Back to: Literary Theory in English Literature
In structuralism one sees commentaries on the structure from various seminal theorists trying to unveil what lies in, behind and around the structure, but Derrida deconstructs the fundamental assumption that these theorists make to unravel the unknown and his methodology would later become a significant critical theory called ‘deconstruction,’ that has influenced disciplines all around.
In 1966, at John Hopkins University, USA, Jacques Derrida stood up to read his paper, entitled: “Structure, Sign and Play in the Discourse of Human Sciences.”
In this paper, Derrida argues when one attempts to analyze a structure, a universal ‘center’ is assumed which guides that structure, but that center is not analyzed and in order to analyze that center, another center would need to be assumed; hence, as it is believed in ‘logocentricism,’ a universal center doesn’t exist.
Logocentricism doesn’t only assume a center but also, as Derrida argues, prefers speech over writing and this act is called ‘phonocentrism.’ Derrida is also critical of phonocentrism and to prove its shortcomings he draws our attention to a concept that expose the ambiguity of ‘sign.’
He shows us that through a French word, ‘différance’: it only in written text that we realize ‘a’ that differs this word from difference for one cannot hear the ‘a’ in speech.
In other words, the two different meaning of the words can only be understood in writing; otherwise ‘différance’ which mans to defer would also mean differ in speech. This ignoring of the ‘différance’ is done due to ‘phonocentrism’, Derrida argues.
Another term introduced to us by Derrida is ‘violent hierarchy,’ which means the hierarchizing of ‘speech’ over ‘writing.’ The reasons given for this stand are: speech is original, that is to say, speech is closer to the origin than writing; speech has idea of ‘presence’ associated with it while writing can be done without it; speech disappears in the air but writing remains available for interpretation and reinterpretation which is also done writing.
Again, this hierarchy is also not permanent or absolute for, as Derrida believes, it can also be undone by ‘deconstruction.’
The speech-writing binary can also be extended to that of philosophy and literature. Philosophers have mostly considered literature a mere piece of fiction coupled with various figure of speeches such as rhetoric and others; however, philosophy is also written using various figure of speeches and it also contains philosophical elements.
At this point, one learns how can these binary can be deconstructed but Derrida wants us not to end up creating another binary such as, let’s say: turning speech-writing to writing –speech or philosophy-literature to literature-philosophy.