Derrida, Jabès, Levinas: Sign-Theory as Ethical Discourse Author(s): SHIRA WOLOSKY Source: Prooftexts, Vol. 2, No.

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SHIRA WOLOSKY
Derrida,

Sign-Theory

as Ethical Discourse

Jabes, Levinas:

The spirit is free in the letter. p. 102 Writing andDifference,

AS THE WRITINGS OF JACQUES DERRIDA have become central to
our thinking about language and literature, the question of Derrida's relation to Judaism has been repeatedly raised. Certain facts prompt the is an Algerian Jew by origin and passages in his works question: Derrida has written recall Jewish images from his upbringing. Also, Derrida Emman two Edmond and French about Jewish writers, Jabes admiringly in and the whose works uel Levinas, Judaic sources Judaic component

are paramount. The more substantive reason is less explicit. Derrida's work is a defense of writing against its subjugation to the spoken word. is fun The disparagement of writing and books, according to Derrida, to to Western seeks liberate the word, the culture. Derrida damental to demonstrate that writing pro sign, from this dependence, to establish a vides the structure of reality, and, programatically, a "science of writing before and in speech," that is, grammatology. Because Judaism has endowed writing and books with immense author of almost ity and has at times viewed the written word as possessed as a magical powers, the issue of Judaism and specifically the Kabbalah written thought has naturally arisen. is not an easy one to define. What Derrida writes concerning Levinas and Feuerbach applies no less to his own relationship to Judaism: "We are speaking of convergences and not of influences."1 The relation
vol. 2 PROOFTEXTS pp. 283-302 0272-9601/82/0023-0283 $01.00 ? 1982 byThe Johns Hopkins UniversityPress

source forDerrida's

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the metaphys assumptions. writing.252. this is a point of departure for developing a position that views writing as liberated from its theological moorings. of the true attitude of Derrida's asserts. In terms of sign possible through."2 The logos itself is con ceived as ontological.155 on Thu. An ontological in this realm. The voice has a 12). the book. but reproduces. ical assumptions of Greek ontology and Christian theology. The convergence. Where Levinas adheres to rabbinical and kabbalistic traditions. are drawn to therefore. onto-theological i. 21 Nov 2013 13:42:14 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . and is expressed Derrida demonstrates that the "signified" face of the sign cor theory. to in the which have access to a "transcenden mind. becomes the basis for generating an ethics which orders the relations between the self and the other. In this structure. responds thoughts Derrida's for signification different attempt to construct a model from the conventional one?which leads him towards Hebraism?begins with a critique of Saussure. voice is given a privileged status. Logocentrism "an absolute proximity between voice and being" (OG. The the signified to its "signifying" face. with presence. and then discuss the Judaic elements in Jabes and Levinas that were sought out by Derrida. and.. in a sense. For Levi nas. Derrida from. the original and essen tial link to the phone has never been broken. For Derrida. Such participation is meaning determined as participation which made as. Derrida diverges.e. and the form assumes special proximity to the logos: "Within the logos. This content downloaded from 134. the letter. But even Derrida's appeal to these authors comes. Both Levinas and Derrida Judaism as a system that posits the ultimacy of writing. and remains joined to it as the structure of the sign. which gives to logos then mediates it concrete shape. attempt a characterization work to a Judaic worldview. In this paper I shall first review the substance of Derrida's indictment of the Christian metaphysics ofWestern philosophy and his counterthesis of the trace. as it ismodelled on Torah. finally. Derrida describes this metaphysical of being and of system as a philosophy realm is posited as the locus of truth." a meaning or idea. only goes so far. after the fact. not only is derived signifies it. through and as logos. logos.284 SHIRA WOLOSKY Derrida's grammatological system seems to have been initially deve an out of loped independent desire to undertake a critique of certain a consciously Hebraic element does assumptions." the realm of being and of truth. He turns to explicitly Jewish authors to confirm concep tions towards which he was himself already working. tal signified.226. This structure. and what Derrida thereby leaves behind can usefully serve to some the of and limitations of the Derridean claims help identify system. When metaphysical enter Derrida's work it is through hints in Glas and the Grammatology and more expressly in the essays on Jabes and Levinas inWriting and Difference. and voice has a direct relation to it. Saussure had proposed the sign as a relation between a "signified" and a signifier.

while the The signified participates Such and sensible realm. is redundant and secondary to speech. which the intelligible realm as logos and as being. (OG. if the phonic signifier remains within this mediated structure. 21 Nov 2013 13:42:14 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . and explicates: The difference between signified and signifier?the very idea of the sign? cannot be retained without the difference between the sensible and the able to "take place" in its intelligibility. Writing. 13) of metaphysics. where the sign is conceived as logos. and history to the narrower articulated way ism when these appropriate But conceptuality. The logos itself retains a mediating position: "The signified has an immediate relation with the logos. writing represents a breach of this integrity.Derrida. and its underlying to Greek philosophy and to Christian theol assumptions. and sense. assumptions. The signified represents Thus. ligible. a Writing here is "mere translation of a signified which would remain spoken in its integrity" (OG. in this system. but also not without retaining . which realm of truth. and signified. The integrity of the signified as spoken not only can dispense with writing. in the intelligible realm of being.252. participates with the signified through the logos. the as is it excluded from and external. and thus with the a distinction between is based. The phonic opened. Once such a realm is in it or exclusion from it is posited. The unity between sound always accidental and derivative" can voice exist theoretically without writing. before its"fall.155 on Thu. metaphysical as in rooted classical ogy ontology: written The difference between the signified and the signifier is rooted in the in a more epoch the resources explicit of Christian of Greek and more creationism systematically and infinit (OG. With regard to the "immediate and privileged unity of sound and sense. too. separate signifier Derrida further relates the structure of the sign. This content downloaded from 134. These signifier remains confined to the mundane are in distinctions reflected sign-theory.226. it is sensible and the other intel "bipartite and involves both aspects?one the signifier and the signified" (OG." Writing remains identified with the signified "sense" or idea. 10). 15). or in other words." before any expulsion into the exteriority of the sensible here below. 13) intelligible. and a mediated one with the signifier" (OG. posits signifier. Derrida speech and writing on is It derived from the distinction asserts. . while speech thus becomes meaning. . Derrida cites this Jakobsonian definition of the sign. metaphysical the sensible and the intelligible which onto-theology between posits. the possibility of participation the former possibility. Levinas: Sign-Theory as Ethical Discourse 285 Thus. the phonic signifier is considered to be immediately related to the in turn opens participation in the signified through the logos. It represents a "fall of the signified into the exteriority of a signifier of speech. (OG. 29). Jabes. the reference to a signified the very structure of the sign is derived frommetaphysics. 13).

