You are on page 1of 14

Translator's Introduction

All ttanslation is only a somewhat provisional way of coming to terms with the foreignness of languages. -Walter Benjamin, "The Task of the Translator"

What is translation? On a platter A poet's pale and glaring head, A parrot's screech, a monkey's chatter, And profanation of the dead. -Vladimir Nabokov, "On Translating 'Eugene Onegin'"

Jacques Derrida, born in Algiers in 1930, teaches philosophy at the Ecole ~ormale Superieure in Paris. His tremendous impact on contemporary theoretical thought began in 1967 with the simultaneous publication of :hree major philos9phical works: La Voix et Ie phenomene (an introduction to the problem of the sign in Husserl's phenomenology; translated by David Allison as Speech and Phenomena {Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1973}), L'ecriture et la difference (a collection of essays on the problematics of writing in literature, philosophy, psychoanalysis, and anthropology; trans. red by Alan Bass as Writing and Difference {Chicago: University of Chicago uress, 1978}), and De la grammatologie (a sustained analysis of the repression writing in Western theories oflanguage and culture and a methodologi::zl and theoretical outline of a new "science" of writing; translated by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak as Of Grammatology {Baltimore: Johns Hopkins rniversity Press, 1974}). Five years later, in 1972, came another tripartite Derridean biblioblitz: Positions (a collection of interviews; translated by Alan Bass as Positions =Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981}), Marges: de la philosophie (a :::>ilection of essays inion the "margins" of philosophy, linguistics, and ~:erature {translation in preparation, University of Chicago Press}), and La

J :.ssbnination

. Vll




Since 1972, Derrida's work has continued to proliferate and diversify.

Clas (a giant montage of textual grafts and hardworking wordplays in

which Hegel and Genet are shuffled into each other from juxtaposed columns of print) appeared in 1974, followed, among numerous articles and short works, by a collection of critical essays on painting, La Verite en peinture (978), and, in 1980, by La Carte Postale: de Socrate a Freud et au-dela, an intriguing collection of essays that treat the psychoanalytical writings of Freud and Jacques Lacan, preceded by a pseudo-fictional, pseudo-autobiographical epistolary preface that hinges on a postcard depicting Plato dictating behind the back of a writing Socrates.

I. A Critique of Western Metaphysics

Best known in this country for having forged the term "deconstruction,"
If I
1 :

Jacques Derrida follows Nietzsche and Heidegger in elaborating a critique of "Western metaphysics," b which he mean!>not only the Western ~losophical traditio~t-::everyday-;;-'iliought and language as well. Western t1lought, says Derrida, has always been structured in term--s--of dichotomies or polarities: good vs. evil, being vs. nothingness, presence vs. absence, truth vs. error, identity vs. difference, mind vs. matter, man vs./ (>I. woman, soul vs. body, life vs. death, I.-- '--~ vs. culture,. speech vs. wr(ting:.l:: ~a.ture _.-These polar opposites do not, however, stand as independent and equaIJ entities. The second term in each pair is considered the negative, corrupt, undesirable version of the first, a fall away from it. Hence, absence is the lack of presence, evil is the fall from good, error is a distortion of truth, etc . In other words, the two terms are not simply opposed in their meanings, but are arranged in a hierarchical order which gives the first term priority, in these hierarchical oppositions do is to privilege unity, identity, immediacy,



'J, )

it ,i>~'

'" J-t!:'t

and deferment. In Its search for the answer to the questlon of Bemg, 'c 'v'l. : Western temporal and the qualitative sense of the word. In as presence. ~both the philosophy has indeed always determined Being general, what s.. .' v. Derrida's critique of Western metaphysics focuses on its privileging of the spoken word over thewntten word. Tne spoKen word is give~ aOlgher value ecause the speaker and listener are both present to the utterance simultaneously. There is no temporal or spatial distance between speaker, speech, and listener, since the speaker hears himself speak at the same moment the listener does. This imme~cy" seems to,guanintee the notion that in the spoken word we know"what we mean, mean what we say, say what we mean, and know what we have said. Whether or not perfect

I and temporal and sp~tial presentnessover distance, difference, ~issimulat~on,


?'t-r.(.,. c~~
5-e' (

-f ...
IX ~:;:



Ii.... .)~ ...


~~ alw.aY.:...:!..~j!!.fact~ th~s i1?~ge-:~f))erf~~tly ~presen - -5 -=. accordmg to Dernda, the ullderlYJng Ideal ofWe~terr:..culture.


