Category Archives: Derrida

Short Review: Derrida’s Of Grammatology

What was first? This is the question Derrida tries to expose as one that misleads us in the West into imposing our tradition as one that is to be deemed universal. He does so in 450 pages of not always very readable prose. Maybe that is not a coincidence because it is not easy to pull of a Houdini from within a tradition to expose his tradition as just a tradition whilst not getting caught up in a new entanglement (for instance by becoming a Houdini who is caught up in constantly performing ever more tortuous escape acts). Obviously he doesn’t succeed. Succeeding would defeat his point. He winds up saying:

Said differently, it does not suffice, it is not – really – about showing the interiority of what Rousseau thought exterior; rather it is to give as food for thought the power of the external to generate the interior. p. 441 (my emphasis)

The operative word here is ‘really’ (in French: ‘au vrai’). It shows Derrida circling back to the question of what was – really, truly – first. It exposes the universality of that question – the question of firstness. In exposing dichotomies he imposes his new dichotomy: instead of matter and mind, nature and nurture we get thinking and writing, the interior and the exterior, origins and inscriptions, intuition and traces, assimilation and difference. And it is a truly inspiring dichotomy; one which summarizes 20th century philosophy as well as should inspire 21st century philosophy. Let me briefly say why this is so.

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Homeros was autistic (well, I say Derrida would say so)

“In the chain of supplements, it was difficult to separate writing from masturbation.” De la grammatologie, Derrida, p. 235.

Some people say it is ludicrous to diagnose historic figures with autism. They, consciously or not, rely on deconstruction to make their point. The word autism only exists from the 20th century and imputing it to historic figures is trying to accord a reality to it which it cannot have. This is bollocks. Instead of deconstructing (i.e. unmasking) a naïve view of things, it reconstructs some kind of innocent naïveté in which nothing goes wrong except by oppression. As if everything we supplement in this society is foreign to the true nature of it. As if words like autism are intrinsically violent and we need to put on our “original” masks of aboriginal innocence. Bollocks – nothing is further removed from the actual text Derrida has written. It is back to the ideas of Rousseau – as if Derrida had not written his supplement on that supplement. It is a reactionary idea common in progressive thought that got scared from its own conclusions and hides in a window-dressed conservatism.

Let me take one of those wild associations of Derrida – masturbation and writing – and do the right thing to show via hyperbole how autism can be literally traced to Homeros – the first (blind!) writer and how the idea of supplement is unavoidably also that of autism as a kind of mental masturbation.

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