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Plato's pharmacy.

ALTHOUGH A GREAT VARIETY OF TOPICS are discussed in Derrida's philosophical writings, a central theme recurs in many of them: the relationship between speech and writing. Derrida consistently uses the same methods to deal with this topic, and my reading aims to expose the regulation of these methods. This essay tries to point out the blurring moments of the strategy which lead to one of Derrida's most outrageous outcomes, which is that writing precedes speech. This notion, however, is only the starting point; its consequences are the impossibility of communication and the collapse of the Platonic maxims. Such successful moments of deconstruction are traced back to their origins so as to leave bare the devices on which they are based. It will then be possible to discern a specific recurring stage during which occurs an illegitimate movement according to the Derridan rules of the game.

Derrida's discussion of the Phaedrus begins at the "geographical" center of the dialogue (275c) with the deprecation of the profession of logography. The logographer, who writes orations for trials in which he himself does not appear, represents, for Derrida, the intersection of two crucial phenomena: the presence of the absence (the writer of the speech is present only by means of his own cited words, while being physically absent from the trial), and the gap between writing and truth. The logographer, he says,

in the strict sense, composes speeches for use by litigants; speeches which he himself does not pronounce, which he does not attend, so to speak, in person, and which produce their effects in his absence. In writing what he does not speak, what he would never say and would never think in truth, the author of the written speech is already entrenched in the posture of the sophist: the man of non-presence and non-truth. (76; 68)(1)

At this point Derrida follows Plato, who temporarily abandons the topic of writing (274b), and also leaves the problem of absence and truth for a different subject, the kidnapping of Orithyia in the middle of a game with Pharmacia (229b). Pharmacia is a link (une maille) between the kidnapping, which ends in rape and death, and the reappearance of writing in a later stage of the dialogue. Here, the connection between Pharmacia and the Greek word [unkeyable] is important:

Pharmacia is also a common noun signifying the administration of the [unkeyable], the drug: the medicine and/or poison. . . . A little farther on, Socrates compares the written texts Phaedrus has brought with him to a drug [[unkeyable]]. This [unkeyable], this "medicine," this philter, both remedy and poison at the same time [a la fois], already introduces itself, with all its ambivalence, into the body of the discourse. (78; 70)

For Derrida, the [unkeyable] is only an element in the chain of significantions (108; 95), whose interplay constitutes the textual phenomenon. It is impossible, however, to try to analyze each of the elements in isolation. This kind of interpretation, according to Derrida, would damage the subtle texture of the literary object in a most vulgar way. Sharp distinctions, he claims, are unacceptable in dealing with language:

It is always possible to think that if Plato did not realize [n 'a pas pratique'] certain options [passages] and even actively barred them from being realized [les a meme interrompus], it is because he perceived them but left them in the domain of the potential [dans l'impraticable]. Such a formulation is possible if one avoids all reference to the difference between conscious and unconscious, voluntary and involuntary, a most vulgar means [instrument fort grossier] when one comes to deal with language. (109; 96)

The borders, however, between the conscious and the unconscious, the voluntary and the involuntary, are stressed here, only to be blurred later on. It is not that the limits are important in and of themselves; their only significance stems from being targets for deconstructive assaults. In other words, from a Derridian point of view, the meaning of borders lies in the realization of their destructive potential. This aspect of his reading is vividly expressed in his discussion of Leon Robin's French translation(2) of the Greek word [unkeyable] in the Platonic myth of Theuth.

Toward the end of the dialogue (274c5-275b2.), Socrates utilizes the Egyptian myth of Theuth to illustrate his own arguments against writing. In this myth, a conversation is held between the king and one of the minor deities, Theuth. At a certain point, the new invention of writing is defined by the latter as "a [unkeyable] of wisdom and truth." When Robin translated this expression he chose the word remede (remedy) as the French equivalent of the Greek [unkeyable]. At first glance, this choice seems quite reasonable; the presentation of a new invention should concentrate on its beneficial aspects if the inventor wants it to be accepted. Derrida, however, stresses that such a translation erases the ambiguity of the Greek original and with it the possibility of understanding the context (109; 97). In this dialogue, the meaning of [unkeyable] as poison is no less important than its opposite, because it represents the point of view of the other interlocutor, the king. Writing will be a means of forgetting by giving the illusion of memory and wisdom. People will not know more as a result of the new instrument; on the contrary, they will know less, because of the false beliefs which are the inevitable outcome of writing. Each of the participants in the dialogue about writing thus emphasizes one of the polar signifieds of the signifier [unkeyable], while the text, which consists of both attitudes, defers from choosing either the one or the other (109; 97).