serves as a "passage of the infinite to the finite. between God-as-entity "sign" here mediates man. moreover. 39). making union with it.This is the essence of the communion. The structure of filiation is one inwhich the finite is joined to the whole the infinite accessible and opening the possibility of infinite. corresponds on the one hand to this Christ. 15). with the transcendental signified. The logos. within this structure. this is the The logos. the essential Christian energy of this copulation. Derrida describes it as the it began as the spoken/thought sense" "logos of a creator God where logos" (Glas. . It. And Christ. proper name. In Glas. as logos. to the sign itself." that is. allows man access to the "spoken/thought The sense" This of a "creator is.252.moreover. same to In truth the sign mediates accessible the way. the revela tion of the essentiality of the essence which permits ingeneral the possibil ityof copulating in the is. Derrida makes correspondence That which signified thought in the mind is identified with the "signified con cept in the element of ideality.The sign which this spirit constantly repeats. the Son is the Father. The transcendental signified itself ismanifested "The thought of being. and on the other hand. has a decided similarity to the Johan nine Word made flesh. 20).155 on Thu. and theWesen. The spirit its unity. making The between the signified (transcendental and finite) and the signifier. isGod as his father. the finite to the infinite" (Glas. (Glas. truth as filiation which the . . is. 21 Nov 2013 13:42:14 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . . the essence.The sacrament of communion celebrates this possibility. 84). the relation of logos to Christ ismore fully developed: "God is the contents in the form of the logos.286 SHIRA WOLOSKY (OG. as This content downloaded from 134. man as an entity participates in the logos-as-Christ." in the logos as the explicit man in Glas: discovers in his own ing relation. as the son of God. In the Grammatology. 67) to man in Father as presence and as being becomes manifested Christ. . Truth thus comes into theworld of the filial rapport. as Derrida God. . the logos. Indeed. as the thought of the transcen logos-as-voice: dental signified is manifested above all in voice.226. in divinity as In sharing the body and blood of Christ. "To think being as life in the mouth. of Christianity . God is made present toman. for in it different enti asserts that it is the very form of the ties are joined."3 In this form. designation this is the (Glas. in his most appropriat in this of sign. designation . the signified thought is identified with the logos. This is an ontological relation. The logos serves as the copula or link uniting these separate entities. the very structure of sign-theory. 20). the logos-as-Christ manifests God the Father. . man participates presence and as being. In the same way. Derrida relation: ontological The Father is the Son. The "voice of being" (OG. 92) and man-as-entity.with the "transcendental signi in the fied" (OG." demonstrates. Thus.

of sin: The union of the mind and the transcendental Christological. The structure of the sign is. gives particular attention to implications. such. considered tradition by Western sin to breath. Derrida. non-empirical mundane. writing inscription. and the as sensible the body (OG. and specifically. ontological phonic sign is the "non non-exterior. the intelligible face of the sign. as the presence of the divine voice to our inner sense. 13) This sign-as-logos only finally has a relation to the written signifier. then. Levinas: Sign-Theory as Ethical Discourse 287 the avenue of meaning. and in turn refers to the logos (Son) of the transcendental signified (Father): As the face of pure intelligibility. external has . it refers to an absolute logos towhich it is immediately united. the sign of a sign. inwhich the is As transcendent realm made present. further: explicates This content downloaded from 134. so the phonic sign. It represents the world of the flesh. It is the sensible. in a theological sphere. which (OG. and matter is a sort of stain been and always to spirit. Writing.226. Derrida the inscription of for that which is voice but rather for the of conscience inscription. This absolute logoswas an infinitecreative subjectivity in medieval theology. Writing. it is the flesh. In short. is then "wed indissolubly to the in the logos. Within being mind" to the intelligible this philosophy. The letter is then more than redundant. the letter. 17). And just as the logos is identified with voice. 34) to logos. the phonic sign represents the world of spirit. Jabes. the voice. material world. . the wedding a derived from marriage. The phonic sign is joined with the sign is preeminently the signified.Derrida. 21 Nov 2013 13:42:14 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . philosophy of being and of presence. remains excluded from this union with the intelligible realm. is designated as the fallen. to speech. signifier" (OG. 8). the living self-presence of the soul within the true logos. The disparagement of writing inmodern linguistics thus reflects what. Here. This wedding of the mind to the voice corresponds to It is. in each case. mundane signi fier.252. The intelligible face of the sign remains turned toward theword and the face of God. The ontological relation between soul and logos in turn has ethical in the Grammatology. 11). the sensible and concrete.155 on Thu. theological. inscription is a metaphor "full and truthful inner voice which not physical. signified through the logos as phonic sign reproduces the structure of filiation and of communion. the idea of the voice in the mind as conscience. which remains after and outside its spoken unity. breaching into the inte riorityof the soul. speech is privileged as belonging an itself The realm." This is identified with the voice of God "carries in itself divine law" (OG. sensible as divine law. (OG. category. The transcendental signified is made present as As the eruption of the outside within the inside. an ontological of the soul in Christ. on the other hand. .

