Wednesday, 14 September 2011

If Immanuel Kant was Batman....

...then Derrida would be the Riddler. As it is Kant is clearly Superman, so Derrida might be some sort of Lex Luther type, he's certainly more sultry than the Riddler in Batman Forever. Similar hair though......hmm...

How to introduce Derrida? It seems a little bit silly to try and quote wikipedia at this juncture, as his project, the infamous DECONSTRUCTION was precisely an attack on systems as totality.

Before I try, let's just go back to Monsieur Descartes, with his famous 'catchphrase' : 'I think therefore I am.' In trying to doubt everything Descartes found that the only thing he could be absolutely sure of was his own thoughts: you can't doubt your own existence without...well...thinking, which undermines the whole exercise really. But for Descartes, you can doubt your own body, physical reality might all be an illusion, like the Matrix or some video game brain in jar situation. (I nearly put brian-in-a-jar, but that would be something completely different).

So from Descartes comes one of the key discussions of Western Philosophy: how can we ever be sure that physical reality is not an illusion?  Descartes does some fancy intellectual footwork appealing to God, which isn't very convincing. Berkeley says that things only really exist when we perceive them. Samuel Johnson kicks a stone and Hume just plays a game of bridge, just saying we should get on with the fact we can't be certain. Kant tries to join both together by appealing to two separate realms, saying that there is a structure to thought which presupposes certain things, that while they can't be verified they must be believed for our thoughts to make sense. Now that's the quickest summary of Kant's thought ever!

We can return to Derrida here. His point is that the way language works (developing Ferdinard Saussure's theory) precisely makes an appeal to a 'structure of thought' impossible. Language works differentially: that is to say, we recognise sounds and symbols in contrast to other sounds and symbols, not by reference to things outside of language. There isn't a point where we can say 'ah look there's that thing beyond language that justifies language' because we're using language! As such ' language depends on nothing, no fundamental ground of logic, science or society' (Holcombe: 2007), it just can't be determined absolutely. Any interpretation of a text is going to depend solely on the choice of some words over others, a suppression of some meanings in favour of others. Kant's interpretation of a structure of rationality would for Derrida be equally supressive.

Derrida thought this had huge ramifications for philosophical discourse, and to a certain extent this is true. On the grounds of this argument any concept claiming original authority, whether that be Heidegger's notion of authenticity, or concepts like absolute truth, meaning, identity and essence are simply stepping beyond their remit. Being cannot be said to be continually and statically 'present', a reference point for language that exists outside of it, because the structure of language disrupts this. Instead language is a constant flux of different interpretations, in which Being is neither present, nor absent. Of course this is impossible to draw, so instead I put him playing his Nintendo DS.

Lecture over, see you soon!

becca xo

p.s I cited John Holcombe's article from 
Check it out if you want to learn more about Derrida!
p.p.s Being & Tim 2012 diaries will be ready to order soon! Photos to follow this week!
p.p.p.s I'm very welcome to hear comments from those who might have more knowledge than me on Derrida's work. As Holcombe suggests, ''Derrida himself was a good deal more astute and learned than his followers.'' (ibid.)


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