“A book, even a fragmentary one, has a center which attracts it. This center is not fixed, but is displaced by the pressure of the book and circumstances of its composition. Yet it is also a fixed center which, if it is genuine, displaces itself, while remaining the same and becoming always more central, more hidden, more uncertain and more imperious. He who writes the book writes it out of desire for this center and out of ignorance. The feeling of having touched it can very well be only the illusion of having reached it. When the book in question is one whose purpose is to elucidate, there is a kind of methodological good faith in stating toward what point it seems to be directed: here, toward the pages entitled ‘Orpheus’ Gaze.”
—Maurice Blanchot, The Space of Literature.
This is a revised version of my essay that I wrote on Jacques Derrida’s key text, Voice and Phenomenon (1967). It is the same essay that I used as sample writing for my 2019 graduate school applications. In general, this essay received many positive feedback from professors in English and Philosophy departments, particularly in regards to its complexity, rigor, and clarity. One professor even told me that most graduate students don’t know Derrida the way I do (I am sure this is not true, but I was flattered).
Since I always enjoyed doing research on the human condition as a “hobby”, I might as well try and get a degree for it. But my attempts at getting into grad school was not easy. This is because I am applying for a graduate academic degree with my non-academic bachelors of design. Most graduate programs are very competitive, where I am competing with everyone who has an academic background and a GPA that is most likely higher than mine (though grades aren’t everything). I had to make up for this with my sample writing, letter of intent, and reference letters. Thus, the purpose of this essay was not only to demonstrate my writing abilities, but my Derridean savviness which were all self-taught (I have been studying Derrida for the past 4-5 years). Against these odds, I am happy to tell you that I got accepted to do my masters degree. I was also offered funding (which will fully fund my masters) in the condition that I write my thesis / research paper on Derrida and psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan, which I anticipate will be very difficult.
Mistakes and Clarifications
This essay was written in Chicago style where the endnotes are actually footnotes in the real version. There are a few mistakes in this essay that needs correction. For example, I did not address how Derrida translates the German word “Bedeuten” into “Bedeutung” (thanks to the prof who pointed this out). Derrida translates bedeuten into the French idiom “vouloir-dire” which translates into English as “want to say” or “to mean”. Derrida does not translate bedeutung in his works because (I think) he is trying to show how bedeutung is actually a bedeuten—a “want to say”, where the problem of intentionality via the transcendental arises. I also did not address why indication “points”. Derrida refers to this pointing as “the point of the finger”, which is entangled as an expression.
My use of the word “soul” is not as superstitious as most readers think. The term is complex with a history that crosses over to Heidegger and other philosophers like Aristotle (i.e. soul in relation to the body in metaphysics). I also did not explain protention and retention that well. When I speak of the word “now” (i.e. the “newness of now”), I am referring to protention. There are also several wordy sentences that needs to be rewritten.
Unfortunately, I currently don’t have time fix any of these errors and will leave them intact until I work out a better version. Regardless, you will get a taste of a more sophisticated, difficult, and a less diluted form of my introductory post on Derrida. This essay focuses on a Kantian reading of Derrida which excludes Heidegger, who is central to Derridean thought (I was limited to 10 pages). I also gave my essay a lame title due to it being a sample writing.
A Close Reading on Jacques Derrida’s Voice and Phenomenon
In 20th century, French philosopher Jacques Derrida came to a radical conclusion that our experience of temporality divides self-reflection. Derrida achieves this by deconstructing Edmund Husserl’s phenomenology where Husserl attempts to reach the “purity of expression”. In this essay, I will address Derrida’s thoughts on how intentionality and temporality contaminate the purity of expression through Husserl’s concepts of indicative and expressive sign. To do this, I will first introduce the entanglement between indicative and expressive signs that one encounters through external communicative acts such as writing. From this, I will elaborate on how the conveying (speaker / writer) and receiving subject (auditor / reader) animates these signs through the intentionality of their internal “solitary life of the soul” which creates the issues of interpretation. Finally, I will follow Derrida on Husserl’s thoughts to isolate indication from expression only to discover that pure expression is contaminated by the consciousness of time. As we will see in the conclusion of this essay, the notion of pure expression via speech and writing will be rendered problematic before the subject expresses externally through communicative acts. This will lead us to one of the major themes of post-structural thought on “the crisis of meaning” which is found prevalent in all forms of arts and literature. To see how we arrive at such case, let us begin by extrapolating Derrida’s thoughts on Husserl’s problem of the sign.
The problem with the word “sign” is that it contains a duality of sense which can at once be indicative and expressive. An indicative sign points to something, it does not have a “Bedeutung” (we will translate this word momentarily). Since all words points to something, the best example of indicative sign is writing. Consequently, the written German word Bedeutung must point us to something other than its ideal sense. If we were to translate the indicative sign of Bedeutung which means “want-to-say”, the word will now point to such meaning which appears as the expressive sign. Simply put, the expressive sign is entangled with the indicative sign of Bedeutung, where it points to the expression of “want-to-say”. An indicative sign does not say anything, where it simply points, and an expressive sign, mixed with an indicative sign, “wants-to-say” by pointing to the unity of sense. Here, we encounter two fundamental issues. First, indicative and expressive signs are impossible to distinguish because they are entangled between the conveying and receiving subject through writing. This implies that indicative signs are external signs that exists in the world because it functions like a medium that transmits the possibility of expressive meaning from the conveyor to the receiving subject. Second, while an expression is entangled with indication, the opposite is not always true. If one writes “iekariukedjutu”, the term would still be an indication since it points to something, but without any specific expression. This is experienced in our initial encounter of Bedeutung without knowing its expressive meaning.
If the indicative sign is external, then it must be outside of our internal “solitary life of the soul”. Writing is dead and inanimate without a living soul who gives it life by animating its indicative character into an expression. When the conveying subject expresses indicatively, such sign must first be animated by their solitary life of the soul with an intention to express. This intended sign passes externally as indication (i.e. writing) which is reanimated as an expression by the receiving subject. Similarly, our body which is indicative and external to our soul, is inanimate without she who intentionally animates it from her internal soul (otherwise, our body would be dead). One expresses the self through the intention of animating the indicative sign, giving life to their body and words by turning it into external physical acts such as gestures, speech, or writing. For now, let us say that expressive signs are only possible by animating indicative signs through a certain “outside” in external discourse of the empirical world. The conveying subject expresses their phenomenological experience within their soul because they desire to express (i.e. the expression of their concept of life, philosophy, beliefs, etc.). Thus, all communication consists of two poles: (1) the conveying subject whose intention animates her body into an expressive act via gestures, speech or writing, which externally indicates to (2) the receiving subject who interprets and reanimates the conveyer’s indication with their own expressive intentions and soul. From the perspective of the conveying subject, expressions must pass from their internal solitary life of the soul outwardly into an intended external bodily expressive act. From the perspective of the receiving subject, not all indicative signs that the conveying subject expresses indicatively are expressive. It is when the receiving subject who intentionally animates such indications where we recognize the contamination of the sign through intentionality.
Let us return to our initial experience of the term Bedeutung, and the possibility of its contamination. For the receiving subject, the indicative experience of Bedeutung lies in how they don’t know its expressive meaning (they don’t know where it points). The receiving subject will intentionally animate Bedeutung without knowing its expressive meaning because they are motivated by their internal thoughts (inner monologue). By reading the word Bedeutung, the receiving subject turns the term into an ideal sense of expression—where sense wants to signify itself even if the reader does not know its expression or is not aware of the word’s historical intentions. The receiving subject’s intention will contaminate their own experience when they reanimate the indicative sign with an expressive meaning that ignores or greatly deviates from the conveying subject’s intention. Here, we are introduced with the issue of inter-subjectivity where the receiving subject is never the speaker and we can only experience the world from our own experience. Furthermore, pure expression is no longer possible when the conveying subject attempts to express their solitary life of the soul externally as indication such as Bedeutung. The animated sign that is expressed outwardly becomes corruptible through the possibilities of being misinterpreted in external communicative discourse. The impurity of expression stems from the lack of intended self-presence of the living soul which cannot be carried into indicated / expressed signs through the outside world because words are inherently dead. The receiving subject can never experience the conveying subject’s pure expression and intentions through external indications.
Let us shift towards internal discourse of communication to find the purity of expression. Husserl will devote much of his effort to untangle indication from the expressive sign to reach the “purity of expression”. He saw that, since indications are external, pure expression can only occur without it leaving our internal solitary life of the soul—namely, without it leaving our inner silent monologue. This leads to a question which carries out the rest of Derrida’s deconstruction on Husserl: if for the conveying subject, expression is only possible from animating the indicative sign as external acts, does she learn anything about herself when she silently expresses through inner monologue which never passes through the outside? In order to address this issue, Husserl will consequently add the terms “expressive referral” (Hinzeigen) and “indicative referral” (Anzeigen). Following closely to Husserl’s thoughts of finding the purity of expression, Derrida attempts to separate the indicative and expressive sign by isolating the spatial (external; empirical; indicative) from the temporal (internal; time-consciousness; inner-monologue). For Derrida, this was pursued only to discover that neither oppositions can be distinguished from each other. Within inner monologue of the conveying subject, expressive communicative acts functions as a representation of sense. The conveying subject is the receiving subject who “hears-oneself-speak”. These communicative acts that are expressed internally by the conveying subject are represented (imagined) in their minds as immediate psychical acts. Certainly, one can say that inner monologue is where we discover pure expressivity, not only because it is closest to the proximity of the soul where the speaker immediately hears-oneself-speak without distance, but because monologue constitutes subjectivity of self and consciousness as such. However, for Derrida, such monologue is contaminated by time which is distinguished through the blink of an eye. If pure expression via inner monologue is represented in our minds through the movement of time, then they must have nothing to do with primal impressions (perception and senses) which constitutes the present moment. In Husserl’s phenomenology of time consciousness, the present moment of now that is established through primal impression is only possible through the retention of this moment which had just past (the words you just read through time). Retention is not constituted by our primal impression because it is an imaginary perception. Without retention that establishes a difference with the present moment, the punctuality and newness of “now” would not be possible. Thus, inner monologue—the pure expressive self and consciousness—is contaminated by our experience of time. As a result, this turns inner monologue into non-perception (without primal impression of sense) because it has always been represented and imagined. For Husserl, the subject will imagine as if they were silently speaking to themselves, even when they have no need to do so since their perception of psychical acts and lived experiences are immediately present. Yet, by privileging such perceptions as presence, one not only forgets the effects of time, but how these perceptions and monologue are imagined representations of the present which has now past. As such, Derrida refers to language as always being “worked over by fiction”. The intended self-presence within hearing-oneself-speak stems from a represented perception which makes the establishment of presence and meaning late. This slight delay implies how the presence of this present moment is only possible through an imaginative supplement of sense which is what the present originally lacks. In order to privilege presence, one negates its inherent absence.
