PHI 347 Classnotes :

10th November 2004




Second paper will be due Monday Nov. 22. Third and final paper will be due on December 8th with no extensions.

For second paper: Derrida, up until what we’ve covered through Of Grammatology. It could be how this differs from the Heideggerian account (try to show how what you said in Heideggerian account would differ from later Heideggerian account or, how it would differ from early Derridean account), or, just focus on the early Derridean account.

“Signature Event Context,” one of the essays from Margins of Philosophy that we are reading – much of it is based on copyright and the whole notion of copyright.

 Protocol discussion and lecture (combined)

Derrida talks about five ‘-centrism’s: logocentrism, phonocentrism, ethnocentrism, egocentrism, and phallocentrism. A deconstruction deconstructs what is taken as central. If it’s taken as central it has dominance, and a deconstruction is going to go the less central – marginal, circumference, in order to talk about the difference between the two.

Logocentrism — The critique of this has to do with language. It’s not just logic and rationality; it’s not criticism of an algorithm or logical thinking of such. It’s a criticism of language as central, or language as voice. (When you talk about the difference between Being and beings, and the hermeneutic circle that Dasein circles in – in which you have truth, the open – you have logos (according to the later Heidegger; in the early Heidegger, logos is speaking, hearing, listening, calling in the Being of beings. When Heidegger talks about language he says “language speaks” – die Sprache spricht. <– That centrality of logos as truth, as the meaning of the Being of beings, is what Derrida is putting in question.) Deconstruction is to a great extent a critique of Heidegger and the Heideggerian meaning of logos, logos as a central voice – of hearing, calling, naming. What D. Suggests is that maybe we should go to the margins of that account, to the circling of the circle, specifically, rather than the centrality that comes out of this notion of logos.

 Derrida is interested in how these binary pairs get set up. The minute you have a binary opposition and one is given value and one is de-valued is what Derrida is interested in critiquing. Derrida wants to celebrate the minority side because that is the one being marginalized.      Only when you understand marginalities and how they function will you be able to do deconstruction. You go from A, which has dominance, to B, which is suppressed or marginalized, in order to ask about and think the difference between the two. It’s not that logos gets moved to the other side but examined as to how it’s given dominance and priority. The dominant term, or usually what’s taken as dominant, usually gets articulated rhetorically. If A is the logos, then the question is, “What is not language in Heidegger’s ‘language speaks’ formulation?” It would be the circling of the circle, an asking of what is going on in these relations, or even what’s outside the logos.

*Response to student’s question: Logocentrism doesn’t have to do with languages, but with language. When Heidegger says “language speaks” he doesn’t care what language is in; what is important is that language speaks. Heidegger is talking about the speaking that language speaks in the proximity of the Being of beings. But what does it mean to say that language in its appropriateness, ownmost-ness, closest proximity to Being speaks? That’s a kind of centrism, according to Derrida – like, “Moral values are the only thing that matters in this [world, election].”

Why is logos most meritorious of being thought? Why does it most merit being thought? Logos is the speaking of Truth; so connected up with logos is the whole notion that truth is central to everything – Truth as the disclosure of the Being of beings. Why is this so central to Heidegger? Why is everything else marginalized, excluded? is the question Derrida is interested in.

The open, Truth, Dichtung (Poetizing) is all that’s going to come out in the center of the hermeneutic circle. Derrida is going to ask why this notion of Truth and this notion of poetizing the most important thing in the study of the work of art?

Phonocentrism — What’s particularly in question in phonocentrism is Ferdinand de Saussure. Phonology, in his semiology and the general science of signs.

Ethnocentrism — Has to do with the work of Levi-Strauss, who was a French structural anthropologist. His famous book is The Elementary Structures of Kinship, in which he looks at kinship relations. He looks at the avuncular, and what he is particularly interested in is the relationship between a son’s relationship to his mother’s brother, which is a basic structural relationship, which you’ll find in any society in the world - whether Africa, Australia, South America, Europe, or Stony Brook. It so happens that in some cultures there’s a really strong relationship between a boy and his uncle. In fact, there’s an even stronger relationship than the boy’s relationship to his own parents. There are other societies in which it doesn’t work that way at all and the uncle is banned from sister’s life. These are culturally determined. Levi-Strauss says there are thus positive/negative structural relations. (This is a binary description.) LS says this basic structure is the same except that it gets articulated differently in terms of plus and minus relations. These are inscribed in a society. There are basic structures that are repeatable and that are repeated in different cultures.      And see how they repeat themselves in different contexts and on the basis of transformations you can see how they differ from society to soceity. This kind of ethnography has a big implication, which is what D. Is interested in: What does it say about culture? It says that European culture is everything, the most dominant, and that America (e.g.) is just an extension of Anglo-European culture. This is the dominance of a certain cultural view. But Levi-Strauss says Europeans are no better than any other culture in terms of our basic structured practices (kinship relations, for example).

