Derrida's Structure, Sign and Play in the Discourse of Human Sciences

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Richard L. W. Clarke LITS3304 Notes 07C 1 JACQUES DERRIDA “STRUCTURE, SIGN AND PLAY IN THE DISCOURSE OF THE HUMAN SCIENCES” (1966) "Structure, Sign and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences." Writing and Difference. Trans. Alan Bass. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1978. 278-294. In this address to a landmark conference which ultimately served as the death-knell of the hegemony of Structuralism in North American academe, Derrida begins by asserting that an “event” (278) (the very “meaning” [278] of which “it is precisely, paradoxically, the function of structural – or structuralist – thought to reduce or to suspect” [278]) has occurred. This event, he argues, has taken the form of a “rupture and a redoubling” (278). Derrida argues that the “concept of structure and even the word ‘structure’ itself are as old as the episteme – that is to say, as old as Western science and Western philosophy” (278) and their “roots thrust deep into the soil of ordinary language” (278). Up to the event which he would like to discuss structure – or rather the structurality of structure – although it has always been at work, has always been neutralised or reduced, and this by a process of giving it a centre or of referring it to a point of presence, a fixed origin. The function of this centre was not only to orient, balance, and organise the structure . . . but above all to make sure that the organising principle of the structure would limit what we might call the play of the structure. By orienting and organising the coherence of the system, the centre of a structure permits the play of its elements inside the total form. And even today the notion of a structure lacking any centre represents the unthinkable itself. (278-279) However, the centre “also closes off the play which it opens up and makes possible. As centre, it is the point at which the substitution of contents, elements

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