~ ~rmed

this belief in the self-presentation of meanin

"I:.og~J5 / .>~\



-~-__." from the Greek:wor oiner -an , is considered by the logocentric 'y ~}:,y\ ( -God). Writing, on the ogos (meaning speech, logic, reason, the -- :0 only-a representa!ion of s eecn a secondary subSfilut~~sigQed ~I) v" "-.. l' when sea!<'ingis impossible. Writing .--------is thus a second-rate . ~ -."""~~~. ~ .. -_."__ J,/ ( tries to overcome distance by making use of it: the writerputs -- _ ht on paper, distanci~g itfwm Imse', transforming it into --..:::.La that can be' read by"so~;e Tar away, even after the writer's -- rills Inc1usion-of deat~-distance, an (rmerfficeTstho~ to b~ a _:~on of the self-presence of meaning; to open meaning up to all forms - - _:eration whic-h immediacy would nave prevented. -- ::hecourse of his critique, Derrida does no~sim J reverse this value __ -- and say that writing is better than speech. Rather, he attempts to ~t the very possiblIitY of opposing the two terms on the basis of :_...:=-ce vs. absence or immediacy vs. representation is an illusion, since

Y '.

is already structured by difference and distance as much as writing is. ~t.:._~ is_~i~ided into a phonic si~nifier and a ~~ntal ,, and that, as Saussur.epOHlted'out,-language-lsa system of31ffer-' , ~:=;; ther than a-collection of independ'ently'me~ningful units, ind'ieiites . --~- language as sl,lch is already constitutedQjr th~ very distaneesalli:l, _

:::~ :--=


- -=.rences.jtie~ks to,~ o~herwords, ~ ~~~~matlciIIy 'L i - :0 be. A~SOD!! there ISmeamng, there lrdrffefence. Dernda s woi<t'for as

(.,a 0- u

to demonstrate is that this differance inhabits the very core of what -=-~s to be immediate and present. Even-~ the~ingly nonlinguistlc .L-ea5 of the structures oCconsciousrleSSan the ~n'c~lOus;~DeITida ~~a' rzes the underl0ng-~c~~T~h;;-;nd~~;'P;~~d ~ ~o~~ethePsychic ~?3-farus to a structure of scri 'tural difJe7-a;ce a "mY",5.tic;;;Ttkicf;d.:'1

~. ~e:r ~rent -:. lag whIch, means both to dlffer~ iiff~~nfe' Q.-cle.~ What DernClai f 'j ~ ~y signi,~in?,,:act is and ... ,~} e .::::~c~_:~b i.Jt./'""'I



:_ . uced by of the se~es~nce the of meaning structures from which thuSJ :-::e illusion the repression of differential or of consciousness is th:.-J;J;f... O?=g. Derrida's project in his early writings is to elaborate a science of writing o(this difjerance -., ed grammatology..:. a sci~n~e'that ;'ould study thc:...e..f.&~ -hich Western metaphysics has systematically repre~sed in i~ search for
1. See "Freud and the Scene of Writing," in Writing and Difference, trans. Alan Bass Gicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978), pp. 196-231.

(~ X

"t>~5r" \~ I.~ \) , ,It-> TRANSLATOR'S


P ~\C~f;~>,,-'



self-present Truth, But, as Derrida himself admits, the very notion of

/\ l" \

perfec,tly f&equa~e,scienceor -logy belo~gs to the lo~ocentri~ discouts~ whicJ


lhe sClen1eof wntIng would try, preClsely, to put In question. Dernda thu

\ errot~~~~Ei1rto~!~]:~d~~d}i2~~;h';~'~;~Y~~;~ ,ngIf I'~"fffifinds himself in the uncomfortable position of attempting to ac~for'al ~ \J j~ f 1.~~~~~!~~._~:~elEr~!:~~~~,l~~!:,,~rro~_:Vi.!~I~p~~~~~:Y ~~Tevl:2.!E~ tp

f! ,i

no'iion~orTruth. By the same token, to show that the binary oppositions a


III I' meta~hysrts"are illusions is also, and perhaps most importantly, to sho'i /t'-that ~uch illusions cannot simply in turn PJ;'d!./l,J!,PJ~i without repeating th ;/1 ivery ~ame illusion, The task of undoing the'ntstoty'oflogocentrism in orde




.~'s'~ I to~teDiijferance It can wouldbethus appear to be a doubly i~possible one: L-'l the one hand, only conducted by means of notlOns of revelation

, !, " '\ ~'--", ..j "

and rectification, which are the ~ogocentric n?tions p~ }, Iy\<;,~excellence,and, on the other hand, It can only dIg up somethIng that I \~ , .,~st" / really nothing-a difference, a gap, an interval, a trace. How, then, cal ,:JJ such a task be undertaken?

-\;:~)J~p !,"~epresentation,

II. Supplementary Reading

Any attempt to disentangle the weave of dijferance from the logocentri, blanket can obviously not long remain on the level of abstraction anI generality of the preceding remarks. Derrida's wr4ing, indeed, i~ alway explicitly inscribed in the margins of some preex1sting:t~;;~~;-rida ~fi~s and foremos!.;~::~"'):ea.det:;::a:i:ea:aer::whO:"co:nstantly"r~flects on.and transfqrm the'very nature of the act of reading. It would therefore perhaps be helpfu to examr~~ some offlle'spec'ifitreading strategies he has worked out. I beg'I "That Dangerous Supple with a chapter fro~'QIG;;;;;;;;'t~logi~nticl~d'
"C",' . ""'",,,.-.,_, _''',,,_~,.,. ,



__ .-.;._.

ment," in which Der~ida elaborates not only a particularlL~t.rik;;ingreadin! 00 h of Rousseau's c.qnft.iji~nl]2:~f:"~.L;Q:~~,~~Qci~e,r~flection. .. is "own,meth odp!ogy.:., Derrida's starting point is the rhetoric of Rousseau's discussions a writi~, on the one hand, and masturbation-, ci"'nthe~ther. Both activitie

, .' \ i\ ar;;;lled s~~pa~~~is.~~~),11

-' .. ~first.

