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DERRIDA's Structure, Sign and Play in the Discourse of Human Sciences

DERRIDA's Structure, Sign and Play in the Discourse of Human Sciences

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Published by Joel Sagut

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Published by: Joel Sagut on Jan 07, 2009
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05/09/2014

 
DERRIDA’S
Structure, Sign and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences
Derrida, in his “Structure, Sign and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences,” talksabout a certain “event” or the “rupture” in the history of thought. I believe this event hasreference to the series of deconstruction pioneered by thinkers like Nietzsche, Freud andHeidegger. They were criticizing the concept of a “center” in the philosophical systems ofthe West, the center which assures the
unity
of a discourse. I could speak a little aboutMartin Heidegger since I read a few things about him. Heidegger was critical ofmetaphysics, whose source of unity or “center” was the concept of
essence
. For example,when Heidegger spoke about “truth,” his language was no longer of “connaturality”between the mind and the objective real things, but rather of the mind’s encounter with theunfolding of the thing’s Being. There was no longer a presupposition of an objective essenceof a thing that could measure the truthfulness or falsity of an idea. Rather, Heidegger saysthat truth is the projection of a thing’s Being to an observer’s mind. In effect, truth is but themind’s determination about the present state of an outside reality. Truth is one’sinterpretation or consciousness of a thing or reality.Heidegger’s criticism against metaphysics counts among the events which Derrida refers towhen he spoke about the rupture. Derrida was well aware that there are emergingphilosophical thoughts that question the existence of a “center” which in the history ofmetaphysics was equated with essence and presence. Derrida even says, and I thinkHeidegger has also said the same, that the center or essence has received several names inthe history of metaphysics. It was once called as
arche, telos, energeia, ousia
, consciousness,trascendentality, God or the Spirit. The rupture was basically the moment or event whenthese previously held cornerstones of metaphysical or philosophical thinking arestripped of their previously held privileged status.The talk about the strong center is a basic requirement for a durable building. Carpentershave their so-called
cornerstone
which holds the entire structure, and without which theentire structure collapses. In our mention of structuralism in our past lectures for example,the meaning of a story rests on a kind of structure or unity that can actually be discernedeven in seemingly varied plots of novels or stories. The structure remains more or less thesame even if the details are changed.Yet, with the rupture that Derrida talks about, the
durability
and even the
 possibility
of acenter is questioned. Derrida, taking his cue from Strauss contends about the
illusionary
character and even the
impossibility
of the center. Derrida noted Strauss’ mythologicalstudies that point out the weaknesses of the epistemological search for unity of a structure.Derrida observes that Strauss’ work criticizes structuralism as it becomes the critique ofitself. He cited for example Strauss’ work on
The Raw and the Cooked
where Strauss uses theconcept of a “reference myth.” This “reference myth,” the
Bororo myth
,
 
is supposedly thecenter of the structure of his mythology. However, Derrida observes that the
Bororo
mythdeserves no more than any other myth its referential privilege. Then, he surmises that the
Bororo myth
was favored by Strauss not because of its special character but rather by itsirregular position in the midst of a group of myths. This is in itself a criticism of the conceptof a structure for in the search of a center, it was shown that there is no valid basis forchoosing a particular center. The choice of a center is ultimately still an arbitrary choice.
1
 
Pointing out the origins of the critique or denial of a center, Derrida also realizes that wordsare but mere signifiers void of any real content. The sign is denied of a presence. Languagecould no longer demand for a unifying center. As already mentioned, the center becomes animpossibility not just because of the breadth of the reality that it tries to signify, but ratheralso because of the language’s
 freeplay
character. Signs are polysemic or not just polysemic,but its signification is unlimited or undefined. It is the nature of language to defy pre-defined signification. Once the message is out, it becomes susceptible to infiniteinterpretation.Hence, here is the entry of post-structuralism. Derrida drags the name of Strauss in order toshow that structural analysis of reality is already under investigation and is already facing apossible criticism.Practically, we can inquire as to why structures undergo strong criticisms in our time.Poststructuralism can be said to be a reaction or even a hoped corrective to the weaknessesinherent in structuralism. First, structuralism cannot deny the fact, that the structures itimposes are
arbitrary structures
. It can even be noted that even the “center” as authoritythat is operational in our ordinary dealings are not really objectively present in reality butrather are also
constructions
and in themselves can even be
tyrannical
and
offensive tohuman
 
 persons’ freedom
. I remember one heated debate among my co-teachers who werediscussing about the need for a textbook in a classroom instruction. The pro-textbookteachers are structuralist in their belief about the textbook as an assurance for a qualityinstruction. At least, they argue, a textbook assures us that the teacher is telling the studentsthe things that the students need to know. The textbook somehow assures that the lessonsare in line with the demands for orthodoxy. However, the unbelievers of textbooks find theimposition of the use of textbooks offensive to their academic freedom. The textbook limitsthe teacher. The textbook dictates to the teacher. The textbook diminishes the interest forresearch. It kills the teachers’ eagerness to update their lessons. The structure, in this case,has become both arbitrary and tyrannical.Another example is the implementation of the U-turn slots in our main avenues. Thestructuralist agendum behind this is the smooth flow of the metropolitan traffic. But for taxidrivers, the structure is a disservice for them. It requires them to burn more gas as they takeextra meters just to reach the next turn. They complained that in the past, they could justsimply cross the street and save more gas in the process. Of the taxi drivers I consultedabout the value of the U-turn slots, majority of them claimed that these structures did lesshelp than to reduce their much needed income.I also remember a friend of mine who is a Secondary School teacher. Their school iscurrently applying for an accreditation and hence several structures were implemented.They have weekly meetings, they are asked to regularly submit several reports, and they arerequired to attend several other activities. These are structures that are thought to beassurances of the quality of education that the school would offer. But on the part of theteachers, these structures are arbitrary (for one, they were unsure whether theimplementation of a
uniform
improves their performance in class). The structures arearbitrarily imposed, and in effect, have also become tyrannical.
2

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thanks a lot for it
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Knowledge based article. innovative and original, a simple elucidation on the topic.
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