In the final analysis, three main ideas are presented in this essay. First, self-expression is no longer pure the moment we express outwardly—even before represented expression arises from the solitary life of the soul. To say that there is a purity of expression is to recognize how it is contaminated by the movement of time and the becoming-Other within internal discourse. This suggests that pure self consciousness is pre-constructed through something that is more originary and pre-phenomenological: a trace which constitutes the difference between “now” and its alterity of retention. By constituting consciousness through inner monologue, the temporal division of self-reflection becomes an unavoidable and originary contamination. Second, this not only shows how time contaminates the internal discourse of both conveying and receiving subject, it also reveals the main difference between Husserl and Derrida. Husserl wishes to maintain the difference between indication and expression in order to show how pure expression is possible through indicative signs that occurs within silent monologue. Derrida rejects Husserl’s compartmentalization of the two signs since the expressive sign cannot be distinguished from indication. This is recognized through Derrida’s use of “Bedeutung” as an example of indication / expression to show how the receiving subject (i.e. you, the reader) is engaged with their own animating intentions instead of the conveying subject’s. For Derrida, indicative signs are always already an expression that is influenced by time as the receiving subject engages with it. Third, the privilege of an imaginary perception as presence is where Derrida locates the notion of the supplement. This “dangerous supplement” occurs when the receiving subject substitutes their expressive intention as the conveyor’s. From the receiving subject’s point of view, the conveyor’s indicative signs are supplemented (imagined) as expressive signs, even when these indications are part of the conveyor’s animating expression that cannot be past onto the receiver through writing. In another words, the conveying subject’s intention is supplemented as if it were present, even when this imaginary intention only consists of the receiver’s inner monologue which is complicated by their own experience of temporality. Therefore, we can say that, “communication” is the failure of communication. Our attempts in transmitting pure expression through speech and writing is impossible. There is no such thing as “clear writing”.
Instead of having written signs which records a truth from our soul, signs end up producing a truth where its expressive meaning varies depending on the receiving subject’s intentions. As we noted earlier, this is where we see how intentionality plays an important role on interpreting communicative acts. But it is also here, where we recognize the issues of translation. It becomes impossible to understand the indicative word which is only expressive by being reanimated through the intention of the translator / reader. The longer time passes, the more difficult it is to reconstitute the originary intention of the conveying subject. It is at this moment where we become lost in the crisis of meaning. Although this should not always be seen as negativity, it becomes apparent that one only reads what they desire to read under a particular “sense” (modern sense, surreal sense, classical sense, etc.) through the spell of the indicative sign, where its intentions were expressed within a specific historical time. Yet, it is from these writings, where the contemporary reader reanimates dead words and rediscover a hidden intention. Through the resurrection of the external indicative sign, we recognize Derrida’s famous aporia: the absence of originary presence that is found between the conveying and receiving subject. The internal expressions as you read this text becomes the supplement of the conveying subject’s intention which has been contaminated by your experience of space and time. This is where deconstruction begins.
Derrida, Jacques. Of Grammatology. Translated by Gayatri Chakavorty Spivak. Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997.
———Margins of Philosophy. Translated by Alan Bass. University of Chicago Press, 1982.
———Voice and Phenomenon. Translated by Leonard Lawlor. Northwestern University Press, 2011.
 Jacques Derrida, Voice and Phenomenon, trans. Leonard Lawlor (Northwestern University Press, 2011), 70.
 The term “soul” implies a living entity who animates / gives life to a nonliving or inanimate object.
 Derrida, Voice and Phenomenon, 3,15.
 Ibid., 40. Indicative sign is equivalent to the Saussurean concept of “Signifier”.
 Ibid., 7-8. Derrida intentionally avoids translating Bedeutung for a reason slightly different to what I have demonstrated here. Derrida’s concerns are directed towards the “pure morphology” (the pure possibility of a meaningful discourse) of such word through grammar and logical a priori of language which Husserl privileged as the telos of “being present”. This pure morphology is also found in the word “is” within the fundamental question of philosophy: “What is being?”.
 Ibid., 40. Expressive sign is equivalent to the Saussurean term “Signified”. Bedeutung is often translated into “signification”. The reason Derrida calls it “want-to-say” is due to the problems of the receiving subject’s intentionality (yours), something which we will see later on in this essay.
 Most words carry an immediate unity of sense because we already know its expressive meaning.
 Ibid., 32.
 Ibid., 18.
 Jacques Derrida, Of Grammatology, trans. Gayatri Chakavorty Spivak (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997), 123. This is a word that was invented by Nambikwara tribe which means “act of writing” or “drawing lines”. Notice how the meaning of this word refers to external expressive acts.
 Derrida, Voice and Phenomenon, 46.
 Ibid., 32. “Everything in my discourse which is destined to manifest a lived experience to another person must pass through the mediation of the physical side.”
 Ibid., 70-74.
 Ibid., 24. “Motivation is what gives to something like a ‘thinking being’ the movement in order to pass in thought from something to something.”
 Ibid., 29.
 Ibid., 34. “If communication of manifestation is essentially indicative, it is so because the presence of the other’s lived-experience is denied to our originary intuition.”
 Ibid., “The relation to the other as non-presence is therefore the impurity of expression. In order to reduce indication in language and attain once more finally pure expressivity it is therefore necessary to suspend the relation to others. Then I would no longer have to pass through the mediation of the physical side.”
 Ibid., 41.
 Ibid., 36.
 Ibid., 48-55, 69-74. Husserl refers to the isolation of the spatial as “phenomenological reduction”. Derrida realizes how the temporal (internal) cannot be completely distinguished from the spatial (external) because the internal voice is complicated by our consciousness of time which opens up “the becoming time of space [external] and the becoming space of time [internal]” (Derrida, Of Grammatology, 68). Even after reduction, the spatial is never completely reduced because space is in time.
 This phenomenon can be experienced as one reads this text. The conveying subject internally hears herself speak as she performs external speech or written acts. Conversely, the receiving subject also hears herself speak internally as she reanimates external indicative signs from silent reading or listening.
 Ibid., 68. “The voice is consciousness”
 Ibid., 50-55, 74.
 Ibid., 55-58.
 Derrida, Of Grammatology, 67-73. The common conception on the movement of time is experienced as a straight line. This linearity is also recognized in writing when one reads through time. For Derrida, time is non-linear via the “now” being constituted by retention. The “now” is “the deferred effect of which Freud speaks”. (See also, Derrida, Voice and Phenomenon, 71-73).
 Derrida, Voice and Phenomenon, 53, 72.
 Ibid., 49, 57.
 Ibid., 50.
 Ibid., 48. One can also say that language is always worked over by history.
 Ibid., 77-78, 83.
 Derrida, Of Grammatology, 69. We can also say that consciousness is constructed by the unconscious—of what Derrida calls “Spacing” or “Archi-Writing” that is found within “the fabric of trace”. For Derrida, the concept of trace, which can only be defined through specific phenomenological and ontological precautions, is the origin of thought.
 Derrida sometimes refers to this as the “origin heterogeneous”.
 Ibid., 149. The concept of “supplement” is used to take the place of what originally lacks within presence. The supplement is the addition of nothing. This originary supplement is introduced in the final chapter of Voice and Phenomenon. It is extensively discussed in Of Grammatology when Derrida deconstructs Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Essay on the Origin of Languages. As Derrida points out, “Blindness to the supplement is the law”.
 For example, in Plato’s Pharmacy, Derrida questions the translation of “pharmakon” which can at once mean “remedy” and “poison”.
 Derrida, Voice and Phenomenon, 70.
Today, I would like to quickly comment on this talk that Stephen Hicks gave last year at the University of British Columbia. Despite some of his massive generalizations on 19th-20th century philosophers, I think Hicks gave an excellent overview on Kantianism and some of his influences on “postmodernism”. He is also right that both analytic and continental thinkers came to similar conclusions on metaphysics regardless of their differences. In this post, I will elaborate on some of Hick’s generalizations by talking about Friedrich Nietzsche, Martin Heidegger, and weaving the latter with Jacques Derrida. I will also provide a quick analysis of a famous passage from Derrida’s Specters of Marx.
I would like to make four points:
First (1), if you think Nietzsche and Heidegger are “irrationalists”, then you really should reread their works. This is especially true if you also think they are outright nihilists, since both of them focuses on overcoming nihilism.
In The Birth of Tragedy, Nietzsche saw how we needed to balance rationality (Apollonian) with our irrationalities (Dionysian) [speaking in Hick’s terms]. For Nietzsche, the problem is we have always privileged rationality over irrationality. Thus, he suggests that we should consider our own passions instead of being rational for once. Yet, we must also not disregard our rationality since the two are like yin yang. Here, it is hard to pinpoint Nietzche’s exact meaning since he writes in metaphors—something Heidegger and Derrida took great interest in.
