What If Derrida Was Wrong about Saussure?

What If Derrida Was Wrong about Saussure?

What If Derrida Was Wrong about Saussure?

What If Derrida Was Wrong about Saussure?

Synopsis

Over the past 100 years there has been no more important reading of Saussurean linguistics than that of Jacques Derrida. This book is the first comprehensive analysis on the importance of that reading and what it means for cultural studies, philosophy, linguistics and literary theory today.

The main themes of the text include the originality of Saussure within the history of Western metaphysics, the relationship between speech and writing, and the intervention of time in structuralism.

Excerpt

On 21 October 1966, Jacques Derrida presented ‘Structure, Sign, and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences’ to the International Colloquium on Critical Languages and the Sciences of Man, at Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore. According to its organisers, the conference ‘sought to explore the impact of contemporary “structuralist” thought on critical methods in humanistic and social studies’ (Macksey and Donato 1972a: xv), and was ‘the first time in the United States that structuralist thought had been considered as a cross-disciplinary phenomenon’ (xvi). the invited speakers were drawn from the fields of ‘anthropology, classical studies, comparative literature, linguistics, literary criticism, history, philosophy, psychoanalysis, semiology, and sociology’ (xvii); among them were Jacques Lacan, Roland Barthes, Tzvetan Todorov, and René Girard. the ambition of the conference was to identify the basic problems of the structuralist approach, such as ‘the status of the subject’, ‘the general theory of signs and language systems’, and ‘synchronic (vs.) diachronic descriptions’, with a view to determining ‘the prospects for interdisciplinary co-operation’ (xvi). in brief, the event was scripted as the launch of French structuralism in America.

By the time Richard Macksey had made his ‘Concluding Remarks’ to the conference, however, there was already a sense of uncertainty about structuralism’s future; a future that had seemed so assured only four days before. in particular, Macksey observed that: ‘The sessions have allowed us … to investigate contending interpretative models, and to consider such radical reappraisals of our assumptions as that advanced by M. Derrida on this final day’ (Macksey 1972: 320). By 1971, with the publication of the English translations of the conference papers, the tone of engagement with structuralism had changed completely. Macksey and Donato were already able to casually assert that: ‘The ancestral priority of Saussure’s diacritical example and the insistent logocentricity of the initial structuralist enterprises hardly require comment’ (Macksey and Donato 1972b: xi). Ironically, perhaps, Derrida’s theme in his paper to the conference was the ‘event’ of structuralism: the moment when the ‘structurality’ of structure begins to be thought (SS&P: 280). the force of Derrida’s 1966 paper was such that it simultaneously . . .

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