Thus, in that which is named "text," the border between opposites is blurred, and what seemed to be an either-or situation turns out to be a both-and situation. The [unkeyable] is at the same time (a la fois) remedy and poison, good and bad, beneficial and harmful. The meaning of the text can be extricated only on the basis of this mutual coexistence of contradictions. The dialogue between the king and Theuth, held within the unity of the same signifier (dans l'unite du meme signifiant), is proof of its being a unity of opposites (111; 98). Consequently, any intention to choose between the different signifieds (which means a reestablishment of order and limits) is ipso facto a neutralization of the unique textual quality of the object under discussion:

When a word inscribes itself as the citation of another sense of the same word, when the textual predominance [l'avant-scene textuelle] of the word [unkeyable], although signifying "remedy" cites, re-cites and activates the possibility of reading that which within the same word signifies on a different level and in a different profoundity of the scene, poison. . ., the choice of only one of the renditions by the translator has as its first effect the neutralization of the citational play, of the "anagram," and, in the end, quite simply of the very textuality of the translated text (111; 98).

The above citation indicates an important point in Derrida's approach. When one (for example, Robin) erases "poison" on behalf of "medicine," when one chooses a single option and gives it, by definition, even a limited predominance within a section of a given text, what is named "text" becomes a hierarchical phenomenon. According to Derrida, the inevitable outcome of the decision to choose is the deprivation of the text's own textuality, since in such a delicate object even the slightest hint of hierarchy means an immediate loss of the text's most precious characteristic: the plurality of its potentials. This statement, however, gives an important hint to the critic of Derrida. If one would be able to prove that the deconstructive strategy is generally based on the notion of hierarchy and that Derrida himself assumes the existence of hierarchy and utilizes it for his own needs, the very possiblity of a deconstructive reading would have to be seriously modified, to say nothing of the process of reading itself. To indicate not only the existence, but also the importance, of that assumption in Derrida's philosophy, I shall now proceed to the [unkeyable].

The [unkeyable], the scapegoat in Greek religion, is intimately connected to recurring themes in Derrida's interpretation of the Phaedrus. Like the [unkeyable], it represents a both-and phenomenon: it is both inside the city, being raised and nourished by it; and outside, since it must be exiled at a certain time. It is both a remedy, as the city's existence in a time of crisis, especially in time of plague, depends on it; and a poison, since that kind of existence is an outcome of the scapegoat's expulsion and, sometimes, death. Moreover, the [unkeyable] is strongly connected with the dialogue's protagonist, Socrates, both metonymically and metaphorically: metonymically, since Socrates was born on the day of the [unkeyable] expulsion; metaphorically, because Socrates was an essential part of Athens and as such was executed. Thus, he was both citizen and outsider, and his personality was the realization of the unity of contradictions. At the same time he was ugly (in his features) and beautiful (in his soul), honored and despised, loved and hated, close and at a distance, knowing all and nothing, alive and dead, a remedy and a poison. The main problem with the above link is its absence from the Platonic text. The signifier, the word [unkeyable] is absent not only from the dialogue, but also from the Platonic corpus as a whole. Derrida, who is quite aware of the significance of this kind of movement, gives a thorough explanation for it:

But what does absent or present mean here? Like any text, the text of "Plato" could not not be in connection with [etre en rapport], at least in a potential [virtuelle], dynamic, lateral manner, all the words that composed the system of the Greek language. Certain forces of association unite--at diverse distances, with different strengths and according to disparate paths--the words "actually present" in a discourse with all the other words in the lexical system, whether or not they appear as "words," that is, as relative verbal units in such discourse. (148; 129-30)

This explanation does not stem merely from a polemical need. The insertion of a word which is absent from the text can be accomplished only with great difficulty, if one remembers how delicate the Derridian tissue is. Since the absence of the "presence" of a word in the text stopped functioning as a barrier for the external signifiers, there is a serious risk of opening the text to an unrestricted interpretation that might enable the entrance of any word into the fragile web. In other words, since the mere fact that Plato did not write a certain word in a certain text--for example, [unkeyable] is not a sufficient condition for preventing the word from functioning in the act of reading, the whole dictionary is poised to flood the text with an endless stream of words. To avoid demolition, a new principle must immediately be substituted for the old one, and this principle concerns the nature of the connection between different elements of what Derrida calls "text."