spirit above letter. the good and natural the perverse and artful is the divine is technique.who also hath made us able ministers Pauline context. not in tables of stone. but writing. but under grace." The "signifier" becomes instead an inscribed trace or in any way written sign. through Christ to God-ward . . for the letter killeth. faith above deeds. objective second terms. spirit. And such trust have we of the new testament. represents speech represents spiritual ing" of grace: Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faithwithout the deeds of law. And this in turn implies a process of signification in terms of the phone of oral radically different from that posited trace not The of the does speech. itdenies that there is a "signified" separable the trace. 21 Nov 2013 13:42:14 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . exiled in the exteriority of the body. becomes the pre linguistic sign. (Romans 6: 14) Foreasmuch as ye are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ minis tered by us. not speech. The distinction written "writ while the the law. It is not inscription in a literal sense. Medieval theology referred to it as a "system of signified truth" (OG.155 on Thu.252. . which does not merely convey a meaning as an its is "form. the interaction of concrete. but of the spirit. The "bad" literal writing is excluded from this spiritual relation.but with the Spirit of the livingGod. It is the letter which killeth. inscribed "signifiers" or traces. Writing remains a metaphor for all the unredeemed a metaphor for all the redeemed first terms. each of which means only within this concrete system of interplay. but in the fleshly tables of the heart. in fact. The letter giveth life. but in a spiritual sense. speaking through the logos." "idea" outside existing Meaning generated through This content downloaded from 134. seemingly freeing the sign from its "meaning" limitless ambiguity. (2 Corinthians 3: 3-6) the spirit of God inscribed in the heart is elevated above the law. theory deny a relation between signi into fied and signifier. 35). 15). rather than the spirit is essentially Pauline. (OG. written not with ink. Rather. Each means what it does.288 There SHIRA WOLOSKY is a good and a bad writing: in the heart and the soul. The relationship between speech and writing accepted hierarchy in by modern linguistics finally reiterates an onto-theological a meaning is to concrete and which the excluded from secondary in determined the transmundane.226. As against conventional sign-theory. strongly suggests a metaphors" conversely?to In Paul. (Romans 3: 27) For ye are not under the law. not of the letter. enters into the hearts of men. 17) The inscription which "good" writing is the voice of God which. Derrida's it seems? from which doubt derived from the problem of writing its borrow (OG. Derrida proposes a theory of eminent In this theory. but the spirit giveth life. identified with the voice as assertion that the "problem of soul and body is no logos. soul above body. through its difference from all the concrete "signifiers" from a "signifier.

even if they are "phonic. And the whole world of can thence be described as a written text. as the opening very idea of institution?is unthinkable before simply. Their inscribed. which. meaning as signs depends not they or on any "spiritual" "idea" which the breath of speech significance could embody.226. 21 Nov 2013 13:42:14 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . and is defined as distinct from all other inscribed signs. to the regulated play of their differences. These interlocking identi it is not Y. Levinas. covers in general the entire field of linguistic In that writing signs. but only "signifiers. The trace further suggests the source or derivation of this inscribed system." There is then no "signified" realm. . Jabes. as a realm of "being" inwhich meanings reside separable from the signs which trace them. a a assumes distinction between itself and "signifier" "signified" which no longer has a place in this system. an Other in its spatial field. in this theory. but in terms of each other within it. . not in terms of any meaning beyond the system of inscription. Insistence on the preeminence of writing entails an insistence on from the con the impossibility of separating any supposed "meaning" crete system of inscribed signs themselves. The trace suggests inscription. The term "trace" dispels this tributed lation with all other signs?"the regulated play of their differences"?in a "spatial distribution. Indeed." however. . unfolding in an articulate system. Quite .252. . that source is an ultimate Other." (OG. but X and ties together generate signification: X isX because it.Derrida. outside The Ifwriting signifies inscription and especially the durable institution of a the possibility of writing and outside of itshorizon. constituted of such meaning concrete signs: identity of each sign is determined by its distinction from from the all other signs?an identity which can never be separated system which the signs together constitute. Each itself as different from the other signifiers dis "signifier" articulates This content downloaded from 134. the world as a space of inscription. to the emis sion and to the spatial distribution of signs. that is. which themselves articulate meaning. and to the whole system as one in which it is inscribed. ordered a sort of instituted then field a certain appear signifiers may by even are certain "written" if with other instituted?hence relationship they sign "phonic"?signifiers. It suggests the identity of is inscribed as a relation to what it is "not"?to all the other what inscribed traces surrounding it. Rather. is no longer posited as an ontological realm. Meaning from the mutual positing of each proceeds such signifier by every other. Sign-Theory as Ethical Discourse 289 around Y together constitute an articulated order. their meaning as signs depends on their interre The world confusion. 44) is a "space of inscription:" any and all "signs" which signify in any way take their place in this space?and hence are "written.155 on Thu. the derivation of this system cannot be con as "ideas" ceived as ontological.The ." These are significant. . ." even are if uttered. . Rather. is problematic in that Retention of the term "signifier.

