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Timothy Mooney

Derridas empirical realism

Abstract A major charge levelled against Derrida is that of textual

idealism he effectively closes his deconstructive approach off from the
world of experience, the result being that it is incapable of being coherently
applied to practical questions of ethics and politics. I argue that Derridas
writings on experience can in fact be reconstructed as an empirical realism
in the Husserlian sense. I begin by outlining in very broad strokes Husserls
account of perception and his empirical realism. I then set out some of the
major criticisms of Derrida proffered by Dallas Willard and Peter Dews and
counter them with evidence from Derridas texts themselves. I conclude by
presenting his account as a variant of Husserls, which does not discernibly
develop on or depart from the latter.
Key words arche-writing aspect diffrance empirical realism
horizon middle voice noema representation revisability signification
signified textuality trace

In The Gay Science, Nietzsche claims that many classical thinkers, from
Plato through to Spinoza and after, made philosophy into a form of vam-
pirism. They focused on cold and abstract ideas which live on the blood
of the senses, consuming them and making their philosophies ever paler.
Dont you sense, he remarks, a long concealed vampire in the back-
ground who begins with the senses and in the end is left with, and leaves,
mere bones, mere clatter? I mean categories, formulas, words (Nietzsche,
1974: 333). Over the last thirty years or so, poststructuralism has come
to be regarded as the real successor to Nietzsches version of traditional
philosophy in that its theorists appear to engulf everything in textuality.
Thus it is that the vibrant and buzzing world of everyday lived experience
seems not only incarcerated but also impoverished in the prison-house of
language, its contents being reinterpreted as the products of sign-systems.
In the light of this view, one might fall prey to the obvious in remark-
ing that textual idealism is one of the chief accusations which has been

PHILOSOPHY & SOCIAL CRITICISM vol 25 no 5 pp. 3356

Copyright 1999 SAGE Publications (London, Thousand Oaks, CA and New Delhi)

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Philosophy & Social Criticism 25 (5)
made against the work of Jacques Derrida. This is an accusation which
he rejects most vehemently, as does Christopher Norris, one of his more
sympathetic commentators. There is no excuse, according to Norris, for
the sloppy misreading that takes Derrida as some kind of transcenden-
tal solipsist who believes that nothing real exists outside the written
text (Norris, 1987: 142). Needless to say, a lot hangs on the cogency of
the charge of textual idealism (whether solipsistic or otherwise). If it
holds up, then Derridas turns towards ethical and political questions
over the last two decades should be regarded as ad hoc additions to a
theoretical framework that is quite simply incapable of accommodating
them, in which nothing is evidentially good or bad but only constituted
My own thesis is that Derrida can best be interpreted as an empiri-
cal realist, where this is understood in a Husserlian rather than a Kantian
sense. But if there is evidence for this view, it still needs a notable degree
of reconstruction. Derrida is not the most opaque of poststructuralist
writers, and I wish to show that he hedges many of his more infamous
statements with qualifications. These qualifications, however, are not
always proximate to the statements in question or even found in the
same books. This gives the original remarks a melodramatic quality and
certainly contributes to notoriety, but not to ready clarification. For this
reason I believe that a principle of charity can apply to some if not to
most of the accusations of textual idealism. One should not have to
read several of Derridas works in order to conclude that an empirical
realist position is implicit in just one of them, or indeed to appreciate his
indebtedness to traditional phenomenology.

The middle and late periods of Husserls phenomenology are notable in
that they begin with the proposition that we can bracket the theses
associated with naive realism. The fundamental thesis of this natural
standpoint or natural attitude is that an external world exists indepen-
dently of consciousness. Husserl sets himself two major tasks. The first
is to show that we cannot have a world without the supposition of con-
sciousness. Hence his thought-experiment of Weltvernichtung, or the
annihilation of the world. As with Kant, recognizable or coherent inner
experience is possible only on the presumption of outer experience, so
that selfhood or empirical awareness would be destroyed along with a
breakdown of the world. Yet the total absence of consciousness is incon-
ceivable we can think of it only as an extant residuum, however
chaotic. Putting it another way, chaos is anticipated as a conflictual
mode of consciousness (Husserl, 1982: 10911).

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Mooney: Derridas empirical realism
The bracketing of the natural attitude suspends worldly being as an
ontological truth, but it is followed by a reduction or leading-back in
which Husserl focuses on the natural attitude precisely as a thesis. Before
we had an external and independent world now we have the fore-
grounding of the claim of such a world. Husserls second task is to eluci-
date the per se meaning or semantic content of this claim. It should be
stressed that he does not take the natural attitude as something to be
rejected it is the attitude in which we live and always will live, its only
fault lying in its unreflective character (Husserl, 1966: 1513). Bracket-
ing and reduction are not to lose anything implicit in this attitude, not
least the notion of evidence. Every theory and every explication must
hark back to originally presented intuitions, the intelligible referring to
the sensible:
No conceivable theory can make us err with respect to the principle of all
principles: that every originary presentive intuition is a legitimizing source
of cognition, that everything originarily (so to speak, in its personal actu-
ality) offered to us in intuition is to be accepted simply as what it is pre-
sented as being, but also only within the limits in which it is presented there.
We see indeed that each [theory] can only again draw its truth itself from
originary data. Every statement which does no more than confer expression
on such data by simple explication and by means of significations precisely
conforming to them is . . . actually an absolute beginning called upon to
serve as a foundation, a principium in the genuine sense of the word.
(Husserl, 1982: 44)
All these intuitions are intended through meaning-complexes or inner
horizons which go beyond them and give them a sense in advance. In
Ideas Husserl contends that in every act of perceiving we can draw a dis-
tinction between the hyletic data or sensations, the noesis or meaning-
conferring stratum of the act, and the noema, the meaning conferred
on the sensations (1982: 2034, 21314). In Ideas both the hyletic data
and noesis are taken as real, as particular parts or components of a par-
ticular act, whereas the noema is regarded as an ideal meaning-complex
which is carried by the noesis.1 The noema is the formal category of a
determinable something or determinable x which is accompanied by
particularizing predicates or predicate-senses. It is through this noema
that things are intended as unities of sense manifesting certain proper-
ties (ibid.: 21416, 30922).
Without exception, every act of perceiving gives a certain adum-
bration or aspect of its object, but it retains previous perceptual acts
and expects or foreshadows future ones from different perspectives,
projectively investing these possible perceptions with its noematic sense.
If realized, these perceptions will fill out more of the object, diminish-
ing what is emptily intended and clarifying what is broadly determined
in the noema (ibid.: 945, 107). This inner horizon of memories and

