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ISSN 1409-6900 | UDK 82+7     Blesok no. 44 | volume VIII | September-October, 2005



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                     Peer-reviewed journal
Blesok no. 44September-October, 2005
Essays

Heidegger's and Derrida's Notions of Language and Difference

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Cyril Wong

    In his article “Signature Event Context”, Jacques Derrida refers to how writing is assumed to be a “means of communication” extending the possibilities of “locutionary and gestural communication”. The issues concerning the hierarchy of speech over writing – the age-old phonocentricism that treats writing as derivative of speech, a mere “operation of supplementation” or a “modification of presence”, this “presence” being what speech is effectively supposed to carry – play a major part in Derrida’s writing here, as the article suggests that all forms of speech, gestural, and written acts can be placed under the general rubric called telecommunication, where all of these different acts of communication are intrinsically unstable.
    Telecommunication involves a kind of distance across which communication is effected, a distance that is interesting in Derrida’s case, due to implications of absences and a sense of severance in the act of communication itself. The classic argument made against writing – where writing’s dependence upon an absence (of speaker, listener or both) is seen negatively, as opposed to the supposed sense of presence in speech – is overturned when Derrida attacks Etienne Bonnot de Condillac’s claim that writing is a “progressive extenuation of presence”. Condillac’s statement hints that this “presence” is not only extremely important, but is also a stable and unproblematic concept. This notion of presence is derived from a classical, metaphysical necessity, a logocentric ideal, and it is this idea of a stable presence in communication that Derrida overturns in his article.
    Heidegger does not refer to the hierarchy between speech and writing, as, in his case, the evocation of “language speaks” suggests that both writing and speech are involved in a same, fundamental sense of speaking, the root of both writing’s and speech’s different ways of communicating. Moreover, Heidegger uses a poem printed on the page – an act of writing – to demonstrate when language is speaking “purely”, erasing somewhat any conflict or possibility of a hierarchy between writing and speech. Also, the application of the poem by Trakl is interesting, as poetry has traditionally been an aural tradition, and the Trakl poem could be read out loud with different speech inflections, depending on who is reading, and these verbal differences might possibly change the levels of meaning in the poem. However, Heidegger is only using the poem, in my opinion, to make a general point about certain basic workings of language, or, more correctly, to try






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