In Nietzsche’s later works, he foresaw how his era will result in nihilism where people will destroy their own Christian beliefs due to the prominence of rationalism (i.e. the proliferation of science via the enlightenment era). Furthermore, he saw Christianity as a nihilistic ideology which focuses on rejecting life instead of affirming it (i.e. they believe heaven is a better place). Although Nietzsche was a controversial critic of Christianity and any religion that deals with promoting moralities that disapproves of life, he wanted to solve the problem of nihilism by trying to understand it. Nietzsche overcomes nihilism through the notion of perspectivism, where one must “destroy” some of our older “traditions” which allows us to create new moral perspectives that affirms life, open-mindedness, strength and courage (by “destroy”, I am alluding to Heidegger’s notion of “destruktion”, which Derrida translates into “deconstruction”). This is what Nietzsche famously calls “the will to power”. In some ways, Nietzsche was a moral nihilist, but only because of what he saw that was inevitably coming.
When Hicks points out how Heidegger thinks “logic gets in the way and we have to set aside logic and find some other way [to get to truth?]”, Heidegger is not necessarily saying that logic is useless and we should bide to irrationalism. But rather, he is suggesting that logic becomes contradictory, and thus “disintegrates” once we try to understand “Being” through time (I will demonstrate this later on). Therefore, we have to put in place, an “originary questioning” of being—of what Heidegger calls, the question of the historicity of Dasein (Being-There). When Heidegger asks the question, “What is Being?”, what he really mean is, “What is Being-there?”—or, “What is the Being that is already there?” (….which allows the thinking subject to formulate the question in the first place?).
Simply put, there has to first be a human “Being” who is “there” within temporality in order for there to be a “logical” thinking subject (i.e. you have to first exist in the world, temporally). This “there-ness” of Being (in-the-world)—the “Da” of Dasein—is our experience of the temporality of Being (Sein). From this, Heidegger (and Derrida), will challenge Kant’s views on temporality to distinguish the temporality of Dasein from the intratemporality of the “I think” subject (consciousness). Dasein is what precedes and makes possible, the famous rationalist / foundationalist Cartesian statement, “I think, therefore I am” (Hicks is a foundationalist). And it is within the temporality of Dasein where Heidegger coins his famous concept known as “Care”.
If you recall my last post on Derrida, I was intentionally being vague when I pointed out how when we read a text through temporality, we trace to a “history of all sorts”. This history that we trace is the historicity of Dasein (after all, Heidegger states that “language is the house of being”). But why do we trace towards the “historicity” of Dasein and not the “presence” of Dasein? Remember how trace is the unity between retention and protention where this present moment which had just past (the words you just read) unites with what is to come (the words you are about to read). On one hand, the presence of the present is always a past, which refers to a historicity of Dasein. On the other hand, this past is always moving towards a future. The logic that “disintegrates” into temporality is how this present moment is always already a past of what is to come.
Heidegger, similar to Derrida, are thinkers of origins. They are trying to conceive of a “philosophy” that can establish the “grounds” for all philosophies, epistemology, foundationalism, rationalism, empiricism, skepticism, literature, sciences, physics, and metaphysics, etc. In another words, they are trying to think of how philosophy and the very gesture of thinking arises, which in turn, establishes the philosophy of science, society, ethics, politics, art, love, etc. If you understand all of this, then you are almost at the forefront of contemporary continental philosophy.
Secondly (2), Lyotard, Foucault and Derrida should not be summarized together as if they had similar end goals simply because they were all “far left in the political spectrum” (that’s absurd). The reason is because their ideas varies greatly. For example, while Foucault and Derrida may appear to be “deconstructing” a historical discourse with similar influences such as Hegel and Heidegger, both of their approaches are very different. Foucault adopted certain aspects of Nietzchean thought, such as his “hermeneutics of suspicion” (a term coined by Ricoeur) and his “genealogical methods” of ideas, history, sex, and power. Whereas Derrida, in addition to Nietzsche, was influenced by Saussure, Freud, Lacan and most importantly, Husserl’s phenomenology. In fact, Derrida was a critic of Foucault, who attacked his magnum opus by close reading just three of its pages at a conference—which was kind of embarrassing for Foucault, since he was an intellectual superstar in France. Hence, when someone speaks of the word “deconstruction”, do they mean Derrida or Foucault? Deconstruction is often associated with the former and not the latter (an article that mixes this up is this one).
Third (3), when Hicks quotes Derrida on how deconstruction consists of a certain “tradition” and “spirit” of Marxism, Derrida is referring to his book, Specters of Marx. Something important that I must point out from this book is that Derrida thinks criticizing Marx is equally important. Basically, Derrida is trying to speak of how there is a certain “spirit” of Marx, such as his ways of radical criticism, that people always-already carry out in our capitalist world today, even if Marxism is long dead (i.e. Hicks and Peterson—the latter even used a few Marxist ideas to fight against Marxism). Therefore, we are the “specters” of Marx—even when most of us are not strictly Marxists. This form of radical criticism is what Derrida sees in “deconstruction” (destruktion; de-structure; destroy; interpretation) as he tries to situate it in politics. Hick’s naive interpretation of Derrida shows how little he knows about him—for, Hicks is not aware of Derrida’s consistent use of allusions.
Let us look at a popular passage from Specters of Marx:
“There will be no future without this. Not without Marx, no future without Marx, without the memory and the inheritance of Marx: in any case of a certain Marx, of his genius, of at least one of his spirits. For this will be our hypothesis or rather our bias: there is more than one of them, there must be more than one of them.”
This passage can be easily misread because it consists of at least two allusions that only Derridean readers can see. The first allusion is the word “spirit”, which refers to the way Heidegger avoids using the famous German word “Geist” (spirit) in his magnum opus, Being and Time. But after refusing to use this word, Heidegger suddenly starts using it later in his lectures. Derrida wrote about this in a famous book called, Of Spirit—a book that I think only Heideggerian experts can understand because it is incredibly difficult. The title “Of Spirit”, is also an allusion to Jean-Jacques Rousseau. The German word “Geist” is sometimes regarded as untranslatable since it can mean “spirit”, “ghost” (specter), and “mind”. In Of Spirit, Derrida tries to figure out the morphology of Geist and what it could mean for Heidegger throughout his usages as he took part in National Socialism (See here). In addition, “Geist” is also important because Hegel uses it quite often as “zeigeist” and “volkgeist”. At the end of my last post on Quentin Meillassoux, did you notice how I put in quotation, the “spirit” of Derrida? This is why.
The second allusion in this passage, is Derrida’s use of the word “future” (protention) which cannot “be” without a “memory” of Marx (retention). Again, for those who has read my introductory post on Derrida, this should be easily understood because trace is the unity between a past (retention of Marx) and what is to come (protention) [but I must point out that “trace” is much more sophisticated since it relates to Heidegger’s Dasein and the unity between life and death]. Basically, Derrida is applying his early thoughts on Husserl and Heidegger into Marx. But since I have not published my still “in the works” writings on the relationships between Heidegger and Derrida (along with Husserl and Hegel), I will not speak of this further.
[Side note: I am not an expert on Lyotard. But I always had a theory on why he called 20th century French philosophy as “post-modernism”. In a Derridean sense, the term “post” revolves around what is to come from a modernism that has past.]
I think Derrida sometimes “hides” his thoughts behind allusions to shield from people who are not familiar with his works. This idea originates from Socrates, where he criticized writing since anyone can take any text and read it whichever way they want (similar to the problem that Derrida pointed out). Thus, Socrates privileged passing on his philosophy via speech instead of writing—an idea Derrida finds problematic since speech is a form of writing. Socrates did this in order to prevent sophists who knows nothing about philosophy from using his works against him. Hence, Socrates never wrote anything, you can only find him through the works of Plato, who was Socrates’ student. I think Derrida is doing something very similar in this quote from Specters of Marx.
Finally (4), in terms of how all these “postmodernists” secretly rebrand themselves as “the new left”. The argument is not strong once you realize that most of these philosophers disagrees with each other quite a bit within the French intellectual arena. This suggests that it is not so much about politics in the political sense, but rather, it is about politics in the intellectual sense in regards to who has the better and accurate philosophy.
On another note, I don’t think I will defend for all “postmodernists” since I only read a selected few. We should consider how Derrida did not begin his career with Marx, but Husserl. Derrida’s first book was as an essay about Husserl’s, The Origins of Geometry. If we were to talk strictly about political philosophy, Derrida is much more influenced by Rousseau than Marx, where the former preceded the latter by one century. In particular, Derrida was influenced by Rousseau’s famous book, The Social Contract, his paper, The Essay on the Origin of Languages, and his autobiographies, The Confessions, and especially, Reveries of a Solitary Walker. In fact, Derrida was a reader of Rousseau since his teenage years. He has written essays on Rousseau in his early 20s, long before he became famous in his mid-30s when he wrote about Heidegger, Husserl and Saussure, but you would have to read those early essays in French.
For those who keeps up with contemporary philosophy, Quentin Meillassoux is probably one of the most famous rising French philosopher who belongs to the movement known as Speculative Realism / Materialism. His book, After Finitude (2006) seeks to challenge the entire post-Kantian tradition by arguing for us to think beyond “correlationism”, and into what he terms “ancestrality”. Currently, this is my third time reading this book because I admire his ambition and cleverness. But I am not entirely convinced if we can achieve such thing.
To those who are new to philosophy or is unfamiliar with its history, correlationism refers to a highly influential philosophical thought by Immanuel Kant, who argued that our conceptions of causality (such as those seen in natural sciences, or what we call “natural laws”), ethics, metaphysics, etc. are only possible through the subject’s intuition of space and time. For my avid followers (which is probably zero lol) I have, in many of my previous posts, showed how this works in layman terms. Perhaps I shall once again repeat myself in an easily digestible way.