.the s:ens,e botl;1o(~Qn~};sa

f~j:',,~~ r ~~r{o~;~~~~E~~;~~; ," INvf\l-respecc'''totfie aesue for presence.


Ontlieone hand, Rousseau condemns writin! for being only a representation of direct speech and therefore less desirabl,


bore direct expression of the self. But on the other hand, in the actua \J \because less immediate. Rousseau, in this context, privileges speech as th

/,'< "

,,\" pr" > \..,;c'~ J'


\, l'-{ ~ ~ \~ ~v'" c "






self-presen,; Truth, But, as Derrida himself admits, the very notion of a perfectly (dequate scienceor -logy belongs to the logocentric discourse which I , ,the scien~'eof writing would try, precisely, to put in question. Derrida thus finds hiry:;,self the uncomfortable pO~,itionoff.l!tempting to ac~7mnnOi:'an in lerrorb}1meins-of to~ls deri~elfr~m that very error. For It-is not possibie to \shoV;t~itthe'b;lief i~ ~;~th is an error with'outlmpllcrtly eTreY10gi1tIle i I i n01Ton;oITrut . By the same token, to show that the binary oppositlons of I'. metaphysics'''are illusions is also, and perhaps most importantly, to show .\


. _~_




.,..._ ...... _


""". __


.,,.. ~.






such without I;,~/,.that ~ame ~llus~onscannot simply i~ turn.~9j,.gg1i2.JJi~ re?eat,ing the very illusiOn. The task of undo1Ogthe histoty"oflogocentnsm 10order

r "',


";--' ) l the one hand, it can only be conducted by means of notions of revelation,

\ {'--j to~'s1OterYifferance

would thus appear to be a doubly impossible one: on

.J \

- \~~i.J~? /"~epresentation, ,J' \*~excellence, and, and the other hand, it canare thedig up someth1Og that is on rectification, w~ich only ~ogocentric n?tions p~r

~\,t I / really nothing-a ',N'

difference, a gap, an interval, a trace. How, then, can

'" v:s(J>

L-_.such a task be undertaken?

II. Supplementary Reading

Any attempt to disentangle the weave of differance from the logocentric blanket can obviously not long remain on the level of abstraction and generality of the preceding remarks. Derrida's wri.ting, indeed, i~ always explicitly inscribed in the margins of some preexlS'tingt~~~-:-5e;ridai~fi~st and foremOS!,A.r~def.,,,a.readei who'constantly reflects,on and transfqrms the very nature of the act of reading. It would therefore perhaps be helpful to examlne some of the spec-inc reading strategies he ,has worked out. I begin with a chapter fro~ of G;'am";;'t~logy enti'tled' "That Dangerous Supplement," in which Derrida elaborates not only a particularly striking reading of Rousseau'sCQnfesjl0niJY:~"'1l1so~; concise reflecti011on his own meth- odology. Derrida's starting point is the rhetoric of Rousseau's discussions of

t! ~,

~, on the one hand, and ma::.~!.. ~:.i~?,on the'other. Both activities ~ .\ . are called supplements to natural in!!r..e, t.he sense both of conversain 'r,;',\-.Y:;" tion and of copulation. What Q~r.!iqa finqs ig ~,o4seau's account is a

.. " \\'"

-=-----~.=_.-~., '


\,<" ," .... pJ.JrJ C~ious~6ITill"c~ti~~~:;~~-values I\-respeccto the aeme for presence.

of writing and ~asturbation with -:tef us take writing-fim. Oollie-one hand, Rousseau condemns writing for being only a representation of direct speech and therefore less desirable

more direct expression of the self. But on the other hand, in the actual \J (\becauseless immediate. Rousseau, in this context, privileges speech as the




ience of living speech, ~ouss_eauji1"!..d~,tha~_ he,~xl?~es.!'~~ ..l!iI!.!.s.~I(WJ,lch successfully in person than he does in his writing. Because of his :ness, h~ tends to blurt out things th;t repr~~en~hi'~ as the opposite of :::at he thinks he is: I would love society like others, if I were not sure of showing myself not only at a disadvantage, but as completely different from what I am. The part that I have taken of writing and hiding myself is precisely the one that suits me. IfI were present, one would never know what I was -1-1--1 worth. -.-JJ;
2 '-""---~. ,- "-~-'"".",", " ",," -"



