Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

Crossings: An Interview with Rodolphe Gasche

Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

Crossings: An Interview with Rodolphe Gasche

Article excerpt

This conversation with Rodolphe Gasche--a keynote speaker at Mosaic's 2006 Following Derrida: Legacies conference--evolved over several months. Mosaic is pleased to publish this interview, which originally appeared in Mosaic 41.4 (December 2008).

DM Recently, I have been re-reading Jacques Derrida's Of Grammatology. It is astonishing to think that Derrida published this in 1967, along with two other major books of that year, that, at so early a stage, he could anticipate what would prove to be his life-work, that he could analyze metaphysics in a way it had not been analyzed before. It is difficult to cut into the book and extract a statement from it, but I will try to do just that, citing from the section where Derrida reads texts on linguistics that were written by Ferdinand de Saussure. In these pages, Derrida attempts to detach his notion of the "trace" from the classical concept of the "sign" and from Saussure's privileging of the "natural bond" between sound and idea. To think the trace, Derrida says, to free such thinking of the metaphysical desire for a pure signified, "one must begin from the possibility of neutralizing the phonic substance."

Taking this proposed beginning as our point of departure here, I wonder if you might tell Mosaic readers at which stage you were in your own work when Of Grammatology reached you? In particular, how did you receive Derrida's major contention that metaphysics represents a powerful desire for a "living speech" that is unbreached by difference? It seems to me that while many readers of Derrida regularly acknowledge his challenge to the speech/writing hierarchy, not as many contend with the role of "sound" in his work, with the "acoustical plenitude" that he analyzes in the tradition of metaphysics. Do you agree? Has Derrida's deconstruction of the accord between sound, the voice, and sense changed your own work in a fundamental way?

RG On one occasion at least, and with some amusement, Derrida pointed out to me that the book, Of Grammatology, that made him famous was, unlike the Introduction to Husserl's Origin of Geometry and, in particular, Speech and Phenomena, a work patched together of two unrelated pieces: on the one hand, a reworked review article on several important books on writing that had just been published, and which appeared in Critique in 1965 and 1966 under the title "De la Grammatologie"; and, on the other hand, his lectures during this same academic year at the Ecole normale superieure (ENS) on Rousseau, that is, on a subject that was not one of his own choice, but which was determined by the fact that Rousseau, that very year, was on the program of the "aggregation," and which it was thus his duty to teach in order to prepare the normaliens for this competitive examination for the recruitment of high school teachers and university professors. If Of Grammatology became something like an instant hit (especially after Gayatri Spivak's translation), it was in particular because of the section you refer to, which takes issue with the tenets of metaphysics by way of a radical analysis of the pilot science at the time--namely, structural linguistics and semiology--from which the human sciences (Levi-Straussian anthropology and literary criticism, for example) took their methodologies and scientific orientation. Of Grammatology takes issue, that is, with what in linguistics and in the theory of signs is both radically promising and deeply traditional. If I mentioned Derrida's remark about the book, it was in order to point out that, from the beginning, his thought, his analysis of metaphysics, was not a function of some privileged subject matter or authors. Linguistics and semiology were at that time en vogue, and one could not not take issue with them; the author, Rousseau, was dictated as an examination subject by the committee of the aggregation. If Of Grammatology anticipates, as you point out, Derrida's life-work, it is, I would say, because the critique of metaphysics that is programmatically sketched out in the first section of this work transcends from the beginning the particular domains of linguistics and semiology. …

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