- 07/04/2019 at 6:22 am #1322956EduGorillaKeymasterSelect Question Language :
The most prominent opposition with which Derrida’s earlier work is concerned is that between speech and writing. According to Derrida, thinkers as different as Plato, Rousseau, Saussure, and Levi-Strauss, have all denigrated the written word and valorised speech, by contrast, as some type of pure conduit of meaning. Their argument is that while spoken words are the symbols of mental experience, written words are the symbols of that already existing symbol. As representations of speech, they are doubly derivative and doubly far from a unity with one’s own thought. Without going into detail regarding the ways in which these thinkers have set about justifying this type of hierarchical opposition, it is important to remember that the first strategy of deconstruction is to reverse existing oppositions. In Of Grammatology (perhaps his most famous work), Derrida hence attempts to illustrate that the structure of writing and grammatology are more important and even ‘older’ than the supposedly pure structure of presence-to-self that is characterised as typical of speech.
For example, in an entire chapter of his Course in General Linguistics, Ferdinand de Saussure tries to restrict the science of linguistics to the phonetic and audible word only. In the course of his inquiry, Saussure goes as far as to argue that “language and writing are two distinct systems of signs: the second exists for the sole purpose of representing the first”. Language, Saussure insists, has an oral tradition that is independent of writing, and it is this independence that makes a pure science of speech possible. Derrida vehemently disagrees with this hierarchy and instead argues that all that can be claimed of writing – e.g. that it is derivative and merely refers to other signs – is equally true of speech. But as well as criticising such a position for certain unjustifiable presuppositions, including the idea that we are self identical with ourselves in ‘hearing’ ourselves think, Derrida also makes explicit the manner in which such a hierarchy is rendered untenable from within Saussure’s own text.
Most famously, Saussure is the proponent of the thesis that is commonly referred to as “the arbitrariness of the sign”, and this asserts, to simplify matters considerably, that the signifier bears no necessary relationship to that which is signified. Saussure derives numerous consequences from this position, but as Derrida points out, this notion of arbitrariness and of “unmotivated institutions” of signs, would seem to deny the possibility of any natural attachment. After all, if the sign is arbitrary and eschews any foundational reference to reality, it would seem that a certain type of sign (i.e. the spoken) could not be more natural than another (i.e. the written). However, it is precisely this idea of a natural attachment that Saussure relies upon to argue for our “natural bond” with sound, and his suggestion that sounds are more intimately related to our thoughts than the written word hence runs counter to his fundamental principle regarding the arbitrariness of the sign.Which of these is the best description of the author’s tone in the passage?
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