Not every word, according to Derrida, is a legitimate participant in textual activity. Only those words which, though actually absent from the text, are connected with it associatively and united with its present words by means of combining forces, can participate in the reading process. This condition can also solve the problem of absence resulting from unconscious trends which cause the suppression of words like [unkeyable] The deconstructive movements shed light upon this involuntary activity and, by reconstituting the suppressed elements, better explain the object under discussion.

It is this limitation, however, which demonstrates the impossibility of the already mentioned necessary deconstructive condition, namely, that the text must be treated as an ahierarchical phenomenon. The mere admission of the fact that not every word may enter into the process of interpretation is an admission of the fact that the text is a hierarchical phenomenon. If there is exclusion, there must also be hierarchy; some words are more important than others, more "in" than "out." They stand on one side of the border, while others stand on the other side. This hierarchy is implied by the very words Derrida chose to realize in his own text: "potential manner," "diverse distances," "different strengths." True, many readers might consider the existence of the limits as obvious, if not banal; it is exactly this kind of banality and obviousness, however, that hinders Derrida's critics from seeing the possibilities of opposition. From a hierarchical perspective, which is that of Derrida's rivals, the border exists by definition, and therefore there is no need to prove its existence. Such a perspective, however, turns out to be one of the great misunderstandings of the rules of the game. Nothing exists by definition since nothing is and nothing can be defined. Only upon complete acceptance of this rule is it possible to see that Derrida himself can not play according to the rules of his own game. What is more, the difficulty in exposing an internal contradiction between two necessary deconstructive conditions (the text as an ahierarchical phenomenon and the importance of hierarchy to any Derridian reading) stresses the fact that the existence of the border is not so banal and obvious as it seems to be at first.

In order to present more vividly the existence of the limits in Derrida's reading, I shall now turn to another of Plato's dialogues, Phaedo, in which the [unkeyable] plays a central role. The dialogues, deals with the last hours of Socrates and with his death by means of the [unkeyable] Let us examine all the places where this appears in the dialogue:

Have you been with Socrates yourself, Phaedo, when he drank the [unkeyable] in prison? (57a1-2) . . . except that after drinking the [unkeyable] he [Socrates] died. (57b2-3)

"Well, definitely nothing, Socrates," said Crito, "except that for some time the one who is about to give you the [unkeyable] says that you should be told to speak as little as possible. For he claims that those who speak get warmer, and this impairs the [unkeyable] activity." (63d6-e2)

For it seems to me that it would be better to drink the [unkeyable] after having a bath, so that the women will not have the burden of bathing the corpse. (115a7-8)

Despite the fact that for a long time I have claimed for many reasons that after I will drink the [unkeyable], I will not stay with you at all . . . (115d2-3)

Socrates, he said, as far as I am concerned, I will not condemn you, as I condemn all the others who are angry with me and curse me after I inform them that, according to the rulers' decisions, it is time for them to drink the [unkeyable]. (116c1-4)

Well, Crito, let's obey him, and that somebody will bring the [unkeyable] if it is ready. (116d7-9)

And the slave went out . . . and came back bringing the one who is about to give the [unkeyeable]. (117a5-6)

. . . and the one who gave the [unkeyable]. (117e6)(3)

Robin's reasons for translating [unkeyable] as poison in this context can easily be detected. The [unkeyable] caused Socrates' death, and therefore it is reasonable to concentrate on its poisonous aspects. Derrida, however, calls his readers' attention to the duality of the [unkeyable] even in this case. The [unkeyable] which is given to Socrates as poison is also responsible for the immortality of his soul (144-5; 126-7). Thus, the [unkeyable] brings death and enables immortality at the same time; it is poison-medicine and not poison or medicine. The justification for stressing this ambiguity is based on the context within which the word appears: Phaedo is a dialogue about the immortality of the soul, held on the verge of Socrates' death. In other words, the unity of contradictions is reaffirmed by the unity of the living speech and the death scene. The use of this kind of argumentation is neither surprising nor uncommon; on the contrary, the importance of the context is quite conventional where matters of interpretation are concerned. Something is hidden behind the innocent veil of convention, however, and not without cause.

