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The End of Writing? Grammatology and Plasticity
Catherine Malabou ab a Dépt. de Philosophie, Université Paris X Nanterre, Nanterre Cedex b Dept. of Comparative Literature and Humanities — 331UCB, University of Colorado at Boulder, Annjeanette Online Publication Date: 01 July 2007
To cite this Article Malabou, Catherine(2007)'The End of Writing? Grammatology and Plasticity',The European Legacy,12:4,431 — 441 To link to this Article: DOI: 10.1080/10848770701396254 URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10848770701396254
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however.2 There has also never yet been a ‘‘Course in General Grammatology’’ and grammatology has never been designated the ‘‘project of a modern science. as Derrida himself affirms. pp.edu ISSN 1084-8770 print/ISSN 1470-1316 online/07/040431–12 ß 2007 International Society for the Study of European Ideas DOI: 10. Universite ´ Paris X Nanterre. difficult’’ but ‘‘necessary task’’ (93). Boulder. then. never its essence nor its status as an object. is the extension of the concept of writing the work of writing itself or must one suppose that the ‘‘modifiability’’ of the concept is not of the order of writing? This essay will propose that an original modifiability. Of Grammatology (De la Grammatologie) proposes to elaborate and to implement just such a project. that this science has never existed. its transformations. Nanterre Cedex. Derrida’s book Of Grammatology proposes to elaborate and to implement just such a project.’’ One must acknowledge. I call this modifiability ‘‘plasticity. 200 Avenue de la Re ´ publique 92001. literally signifies the ‘‘science of writing. 431–441. concerning its appearance. Colorado 80309.’’ ‘‘Plasticity of writing’’ would then be the paradox inherent in the redefinition of writing itself that may explain the ‘‘failure’’ of any ‘‘grammatology. is initiated from the beginning as well. however. de Philosophie. . Why has this grammatological project never been accomplished? For Derrida. No.The European Legacy.’’ Jacques Derrida recalls in his work of the same name. ´ pt. ‘‘writing’’ can no longer simply designate a technique for the notation of speech.’’ (323). Wiese@colorado. a full-fledged ‘positive science’’’ (27). between ‘‘narrow’’ and ‘‘enlarged’’ meanings of writing. its genesis. . 12. Indeed.’’1 One must acknowledge.’’ Derrida asserts that the ‘‘constitution of a science or a philosophy of writing is a . 4. of Comparative Literature and Humanities — 331UCB. not reducible to the single operation of writing. In fact.fr Dept. that this science has never existed. Annjeanette.1080/10848770701396254 . A distinction should be made.’’ The word ‘‘grammatology. Derrida would thus lay the foundations for a veritable science: ‘‘the concept of writing should define the field of a science. De Email: cmalabou@club-internet. Vol. University of Colorado at Boulder. one only finds histories of writing. under the name of the science of writing. The title of the third chapter of the book is explicit in this respect: ‘‘Of Grammatology as a Positive Science. 2007 The End of Writing? Grammatology and Plasticity CATHERINE MALABOU Translated by Annjeanette Wiese Downloaded By: [TÜBTAK EKUAL] At: 12:17 14 February 2009 ABSTRACT The word ‘‘grammatology’’ literally signifies the ‘‘science of writing.
