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Sunday, 10 February 2013





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Seminal ideas of post-modernism

Of Grammatology is the tool-kit for anyone who wants to empty the ‘presence’ out of any text he has taken a dislike to. A handy arsenal of deconstructive tools are to be found in its pages, and the technique, once learnt, is as simple, and as destructive, as leaving a bomb in a brown paper bag outside (or inside) a pub.”

—Roger Poole, Notes and Queries

In this series of articles, we would examine one of the major texts of post-modernism and perhaps, the most influential of all, Of Grammatology by Jacques Derrida translated by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak. Derrida wrote Of Grammatology in 1967. It is one of three books and others are Speech and Phenomena (French: La voix et le phénomène) and Writing and Difference (French: L’écriture et la différence).

Jacques Derrida

Before looking at the text of Of Grammatology, it is pertinent to observe how critics have received the text which is a cornerstone of deconstructive criticism.

Writing a review of the publication ‘reading Derrida’s Of Grammatology

Sean Gaston and Ian Maclachlan (eds.), Reading Derrida’s Of Grammatology, Zeynep Direk, Galatasaray University observes ,

“Of Grammatology is one of the texts to which people turn to make sense of “post-structuralism.” It was Derrida’s doctorat d’état, and appears in 1967 as nothing less than a breakthrough into a discursive field dominated by structuralism.


As the early essay “Structure, Sign, and Play” makes clear, structuralism presupposes the totality of the sense of the system it studies and conceives it as structured by laws. In the structure as structuralism ‘fantasises’ about it there is a centre that remains constant despite the permutation or the substitution of elements. Challenging the structuralist thesis, Derrida not only proposed a new conception of structure as de-centered, but also a new way of conceiving that which remains the same in the structure. Sameness no longer meant the identity of structural laws, but reiteration of writing, repetition productive of difference.

What is the question to which Of Grammatology would be the answer? I take this question to be something like: “How should the history of sense be studied in the epoch, in which metaphysics comes to closure?” Derrida uses the Heideggerian language of metaphysical closure and declares a new epoch. In this epoch the task is to read off, from the history of sense, the play of writing in virtue of which the complex relations of belonging to and breaking up with the history of Western metaphysics could be made manifest. Derrida claims that a tradition could only be disturbed and transformed in its constitutive hierarchies, if one manages to inhabit it in a certain way, i.e., the deconstructive way.

Following an enigmatic Exergue that determines the very place of Of Grammatology in the history of sense, Derrida takes up examples to show how Jean Jacques Rousseau, Claude Levi-Strauss, and Ferdinand de Saussure belong to the tradition they put in question, by making discursive gestures that belong to the logocentric and phonocentric metaphysics of presence. The difficult ‘Exergue’ is the place for an enigmatic relation to Heidegger: Without him, it would have been impossible to speak of the unity of metaphysics, and the possibility of the beginning of a new epoch. Even though he outlined the closure of metaphysics, according to Derrida, he still belongs to metaphysics because of the logocentrism at work in his thinking. Heidegger could not see the new epoch that is dawning upon us, i.e., the epoch of writing.


As is well known, Of Grammatology claims that in the history of metaphysics writing is read as threat, dead, exterior and fallen. He argues that the privilege given through logocentric and phonocentric assumptions has always been undermined, haunted, supplemented by “the signifier of the signifier.” He used the expression “the signifier of the signifier” as another name for that iterable origin, a matrix of play that precedes presence and absence of the signified world of things and of concepts, meanings as of the sensible and the intelligible realms.

At times Derrida speaks of the “appearance” of this play. Différance can be taken as hinting at the equiprimordiality of the concealment and the unconcealment of this play. Derrida often speaks of play as apparent because the play is that of a non-dialectizable “radical materiality” or historicity; and yet its movement could be taken as negligible or dispensable by the history of metaphysics in the face of what it produces, i.e., sense. The play of writing is the movement of this radical materiality that is the condition of both the possibility and the impossibility of all infinitisation. That is Derrida’s way of inscribing finitude or death, at the origin of temporality, in terms of which the Heideggerian meaning of Being is articulated. What are the hermeneutical implications of this thesis? Derrida suggests that reading should free itself from the classical categories of history, “and perhaps above all, from the categories of the history of philosophy” (Of Grammatology).”

What is obvious is the myriad of voice present in Of Grammatology and Derrida’s profound philosophy of deconstruction. Citing one of the contributors to the publication, Zeynep Direk states, “As Royle rightly notes, Of Grammatology is polyphonous; it has multiple voices: On the one hand, it is dry and formal. It is a thesis written for the French Academia, dominated on occasion by an authoritarian I and the most inclusive we. Avowedly, it respects classical norms, the constitutive protocols of what it studies. Thus it requires from the reader the most normative attentiveness and traditional respect for grammar, syntax, argument and demonstration. On the other hand, it involves a notoriously delirious tone and calls our attention to that which is “bizarre” as it goes on between the lines, in hidden spaces. This polyphony of rational order and delirium is perhaps the underlying reason why we have found Derrida’s philosophy so attractive.

Practising the science of writing, doing the grammatology of Of Grammatology could have been about pointing to the oddities of Derrida’s own text.”



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