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Philosophy & Social Criticism 25 (5)
expectations does not exhaust the adumbrations context, for it brings
with it a background perceptual field. Husserl later calls this the outer
horizon. It is presented as a sector of the perceptible world and thus
points to the latter as the universe of things for possible perceptions,
surrounding the thing-aspect which in itself points to further thing-
aspects (Husserl, 1970b: 162).
In Ideas, Husserl provisionally characterizes noemata and hyletic
data as stuffless forms and formless stuffs. Yet he quickly sees this ter-
minology as being too redolent of an empiricist form-content schema
in which sensations would be bare givens that subsequently receive an
interpretative overlay. If one maintains that the inner horizons projec-
tively construe possible sets of sensations as adumbrations of certain
objects, then one has to conclude that uninformed sensations or pure
hyletic data are never actually given. We have sensations but do not see
them. On this account, we only perceive the white of the sheep and the
neigh of the horse. Husserl admits that we can come to objectify colours
and sounds and shapes and so on, but such objects are deliberate and
derivative abstractions from more original adumbrations (Husserl,
1982: 75, 2045).
All these features of perceptual experience are correlated with the
temporal flow of consciousness as indices pointing to its occurrent pro-
cesses. Each noetic act makes up an extended living present, an imma-
nent and tripartite unity of primary memory or retention, present
perception or primal impression and primary expectation or protention.
This internal unity allows consciousness to noematically intend succes-
sive appearances as different adumbrations of one determinable object
in a unification synthesis through time. And with respect to the horizon
of a perceptual act which involves turning or moving, there is a corre-
lation of the here with the now and the there with the then. The
perceived here is the now of a primal impression; the there of a remem-
bered or anticipated perception is the then of a retention or protention
(Husserl, 1991: 403, 8492, 100).
I have referred above to a determinable rather than a determined
object because it will be recalled that in Husserls account a plurality of
perceptions still leave open the possibility of a new experience that could
reveal a novel determination. But if my finitude prevents me from attain-
ing an adequate perception in which a thing would be fully given, the
thing-in-itself is still predesignated as Idea (in the Kantian sense)
(Husserl, 1982: 3423). More precisely, the thing-in-itself is the idea of
a determinate thing as the sum of all possible appearances. This con-
trasts with indirect realism or representationalism in that no appeal is
made to something we know not what behind possible perceptions the
transcendence of the external object is the sense it can always present
more, a sense which is to be regarded as correlative to concretely lived

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Mooney: Derridas empirical realism
experience. The thing-in-itself, nonetheless, is actually that which no
one experiences as really seen, since it is always in motion, always, and
for everyone, a unity for consciousness of the openly endless multipli-
city of changing experiences (Husserl, 1970b: 164).
It may be noted in this regard that Husserl regards Kant as one of
the last of a line of representationalists in believing that he can keep open
at least as a limiting concept the possibility of a world of things-in-
themselves. For the former, such a concept is mythical and as such must
not be left open (Husserl, 1966: 86). Now this may not seem quite fair
to Kant. The latter states that there could be the possibility of intelli-
gible entities to which our sensible faculty of intuition has no relation
whatsoever, but it is precisely because we do not possess the resources
to decide on this possibility that he leaves it open its negation would
be as unjustifiable as its affirmation. Furthermore, the merely negative
employment of the concept of a noumenon does not of itself allow the
positing of a new field of actualities beyond those which can be presented
to us (Kant, 1933: 3435). But all this aside, Husserls remarks are note-
worthy in underscoring his hostility to representationalism, a hostility
which has much in common with the later Nietzsche. With the abolition
of the real world, claims Nietzsche, we have also abolished the appar-
ent one there is no transcendent realm in terms of which the latter can
be interpreted as illusory or superficial, that is to say, as mere appear-
ance (Nietzsche, 1968: 41).
Just as further determinations of objects are given in the course of
my conscious life, so on Husserls account ones horizons and noemata
themselves evolve and mutate. On the basis of fresh experiences new
meanings or senses are sedimented and come to be projected onto future
ones (Husserl, 1966: 445). Whilst the greater number of perceptions
harmoniously confirm and clarify these expectations, the latter can
always come undone. One of the most extreme ways this occurs is when
a supposed perception emerges as a hallucination or dream. Another is
when I experience a genuine actuality but am completely mistaken as to
its character. In such a case the horizon of expectations is shattered, with
the broad determinations or what-content of the noema exploding or
undergoing cancellation (Husserl, 1982: 31314, 332). I retain the sense
of having encountered a determinable something but must construe it
quite differently, as in seeing a man but on touching him having to rein-
terpret him as a mannequin.
Since my existing interpretations and expectations may be subject to
deposition, argues Husserl, empirical knowledge has an inescapably pro-
visional character my certainty that something is such-and-such is
contingent on continual verification in the light of new perceptions, and
here there is no retreating from the concreteness of the perceptible world;
[a]s a matter of essential necessity, external experience alone can verify

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Philosophy & Social Criticism 25 (5)
objects of external experience (Husserl, 1966: 62). All these possibilities
of verification or cancellation themselves contribute to the sense of the
world, so that even the unexpected is expected to some extent
unfamiliarity is at the same time always a mode of familiarity (Husserl,
1973: 37). What I expect most fundamentally, nonetheless, is a constant,
namely, this background world itself. It is pregiven . . . always and
necessarily as the universal field of all actual and possible praxis, as a
horizon. To live is always to live-in-certainty-of-the-world (Husserl,
1970b: 142).
The foregoing exposition might seem to have an excessively intel-
lectualist thrust, but Husserl is in fact committed to at least two variants
of externalism. The procedure of bracketing and reduction already
involves a general denial that an outside world can be heterogeneous to
an ordered consciousness (Husserl, 1966: 446, 845). But more dis-
tinctly externalist theses emerge from his characterization of the world
of the natural attitude, the same world which phenomenology is to expli-
cate in its full meaningfulness:
[T]his world is there for me not only as a world of mere things, but also
with the same immediacy as a world of objects with values, a world of
goods, a practical world. I simply find the material things in front of me
furnished not only with merely material determinations but also with value-
characteristics, as beautiful and ugly, pleasant and unpleasant, agreeable
and disagreeable, and the like. Immediately, physical things stand there as
Objects of use, the table with its books, the drinking glass, the vase,
the piano, etc. These value-characteristics and practical characteristics also
belong constitutively to the Objects on hand as Objects, regardless of
whether or not I turn to such characteristics and the Objects. Naturally this
applies not only in the case of the mere physical things, but also in the case
of humans and brute animals belonging to my surroundings. They are my
friends or enemies, my servants or superiors, strangers or relatives,
etc. (Husserl, 1982: 53)
As this passage would suggest, perceptual consciousness is already
tinged by publicity. The objects which I encounter in the first instance
are human products which refer to the activities of other subjects in an
overarching sociocultural world. And when I chance upon the so-called
natural world it carries the sense of being available to all, something
which can be experienced and verified and worked on by everyone else
(Husserl, 1966: 91, 136). Perceptual awareness is also linguistically
tinged. In Ideas I Husserl distinguishes between a pre-expressive stratum
of intending and an expressive stratum of linguistic signification. He
holds initially that linguistic embodiment does no more than bring out
the latent logical form of the pre-expressive level, but concludes that the
strata are inextricably woven, with the expressive stratum colouring
every intending act, or, to put it precisely, its noematic or conceptual