’’ a natural link between ‘‘the phone Downloaded By: [TÜBTAK EKUAL] At: 12:17 14 February 2009 . and the logos’’ (29).’’ which has perhaps less to do with the aporetic character of the deconstruction of writing (which disallows all theory or positive philosophy of writing) than it has with a logical weakness or a paradox inherent in the redefinition of writing itself and the deconstruction of its concept. the absurdity. The latter is governed by the theoretical privilege of the ‘‘sign’’ and only on this basis can it exceed the limits of a linguistics that it proposes. on the contrary. by grammatology itself. Derrida declared: ‘‘‘Of Grammatology’ was first the title of an article . one remains prisoner of a phonetic and phonologic determination of language in the midst of which writing is always secondary. Such a connection presupposes a ‘‘natural bond of the signified (concept or sense) to `. explains Derrida.’’ in the new sense that it has to have. Why? Because grammatology is in some ways a semiology without signs.’’ Derrida argues that we must substitute a grammatology for the general semiology outlined by Saussure. The Derridean redefinition of writing constitutes the foundations of grammatology while contradicting the very concept of science. . that the conditions of the possibility of grammatology are precisely the reasons for its impossibility. Only grammatology. both the article and later the book of the same title went to great lengths to demonstrate the impossibility.’’ First are those Jacques Derrida advances himself. for example—a scientific posterity? There are two types of reasons for this ‘‘failure. to transgress. As long as one situates oneself within the strict limits of a logic of signs. can make out of linguistics-phonology what ‘‘would be only a dependent and circumscribed area’’ (30).432 CATHERINE MALABOU The question that I want to pose here is the following: why has this grammatological project never been accomplished? Why has a scientific ‘‘grammatology’’ never seen the light of day? Why has the ‘‘science of writing. First let us return to Of Grammatology. a freedom that semiology is not able to accomplish. the conditions of impossibility. one remains tributary to an understanding of the signifying referral attached to the model of the natural link between the voice and the spirit and meaning. semiology presents itself. susceptible of generating—like linguistics. a second type of cause for this ‘‘failure. never been constituted? Why does the title ‘‘Of Grammatology’’ only designate one book by Derrida and not a treatise of universal reach. and—this is one of the numerous mistakes or misrecognitions made by Lacan and so many others—it never proposed a grammatology.’ The book that treated of grammatology was anything but a grammatology. Indeed. according to Saussure. It is to this paradox that I wish to devote myself: let us call it the ‘‘plasticity of writing. as a general theory of signs—and not only linguistic signs.4 As long as one continues to speak of signs. . But there is. including the written sign. If grammatology has become necessary. in principle. ‘‘Linguistics and Grammatology. then. One needs to recognize. of any science or any philosophy bearing the name ‘grammatology.’’ the sense of which will clarify itself in the course of the present analysis. But the phonic signifier. in my opinion. . Precisely how does Derrida characterize the science of writing? In the second chapter of the book. . some positive science or discipline bearing that name. Returning to the work of 1967 in a talk entitled ‘‘For the Love of Lacan’’ given in 1992. it is insofar as the thought and knowledge of language demand precisely to be freed from linguistics. the glossa.’’3 These statements clearly show that the ‘‘failure’’ of grammatology was programmed . however.
it has to stop designating the history of writing to become what it is. grammatology likewise cannot be considered a human science: ‘‘What seems to announce itself now is. on the one hand. leaves in the shadows intentions that all the same are displayed very clearly in the work: despite everything. for a second time: in what does the essence of the disruption to which Derrida subjects the traditional concept of writing reside? As we have seen. grammatology is indeed presented as a science. Grammatology cannot be a science like other sciences. This change in meaning clearly applies to a profound change in the meaning of writing itself. then. But. nor after. Of never being able to define the unity of its project or its object. In fact. ‘‘Graphematics or grammatography ought no longer to be presented as sciences. delineate its own area . but there is not. neither. (L’Ecriture et la diffe There is not. such as Writing and Difference ´rence). as the successor to linguistics and general semiology. the meaning of the word grammatology has to change. as one knows. in the texts contemporary with it. there never has been. as stated at the beginning. that it must not be just one regional science among others’’ (83). grammatology would thus cover a vast field within which linguistics would . As such. . Of Grammatology establishes ´me ` and at the same time the closure of knowledge. that grammatology must not be one of the sciences of man and. one may replace semiology by grammatology in the program of the Course in General Linguistics’’ (51). science of writing before speech and in speech. in fact.’’ Neither in a general way—it has never become a region of full-fledged knowledge—nor in some particular manner in Derrida’s oeuvre. does grammatology disappear from the moment of its appearance? Several responses. The signification in the beginning is immotivated and grammatology indeed presents itself as a science of immotivation: ‘‘Science of ‘the arbitrariness of the sign. that ‘‘such a science of writing runs the risk of never being established as such and with that name. But this response. the title of a veritable science of writing. as I’ve said. their goal should be exorbitant when compared to grammatological knowledge’’ (74). In this the limits of the classical episte sense. What then can one think of the strange destiny of the science of writing? In order to advance the analysis of these problems. .The End of Writing? Grammatology and Plasticity 433 this natural bond does not exist. The word itself is no longer used by the later Derrida except to recall the work of 1967. from the first pages of the book. . In his lifework. Why. as a program. the grammatological project is not found outside of Of Grammatology. By a substitution which would be anything but verbal. strangely. too general. . All of Derrida’s oeuvre constitutes in a certain sense the deployment of this scientific impossibility.’’ It has in fact never been constituted as a ‘‘discipline. . ‘‘Writing’’ can no longer simply designate the technique of the notation of speech. are proposed by Derrida himself. He declares.’ science of the immotivation of the trace. Of grammatology as a positive science is nowhere else a question in the writing of Derrida. Of not being able either to write its discourse on method or to describe the limits of its field’’ (4). one must acknowledge that such a grammatology has never ‘‘entered upon the assured path of a science. and there also certainly will never be a general grammatology. let us ask ourselves. there never has been and there certainly will never be a general semiology. there cannot truly be a science of writing. on the other hand. It can no longer be understood only in its ‘‘common’’ or Downloaded By: [TÜBTAK EKUAL] At: 12:17 14 February 2009 . for Derrida.
