Writing and Dfference (Book Cover), by Jacques Derrida.Derrida, Jacques and A. Bass. Writing and Difference. The University of Chicago Press, Chicago 60637 Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd, London and Henley. 1978. 1-79 & 232-250.

Throughout the first three chapters, philosopher Jacques Derrida (1930-2004) likens and contrasts the works of a number of philosophers, sociologists, dramatists, and poets. Among them: Hagel, Husserl, Heidegger, Merleau Ponty, Maurice Blanchott, Volitaire, Rouset, Foucault, Proust, Descartes, Levinas, Kant, Nietzsche, Antonin Artaud, Cornielle and the ancient Greeks. Derrida’s philosophical approach is distinctly deconstructive, perhaps even neo-structuralist in nature. Like Heidegger, he remarks upon the metaphysical strains apparent in Objectivism, Constructivism, and Structuralism. The latter are viewed as attempts to describe the structure of a consciousness (their own) and provides insight upon that which is undisclosed, presumed, motivated. These methods and theories are then windows into thought processes and methodologies, that as much depict forces as they reflect adherence to cultural mores. Which, in turn, reveal violence’s in the historicity of philosophical thought.

Derrida’s views on the experiential meaning of literacy, literature, speach acts, and the object-subject relationship agree with theories that relate image significations and text symbols to ideation and particular cultural interpretations of ‘consciousness’. Tracing the Idealist and Humanist movements of the Modernist project back to Plato, he describes and cites occasions in which meanings were altered to reflect the interpreter’s own cultural associations. Such descriptions serve to illustrate the character of writing: While it represents a reaching to ‘infinitude’ and beyond ourselves, it also subverts and invents it’s own meanings, denoting the impossibility of text ever being ‘present’ (in contrast to pure speach). Derrida, along side several of his contemporaries, recognizes the degree to which cultural attitudes impact the translation of historical texts. Thereby changing the nature of the discourse that then followed. Literature-premised text as a unique medium of re-presentation is investigated, with vigour, throughout this book.

In the chapter titled, The Theatre of Cruelty and the Closure of Representation, Derrida briefly deconstructs Antonin Artaud’s vision for a Theatre of Cruelty. With special attention paid to the most infamously problematic issues presented within Artaud’s manifesto, Derrida describes the artist as demarcating the very limits of theatre’s potential through notation of what is both possible and impossible. He notes that the issue of potential resides with those surrounding representation, immediacy, and repetition. The last of these presents theatre with the furthermost challenge. The philosopher reminds us that Artaud called for a ‘penetration’ through repetition, all the while ‘disgusted’ with the more dour consequences of repetition. This penetration is intended to discard the effects of a text in a theatrical works, and that of a literature-premised culture, permeating the very origins of speach and action.

Derrida points to likeness between Artaud and Nietzsche, on the matter of the totality and irreducibility of Being. He also provides an extensive list of theatre forms and methodologies that do not adhere to Artaud’s vision, while also noting an inter-fidelity. Derrida replaces Artaud’s assignment of the word “onomatopoeia” with the word “glossopoeia”, and offers intriguing analysis on the potential origins of speach, which Artaud seeks to generate and uncover in theatre. Artaud’s intent was to describe an a-historical and unrestricted language of gestures, which may or may not relate to the spoken word. Interestingly, Derrida has accessed writings that concretely associate Artaud with philosophical dialectics and confirm the artist’s awareness of the use of vocabulary, as well as contexts of discourse, which are present in his book, “The Theatre and It’s Double”.

Let us leave textual criticism to academic drudges and formal criticism to aesthetes, and recognize that what has been said need not be said again; that an expression does not work twice, does not live twice; that all words, once uttered, are dead and are effective only at the moment when they are uttered.
-Antonin Artaud, The Theatre and Its Double

What is tragic is not the impossibility but the necessity of repetition.
-Jacques Derrida, “The Theater of Cruelty and the Closure of Representation.” Writing and Difference.

The above quotes head a related article, titled, The Theater and its Derridean Double: Writing Upon Derrida’s Theater of Thought by Clark Lunberry (rhizomes.17 winter 2008).


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