I am attempting to stay at the limit of philosophic discourse. I say limit and not death because I do not believe at all in what is currently called the death of philosophy (nor in whatever that would be, the book, man or God); especially since, as each of us knows, death entails a very specific effect.
(a) Prelude: A Question for Socrates
PARMENIDES: Suppose for instance, one of us is master or slave of another; he is not of course, the slave of master itself, the essential master, nor, if he is master, is he master of slave itself, the essential slave, but being a man, is master of another man, whereas mastery itself is what it is (mastership) of slavery itself, and slavery itself is slavery to mastery itself. The significance of things in our world is not with reference to things in that other world, nor have these their significance with reference to us, but as I say, the things in that world are what they are with reference to one another, and so likewise are the things in our world. You see what I mean?
SOCRATES: Certainly I do.
PARMENIDES: Only a man of exceptional gifts will be able to see that a form, or essence, just by itself, does exist in each case, and it will require someone still more remarkable to discover it and to instruct another who has thoroughly examined all these difficulties.
SOCRATES: I admit that, Parmenides. I quite agree with what you are saying.
PARMENIDES: But on the other hand ... if in view of all these difficulties and others like them, a man refuses to admit that forms of things exist or to distinguish a definite form in every case, he will have nothing on which to fix his thought, so long as he will not allow that each thing has a character which is always the same, and in so doing he will completely destroy the significance of all discourse. But of that consequence I think you are only too well aware.
PARMENIDES: What are you going to do about philosophy then? Where will you turn while the answers to these questions remain unknown?
SOCRATES: I can see no way out at the present moment.2
(b) Introduction: Derrida and the Question of Metaphysics
Edmond Jabès has recently claimed that, “To give priority to the question is to submit the response to an endless interrogation; it is to overthrow the power, to preserve the opening.” (“Privilégier la question, c’est soumettre la réponse à une interrogation sans fin; c’est faire basculer le pouvoir, préserver l’ouverture.”)3 It is precisely this that Derrida does with metaphysics and which we propose to do with Derrida. The question of metaphysics for Derrida can thus be posed in the following manner: “Is philosophic discourse ruled?” (“Le discours philosophique est-il réglé?”)4
In order to understand this question we must first interrogate it. Our subject here is clearly “le discours philosophique,” but what is this? Is there only one, as the article “le” seems to suggest? Is there a philosophical discourse as such? Is there such a thing as philosophy as such or in general? Further, what is the relation of philosophy to discourse in general? Are they distinguishable? Is philosophy dependent on discourse, as the adjective here is dependent on the noun to give it an identity or a form? Is discourse a thing to which philosophy could add itself as a property of the former? Is this relation reversible? Is there a discursive philosophy? Is philosophy necessarily discursive? or could it be otherwise? The object of our question is also clearly demarcated in the one term ‘réglé’. In English this term can be translated in the following divergent manners: (i) ruled, as with paper; lined; (ii) regular, steady, methodical (as habit); (iii) set, stated, fixed; and (iv) lawabiding (bound). Should we ask which one of these terms applies, or must we accept all four? Can we accept all four? Does this not divide our object, or more precisely, provide us with a multiplicity of objects which do not have a common essential ground? Do we then have an object? Is not the definition of object itself violated here? Yet we have a single term, albeit in French, which stands for all of these objects together. What then is the relation between signifier and signified here? How can we distinguish a particular signified if only one signifier stands for all of them? Which do we choose? Do we need to choose?
Our verb is the present indicative form of “être”—to be. Thus the question divides into two forms immediately: (i) as an issue of the here and now; the present, as not past and/or not future, and (ii) an issue of universality, eternity and thus a question which concerns a relation in general. Once again we are presented with a choice and/or a duplicity of the problem. If we assume it is a philosophical question, one must assume the issue is one of universality and is to be situated at the ontological level. If we assume a present which is not the past and/or not the future, we step into a historical relation which therein presupposes change and, in particular, a change in the relation we are herein examining.
We should perhaps also ask: What is the question here? What is the essence of the issue? What does this question mean? What does it intend to say? Does it have an intention? Must it have an intention or many or any at all? What does this presuppose? But why ask this question? What does the question itself, as a whole, presuppose? Are those presuppositions justifiable? Why? Why not? What is the question a sign for? Is it a symptom of something else? Does it only appear to be a question but is not one really? If it is really a question, then what is the answer to it? Is there only one answer? Only one question? Is there an answer at all?
Contrasting questions must also be posed. In asking about the philosophical discourse, is this as opposed to non-philosophical discourses? such as? Or is it opposed to non-discursive philosophy, as mentioned earlier? Or is such a thing possible? In asking if it is “réglé,” is this as opposed to “pas réglé,” in the past or future?