The same context which allows the addition of another signified (medicine) to the one given by the French translator Robin (poison) excludes yet another signified of the word [unkeyable] "paint." This option, which appears in the LSJ dictionary(4) as a possible meaning of [unkeyble] does not take a place in the Derridian text, not as a result of a deconstructive repression, but due to the indifference of the context. In the Phaedo the Platonic text creates an environment which excludes the realization of "paint" as a signified. In other words, within the boundaries of this dialogue, the signified "paint" does not have the same intensity as the signifieds "poison" and "medicine." Thus, the context serves as the borderline, and consequently hints at a crucial internal contradiction within the Derridian strategy: either the context is indispensable, and the text is revealed as a hierarchical phenomenon, or the context is irrelevant, and the fragile texture of the text is crushed by vulgar intrusions of signifieds. Neither of these cases, however, is allowed according to the Derridian rules of the game, which demand that the text be both ahierarchical and confined within the limits of the context.

To strengthen and illuminate my critique, I shall now proceed to a more complex example taken from another Platonic dialogue, Cratylus. In this dialogue, Socrates talks about the connection between words and their meanings, or, to use modern terminology, between signifiers and signifieds. At a certain stage of the discussion, Socrates depicts a possible confusion:

However, a variety [unkeyable] of syllables is possible so that to the layman they [the names] might seem different from each other, although ontologically they are the same [[unkeyable]]; just as for us the [unkeyable] of the physicians, being disguised [[unkeyable]] by paints [[unkeyabl]] and smells seem different, although ontologically they are the same [[unkeyable]]. However, as far as the physician is concerned, since he examines the power of the [unkeyable] they seem the same [[unkeyable]], and he is not misled by the additions. (394a5-b2)

In this passage the physician represents the man who is a professional in ontology. The [phi][alpha][rho][mu][alpha][kappa][alpha] are portrayed as identical in their essence, in their "onticity" ([unkeyable]), yet they are colored by paints which make them seem different from one another. Unlike Socrates and Cratylus, who cannot perceive the identical essences, being misled by the colors, the physician can recognize the activity of the [unkeyable] regardless of their appearance. The professionality of the physician will later have a central part in this discussion. At present, I prefer, like Plato, to use it as a model for the professionality of the linguist, who is able to differentiate between the variety of signifiers referring to the same signified.

The signifier [unkeyable] has several signifieds, among which are "drug" and "paint." When Socrates chooses to speak about the "[unkeyable] of the physicians," the additional words "of the physicians" create a hierarchical context within which "drug" has a higher position than "paint." That is, speaking "of the physicians" gives priority to drugs over paints. The Cratylus is, however, a dialogue about linguists and not physicians, and its essential distinctions concern words (see, for example, 423-4) and not drugs. The above quotation is, therefore, located in a verbal context; this phenomenon cannot be ignored by any Derridian reading, as will be shown by the following.

The signified "paint" has an indispensible meaning within this verbal context. Socrates explicitly states that the main danger faced by nonprofessionals in the field of linguistics is that the signifieds, colored by different signifiers, will create ontological confusion, and that one will not be able to perceive the identity hidden under the cover of variation. At first, one may have the impression of an unavoidable deconstruction. The message of the above citation is centered upon the possibility of distinguishing between the different signifieds of the different signifiers. On the one hand, [unkeyable], [unkeyable], and [unkeyable] signify "paint"; on the other hand, [unkeyable] signifies "drug." The context, however, tends to impede the realization of this distinction by loudly citing the association between [unkeyable] and "paint." An association of this type would blur the boundaries not only between the different signifieds as such ("paint" would become a possible signified of [unkeyable] as well) but also between the hierarchical values attached to them. The minute that "drug" equals "paint," the minute one cannot assign a higher position to "drug" than to "paint" within the context of "[unkeyable] of the physicians," the whole hierarchical construct collapses, dragging with it the possibility of meaning.