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Mooney: Derridas empirical realism
element. This is why the attack on the seduction of language in his later
work does not refer to its contribution to the theory-laden character of
perception, which is inevitable, but to the temptation to passively accept
more and more perceptual reports without first-hand evidences (Husserl,
1982: 297; 1970b: 3624).
Externalism is also implied in the notion of perceptual evidence if
we accept Husserls claim that this notion includes the sense of a number
of theres which can be converted into heres, with this in turn sup-
posing both an environment which surrounds and facilitates a motile
body and this body itself. In perceptual awareness I protend the invis-
ible aspects of a thing as possible evidences, evidences which could be
realized if I were to move around or change my standpoint. When I think
that something actually obtains with regard to an object, in other words,
this is founded upon the I can of an incarnate capacity for verification.
It is the same body, furthermore, which orients consciousness in the
world I always say that things are near or far or large or small or up
or down in relation to my body, which constitutes itself as the zero
point or absolute here in all these relations (Husserl, 1989: 15960,
166, 228; 1966: 116).


For Dallas Willard, what is notable about Derrida is precisely his depar-
ture from Husserl. Derrida falls squarely within the Midas tradition in
philosophy wherein the objects presented to consciousness are the prod-
ucts of some more fundamental type of touching between the mind and
something else that is inherently unknowable. Willard sees his own per-
spective as phenomenological, and he holds that Husserl is one of the
few modern thinkers who moves away from the Midas tradition. Con-
trary to the standard (and Derridean) interpretation of phenomenology,
claims Willard, Husserls whole point is that actual objects are given in
perceptual awareness. The tree or table is directly present to us, no
matter how complicated the act in which it is given (Willard, 1993:
1201, 1245). Husserl will thus find an unbridgeable essential differ-
ence between perception and depictive-symbolic or signitive-symbolic
objectivation, so that on his terms it is a fundamental error to believe
that we are given representations or signs instead of things which are
actually there in flesh and blood (Husserl, 1982: 923).
In much of the Midas tradition, by contrast, the mind serves as the
ground of identity and recognition, the only difference in Derridas case
being that linguistic ideality takes over this role. Putting it more precisely,
beings gain presence through naming and predication. For Willards
Derrida, these linguistic functions bestow identity and thinghood and do

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Philosophy & Social Criticism 25 (5)
violence to a deeper unification of beings where an arche-writing of dif-
france without identity reigns. In support of his view, Willard refers to
Derridas contention that the proper name consists in inscribing within a
difference . . . in suspending the vocative absolute and functions as a
designation of appurtenance and a linguistico-social classification
(Derrida, 1976: 111, 112). According to Willard, names and predicates
thus operate as a classificatory system, with each and every referent only
emerging as it is designated a just this or this something within the
system (Willard, 1993: 127, 129). In this way Willard sets out a line of
criticism to which Derrida reacts most vehemently:
It is totally false to suggest that deconstruction is a suspension of reference.
Deconstruction is always deeply concerned with the other of language. I
never cease to be surprised by critics who see my work as a declaration that
there is nothing beyond language, that we are imprisoned in language; it is,
in fact, saying the exact opposite. The critique of logocentrism is above all
else the search for the other and the other of language. Every week I
receive critical commentaries and studies on deconstruction which operate
on the assumption that what they call poststructuralism amounts to saying
that there is nothing beyond language, that we are submerged in words
and other stupidities of that sort. Certainly, deconstruction tries to show
that the question of reference is much more complex and problematic than
traditional theories supposed. . . . But to distance oneself thus from the
habitual structure of reference, to challenge or complicate our common
assumptions about it, does not amount to saying that there is nothing
beyond language. (Derrida, 1984: 1234)

From this it would seem that the other of language refers to houses and
animals and plants and so on whose determinations are irreducible to
linguistic operations. It is not clear, however, whether the passage cited
fits in with his overall attitude. As Peter Dews has noted, the Derrida of
Dissemination states that There is nothing before the text: there is no
pretext that is not already a text (Derrida, 1981b: 328). One might also
cite from Of Grammatology the comments that there is no outside-text
(il ny a pas de hors-texte) and that there is nothing outside the text (il
ny a rien hors du texte) (Derrida, 1976: 158, 163). For Dews, his search
for the other of language is really a search for the other as language
for all of his protestations Derrida really wants to show that language
cannot be made present, as a self-enclosed totality, rather than that there
is a reality outside of language which it seeks to erase (Dews, 1987: 103).
Dews concurs with Jean-Franois Lyotards observation that whilst
the perceived world may indeed have the structure of a text, the rela-
tions between perceived objects do not possess the interchangeable rela-
tions of linguistic ones. The relations between here and there or above
and below or front and behind cannot be assimilated to the diacritical
relations between terms in a linguistic system. Lyotard goes on to

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contend that although everything is sayable what is not true is that the
signification of discourse can gather up all the sense of the sayable. One
can say that the tree is green, but the colour will not have been put in
the sentence (Lyotard, 1971: 38, 52). Here Dews again concurs with
Lyotard, noting that these arguments which hold against an all-engulf-
ing concept of arche-writing are heavily indebted to traditional
phenomenology (Dews, 1987: 11516).
Having reduced the world of experience to the textuality of lan-
guage, claims Dews, Derrida then reduces experience itself, not just to a
concept, but to one with a necessary content which cannot be modulated
by the uses to which it is put (ibid.: 37). Derrida claims that I dont
believe that anything like perception exists, since [p]erception is pre-
cisely a concept, a concept of an intuition or a given originating from
the thing itself (Derrida, 1970: 272). He also affirms a systematic soli-
darity of the concepts of meaning, ideality, objectivity, truth, intuition,
perception and expression which keeps all these concepts within the
closure of metaphysics (Derrida, 1973: 99). On such an account, con-
cludes Dews, empirical knowledge cannot claim any autonomous auth-
ority, which is why it cannot challenge or transform metaphysical
concepts. This being the case, the successor to philosophy continues to
evade the exposure of thought to the contingency of interpretation, and
the revisability of empirical knowledge (Dews, 1987: 367).
I want to begin my own account of Derridas position rather loosely,
that is, by way of some terminological clarifications which I hope to
illustrate subsequently. In his writings a natural language or vernacular
is just one form of language, with language denoting any system of
signs. More precisely, it is any system of indications articulated for or
apprehended by a conscious subject. A system can be peculiar to a
certain type of experience, say one of reading or of tracking someone
moving (Derrida, 1976: 9). The relation between the present and absent
elements in a sign-system Derrida describes as diffrance. This term indi-
cates that an element can be meaningfully present only by virtue of its
relations to absent ones which cannot themselves be brought to com-
plete presence. Meaning therefore involves differences, and its coinci-
dence with presence is perpetually deferred (Derrida, 1981a: 267). The
actual structure of the relation of diffrance involves spacing, that is,
spatial and/or temporal intervals between the relevant elements. This
structure is called arche-writing, for it precedes writing in the graphic
sense, this being just one of its instantiations and occurrent only in
certain societies (Derrida, 1982: 13, 15).
It is for this reason that Derrida speaks, not just of literal writing,
but of choreographical or musical or sculptural writing, drawing a dis-
tinction between different sensory realms such as the visual, the tactile,
or the phonic. Whilst all of these regions enjoy a profound unity as