But what are the implications of this question? If it is réglé, then what does this mean? For the notion of réglé and for philosophy, and for discourse, for history, and for eternity? If it is not, likewise the above questions must be asked.
And finally, for the moment, what are the conditions of the possibility of the question? What must there be in order that it can be posed as such? Is this a historically conditioned question or a logically necessary one? or has it already been asked? Could it have been asked before? Can it ever be asked again?
The essential pivotal point from which all of these questions issue and which necessitates their logic and meaningfulness goes by the name of metaphysics, for Derrida. This structure of questionability, of interrogation, of seeking for answers, for understanding, for conceivability, for meaning itself is precisely the focus for Derrida’s analysis. He will insist first upon a certain unity in all metaphysics, a metaphysics as such; upon a twofold structure within this essential metaphysics; and further upon the essence of this essence—the heart of metaphysics, its foundation and ultimate presupposition—as non-metaphysical. An essential violation. An essential infidelity. It is this analysis of metaphysics according to Derrida that we propose to explicate here. Since metaphysics simultaneously plays a mediating role between deconstruction and the revelation of différance, and also an intermediary position from the arché of deconstruction to the telos of différance, it is of essential importance in the understanding of Derrida’s work as a whole. It should of course be remembered that Derrida’s investigations have already made questionable the notions of “understanding” “his” “work” as a “whole.” However, at present we too will and must rely on “the old names.”
(c) Unity: Simple and Complex
[Derrida asks:] ... can one consider philosophy as such (metaphysics as such, or onto-theology) without being forced to submit, with this pretention to unity and oneness, to an impregnable and imperial totality of an order? If there are margins, is there still a philosophy, philosophy as such?
No answer. Perhaps no question either, in the final analysis.
The copulating correspondence, the opposition question/response is already situated within a structure, enveloped in the hollow of an ear that we wish to go and see.5
One of the most serious objections to Derrida’s work of deconstruction has been concerned with his “presupposition” of the unity of philosophy, as one single tradition, as a system, and hence as a concept as such. In treating all differences in the history of philosophy as simply variations on a theme, or as specific instances or examples of something in general—a form of philosophy—is he not therein (a) creating a mythical (i.e., non-existent) problem, and (b) himself falling into the very trap that he apparently seeks to be rid of: metaphysics?6 These complaints illustrate little understanding of Derrida however since: (a) he is not unaware of this “danger”; (b) his strategy for overcoming the dominance of metaphysics openly claims to utilize those same tools; and (c) he has proposed a detailed argument explaining the significance of “metaphysics as such” for him in terms of specific issues by which this tradition can be said to be unifiable and homogenous. He does not thereby collapse all differences into the same, nor reduce the history of philosophy to a single structure. He does, however, insist that the identity of metaphysics, essentially, has not altered in certain respects since its inception with Aristotle. This entails a concept of metaphysics, or an Idea of metaphysics which provides the ground for all variations of the same as manifest within the tradition. It is this concept of Derrida’s which we propose to examine here.
We should perhaps clarify a nomological difficulty at the outset. The term metaphysics, for Derrida, is often used interchangeably with philosophy as such. The same problem of the “as such” of each of these terms will be treated shortly, but first there are also other names for this concept. These include the following list: logos, logocentrism, the “name of God,” positive infinity, onto-theology, infinitist theology, all monisms, all dualisms, indifference, infinite being, classical rationalism, the desire for a transcendental signified, the opposition between sensible and intelligible, the proper, the history of Reason, and language itself. This list, although nowhere collected as such by Derrida, permeates his work, and these terms circulate as if interchangeable with the concept of metaphysics as such. In addition, these concepts characterize his concept of metaphysics as properties or participants in a system. They permeate the concept, define it and circumscribe it. Metaphysics itself circumscribes a wider area yet, which includes: “all the Western methods of analysis, explication, reading or interpretation.”7 For Derrida, as for Heidegger, the “language” of the Western, occidental world is essentially the “language of metaphysics.” This extends, for Derrida, back to the Pre-Socratics and includes the history of philosophy up to and including Heidegger. The totality of metaphysics’ field of predominance is thus à la fois historical and also contemporary. Its range as synchronic includes all intellectual activity in the Western world. Nothing seems exempt from this coverage, nor could it be, for Derrida. This includes, as he himself has admitted, the work of deconstruction as well. But how could this be so? How could all variations in analysis, explication, reading and interpretation be “collapsed” or synthesized into one unifying totality? Derrida’s synthetic approach must first be considered, in principle, as consistent with the claims of philosophy as such, any philosophy. This entails the idea of the Idea, a form, a concept, an Eidos, or an essence which persists over time unchanged and indeed as unchangeable. This “concept” is intrinsically repeatable, in history, but exists in eternity as in itself and is thus essentially unaffected by historical change. History manifests its appearance; eternity sustains its essence. We find this framework throughout philosophy, since its field is that of essences, of the “in general” being as such; indeed the realm of truth is just this. Thus in claiming that all particular manifestations of philosophy should entail an essence that is philosophy itself, or as such, which in turn grounds the possibility of philosophy in particular, or any specific system thereof (i.e., within the circumscription of a proper name, Hegel for instance), Derrida is being most faithful and respectful to philosophic tradition. Of course what is presupposed here is precisely that which we find. In order that one can “find” “philosophy as such,” one must have a concept of philosophy already formulated which one in turn seeks within each particular version of the same. The origin of this “concept” is precisely the problem for Derrida, albeit in general. He will insist that “there is no third term,” no concept as such, and certainly no Concept. But first we must explore the route he takes to arrive there. This process of the effacement of the origin, of the constitution of the concept, is also fundamentally metaphysical.