In order for their to be any objects in the world that appears before our eyes, there has to be a conscious thinking subject. If I was never born, I would not know that the Earth existed because I am not a subject who is capable of thinking of the Earth as an object for inquiry. As of this moment, I am able to conceive of Earth as an object because I am already a thinking subject. Therefore, the moment I am a thinking subject, Earth—the world-in-itself—is instantly related to me as the subject. This is what we can simply call “correlationism”, which means that there is always a correlation between the object and the conscious subject.
Now, this object which appears before our eyes, whatever it might be, is not completely knowable to us because we are not the object in-itself (since we are thinking subjects). Kant’s famous claim is that we can never know any object in-itself—at least never in the absolute sense. By saying that X object can be explained with Y properties via mathematics is to idealize the object in-itself. This is known as “transcendental idealism”. Kant’s ideas changed the way we see the world by showing that it is our conscious minds in relationship to these objects through spacetime, which sets the limits to all knowledge. This is “true” in pretty much all of natural sciences (physics, chemistry, biology, etc.), along with our everyday lives and how we see perceive objects around us. In short, correlationism is everywhere since this is how “perspective” arises (i.e. a unique perspective about the world is a unique way of correlating with the world as a subject).
Meillassoux points out that, ever since Kant’s philosophy, pretty much every philosopher assumes this Kantian position (which is true—at least from what I know). From Hegel, Nietzsche, Husserl, Heidegger, and Derrida; with the last two who arguably represents the summit of correlationism (and to be fair, Nietzsche was also a critic of Kant in the sense that Kant only focuses on the mind and not the body—something which Heidegger, Derrida and Merleau-Ponty picks up on). Another words, we never really found a way to think beyond the correlationism between subject and object because Kant’s argument seems undeniably true and hard to completely reject.
Essentially, Meillassoux is attempting to think of the object independent of the subject beyond correlationism. He tries to do this by arguing that there are certain properties in the object which are absolute regardless of the existence of the subject. One of the prime examples of this property is mathematics (in particular to the notion of contingency). An example Meillassoux uses is the “ancestral statement” that “the date of the origin of life on earth was 3.5 billion years ago”. For Meillassoux, mathematics allows us to know what occurred in Earth 3.5 billion years ago, even when there were no human subject to witness such event. For Meillassoux, this statement should be seen as an absolute that is independent of the subject. Whereas a correlationalist would say: you know that the origin of life began 3.5 billion years ago because you are sitting here in spacetime inquiring the knowledge from this piece of writing. Another words, while it may appear that you are recalling to the beginnings of life on Earth as you read this “ancestral statement”, you are actually just sitting here in the present moment establishing a correlation with the object (in this case, the “ancestral statement”).
Here, we can summarize the main difference between Meillassoux and correlationists as follow. For Meillassoux, if the subject did not exist, the mathematical properties of X object will remain intact to the object because these properties are independent of the subject and are absolute. For correlationists, if the conscious subject did not exist, the object will not exist because there is no thinking subject who will be able to conceive of the object as such. But even if the subject exists, the subject is correlating themselves with the object through an idealism via mathematics, which is never the absolute properties of the object in-itself. Meillassoux argues for us to think beyond correlation by conceiving of an absolute ancestral thought without a subject—to think of a “thought” that is independent of subjective thought. Yet, in the views of a correlationalist—the “thought” about this “non-thought” is still a thought conceived by the subject.
So far, I have read several responses to Meillassoux’s work. The most memorable one is by Alenka Zupancic (a Lacanian), who clearly stated that ancestral statements means nothing. I thought it was memorable because of how straight forward she was in the book (a bit like me, forward and to the point). Maybe it was because I secretly wanted to reject Meillassoux’s thoughts that I remembered her response. But since I don’t like jumping to conclusions so quickly, I will suspend my judgement until further notice. Overall, I am not sure if Meillassoux’s ideas will “work”.
I have recently been searching for other books hoping that they would offer me alternate insights on Meillassoux’s problem on Kant. One of the books I recently ordered is by Geoffrey Bennington (a renown student, translator, and scholar of Derrida) called, Kant on the Frontier: Philosophy, Politics, and the Ends of the Earth (2017). I expect it to have lots of Kant, and the “spirit” of Derrida in it. I look forward to reading it regardless of whether it will help me determine if Meillassoux’s thoughts will work or not.
“No one will ever know from what secret I write and the fact that I say so changes nothing.” —Jacques Derrida
Reading Derrida is no easy task. Today, I will show you an easier way of understanding some of the major components to Derrida’s project on “deconstruction”. We will be looking at the problem of interpretation and why there are infinite interpretations to any texts.
Although this post will be quite “intense” (just like me when I talk about philosophy in real life), it supposes that the reader knows nothing about the history of philosophy, Ferdinand de Saussure’s general linguistics, semiotics and Edmund Husserl’s phenomenology. This means I will be trying to explain Derrida’s thoughts in layman terms, which is not easy. Despite my attempts in simplicity, this post will gradually get more difficult and abstract due to the nature of the topic such as temporality: our first-person experience of time.
An Overview on the “Problem” of Interpretation
Derrida is known for showing that there are infinite number of interpretations in any text (or events). As soon as any (philosophical) book leaves the original author and gets distributed to its readers, the reader becomes the author where they reproduce their own unique interpretation and meanings of the text. What this “meaning” consists of will depend on the reader’s contextual framework that takes place as they read the book. Now, suppose that the readers of this first book becomes authors who responds to the original author; and the people who reads this new author’s works becomes authors. As a result, we end up creating more books based on our “unique” interpretations of other texts which eventually leads to centuries of books, novels, and every single piece of writing on the planet.
Since interpretation and meaning is determined by context, in order for me to fully understand the intentions of the original author, there is a demand that I must understand their contextual background or “where they are coming from”. Thus, if I want to understand this brand new philosophy book, I will have to read all of these other books to develop a more “accurate” interpretation of the author. As a result, I end up chasing the entire history of philosophy because that is what the original author did. This is where Derrida takes a jab at philosophy since nearly all philosophy books are a response to other philosophers (and all books are influenced by other books in general).
The problem with closely interpreting these “texts” in the book is that the inscription of writing also consists of a series historical contexts which transformed itself into English language as such. Every language is a translation, mediation, and a combination of other historical languages. Therefore, we encounter the same problem where, in order to understand certain terms and words within the book, we also have to understand its historical background: the etymology of words. As we attempt to do this, we will discover that language and translations are actually full of holes and gaps known as an “aporia” , where the meaning of certain words becomes undecidable. The most famous example is from Derrida’s Plato’s Pharmacy, where the English translation in some of Plato’s works shows how the word “Pharmakon” can mean “poison”, “remedy”, and “scapegoat” at the same time. This is why Derrideans likes to play with translations, since these aporias reveals the contradictory nature of interpretation. It is also one of many reasons why Derrideans are found in comparative literature rather than philosophy departments in universities.
Essentially, it is impossible to acquire the entire context of any book since they are based on a “unique” interpretation of the previous (historical) authors, where these authors are based on readings of other authors, and to infinity. There is no such thing as an “accurate” interpretation of a book that is identical to the intentionality of the original author—including Derrida’s own “deconstruction” of the text. This is the fundamental nature of interpretation regardless of how clear someone’s writing is. Even if you read a book closely (i.e. “deconstruction”) the reader will discover the author’s contradictions and the instability / uncertainty of their thoughts (via aporias, etc.). At the same time, the reader will also encounter their own interpretive contradictions as they read the author’s work. When you read Derrida, you are reading him read other people’s works. The frustration people get while reading Derrida is part of what he is trying to show you. But this does not mean that one cannot establish meaning or interpretation to any text. Rather, and once again, meaning is defined and established by a contingent historical framework that is unique to the individual subject which can never be temporally “pinned down” with precision (you will see why later on).
On Language: Speech and Writing
“Socrates—he who does not write” — Friedrich Nietzsche
In the most general sense, language consists of two forms: speech and writing. Let us begin by considering how you are reading a written transcript of my spoken words in this post. Three phenomenon occurs (I will use some of these as a point of reference later on):
1) This writing becomes the representation of my spoken words where I would have communicated to you in spoken form if you sat in front of me. This argument traces back to Plato, who suggested that writing is only used to represent speech, whereas speech is more authentic than writing because it is representation of our mental thoughts. This argument as we will see later on, is false.
2) As you read these words, you are supplementing my absent being as a presence. You are reading this text as if I am speaking / communicating to you, even when I am not speaking / communicating to you before your eyes (I will get to this in the next point). This supplementation happens all the time. For example, when we read a novel, we are reading it as if the characters in it are present in our mind, even when they are absent. You are reading Samuel Beckett, even when you are reading an inscription of a ghost who died 30 years ago. The news reporter appears to be talking to you on the television, even when they are absent and you are looking at a black screen. Writing consists of an element of absence. There are times when we recognize this absence within writing—such as when a stranger sends you an email, text message, post card or a letter and you fail to supplement their absence since you do not know who they are (hence, it is “creepy”). Another instance where this absence becomes apparent is when we encounter a word that is untranslatable.
3) When you are reading this text, I am actually not talking to you because you are talking to yourself. The presence that you supplement for my absence is not me, but yourself, the reader. You are the speaker of my (your) words. This phenomenon will be very important for us to understand once we get to Husserlian phenomenology, where we will learn why “the reader becomes the author”. Essentially, “silent reading” is never silent because we are always talking to ourselves through inner monologue.
Sounds (Phonemes) and Images (Graphemes)
Now that I have roughly sketched out the premises of our discussion, we will learn Saussure’s general linguistics. I began by saying that, language consists of two forms: speech and writing. Let us consider these forms by isolating them from each other.