by its situation. up to the present has concealed what Derrida proposes to name arche-writing. given the extension of the meaning of writing. not reducible to the single operation of writing. in my opinion. at the origin of all concepts.’’ Plasticity designates the double aptitude of being able both to receive a form (clay is plastic) and to give form (as in the plastic arts or plastic surgery). The latter could not have imposed itself historically except by the dissimulation of the arche-writing. by the desire for a speech displacing its other and its double and working to reduce its difference. then. the entire field of human practice (44). is it necessary to think that an original modifiability. to the extent that all societies—including societies said to be ‘‘without writing’’— defer the selfsame [le propre]. It threatened the desire for living speech from the closest proximity. which corresponds to the ‘‘enlarged’’ meaning. to modify. Indeed. Arche-writing—original trace. only because it essentially communicates with the vulgar concept of writing. according to its enlarged meaning that writing must be understood as ‘‘arche-writing. between ‘‘narrow’’ and ‘‘enlarged’’ meanings of writing. can one argue. then grammatology also covers the field of anthropology. destined to signify the most formidable difference.’’ It is. If I persist in calling that difference writing. must one suppose that the modification of a concept is always and necessarily of the order of a rewriting? Is the modification of the concept of writing a rewriting of writing or must one suppose that the transformation of a concept responds to another dynamic or another logic than that of writing? If it is true that writing comprises language in its totality.’’ which is also to say. is the extension of the concept of writing the work of writing itself or must one suppose that the ‘‘modifiability’’ of the concept is not of the order of writing? In other words. that there is a possibility of plasticity that allows for a change of meaning in history? Downloaded By: [TÜBTAK EKUAL] At: 12:17 14 February 2009 .’’ Derrida states. writing was. the transformation of a concept at a given moment in the history of thought. The first.’’ a meaning that goes so far as to ‘‘comprise speech. Must it not be supposed. is initiated from the beginning as well? It is this modifiability that I call ‘‘plasticity. In fact.5 The point we must attend to concerns the passage from the vulgar meaning to the original meaning of writing. What authorizes such a passage and how does it take place? This passage is presented as a ‘‘modification. variously of presence and living speech—is thus to be thought of as a generalized writing that ‘‘covers the entire field of linguistic signs. We continue to call arche-writing ‘‘writing. within the work of historical repression. the ‘‘narrow’’ meaning. if every culture has as its origin the erasure of presence.’’ The entire question is to know what renders possible the modification and extension of a word. that the passage from the common signification to its original signification may also be ascribed to the work of writing? Or to the contrary. ethnology or sociology. it breached living speech from within and from the very beginning (56). This ‘‘modification’’ is in turn thought of as an ‘‘extension. A distinction needs to be made. in fact. inherent in the Derridean understanding of writing. it is because. What allows a philosopher to increase.’’ Derrida speaks in effect of a ‘‘modification of the concept of writing’’ (55). to expand or to deform the signification of a concept? These questions allow us to see the paradox that is.434 CATHERINE MALABOU ‘‘vulgar’’ sense of simple transcription.
