In the reading given here, also from Not Saussure, Tallis considers the significance of Derrida, who, like Lacan sought to undermine the possibility of determinate meaning by emphasising the play of the signifier, arguing that meaning was based not only on differences (as in Saussure’s account of the language system) but also on deferral. Every signified may turn into a signifier, so that no closure of meaning is possible — there is no transcendental or final signified. Signification, founded on differences and constantly undermined by deferral, is an effect of différance, the inescapable lack conditioning the self-differing of language from itself. As Tallis notes, what all this comes to is the idea that verbal meaning — and hence speech-acts and speaking subjects as much as written texts — is shot through with non-presence. I cannot be present in what I say since meaning is inseparable from absence. If what I am is somehow dependent on the signifier ‘I’ — and, according to the theory of the mirror stage, it must be — then my very being is like a maggot wriggling on the hook of différance. The word that names me, and gives me my place in the social and symbolic order, also murders me: it annihilates me in the uniqueness of my presence and alienates me from myself in the self-division and otherness that make language what it is. For Derrida, it would seem, the only kind of self-presence that would overcome so catastrophic a fall from the origin, an origin where the self was fully coincident with itself, would require the shedding of localised bodily being. Only through the replacement of the particular by the general could one achieve such a coincidence of one’s being with consciousness and meaning. And yet, of course, this project is an impossible one. On this showing, Derrida has constructed a metaphysics of disappointment and tragic loss. The elusiveness of the self and the unattainability of the present moment at once oppress him and provide the mainspring for his thought.
KeywordsOxford English Dictionary External Reality Symbolic Order Linguistic Sign Mirror Stage
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