It seems that I have come to a dead end. At the beginning of the discussion of Cratylus I claimed that it is possible to discern the boundaries and hierarchies both within and between signifiers and signifieds; yet at this stage the associative connections (whose relevance is beyond any doubt) weave a web of contexts which refute the above claim. Although it is not an easy task to point out the misleading aspects of such an ambiguous reading, it is, nevertheless, not impossible. If one concentrates on the signifieds' importance, the force of the selection of the signifiers is forgotten; the citation, which is loaded with signifiers hinting at "paint," never utilizes the [unkeyable] as a signifier for "paint," and not without reason. The selection of signifiers helps to avoid confusion; the variety of signifiers for "paint" proves the significance not only of the present realized options but also of the potential absent ones. Choosing not to utilize [unkeyable] as a signifier for "paint" preserves the hierarchy between the inside and the outside, the signifier and the signified, and reasserts the boundary of difference. The different signifieds, "paint" on the one hand and "drug" on the other, have different signifiers: [unkeyable], [unkeyable], [unkeyable] for the one, and [unkeyable] for the other. Plato thus reveals himself as being open to the risk of a deconstructive reading, and as being able to resist it at the same time. Further backing for this notion is found in another passage from the same dialogue, where Socrates says, "Like the painters who want to portray something, sometimes they add only the purple pigment and sometimes another of the [unkeyable]" (424d7-e1). There is almost no possibility of mistake here. It is clear that the context is dominated by "colors," and Plato does not hesitate to use [unkeyable] as the signifier for "paint." The firmer the limits between the signifieds ("paint" is predominant over "drug," "poison," and "medicine"), the wider the liberty of choosing within the group of associated signifiers ([unkeyable], [unkeyable], [unkeyable]).

The deconstructive reading is based upon an ahierarchical perspective on the text. Although the above example tries to show the impossibility of that perspective, it is possible that Plato is an exception, that is, that the Platonic text qua text is unique in having hierarchical aspects. This possibility could be confirmed by giving as many examples as possible of the ahierarchical perception of the text. Despite being a rather conventional way of verification, however, this is also a defective one: it overextends the limits of discussion, and, even worse, it is always prone to refutation by unexamined texts, the number of which is always higher than that of the examined texts. A different method must therefore be put into practice. It is the giving of one example of an ahierarchical text and proving its uniqueness; by proving the ahierarchical text to be the exception, the normativity of hierarchy will be reaffirmed.

At this point in the analysis, the reader might wonder whether such a text indeed exists, and, from the point of view of meaningful differences and limitations, if there is a possibility of realizing such a text within the boundaries of a book. It is certainly not an easy task to find a text completely fulfilling this deconstructive condition, but a consideration of the most recurring text within the Derridian corpus will give us the answer immediately. This text, which is ahierarchical by definition, is not philosophical but linguistic; it is the dictionary. The order of the words in the dictionary is meaningless from an interpretative point of view; the fact that signifiers beginning with "a" precede those beginning with "b" does not say anything about the precedence of the word "apple" over the word "bee." The same can be claimed about the signifieds: their order reflects the frequency of use but not any meaningful priority ("poison" is not ipso facto more significant than "paint"). The dictionary is the deconstructive text par excellence. It is the emblem of equality, the unity of signifiers and signifieds, the origin and the arche of all the texts; and therefore it has unlimited fertile possibilities. Yet it is also the most barren of all texts because it never stops being a potential and only a potential. The dictionary can never be a realization of its own copious options because any realization requires the abandonment of at least one of the alternatives. The dictionary is, no doubt, the Derridian both-and phenomenon. It is everything and nothing, all existing contexts yet not a text in itself; it is full of citations without being able to say something of its own. If the dictionary "means" something, it means no more than the possibility of meaning.

Thus, in being ahierarchical, in being extremely both-and, the dictionary is fundamentally different from all other texts. Any text, qua text, is a choice, is the exclusion of some contexts and the inclusion of others. The text is an inevitable selection, for good or bad, from the choices given in the dictionary. The text, therefore, is an either-or phenomenon, a hierarchical phenomenon. But let us now go back to the Derridian characterization of the [unkeyable]. In a short passage Derrida refers to the appearance of the [unkeyable] in the real world:

Sperm, water, ink, paint, perfumed dye: the [unkeyable] always penetrates like a liquid; it is drunk, absorbed, introduced into the inside....In liquid, opposites are easily mixed. Liquid is the element of the [unkeyable]. And water, pure liquidity, is most easily and dangerously penetrated then corrupted by the [unkeyable], with which it mixes and immediately unites. (175; 152)

At first glance, the deconstructive rigidity tends to evade the reader's eye; a second examination, however, reveals a curious signifier within the textual tissue: "always." If, in the works of Plato, the [unkeyable] does not always penetrate like a liquid, then a meaningful difference exists between the Derridian [unkeyable] and the Platonic one. The word "always" hints at a total condition whose importance to Derrida's reading is mentioned in the above passage. It gives another indication of the unity of opposites. It sustains the fact that boundaries tend to blur in Plato's writings, and it leads Derrida toward the simultaneous interpretation of the [unkeyable] as poison-medicine. Any flaw in the integrity of this signifier would generate a crack in the whole of the deconstructive argumentation, as it would signal the possibility of another strategy of reading based on premises other than the Derridian ones. This different [unkeyable] does appear in the Platonic corpus, as the following passage proves:

Anyhow, when he asked me [Socrates] whether I know the [unkeyable] for the head, I answered with great difficulty that I knew it. "Well, what is it?" he [Charmides] asked. And I said that the thing itself [[unkeyable]] is a leaf, and that there is some kind of an incantation in addition to the [unkeyable] which, being said with the practice of the thing itself [[unkeyable]], the [unkeyable] completely heals the man, and without this incantation, the leaf is completely useless.(5)

The deconstructive liquidity realized in sperm, water, ink, paint and perfumed dye stands in opposition to the Platonic solidity of the leaf. The firmness of the leaf, however, can easily be dissolved in water, as in tea, and therefore, one might comment, my passage does not contradict the deconstructive reading. My answer goes back to the difference between potentiality and realization. It is always possible to liquify a substance; but one does not always decide to put that option into practice. When Plato wrote that for the leaf to be a [unkeyable] it should be used substantially, he explicitly declares his preference not to liquify it. Of course, Derrida can always mix the Platonic substance with some kind of liquid, but this will be in contrast to the Platonic text. It will be a different [unkeyable], a Derridian and not a Platonic one, inasmuch as the consolidation of the deconstructive fluidity creates a profoundly different text from that of Derrida. Such a difference is impossible according to the rules of the game which demand the complete dissemination of all the elements in order to achieve penetration.

The substantially of the leaf, however, suggests another contrast between Plato and Derrida. In his argumentation, the latter defines the [unkeyable] as follows:

The "essence" of the [unkeyable] is that having neither stable essence, nor individuality "proper" [ni de caractere "propre"], it is not, in any sense of that word (metaphysical, physical, chemical, alchemical) a substance. The [unkeyable] has no ideal identity; it is aneidetic. . . . This "medicine" is not a simple phenomenon [un simple]. But neither is it a composite phenomenon, a sensible or empirical [unkeyable] partaking of several simple essences. It is rather the prior medium in which differentiation in general [differenciation en general] is produced; this medium is analogous to the one that will . . . be reserved for transcendental imagination. (144; 125-6)(6)

The Derridian [unkeyable] is thus defined as a nonsubstantial phenomenon. It is deprived of any connection with "is-ness," with being as an appearance within the real world, and it has the attributes of an origin. It is the "prior medium." Again, the contrast between the [unkeyable] of Charmides and the deconstructive [unkeyable] is prominent. Whether metaphysical or not, the latter is completely beyond the limits of reality. It is not a substance, and therefore it is not a leaf. It is different from an alien to the Platonic [unkeyable]. It is defined as le pharmakon en general, the unity of multiple possibilities. The moment of its realization in the physical world--the moment it becomes a drug, a poison, a medicine, or a paint--is the moment this unity breaks. The realm of en general is left, the border between what is an "is" and what is an "is" is crossed, and this is the moment of departure from that which is signified by "deconstruction."

In this respect, the [unkeyable] in general is very similar to the dictionary. It is medicine, poison, and paint, while it is not any of them as far as realization is concerned. As with words, which have to leave the randomness of the dictionary and choose a context in order to start the activation of communication and meaning, so the [unkeyable] in general has to give up its potential variability in order to become a poison or a medicine, to be absorbed or drunk, to be, and not "in general." In this respect, the [unkeyable] in general is also very similar to "writing in general," which is the center of our next step in the analysis.

At the end of his Platonic discussion, Derrida characterizes "writing in general" in the following way:

That writing [is] [unkeyable]. . . . Nonpresence is presence. Differance, the disappearance of any originary presence, is at once [a la fois] the condition of possibility and the condition of impossibility of truth. At once. "At once" means that the being-present [unkeyable] in its truth . . . is doubled as soon as it appears, as soon as it presents itself. It appears, in its essence, as the possibility of its most proper non-truth, of its pseudo-truth reflected in the icon, the phantasm, or the simulacrum. What is is not what it is . . . unless it adds to itself the possibility of being repeated as such. And its identity is hollowed out by that addition, withdraws itself in the supplement that presents it. (194; 168)