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Philosophy & Social Criticism 25 (5)
instantiations of arche-writing, Derrida is careful to specify that this
should not give rise to confusion, to the reduction of each to the others
(Derrida, 1976: 9, 656, 85). These clarifications suggest that the word
text also has a novel extension in his work, which indeed turns out to
be the case. It can denote a certain context or segment of the world or
the world as a general text. As he remarks, again with vehemence:
The phrase, which for some has become a sort of slogan, in general so badly
understood, of deconstruction (there is nothing outside the text), means
nothing else: there is nothing outside context. In this form, which says
exactly the same thing, the formula would doubtless have been less shock-
ing. I am not certain that it would have provided more to think about. . . .
What I call text implies all the structures called real, economic, his-
torical, socio-institutional, in short: all possible referents. Another way of
recalling once again that there is nothing outside the text. That does not
mean that all referents are suspended, denied, or enclosed in a book, as
people have claimed, or have been nave enough to believe and to have
accused me of believing. But it does mean that every referent, all reality has
the structure of a diffrantial trace, and that one cannot refer to this real
except in an interpretative experience. The latter neither yields meaning nor
assumes it except in a movement of diffrantial referring. Thats all.
(Derrida, 1988: 136, 148)

Accepting these qualifications as one may and as this writer does it

remains the case that Derridas comments can be very misleading. It is
not difficult to find a degree of carelessness in many of his remarks, and
this is nowhere more true than in his treatment of experience. Though I
have already suggested that Willard and Dews should not see textuality
in terms of natural language alone, it is too much to expect them to
unerringly locate the qualifications which Derrida so often sets out else-
where in relation to words such as text and language. In this respect
the latter is wrong to say that the phrases there is nothing outside the
text and there is nothing outside context mean exactly the same thing,
at least in isolation. The first phrase is particularly prone to misunder-
standing in view of the possibility of re-contextualization, a possibility
to which he often adverts elsewhere. I can thus sympathize with
Willards comment that the dismissal of accusations of linguistic solip-
sism as stupidities is hardly appropriate (Willard, 1993: 131).
The real question, of course, is whether Derridas account can cohere
with his qualifications. It is clear that he is referring to natural language
when he writes that the proper name inscribes within a difference, desig-
nates an appurtenance and a linguistico-social classification and sus-
pends the vocative absolute, a putative form of address directed towards
a person whose self-identity would be linguistically unmediated. On the
other hand, none of these statements entails presence or identity being
reducible solely to naming and predication.2 Yet Willards retort would

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Mooney: Derridas empirical realism
be that these natural linguistic operations are still left to produce pres-
ence and identity on their own. This is because he sees Derrida as making
the additional claims that diffrance is neither active nor passive and that
it has no involvement with the things which it somehow contrives to
make a place for. It is only at the level of natural language that presences
and identities emerge. And even these, properly speaking, do not amount
to beings, since Derrida says that the thing itself is a sign and that we
think only in signs, being unable to chance upon a signified which would
precede or transcend the system of signifiers (Willard, 1993: 1289;
Derrida, 1976: 4950).
On my own understanding of Derrida, I think that Willard is mis-
taken in finding one realm of diffrance without identity and another of
linguistically constituted pseudo-beings. This mistake is compounded
when he characterizes the interaction between the two realms as the
process of scission and division which would produce different things or
differences, a sentence itself taken from Derrida (Willard, 1993: 128;
Derrida, 1982: 9). Now it must be admitted that this interpretation is
not helped by Derridas occasional descriptions of diffrance as the con-
dition of possibility of presence and identity. Nor is it helped by his
further characterizations of the latter as effects which are produced
by diffrance (Derrida, 1982: 11, 16). But it can be argued that these are
further examples of Derridean carelessness which go against the actual
details of his account, and that Willard has also wrenched some crucial
remarks of Derridas out of their written context.
In his extensive discussion of diffrance in the essay of that name,
Derrida is quite adamant that only a classical (presumably pre-modern)
conceptuality would take diffrance as a productive or originary causal-
ity, as a process of scission and division which would produce different
things or differences. And this is precisely what he rejects for the entirety
of the essay, putting production and its effects in inverted commas and
claiming that the operation of diffrance is not to be seen as the passion
or action of a subject or an object, nor as departing from an agent or a
patient. These claims do not imply, as Willard assumes, that diffrance
is neither active nor passive. Derrida suggests albeit unclearly that it
recalls something like the middle voice, and as such is neither simply
active nor simply passive. This suggestion receives further confirmation
when he states that the operation of diffrance is not simply an activity
(ibid.: 9, 11).
As John Llewelyn has observed, the claim that the operation of dif-
france does not depart from an agent or a patient follows very closely
on Emile Benvenistes strong understanding of the middle voice, an
understanding with which Derrida is almost certainly familiar (Llewelyn,
1986: 903). Against some of the more traditional interpretations of this
verbal form, Benveniste maintains that the middle voice in Sanskrit and

