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Jacques Derrida

Structure, Sign and Play in the Discourse of the Human Science The present essay can be regarded as the manifesto of post modernism, deconstruction and post structuralism. No philosopher has recently such great influence on critical theory as Derrida, with whom the concept of deconstruction is primarily associated. Deconstruction attacks all notions of center, origin and totality. Derrida attacks all western metaphysics for the logo centrism and hierarchy like in speech/ writing, nature/ culture etc. Logo centrism is the tendency for seeking centre and presence. Derrida says that centre-seeking tendency began to be questioned from Nietzsche who declared the 'Death of God' and replaced god with superman. Another figure to challenge the logocentrism is Freud, who questions the authority of consciousness and claims that we are guided by unconscious. Heidegger also challanges the notion of metaphysics of presence. Derrida, therefore, primarily attacks structuralism. He views that the concept of centre does work but it is not essential; hence center is under eraser. Center is needed to form a structure but immediately it escapes from the so- called centrality. Derrida, in fact, is not suggesting on the abandonment of the idea of center, but rather he acknowledges that it is illusory and constructed. He talks about the binaries of structuralism which are in hierarchical order, in which the first term is priviledge over the other. These binaries are not true representations of external reality, rather are simply constructions. Any signified is not fixed. Signified also seeks meaning. When it seeks meaning it becomes signifier. So, there is chain of signifiers, there is no constant existance of signified. It means, there is no centre, no margin, and no totality. As a result, meaning is not determined in the text. In fact, meaning is like jellyfish and knowledge is a matter of perpetual shifting. There is no single stable meaning. Since signifiers do not refer to thing but to themselves, text does not give any fixed meaning. In such situation, multi- meanings are possible. So, sign is only chain of signifiers. Saussure views that sugnifier and sinified are inseparable but Derrida attacks Saussure that he himself separated the signifier and signified. Saussure says that meaning comes in terms of difference. But Derrida says that such hierarchy is constructed and the idea to understand one in reference to other is purely haphazard, inhuman and unnecessary. One signifier has no completeness and, therefore, we need other signifiers to understand it. It is endless process and there is only chain of signifiers other than signified. Derrida says that center and margin are equally important for one depends on another. So, there is no center and no margin. Without female the concept of male can't exist. Structuralists believe that from much binary opposition, single meaning comes but Derrida says each pair of binary oppositions produces separate meanings. So, in a text, there are multi- meanings. Since the center lacks locus, center is not the center. Therefore, the idea of decentering for Derrida is erasing the voice and, therefore, avoiding the possibility of logocentrism. Structuralists believe that speech is primary and superior to writing but Derrida opposes and says that the vagueness of speech is clarified by the writing. Since, the writing has the pictorial quality of the speech, both are equally important, there is no hierarchy. To prove this he talks about 'Differance'. Derrida himself coins this very word. It comes from the French verb' differer'- meaning both to ' differ' and 'defer'. But the word ' differance' itself is meaningless for it does not give any concept. Meaning is a matter of difference. It is a continuous postponement. It is moving from one signifier to another and it endlessly continues. Since meaning is infinite, we never get absolute

meaning of any word. As we can't be satisfied with meaning, we have to go further and further to search the meaning. As a result, we don't have final knowledge. We don't get fixed meaning rather we undergo chain of signifiers and as soon as we get signified it slides. Similarly, Derrida subverts the concept of hierarchy of binary opposition created by LeviStrauss. He (Levi) creates hierarchy of nature/ culture and says that nature is superior to culture. For him, speech is natural and writing is culture. So Speech is superior to writing. But Derrida breaks this hierarchy bringing the example of incest prohibition. Strauss says that ' Incest Prohibition' is natural and at the same time it is cultural construction or the outcome of culture; hence it is a norm. Therefore, it belongs to culture. So, incest prohibition can belong both to natural and culture. In this way both nature and culture go side by side, so we can't claim nature as superior to culture, both are interrelated and something can occupy the nature and culture at the same time. Similarly, Levi- Strauss has made the hierarchy between artist and critic. He claims artist is originator but critic comes later. Likewise artist uses first hand raw materials as engineer does but critics use second hand raw materials. In contrary to him Derrida argues that neither artists nor critic works on first hand materials, rather both of them use the materials that were already existed and used. In this sense, there is no hierarchy between them. In short, Derrida means to say that meaning is just like peeling the onion and never getting a kernel. Likewise, the binary opposition between literary and non-literary language is an illusion. But the prime objective of deconstruction is not to destroy the meaning of text but is to show how the text deconstructs itself. Derrida's idea of no-center, under erasure, indeterminacy, no final meaning, no binary opposition, no truth heavily influenced subsequent thinkers and their theories. These theories are: psychoanalysis, new historicism, cultural studies, post colonialism, feminism and so on.