Jacques Derrida’s Of Grammatology (1967)


An important means of entry into Of Grammatology is through Spivak’s “Translator’s Preface” where Spivak asserts that Heidegger describes Nietzsche as the last metaphysician of the West. To be sure, Spivak is drawing a lineage from Heidegger to Nietzsche, with Heidegger becoming the next generation metaphysician following Nietzsche—something that is of particular importance when considering that Heidegger, as Spivak rightly argues, is a “philosopher of that special nostalgia for the original word” (xxxiii). Here, it is with the original word, or so to speak, that Heidegger is situated between Derrida and Nietzsche and, thusly, the possibility of concluding that Derrida is also a metaphysician. Such a claim holds true not only with Heidegger’s critique of Nietzsche’s asking the question of being without questioning the questioning itself, but with Derrida’s treatment of Heidegger that ultimately seeks to further destroy Heidegger’s destruction of metaphysics. If remaining faithful to the “destruction” that Derrida seeks, labeling him a metaphysician will prove just as problematic as describing his task and method in Of Grammatology as overwhelmingly the destruction of metaphysics.

It is at this point of entry that we find Derrida’s “special nostalgia for the original word” based on a different extrapolation of what the “original word” is. Clearly, Derrida’s “original word” is at the very core of his determination of being and, as a result, critical to how he wishes to destroy metaphysics further than Heidegger, or even Nietzsche, for that matter. Like Heidegger, Derrida finds inherent and fundamental problems in the western intellectual tradition as it pertains to the history of being. But, the key move that Derrida makes—a move that is situated from an epistemological space, or gap in Heideggerian thought—is against binary oppositions that are set up between speech and writing. In a Heideggerian manner reminiscent of Being and Time, Derrida picks Plato and the philosophical tradition that develops from Platonic thought as a necessary beginning point that can be carried forward to the linguistic work of Ferdinand de Saussure. Over the course of this period, Derrida charts the history of writing centralized on the assumption that writing is considered as a derivative of speech. As a result, what arises from this assumption is the pervading notion that speech is closer to the truth than writing—that is, speech is a more accurate manifestation of meaning and representation. This notion, as such, contains an intersectionality between issues of certitude (in a Kantian sense), representation (as Foucault conceived of a classical way of knowing), and auto-affection (as certainty that comes from oneself, or as Foucault suggests, self-gratification). Whether taken collectively or individually, each is an επιστημη that, when construed through writing, turns writing into, as Derrida argues, a dangerous supplement. What makes writing “dangerous” and “supplemental” is that it is not natural, and is merely a representation of what it isn’t. Writing acts as a “sign” which Charles Peirce ascribes three references in the following manner: a sign “to” some thought which interprets it, a sign “for” some object to which in that thought it is equivalent, and a sign “in” some respect or quality, which brings it into connection with its object.[1] This becomes an important backdrop to Spivak’s assertion that “‘writing’ so envisaged is on the brink of becoming a unique signifier, and Jacques Derrida’s chief care” (lxxx). But, more importantly, when considering Peirce and, then Saussure’s work with the “sign” through linguistic structuralism, Derrida offers Saussure’s sentiment that “language and writing are two distinct systems of signs; the second exists for the sole purpose of representing the first” (30). With special emphasis added to “exists for the sole purpose of representing,” Derrida is chiefly concerned with the relationship between language and writing, situating that relatedness or connectedness by way of writing in the narrow sense (after speech) and writing in the general sense (before speech). By considering writing as two distinct systems of speech, the former is the dangerous supplement, since it contains irreconcilable contradictions, and hidden “there-ness.”

[1] Charles S. Peirce, “Some Consequences of Four Incapacities” in Philosophical Writings of Peirce, Edited by Justus Buchler (Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 1955), 233.

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