It is quite clear from the above that the emphasis of the deconstructive definition of "writing in general" lies in the meaning of the "at once" (a la fois). The former expression, however, is still obscure despite Derrida's efforts to illuminate it, and thus an examination of the context within which this phrase occurs is required. "At once" is connected with presence, with appearance, with essence, with addition, and with the possibility of repetition. As for "writing in general," it is somehow connected with a place beyond being ([unkeyable]). Now, the possibility of repetition can "take its place" beyond being, and so can the possibility of presence, the possibility of appearance and essence. What can not be "there" is presence itself, the realization of repitition within a certain context. The moment of doubling is the moment of leaving the place which is beyond being. Onticity, being a part of what is [unkeyable], means the abandonment of the a la fois, of the both-and which is possible only in the place beyond being. Generality as such, whether pharmaceutic or written, is imprisoned behind the invisible walls of the "beyond being," and therefore is barred from actively participating in all that is real, such as presence, appearance, [unkeyable] and writing.

Deconstruction is based upon the deferral of choosing; this is its great strength, but also its great weakness. One can always, like Bartleby, "prefer not"; but one can not prefer not for text which is, by definition, preference and selection. Derrida, in characterizing his notions as multiple choice phenomena, makes them both potent (since they lead him to forceful and highly compelling readings) and impotent (since they are practically impossible outside the context of the dictionary) at once. The moment of doubling, unlike the potentiality of being doubled, occurs in the world, which is defined by Derrida himself as the neutralizer of all the force of his concepts. Thus, reading as an activity, as an interpretation of an object that exists, is excluded from the Derridian realms.

There is but one step left before leaving "Plato's pharmacy," and that is the unraveling of its rhetoric. The connection between the vehement criticisms of Derrida's opponents and the power of his argumentation can not be overemphasized. This, however, is merely an indication and not an explanation. Wrath is always a reliable sign of emotional intensity, but almost never a trustworthy guide to the reasons for its existence. To achieve the latter, we shall make a slight digression, which will illuminate the roots of the deconstructive strategy.

In Philosophical Investigations, Wittgenstein develops his analogy between language and games in the following way:

Instead of producing something common to all that we call language, I am saying that these phenomena have no one thing in common which makes us use the same word for all, -but that they are related to one another in many different ways. And it is because of this relationship, or these relationships, that we call them all "language." I will try to explain this.

Consider for example the proceedings that we call "games." I mean board-games, card-games, ball-games, Olympic games, and so on. What is common to them all? -Don't say: "there must be something common . . . but look and see whether there is anything common at all. -For if you look at them you will not see something that is common to all, but similarities, relationships, and a whole series of them at that. . . . Look for example at board-games, with their multifarious relationships. Now pass to card-games; here you find many correspondences with the first group, but many common features drop out, and others appear. . . . And the result of this examination is: we see a complicated network of similarities overlapping and criss-crossing; sometimes overall similarities, sometimes similarities of detail. I can think of no better expression to characterize these similarities than "family resemblances." . . . And I shall say: "games" form a family.(7)

The main reason for the comparison between language and games is the impossibility of finding an overall characteristic for each. There is no one single aspect shared by all the manifestations of language and games. What they do share is associative connections; the absence of identity is filled by the presence of resemblance. Thus, in the category "games," one would not find an amalgamatic phenomenon, but rather a group of diverse elements. The comparison between Wittgenstein and Derrida should not surprise the reader, who can easily recognize many points of similarity (associations, links, diversity, and, obviously, games). The illumination of the rhetoric, however, demands concentration on the difference between the two.

Deconstruction reveals the connection between the different links of the textual net. In itself, this movement is quite legitimate; its usage, however, is open to criticism. For Derrida, the unveiling of hidden interconnections is a means of treating them alternatively. In other words, if differance is related to [unkeyable], it is possible to apply either one or the other to a given context, according to the requirements of deconstruction. Thus, "writing in general" can be an apposition to the differance (194; 168), and writing and the [unkeyable] can be regarded as identical options (118; 101-2). The Derridian links, however, like those of Wittgenstein, cannot be completely alternative; they can only serve as partial supplements. Through most of the deconstructive itinerary one may easily ignore the incompleteness (for example, that despite its being a [unkeyable], writing is not a leaf like the [unkeyable] of the Charmides) of most of the Derridian supplements. At a certain stage, however, such neglect is no longer possible, and it is here that the deconstructive strategy both veils this impossibility and brings into light its most compelling outcomes. Hence, the success of deconstruction lies in the possibility of taking almost invisible steps, so that in the end a prominent contrast may be displayed. It is thus easier to concentrate on the forceful identifications of truth and falsehood, of nonpresence and presence, of origin and repetition, and, of course, of the priority of writing over speech, than to perceive the movements upon which these conclusions are based.