Speech by itself consists of individual units of sounds. These individual units can be anything from a baby uttering non-sense, all the way to you talking to your boss about how stupid they are. In short, speech is heard and not seen. On the other hand, writing consists solely of visual elements. Just as a baby who utters units of sounds which makes “no sense”, she can also scribble visible lines on a piece of paper in unintelligible ways. Writing is what we refer as image, which is the visual elements of language. What is unique about images is that it is not restricted to “writing” or any forms of inscription. Images also includes everything that we see and it is the dominate form of language. For example, the physical cup that is sitting beside my computer which I can visually see is what I phonetically call “cup”. The photo you see in my “About” page is Bobby, etc. This is why Derrida will often say that writing is everywhere since everything we see are images.
If unique sounds are not seen, and unique images are without sounds, then how do we know certain sounds relates to certain images? We know that specific units of images refers to a specific unit of sound because we are aware of the “concept” of language. I know that, the image “A” is associated with the sound “A” because I already understand the concept—which is that of English language.
Saussure referred semiotics as “general” linguistics because he saw how “sounds” can be represented with even more specific sonic units known as “phonemes”; and “images” into specific “graphemes” (and within these, we can create even more units such as glossemes, cheremes, etc.). In effect, this turns language into an object that can be studied as a science, such as linguistics. For Derrida, expanding general linguistics into phonemes and graphemes does not solve any of the fundamental problems of language in relationship to “being”. This is because Derrida saw how linguists are just going to create more conceptual sounds and images to represent our current system of sounds and images (we must be cautious here, because Derrida is not trying to critique linguistics).
Signifier and Signified
Ultimately, these varying units of sounds and images are what Saussure calls “signifier”. Whereas the “concept” is how these specific sounds and images creates meaning—of what we shall call the “ideality of sense”. It “makes sense” that the sound and image of the word “tree” coincides with each other. Yet, there is no particular reason why the sound “tree” is linked to the image of a tree. Their relationship is “arbitrary” (this is known as the “arbitrariness of the sign”).
Before we move any further, let us once again, return to the beginning where I said that language consists of two forms: speech (sounds) and writing (images). What we begin to see is how the fundamental properties of speech and writing are required in order to represent the concept of language. Another words, speech is actually a form of writing and vice versa, since they are both representing the same language that we already know. Thus, Plato was wrong when he said that writing is only used to represent speech, and that speech is more authentic than writing since it is closer to our thoughts (refer #1).
The complication arises from the influence of Louis Hjelmslev at the Copenhagen school of linguistics, who points out that the signifier (sound-image) is characterized as physical forms, whereas the signified “concept” is a mental concept. For example, we get a mental concept, such as an image of a tree in our minds, when we physically read the signifier “tree” as it appears before your eyes on this page. This “material” external form of writing (i.e. this text) along with the external sounds you hear (i.e. when someone is talking to you) are combined together as an mental “internal” concept. Everything that is visually external to you, along with every sound you externally make / hear, is only possible because of how your brain processed it internally. When someone is explaining to you how thunderclouds are formed at a coffee shop, you are creating an internal mental image of what they are externally signifying as they speak.
The twist Derrida puts into all this, are of two things. First, this internal signified / “mental concept”, is actually just more signifiers (we will not fully understand why this is the case until we get to Husserl’s phenomenology and temporality). For example, if I write the word “poop”, in your head you will be thinking of poop in conjunction with speaking to yourself the sound “poop”. This mental “poop”—the “mental concept”, which is an image of a piece of poop—is just another signifier, and not a signified. To explain this simply, Derrideans often uses the popular “chasing the dictionary” example. Every signifier I search in the dictionary (i.e. poop) will lead me to its definition (signified), which is just more signifiers that are used to describe the signifier I searched for. Suppose that, within this definition, I do not know what another signifier meant, and I begin to search for that signifier and the same thing happens. As a result, I endlessly chase the dictionary around for signifiers, only to find out that there are near infinite amount of signifiers that represents other signifiers (also, when I search and look into the etymology of these signifiers, I find more signifiers). These signifiers which leads to different signifiers is where the idea of difference comes from (it is also found in Saussure’s text, I cannot recall where from memory). The fact that I know poop is not the same as dog or table, chair, etc. allows poop to have its meaning.
Derrida deploys the word “differance” (a spelling mistake) to describe how the signifier’s meaning is established by what it is not—such as its oppositions—where meaning is never completely stable due to these differences. In addition, differance is also used to show how the presence of meaning is only possible through its own absence via differences, which is nevertheless still “present” (something which we will not understand until later on). The reason why Derrida changes the “e” to an “a” is to show that writing can actually do more than speech. In French, the proper spelling of “difference”, and the spelling mistake “differance” verbally sounds the same. Their differences can only be recognized in writing. Here, Derrida is taking a “revenge” on Plato for calling writing secondary even when it is not. There are more reasons why Derrida calls it “differance” such as its play on the words “differ” and “defer”—I will not talk about these here (See his essay called, Differance).
Second, while Hjelmslev thinks only the signified is an internal mental concept. We now see how—since the signified is just more signifiers—even the signifier becomes internal. This will be a contradiction that we will encounter in the next few sections between Husserl’s external “indication” and internal “expression”. It is why Derrida points out that, “the outside
is the inside” and “there is no transcendental signified”. This “transcendental” is what lies outside of us as subjective being, such as this text. There is no outside signified because they are just internal signifiers expanding infinitely in our minds via differance as you read my writing. Thus, Derrida’s famous passage: “there is no outside text”. I will demonstrate the concept of differance later on.
Indication (Signifier) and Expression (Signified)
We will now add another twist to all of this by introducing the Husserlian terms: Indication and Expression which is more or less equivalent to the Saussurean Signifier and Signified. Recall how the signifier represents an external physical form of sound-image, whereas the signified represents an internal mental concept—which, for Derrida, is just more signifiers. Coincidentally, Husserl also makes a similar distinction between the indicative sign which is external, and the expressive sign which is internal.
For Husserl, indication “points” to an expression (indication is what Derrida sometimes calls, “the point of the finger”). The best example of indication is this piece of writing (or language in general). But if I write “asfopfaddsg”, this external indicative sign points to an expression which we do not know (a word / indication that we don’t know its “meaning” / expression to). Similar to what we already know, Husserl saw how indication (signifier) functions as a physical medium which serves as a form of communication such as speech and writing (i.e. this writing). All indications are entangled with an expression (signified) since we are already familiar with the English language.
Indication / expression is quite complex. Through Husserl’s thoughts, Derrida associates indication / expression with not just writing, but with the movement of our physical bodies. This will be something which I will not explain because to really understand it, you have to be fluent in Husserlian phenomenology, which can be quite difficult (Derrida is already difficult enough).
Inner Monologue, Expression and Animating Intention
“We are all mediators, translators.” — Jacques Derrida
Let us look at this piece of writing very carefully. Not many people visits my blog—only those who wishes to stalk me or is genuinely interested in the things I write would come here. If no one reads this writing, this text does not exist—it is literally, “dead”. Indication (writing) by itself is dead. But as soon as someone (i.e. a living being such as yourself) reads and interprets this writing, indication is animated by the person (you) as an expression (refer #2 and #3). This animation of indication into expression is what we shall call intentionality. Every time you animate this text, there is always an intention, even if this intention is of no intention.
Let us once again recall that indication (signifier) is external; expression (signified) is internal. For Derrida, since expression (signified) consists of more indications (of signifiers established by differance), indication is also an internal phenomenon. The complexities between indication and expression lies in how they are two sides of the same coin. When I indicatively write this post (or when I speak), I have an intention to express something from my internal mental thoughts into external indicative writing. At the same time, I am also expressing myself while I internally indicate (speak) to myself. Internal expression is entangled with “external” (internal) indication because I am internally talking to myself as I write; and this is what makes “inner monologue” as such. In the same way, when you (the reader) are interpreting this external indicative text, you are reanimating my writing with your own internal expressions and indications—i.e. you are talking to yourself as you read this text (refer #3). My external indicative writing becomes your internal expression / indication as you reanimate it with an intention that is uniquely your own. To help you understand this, I will share a diagram from my notebook:
As the author, I am someone who attempts to communicate by animating internal indications which occurs in my mind as expressions. The author passes from internal expression (indication / speaking to myself) externally as indicative writing. Inversely, when you read this indicative writing (“text”), the reader (you) reanimates my indicative writing into their (your) own internal expression / indication (refer #3). The word “intention” that is written on top of the arrows on both side of author / reader are heterogeneous—they are of different intentionalities.
This is where we understand why there are infinite interpretation to any text. Pure intentionality cannot be transmitted through speech / writing. Furthermore, this is also where we discover the difficulty of translation since we can never fully inherit the intentions of the original author. Hence, “pharmakon” which can translate into “remedy”, “poison” and “scapegoat” becomes undecidable. We simply do not know which word Plato meant. And whether it is one or the other depends on the intentionality of the reader / translator. Most importantly, this “pure” intentionality cannot even be expressed within our internal minds due to the effects of differance and temporality because it is always influenced by the reader’s unique contingent historical context.
Trace, Differance, Spacing and Temporality
“Time is out of joint” —Hamlet
We will now take one step further and integrate some of Derrida’s thoughts on how the signified (expression) is just a bunch of signifiers (indication) that occurs internally in our mind which is characterized by differance. We will also be drawing relationship on how this physical external indication which represents the phenomenon of space (“spatial”), entangles with our internal expression which is related to our consciousness of time (“temporal”). This will lead to a Derridean passage in Of Grammatology, on how our consciousness opens up the notion of “spacing”, which is “the becoming time of space [external] and the becoming space of time [internal]”. Just as external indication (space) is actually an infinite internal expression (through time), for Derrida, space and time are inseparable because they constitute each other as such.
