PHILOSOPHY 312: DERRIDA UN-LIMITED

(CONTEMPORARY EUROPEAN PHILOSOPHY)

Professor Hugh J. Silverman, Department of Philosophy, Stony Brook University

Spring Semester 2006 (Mon & Wed 5:20-6:40)


Protocol # 3

DIFFERENCE, DIFFERANCE, AND DIFFéRANCE

February 1, 2006


Protocol by Joe Son and Arsalan Memon (revised by HJS)

 

The lecture began with the question: “What is the difference between difference (différence) and difference (différance)?” The difference between différence and différance is not a third term. Derrida wants to differentiate his approach from Hegel’s tripartite dialectic of Thesis–––Antithesis–––Synthesis. For every thesis, there is an opposing antithesis.  In combination of the thesis and antithesis, a synthesis occurs, which is a combination of a  new thesis with another antithesis. The example given was from Hegel's Phenomenology of Spriit (Mind, or Geist), namely, Being––Non-Being–––Becoming. The synthesis of Being and Non-Being leads to Becoming.

 

Hegel used the German term “Aufhebung” to describe his dialectical process. Aufhebung means to “lift up,” “lifting up,” "going beyond," "rising above," but also "conserving," "keeping." The thesis is the affirmative idea, the antithesis is the conflicting idea, and the synthesis of the two is an overcoming of the collision or opposition of the two. In this case, it is a matter of conserving. This conserving is the synthesis of the thesis and the antithesis. The synthesis becomes a new thesis. This synthesis as a new thesis will have another antithesis.  Eventually in The Phenomenology of Spirit, it will be all-encompassing Being or Absolute Spirit (Geist).

 

Suffice it to say, for our purposes, it must be kept in mind that Derrida is not doing this. He is not taking two binary pairs and proposing a synthesis of the two or adding them up into a union. That is to say, for Derrida, the difference between différence and différance is not a third thing as in Hegelian Dialectics. This difference is a "happening" or "event" between the two terms of the binary pair.  It is a mode of thinking rather than a thing. The divider between difference / differance is nothing in itself. It is that which separates the two and at the same time brings them together. The divider (“/”) is everywhere where there is a binary pair. Even the question of the "outside of the binary pair," affirms another binary pair -- between inside and outside. When asking the “difference,” the question is of “relations.” The divider (“/”) separates and brings the binary pairs together within a single motion. A lucid example that professor Silverman gave was that of the relationship between the door and the doorframe.[1] What connects and separates the door and the doorframe is the hinge. The hinge is that which lies between the door and the doorframe. Yet, the hinge does nothing and is everything. But one cannot separate the hinge from the door and the doorframe and take it to be a third thing, separate from the relation of the door and the doorframe.[2] The relation of the door-(hinging)-doorframe is analogous to the relation between difference-“/”-differance. The action takes place in between the door and the doorframe. If there were no difference between speaking and writing, one would not be able to re-mark upon it. Speaking/writing and difference/difference are binary pairs. Knowing the difference between difference/differance, we are able to see and use the difference between speaking/writing.

 

Further, the suffix “-ence” in différence makes it into a noun, which means to “differ” (différer). But by adding the suffix “-ance” to the root “différer” makes it a noun-verb.[3] In French, "différer" means to differ and defer. So, différance means to “defer” or to hold open to the future and also means to “differ” or to be distinct from something. So there is a temporal and a spatial element involved here: to differ spatially and to defer temporally. These are just more examples of binary pairs: to differ/to defer, spatial/temporal, and space/time. Whenever speaking of binary pairs, there is always the question of the "hinging" that brings together and separates the difference in question. This is why deconstruction is a particular strategy to get at the "between" of the differences in question. Deconstruction takes the default and dominant differences and tries to focus on the inferior, less dominant, minority, or lesser one.  The diagram that Professor Silverman drew was the following:

 

[4]

 

In this diagram, when asking the question of the difference between difference and differance, there is the question of what lies in between them; namely the question of the hinge or "hinging" between.[5] In terms of the hinge, there is no dominance or submission.

 

Professor Silverman then introduced a new binary pair, namely, presence/absence. What is the difference between presence and absence? The question of the difference between presence and absence leads us to ask what is between them that marks their “difference?”

 

 

The trace is that which lies in between presence and absence, but the "trace" of what is "outside" this binary pair is nothing in itself. Trace can mean a “footprint,” a “mark,” an “indicator of what is absent,” or an “imprint.” Then professor Silverman introduced a new Derridean term: “indecidability.” In-decidability cannot be translated as un-decidablity. The reason for that is undecidablity would mean that it cannot be decided, but indecidability leaves open the possibility and impossibility of decision-making. Derrida thinks ‘difference’ in terms of in-decidability because un-decision or non-decision is never on the side of difference or differance but always in between, hence "indecidable." . In-decidability brings together and separates decision and non-decision. Trace is an in-decidable. The ‘in-decidable’ or the hinge or "hinging" has no binary pair, for instance, trace is an in-decidable between presence and absence, but trace itself has no opposite.

 


[1] AM: As a side note, one must not take this example too literally (but also not too metaphorically either! - HJS)

[2] Joe Son (J.S.): When the hinge is taken off the door and the doorframe, it no longer is a hinge.  It is a chunk of metal.

[3] A.M.: By adding an “-ance”, it brings “différer” closer to its Latin root.

[4] J.S.: The strategy is to move from the dominant to the less dominant and then less dominant to the “in between” of the binary pair.

[5] A.M.: The mark of difference