hus absence th~~sures

the presentation of truth, and presence that of this contradi~tory stAll~ !~:'as

~~~~~i~t9;t-io;;:. Der~id;~. s~mmation ws:

training toward the reconstruction of presence, [Rousseau} valorizes and disqualifies writing at the s~n;.e)ipW",,:=.<;.J~p.usseau cona~lnn:~, wri ting as aesiructl'on Ofpresence and as disease of speech. He rehabilitates it to the extent that it promises the reappropriati0I?; of that. of ' which speech aUoweditself tb be dispossessed. But by what, if not, already'a w~ting older than speech 'and already installed in that place? (pp. 141-42) .
O(E.~.!!!E"::_~-':alw~ysal::~~:~n. Speech itself \ I', - :ber WQrdkth~ IQ~s ::;.l:lgs out of an alienation or differance that has the very structure of i I


--= ecessity of absence that Rousseau ultimately succeeds in reappropriat-.~.:be lost seem, though, that it ishiIE~c-:l~:::l:~~J~~P~I~teJ_hi!ll~~If. 5 :~~uld presence. ~..!l~fiillK precisely through this assumPtio~~lf - - "':onthat self-sacrifice is the road to self-redemp~(on is a classical structure

' .!.~~~I __

estern ~et~physi~~: Yet it can be shown that this project ~f re~ppro;.3r:ion is inherently self-subverting because its very starting point is not ;- -~nce itself but~ ::.:'-: ossibl~"x~e~ise p

/t<. ,) ,
I \-.Y
\ ~


for\ res;.E~_e...'_that the is, ~~~he


of PJes~!,l~' !U.~~ f starting point is '


I'l' ;/."

not a poi,!! but a d~!.~ce: Without the possibility of differance, the desire of presence as such wo not Iiila-itsoreatfiing-space. That means by the same token that-

, t p,;~

r) }> I.~~ r



:. Quoted in Of Grammatology (trans. Gayatri Chakravorry Spivak (Baltimore: Johns

;:: ?cins University Press, 1974J), p. 142. Page numbers in brackets following references to
-;nnnatology refer to J. M. Cohen's translation ofRousseau's-Confessions

(Penguin, 1954),

I have sometimes substituted for the translation used by Spivak.


.r (,"'.




',..., fl'~.)





produces what it forbids, making possible the very thing that it makes impossible. carries 143) 'D\f:~VZ~!) of 1J,.Llt.v)?D ..... ) rance. desire (P. in itself the I dest,iny its I nonsatisfaction. ,""'" ~ \~ Diffe,
. I' ,


The same paradoxical account of the desire for presence occurs in Rous- T1 seau's discussions of sexuality. On the one hand, masturbation is con~~ demned as a means of "cheating Nature" and substituting a mere image (absence) for the presence of a sexual partner. On the other hand:

,.J1i'\...,- 'i' \~'1_~';',,,~

This vice, which shame and timidity find so convenient, has a particular attraction for lively imaginations. It allows them to dispose, so to speak, of the whole female sex at their will, and to make any beauty who tempts them serve their pleasur.e without the need of first obtaining her consent. (P. 151 [109}) \-.~..:.~Iv. 'f I ~ _.r"'.. \,it:.' \~ \ 14"t)v-, fi' ( ,- ,.I It is thus the woman's absence that gives immediacy to her imaginary possession, while to deal with the woman's presence would inevitably Deto

" ~onfrontin itdifferance. Masturbation are~H.ul~ne, symbolic form alienation uniOri~ si,nce the subje~,Object is both a and a radical of ideal of the desire Y"'_ouI4also perfectly exclude the s ace of its ve U20ssibilit . J Just speech was shown to be ~ ]:\, ~erqrom asany contact with ~n ot..?er. structured that the same differance as union by would perf~y~l writing, to possess a-"r~al" woman is grounded in I'll> distance, so, too, the desireprohibition of incest requires that one's loye- ! both because the object always be a substitute for the original object, and because of the f fundamental structure of desire itself. Rousseau's autobiography offers us a particularly striking example of the essential role of differance in desire.

Faced with the possibility of a quasi-incestuous relation with the woman he \\ called "Mama"-incest being the very model of the elimination of differ-\ to Mama's physical proximity: "I only felt the full strength of my attachment to her when finds was out of my sight" (p. itself [l07}). Not proportion she that his desire manifests 152 in inverse only does ance-Rousseau the enjoyment of presence appear to Rousseau to be impossible; it also could ~lenitude," \be fatal: "If! he writes, in my life tasted thethat my frail existence once in their had ever "I do not imagine delights oflove even would have jbeen sufficient for them. I would have been dead in the act" (p. 155). . Presence, then, is an ambiguous, even dangerous, ideal. Direct speech is



I' ~

f '\ \

i autoeroticism



is necessary to recapture a presence whose lack has not been preceded by any fullness. Yet these two compensatory activities are themself-violation; perfect heteroeroticism is death. Recourse to writing and selves condemned as unnecessary, even dangerous, supplements.

, {vP ~~J-..<


..... Xlll

