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Jacques Derrida: Deciphering Difference


Introduction To Derridean Ideology.

Jacques Derrida is responsible for some of the most radical political and philosophical commentary over the last 50 years.  Derrida’s unique departure from traditional paradigms of political and cultural philosophes reconfigured modern thought.  Although Derrida was traditionally trained in dominate concepts articulated by Kantian ideals he broke post-structuralist ground with his semiotic analysis of deconstruction (Powell 10) Derrida’s inquiry was not of the material world, but the metaphysical assumptions the world operates under. The evolution of western thought has constructed assemblages of ideals and values that have assumed a model for humanity that proliferated throughout law, religion and science. The resulting structures have created a rubric which different societies are able to operate.  Derrida focuses mostly on the assemblages of textual meanings and those implications knowledge and society.

In this essay I’m going to articulate Derridean public philosophies of ontology, epistemology, law and ethics. Derrida’s political philosophy questions the very fabric of society and how it has come to be.  Through a radical questioning of being, epistemology, government and ethics deconstruction is key to understand the symbolic organization of all aspects of modern society.  Applying methods of Unconditional hospitality and deconstruction we are able to decode difference and apply it to current geopolitical crisis.
Ontology: Approaching Difference  
            Derrida’s examination of human nature can be traced back to his own experience. Born to Sephardic Jewish family in a rapidly modernizing Algeria (Powell, 11).  The powerful influence advancing French Catholicism forced the Sephardic tradition underground. His families’ traditions and custom became external to the normal body politic.  Conflict embedded within religious, political, national and ethnic, identity exposes structural antagonisms that drive social conflict. Derrida’s own natal alienation and repression of his cultural heritage is a form of ontological violence. The disavowal of his own metaphysical framework in favor of another provoked a grander questioning of every philosophical structure.

Derrida contends these overriding metaphysical structures predetermine the potentiality for human nature. Ontological flexibility is limited by subjective experiences of the individual.  Ultimately every individual assumes some ideological standpoint to operate in the world. However, Ideological traits are acquired through the phenomenological engagement with social structures. This immaterial and material experience informs our ideological complexes. The separation between the material and ideological understandings of ontologies is where Derrida begins his discussion. The material symbols that inhabit our world have creates a semiotic rubric which identity is formulated upon. This framework positions difference in identity upon a hierarchical scale making the social value of some humans greater than others.

Derrida quantifies ontology through difference (Derrida, 264). The confrontation of difference exposes the distinctions of one ontology from another.  During the impasse of difference there is a calculative understanding inscribed upon the other. We create an ontological relation to it by attaching it with a signification.  This applies to both material things such as capitol or immaterial things such as pride. The formation of that relation creates dynamics that perpetuate grander ideological apparatuses and narratives. All ideologies, political or theological are extensions of universal models for humanity.

Derrida explicitly rejects the conception of a utopian universal ideology as the referent for human nature. Deconstruction is a process of negotiating the terms in which difference is encountered. This is both in terms of how symbols, text and culture inform our being but additionally how our being is compared in terms of difference.  The articulations of difference become focal points for corporal violence.  The nature of western metaphysics is colonializing and ontologically imperial.

Derrida suggests that we are required to embrace difference with unconditional hospitality. Unconditional hospitality would transcend things like nationalism, sovereignty, racism, sexism, and bigotry. A process of deconstruction through juxtaposition with no evaluative outcome bias or prejudice to truly understand the nature of the other. However, Derrida contends you will never know the full extent of difference nor when you will encounter it.  Thus its your duty to remain vigilant in order to maintain a constant state of radical openness.

Epistemology: Embracing Deconstruction

Deconstruction is meth to analyze the binaries, hierarchies, symbols, paradoxes and structures that have legitimized discourse within western culture. To deconstruct is to temporally rupture and radically problematize the epistemological foundations of modern reality.  By questioning the fundamental assumptions that drive our individual and political behavior we are able to renegotiate the terms in which culture, politics, science, religion and ethics operate.

Derrida rejects the traditional foundations of knowledge that has been collected and validated through the advancement of western society. Rather than assuming the universality of truth, Derrida believes in post structuralism conception of reality. In accordance with the fundamentals of deconstruction, derrida seeks to disassemble tropes of knowledge production.  In his essay, Of Grammatology Derrida uses the textual analysis to prove the fluidity of meaning (Derrida, Kaump). By showing how the text could easily be appropriated to a different understanding it disproved the assumption that truth is embedded within text.