But it The Although conventional between as system cannot be said to derive inHebraism in the resemblance sign-theory derives onto-theology. Nor is it is the framework in which all meaning takes place. "Hebraism and Hellenism? This content downloaded from 134. But from it all signification proceeds: The concept of the graphe implies the framework of the instituted trace.226. through his notion of inscription as the trace left by the occultation of the other. is But the itself not present. Levinas. This Other signified." in its difference from onto-theology. The trace. 46) trace a dialectic in which revelation and concealment each other. structures is his thematics of the trace and certain Hebraic Derrida's two points of influence moves our world. which cannot conceive of a non-ontological as is limits of philosophical in metaphysics. but never reveals it fully. other. The trace must be thought the entity. This other. But the movement of the trace as itself self-occultation. 21 Nov 2013 13:42:14 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . The movement of the trace "produces itself mutually posit as self-occultation. but reveals itself as a trace. it itpresents itself as the dissimulation of itself. although inscription attested by its traces. (OG. That this should be so has its own inner logic." of "presents remains concealed. of presence." as itself the It dissimulation itself. But the passage remains beyond the world of beings and which is not an entity itself. And to this stance Derrida has an access not entirely coincidental: between these startling." states the and Derrida's "Violence essay on epigraph opening Metaphysics.where the relationship with the other ismarked. remains hidden. articulates itspossibility on the field of the entity. itself as such.290 SHIRA WOLOSKY than-all-being. indeed. which rooted language. This relation of other to trace defies the logic of traditional meta other. not a being or a presence. as the possibility common to all systems of signification. From his preoccupation with writing. standing in ultimate difference from the traces which is never itself similarly stand in otherness from each other. occulted. Hebraism. Emmanuel provides a stance for a radical re-vision of Hellenic assumptions. When the other produces before necessarily announces is occulted. This is framework instituted "on the field of the entity. as a movement which institutes meaning-as-inscription." which beings. insists and as this passage Derrida demonstrates.which metaphysics has defined as the being-present starting from the occulted movement of the trace. attempts to describe entirely present. The other remains distinct from the it traces.155 on Thu." in the world of marks a relationship with "the other. It strains the physics.252. But it is not merely absent. for it is felt through its trace. Derrida's constructions evoke Judaic echoes and kabbalistic meditations. The trace indicates the other.

" is not only named Scripture. Within the parable. seems to grant to writing a literal prece Derrida. (Glas. if the sky and the earth were parchments. . The origin of literature. however. The book is the secondary and modifying term. on the other hand. 16) learned. of arranging there all the . (OG. in its preeminence. the Torah was created. the Torah is presented not only as inexhaustible. Writing. pp." God. it is nature which modifies Torah. the Torah. in which multiple discussions typographical appear simultaneously on each page in different scripts. Jewish folklore to Torah. declares: "The Lord possessed Torah as the beginning of his way. in themiddle of a mosque synagogue. years legend. dence. the precedence remains figurative. tions.The childrenwho have watched the pomp of this celebration. The similarity between Glas. precedes speech. am I doing here? Let us say that Iwork at the bits of their life . nature describes the book. inexhaustible. and all ponds planted with reeds. remain Derrida's serves as his model.226. there ismuch in common between Torah In this Glas text. It is also infinite. is clear. from of old. when Such he resolved to create the world.Derrick. before his works. . Levinas: Sign-Theory as Ethical Discourse 291 InAlgeria. immeasurable. and the Talmud. Derrida his own notions of the text and traditional notions of Torah. And the mimicry goes further. too. Indeed. The Sayings of theFathers. just as the Torah itself would not be diminished any more than is which In this parable. remains the subject of the metaphor. . cited in the Grammatology itself: the first of crea This concept is Rabbi Eliezer said: If all the seas were of ink. but as to it. is replete with parables that ascribe such precedence In one two the Talmudic thousand before heaven and the earth. and if all human beings practised the art of writing?they would not exhaust the Torah I have the sea by thewater removed by a paint brush dipped in it. and concern. This is given a particularly radical expression inWriting and Differ where he asserts ence." The image of nature as God's book typically presents the book as a figure for nature. 268-69) hints at the sources of his own enterprise. Derrida is subordinated that the world of such importance the difference between the status of the book as presented emphasizes here and itsmore common status as the "book of nature. first "took counsel with Torah. and even reality. Here. 21 Nov 2013 13:42:14 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions ."4 lore is far from esoteric. language. The book does not describe nature. he asserts. perhaps dream of it long after. This content downloaded from 134. "written with black fire on white fire. is carried in the arms of a man or child . What origin of literature by miming it. Jabes. nevertheless. once taken out that the colonists had changed into a from behind the curtains.155 on Thu. Here he suggests that literature as originary. the subject and focus of the parable.252.

"7 as the the letters of associated with Torah text. and that the letters of thewords separate themselves intoDivine Names when divided in a different manner." consciousness which Derrida of his book" (WD. Jabes' The Book of a reenactment of sacred texts?texts which are described as the Judaic patrimony: "The native land of Jews is a sacred text in the midst of the appears context commentaries which it has inspired. or to the Midrash. The work of Jabes. But for Jabes this world of and as the book is explicitly the world of Judaism.292 SHIRA WOLOSKY is in all its parts a cryptogram is a Grammar. where extensive and radical system. 74). my roof and my universe: enigma. 21 Nov 2013 13:42:14 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . Nahmanides mentary "letters" of the world.226. my country. In rabbinic Judaism. The Talmud (the builder of the to the knew how letters. leads into the kabbalistic world of linguistic claims for grammatological primacy open into an mysticism. (WD. Itmoves as "negativity in God. of "a race born of the book inwhich the past and continuity are merged with that of writing." The mystics whom Nahmanides creation This content downloaded from 134."5 To live is to take one's place in a book. into further themes which Derrida designates to be exile as writing." and which he pronounces resonances "Jabes is conscious of the Cabalistic "already in the Cabala. from which heaven Tabernacle) put together were this lettristic conception created. cerned above all with the written text. and which can be applied to his own work as well.252. "In question is a certain Judaism as the birth and passion of writing" (WD. as well. 76) This assertion of the text as world (rather than the world as text) inDerrida's essay on the Book of Questions of Edmond Jabes."6 Derrida accepts that for Jabes this "literality" situates the Jew." Questions is. came in turn to be This Name contained within its limits by the name. that everything belongs to the book before being and in order to come into theworld. According mystical conceptions of the divine Name as name "it is this which brought about the creation. makes of the text the "The book is my universe.e. too.. in great measure." for Jabes as for Derrida. existence is "an inter rogation of signs. Even within rabbinic Judaism the extreme centrality of Torah had in its assertion as the foremost creation and the ulti found expression mate source of wisdom. Jabes. there appear certain a creative force. and finally. the creation is rather the creation is closely affixed to the Name?i. But Jabes' concern does not stop with writing as primary.155 on Thu. 64). Jabes' path."8 With Nahmanides. which Derrida also follows." He continues: "We have yet another mystic tradition that the whole Torah is comprised of Names of the Holy One. like that of Derrida. the life of the letter. a dialogue among Rabbis. The is con is instructive. or reconstituted to be constituted inscription poetic through that the book is original. and earth a in In his introduction to his com received Judaism.9 prominent place on reiterates that the Torah "preceded Torah. writes Derrida?a shares. and that the world that Being or deciphering. as the states: "Bezalel of creation.