Derrida’s notion of the concept of metaphysics as such is based on certain regularities or patterns of exclusion and inclusion within the tradition which incessantly repeat. The most significant of these is the “debasement of writing,” which entails the elevation of speech, the organizing role of “presence” as the archè and telos of history, the separation of signifier and signified, and the role of the sign as essentially inessential. He thus claims:
The history of (the only) metaphysics which has, in spite of all differences, not only from Plato to Hegel (even including Leibniz) but also beyond these apparent limits, from the Pre-Socratics to Heidegger, always assigned the origin of truth in general to the Logos. The history of truth, of the truth of truth, has always been ... the debasement of writing, and its repression outside “full” speech.8
In a certain sense Derrida thus “creates” his concept of metaphysics according to the problem of writing. For Plato, for instance, writing was introduced as a threat to knowledge, to the mind, and especially to memory itself.9 For Hegel, the “age of the sign” is the detour that is history;10 it is on the way to Absolute Knowledge: the presence of truth to itself, of consciousness to itself, of the Concept to itself. The sign has always been, for metaphysics, a sign for something else and hence determined by what it is not. We shall trace this history in greater detail in the upcoming section but here we wish only to point out the most prominent examples of what Derrida considers the essence of philosophy itself. Of course this “debasement of writing” is also a sign for other things. It is the tip of the iceberg only and has ramifications that extend throughout all possibilities of thought and conceivability from the Greeks to the present for the Western world. Thus Derrida too commits the same “crime” in his explication of the problem. The problem of the sign is itself a sign of a larger problem. But in turn this expansion reveals the crucial role of the “sign” with respect to all possible implications within the structure of philosophy itself. Take, for instance, the concept of time. According to Derrida there has been only one since Aristotle,11 which was finally consummated in the system of Hegel. This notion of time as a line, and essentially as a point which would return to itself in the moment of eternity both conditions and is conditioned by the metaphysics of presence which in turn entails and is entailed by the concept of sign as a detour between one presence and another; after the Fall and before the final enlightenment. This problem also moves into the realm of history and will be addressed shortly. The point here, however, is that: (a) the treatment of the sign in the history of metaphysics retains an essential character that sustains a unity of tradition and a system that fundamentally has no exceptions and indeed cannot have, by definition; and (b) Derrida’s insistence on this issue as central in turn presents the “treatment of the sign” as itself a sign of other equally essential characteristics of this system, which furthermore all return to the concept of sign (or writing, for Derrida, since these terms are used interchangeably for the most part) to reveal its essentiality. He seems to consider the “sign” at once inside and outside of metaphysics.