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Philosophy & Social Criticism 25 (5)
Greek does not just point to some interest that a subject has in an action.
It signifies additionally that the logical subject of the action accomplishes
something which also accomplishes itself in the subject, so that the rele-
vant subject is actually inside the process of which it is the agent. On this
account, therefore, to state that what affects something does not depart
from it is to make the claim that the former does not accomplish the effect
from without and that it does not itself remain unaffected by this very
process (Benveniste, 1971: 1489).
The close association of diffrance with Benvenistes middle voice
introduces questions which doubtless deserve a separate study. What it
shows at the very least, however, is that diffrance is not taken to pre-
exist presences or identities in some topos ouranios, some shadowy half-
world of indeterminacy. The diffrance which produces differences,
continues Derrida, is not somehow before them, in a simple and un-
modified in-different present (Derrida, 1982: 11). But if diffrance
is not after all anterior to or separable from what it makes possible, a
further question arises as to whether Derrida sees the latter as having
their being through diffrance alone. He might not hold that it is exter-
nal to whatever it produces, but might still construe it, however inco-
herently, as causa sui, as both a necessary and a sufficient condition of
presence and identity.
I have already contended that diffrance is to be understood as a
relation between the elements in a sign-system such that the elements
though always already opened up by this relation are not thereby
reducible to it. I have also suggested that the only evidences against this
are Derridas occasional characterizations of diffrance as a producer
of effects and as the condition of possibility, characterizations which I
take as careless because they are sometimes placed within inverted
commas and almost always left undefended. His actual position can be
worked out more clearly in discussions which specifically address the
question of sufficiency. Just such a discussion is to be found in an inter-
view with Jean-Louis Houdebine and Guy Scarpetta from 1971 in Pos-
Houdebine suggests that diffrance as spacing cannot of itself alone
account for actual differences all that it suggests is the bare exterior-
ity of an interval. Derrida readily agrees, stating that it cannot explain
the different things which it nonetheless delimits. This, he adds, would
be to accord it a theological function, to make it a single explicating prin-
ciple of all determined spaces or all different things. Because it is not
prior to or outside this or that system or field, furthermore, the particu-
lar way in which it is articulated is different in each system or field. A
little later, in reply to Scarpetta, he says much the same whilst subjec-
tivity, history and the symbolic require a chain of differences, they
cannot exist through this chain alone (Derrida, 1981a: 812, 88).

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Mooney: Derridas empirical realism
But if perceiver and world do not originate in an amorphous dif-
france, can we navigate the ocean of signs and land upon a signified,
on a meaning or a referent? Derrida has claimed that the thing itself is
a sign and that we think only in signs. His remarks to this effect in Of
Grammatology are unhappily frequent (Derrida, 1976: 7, 49, 50, 159).
But in another essay from the same period namely Structure, Sign, and
Play he is to be found disavowing the possibility of our ever operat-
ing without signifieds:
[A]s soon as one seeks to demonstrate . . . that there is no transcendental
or privileged signified and that the field or play of signification henceforth
has no limit, one must reject even the concept and word sign which is pre-
cisely what cannot be done. For the signification sign has always been
understood and determined, in its meaning, as sign-of, as signifier referring
to a signified, a signifier different from its signified. If one erases the radical
difference between signifier and signified, it is the word signifier which must
itself be abandoned as a metaphysical concept. . . . we cannot do without
the concept of the sign, for we cannot give up this metaphysical complicity
without also giving up the critique which we are directing against this com-
plicity. (Derrida, 1978: 281; my italics)
Now it is one thing to argue that we cannot abandon the signifier-
signified distinction, and another to argue that this distinction is genuine.
Yet Derrida will take the latter position elsewhere in Of Grammatology.
Undoing the force of the bare signifier thesis, he states that the signi-
fier should not be taken as primary and that it will never by rights
precede the signified, in which case it would no longer be a signifier, since
it would no longer have a possible signified. In the same vein he allows
that signified contents may be irreducible to a play of signs, even if they
cannot be given in person outside the sign (Derrida, 1976: 266, 324 n.
9). And in Structure, Sign, and Play, we find him further describing his
system as one in which the central signified, the original or transcen-
dental signified, is never absolutely present outside a system of differ-
ences (Derrida, 1978: 280; my italics).
In all this Derrida may seem to show vagueness, aware of the prob-
lems of a bare signifier thesis yet not conclusively giving it up. But by
the time of Positions, he not only affirms the insufficiency of diffrance
but is adamant that the indispensable critique of a certain naive relation-
ship to the signified must not be caught in a suspension, that is, a pure
and simple suppression, of meaning or reference. Every signifier is
characterized as being also a signified, so that the complication of the
signifier-signified distinction does not prevent it from functioning
(Derrida, 1981a: 20, 66). What is important here is that there are no
empty terms pointing to other ones, merely an absence of pure and
unmodified signifieds which would be simply present in and of them-
selves alone. Putting it another way, signifiers refer both to themselves

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Philosophy & Social Criticism 25 (5)
to their own semantic or perceptual contents and to other signifiers,
being both open and closed at the same time (Derrida, 1981b: 202).3
This could very well be described as a soft holism in relation to the
semantic contents of natural language and the perceptual contents in
I believe that this also brings us towards an understanding of the
statement that perception does not exist. In the paragraph where this
remark is made Derrida goes on to equate perception with the idea of a
given which not only originates from a thing itself, but which is present
itself in its meaning, independently from language, the system of refer-
ence (Derrida, 1970: 272). This is in accord with Husserls point that
noematic sense is linguistically tinged. In Freud and the Scene of
Writing and Speech and Phenomena Derrida makes it quite clear that
it is pure perception which does not exist, and that what is called per-
ception is not primordial (Derrida, 1978: 226; 1973: 45 n. 4). On this
account, experience cannot be reduced to a concept. But granting this,
one might still accept Dews claim that the concept of experience in
general is taken as unrevisable. We will remember how Derrida says that
perception is the notion of immediate givenness independent of lan-
guage. He calls any such idea of naive realism or pure givenness empiri-
[T]he true name of this renunciation of the concept, of the a prioris and of
the transcendental horizons of language, is empiricism. For the latter, at
bottom, has ever committed but one fault: the fault of presenting itself as a
philosophy. And the profundity of the empiricist intention must be recog-
nised beneath the navety of certain of its historical expressions. It is the
dream of a purely heterological thought at its source. A pure thought of
pure difference. Empiricism is its philosophical name, its metaphysical pre-
tension or modesty. We say the dream because it must vanish at daybreak,
as soon as language awakens. . . . Has not the concept of experience always
been determined by the metaphysics of presence? Is not experience always
an encountering of an irreducible presence, the perception of a phenomen-
ality? This complicity between empiricism and metaphysics is in no way sur-
prising. By criticising them, or rather by limiting them with one and the
same gesture, Kant and Husserl indeed had recognised their solidarity.
(Derrida, 1978: 1512; trans. slightly emended)

Derrida adds that sensualism or sensationalism is another name for

empiricism, falling back on its idea of a transcendental signified. And
though he does not attribute a simple historical origin to empiricism, he
follows Heidegger in holding that it was marked decisively by Aristotle
(Derrida, 1981a: 645; 1982: 192). For Heidegger, Aristotle understood
empeiria as the observation of things themselves under changing con-
ditions so as to find how they usually behave. In this notion of obser-
vation, continues Heidegger, there is no idea of representation, of