In the latter. . "If God is. Levinas: Sign-Theory as Ethical Discourse 293 here cites had in fact elaborated the early traditions."11 Jabes' Book of Questions similarly asserts a certain equivalence between the divine name. In terms of statements Derridean context. called the Book of God during theMiddle Ages. If the sages."13 This content downloaded from 134. transpires in the book. Jabes.. and the book exists. As Gershom Scholem explains. and in especially writing. and the world. all of which are the ornamentation of the Holy Name."12 equation between book and world. This iswhy the book is never finite" (WD. And within a kabbalistic seem less enigmatic. Language. the religious echoes are more overt. the saints.. When they are joined. he asserts "There has never been anything but writing" (OG. even if Being is not the created be is to-be-in-the-book. 76). The world exists because The more the Grammatology. it is because their names are found in the book." For the letters are the "signs speaking is of the divine in all spheres and stages which the process of creation passes of creation as lettristic in turn comes to imply a particular conception of the relation between creation and its Creator.155 on Thu. "it is man and insects because He is in the book. with its clearly kabbalistic over tones. he writes in the former. and they through it.Derrida. . such that "every act of . InWriting and Difference. is adopted in turn by Derrida. 76). until the world was This describes the original state?as point which there was graven with forty two letters. both inWriting and Difference. the book. 'IfGod is. of the Creator Himself. many the letters of the divine Name as constituting both Scripture and crea tion. and finally. at once an act of writing. to become preoc as not with letters cupied only comprising Torah as/and Divine Names but also as constituting reality itself.226. He is in the book'" (WD. 75). The act of creation came to be described as a process of writing. letters ascend and descend and form crowns for themselves in all four quarters of theworld. "the process of in creation is not different from the process that finds its expression inwhich the divine divine words and in the documents of Revelation. while Derrida however. in both works between his own book of nature and its distinguishes typical context: "To nature often it is because in Writing and Difference he names its theological usage.252. but the world in the book" (WD. a certain analogy between such expressions. creation and Through is revelation established. . language is thought to have been reflected. an inscription. In such terms." Jabes writes. This involves a notion of divine The conception through. Thus. and the created world. "The book is not in the world. exist. 21 Nov 2013 13:42:14 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . acquires an ontological status. the biblical verse "And the earth was void and without form" is explicated of the pen?in in the Zohar:10 were the dregs of ink clinging to the it no subsistence. it can indeed be said: "Everything enters into. so that theworld is established through them. because existence is growing with its name. 159).

and the positing of in Jabes. He declares "a rupture within God as the origin of history." and continues: God separated himself from himself in order to let us speak. Without this contraction or self-limitation there "would be no cosmic process. . in order to astonish and to interrogate us. . while the God head itself remains hidden beyond this space. It is the actual the writing?the In The Book of Questions. way. . The pathway of letters attests to the divine activity.. so that the divine essence becomes contracted and occulted. inwhich the projection of language as world is preceded by a withdrawal of God into himself. God is a round of luminous letters. signature of God?precedes and final analysis. but by keeping his voice silence letting interrupt . in the of writing.294 SHIRA WOLOSKY void of the circle.Our signs stifling of his voice his writing. . beyond into itself as the original movement of of the Godhead an and still center from which unnameable creation. occultation. . suggests this Lurianic framework inwhich creation Derrida. however. concurs in Derrida. certainly. of his Face. He is each of the letters of His Name. but the Godhead from the work it created and posits it as also distinguishes that work. Derrida's This content downloaded from 134. separation. There grammatological the the problem of specifically defining Derrida's remains. an image of God as letters encircling a hidden or absent center: "At the sources.. there is language. . Jabes projects negativity."14 Jabes here undoubtedly invokes the Lurianic myth of creation."15 This process was further in the infinite and described through lettristic imagery. 67) still. for it is God's withdrawal into Himself that first creates a primordial space . and in the proceeds writing as world. in a deter into being from the sound-evolution combination of letters was issued movement/716 mined this original like Jabes. not vice sequence the act of speaking.155 on Thu. and makes possible the existence of something other than God. . He is equally the middle which is the original hidden Torah. the original of all linguistic in which. is inscribed in the space opened by divine withdrawal. and the The withdrawal the "pathway of God" and the "trace of steps. The movement unnameable Godhead is source movement. inwords which recall the Zohar (which opens: "At the outset the decision of the King made a tracing in that the letters leading to an empty center the supernal effulgence") constitute essay on Jabes clearly projects a relation between Derrida's scheme and those found in kabbalistic writings.252. Lurianic Kabbalah. from comes ." Derrida's final term falls into place. He did so not by speaking.The . When Jabes adds. in an extremely remarkable speech versa. The trace invokes the Godhead and asserts its hidden nature.226. 21 Nov 2013 13:42:14 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . . starts with but already His." dissimulation (WD. With the result that. by and the .

