Academic journal article Philosophy Today

The Problem of Bedeutung in Derrida and Husserl

Academic journal article Philosophy Today

The Problem of Bedeutung in Derrida and Husserl

Article excerpt

Final Version of a Paper delivered at the 1994 Meeting of The Society for Phenomenology and Existential Philosophy

June 1996 This paper centers on Derrida's interpretation of Ideas 124, the role that interpretation plays in Speech and Phenomena, as well as Professor Evans' construal of these matters in Strategies of Deconstruction. What is initially at stake is Derrida's understanding of "language," particularly spoken language, in Husserl's work, and its relation to thought. Clarifying this topic, my discussion should in addition facilitate our understanding of the voice, its privilege, and a certain notion of phonocentrism.

The overarching aim of this talk is to respond to certain criticisms put forward by Professor Evans. In particular, Professor Evans questions: 1 ) Derrida's translation of Husserl's verb bedeuten, "to mean," with the French idiom vouloirdire, "to mean," literally "to want to say;" and 2) the interpretation of Ideas 124 which Derrida in part assumes, in part sketches, as ajustification of that translation.

My argument begins, however, in a slightly different place: not with Speech and Phenomena but with a concurrent essay by Derrida wholly devoted to Ideas 124, "Form and Meaning." A look at "Form and Meaning" will allow us to remove a major stumbling block in the way of understanding Derrida's Husserl work: namely the belief that Derrida assimilates the realm of concepts, Bedeutungen, in Husserl, to that of language. Not only Professor Evans, but Alan White and others have laid this charge: that "thought" for Husserl, according to Derrida, "essentially moves in the medium of language." As Professor Evans trenchantly puts it in the form of a denial: "not only does Husserl not reserve the power of expression and thus logicality for spoken language, but logicality is not reserved for language at all" (p. 31). Now, an investigation of"Form and Meaning" makes clear that Derrida by no means identifies logicality, Bedeutungen and bedeuten, with language, even spoken language, in the sense of wordsounds, wordshapes, or even what Professor Evans calls "linguistic expression." Near the beginning of this essay Derrida is discussing the distinction Sinn/Bedeutung and how Husserl's usage relates to Frege's. This is the very same passage of Ideas 124 that will be in question in Professor Evans' discussion of the opening pages of Speech and Phenomena. Derrida, here, in "Form and Meaning," noting that Husserl "finds it convenient to reserve the bedeuten-Bedeutung terms for the order of expressive meaning, for speech in the strict sense" is careful to add a footnote defining what this last phrase means. "It goes without saying that, by speech in `the strict sense,' we do not understand the effectively and physically uttered speech, but following Husserl's intentions, the animation of a verbal expression by a meaning, by an intention,' that, without thereby being essentially affected, can remain physically silent" (p. 114).

And lest this passage still seem to some too equivocal, we will return to it in a moment, let me quote the following one a few pages later. "Production and revelation are unified in the impression-expression proper to speech. And since what Husserl is considering here is not the verbal order, with all its interwoven (physical and intentional) complexity, but the still silent meaning-intention" (p.117).

Here it should be abundantly clear that Derrida by no means fails to distinguish between bedeuten, the still silent meaning intention and the verbal order, which here is put aside not only in its physical but even in its specifically intentional component (I take this last to mean the act whereby speech specifically comes to be infused with meanings, with Bedeutungen). Indeed the entire problem that "Form and Meaning" investigates is the relation of meaning, the order of concepts, to a supposedly pre-expressive sphere of sense. This whole discussion would be impossible if Derrida failed to recognize the specificity ofthe concept beyond that of actually spoken language or actually existing historical language. …

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