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Mooney: Derridas empirical realism
positing a priori rules or calculative laws through which the things
would be comprehended in advance (Heidegger, 1977: 1212).
For all this, it can be argued that Derrida does not make empiricism
the name for immediate and naive experience conceptually unrevis-
able. Though he maintains that it will always remain within the orbit of
metaphysics, this does not imply, as Dews holds, that he sees it as in-
capable of modification. The fact that a concept has been determined in
a certain way in the past does not mean it cannot be overturned and rein-
scribed in the future. Derrida does believe that empiricism has a history
and system of mutations, and that it would be hard to use the word in
a sense totally foreign to Aristotles, but he adds that one might still
undertake the labour of such a transformation (Derrida, 1982: 192).
He does not state that the concept can be transformed in the light of
empirical knowledge, yet there is no reason to conclude that this possi-
bility is denied. More importantly, however, I would like to show that
he allows for empirical knowledge being itself revisable.

As the foregoing point would suggest, a more adequate defence of
Derrida must extend to a positive account of his understanding of
experience, and it is such an account that I want to reconstruct in brief
outline. I say reconstruct because he never really provides a worked-
out theory of perception, in spite of his claim that we must determine
otherwise, according to a differential system, the effects of significa-
tion and of reference (Derrida, 1981a: 66). This being said, his views on
experience draw very heavily on Husserl. One reason why Husserls
account is congenial for Derrida is that on the latters terms it avoids the
presupposition of naive realism or simple presence from the outset.
Husserl, so to speak, has effected his own deconstruction or disruption
of these theses.
If Derridas account can be reconstructed as a variation on Husserls,
that is, as an empirical realism rather than an indirect realism or repre-
sentationalism, this is not to say that they share a view as to the status
of the external world. Where Derrida differs most markedly from
Husserl is in taking the procedure of bracketing and reduction, not just
as a methodological idealism, but as one which like Descartes
methodological doubt cannot be brought to a successful conclusion
(Derrida, 1978: 60). The reason is that we cannot isolate all the theses
of the natural attitude or all the contents which implicitly warrant them.
With Husserl, we must retain a background of expressions from a
natural language; against him, we cannot filter out all the sociocultural
and naturalistic sedimentations carried in these. On this point Derrida

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Philosophy & Social Criticism 25 (5)
is very close to Merleau-Ponty for the latter, the most important lesson
of the reduction is that its completion is impossible (Derrida, 1989a:
6970 n. 66, 96; 1973: 86; Merleau-Ponty, 1962: xiv).
Where we can begin to establish a convergence with the specific
empirical realism of Husserl is in Speech and Phenomena. Derrida claims
that signification has a constituting value in that it is not something that
happens to presentation but rather conditions it by bifurcating it a
priori, but he adds that this does not impugn the apodicticity of the
phenomenological-transcendental description (Derrida, 1973: 67). In
affirming that somehow everything begins by re-presentation , he
remarks, and by reintroducing the difference involved in signs at the
heart of what is primordial we do not retreat from the level of tran-
scendental phenomenology towards either an empiricism or a
Kantian critique of the claim of having primordial intuition (ibid.:
456 n. 4).
Rodolph Gasch has suggested quite correctly in my view that
the point which Derrida wishes to make is that there is no question of
doing away with Husserls essential distinction of presentation and rep-
resentation. To affirm an originary interwovenness of appearances with
non-present but meant or intended elements and deny their absolute het-
erogeneity is not to collapse them into each other (Gasch, 1994: 12).
And just as importantly, this rejection of a formcontent empiricism
does not entail the embracing of a putative Kantianism in which there
is no contact with the reality or actuality of the object but only the appre-
hension of mere appearances. Against Willards interpretation, there-
fore, Derrida seems not only to be aware of Husserls claim that we
encounter things in flesh and blood rather than ideas or pictures, but
actually to concur with this claim.4
What Gasch fails to do is to show why Derridas account does not
collapse Husserls essential distinction. If what Derrida calls represen-
tation or signification is different from Husserls pictorial represen-
tation (Reprsentation), from his representation of something in
memory (Vergegenwrtigung), and from his flesh and blood presen-
tation (Gegenwrtigung), what then is it in itself? What is its defining
characteristic, the one that it always already brings to perception? My
answer and the one I take as Derridas is that of pointing, or, more
precisely, that of constituting perception as other-aspect-indication.
When I encounter an object or a state of affairs in flesh and blood, the
present aspect is not given as a purely self-referential totality, for it indi-
cates other aspects that may be given in future perceptions. The present
aspect is in fact given as an integral part or moment of a whole which
cannot be brought to complete presence. Put another way, it stands in
for the whole, signifying something which is absent in its very form of

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On my interpretation this is what Derrida means in holding that per-
ception is a text or weave of presentation and originary representation.
A present aspect is interwoven with absent ones in a tissue of diffrance,
each element having meaning in relation to the others (Derrida, 1973:
456 n. 4; 1982: 13). Constituted as part of a whole, the present aspect
is a signifier. But since it is itself the target of a perceptual intending and
partially fulfils and concretizes this intention, it is also a signified whose
meaning is not reducible to the absent aspects. Through it the latter are
in fact projectively concretized. The blue shirt-front indicates a blue
back, the plumber under the old sink some faulty pipework, the crash-
ing of waves a storm out at sea. Using the language of Peirce, which he
does not unfortunately elaborate on, Derrida maintains that the prop-
erty of the representamen is to be itself and another, to be produced as
a structure of reference, to be separated from itself where this means that
it is never absolutely self-contained (Derrida, 1976: 4950).
If I have understood Derrida aright, his position is that originally pre-
sented intuitions are always interwoven with what the Husserl of Ideas
calls signitive-symbolic objectivation. And though he does not do so in
Speech and Phenomena or elsewhere, concentrating on Husserls accounts
of expression and self-consciousness, Derrida could well have found
support for his own account in the sixth of the Logical Investigations. In
all perceiving, claims Husserl, we find webs of partial intentions, fused
together into single total intentions in the simple case of seeing a carpet
partially broken up by furniture, I take the colour and pattern as con-
tinuing under the tables and chairs to the four walls. In inadequate per-
cepts, continues Husserl, we find interwoven (verflochten) masses of
primitive intentions, among which, in addition to perceptual and imagin-
ative intentions, there are also intentions of a signitive kind (Husserl,
1970a: 7001, 717). This remains the case even where I improve my evi-
dence, be it imaginatively or in actual perception; for example, in ima-
gining or perceiving an object turning itself to every side. For Husserl:
Gain and loss are balanced at every step: a new act has richer fullness in
regard to certain properties, for whose sake it has lost fullness in regard to
others. But against this we may hold that the whole synthesis of the series
of imaginations or percepts represents an increase in fullness in comparison
with an act singled out from the series: the imperfection of the one-sided
representation is, relatively speaking, overcome in the all-sided one. We say
relatively speaking, since the all-sided representation is not achieved in
such a synthetic manifold in the single flash which the ideal of adequation
requires, as a pure self-presentation without added analogising or symbol-
isation: it is achieved piecemeal and always blurred by such additions.
(1970a: 721)
It should be remarked that this position is perfectly reconcilable,
not only with Derridas account as I understand it, but with Husserls