A concrete example will clarify the above complexity. Let us imagine the [unkeyable] and the writing to be two links in our game. According to Wittgenstein, they cannot be congruent, but only partially overlapping. This is reasonable if one remembers that writing is not identical with the [unkeyable], yet has a lot in common with it. Graphically, it would have the following shape:


The center of the diagram, which signifies the common aspects of both writing and [unkeyable], is also the center of Derrida's discussion, that is, the metonymical and metaphorical connections between writing and the [unkeyable] as two kinds of drugs. At the beginning of the deconstructive reading the margins can be identified with marginality, since the fact that the congruity of the elements is metaphorical and not concrete can be neglected. Then, to achieve the decomposition of the logos, another move is required, from writing to speech. Again, similarity (mimesis) is emphasized, while difference (distance from the origin) is expelled to the margins. In a diagram it would look as follows:


It is now, when identity between [unkeyable], writing, and speech seems to be achieved, that Derrida forcefully deconstructs the logos by means of difference. Suddenly, writing as a [unkeyable] is not close to speech but something alien to it, trying to destroy it in one stroke (en coup); it is no longer a friend but an enemy, and, what is worse, an internal one. Thus, both inside (because of the similarity) and outside (because of the difference), it cannot be either expelled or accepted without causing great damage. Deconstruction has once again won the battle.

I prefer not to focus here on the meaning of getting closer in order to create the greatest possible distance, despite this being a recurring, if not an essential, move in Derrida's strategy of reading. At this stage of the analysis, the flaws in the rhetoric are my main concern. The diagrams precisely exemplify that the move from writing as [unkeyable] to speech is based upon the concealment of the insurmountable gap between writing and the [unkeyable]. The chasm between the concrete and the metaphorical stops being marginal when Derrida tries to create an identity between the above two elements in order to deconstruct the logos. Writing is not [unkeyable], it is merely a [unkeyable], something similar but not identical to the [unkeyable]. Again, one may discern that the resemblance between the links creates both the possibility of an easy transition from [unkeyable] to speech and the impossibility of a complete liquidation of the latter by the former at once.

In conclusion, I have tried to show that deconstruction cannot fulfill its own precepts without generating an internal contradiction. The text is required to be both an ahierarchical and a hierarchical phenomenon. The rhetoric of the strategy which successfully blurs this contradiction is exemplified by the definition given by Wittgenstein to his language game. As for the deep and complex relationships between writing and speech hinted at in the last section, these re dealt with in the next essay on the Phaedrus.(8)

(*1) This is the first of a series of two articles. The second article will appear in the March 1993 issue of the Review of Metaphysics.

(1) Page numbers refer to Jacques Derrida, La dissemination (Paris: Seuil, 1967); and to Jacques Derrida, Dissemination, trans. Barbara Johnson (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981). The left number refers to the French original, the right to the English translation. The citation given above is a modified version of Johnson's translation, and all the translations of Derrida in this essay (unless otherwise noted) are of the same type.

(2) Plato, Phedre, trans. Leon Robin (Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 1947).

(3) The translations are based on Plato, Opera, ed. John Burnet, 5 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1900-1907). All the Greek translations in this essay, unless otherwise noted, are my own.

(4) Henry George Liddell and Robert Scott, Greek-English Lexicon, revised by Henry Stuart Jony.

(5) Charmides 155e3-8.

(6) In Johnson's translation it is not clear whether "that word" refers to "is" or to "substance." The order of the words in the French orginal, however, gives the impression that the first of the two options is the correct one.

(7) Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, trans. G. E. M. Anscombe (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1958), no. 65-67.

(8) This article has benefited immensely from the criticism of and discussion with Shlomith Rimmon-Kenan, Elizabeth Freund, and Shuli Barzilai. I am also indebted to Menachem Brinker for his comments on earlier versions of this essay, and to Andrew Lang for his careful editing of both essays.
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Title Annotation:The Rhetoric of Jacques Derrida, part 1
Author:Rinon, Yoav
Publication:The Review of Metaphysics
Date:Dec 1, 1992
Previous Article:Pragmatism as naturalized Hegelianism: overcoming transcendental philosophy?
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