In French, the word ~ supplement has two meanings: it means both"a0 ~ting and masturbation. Thus, writing and masturbation may add to '-oition"~and "a.substitute.":': Rousseau uses this word to describe both ethi~hat is ;Ir;adypresent, in which case they are superfluous, AND/OR :::ley may replace something that is not present, in which case they are 'sary. Superfluous and necessary, dangerous and redemptive, the supple,.----,-'-_ .. _-' =em moves through Rousseau's text according to a very strange logic.


..-ren~~apah t1;.e _ w~~~e~~~:~:-::~~i::;ro~~~~sf~;~;~~~~:;~~ii~n;~e~ .<!ppo_s~~s. Inst~~ ileatru;;~cl'tbe ~~r;iiliY;rcal mary ;~~~~~ _ A is opposed to B" we have "B is both added to A and replaces A." A and are no l~nger opposed, nor are the; eguivalent~lndeed,- they are ~-lo~ger ::Teneg~ivalent to themselves~They arethelr own differance from themselves. "Writing," for example, no longer meansslmply "words on a page, " t rather any fflerentlal trace structiir~, structure tfiat also inha5its

-_ ecH. "Writing" an "sp.eclf' can: 'tllerefore no longer be si~ply' pposetl.ou~~ei ther hav-;iliey become identical. Rather, the very notion of

,'l;. -I(>~'O\
'G "-

meir "i~~nt~ti:s,-;'is put in-9~esti~n._ ::t,4Mb~\i\;.:'CI~-~lh..... _ f\" K Tnaadition to this supplementary logic in the text's signified, the insepar~ 'P.r--!J chat ce>ntainsit problematic. While Rousseau explicit !EE.e1!!Lon lktg ~ ~eep the two senses ri~sly_distmct-to n.owwhen ?:...~ea ~ability of the two senses of the word "supplement" renders an affirmation \



\ t""''*,~


tute"ynd when he means "addition"-the shadow !,resenc,: 5!f_t,!:e .?~.r \ ( J/;I.P meaning is always there to' undermine the ~~nctio~.:. On the~l both of \ \ f' ~e .sl~~!fi~d~na o~the signifi~, therefore, ~tis_ n.otEossi~!e_t~p~n~own t ...: , ) ) f~~z}/.Jdivldmg hnes oetw:en ~xce~and l~~',~0,:npensatlOn ana corruptlon. The iJ-Xf

doubleness of the word


the text's signifyingpossi6i iti;s

beyond what could reasonably be attributed to Rousseau's conscious in~en: '1\~ tions. Deirlcla'sreading shows how Rousseau's text functions against its -tt, '\v'JI own explicit (metaphysical) asserti0!1s, !10tjust by creating ambigl!!ty, b_~.!' ~ . by in~ribing k systematic "othe~ message" behind or through what is being
1:-~ _..-"~ . '



'\:l (.w u..~ \"( Y- J


..:. ( .<.

III. Deconstruction

'\ f>' ",' . ~.t . jM A

Let us now examine more closely the strategies and assumptions involved in this type of critical reading. It is clear that Derrida is not seeking the "meaning" of Rousseau's text in any traditional sense. Be neither adds the text up into a final set of themes or affirmations nor looks for the reality of Rousseau's life outside the text. Indeed, says Derrida,,,there is no outside of the text:




There is nothing outside of the text (il n'y a pas de hors-texte}. And that is neither becauseJean-Jacques' life, ar the existence afMama at Therese themselves, is nat af prime interest to us, nar because we have access to. their sa-called "real" existence anly in the text and we have neither any means af altering this, nar any right to neglect this limitatian. All reasans af this type wauld already be sufficient, to. be sure, but there are mare radical reasans. What we have tried to shaw by fallawing the guiding line af the "dangeraus supplement," is that in what ane calls the real life af these existences "af flesh and bane," beyand and behind what ane believes can be circumscribed as Rausseau's text, there has never been anything but writing; there have never been anything but supplements, substitutive significatians which cauld anly come farth in a chain af differential references, the "real" supervening, and being added anly while taking an meaning from a trace and from an invacatian af the supplement, ete. And thus to. infinity, far we have read, in the text, that the absalute present, Nature, that which wards like "real mather" name, have always already escaped, have never existed; that what apens meaning and language is writing as the disappearance af natural presence. (Pp. 158-59; emphasis in ariginal)

Far fram being a simple warning against the biagraphical ar referential fallacy, il n'y a pas de hors-texte is a statement derived fram Rausseau's autabiagraphy itself. .For what Rausseau's text tells us is that aur very

V, 't~'


~;~i: Q -~'5~~:aJjfLQ.f.IiJe::iQH,~au's"!1fi~~cn
~\"t'"" \\

~~lat~a..n~:~~e:l(~y"al~~ fu..~:ti~~,~~~~~~T~.?~,s~e~il'racc6lliit a~.?ls t life IS nat anly {tself-a'text, but It Isa text tnat speaks anly abaut the



t~2~-~'~e;;t thraugh his ~r~g:~~~s :lready.was an~_!i.?!hip~.,_.ind~~d,~.::~ne said to be not.~ t~~.::.b Dern<ta~~aelfdmg'l5f'"Rausseau autobIOgraphy thus propases a decans
af its lagacentric claims andmetap~ysical assumpti?,ns. ~;;~nstructIOn ISnat a farm af textual vandalism deSigned to. prove that meanIng _ """r.~o:>~.t'~w.....,

t~Xl: y~~struct~an':


j,f y , y

11'./ .. \;./

\js im ~C!~Tn~:...:~ewo~d. '~~::.:5?ns!E.~tiOri".:':.~_~:,~":ty~?l.~~~~ly is~~:1frel~ted n~:_:a th~~~s.t~u~~ian" ,~l;l.~!~t.~e,wa~9. "apalysis, '.:,

