detail from Labels for Hair Ribbons by Manuel Ocampo a delectable selection of oriental appetizers
Monday, January 20, 2003

: . Word(s) of the Day:
    ABSENCE/PRESENCE -- The terms absence and presence refer to two major concepts that the philosopher Jacques Derrida has emphasized in his writings. According to Derrida, Western intellectual traditions depend upon some conception of presence -- be it an originary moment, a transcendental being, or the univocal meaning of an utterance or text -- as the unifying ground from which all thought can proceed. For Derrida this presence is an illusion, and all the apparatuses and traditions of Western philosophy, from the reliance on authority to the privileging of systems as explanatory, contribute to its power and dominance as a way of thinking. Deconstruction, especially in Derrida's hands, seeks to decenter, or undercut, Western philosophy's insistence on closure and foundations. In its stead Derrida asserts the importance of "absence" in which meaning, closure, foundation are always and forever deferred. For Derrida the important connection between a thing or a concept and the language (word) or sign that describes it is not based on some metaphysical linkage between word and object and the adequacy of language to allow one to know a "thing in itself." Rather, Derrida values différance, the unbridgeable gap between word and thing and the continual deferral of stable and univocal meaning. The concept of différance is at the heart of Derrida's formulation of absence, since difference (between word and thing, signifier and signified) exists only in terms of absence. That is, when two (or more) things differ they are described according to the attributes that they do not have in common, the attributes that are absent in one (or more) of the entities being examined. For Derrida, différance, absence, is the place to begin philosophical and literary investigations for it is there that critics and thinkers can begin to repudiate the constraining presumptions of Western metaphysics and to recognize the never-ending play of meaning that is not so much in a text as the condition of its existence.

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