Derrida contends that the text represents some trace of knowledge. However the evolution and amalgamations of the connotative and denotative understandings of words has changed their conceptual operation. Understanding the connection between material reality and the textual connotation and contextualization provides a map to understand social ordering. Through textual deconstruction Derrida was able to prove that the structuralism object understandings of ancient politics fallible. Supposing the politics of know share a trace with historical politics why should we presume one legitimate.

Derrida’s theory of epistemology is explained through the concept of presence and absence (Derrida, Kaump). The distinction with presence and absence is a separation, which distinguishes Derridean ideology from traditional Kantian philosophy. The assumption of presence relies on materiality to inform you ideological understands of world and would relate I materialist ontology. The notion of absence is the dialectical comparison, which opens the limits of possibility. Normative logocentric understandings of the world require presence in order to articulate the truths about the world. We understand that material structures, and we have created systems to operate within them. This eludes the possibility that there is a better system void of material requirements. Limiting the poseable questions towards modern knowledge production locks in a static state of being within the world.  Derrida contends we should focalize on the absence, in order to expose the faults within existing structures.

The process of deconstruction operates under the concept of the trace. Deconstruction cannot occur from nothing and has to have a starting point. Even if we were to strip every aspect of western society down to bare ontology it doesn’t provide any new orientation of thought. The trace becomes the point of referent (Presence) that we juxtapose to (Absence).  From this type of casual prediction based politic we’ve been able to manipulate the national and cultural structures within the United States and abroad. The trace becomes a cypher to unpacking the historical meaning and social significance of antagonisms involved in the prais of deconstruction.

Western metaphysics relies heavily on the logocentric understandings of objectivity. This means a textual signifier represents an absolute truth in the world and is able to form dynamics of human nature around it. Derrida rejects this chain of signification. One word, refers to another word, one signification refers to another. This complex assembled of understandings produces no authentic truth (Derrida, Kamuf). Because meaning is only articulate through the reading, there is no objectivity. Notions of politics are just one reiteration after another of what we have predetermined the best method for social organization. This regurgitation of morally superior ideals drowns out the possibility for radical democracy.

Derrida applies this idea of chain signification towards the idea of science. Science is supposed to produce the absolute concrete truths of the world. However, the method they discover, appropriate and prove theories to be truth all of the analysis is texualized in traditional concepts of western metaphysics. Why is a cell called a cell? Because we called it that and we have inspired a common reading of that text to most of western humanity.  What is the basis for that being absolute truth?  It is only true, as it exists in the connotative understanding in human dialects. Derrida’s criticism of social science is especially problematic for the operation of political science.  As students we are trained terms like hegemony, political capital, sovereignty—words that have only meaning within context to other content. This becomes the fundamental failure within these social sciences and why Derrida rejects them as political truths

Genealogy Of The Law       


Derrida’s assumptions of human nature and knowledge production fundamentally challenges the way traditional politics ought to be conceptualized. Both in terms of how we should act as citizens organize as communities and operate as a civilization.  Governments, nations, sovereignty are all social science terms that represent a signified concept.  Governments function on law and the operation of the law to form a form of social order. The social order obtains legitimate authority by relying upon a history of universalized under standings of justice that are built upon one school of thought after another. One articulation becomes appropriated to another, meaning is reformed and the social structure evolves.

Derrida rejects this assemblage of authority. Why should we as individuals accept some predetermined analysis of a legal doctrine? The law in and of itself is supposed to represent and assemblage of absolute justice. However, these structures of law represent a predisposed textual meaning that has an assumed historical value.  We operate within those textual guidelines because of the signifier it represents.  Materially and symbolically laws begin to both determine the model for the objective citizens.

Derrida argues the articulation of absolute justice is impossible. The laws that we put so much faith in to organize the collective of humanity are absolutely historically and socially constructed. The process of deconstruction exposes the impossibility of justice. Justice is dependent upon symbolic and material engagement with the other. The imposition of government action presumes the intrinsic nature of its laws is just (Derrida 451).  However the preformative enactment of the law is filtered through the lens of western metaphysics. This performance intrinsically perpetuates symbolic violence against the other.