~~~.:.'!~.~~':-a virtua}__ y~9,!}yrn "tq de_-cangr~ss." The decan~ for structian af a text daes nat praceed by rand am daubt ar generalized skepticism, P..Y.t& S~eret~.~.~~jEg aUJ.oLwarring forc.es_C2f significatian
_'!JlJ.!!:..i!:.!..he itself. text
"""'fu., ib\l~~"f!*W

Jf ~nythip.g is des~r?ye~in a decanstructiv~ reading';Tf is nat J!,1~aningD'uCthe claim to. unequivacal daminatian aCane" ma~ .Jiignifyi~g (;veranother: Tfiis, of caurse;' implies that a text signifies'i~are ~':,{%~ than ane way, and to varying degrees af explicitness. Sametimes the'~n~y is produced, as here, by a <:la~bl~~eclged "".ard,which servesasa .hinge th~t-both';;:rdcui;'tes and breaks apen the explicit state~eiJ.i:-belng


"'l:i.~- ,.y",.->,.~ .;,.,,,,._ ~l...,..




:nade. Sometimes it is engendered when the figurative level of a statement srarting point of an argument is based o~ presuppositions that render its is~i1~:~ith:~he iite;;;Ik~~r~~~-som~~i.m~s '-it~c.curs ~j~~n .the so-called -6i:lc1u-sionsproblematic -or' ~ircul~~. '.' -,~"." DerriJa~4~.fiJ.l..his rel.di;g ,~g,'! iQltows.: '. ------~.,,> ~

.lul \ \

The reading must always aim at a certain relationship, ~'ofili~-p~t<ternsof thctfa~guage

rh"~-;-rlter:-Detween-wh;th~'2~;;~~~ds 'a"rid';;hath~ J~ t1"ot7;


unperceived by



that he ~s~s,"This ;el;tio~~hip' is '*vtL,; "':

"'If .,.






n~,,iQ,~llJln!~t"ative_dis~"r.i~ution~o( s~.?;d9}vaQ~IlighS. <rt" ~:k~ nes: .?.t. ":>~ ~'""b.<~",?lgpif~-s,vuc~u,r:s;'~26.4;;;cr,it6cf;1~ .. ~ Gt~l shOullil p'roaucU(p- 158; emphasis in original) ~.. "
'~_._ ,....,.;,JilN'..i '. 1, ,'~ "c )

t .,,~~; '\
_ k:,

~i f




weaknes~es words, the deconstructive reading does not point out the flaws or (!~ (X" In other or stupi~ities of an author, bu~,:::;~z::i:.h w~~:~,.:'~,?': \, does ~~..]c.Ys~~ill.alio~a.Jly~~~j-tq~~\}!..ll~~,!~E~~t.,-~~$ .. ',' ~ It can thus be seen that deconstruction is aform oLwhat has long been call;J;;;;;;~=A'~'ri tiq';;~~f~ny'~h;;~;;i~";i'~;~'~;;"i~~'~~~;;T;at'i~~'~f tr.'''~~'.i res flaws or imperfections. It is not a set of criticisms designed to make the ;ystem better,. It is an analy;;ili~7~)(~~~~~~
.. ,.\,r'n.JJ''''''''!>i.PSI;;, -. ~ .-...

U jf ",
\\ \~ \


s, self-evl ent, or UnIversal, f'~;\,~~ oraer ;:r~.'t~~. In to show that these thIngs have ~~ :~.,;lf."'".-.,,"'_,.....;:~:y,:b}
"'-<!l'l:;;;'I"." .~~ ~~~

- elr lstory, t crit1q~~ for emg the way ~b~ are,_thelt effectson.what ??SSiDllity. .hee1r reasons readS~D~~~~r~:,!~~~, ~~~~s. nat):r~l:~<?1?;;'" saId to-havewritten.-a critique ofrhe Ptolen';,eic conception of the universe. Bur the idea that the earth goes around the sun is not an improvement of the .dea that the sun goes around the earth. It is a shift in perspective which ""rerally makes the ground m~ved! is a deconstruction of the validity of the ommonsense perception of the obviouNn the same way, Marx's critique o political economy is not an improve~nt in it bur a demonstration that :he theory which starts with the commodity as the basic unit of economy is labor. Every theory starts Lind to what produces the commodity-namely, somewhere; every critique exposes what that starting point conceals, an - ereby displaces all the ideas thatf6Tlowfrom it The enriquedoes nof ask"what does'tnis statement mean?' 6lit were IS:it ~ing made from? What coes ~~? Are its presuppositions compat15IeWitH, Inoepellilent 1 and anterio~ to the statement t at seems tofo low from tfienl,'or aothey - eady follo-;;'trom It," contrachctlt, or stand in--a-felationofIillitual 'epende~~tharne1ther can eXIst without positing that the orh(;r is ri~ t;-it?"----.. ~--~-------_.--

