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Understanding deconstruction through Derrida’s “Structure, sign and play in the discourse of Human sciences.”

Understanding deconstruction through Derrida’s “Structure, sign and play in the discourse of Human sciences.”

Almost a decade ago, in 1997, the International Kolkata Book Fair for the very first time, introduced a foreign nation as its focal theme – the Republic of France. Inaugurated by the French philopher, Jacques Derrida, the fair was also a witness to a massive outbreak of fire, engulfing it completely. After the reconstruction had been done and the fair was made open to the public within a period of three days, poet Annada Shankar Roy had remarked in jest, “Since we do not believe in deconstruction, we have been able to reconstruct the fair.”

Wondering what is ‘deconstruction’?  Incidentally, it is a term intimately related with Jacques Derrida, the noted philosopher and theorist. Rooted in Heidegger’s theory of Destruktion, ‘deconstruction’ involves simultaneous affirmation and undoing. In 1967, Derrida said: “To ‘deconstruct’ philosophy, thus, would be to think—in the most faithful, interior way—the structured genealogy of philosophy’s concepts, but at the same time to determine—from a certain exterior that is unqualifiable or unnameable by philosophy—what this history has been able to dissimulate or forbid, making itself into a history by means of this…motivated repression.”

In his essay, ‘STRUCTURE, SIGN AND PLAY IN THE DISCOURSE OF HUMAN SCIENCES’, Derrida enunciates what he owes to structuralism and his points of divergence from it. Any attempt to undo a particular concept is more likely to be caught in the terms upon which the concept depends. According to Derrida, the meaning of sign is always detached, always without any anchor – a void between the subject and what he wants to express. While Saussure considers language to be a closed system, it is an open system for Derrida. As Das and Mohanty opines, “a center diminishes the structurality of structure by posting an objective reality.”

Derrida deduced that each sign performs two functions: ‘differing’ and ‘deferring’. While one is spatial, the other is temporal. Coining the term ‘sous rature’ to express “the inadequacy of the sign”, Jacques Derrida brings forth the notion that every sign is written under erasure. Aiming to liberate language from the age-old concept, he said that there are two interpretations of ‘interpretation’, ‘structure’, ‘sign’ and ‘free play’:

“…one seeks to decipher, dreams of deciphering a truth or an origin, which is free from free play and the order of the sign… The other, which is no longer turned towards the origin, affirms free play.”

Thus an author can never express his feeling accurate and exact. He must always mean something different, something more than what he had desired. In the words of John Sturrock, “The meanings that are read…may or may not coincide with the meanings which the author believes he or she has invested it with.”

Presented as a symposium on Structuralism at the John Hopkins University, Jacques Derrida concludes this essay with the belief that we would gradually progress towards an “interpretation of interpretation” where one would no longer be “turned towards the origin.”


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