Writing and Difference – Jacques Derrida (1967)


“‘Structure, Sign, and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences’ (French: La structure, le signe et le jeu dans le discours des sciences humaines) was a lecture presented at Johns Hopkins University on 21 October 1966 by philosopher Jacques Derrida. The lecture was then published in 1967 as chapter ten of Writing and Difference (French: L’écriture et la différence). ‘Structure, Sign, and Play’ identifies a tendency for philosophers to denounce each other for relying on problematic discourse, and argues that this reliance is to some degree inevitable because we can only write in the language we inherit. Discussing the anthropology of Claude Lévi-Strauss, Derrida argues that we are all bricoleurs, creative thinkers who must use the tools we find around us. Although presented at a conference intended to popularize structuralism, the lecture is widely cited as the starting point for post-structuralism in the United States. Along with Derrida’s longer text Of Grammatology, it is also programmatic for the process of deconstruction. … ‘Structure, sign, and play’ discusses how philosophy and social science understand ‘structures’ abstractly. Derrida is dealing with structuralism, a type of analysis which understands individual elements of language and culture as embedded in larger structures. The archetypal examples of structuralism come from Ferdinand de Saussure, who argued that phonemes gain ‘linguistic value’ through their relations with each other. (Derrida dealt directly with Saussure in a related book titled Of Grammatology). The main object of this text is Claude Lévi-Strauss, whose structuralist anthropology analyzed the relationships between elements of cultural systems such as mythology. Derrida admires the reflexivity and abstract analyses of structuralism, but argues that these discourses have still not gone far enough in treating structures as free-floating (or ‘playing’) sets of relationships. In particular, he accuses structuralist discourses of holding on to a ‘center’: a privileged term that anchors the structure and does not play. …”
W – Structure, Sign, and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences
W – Writing and Difference
Guardian: Jacques Derrida
[PDF] Writing and Difference

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