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This article is taken from PN Review 10, Volume 6 Number 2, November - December 1979.

Jacques Derrida's Grammatology Chris Norris

SOME ten years after its French publication, the English reader is at last provided with a full translation of Jacques Derrida's masterly treatise Of Grammatology. What exactly he will make of it-whether it will ever have the influence here that it is beginning to have in America-is of course a different matter. Derrida claims nothing less than to have radically questioned and reinterpreted the entire preceding history of Western thought, from its Greek origins to the structuralist present whose exponents (he believes) have failed to follow out its cardinal insights.

Derrida sets out to uncover (or "deconstruct") the manifold traps and illusions which philosophy has created for itself by assuming that meanings exist outside and prior to the process of signification which brings them into play. His theme, or the concept around which his arguments are organized, is that of "writing" (écriture), in a highly extended sense of the word which has gained a certain currency in recent French thinking. Derrida mounts an intricate critique of those structuralists (notably Saussure and Lévi-Strauss) whom he thinks, on the detailed evidence of their texts, to have blinded themselves to the full implications of what they were doing. He chiefly questions, in Saussure's linguistic methods, the priority given to the spoken, as opposed to the written, order of language. Speech he associates with subjectivity, the metaphysics of "presence" and a realm of transcendental meaning which claims self-evident authority. In its place, he proposes that writing be recognized for what-if one ...


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