relation to Emma Both of these problems are illuminated by Derrida's not by relation to some relative term. and finally of defining it as against the kabbalistic structures it suggests. and philosophies which base a relation to the abso to the self:19 lute on its resemblance As opposed to the philosophy which makes of the self the entrance into the realm of the absolute and which announces. structures and articulates linguisitic presuppositions underlying physical as distinct from Christianity. suggests distinctions between his and those of a more traditional Judaism. founded on a logical. tion with Him Whom itself exist. 70). From then on. which he describes as Judaic." . a rela it to the other is not based on identity." the soul can never contain and without Whom Judaism teaches us a true transcendence. conserves all of the "The revealed God infinity of his absence.but rather could towards not itself. (OG. by non-origin.155 on Thu. Levinas that the concept of the other is not ontological. . Of the biblical text. Jabes. posited in being or presence. It the recognition that the self and the other are unlike. occultation. these as they function within Hebraism Derrida's critique of Levinas. in beholding He derives the term "trace" from Exodus. and is "totally beyond being. never directly knowable. but means that the origin did not even disappear. Derrida similarly insists that the thematics of the trace is not onto is not It is."18 Levinas further distinguishes between this notion of God. . by its passage or trace. "The Trace of the Other. Levinas..226.The trace is not only the disappearance of origin. . movement of erasure. as in Exodus 33. that it was never constituted except origin.252.. but on difference. that "the soul will not go towards anything other than itself. according to since it is totally other from all that Levinas. The other is emphasizes not an entity. which he carefully dis tinguishes from classical ontology: The the logic of identity. Levinas writes: . rather. which thus becomes trace the origin of the to wrench the concept of the from the classical concept of the arch-trace . and develops glory. system nuel Levinas.Derrida. where Moses. . 21 Nov 2013 13:42:14 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . God's is at the himself refers his "concept of the trace to what Derrida Levinas and his critique of center of the latest work of Emmanuel the work then cited." ontology" as an is notion which the God other of "absolutely other. of the trace as against the conventional sign-theory he criticizes. can be known. He does not show himself except by his trace. is contradictory and not acceptable within This content downloaded from 134. could not sustain the sight of the divine face but only its back as the divine glory passed by. in turn. and absence. It is experienced only indirectly."17 This other is. Levinas: Sign-Theory as Ethical Discourse 295 matics concerns himself with the meta like Derrida."20 The realm of being is instead the trace of the other which remains The relation demands beyond being. totally other than being. the trace. according to the word of Plotinus.

226. as "absent" rather than present." the resemblance between his "other" and the Judaic in his essay on of a transcendent God beyond categories name Derrida Levinas: conception We with are in "the Trace of God. declared except by the Father" one in conception of the transcendent as other. . does not unite concretely to the forms of the under standing. but to what can only be described as an absence.The to the "very of God. or of the sensibility" (Glas. He is not truth. 85). In the former. a concrete spirit which remains veiled "The Christian God manifests is not and abstract in Judaism. The trace refers not to a being. the "logic of identity. . . referred. signatum always in the eternal of the divine present logos to a res. 21 Nov 2013 13:42:14 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . not to a presence. Christian theology Son as one of being.252. Whereas and quoted by Derrida. his the Son of God attested to. from being. it is the Christian not incarnated. one must trace know that that concept destroys its name and that if all begins with the trace there is above all no originary trace. . origin here is seen as a disappearance. conceives and the filiation between Father of 62).. 108) disappears constitute the central Western and especially Christian assumptions. a spiritual being." But the origin of the trace cannot be expressed as an identity. but to an other.296 scheme. of essence. of the imagination. 61) Whereas in the classical scheme." (WD. If. trace which would derive indeed SHIRA WOLOSKY it from speak a presence of an originary or from an originary non or arch-trace. "The infinite remains abstract. . (OG. and this filiation. in showing The itself face of Yahweh also: "Thou canst not see my face of God total is the person and the total presence of "the Eternal speaking face to face with Moses. This content downloaded from 134. Derrida manifest makes explict the distinction between the Judaic conception of God and one. 57). "God does Judaism. differs signifi cantly from the conceptions which. this structure of filiation became such that if it came to relate to the speech of a finite being through the intermediary of a signans. . as hidden rather than directly revealed. In Glas.. Yet we . which the ." presence . is an entity. cannot be revealed. . in terms of sign-theory. total presence or parousia" (Glas. which constitutes his Sein. origin is seen as proceeding from pres This contradicts ence. since to it at all would admits It is the unnameable. made posits a God who Christianity in the Son and present through the Son. as stated by Mendelssohn not manifest Himself. 39). He gives to God his image" (Glas. beginning with classical ontology.155 on Thu. As the Son is infinite?Son of God?he in other than God. be to "destroy its name. and specifically to an entity created in its breath." saying to him face. In contrast. the signatum had an immediate relationship as its referent." A proposition which risks incompatability every allusion forever but . and as image: "Jesus calls himself thus . This Wesen. . (Glas.

but rather. a trace. Even more than the sign signifies. trace. . should transcendence more absents readily himself lead the as the form of discourse to a certain and generous author that rehabilitation absence of writing. Their relation is never one of identity. registers its passage: "Every sign is than manifesting separate interlocutors. . announces speech? the "He" writer . of writing is expresses uniquely than of himself This content downloaded from 134. 73) essentially . The sign. best representing The thematics Isn't focuses on writing in particular the thematics of the trace: of in the the trace whom trace . and The sign is the trace of an other that is neither being nor presence. . within the proximity ion.Derrick." and this. the model for all discourse. but occurs across difference. comprehend 98). forDerrida. ." writes Levinas. to the absolutely Other. 102) the The written sign serves to describe the external relation which thematics of the trace posits. the human Derrida in which each remains separate. This is. "The word of man can rise up toward God. difference which is ever Across No logos mediates between the a trajectory: "If the other is other and respected."21 The sign-as-trace and the other thus remain distinct from each other. the form of their relation is not one of communion: "Without intermediary and without commun . but rather binds with regard relation with that which to the infinite. that that it is always already in the position of the signifier.The better as other. absolute proximity and absolute distance with the other distance is integrally maintained" (WD. Levinas: Sign-Theory as Ethical Discourse 297 within presence. but is itselfmodeled on discourse with God. The sign-as-trace and the other remain external to each other. the thematics of the trace posits. As Derrida asserts. there is a dialogue and can is for the other. rather the other as being. and forwhich it is with the divine logos which thought it not a trace. address each other: tors do not participate "Discourse with God and not inGod as participation" (WD. . 21 Nov 2013 13:42:14 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . sign-as-trace. represent the structure of discourse between a two. addresses himself to the other more effectively than the man of speech. This is not a discourse which "imprudently the idea of the relationship between God and creation in considers better. 90). no logos as absolute knowledge if every word the dialogue and the trajectory towards the other" (WD. but linked through dis course. (OG. (WD. represents the model for discourse in general: "Analogy is discourse with God. . by analogy.155 on Thu. it is the passage of he who has delivered the sign.252. . .226. Jabes. 108)." The interlocu as dialogue with God: Discourse in each other. the signified is originally and in contrast. but is beyond all ontological categories: "The trace does not establish a is less than being. The a transcendent and the between relation describes then.