The common perception of time is that it runs linearly in seconds, such as: “1…2…3…4…5…”, etc. In this case, while numbers are a representation of time, it does not account for how we experience time from a first person perspective (this is what phenomenology tries to study). The best example of understanding our experience of time is to compare it to how you are reading this text which also appears as a linear line (this is an idea from Heidegger that Derrida borrows from). Temporality consists of three main aspects. First (1), there consists of this very moment of “now”—of every single word you read in this sentence which is characterized as “the present moment”. The second (2) is the idea of “retention” where every single recognition (repetition) of this now is retained in our brain as what had just past. The third (3) is protention, which is the anticipation of what is to come in the near future which can never be fully predicted.
The complexity of this phenomenon is how every signifier you just read constantly refers itself to a retention / past—of what I shall now call as a “history” (or historical context). In order for me to understand this sentence, I have to retain the words at the very beginning. Just as, if I want to understand this post, I have to retain the information that was first introduced. And above all else, if I want to “understand” Derrida, I have to retain and understand the historical context of Husserl, Heidegger, Saussure, etc. who in themselves defers to more historical philosophers, poets, scholars and to infinity.
For Derrida, retention is a combination of all sorts. It is not a simple retention or short term memory of this moment, but an infinite deferral of a past / historical discourse that has always already been influenced by our imagination and memories (if I remember correctly, Derrida refers to retention as “Now X” which means “undefined”; and not “A” like in my diagram below). Another words, this present moment is only possible through the retention of the words you had just read—which is influenced by your own pre-established historical discourse. This is where we see differance taking full effect through its own absence.
The infinite movement of differance that occurs in our internal conscious mind is the absence of this word that you had just read. Indeed, what allows for a “presence” of meaning to establish is characterized by what had just disappeared into “space” as you read—namely, of what this word is not (as you just read it through time). Yet, this disappeared word still nevertheless “appear” to be “present” through our consciousness of temporality via retention (of X), even when it is absent. This quasi appearance of presence that reveals between the spaces of words as we read this sentence, is what Derrida famously calls, “Spacing” (of time).
In this diagram, the straight long arrow represents the linearity of time. What we see is how the “Now” (B) is only possible through the retention of A (or “X”, as Derrida would put it since it is a retention of all sorts). B is “B” because it is not “A”. And what sits between the space of B, A, and C is referred as spacing. This is why Derrida points out how the empty white space in this page takes on an importance. Our interpretation of every word relies on an abstract and absent mode of a historical past that has already been “written” before the subjective reader engages with the text (i.e. your unique contingent historico-contextual framework which allows you to establish meaning as you interpret every word in this text). This abstract and absent writing of space is what Derrida calls “archi-writing”, the most originary and unique form of writing. Thus, to “interpret” is “to read what wrote itself between the lines” which is a radically different “organization of space” than what appears as linear before our eyes. This is one of the reasons why the first part in Of Grammatology is called “Writing before the Letter”.
Now, the trickiest part of all this is how retention is also a mixed with protention as we read this text. Another words, what allows for our articulation of this present moment is not only that it is never “present” since it refers to a past, but it is also always moving towards a protention—such as your anticipation of the next word as you read. This “phenomenon”, if we can call it that (we can’t since this idea precedes phenomenology), is what Derrida calls, “Trace”. This “concept” of trace (not a concept), which is very similar to differance, is an abstract term devoid of any presence (I have demonstrated enough times on how this moment is constituted by differance, which is also a trace towards a past / anticipation). Trace is what Derrida refers as “the unity between retention and protention”—of a past and “what is to come”.
Metaphysics of Presence and Origin-Heterogeneous
“Metaphysics of presence” is a term Derrida borrows from Heidegger (physics studies reality; metaphysics studies what lies beyond reality—the term is hard to explain unless you already know what it is). Basically, Derrida thinks we have always privileged a form of immediate presence via metaphysics, which forces a “closure” in language by establishing a stable meaning. Derrida refers to this presence of closure as “logocentrism”. But as we can already see, there is no meaning that is completely “stable” due to the temporal effects of differance and trace. Every time we conceive of the “now”—which is the metaphysics of presence of the present moment—is always already a past. In another words, there is never a “now” moment (the presence of the present), since time is always moving between retention and protention.
Recall how, when we read a book and attempt to understand it, we end up chasing the entire history. What we are really doing is we are trying to look for the “origin” of the author’s intentions in order to read them “accurately”. We often think we have found this “origin” through our interpretation of their book (and their influences) while privileging the “metaphysics of presence”; even when this origin cannot be found since it is based on our contingent historical discourse of a past that is always under temporal movement (and there is also the problem of intentionality which cannot be transmitted through speech and writing). Let us apply everything that we have learnt: your interpretation of the word—“origin”—implies how there are no origins since it is established by your retention which traces to all sorts of past and a future that is always to come. This is what Derrida calls “origin-heterogeneous”. Trace is the
origin of your interpretation of the word “origin”. Trace is an absolute singularity because the concept does not exist. This is the most fundamental concept of deconstruction. —Thus, “deconstruction” deconstructs itself.
You were reading a somewhat retro loveletter, the last in history. But you have not yet received it. Yes, its lack or excess of address prepares it to fall into all hands: a post card, an open letter in which the secret appears, but indecipherably. What does a post card want to say to you? On what conditions is it possible?
Its destination traverses you, you no longer know who you are. At the very instant when from its address it interpellates, you, uniquely you, instead of reaching you it divides you or sets you aside, occasionally overlooks you. And you love and you do not love, it makes of you what you wish, it takes you, it leaves you, it gives you.
On the other side of the card, look, a proposition is made to you, S and P, Socrates and Plato. For once the former seems to write, and with his other hand he is even scratching. But what is Plato doing with his outstretched finger in his back? While you occupy yourself with turning it around in every direction, it is the picture that turns you around like a letter, in advance it deciphers you, it preoccupies space, it procures your words and gestures, all the bodies that you believe you invent in order to determine its outline. You find yourself, you, yourself, on its path. […]
“He who cannot give anything away cannot feel anything either.” — Friedrich Nietzsche
In, A General Introduction to Psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud famously pointed out three humilities in human history:
1) Earth is not at the center of the universe (Nicolaus Copernicus).
2) Humans are nothing special but animals amongst nature (Charles Darwin).
3) Humans are not the masters of their own mind (Sigmund Freud and other psychoanalysts).
This post consists of further elaborations on some of my past writings that talks about Lacanian psychoanalysis (I will get to a little bit of deconstruction and Jordan Peterson at the very end). It will not be very well structured because I wrote it over night (I was bored). I do not consider myself to be well-read on Lacan, but I think I am competent enough to talk about his ideas. In my opinion, Lacan, along with Melanie Klein, are the most important post-Freudians in psychoanalytic theory, and clinical psychoanalysis. What you will learn is not only how crazy Lacanian psychoanalysis is, but how our everyday spoken / written language is actually full of holes and gaps ready to be psychoanalyzed. It is important that you understand the basic concepts which I have introduced from my previous posts before you read this one (hyperlinked in the large subtitles below)—though you can probably get by without reading them. This post is also very long (around 5000 words), and relatively dense.
At first, I contemplated on whether I should publish the post because love is the most cliche topic in history. But it turned out that many people liked it. This is probably because I had to water down a lot of psychoanalytical ideas in order to reach a larger audience. As such, my writing would be a disappointment for those who wish to understand psychoanalysis at a deeper level. The majority of this post will satisfy you with some complex psychoanalytical concepts that I intentionally skipped (though I won’t cover every single concept entirely). Before I begin, there are three basic ideas that we should understand from the original post:
1) I showed that in Lacanian psychoanalysis, “objectification” is inevitable. Objet a (object cause of desire) takes position as the object in-itself where our relationship with the other is actually missing. Love is what fills in this non-existent relationship which allows us to accept the object for itself.
2) Lacanian psychoanalysis and science has a complicated relationship. Lacan sometimes refers to psychoanalysis as scientific, and other times not. Certainly, the scientific folks will say that psychoanalysis has not past the rigor of the scientific method and therefore it is a pseudoscience (that is, if Lacan claims it to be a science). But at the same time, scientists are also the ones who did not consider what allows their “scientific method” and “knowledge” to surface into their conscious mind. Psychoanalysis attempts to articulate how we experience the fabric of reality through subjectivity. In Seminar XI: The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, Lacan briefly talks about a man who frequents the coast. One day he “discovers” that the tides of the ocean are influenced by the moon, even when his unconscious mind had already discovered this phenomenon long before the thought had surfaced into his consciousness.
3) Psychoanalysis is unlike modern psychology which focuses heavily on scientific inquiries in the brain, hormones, body, behaviors, cognition, etc. A psychoanalyst also does not prescribe medicine so you can conceal the symptoms of your neurosis or psychosis. A psychoanalyst reveals and makes you confront your symptoms by looking for the origins of your neurosis or psychosis from your childhood experience (in psychoanalysis, a lot of adult psychological disorders originates from childhood). Another words, psychoanalysis tries to tell you the truth about your personal problems. One can already see that psychoanalysis is not for everyone. Not only does it take a long time to see results, it is also significantly more expensive than medication. The patient must be ready to learn about themselves, connect the missing dots in their lives, and confront all of their unwanted repressed thoughts and feelings.
