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Sunday, November 13, 2022

Structure, Sign, and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences-Summary-Derrida | Litgalaxy2019

In his essay, “Structure, Sign, and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences” Jacques Derrida applies to the Structuralist case the familiar philosophical trick of measuring it by its own measuring scale. He states that it is impossible to think of a structure except as governed by centre within it or outside it. What Jacques Derrida observes in modern times is a particular intellectual event and this constitutes a radical break from past ways of thought.

Structure, Sign, and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences-Summary
Structure, Sign, and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences-Summary

Derrida says that the concept of structure and the word structure are as old as western science and philosophy. The function of the centre was not only to balance and organized the structure, but also to limit the play of structure: limit the play - different meanings and different interpretations are not possible. It has always been thought that the centre constitutes that very thing within a structure, which while governing structure escapes structurality. The centre is paradoxically within the structure and outside it.


Structure, Sign, and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences

The concept of central structure is contradictorily coherent. The centre, according to Derrida, is the creation of the force of desire Derrida asserts that there was no centre, and the centre had no natural site. It was not a fixed and stable locus but a function, a sort of non-locus in which an infinite number of sign substitutions came into play when the event has occurred, the center disappeared, and everything became discourse. 

The transcendental signified is not present outside a system of differences. Transcendental signified is an idea of a fixed, ultimate centre of meaning. It gives human beings fixed, stable, and unchanging meaning which provides a platform for various beliefs and actions. It can be identified by names such as God, truth, essence etc. 

Derrida denies all these ideas. The absence of the ‘transcendental signified’ extends the domain; and the play of signification infinitely. Prior to this event, the existence of centre in all things was taken for granted. Derrida associates this break or the event within the philosophy of Nietzsche and Heidegger and the psychoanalysis of Sigmund Freud. 

Sigmund Freud has decentred the individual and Nietzsche the centre the truth or fact. Heidegger has decentred the onto theology. But all these decentering process are trapped in a kind of circle. It describes the form of the relation between the history of metaphysics and the destruction of the history of metaphysics. 

Derrida's aim is that the metaphysics of presence should be taken with the help of the concept of sign. He believes that there is no transcendental or privileged signified; and the domain or play of signification has no limit. The metaphysics of presence is a belief including binary oppositions, phonocentrism and logocentrism. The Western philosophy is based on these beliefs since Plato. It assumes that the conscious and integrated selves are at the centre of human activity. Derrida objects to this kind of belief. 

Phonocentrism and Logocentrism

Phonocentrism is a belief that speech is privileged over writing. Derrida detested the notion and states that it is only the acoustic differences between phonemes which impart language meaning. Logocentrism is a belief in an absolute which is the very essence of existence. It signifies credence in a rational and structured world, revealing human beings their origin, nature and explanation. Logocentrism denotes the belief that linguistic system is capable of producing a spoken or written utterance that has a fixed and stable meaning. Derrida goes against this notion in his theory of deconstruction.

One must reject the concept and the word sign itself. Radical difference between signifier and signified it is the word signifier itself which must be abundant as the metaphorical concept. What Nietzsche, Heidegger and Freud did was somewhat different. It is true that they attempted to decentre the centre

Next Derrida attempts to connect this intellectual with the human sciences. He associates ethnology with decentering process. He declares that ‘there is nothing fortuitous about the fact that the critique of ethnocentrism....should be systematically and historically contemporaneous with the destruction of the history of metaphysics’. 

Ethnology is primarily science employing traditional concepts however much it may struggle against them. The ethnologist accepts into his discourse the premises of ethnocentrism at the very moment when he denounces them. He admires Levi Strauss, not because of the privilege; he accords to ethnology, not because of the anthropological works, but because of a certain doctrine elaborated in his works. 

Levi Strauss discusses in detail the opposition between nature and culture. His simultaneously has experienced the necessity of utilizing the opposition and the impossibility of accepting it: what is universal and spontaneous and not dependent of any particular culture belongs to nature. Inversely that which depends upon a system of norms regulating society and therefore he is capable of wearing from one social structure to another belongs to culture. 

These two definitions are of the traditional types. Levi Strauss who gives credence to these concepts encounters what he calls scandal, that is to say ‘something which no longer tolerates the nature and culture opposition he has accepted’. This scandal is incest prohibition. The incest prohibition is universal; in this sense one could call it natural but it is also provision a system of norms: in the sense one could call it cultural. 

Obviously there is no scandal except within a system of concepts which a credits the difference between nature and culture. When the incest provision can no longer be considered within the natural culture opposition it can no longer be said to be a scandalous fact. From this example we learn that what we call incest in one sense is not incest in another sense. Similarly ethnologists accept in to their discourse the premises of ethnocentrism, but they didn't hesitate to denounce this subject. 

Once the limit of nature/culture opposition makes itself felt one may question the history of these concepts. A new era has begun scholars started questioning the very idea of concepts. The other choice consists in conserving all these old concepts within the domain of empirical discovery, treating them as tools which can still be used. Levi-Strauss thinks that he can separate method from truth. He always remains faithful to this double intention to preserve as an instrument something whose truth value he criticizes. 

In "The Savage Mind", Levi Strauss presents his bricolage which might be called the discourse of this method. He makes a distinction between ‘brecoleur’ and engineer. 


Levi-Strauss’ Distinction between Engineer and Bricolage

As a part of a larger effort to distinguish magic and modern science as two modes of scientific thought and with the intention of  rescuing magic from its usual relegation to the crude and unsophisticated. He insists that bricolage is not primitive but prior. The engineer defends his means clearly and does things according to his plan full stop, on the other hand the bricoleur's universe is closed; and he has to do with whatever is at hand and the set of tools and materials he uses has no relation to the current project. 

The engineer can go beyond the constraints imposed by particular state of civilization, but the brecoleur by necessity always remains within them. The engineer whom Levi Strauss opposes to the bricoleur should be the one to construct the totality of the language syntax and lexicon. In the sense engineer is a myth. But bricolage is mythopoetic. 

The engineer is a myth, produced by the bricoleur. Claude Levi-Strauss describes bricolage not only as an intellectual activity but also as a mytho-poetical activity. Levi-Strauss' endeavour appears to have status which accounts to his own this course on myths, to what he calls mythologicals. It is here that his discourse on the myth reflects on itself and criticizes itself full stop and this moment is evidently of concerns to all the language we share the field of human sciences. 

What does Levi Strauss say office mythological? It is here according to Derrida, the mytho-poetical virtue of bricolage: what appears most fascinating in this critical search for a new status of discourse is the stated abundant of all reference to a centre to a subject to a privileged reference or to an origin. In almost all books written by Levi Strauss, he discusses the theme of decentering. 

While examining the Bororo myth, Derrida says, 'the Bororo myth’ is simply a transformation to a greater or lesser extent of others originating either from the same society or in neighbouring or remote societies. Levi Strauss thanks no unity or absolute source of the myth. He felt that myths have structure too. In "The Raw and the Cooked", the anthropologists set out to write out grammar of all Bororo myth- but was forced to admit that he could find no central rules, not even a central myth. 

The origin of myths does not have absolute centre and it is elusive and non-existent. Derrida finds tension between play and presence. The play is always a game of presence and absence. Play must be conceived of before the alternative of presence and absence. 


Derrida rejects the idea of presence and states that there should be an affirmation of a world of signs without fault, without truth, and without origin which is offered to an active interpretation. Derrida further says that there are two interpretations of interpretation of structure of sign, and of play, the one tries to find out the truth or source which escapes play and the order of sign. The other tries to pass beyond man and humanity. It does not try to find out the origin and affirms play.

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