Derrida states. If the meaning of writing expands. or at least summarized under. frees it from its traditional meaning. in a certain sense. its difference of amplitude: its meaning sometimes restrained. It is as yet hardly perceptible. sometimes enlarged. a movement that as such authorizes it to circulate. the conditions of the possibility of the plastic re-elaboration of the concept of writing. why writing enlarges itself at a certain time. is to ‘‘give to the theory of writing the scope needed to counter logocentric repression’’ (my emphasis). ‘‘Of Grammatology as a Positive Science. it seems as though the concept of writing—no longer indicating a Downloaded By: [TÜBTAK EKUAL] At: 12:17 14 February 2009 . the operation of enlarging the concept of writing. a graphic gesture. sometimes vulgar. Writing mixes itself with the circulation of meaning. Elsewhere. By a hardly perceptible necessity. its dissimilarity. it is perhaps simply because deconstruction loosens it. We live. then modification. including and foremost the meaning of the concept of writing. sometimes original. It remains to be asked. The expansion of the concept of writing is not necessarily.’’ which already implies a change of meaning of the term itself. however. would escape the grammatological field: it would be impossible to produce. everything that for at least some twenty centuries tended toward and finally succeeded in being gathered under the name of language is beginning to let itself be transferred to. common root of speech and writing. Plasticity. Isn’t arche-writing precisely understood by Derrida as a transformation or a plastic surgery of the common meaning of writing? Then there would be no explanatory principle of modification to look for outside of writing or outside of grammatology. in this sense. and nothing says that this logic of form and deformation need be identical to the work of the trace and is mixed up with the work of rewriting. narrow itself down into ‘writing’ in the colloquial sense? Where and when does one pass from one writing to another. What’s more. an automatic movement of decompression. but nonetheless certain: ‘‘By a slow movement whose necessity is hardly perceptible. or not uniquely. writing in general. What is in question. metamorphosis or morphogenesis would be themselves. It remains to be asked to what historic necessity this change of meaning corresponds. the name of writing. he explains in 1967. from writing in general to writing in the narrow sense. from the trace to the graphie [and vice versa]?’’ (74. One can respond that these arguments are without importance and that the passage from the common meaning to the expanded meaning of the concept of writing may indeed be ascribed to the same work of writing. is the threat to which the form subjects the trace. to display its plurivocity. forms of writing. in the ‘‘epoch of writing. Grammatology would then be the study of the expansion.’’ Derrida insists on the plurivocity of the concept of writing: ‘‘Where does writing begin? When does writing begin? Where and when does the trace. the formations and deformations of meaning. The vocabulary of metamorphosis or of morphogenesis would not be a stranger to the grammatological lexicon. my emphasis). in the framework of the science of writing. Derrida clearly provides a reason for this necessity.The End of Writing? Grammatology and Plasticity 435 That allows it to receive and to give itself new forms throughout time? The deformability of a concept would thus be older than the concept itself. At the beginning of the third chapter. If this is true. for Derrida. The expansion would be quite simply an amplification by liberation. its nonlinearity. writing perhaps designates only the movement of the expansion of its meaning.
so to speak. It is thus that. the signified face itself. of the ‘‘grammatologue. and also. to ‘‘read otherwise. Without this constitution. confirms this emergence of writing in all fields of activity and thought. can neither designate a specific operation or a specific structure nor. a motif. the impact of a book like The Logic of Life (La Logique du vivant). of course. product of a rational imagination that allows it not only to harvest the philosophical fruits of an epoch but also to force the entrance of this very epoch. . resulting from a productive philosophical imagination. to open .6 The ‘‘common’’ meaning was already. whether it is literal or not and even if what it distributes in space is alien to the order of the voice: cinematography. it is. for Derrida. is beginning to go beyond the extension of language’’ (6–7). Writing is in the air. of information. out of a fertile semantic field pregnant with motifs of the program. this grammatological structure of the being of an epoch. as Derrida stated at the time. the fact that writing is in the air does not suffice to make it a grammatological epoch.’’ This task and this work themselves consist in constituting writing as a `me moteur). auxiliary form of language . of the genetic or cybernetic code. Downloaded By: [TÜBTAK EKUAL] At: 12:17 14 February 2009 Derrida thus affirms here that the semantic expansion of the concept of writing has resulted not from some arbitrary decision but appeared first in the real. so to speak. written a few years after Of Grammatology. . In France.’’ to ‘‘write otherwise’’. beyond the signifying face. musical. All thought has need of a scheme. This elaboration self-evidently requires the work and the intervention of the philosopher or. whether it has essential limits or not. of the code. derivative.’ One might also speak of athletic writing. choreography. in biology in particular. the entire field covered by the cybernetic program will be the field of writing (9). the result of a liberation from the stranglehold of metaphysics. bringing arche-writing to light is not only. ‘‘extending’’ itself. can it be seized upon by historical consciousness. to help along the automatism. It is still necessary to construct or elaborate grammatology itself. And thus we say ‘writing’ for all that gives rise to an inscription in general. owing to this fact. Nevertheless. following Derrida. It is also in this sense that the contemporary biologist speaks of writing and pro-gram in relation to the most elementary processes of information within the living cell. that is to say. We begin. and with even greater certainty of military or political writing in view of the techniques that govern those domains today. we speak only of writing. And. under the title of this privileged hermeneutic instrument: DNA. sculptural ‘writing. but also the totality of what makes it possible. Jacob’s book already bears witness to the graphic power that is in the midst of imposing itself. It is also an invention. even though present motor scheme (sche everywhere.436 CATHERINE MALABOU particular. by Franc ¸ ois Jacob. but also pictorial. contrary to the hypothesis mentioned above. All this to describe not only the system of notation secondarily connected with these activities but the essence and the content of these activities themselves. in the real of the sixties and seventies. it is still necessary to construct or elaborate the meaning of writing as arche-writing. finally. the natural end in some sense to a repression. writing. ‘‘l’air du temps’’: Now we tend to say ‘writing’ for all that and more: to designate not only the physical gestures of literal pictographic or ideographic inscription. the genetic translation of an ontology of the graph that determines from now on the comprehension and the study of the living being.
from one end of the work to the other. obey the dynamic of another operative register than that of writing? Doesn’t it appeal to the efficacy of plasticity.’’ I mean an encounter of a pure image. To summarize. This double status. that permits the construction of the concept of arche-writing itself? If this is true. This supplement would be granted to writing by the plasticity of its concept. and finds itself conceptually elaborated at the same time as it is disrupted by the grammatology of Derrida. allows one to grasp the articulation of the larger meaning of writing and the articulation of its narrow. is continued by the discoveries of linguistics. What does this say? What do we mean by this unwritten plastic part of the concept of writing? Do we want to return to a presence of form supposed to preside over the destiny of the trace? Isn’t plasticity always metaphysically delayed in relation to the game of writing or of dissemination? It is easy to remark. the ‘‘enlarged meaning’’ of writing is at once intuitively given and conceptually constructed. The definition of writing as supplement would imply then a supplement of the meaning of writing. rendered possible by the schematization. at once both vaguely and surely. There are thus three fundamental grammatological axes: writing as arche-writing. derived or vulgar meaning. which interrupts the trace of the trace to substitute for it for an instant the formation of the form. Constituted in this way. The philosophical imagination at work in the constitution of motor schemes would thus also be ‘‘exorbitant’’ with respect to the grammatological field. the motor scheme is a kind of tool capable of appropriating the largest quantity of energy and information from the text of an epoch. that is. of activity and of passivity.’’ that the latter signification remains. writing as motor scheme. But doesn’t this logic of creation and collection of form. It imprints on them at the same time the mark of the concept. a sort of ‘‘air of things’’ or of material Stimmung.The End of Writing? Grammatology and Plasticity 437 the hermeneutic perspectives that drive it to reveal what it is. The constitution of writing as a motor scheme is thus the result of a progressive movement that begins with structuralism. writing as common meaning. even if Derrida defines differance as the ‘‘being-imprinted of the imprint’’ and the ‘‘formation of form. which constitute. that is. By ‘‘motor scheme. Isn’t it to this scheme that Derrida gives the name ‘‘supplement’’ in the second part of his work? The supplement. To think is always to schematize. then the extension of the meaning of writing would be the nonwritten part of writing. in fact. is a ‘‘signifying structure’’ that the philosopher must produce. It assembles and elaborates the significations that impregnate the culture at a given moment by way of floating images or tendencies. to pass from concept to existence while bringing to existence a transformed concept. given to intuition—here the fecundity of the graphic sign in the form of a code. Downloaded By: [TÜBTAK EKUAL] At: 12:17 14 February 2009 . cybernetics and genetics. its plastic part. program or inscription. of a concept— here arche-writing. between ‘‘what he commands and what he does not command’’ of the concepts of his epoch and the structures of his language (158). Grammatology hurries into a scheme the slow movement of historical maturation. of a game of donation and reception of form that is more original than arche-writing. or differance—with an existent real. subordinated to the first.