between whom respect. The trace marks a relation to the in the thematics of the trace. The world becomes a system of signs whose meaning does not inhere in a "spirit ual" realm separate from phenomena.252. It further abolishes the Pauline distinction between spirit and An letter. beyond which the other remains intangibly and invisibly in its difference. "describes relations and not apella tions.155 on Thu. 108). The noun and the word. This radical assertion of meaning as integral to the concrete "signi fier" or trace finally denies distinctions between internal and external. is not derived from partici a or of truth. It is a signifier as its signified. are effaced within pure writing" (OG. Signification proceeds from the relation of each to the whole order of inscribed other. The thematics of the trace therefore overcomes the Nietzschean criticisms to which leaves conventional itself open by sign-theory an in is realm which uncertain. does not act as a ontological copula uniting entities. to distance. exiled from this union into the sensible realm. All that is not the other is its inscription. gives mena. which is the "unique theme of metaphysics" (OG. Significance separable from the concrete signs them selves. situating meaning ontological to rise Nietzsche the devaluation of the world of pheno insists. 26). 71). internal. rather. The significance of the sign-as-trace. It is "not more ideal than real. 65).226. but is a function of their order. and for is significant as the interchange that extends from materiality to ethics. or would no longer be the letter of the law if it to if it left its solitude. and to its relation to the other" (WD." and therefore significant communion is excluded gives way to discourse from which a fallen materiality This content downloaded from 134. not more intelligible than sensible" (OG. then. The sign. Derrida quotes Levinas: "The faith to deed. the written sign has a significance integral to it. those unities of breath and concept. the very distinction between participation and exclusion. however. but rather inheres in the system of inscription itself. The other is not a metaphysical concept and does not represent an terms" (WD. 21 Nov 2013 13:42:14 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . Inmarking the relation pation in numinous realm of being to the other. The signifier is itself significant. "spiritual. It. The trace abolishes this distinction. from metaphysics spirit is free in the letter" (WD. and which. Indeed. cannot be said to have a in this realm.298 SHIRA WOLOSKY therefore. And Derrida himself states: "It were outside difference. or put an end to interruption. intelligible and sensible. does not operate intelligible realm. 102). therefore. which conventional sign-theory reproduces. It is the interre the sign signs by concrete interlocutors who remain distinct from each other. lation between spirit and flesh. other which it neither designates nor joins. face which Its sign-as-trace. 72). nor has it a "signifying" "signified" participates face. signs in this inscribed order which generates not is meaning.

. orderly proceeds from itsCrea tor and reflects Him. that it is a "tearing of the self toward the other within a confession of infinite separation" (WD. as the and from transcend Other Other. whether it is and coherent because lettristically. But Derrida hesitates regarding the status and role of this other. "a the commandment: ultimately suggests only possible ethical impera in that it is respect for the other" tive. In this he approaches is the . Such respect is founded on God as other. For is finally significant and ethical because it issues Levinas. He can say with Jabes lation. and is represented above all by the original archetypal writer. 75). . the too. the created world. this positive transcendence. inevitably distance and interrupt all totalities. can only be addressed as certain mystical writers. writing" that writing ismore than self-reflexive. and perfect being consisted in his desiring equals outside himself action outside of himself. In his quality as other. 95). it iswith regard to the question of ethics that Derrida's matics of the trace can be seen to diverge from Levinas's.But the fact that I do not question myself on the rights of the other indicates paradoxically that the other isnot a replica ofmyself. stance toward the other. . he is situated in a dimension of height. ismuch less clear than Derrida's is Levinas's. . It opens ethics" being-together And Derrida admits that for Levinas. dissimu (OG."23 Derrida creation . He created someone acknowledges concern: "Face to face with the other within a glance and a Levinas's For Levinas. of the ideal. questions . in its negative designation. as Levinas adopts a notion of the other which resembles. . difference. discourse from a Godhead who. Derrida ence. by my relation with others. an idea This content downloaded from 134. consequently. and. Levinas: Sign-Theory as Ethical Discourse 299 the Yet. the only incarnated nonviolence (WD. the recognition of the other as outside the self and as different from the self guarantees respect and prohibits violence. This iswhy God transcended consequently to talk to."24 For Judaism. forwhom "in the other. continuous act of the language of the creation the Godhead presence of the other. . 21 Nov 2013 13:42:14 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions .155 on Thu. however. this speech which both maintain . but also. I am in relation with God. retains a positive transcend addressed ence and force. without absence. of the divine. this external discourse (WD. . even if in negative terms as Nameless.226. . however.252. can assert: "There is no ethics without exteriority of discourse and of ethical action: "The true paradox of the . 114). Levinas is explicit about his ethical concern:22 The consciousness of self arises in the heart of a moral con sciousness . Derrida. Levinas calls it as separation religion. The Godhead remains a "trace" which.Derrida. who impresses his word deep into his created or not conceived works. 96). and from the Judaic tradition whether rabbinic or kabbalistic. "Can one Derrida. Jabes. as beyond categories. .. . detour. 139). respect expel negativity seeks to do?" he asks (WD..