The Symbolic and the Split Subject
The main problem of my original post is that I focus mostly between Imaginary and Real, with little emphasis on the Symbolic order which represents language, law, the big Other, and the unconscious mind. Lacanian psychoanalysis is largely about the Symbolic order because “the unconscious is structured like a language”. It is therefore, impossible to talk about Lacan without addressing language. The challenge is that, the moment I incorporate important ideas from the Symbolic, my writing will no longer be as beginner friendly. This is because, (1) the Symbolic order involves the “the subject of the unconscious”. (2) The word “subject” consists of several connotations in relationship to philosophy, legal law, and Freud. (3) Every Symbolic word I speak is always already influenced by the unconscious subject. Every signifying word from the spoken / written subject reveals to a psychoanalyst a series of symptoms of the person, including this text. The relationship between the subject of the unconscious and the Symbolic is the heart of Lacanian psychoanalysis.
Let us begin by understanding the difference between subject and ego, which is the most important distinction that we must be able to tell apart. Lacan was against Anglo-American ego-psychology where these psychologists places the ego (“I”) as the subject—that it is our egos which gives us an agency to choose. For Lacan, the ego is actually an object, and not a subject. The ego is an Imaginary entity without any agency. Basically, the ego is our Imaginary and progressive construction of our identity through Lacan’s three orders (Real, Imaginary and Symbolic). The ego is a richly made up narrative about ourselves which includes our mannerisms, behaviors, how we will act in certain situations, and who we are and the roles we play. Whereas the subject is the subject of the unconscious. Unlike the ego that makes up all these Imaginary things about itself, the subject “avoids” the ego from fully capturing its identity (as the ego develops). There are things we can find out about the unconscious subject through the language of the ego (i.e. this text), but what we can know about the subject is never complete. This incompleteness is also caused by, as we will later see, the infamous castration complex and other concepts such as “the big Other”. Hence why Lacan reveals that every subject is essentially split or “barred”, since the subject is incomplete through the ego (split subject is represented with an “S” with a strike through it). Any sense of wholeness of this split subject is just a projection from our Imaginary ego. Ultimately, the ego alienates the unconscious subject by splitting it. As such, the ego is the symptom of neurosis and psychosis that needs to be analyzed. The stronger this ego gets, the more it alienates and represses the subject. This is why Lacan was radically against ego-psychology because making the ego stronger will alienate the unconscious subject even more.
To put it in another way, the unconscious subject speaks through the ego without revealing itself. The subject is a negative entity that remains in the unconscious where we can only see “half” of it through the ego when it speaks—hence the “split subject”. What the ego says about itself, its behaviors, etc. reveals about the unconscious subject. For example, if someone wonders why they always forget their car keys, but no matter how hard they try not to forget them, they always leave it behind at work, etc. All of this reveals something about the unconscious subject of this person, but never completely. At this point, the psychoanalyst might think, there is something about these behaviors that satisfies (pleasure wise; will get to this) their unconscious mind (split subject) which is causing them to consistently do this over and over again. To be sure, one can never figure out what the unconscious subject is thinking, hence this subject will always be split and incomplete—this wound cannot be healed.
The split subject is unconscious where we can only see parts of it through the ego. But also, the split subject is the effects of language, and we will gradually learn a little more about this as we move along. Let us quickly piece together Lacan’s words, the subject is “the subject of the unconscious”, “the unconscious is structured like a language”, and finally, “the unconscious is the discourse of the Other”. In short, the split subject belongs to the Symbolic order which is constantly influenced by, of what we will soon see, the almighty and tyrannical, “big Other”.
Simply put, the conscious words that we speak and write everyday represents what our unconscious mind is thinking, where we, as conscious speaking (split) subjects are not completely aware of. Every word (signifier) we articulate marks the “split” of the unconscious subject where parts of it reveals itself through language. Most of us tend to think that the language we articulate is complete, even when it is full of gaps and holes that we substitute with signifiers (i.e. the Freudian slip). This is why Lacan likes to play with the phrase, “the subject that which is represented by a signifier for another signifier”. Ultimately, this split subject is complicated by a bunch of other psychoanalytic concepts such as jouissance (“pleasure”; this French term is intentionally left untranslated), the big Other, mirror stage, the-Name-of-the-Father, and the castration complex—these are ideas that I will get to.
The big Other
This leads to the problem on how vague I was in regards to psychoanalytic therapy where I pointed out, “the analyst’s job is to reveal what the patient has repressed in their Symbolic order via free association”. The Symbolic order is closely associated with the “big Other”, which is where the unconscious subject resides (one can even say that the Symbolic is the big Other). The primary goal of psychoanalytical therapy is to find out what the big Other wants (desires) when the split subject speaks through the ego. The big Other that is represented with a capital “A”, is loosely translated to what Freud calls, the superego. For Freud, the superego was developed from the creation of rules by the “Primal Father” in a tribe, which is derivative to the laws and social orders of civilization. The big Other is a radical alterity that mediates with the split subject and the ego; who basically forces you to ask how society and other people would judge you by what you are doing with your life. The big Other is a tyrannical subject (almost “God like”) that imposes the Symbolic law upon the ego and the split subject which keeps you in line with society. As such, the big Other will significantly influence how the ego is progressively formed through the Imaginary, which begins with the mirror stage in childhood until death.
To be sure, the Lacanian big Other is different to the little other who is distinguished with a lower-case “o”. Similar to object a, the little other is represented with a lower-case “a“. The little other is often seen as the “other person” even when this other “Real” person is just a mirror of our Imaginary alter-ego (i.e. when we empathize for others, this little other is doing work). Whereas, the big Other interferes with this little Imaginary other and the split subject through the Symbolic order. The big Other is the law which remains unconscious to the split subject through the discourse of Symbolic language. Essentially, Lacan thinks language comes from the big Other / unconscious mind. And what is spoken / written always obscurely shrouds the big Other as a radical alterity. This is another reason why the subject is always “split” as they articulate words, since they do not know what the big Other is thinking. The big Other is what mediates and shapes the split subject and the ego because it is the true mastermind of humans.
Since language is always influenced by the unconscious mind, Lacan will use algebra and other mathematical symbols known as “mathemes” to represent psychoanalytical concepts (for example, this is the graph of desire, and here is the graph on sexual difference, you won’t be able to understand them unless you read his seminars). Following closely to the philosophers Alexandre Koyre and Gaston Bachelard, Lacan thinks that by using mathematical formulas, he can transmit his knowledge on psychoanalysis to others. Furthermore, it is also why Lacan is so hard to read because the language that is articulated by the speaker (and interpreted by the reader), is always influenced by the unconscious. Hence, Lacan tries to counter-act this problem by presenting his work in strange ways.
The Mirror Stage, Castration, and the Oedipus Complex
The first figure who takes position as the big Other—the Real Other—is the mother who represents authority (the law) for a child to care for him/her. Thus, the big Other is always a woman. We can say that the first question the child asks is “What does the (m)Other want?” (by “want”, I mean, “desire”). The newborn child attempts to figure out the mother’s gestures who is either too loving or too withdrawn. The child becomes anxious for this Real Other because he/she cannot figure out what the mother wants. It is not until the child begins the mirror stage where they realize that the mother lacks a signifier and confronts the Oedipus Complex, which is closely related to castration. Here, Lacan is cautious to not fall into the traditional “every family has a mother and father” and that “they are of different biological sexes” trap. For Lacan, the maternal and paternal figures, like sexual difference, are positions that the parents take. As we will soon see, the castration complex will not interfere with this idea since castration is the Symbolic lack of the Imaginary phallus—not the lack of a Real penis (organ).
One of the most important contribution Lacan made in psychoanalysis is the famous concept known as “the mirror stage”. This is the stage when the child first recognizes themselves in the mirror—that the person he/she sees in the mirror is “I”, the Imaginary ego. The mirror stage marks the beginnings on the developments of the Imaginary (Ego; and Fantasy) and Symbolic order (split subject; language; law). To be sure, the mirror stage isn’t just a “stage”, but something that continues into adulthood.
When the child goes into the mirror stage and develops their Imaginary and Symbolic order (i.e. they begin to learn language and who “they are” as the ego, etc.), the child begins the castration complex and discovers how this Real Other which embodies the mother, is actually lacking a Symbolic signifier (there are three types of lacks: privation, frustration and castration; I am going to jump to castration). This is an idea that originates from Freud where the child discovers how their mother does not have a penis. Lacan takes Freud’s idea further by saying that, what lacks is not the Real penis (organ) in the (m)Other, but the Symbolic lack of the Imaginary phallus (the phallus is represented as ф).
Thus, the mother qua Real Other, is always Symbolically lacking the Imaginary phallic signifier. The child learns how their mother, who embodies the big Other, does not have any phallic signifier assigned to her. The mother (woman) is she who lacks a Symbolic language. This is why, the way we articulate Symbolic language through signifiers is always missing the signifier of the big Other since it always “slips away” the moment one tries to anchor / stabilize it. Nothing in Symbolic language can represent the Other (who is always a woman), because the only signifier (language) that exists is the phallus. As such, Lacan crosses out the big Other and refer to it as the “barred Other” (
A) because she cannot be represented in language. This lack which is synonymous to castration, is what causes desire to arise.
From this moment, the famous Lacanian “Name-of-the-Father” comes into play as the “paternal metaphor” which replaces the lack of signifier from the maternal mother. The Real father appears and establishes the Symbolic phallus that was lacking within the Imagination of the child (there is a difference between Symbolic father, Imaginary father, and Real father, which I won’t talk about). Recall in my original post, that the moment we try to identify the Real through the Symbolic statement such as “red wine is made of grape juice”, the statement slips into the Imaginary of the “Real” which is not the actual Real in-itself, i.e. I am Imagining red wine is made of grape juice, which is not the Real irreducible red wine before my eyes. Here, something similar happens, where the Symbolic Name-of-the-Father substitutes for the Real (m)Other; where in a Freudian sense, the Symbolic-Imaginary phallus of the “Real” takes the place of the Real penis (as a “surplus”)—even when it is still fundamentally missing. This is why the castration complex is never complete in anyone, which marks the basic foundation for neurosis. Hence, we are all neurotics who tries to protect ourselves from castration.
