deconstruction, derrida, Levi-Strauss, Nietzsche, structuralism, Uncategorized

Notes on Derrida’s “Structure, Sign and Play in the Human Sciences”

Derrida: “Structure, Sign and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences”

From Writing and Difference, trans. Alan Bass (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978): 278-93.

“We need to interpret interpretations more than to interpret things” (Montaigne).

Derrida refers to the history of the concept of structure and an “event” in that history (it should be noted that in this opening paragraph, Derrida himself highlights the bracketing of the term event in quotation marks to serve as a precaution). Even here, the choice of the word “event” is “loaded” with a “meaning” that structural or structuralist thought seems to preclude. Thus we would have to say this word “event” as though it were crossed out or sous rature (under erasure). And so, with these precautions and noting structuralism’s potential objections, Derrida chooses to speak of an event whose “exterior form would be that of a rupture and a redoubling” (278).

This rupture perhaps brings to mind what Althusser normally calls an “epistemic break”, insofar as Derrida notes how the concept and word “structure” are as old as the episteme of Western philosophy and intertwines deeply with the “soil of ordinary language”. In fact the word and concept of structure are metaphorically displaced by the “deepest recesses” of the episteme. Of course, Althusser attributes epistemological breaks specifically to Marx and the way in which ideological conceptions are replaced by scientific ones. Here, what concerns the notion of an “event” in the history of the “structurality of structure” is the way in which it has always already been at work and “neutralized or reduced” due to its spontaneous attribution of a center or point of presence, “a fixed origin”. The goal of attributing a fixed center to structure is in order to “limit what we might call the play of structure”. It is not to eliminate play but to limit it according to the “total form” of structure that the episteme has succeeded in warding off “the notion of a structure lacking any center”, which would represent “the unthinkable itself”. (279).

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anti-philosophy, badiou, deconstruction, Deleuze, difference, heidegger, lacan, levinas, mathematics, metaphysics, negation, poetry, psychoanalysis, unity, writing

Metaphysics beyond Psychoanalysis: The Unconscious, Language and Reality after Heidegger and Deleuze


Metaphysics beyond Psychoanalysis

0: Entryways

“What does it matter how many lovers you have if none of them gives you the universe?”

“Lacan never pursues purely philosophical objectives.”

Questions, not meanings, are forgotten. May we therefore at last refrain from inquiring what psychoanalysis means, or asking what it is supposed to signify? And, since this alone is clearly insufficient, could it also be possible to take a cautious step “backwards,” simply in order to ask: which psychoanalysis, and how does it work? Where, when, and how much is it thinking? Where and why does it forget (merging imperceptibly here with a mythical alien outside, or fading transparently there into an empirical illusion)? From what eerily formal abyss “must” the “truth” must be continuously salvaged? Why these specific fixations, abstract algorithms and “critical” meta-languages — and in what ways are these translated (and transformed) into applications as clinical practice?

The history of psychoanalysis is a torus, and offers few instances of non-paradoxical theoretical encounters. It is in this sense that Lacan’s project of critically deconstructing the “origins” of (post-Freudian) psychoanalysis could be said to follow analogically — or even metaphorically — from Heidegger’s project of ungrounding (Platonic) metaphysics via a “detour” through the Pre-Socratics. In a different but curiously parallel way, Deleuze’s distaste for — and now subtle, now overt subversion of — Lacan, especially his analysis of desire (bordering at times on a strange kind of “power struggle” within psychoanalysis not unlike Lacan’s own break with the analysts of his early career) can indeed be said to mirror Levinas’ tense and passionate struggle with Heidegger over the question of desire — which, not coincidentally, Heidegger also characterizes as structured around a central lack.

In terms of contemporary theory, Laruelle and Badiou’s anti- or non-philosophy could be said to present a similarly-effective overturning of literary-deconstructive methods — we find a deceptive model of this technique in the work of Derrida, and in a different sense, the work of Deleuze and Guattari. Badiou’s position could be baldly summarized as a critique of what is really a humanistic or “centralizing,” isolationist move within theory, which claims to be the opposite, or “de-centralizing” — while ancient philosophy suffered badly from a similar “axiomatic” illusion as well, it is especially modern thinkers whose theory is built starting from a promise (instead of a premise,) and so filled with convincing but misleading interpretations of facts (rather than taking a de-subjectivized scientific position capable of producing a rigorous analysis of the “facts” of the matter.) Laruelle expresses this “inhumanism,” or post-metaphysical materialism, particularly rigorously: only science is really capable of moving thought beyond the philosophical as such.

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attention, barrier, deconstruction, lacan, language, metaphor, signifier, structure, subject, Thought, unconscious

For Lacan


The question of vigilance is important. It is as if a demon plays a game with your attention [lit. “watchfulness.”]


To identify a “subject” is not only difficult, but truly impossible: we always only ‘nominate’ in the last instance one of its barriers; or rather, we indicate only what is barred, but we do so by signifying the barrier.

How can we understand this barrier — this imaginary line of symbolic exchange? In what sense does it have an “articulable” structure?

We may risk the following thesis. There are two poles or dissymmetrical operations to metaphor, not quite internal and external, but rather ‘intimate’ or ‘extimate,’ characterizing the relationship of the barrier to what is ‘barred’ (from speech, consciousness, etc.)

For example, we can speak of a line of variation (instead of the ‘actual’ — intimate — varieties of matter); but we can also we speak of multiple figures or forms (instead of the ‘virtual’ — extimate — force of pure multiplicity.)

Thus ‘figurate speech’ is that which thinks by tying together the two figurative series, itinerantly circulating between the extimate and intimate poles of metaphor. The “subject” comprehends and expresses his reality metaphorically; the subject is a metaphor.
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