Thus metaphysics as such is constituted by and constitutes a system of conceptuality. This system is what “allows for” the reduction of the sign according to Derrida and hence what sustains its condemnation as derivative and inessential:
It is precisely these concepts that permitted the exclusion of writing: image or representation, sensible and intelligible, nature and culture, nature and technics, etc. They are solidary with all metaphysical conceptuality and particularly with a naturalist, objectivist, and derivative determination of the difference between outside and inside [my emphasis].12
The structure of this identity will also be examined in greater detail shortly. At present we wish to illustrate simply that, for Derrida, metaphysics as such entails a profound unity, an essential homogeneity, but with respect to very specific issues and traits. It is not a concept of metaphysics in general. This indeed would be impossible and Derrida would be the first to recognize such a problem. The idea of unity is thus not founded on the unity of the Idea, even and perhaps especially within metaphysics. There is an essential mediation of the unity, which itself becomes effaced in the very success of the production. This second level, as foundational, preliminary, essential, yet hidden, is fundamental both within metaphysics itself (without Derrida) and for Derrida’s treatment of metaphysics. It is this hidden mediation that allows for the constitution of the object as such, indeed of the “as such”; that is, of the metaphysical concept and hence of the concept of metaphysics. For Derrida, all concepts retain an essential allegiance, by virtue of their form, to metaphysics as such. Thus the concept of the concept, the ultimate unity, as the ultimate goal (also for metaphysics) is the notion of God. Until this is reached (with Hegel) all metaphysics is determined by this lack as its telos:
The onto-theological idea of sensibility or experience, the opposition of passivity and activity, constitute a profound homogeneity, hidden under the diversity of metaphysical systems. Within that idea, absence and the sign always seem to make an apparent, provisional, and derivative notch in the system of first and last presence. They are thought of as accidents and not as conditions of the desired presence. The sign is always a sign of the Fall. Absence always relates to distancing from God [my emphasis].13
Thus Derrida elevates the notion of the sign and its treatment in all metaphysical systems to the role of essential determinant for the concept of metaphysics as such. Paradoxically this would seem to confirm that same structure, albeit substituting the notion of the sign as “the condition of the desired presence” rather than simply as an “accident.” However this shift, if Derrida is successful, has ramifications that result in a re-structuring and re-thinking of this goal as such, which in turn must reflect back on his elevation of the sign “in the service” of the goal of presence as such.
Derrida’s most convincing argument for the concept of metaphysics concerns the implicit choice of boundaries which is essential in either accepting or rejecting such a proposal. For instance, if one refuses to accept any form of unity of the tradition of Western metaphysics but rather insists on an essential difference from one specific system (i.e., Hegel’s) to another (i.e., Plato’s), one is therein presupposing a centralizing factor based on the “proper name.”14 Indeed on the myth of the proper name: the signature. This unity of the “work” of Plato (for example) is solely based on the name, the signing factor that states Plato wrote x, y and z. Therefore, there must be some essential “I think” that unites these works and makes them into a single whole: a project, an idea, an intention. Lurking behind this assumption is the notion of meaning as intrinsically related to intention, to a voluntarism that is not unfamiliar within the history of metaphysics. Indeed, the object of meaning has always been the meaning of the object: as a whole, as a unity, as a totality. As Derrida says,
But to respect above all the philosophic specificity of this syntax (of metaphors) is also to recognize the submission of meaning to intention, to the truth of the philosophic concept, to the philosophical signified.15
Beyond the ‘vouloir-dire’ (intention) of ‘le nom propre’, Derrida suggests there is a greater structural unity at work that provides a foundation for the system of thought which we tend to identify with a proper name.16 The usage of particular metaphors, for instance, is not an accident or merely a convenience that one happens to find in particular philosophic texts, but rather points towards this underlying structure. The metaphors of the sun and the circle provide a key example of this for Derrida:
Certainly the metaphors of the light and the circle, so important in Descartes, are not organized as they are in Plato, Hegel or Husserl.
This metaphorics no doubt has its own specific syntax; but as a metaphorics it belongs to a more general syntax, a more intensive system whose constraints are equally operative in Platonism; and everything becomes clear in this sun, sun of absence and presence, blinding and luminous, dazzling.17
“En tant qu métaphorique” is the essential fold that Derrida insists upon within metaphysics itself. Metaphor is defined as inessential within the discourse of philosophy; as a “mere adornment,” yet, as we will explain in greater detail shortly: (a) it appears systematically within the tradition of philosophy; (b) particular metaphors reappear in different systems of thought yet function according to the same rules, and (c) the concept of metaphor—its essence—is an inextricably philosophical one. Thus we have “metaphor,” for example, as a mere sign for something else (a lost presence, a future presence, a pure referent, a signified in itself) yet also engaged in a form of systematic appearance and reappearance, and indeed playing an essential role therein. The essentiality of something already defined as derivative and inessential is thus only discoverable beyond the limits of one system. This entails the linking of one philosophic system to another in terms of structure (and, paradoxically, an essentially philosophic one at that). The understanding of any concept is only possible in terms of analogy, in terms of differences, which nevertheless resemble each other. The idea of the idea in general, although Husserl insisted on the reverse,18 is only discoverable for Derrida via specific instances of the idea from which one can deduce, reduce, produce, or reveal its essence. Thus a certain Aufhebung is implied here such that the constitution of the same via the differences retains à la fois identity and difference. The former is, of course, the essence of the latter; although the reverse is also true.19 The final unity of the concept of metaphysics is not so final for Derrida, however. It is rather a sign for something else. This “absolute presence” will itself be interrogated, but first we must make the essential detour through the concept of history as the history of the concept, according to Derrida.