this structure of substitution remains above all and according to him integrable in the working of writing. a center of self-evidence. Form is presence itself. We are witnessing a decline or a disinvestment of the graphic sign and graphism in general. Plastic images tend to substitute themselves for graphic images. precisely that of plasticity. In the domain of neurobiology. thus seeming to admit that the supplement ‘‘writing’’ could abandon its place to another. that is plastic. a point that no interpretation of Platonic or Aristotelian conceptuality can displace. beyond those particular forms of writing in the name of which we have long spoken of peoples without writing and without history. that also waits for its decompression or its liberation? And is it not this working that renders possible the decompression or liberation of writing? If such a question can be posed today. of the imprint. In cybernetics. of the trace. Before being the object of a history—of an historical science—writing opens the field of history—of historical becoming . The history of writing should turn back toward the origin of historicity. isn’t that to deploy again an attack against writing in the name of presence of the self ? To this I respond with another question: isn’t there a nonmetaphysical working of form. take a back seat to those of form: neuronal configurations. the motif of the code is less and less pregnant. . remains irreducibly a prisoner of metaphysics: How could it be otherwise? As soon as we utilize the concept of form—even if to criticize an other concept of form—we inevitably have recourse to the self-evidence of a kernel of meaning. Derrida affirms that all thought of form. And the medium of this self-evidence can be nothing other than the language of metaphysics. it is perhaps because we are no longer of the epoch of writing. how the possibility of its variations is regulated. This is an assured point. can be thought.438 CATHERINE MALABOU In ‘‘Form and Meaning’’ (‘‘La Forme et le vouloir dire’’).’’ Indeed. the models of ‘‘frayage’’ or facilitation. operative in metaphysics.7 Downloaded By: [TÜBTAK EKUAL] At: 12:17 14 February 2009 To affirm then that there is something nongraphic. dissociated from the concept of appearing. this concept cannot be. of essence. and in what field all imaginable objections to it are to be maintained. Only a form is self-evident. in the schematic construction of writing. . However. lets itself be seen. and never could be. it does not suffice to say that ‘form’ has a meaning for us. gives itself to be thought. Thus appears the necessity of constructing a new motor scheme. Moreover. of meaning. isn’t that to stay attached to retrograde values. Formality is whatever aspect of the thing in general presents itself. that writing is no longer ‘‘l’air du temps.’’8 . even that which critiques the traditional concepts of eidos or of morphe ¯. or that its essence as such is given for us: in truth. is a finite system. to the possibility of writing in general. the formality of form. the program is no longer even the master word. in the domain of genetics. In this language we know what ‘form’ means. of self-evidence. for example. what its limit is. All the concepts by means of which eidos or morphe ¯ have been translated or determined refer to the theme of presence in general. and the historical emergence of another supplementarity—for instance plastic—in no way invalidates the fact that history is a form of writing in its very principle: ‘‘that historicity itself is tied to the possibility of writing. network formations. Yet did Derrida ever consider the possible caducity of the graphic model in general? Certainly he states that a supplement exists only inside a chain of substitutions. The system of oppositions in which something like form. . only a form has or is an essence. only a form presents itself as such. emergences of images.