On another note, the-Name-of-the-Father is an idea that originates from Freud, which was infamously known as the “Oedipus Complex” . Freud thinks every man represses the idea that they want to kill their father and have sex with their mother (though Lacan is not as extreme as Freud). The Lacanian Father, is equivalent to the Freudian Oedipus complex who says “no” to the taboo of incest—kind of like how incest is a crime in our society. The Father, who represents the Symbolic law (the phallic signifier; where its derivative develops into the laws of civilization, and what one might call “patriarchy”), is the substitution of the missing signifier / lack that the child desires from the (m)Other. As a result, our desire for the mother is repressed in our childhood and is replaced by the law (phallic signifier) of the Father. The-Name-of-the-Father is important because it is the right of passage for the child to enter the structure of society and its laws—along with every structure such as the socio-linguistic aspects of language. This is where the big Other begins to organize around and takes position as society, law, and language.
By articulating language, we are also articulating the lack (big Other) that is inherent within it. This is why Slavoj Zizek uses this to talk about money (See. Incontinence of the Void). The more money (signifiers) we accumulate, the more we paradoxically feel the lack and the more we desire for it (or as Arthur Schopenhauer said, money is like sea water, the more we drink it, the thirstier we get). In a Lacanian sense, the more signifiers that cannot be substituted or “anchored” with the phallus, the more feminine the writing—as we will see with James Joyce later on.
Ultimately, what we express through language represents the castration complex of substituting signs for the lack of the Other. Once again, this is why language is actually full of holes and gaps. It is also another reason why the subject is always split. Without this Symbolic law of the Father—this phallic signifier, which anchors and stabilizes the illusion of meaning, there would not be any meaning. This “anchoring” is famously known as “le point de capiton”, which is often left untranslated. Nevertheless, this is why all Symbolic language is phallic, even when at a fundamental level, signification arises from the missing signifier of the mother. Thus, the active paradox of language is that: the phallic signifier of language also consists of the (m)Other. This mother (woman) qua Other is without Symbolic language, yet she is the origin of the Symbolic language—a language that is inherently (non)phallic.
Finally, we must understand that, for Lacan, both the boy and girl goes through the same Oedipus procedure but in the opposite timeline. For the boy, the-Name-of-the-Father is the exit of the Oedipus complex (who never really exits castration) where he separates from the mother when he recognizes that it is the father who is the Symbolic law (phallus). Where as for the girl, the-Name-of-the-Father marks the entering of the Oedipus Complex where she recognizes how the mother lacks the phallic signifier and begins to turn towards the father. The girl has to take position as the boy since there are no signification that belongs to the mother. Another words, the girl must speak and signify phallic language to substitute the lack in the (m)Other. It is only later where she develops feminine sexuality, which for Lacan, is closely related to “hysteria” and infinite jouissance (I will dab on infinite jouissance later on, but I won’t be talking too much about feminine sexuality because this post is already really long; See. Seminar XX).
The Pleasure Principle and Jouissance
Let us move on to address the sexual experience. While it seems like two people are having sex with each other, the only thing they experience are two things: (1) the Imagination of the other person which makes it appear like they are having sex, even when they are having sex with object a; (2) the only thing we experience during copulation is our own jouissance (pleasure) which takes us away from the other person—not closer. It is love that fills in the void of the other in a “sexual relationship”.
At last, we arrive at one of the most important concept of psychoanalysis—of what Freud famously calls the pleasure principle. Lacan calls it jouissance for reasons which I will try to explain later. For Freud, humans live according to the pleasure principle which is carried out by the unconscious mind. That is to say, the unconscious mind has the tendency to achieve and satisfy the pleasure principle. Hence for Freud, one turns towards the subject’s dreams since he saw how dreams seeks to satisfy our desires in strange latent ways. The trick is that, to experience pleasure does not always mean copulation. Freud saw how our sex drive becomes sublimated in civilization due to the effects of the superego (the law / big Other that prohibits us from doing this or that, such as incest, etc.). The most common form of pleasure that humanity attempts to achieve is happiness. An easy way is to think of the sex drive as a river. If a wall (the Symbolic law; the big Other) blocks off the flow of the river (sex drive), the water will flow elsewhere around the wall (or accumulate behind the wall in which case enhances neurosis and psychosis). This change in flow is called sublimation where we redirect the energy of our sex drive into other things such as, for Lacan, the articulation of language and signifiers (which is always missing the pleasure of the big Other due to castration), and for Freud, other daily activities such as work, hobbies, music, art, etc. This is one of the reasons why, the more laws we impose on people, i.e. the more we reinforce the tyrannical big Other which shapes our ego, the crazier and violent people gets due to the alienation of the unconscious subject (i.e. political correctness). Furthermore, our civilization today is largely based on achieving infinite jouissance as an end-in-itself and there are too many examples to count. This idea is famously known as Freud’s “libidinal economy” (an economy based on our libido).
The most controversial part of the pleasure principle is when Freud discovers how it actually tries to exceed into its opposition (See. Beyond the Pleasure Principle). Another words, there consists of another drive of what Freud infamously calls, the death drive. To put it in a quasi-Freudian and Lacanian way, Freud saw how our unconscious mind / subject (influenced by the big Other) seeks for all sorts of pleasure—including things that causes us suffering and pain. Not only do we want to live a happy life for pleasure, we also have an instinct of wanting “to return to the inanimate” (for real, Freud is not saying you should kill yourself, so please don’t). This is where the concepts of Sadochism, Masochism, and Fetishism are introduced because we all share certain aspects of these concepts in one way or another. For example, the most common form of fetish is kissing. Nevertheless, Lacan’s jouissance is the combination of both sex and death drive. Jouissance is a type of pleasure so powerful that it exceeds itself. Lacan refers to it as “pleasure” and not “enjoyment” because enjoyment implies that pleasure has a limit. Whereas jouissance does not have limits because it will lead the subject towards self-destruction.
Now you see how all of these psychoanalytical concepts overlaps each other as we near the end of this post. What we begin to see is how, for Lacan, the articulation of language and signifiers are a form of jouissance that is related to all the other concepts I mentioned (the Oedipus and castration complex, etc.). Lacan famously calls this, lalangue, which is an amalgam of libido and signifier. Another words, writing this post gives me jouissance. Speaking and articulating language gives jouissance. Reading this post and not / half understanding it gives jouissance.
I think part of the reason why jouissance is left untranslated is to leave us with a sense of dissatisfaction on how the signifier is incomplete which brings us “frustration” and pleasure. Furthermore, this untranslated term “jouissance” also marks castration within the Symbolic signifiers of the split subject, due to the lack of the Other. The jouissance of the Other within the Symbolic is impossible to acquire and we have to give up this jouissance (here, we recognize how the saying, “we want what we can’t have” lives up to its words because we can never have it). This is where object a fills in the missing jouissance of the Other / other.
My writings on Jordan Peterson and Post-structuralism has been by far, the most frequently visited, re-blogged, and referred. In general, my position on Peterson’s views on post-structuralism remains the same—even if my views on Derrida has slightly changed. To be honest, I think Peterson’s arguments against Derrida are quite pathetic and hypocritical. In general, the only thing I agree with Peterson is how political correctness is a huge problem.
In the original post, I covered Lacan’s infamous idea on how “there is no such thing as woman”, where feminine sexuality can only be recognized through the stuffing of the signifier, such as James Joyce’s Ulysses. If you recall on how the big Other, who is a woman that lacks a signifier, you will see why I said there are no language which can represent “woman’s language” due to the castration complex. But above all else, the paradoxical reason why Joyce’s Ulysses represents a woman’s writing is the result of infinitive signifiers where meaning constantly “slips away”. There appears to be a lack of (phallic) signified meaning when the reader tries to anchor the meanings (allusions) of the novel. On one hand, what allows signifiers to stabilize is the Symbolic law, the-Name-of-the-Father, who with a phallus, fixes signifiers in place to produce an illusion of meaning. On the other hand, because the text is bloated with signifiers, the anchoring of meaning becomes impossible. The phallus becomes impossible because it cannot anchor any illusions for a fixed meaning. Thus, the text presents itself as a “woman’s writing” where signifiers continues to slide to infinity and cannot be pinned down. This infinite movement of the signifier is also the infinite aspect of woman jouissance.
The recognition on the lack of a signifier is where feminine sexuality arises which is contrasted by masculine sexuality through fixed meaning. This is why feminist Helene Cixious wrote the way she did in her famous work: The Laugh of Medusa. When Derrida speaks of the term “phallogocentrism”, where the phal = phallus, as in the Symbolic, and not “penis” (as in the Real organ), we are dealing with a Bobby interpreted, quasi-Derridean criticism on psychoanalysis where people privilege and choose the position of masculine language, over the feminine “stuffed signifiers” of language (remember that sexuality, like the maternal / paternal figure, are merely positions that one takes).
Finally, I also mentioned that Derrida is a critic of psychoanalysis which is true. To be honest, I never read the Derridean book I cited, called Resistances of Psychoanalysis. Though if I were to take a wild guess, Derrida will probably talk about the problem on interpretation of the signifier in psychoanalysis and maybe the problem of the word “drive” translated from “trieb”. Derrida practices a specific type of phenomenology that is neither Husserlian or Heideggarian. One should not confuse phenomenology with psychoanalysis because they are polar opposites. In fact, Husserlian phenomenology challenges a lot of the assumptions made in psychology in general, particularly regarding the use of logic (See. psychologism). If you hate psychoanalysis but are still interested in French philosophy, a good anti-psychoanalytical text is Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia who focuses on the “micro-politics” of desire. This was the book that Lacan banned from his psychoanalytic institution. I have read a chunk of the book and it is pretty weird—almost as weird as me.