 Anthropologists study ethnology, which is a study of cultures and cultural practices, customs, things that are totems and taboos in a society — “primative” societies. Ethnographers (documenters, writers, narrators of ethnos) and ethnologists (studiers of ethnos; those who try to make sense of all the different accounts of lots of different cultures).

Derrida builds on Levi-Strauss to argue that a structural study of cultures shows that what has been taken as a dominant culture and way of seeing things is actually quite regional and needs to be deconstructed. LS’s work was helpful for Derrida in thinking about how cultures think of themselves as central and others as primitive.

Egocentrism — Seeing everything in terms of the “I.” E.g. Husserl’s transcendental ego (which Heidegger questions).

Phallocentrism — The idea that men are the important people in this world.

These -centrisms are really important, and it’s important to understand how you take what’s central and dominant and recognize that it claims itself as central and then going to the marginal (rather than going out to what’s peripheral, as the ethnographer does, from his dominant culture, and then comparing the “primatives” with his dominant culture).

Deconstruction is about thinking the differences and writing the differences. Writing the differences can be a politics of difference as opposed to a politics of identity – in which you wind up with lots of identities with some claiming dominance or priority. Forms of marginality can be taken up and acted on.

Derrida's Introduction to Husserl's ORIGIN OF GEOMETRY

 Geometry: A science that talks about ideal objects – e.g. right triangles – that existed long before the science came into being. A right triangle is not constituted in time. The problem that D is interested in is that when you really think about it, in some ways right triangles are not part of nature or culture. You wouldn’t find them in nature as you would animals. Culture is what we do with nature. You can’t make a right triangle (a) because it would be a created object, which suggests that something created it; (b) it’s material, and anything that’s material can never be perfect; (c) it can be investigated by a subject and subjects aren’t perfect. But you can describe a right triangle by a formula, which describes a right triangle not as a material object, not as an existent. It has relations, which can be defined perfectly. What is culturally created is the formula. The right triangle is in some sense outside of nature and culture, but it comes into culture when it is named by the science of geometry. It has a history: it began at a certain point and goes on toward the future (so it’s linear in this sense); and there is the question of its origin: its historicity, as opposed to a question of history (which is that which happens historically and is dated, etc.). Historicity has to do with the relation between things that happens in history and objects that are outside history. Derrida is interested in the opposition itself between nature and culture. The opposition is written or inscribed. There’s an opposition between history and historicity, a beginning and an origin, and an end and a closure. Closure is an enclosing, not just a stopping or ending. (Cf. the discussion in “Ousia and Gramme,” which talks about time.) History has a beginning and an end; but the historicity of occupation, war, invasion, are not things that are not simply tied to a particular moment of historical time, but they have a relationship to a notion of occupation, war, invasion: the historicality is different from their historical point in time: the narration of them can move toward the historicity rather than the history. Historicity is in between.


What is there about moments in history that have a relation to that which is not historical, and yet has a historicality? That is a question of historicity.


Of Grammatology

The title of Chapter One of Of Grammatology is “The End of the Book and the Beginning of Writing.” What does this mean?


            What is a book? A book is an object that is made, created, produced, constructed; an object of an activity of production; it is something that people generally read. It is an object of an act of reading by a reader. There is a relation between a producer and a produced. It’s sold and bought. It’s a material object, a thing – that is made, bought, sold exchanged, produced, read by a reader. It is a work – e.g. The Works of Shakespeare.


The text of a play by Shakespeare, Oliver Twist, Ulysses – these are repeatable, but they’re not objects, not things you can pick up and hold. A text isn’t made, bought, sold, produced. A text is writing – but it is not written. There is thus a difference between a book and a text, a book and writing.


What if Silverman asked us to “turn to page six”? What is it he’s asking us to do? Read a text: “Socrates, he who does not write.” We all have different books but the same text.


What have we learned about books versus texts? A text is not a material object. You can’t hold, pick up, produce a text. ‘Text’ comes from the Latin word textus, fabric, cloth, something woven (a textile is a woven material), a web, a network, a fabric, something woven together such that it forms a particular text. Think of the Internet: it’s not localized anywhere. Metaphorically a text is a fabric in that it is woven together, has limits, frame, etc.


Writing is a text, in Derrida’s sense.


*Answer to student’s question: Somewhere between a text and what the idea of what the text should be, what it means, what the nature of the text is – somewhere between these things, between the idea or meaning and the actual text, is where deconstruction takes place.


Next meeting: Read Margins essays. (We may talk about “Signature Event Context.”)