Secondly.’’ ‘‘variation’’ or ‘‘variant. it would always be that of the gap or of erasure. writing does not have this capacity. of becoming other. Today. . which is not the case with writing. among other possibilities. a reserve.’’ Second: ‘‘to be not identical. In my view. which is also its end. it would no longer be a grammatology but a plastology. There is always something other than writing in writing. . the concept of plasticity tends to become at once the dominant motif of interpretation and the most productive exegetic and heuristic tool of our time. in his article ‘‘Differance. In my view. This ‘‘other thing’’ is not inevitably an utterance or a presence. The constitution of writing as a motor scheme is the result of a power of transformation of which grammatology is perhaps only an occurrence. always identical to itself ? And does this not limit the grammatological project in principle? Does this not vitiate it with the same impossibility as that of the semiological project of Saussure. a representation—concepts that I would summarize here in a word I have never used but that could be inscribed in this chain: temporization. ‘‘Differance’’ is never characterized as a change in form. one must acknowledge that the power of the linguistic-graphic scheme is weakening and that this scheme has entered Downloaded By: [TÜBTAK EKUAL] At: 12:17 14 February 2009 . of the figure. This is the case. new metamorphic occurrences appear that impose themselves at the level of social and economic organization. this impossibility of thinking of the end of writing threatens the grammatological project from the inside and from the very start of the game. or of the form. never of rhythm. in Derrida’s work. It isn’t presented as being able to transform itself nor as being able to change supplementarity. modified. has two appear clearly in Derrida’s text. by metamorphosis for example. is. does not the course of writing finish by being indefatigable. in accord with or adequate to them. This nongraphic supplement does not introduce a logocentric residue. an organizing mode of the real that comes after metaphysics and today allows itself be discovered in every domain of human activity. by which form revises and reforms itself continually. a genesis of the plastic formation of schemes. because plasticity is the systematic law of the deconstructed real. unrecognizable. If the trace had an image. to be other. a detour. to be changed. a delay. governed by linguistics? Isn’t the problem of grammatology that it is limited by a sort of blindness to the nongraphic origin of the new concept of writing? There is in fact a power of fabrication of meaning that exceeds the graphic sign. transformed. In fact. at the level of ‘‘genre’’ or of the sexual identity of individuals.’’ To be different. according to the dictionary. discernible. that show that the privileged regime of change is the continued implosion of form. He writes: ‘‘We know that the verb diffe meanings which seem quite distinct . etc. first of all. of taking account of time and of the forces of an operation that implies an economical calculation.’’ Derrida doesn’t sufficiently honor an essential yet banal signification of the world ‘‘differance’’: ‘‘change.’’9 The signification of transformation. stays in the shadows. however. a relay. if grammatology could honor the changing of supplementarity. But this sense does not ´rer . I have always been surprised to notice that. Today. . this is so because we can only have access to these new organizations or configurations thanks to a tool that is itself in keeping with these forms. of taking into account. the action of putting off until later.The End of Writing? Grammatology and Plasticity 439 This means that writing has the capacity to incorporate the historically nongrammatological character of its supplements. Today. A differentiation can thus also designate a transformation. . Hence. everlasting. but it marks the difference of the grammatological instance from itself.
in this respect. this trace proceeds by neither imprint nor frayage.’’14 ‘‘Linkages. We are from now on capable of photographing the double mode of encoding of these behaviors (perceptive or other): the topology of nerve connections on the one hand. Synapses. could recombine among themselves. Used in conjunction with electric recordings of the brain. In truth.’’12 This declaration is of fundamental importance. The impact of the discovery of the synapse and its functions is comparable to that of the atom or DNA. . The result of this double encoding is called the graph. according to Changeux. this lack of `-vis the extraordinary interest attests to an ignorance or an unacceptable disregard vis-a revolution that research on the brain has accomplished over the course of the twentieth century: ‘‘In the last twenty years. plasticity of human cerebral organization’’ that. The metaphoric register used is geographical or political: of assemblies. this graph is not writing.’’ such are the configurations that the networks of nerve information take. the fact that the metaphor employed to describe it is not. . our knowledge in this field [in the sciences of the nervous system] has undergone an expansion matched only by the growth of physics at the beginning of the century and molecular biology in the 1950s. gradually but surely. thanks to the fundamental discoveries of neurobiology. from the individual neuron to a population of neurons. The ‘‘traces’’ of which Changeux speaks here are. It is certainly ‘‘the exceptional . first and foremost images and forms. The example of neurobiology is only one example of the fecundity of plasticity in the real. substitutes itself for the model of frayage: ‘‘it becomes plausible that such assemblies. but have in a certain sense. to modify their connections in the course of perception and learning. are not fixed. new technologies of medical imaging allow for the observation of the human brain in action. Jean-Pierre Changeux reproaches philosophers for not being sufficiently interested in recent discoveries concerning neuronal functioning. most deserves to be the object of philosophical reflection. Changeux writes that ‘‘the concept of assemblies or cooperative groups of neurons leads directly from one level of organization to another. as the paradigmatic figure of the organization of the real in general. a graphic metaphor. Downloaded By: [TÜBTAK EKUAL] At: 12:17 14 February 2009 . these techniques represent a fundamental contribution to the study of cerebral sites underlying specific components of mental activity.13 But. but gaps that are susceptible to taking on form. This plasticity prompts the hypothesis that neuronal circuits are able to organize themselves. made up of oscillatory neurons with high spontaneous activity. paradoxically. The model of reformation. of formations or of neuronal populations. In his work Neuronal Man: The Biology of Mind (L’Homme neuronal). Indeed. and the path of the impulses that correspond to them on the other. of recomposition. it seems that from now on plasticity imposes itself. Hence. they are not simple transmitters of nerve information.’’ ‘‘spider webs. We could surely call together other examples that today show that traces take on form.’’ ‘‘relationships. that is.’’ These assemblies thus depend on the appearance of graphs. ‘‘[from now on] we have at our disposal physical traces of how meaning is accessed.440 CATHERINE MALABOU into a penumbral half light.’’10 ‘‘Plasticity’’ of the brain refers to the capacity of the synapses to modify their efficacy of transmission. in fact. the power to form or reform this information. According to Changeux. in fact. It appears then that the synaptic openings are definitely gaps.11 In fact. paradoxically.
1952). Plasticity. Jean-Pierre Changeux and Paul Ricœur. trans. corrected ed. A Study of Writing: The Foundations of Grammatology (Chicago. Neuronal Man: The Biology of Mind. syllabation. 1974). Alan Bass (Chicago. 14. 168. 1982). Downloaded By: [TÜBTAK EKUAL] At: 12:17 14 February 2009 . trans. ´ vi-Strauss’s treatment of the meaning of 5. The question is to know whether a science of the supplement can exist: semiology. As is shown in Derrida’s powerful analysis of Le writing in Tristes Tropiques. trans. 9. 11. 4). NOTES 1. 7. Derrida recalls the definition ´ dictionary: ‘‘A treatise upon Letters. like writing. Neuronal Man. The Logic of Life: A History of Heredity. 7–8. upon of the word ‘‘grammatology’’ given in the Littre the alphabet. What Makes Us Think. subsequent references are cited in the text. 1998). (Baltimore. and writing’’ (323 n. 169. I should insist on the fact that plasticity itself is only a scheme. On this point. ‘‘Form and Meaning. 27.’’ in Margins of Philosophy. and Michael Naas (Stanford. In this sense. grammatology or ‘‘plastology. reading. Of Grammatology. 157–58. it will itself be replaced by another scheme. Ibid. Jean-Pierre Changeux. CA: Stanford University Press. it dominated it as the master-sign and as the generative model: the pattern [patron]’’ (Of Grammatology. trans. cit. in a more cryptic way even than that which Derrida so well described. Franc ¸ ois Jacob.’’ or whether supplements always turn away from the paths of their origins. Gelb. NJ: Princeton University Press. 2000). 152. 4. That is. Resistances of Psychoanalysis. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak. The linguistic sign remained exemplary for semiology. Betty E. 10. 12. J. 52. IL: University of Chicago Press. MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press. B. 51). 4. trans. ‘‘Differance. 1985). Jacques Derrida.: ‘‘Even though semiology was in fact more general and more comprehensive than linguistics. the present explanation on the basis of plasticity is not definitive. Spillmann (New York: Pantheon Books. modified and changed. 100.. Laurence Garey (New York: Pantheon Books. Derrida. 107. trans. op. it continued to be regulated as if it were one of the areas of linguistics. 6. xiii. 3. see Changeux. M. Jacques Derrida. Ibid.. 13. 8. recognized by Derrida in his reference to I. Of Grammatology. Bevoise (Princeton. Cf. Jacques Derrida. The manner in which I have here presented the extension of the meaning of writing as a plastic operation is certainly itself tributary to a historical understanding and thus destined to be transformed. 1997). is only a supplement.’’ in Margins of Philosophy. 2. Peggy Kamuf. Pascale-Anne Brault. There is one close exception. Derrida.The End of Writing? Grammatology and Plasticity 441 To conclude.
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