However some ethics must be possible, we have to be able to interact with the world with some morality.  Recalling the concept of the trace we can elaboration on how the genealogy of terms, symbols has manipulated the efficacy of ethical standards.  Our understanding of ethics is also engrained within western metaphysics; at what point would deconstruct be able to de-link and create a true ethics? It can’t. The only ethical act is to deconstruct (Fuh 8).  Deconstruction isn’t an end point, but a process. In a analysis of axiomatic tendencies of western civilization the only consistent deconstruction provides a platform to understand the nature of difference and its relation to ethics.  In order to have a politics that is doesn’t perpetuate violence deconstruction must be the lens to view ontology and decode epistemology.


The Nature of Democracy

The only distinction between a terrorist and a patriot is perspective. Deconstruction plays a vital role in analyzing the recent development in the war on terror. With mass media hyper accelerating the transaction of semiotic meaning islamaphobia has stained American conceptions of the Middle East.  The war on terror represents an unending assault upon the other.  The ever present threat of the Muslim terrorist has create a cycle of  xenophobic racism which is ontological violent to Muslim individuals (Haddad, 30)

Derrida articulates this process as “autoimmunity” (Haddad, 30) in which the body politic attempts to immunities itself against what it perceives to be a threat. This is a self-replicating process that rhetorically and symbolically inscribes connotative violence on individuals. The abstract nature of democracy is assumed to provide equality in all aspects. However, when there becomes and omnipresent understanding of one ontological position as inherently evil democracy becomes impossible.  We must break with the structures that are perpetuation corporal  violence and adopt an ethic of unconditional hospitality.


Conclusion & Applications

Human nature becomes something that is informed by the symbols and structure around us.  Through the advancement of western civilization there have developed assumed philosophical truths. Derrida deconstructs those truths. By breaking down the semiotic and cultural hierarchies you are able to isolate violence.

Although the majority of Derrida’s writing is limited to the philosophical nature of the world around us its relation to textual understandings; his analysis provides a platform to analyze the symbols and rhetoric that function in every day society. This includes and is not limited to, political parties, communities, state and national governments, identity politics, capitalism, consumptive patters and ideas in of themselves.   Methods of deconstruction are a political necessity to navigate the complexity of the modern world.  In respect to the pragmatic conclusion of a deconstructed world I would imagine it to be parallel a pluralist dynamic both in terms of human nature but how individuals should embrace alternative cultural perspectives.


Works Cited

Derrida, Jacques. “Force De Loi: Le Fondement Mystique De L’Autorite,.” (1989-1990): 400-460. Hein Online Library. Web. 10 Apr. 2014. <http://heinonline.org.www2.lib.ku.edu:2048/HOL/Print?collection=journals&handle=hein.journals/cdozo11&id=934&gt;.

Derrida, Jacques, and Peggy Kamuf. A Derrida Reader: Between the Blinds. New York: Columbia UP, 1991. Print.

Derrida, Jacques. “Differance.” Northwestern University Press (n.d.): 260-70.Project Lamar. Web. 10 Apr. 2014. <http://projectlamar.com/media/Derrida-Differance.pdf&gt;.

Fuh, Shyh-jen. “Derrida and the Problem of Ethics.” Concentric: Studies in English Literature and Linguistics 29.1 (2003): 1-22. KU Libraries. Web. 10 Apr. 2014 Dong Hwa University

Haddad, Samir. “Derrida and Democracy at Risk.” Contretemps 4 (2004): 1-16. Web. 10 Feb. 2014.Assistant Professor of Philosophy Associate Chair for Undergraduate Studies RH

Powell, Jason. Jacques Derrida : A Biography. London GBR: Continuum Internaional, 2006. Lib.Ku.edu. The University of Kansas Libraries. Web. 10 Apr. 2014. <http://site.ebrary.com.www2.lib.ku.edu:2048/lib/kansas/docDetail.action?docID=10285123&gt;.LC Call Number: B2430.D484 — P69 2006eb eISBN: 9781441131720 pISBN: 9780826490018 Dewey Decimal Number: OCLC Number: 646806760