Derrida Texts

Now from the moment that one considers the totality of determined signs, spoken, and a fortiori written, as unmotivated institutions, one must exclude any relationship of natural subordination, any natural hierarchy among signifiers or orders of signifiers. If "writing" signifies inscription and especially the durable institution of a sign (and that is the only irreducible kernel of the concept of writing), writing in general covers the entire field of linguistic signs. In that field a certain sort of instituted signifiers may then appear, "graphic" in the narrow and derivative sense of the word, ordered by a certain relationship with other instituted hence "written," even if they are "phonic" signifiers. [from Chapter Two, Of Grammatology, 1967]


If the trace, arche-phenomenon of "memory," which must be thought before the opposition of nature and culture, animality and humanity, etc., belongs to the very movement of signification, then signification is a priori written, whether inscribed or not, in one form or another, in a "sensible" and "spatial" element that is called "exterior." Arche-writing, at first the possibility of the spoken word, then of the "graphie" in the narrow sense, the birthplace of "usurpation," denounced from Plato to Saussure, this trace is the opening of the first exteriority in general, the enigmatic relationship of the living to its other and of an inside to an outside: spacing. The outside, "spatial" and "objective" exteriority which we believe we know as the most familiar thing in the world, as familiarity itself, would not appear without the grammé, without difference as temporalisation, without the non-presence of the other inscribed within the sense of the present, without the relationship with death as the concrete structure of the living present. Metaphor would be forbidden. The presence-absence of the trace, which one should not even call its ambiguity but rather its play, carries in itself the problems of the letter and the spirit, of body and soul, and of all the problems whose primary affinity I have recalled. All dualisms, all theories of the immortality of the soul or of the spirit, as well as all monisms, spiritualist or materialist, dialectical or vulgar, are the unique theme of a metaphysics whose entire history was compelled to strive toward the reduction of the trace. [from Chapter Two, Of Grammatology, 1967]


In assigning limits to universal, that is mute writing, writing not bound to the voice and to natural languages, in assigning limits to the function of the mathematical symbolism and calculus, considered as the work of the formal understanding, Hegel wishes to show that such a reduction of speech would interrupt the movement of Aufhebung, which is the movement of idealisation, of the history of mind and the reappropriation of logos in the presence to itself and infinite parousia. What is most written, most spaced, least vocal and internal in writing is what resists dialectics and history. We then cannot question the Hegelian concept of writing without questioning the whole history of metaphysics. [from Speech & Writing According to Hegel, 1993]


In other words, as soon as there is production, there is fetishism: idealisation, autonomisation and automatisation, dematerialisation and spectral incorporation, mourning work coextensive with all work, and so forth. Marx believes he must limit this co-extensivity to commodity production. In our view, this is a gesture of exorcism, which we spoke of earlier and regarding which we leave here once again our question suspended. [from Specters of Marx,1994, p166]


The "mystical character" of the commodity is inscribed before being inscribed, traced before being written out letter for letter on the forehead or the screen of the commodity. Everything begins before it begins. Marx wants to know and make known where at what precise moment at what instant the ghost comes on stage, and this is a manner of exorcism, a way of keeping it at bay: before this limit, it was not there, it was powerless. We are suggesting on the contrary that, before the coup de théâtre of this instant, before the "as soon as it comes on stage as commodity, it changes into a sensuous supersensible thing," the ghost had made its apparition, without appearing in person, of course and by definition, but having already hollowed out in use-value, in the hard-headed wood of the headstrong table, the repetition ... without which a use could never even be determined. ...

Since any use-value is marked by this possibility of being used by the other or being used another time, this alterity or iterability projects it a priori onto the market of equivalences (which are always equivalences between non-equivalents, of course, and which suppose the double socius we were talking about above). In its originary iterability, a use-value is in advance promised, promised to exchange and beyond exchange. It is in advance thrown onto the market of equivalences. This is not simply a bad thing, even if the use-value is always at risk of losing its soul in the commodity. ... But one must say that if the commodity corrupts (art, philosophy, religion, morality, law, when their works become market values), it is because the becoming-commodity already attested to the value it puts in danger. For example: if a work of art can become a commodity, and if this process seems fated to occur, it is also because the commodity began by putting to work, in one way or another, the principle of an art. [from Specters of Marx, 1994, p161-2]