115). He can assure that "the radical illegibility Being. God is and Nothing in retreats it" (WD. Such a position would no longer be Hebraistic. Although an active and directive Godhead. a retreat which is repeatedly enacted. Of the Jabesean book-as-world.. Derrida's no more than signs propagating over an irreducible void. Derrida opens the possibil character of the other in fact approximates ity that the non-ontological a true non-being." Derrida at times hastens to add that this is so "because . but as blasphemous.300 SHIRA WOLOSKY as the infinitely transcendent and therefore in some of the Godhead sense unnameable divinity of rabbinic Judaism. This distinction remarked between the Derridean system and the kabbalistic one is like the Kab by Harold Bloom. in Judaism or the Kab and this "Nothing" "Unnameable" it remains it shows itself in concealment. . In this way. He is not truthful. its idea as radicalized as a mystical in the Kabbalah But this "Nothing/' is always felt. 21 Nov 2013 13:42:14 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . however. . can write: "The book can only be threatened by nothing. 108). balists. Derrida This content downloaded from 134. perhaps. inscription interplay. again recede into seeming retractions: "Kafka said: 'we are nihilist thoughts in the brain . within the of God Proceeding duplicity of his own questionability.155 on Thu. where blasphemy resides. . seems endlessly to move between affirmation and negation." But. 76). who points out that Derrida. criticizes Levinas Derrida. . such that his position falls between the two. is not despair provoking non-sense" assurances. (WD. a himself. for rejecting an "indefinite. Yet.There can be no of God. is named. In rejecting God as unitary totality and simplicity."25 While of a positive Godhead of or as world traces the movement and reflects trace of "nothing" may indeed constitute his hidden divinity. he considers the "trace of God proposition readily con verted into atheism" (WD.252.This difference is what is called History. negative form of infinity" (WD. posits a writing before speech in ways which defy Western since in the Kabbalah "God is at once Ein-Sof and Ayin. where and absence presence co-exist by continuous in the Kabbalah. 77). non Derrida (WD. Derrida posits Him as duplicitous and untruthful. total presence and total absence.' IfGod opens the question inGod simplicity . For . metaphysics. . These however. be best described not as nihilistic. as positive. a "negative" nothing which can then no longer guar antee the inscribed trace as having a definite and positive order. Derrida inscribed thus from the nihilistic. within the difference between All . Having suggested that God is "nothing. all its interiors contain exteriors. Derrida hesitates. God does not act in the simplest ways. . Which means that God appears. before such nihilism. but nihilistic. .. nonmeaning" of which we are speaking is not irrationality. he is not sincere" (WD. stops the movement it has a point of the primordial. .226. "Kabbalah 'trace'. and therefore is at once All and he is everything Nothing. and even more. balah. Such assertions may finally. 68). 119). Bloom since of Derrida's continues.

Derrick. 109. 181. NOTES 1. Scholem. 8. 10. But be illuminated by Hebraism. Vol. can be called "Judaism" (WD. 167. Scholem. 15. trans. (Paris. of English Department Yale University asserted as integral to and feltwithin the concrete world. Livre des questions. Louis Ginzberg. followed by the page number. 21 Nov 2013 13:42:14 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . Scholem. never finally enters Derrida. 90. followed by the page number. pp. 4. Jabes. Glas. Livre des questions. 2. 85. (Chicago. is significance no longer is relegated to the transmundane. This content downloaded from 134. are and Difference. 1949). Still. Theory of the Kabbala. "The Name of God. Jacques Derrida.252. 73) inwhich he places Jabes and pneumatic and the grammatical. 9. can therefore as Derrida's work dramatically shows. 1978). 13. 148. 111. (London. Writing followed trans. I. (Philadelphia. p." p. suggesting a blasphemy which both rejects and accepts from Western ontology. 1965). Nonetheless. p. 16. English translations within 7. this essay are mine. 14. in his hesitation betwen atheism and faith. p. Jabes. p. by the page number. trans. Gershom "The Name of God and the Linguistic Scholem." and M. "this experience of the infinitely other" which. Simon. Le livre des questions. G. (Baltimore. Vol. Edmond Jabes. Spivak." p. 1974). Gershom 12. p. (Paris. The Zohar. (Berakhoth 55a). C. 1963). Derrida than kab balistic. his own stance remains tenuous. Diogenes 79/80 (1972): 69. 1976). 26. H. "The Name of God. Scholem. p. "The Name of God. A. Of Grammaiology. I. 71. p. 3. Jabes. 32-33. 9. the poverty and the wealth of the letter. 3. his work also reminds us that a non-ontological model for signification need not be nihilistic.155 on Thu. 111. That a post-Nietzschean revolt against metaphysics should in its structures and terms affirms approach Hebraism and the Kabbalah these in their difference redefine structure Derrick's critique of sign-theory as an onto-theological thus leads him into the "movement within the difference between the Socratic and the Hebraic. 11. Hereafter cited as WD. Here p." remains more Heideggerean Levinas. The Legends of the Jews. after cited as OG. Jabes. (New York. 77. p. "The Name of God. 20. 32.226. Hereafter cited as Glas. Livre des questions. Bass. English translations within this essay Jacques Derrida. 1968). Speeding Scholem. if system finally hovers between nihilism and affirmed meaning. 5. 166. 152). 39. p. he writes. the Derrida's this experience. Scholem. From the viewpoint of Judaism. 6." pp." p. mine. On theKabbalah and itsSymbolism. Jacques Derrida. On theKabbalah. Levinas: Sign-Theory as Ethical Discourse 301 (WD. The modern need to the relation between and immanence so that transcendence but rather.

(Paris. p." Difficile Liberte. 21 Nov 2013 13:42:14 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . Levinas. 20. English translations within de Lautre. Emmanuel translations Levinas. 32. "La Trace 19. Tijdschrift voor Filsosfie 25 (3) (1963): 608.155 on Thu. Levinas. Emmanuel Levinas. "La Trace "La Trace p. 621. Levinas. 22. Levinas.252. 1963). 608.226. Difficile Liberte." English 18. p. "La Trace this essay de Lautre. within SHIRA WOLOSKY de Lautre/' are mine." de Lautre. 21. this essay are mine.302 17. This content downloaded from 134. 623. p.

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