs rather than temporal distinctions between moments.


In Derridean deconstruction, Prof. Silverman argues, we have a crossing of these meanings; we have the verticality of the ontico-ontological relation and the horizontality of the synchronic semiotic relation.


Elaborating, while there is a synchronic, semiotic difference between “difference” and “differance” as signs, there is also a significance to this difference beyond the semiotic—it is an event that is happening, that is enacted, which lends it the status of the ontico-ontological relation.  That is, the being of the difference questions its own Being.  (Or, alternatively, the two beings of “difference” and “differance” both question Being…?) 





          S       ___________________________________      S      


          S                                                                            S


 “difference”                                                              “differance”




                     being (“difference”)     being (“differance”)

                                 (Heideggerean interpretive,

                                 ontico-ontological difference)


Difference and differance are different because an event is happening, not just because they are different signs.  The difference between them shares in Heidegger’s sense of Ereignis, which is the ecstatic removal from the everyday ontic distinctions between discreet beings.  Ereignis occurs when the event that is happening is most one’s own, has become an authentic experience, that which only occurs when being is related to Being.


(Matt was supposed to check the root of the German word Dsifferenz…?)


The event in question is one that happens outside of time, is something that transcends time, or that operates on the level of a primordial/celestial/grand-scheme time.  Redolent of a deific time scheme.


Disbelief in such time must be suspended for the purpose of interrogating Being, or of allowing for an origin within an eternal phenomenon (such as Geometry).



Derrida’s “Living On”

Discussion spurred by word “sur-vivre.”  Multiple readings of this term complement those of Shelley’s “Triumph of Life.”  Shelley’s title and Derrida’s phrase could mean life’s triumph over something else (death, adversity, loss, etc.); living on after death; living on after life (death); living in the afterlife; the triumph over life (although less prominent I would argue); also triumph as a parade, procession of life’s components; or life’s own procession/parade of something else (others…)


The crucial aspect of the essay is the printed/textual/written (as opposed to spoken) line dividing the body from the running footnote.  What effect does the line have on what happens above and below it?   Survival comes to be predicated upon living on the line, on the border. 


Blanchot’s “L’arret de Mort” contains similar ambivalence of meaning, as the title means literally a “stoppage of death,” but idiomatically it means “death sentence.”


Triumph of Life             Both navigate a similar juncture of indecideability (as distinct from L’Arret de Mort          New Critical, Formalist ambiguity).



The horizontal line between these two titles marks, for Derrida, a moment of indecideability.  He also calls this double-invagination, where both outside and inside are simultaneously also their opposites.


The hymen as a dividing entity that separates outside world from inside.  One side preserves the inside; the other side keeps the outside out.  Derrida is interested in neither side per se but in the separation itself.  This is the space of indecideability (and authenticity in a Heideggerian sense).  Another metaphor we can use is that of a door-hinge, which of itself is not a significant phenomenon but when functional becomes significant as a part of both door and wall, both separating and joining them.


The dividing line for Derrida is a textual supplement, per the terms of his general logic of supplementarity, which is to say that the line is more than the text but not something entirely other.  Like a supplement to a dictionary or encyclopedia, it is added to the existing text but does not replace it.  This distinguishes Derrida’s project from that of Levinas, who works to develop an ethics of alterity.  Derrida wants instead to pursue an ethics of difference.


Sergé closes by questioning whether Deconstruction offers an interpretive methodology, as does psychoanalysis, or rather is more of a creative/poetic metaphor used to re-contextualize such methodologies (e.g., “invagination,” “hinge,” “skidding”).