:~I~~f;~~;~?~?]~;y:bt~~~t:-~l~~~~~~; 10\





In its elaboration of a critique of the metaphysical forces that strucrure and smother differance in every text, a deconstructive reading thus assumes: 1. That the rhetoric of an assertion is not necessarily compatible with its explicit meani~-~ - ~- 2. That this incompatibility can be read as systematic and significant as

3. That an inquiry that attempts to study an object by means of that very object is open to certain analyzable aberrations (this pertains to virtually all important investigations: the self analyzing itself, man studying man, thought thinking about thought, language speaking about language, etc.). 4. That certain levels of any rigorous text will engender a systematic double mark of the insistent but invisible contradiction or differance (the ~repression of) which is necessary for and in the text's very elaboration. ( But if the traditional logic of meaning as an unequivocal structure of mastery is Western metaphysics, the deconstruction of metaphysics cannot

I I simply combat logocentric meaning by that is "truer"~than presence. It can \ Differance is not a "concept" or "idea" opposing some other meaning to it. only be a process of textual work, a strategy of writing.

IV. Derrida's Styles

Early in "The Double Session," in the course of a discussion of the possible Hegelian or Platonic overtones of the word "Idea" in Mallarme's writing, we read the following warning: But a reading here shouJd no longer be carried out as a simple table of concepts or words, as a static or statistical sort of punctuation. One must reconstitute a chain in motion, the effects of a network and the play of a syntax. (P. 194) This warning applies equally well to Derrida's own writing, in which it is all too tempting to focus on certain "key" terms and to compile them into a static lexicon: supplement, differance, pharmakon, hymen, etc. Because Derrida's text i~onstructed as a moving chain or network,_it constantly f~es the desire to "get to the poi~t" (see the remarks on t~'s uj)OlltS"i~ "The Double Session"). In accord~ce with' its dion~t~ Ef than its fuifi~~en~:~~~fuJing to stop an totalize itself,-o; d~rig~OOilli y ~\~smnmary Some of the mechanisms onnis mimes the movement of desire rather meaning, Derrida'swriting feInt. signifying frustration include: yn ax. ~id~g~mar' ISotten "unspeakable"-i.e.-,-it conforms to the laws of writing but not necessarily to the cadences of speech. Ambiguity is rampant. Parentheses go on for pages. A sentence beginning ~~_. ~~ .~




on p. 319 does not end until p. 323, having embraced two pages of Un Coup de des and a long quotation from Robert Greer Cohn. Punctuation arrests without necessarily clarifying. ' 2. Allusions. The pluralization of writing's references and voices often entails ttre-rrmbilizario1f"t1f nrTIrnl?d-SlJutcesinda(\(:I'r'eSsees~'-1\ll referenc-es tol:asftation:1acK, ta ~lng'trut , ancrIetterso-or reaching their dest~ion, for example, are part of Derrida's ongoing critique of the writings of Jacques Lacan. 3. Fading in and out. The beginnings and endings of these essays are often the most mystifying parts. Sometimes, as in the description of Plato working after hours in his pharmacy, they ate also cryptically literary, almost lyrical. It is as though the borderlines of the text had to be made to bear the mark 0' t e SI' ence=-an t e pat o;::::thatf~Seyond'lts-fringes:as ;vP....... ,... .. ~~.;",.




i'ftl1e'1eXthad first!2~~or~!.ctivelY~1~~.t it~elUrom ~ toward whishit stiIL.aspir,es. 4'. 7;;[~ltiple coherences.The unit of coherence here is not necessarily the sentence, the word, the paragraph, or even the essay. Different threads of Dissemination are woven together through the bindings of grammar (the future perfect), "theme" (stones, columns, folds, caves, beds, textiles, seeds, ete.), letters (or, d, i), anagrammatical plays (graft/graph, semen! semantics, litllire), ete. 5. Nonbinary logic. In its deconstruction of the either/or logic of noncontradiction that underlies Western metaphysics, Derrida's writing attempts to elaborate an "other" logie. As he puts it in Positions: It has been necessary to analyze, to set to work, within the text of the history of philosophy, as well as within the so-called literary text ... certain marks ... that by analogy ... I have called undecidables, that is, unities of simulacrum, "false" verbal properties (nominal or semantic) that can no longer be included within philosophical (binary) opposition, resisting and disorganizing it, without ever constituting a third term, without ever leaving room for a solution in the form of speculative dialectics (the pharmakon is neither remedy nor poison, neither good nor evil, neither the inside nor the outside, neither speech nor writing; the supplement is neither a plus nor a minus, neither an outside nor the complement of an inside, neither accident nor essence, ete.; the hymen is neither confusion nor distinction, neither identity nor difference, neither consummation nor virginity, neither the veil nor the unveiling, neither the inside nor the outside, ete. ... Neither/nor, that is, simultaneously either/or .... )3
3. Positions, trans, Alan Bass (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981), pp. 42-43.