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Philosophy & Social Criticism 25 (5)
aforementioned but subsequent distinction of presentation and sym-
bolic-signitive objectivation. My own surmise is that the later Husserl
underplays the signitive component in perception because he is so
anxious to distinguish his later position from the indirect realism of a
Locke or a supposed Kant. A signitive component is certainly admitted
in Husserls later claims that the present aspect of a thing and its back-
ground field point respectively to other thing-aspects and to other sectors
of the world, the universe of things for possible perceptions (Husserl,
1970b: 162).
Derrida seeks to part company with Husserl by positing what he
calls a trace in all perception, whether it be inner or outer. So far as
I understand it, the trace does not just refer to the indefinite chain of
retentions that is carried in every present moment of awareness, but to
an indeterminable element that is carried by retention, but which cannot
be brought into the light of presence. Derrida says that it is not to be
understood in terms of a virtual and potential consciousness, describing
it instead as the trace of an unconscious past that has never been present,
though he remarks that a thought of the trace can no more break with
a transcendental phenomenology than be reduced to it. Unhappily,
things get still more complicated, for we are also told that the trace is
neither in this world nor in another world, that it is not an entity, and
that no concept of metaphysics is capable of describing it (Derrida, 1982:
201; 1976: 62, 65, 66, 75).
Beyond playing to the gallery of irrationalism, it is hard to see how
the trace can amount to anything more than the unsaturability of a
context, that is, to the impossibility of bringing to presence every element
that contributes to a meaningful experience.5 It is also hard to see how
it goes beyond Husserl. In Of Grammatology Derrida says that the thesis
that the thing itself is a sign would be unacceptable to Husserl, since the
latter remains committed to the metaphysics of presence (Derrida,
1976: 49). But here we may suspect that Derrida has fallen prey to some-
thing of which he often justifiably accuses others, that of quite simply
leaving Husserls qualifications out of account. It is Husserl who says
that the thing itself is an Idea in the Kantian sense which no one experi-
ences as really seen. It is Husserl who, in Logical Investigations, already
takes all fulfilment as provisional. And it is Husserl, finally, who argues
that my experiential outlook is affected by an ultimate genesis or psy-
chophysical origin that cannot be accessed, since I can reach no first
moment of awareness that would not be preceded by retentions and sedi-
mented memories (Husserl, 1970a: 670; 1966: 223, 767, 1412).
The last remark of Derrida cited above might also lead one to pass
over his much more straightforward affiliation to Husserls account in
connection with the themes of perceptual open-endedness and revisabil-
ity. Such an affiliation finds its first expression in Derridas confrontation

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Mooney: Derridas empirical realism
with Levinas in Violence and Metaphysics (1964). In Levinas view,
Husserls account of perceptual constitution is characterized by violent
adequation and closure, by the reduction of the exterior being which
presents itself to the work of the thought that receives it. In the intelli-
gibility of noematic representation, claims Levinas, the distinction
between me and the object, between interior and exterior, is effaced. He
goes on to suggest that Husserls noema is the successor to the Cartesian
clear and distinct idea. Clarity is taken as the defining characteristic of
intelligibility, and it ultimately involves the disappearance of anything
that could shock, since surprises are themselves anticipated as possible
modes of sense (Levinas, 1969: 123, 124).
It may be precipitous and quite unfair to Levinas to conclude that
all this amounts to a serious exaggeration, yet it is hard to see why
Husserls account of noematic perception even with its notion of
unfamiliarity as a mode of familiarity must end up taking the possi-
bility of shock out of surprises. And the thesis of world-annihilation
presages the possibility of the utter collapse of intelligibility, both for
world and subject. In Derridas critique of Levinas, moreover, it is the
very virtue of Husserls account to emphasize the unfinished character
of empirical knowledge. It is hard to find as rigorous a theme, states
Derrida, as that of inadequation. Husserl has shown us that the per-
ception of the transcendent and extended thing is essentially and forever
incomplete (Derrida, 1978: 120). Furthermore, the infinity of the
Husserlian horizon has the form of an indefinite opening precisely
because it is neither fully determined nor determining, it offers itself
without any possible end to the negativity of constitution (of the work
of objectification) and thus avoids totalization. Husserls understanding
of experience as essentially and originally the inadequation of interior-
ity and exteriority . . . distinguishes a body of thought which is careful
to respect exteriority (Derrida, 1978: 1201, 122).
It is notable that this affirmation of the revisable and non-totalizable
nature of experience is carried into Derridas later work. He sets out
what I will loosely call his own position in Signature, Event, Context
(1971), noting that it is not just linguistic signs which can operate in
different contexts, but also the significations peculiar to perception:
I would like to demonstrate that the traits that can be recognized in the
classical, narrowly defined concept of writing are generalizable. They are
valid not only for all orders of signs and for all language in general, but
moreover, beyond semiolinguistic communication, for the entire field of
what philosophy would call experience. . . . [The] unity of the signifying
form only constitutes itself by virtue of its iterability, by the possibility of
its being repeated in the absence not only of its referent, which is self-
evident, but in the absence of a determinate signified or of the intention of
actual signification, as well as of all intention of present communication.

