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Summary: Derrida's Structure, Sign and Play

Totes Me!
Out of all the Post-Modernist essays to summarize, I had to pick Derrida.

I'm quite pleased with how it turned out though. I do believe I'm getting it, but perhaps noosnomis may correct me.

I went over the wordcount for this one too. 600 - 750 words? Yeah right.

In his essay Struture, Sign and Play in the Discourse of Human Science, Derrida firstly describes the idea of freeplay, which is a decentering of systems within the systems themselves. Centering of systems is supposed to limit freeplay, yet this centering of systems, deisgned to give coherence to the system, is contradictory because it is there by force of desire, not by any fundamental principle. The basis of a structure comprise of historic patterns and repetitions that can be observed through historical records, and these patterns comprise of a series of substitutions for the center. The moment of substitution, which Derrida called "rupture", is the moment when the pattern or repetition reasserts itself through decentering and re-centering the structure, an example of freeplay (within the system) disrupting history (a series of events that provides linear, logical coherence to a system).

The three major critiques of de-centering (by Heideggar, Freud and Nietsche) use the language of metaphysics to breakdown / critique / deconstruct the principles of metaphysics itself. This paradox is relevant as it applies to the dislocation of culture, whether historically, philosophically, economically, politically, etc. The developement of concepts birth their opposing sides (binary oppositions).

Derrida then moves into the discussion of Levi-Strauss' bricolage - the necessity of borrowing concepts from other texts (intertextuality of whatever concepts seem handy to give coherence, an intertextual collage) (obviously subject to change). This bricolage leads to the idea of myth, and while it is assumed that all myths have an engineer, [the concept/person] who creates concepts "out of whole cloth", the idea of the engineer is impossible since it would mean that a system is created from concepts from outside the system - so where did the engineer get these concepts from? Levi-Strauss suggests that the bricoleur invented it - but suspecting the engineer's existence would be to threaten the bricoleur's centered system.

Bricolage is not just an intellectual concept; it is also mythopoetical. Yet for a myth-based concept it seems to command respect as an absolute source. To go back to an absolute source, it is important to reject existing epistèmè (foundations / sciences), yet to oppose mythomorphic discourse on myth, mythomorphic principles must be used. It is a similar quandry the triple philosophers have towards metaphysics.

Myth has no authour, therefore determining that it requires a source is a historical illusion, which brings up the question: does this principle (that the absolute source is a historical illusion) also apply to other fields of discourse?

Levi-Strauss only brings up this question, and Derrida does not attempt to answer it. Instead, he writes that there is an assumption on many philosophers' parts: to go beyond philosophy is impossible - there is no language beyond what is available, therefore there is no language that could explain the outer bounds of the centered system. Derrida suggests that to go beyond philosophy, it has to be read in "a certain way", not assume there is something beyond it. Empiricism (gathering of information which relies on what can be expressed within the system), which informs the language and information base we have to center our systems around, menaces scientific discourse by constantly challenging it, yet it is based in scientific discourse. Paradoxically, structuralism - the school of critique that emphasizes a system of binaries - claims to critique empiricism, and Derrida points out that Levi-Strauss' books and essays are all empirical stuff that can challenged as well.

The concept of sciences calls for the concept of history, as history records information / data and enables sciences to have a center for reference in empirical principles. Empiricism also fails as a system that informs because in order to be completely valid, all information must be gathered (totalization). However, due to freeplay (constant substitutions of the center), totalization of all this infinite information is impossible.

Freeplay not only disrupts the sense of history, it also disrupts presence. Although Levi-Strauss points this out, there is a sense of centered-ness in his critique to ground its presence in a sense of origin, speech and an unmarred source.

Finally, Derrida points out the two reasons for schools of interpretations which are irreconciliable yet exist simultaneously: 1) the interpretation which seeks to decipher an original Truth that is uncluttered by freeplay, and 2) the interpretation which affirms the role of freeplay within the system.

I chose to work with Derrida because his philosophy of not being centered in a single one philosophy has validity. Derrida, as taught in the school of deconstruction, encourages the use of several perspectives (several centers, so to speak) to view a concept. This does not help to affirm any holistic view, but it enables a chance to find common ground between perspectives even though the idea seems impossible. To me, if the purpose of freeplay is to de-center within a system, then it is perhaps possible to use the idea of freeplay to develope and enlargen the system in order to accomodate new centers for thought. This seems to be the point of the post-modern spirit: finding new ways of viewing the world that is not set in any specific system, but constantly moving around with the principles of freeplay in order to participate in the world better.

EDIT: Wow. My spelling sucks today.

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