Because Derrida's wri ting functions according to this type of" other" logic, it is not surprising that it does not entirely conform to traditional binary notions of "clarity."

V. Translation
To translate an author so excruciatingly aware of the minutest linguistic differance is an exercise in violent approximation. On the one hand, one must try to find an English equivalent not only for what Derrida says but also for the way in which his text differs from its own statements and from standard French usage. But on the other hand, these microstructural differances cannot be privileged at the expense of the text's power to intervene in the history of philosophy and criticism. Nonetheless, since Derrida's most striking intervention is precisely his way of reworking writing, I have generally tried to align my English with Derrida's disseminative infidelity to French rather than reduce his French to the statement of a thought about dissemination. Hence, every weapon available--from Latin to neologisms to American slang-has been mobilized to keep the juggling-puns in the air. The normal English equivalent ofn'avoir rien a voir avec, for instance, is "to have nothing to do with." But since the literal meaning of the expression is "to have nothing to see with," Derrida sometimes uses it in the context of a discussion of "seeing. " It was therefore necessary to resort to the colloquial use of "a damn sight" (meaning "a bit") and to translate L'icriture ... n' a rien a y voir. Elle a plutot a (s')y aveugler as "Writing ... hasn't a damn sight to do with it. It has rather a blindness to do with it" (p. 135). Or again medusee par ses propres signes literally means "mesmerized by its own signs," but the word medusee, referring as it does to the Medusa, also implies "being turned to stone." Hence, the (doubtless related) contemporary sense of "getting stoned" has been called upon in rendering medusee par sespropres signes as "letting itself get stoned by its own avec means "to associate signs" (p. 105). Or yet again, the expressionjrayer with," but jrayer alone means "to blaze a trail." Hence un texte ... avec lequel il jaut jrayer becomes "a text one must make tracks with" (p. 270). Syntax has been the greatest stumbling block. The "in fact" included in "nothing was any more, in fact, real" (p. 43), for example, has as its sole function the creation of ambiguity in the "any more" (which becomes both quantitative and temporal). In Mallarme's Mimique, the comma after qui Ie lit serves to problematize the antecedent of qui. Hence, Ie role, qui Ie lit, tout de suite comprend can mean either "the role, whoever reads it instantly understands" or "the role, which reads him, instantly includes." I have attempted to render the ambiguity by translating this as "the role, the one that reads, will instantly comprehend."




Some justification may be in order regarding my rendering of the title of the opening essay of the book ("Hors livre, prefaces") as "Outwork, Hors d.'reuvre, Extratext, Foreplay, Bookend, Facing, Prefacing" (see p. 1). ~ince no perfect equivalent presented itself, and since that essay, in its omplex way of questioning the relations between "prefaces" and "books," is particularly difficult to follow, it seemed to me useful to conjugate out some of the ramifications of this "title" and to open Dissemination with a .,and of miniaturized version of its strange textual logic. Many of the word plays, alas, have been lost. While fils (threads) is :ypographically identical to fils (sons), "threads" does not sound anything"sons" (the closest I could get was "filial filaments" {po84}). Yet it has :>eeninteresting to discover that, while many of these word plays were 2isappearing, others, just as pervasive, through a strange sort of sympa:betic ink, kept appearing. One might almost believe, for instance, that, .ith its recurring emphasis on weaving and seeding, Dissemination had been ';l;'aitingall along for the English homonymy between "sow" and "sew" to surface. There is one passage in the book that I have been sorely tempted not to Ide: it is a letter written by Philippe Sollers to Derrida between the two ves of the "Double Session." The letter plays on Mallarme's Mimique, -hose text it transforms by twisting its graphic and phonic signifiers in __ch a way as to reveal surprising associations and unexpected intersections T' th the text of "The Double Session" into which it is inserted. To translate - llers' letter, one must find an equivalent not for its words but for its -dation to Mallarme's Mimique. Hence, the translation is a fourfold process -: transformation: the English version of the letter must relate to the -=nglish version of Mimique as the French version of the letter relates to the r rench version of Mimique, but at the same time the transformations wrought ~ the English version of the letter must produce results analogous to those _ uced in the French. "Meaning" here thus functions not as a primary ; :us but as a constraint on the translation of textual differance. This fourfold system of relations is, indeed, paradigmatic of the difficul~ - involved in translating the whole of Dissemination. Just as Sollers' letter ~n>duces and reworks Mallarme's Mimique, so Derrida's writing both ~? oys and subverts the standard usage of French. In both cases, it is the ~- ~ormational work rather tha the "ideas" in ......,..,arion. In addition, the word "translate" figures prominently within _~me's text, just as the problematics of translation pervade all of _~ci.a's writings. I therefore here offer the following parallel texts in lieu ';. - eory of translation (see pp. xx-xxiii).