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Philosophy & Social Criticism 25 (5)
This structural possibility of being weaned from the referent or from the
signified (hence from communication and from its context) seems to me to
make every mark, including those which are oral, a grapheme in general;
which is to say, the nonpresent remainder of a differential mark cut off from
its putative production or origin. And I shall even extend this law to all
experience if it is conceded that there is no experience consisting of pure
presence but only of chains of differential marks. (Derrida, 1988: 910,
trans. slightly emended)
Though the context in which a speaking or writing or perceiving subject
is implicated includes in each case the entire environment and horizon
of his experience, argues Derrida, this context is never saturable, that
is, never capable of filling or finally fixing the meanings occurrent within
it (ibid.: 12, 1513). Put into Husserlian terminology, every meaning
and by extension the noematic meaning-complex of a perception is of
a provisional nature in that it cannot be fully determined by its current
context nor protected from alteration or deposition when repeated in a
new context (which will contribute verifying or cancelling appearances
in their own environment or outer horizon).
This possibility is restated in some of Derridas still more recent writ-
ings. In stressing the contingency of life he occasionally refers to unpre-
dictable events, to perceptions where one is surprised or taken
off-guard by the encounter with what one perceives. As with Husserls
unfamiliarity which is also a mode of familiarity, each of these must be
absolutely unforeseeable to deserve the name of event, yet it also
requires some horizon to be recognized, the very horizon whose meaning
it changes or goes beyond (Derrida, 1992: 1223). Whilst admitting
empirical revisability, therefore, Derrida also keeps to a point which he
first made against Levinas in Violence and Metaphysics surprise and
novelty thenselves require horizonal recognition. For the coming of what
Levinas would entitle the entirely other, remarks Derrida, a kind of
resigned passivity for which everything comes down to the same is not
suitable. Letting the other come is not inertia open to anything what-
ever (Derrida, 1989b: 55).
If my case holds up, in conclusion, Derrida can be taken as an
empirical realist rather than a textual idealist, and need not for that
matter be regarded as excessively intellectualist his other points of
agreement with Husserl concern ones living body, which is also taken
as the zero-point of ego-orientation, and the perception of other people,
apprehended as other centres of orientation whose points of view cannot
be lived originally by me myself. Agreement on these points appears to
be so complete that questions of development or departure are hardly
ever raised.6 When such questions are introduced, as I have suggested,
it is not quite clear that Derrida advances very much on Husserl. This
means that with regard to the topic of experience we might focus less on

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Mooney: Derridas empirical realism
the question of coherence in Derridas work and more on its claims to
novelty, if any there be. But most importantly, deconstruction is not to
be taken as that successor to philosophy which cuts us off from practi-
cal questions of ethics and politics and avoids the exposure of thought
to the contingency of interpretation, and the revisability of empirical

University College Dublin, Department of Philosophy, Dublin, Ireland


1 These later distinctions correspond roughly to the primary, real and
ideal contents set out in the Logical Investigations. See Husserl, 1970a:
264, 3512, 3978. Although Ideas I marks the start of Husserls turn
towards transcendental idealism, the notions of noesis, noema and hyletic
data do not themselves commit him to this position (any more than the
earlier distinctions).
2 The context of the remarks on the proper name which is ignored by Willard
is a critique of Lvi-Strauss, whom Derrida regards as being remarkably
close to Rousseau in certain respects. In his account of the use of proper
names by the Nambikwara tribe, Lvi-Strauss maintains that their children
are forbidden to reveal their names to outsiders because of an innocent belief
that the apprehension of the names would uncover their hidden thoughts and
self-identities names would have a crystalline power of revealing their
natural, savage selves. Derridas interpretation of the Nambikwara the
correctness of which is not of central concern here is that the adults really
forbid the use of proper names to hide the socio-linguistic system of hierar-
chical differences that the names presuppose. But if he holds that the self-
presence of the children is already mediated and hence coloured by this
socio-linguistic framework, he does not suggest that their self-awareness or
self-identity is reducible to it. He also speaks of the children as having
absolute idioms, which he elsewhere characterizes as singular or idiosyncratic
mannerisms which perceptually appear to others but not to the self. Naming
and predication cannot describe these adequately or capture them completely.
Put another way, these aspects of self-identity cannot be subsumed into
linguistic ideality. The suspension of the vocative absolute is therefore the
suspension of an all-encompassing appellation which quite simply never
existed, and there is no question of identity being either completely captured
or completely bestowed by language. See Derrida, 1976: 11012, 119.
3 Derrida compares his approach with that of Peirce, for whom every sign or
representamen stands for something and determines something else its
interpretant to refer to the same object to which it itself refers, the inter-
pretant in turn becoming a sign and so on ad infinitum. For Derrida, The
property of the representamen is to be itself [my italics] and another

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Philosophy & Social Criticism 25 (5)
(Derrida, 1976: 4950; emphases added). This again allows for self-refer-
4 According to Willard, the Derridean interpretation of Husserl is that
noemata are the ordinary objects of consciousness, that we are usually
directed towards these ideal meanings instead of towards things themselves
(Willard, 1993: 1245). He refers to Derrida (1978: 135), where, having
already stated that Husserl affirms being as the non-reality of the ideal,
Derrida remarks that he (Husserl) has difficulty in distinguishing his theory
of knowledge from metaphysical idealism, since the ideal must be under-
stood essentially, in each of its aspects, as noema, and cannot be without
in some way being thought or envisaged. But it seems to me that Derrida
does not finally hold that noemata or idealities are the ordinary objects of
consciousness for Husserl. In 1978: 134 he does state that Husserls affir-
mation of Being as ideality silently presupposes a metaphysical anticipation
or decision. But in the later Speech and Phenomena he remarks that the
determination of being as ideality is explicitly a valuation, an ethico-theor-
etical act that revives the decision that founded philosophy in its Platonic
form, even if Husserl opposes conventional Platonism for substantifying
the ideal. Derrida also notes that an image, being an intentional or
noematic sense, is not one reality duplicating another reality (Derrida,
1973: 46, 53; emphases added). Elsewhere Derrida states that the noema is
the objectivity of the object, the meaning and the as such of the thing,
and is indubitably given as an object for consciousness. But he goes on to
observe that Husserl rejects the possibility of examining immaterial forms.
Without hyletic data consciousness could not receive anything other than
itself, nor exercise its intentional activity (Derrida, 1978: 163).
5 Derrida does refer to Levinas work on the trace. Cf. Derrida, 1976: 70.
Levinas takes the trace as a sign like no other one, holding that it has a non-
intentional form of signification which is sketched out in, for example, the
fingerprints left by someone who wanted to wipe away his traces and commit
a perfect crime. He who left traces in wiping out his traces did not mean to
say or do anything by the traces he left. . . . In a trace has passed a part absol-
utely bygone. In a trace its irreversible lapse is sealed. Disclosure, which rein-
states the world and leads back to the world, and is proper to a sign or a
signification, is suppressed in traces (Levinas, 1986: 357). It should be noted
that Merleau-Ponty also refers to a past that has never been present, though
by this is meant a bodily synthesis of experience which precedes conceptual
or reflective consciousness. See Merleau-Ponty, 1962: 242.
6 See Derrida, 1978: 115, 124, 212. In 1976: 290 Derrida contends that
Husserls radicalization of the question of space is indispensable, since it
brackets both the objective space of science and the a priori intuition of
Kant, articulating aesthetics upon a transcendental kinaesthetics. Derrida
goes on to state that this radicalization is insufficient, remarking that we
must go beyond Husserls projected aesthetics and show how the possi-
bility of inscription in general produces the spatiality of space. So far as
I am aware, however, he has done no work in this regard.

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