(d) History: Between Two Suns
The metaphysical character of the concept of history is not only related to linearity but also to a whole system of implications (teleology, eschatology, relevant [conceptual syllogistic, via the Aufhebung] accumulation and interiorization of meaning, a certain type of traditionality, a certain concept of continuity, of truth, etc.).20
Derrida has reproached Foucault for not realizing the irony and essential abortion in the attempt to write a “history of madness,” for precisely the above reasons. The notion of history, for Derrida, since it is itself a concept and thereby inscribed within the tradition and system of metaphysics, cannot be utilized apart from this “baggage” which gives it meaning. Thus the attempt to write a “history” of madness, for instance, must for Derrida be Reason’s history of Reason’s madness and not an account from the side of madness itself. History therefore is always Reason’s domain,21 and necessarily so for Derrida. It is this notion in general, its particular eruption in the Western world (albeit at different historical times), and its closure (also at various points along the line of time) which we intend to explicate here. The unity of metaphysics is thus identifiable and a function of this unity of history.22 Indeed the history of metaphysics is essentially determined by the metaphysics of history, according to Derrida. Further, “it could not have been otherwise.”23
The concept of history for Derrida is paradoxically both determined by metaphysics and yet a determinant of metaphysics and therefore of the Concept itself. The relation of the Concept to consciousness or knowledge itself is essentially historical and therefore: (a) teleological and (b) eschatological. Time is therein determined as a geneological relation between one full presence and another. Time is the time of history; that is, it is the continuous process of reappropriation from lost knowledge to regained knowledge. It is the movement of Truth itself, as it attains consciousness. In this movement the origin and telos are one and the same, yet both are absent. History fills this gap and progressively narrows it in the spiral of “relevance” (the Aufhebung) which provides knowledge of the object for the subject. It is therefore History which forms the essential “detour” from one “Sun” to another. As Derrida says, “History and knowledge, istoria and epistème, have always been determined ... as detours for the purpose of the reappropriation of presence.”24 One can clearly see a legacy of Hegelian and Heideggerian thought at work here since, for Heidegger, Being has always been determined as presence and, for Hegel, history is essentially that of the Concept and for this Reason is necessarily circular and closed. Derrida’s description, one should remember, is “for metaphysics,” which means it is both history according to Derrida and according to the tradition of metaphysics. Indeed there can be no distinction here, according to Derrida.
The central figures for Derrida, regarding the determination of metaphysics and within its history as participants, founding members, and end points, are therefore of crucial significance as the representatives of this “unity of tradition.” The origin of metaphysics (that is, the history of metaphysics) is, as one might expect with Derrida, multiple. There are, however, four particular points which are of exemplary significance. The earliest determinations of metaphysics began with the Pre-Socratics, he claims. From this era, we have received a notion that has persisted up to and includes Heidegger, and one which thereby installs the latter squarely within the metaphysics he would destroy. This characteristic concerns the origin of truth as the Logos. This has always been the truth of truth, or its meaning, and in addition the privileged role of the voice and the debasement of writing began here. The phonè as the locus of truth and the presence of consciousness to itself—immediately without worldly, empirical mediation—is what Derrida calls phonologism:
... the absolute proximity of voice and being, of voice and the meaning of being, of voice and the identity of meaning.25
Even Heidegger’s thought sustains it, he claims. It is the voice of Reason that one “hears” when one “sees the truth.” In addition, the shift from “inauthentic” to “authentic” being-in-the-world is a function of this desire for the pure presence of consciousness to itself. It is essentially a metaphysical opposition (presence/absence) therefore that orients the essence of Heidegger’s thought, according to Derrida.
The notion of “presence” itself as central to metaphysics was inaugurated by Parmenides, Derrida claims. From Parmenides to Husserl the “privilege of the present, as evidence” is an essential trait in the history of metaphysics. In Husserl’s “return to the things themselves” as his “principle of principles,” we must remember that the basis of this claim was a metaphysical “prejudice” for the locus of truth in the pure presence of the things themselves to consciousness. For Descartes as well, for example, the “clarity and distinctness of ideas” immediately present to consciousness was the condition of the possibility of knowledge and truth. It was pure evidence itself.
The most important figure in the foundation of the unified tradition of metaphysics is certainly Plato; for Derrida,26 Plato is responsible for the notion of idealization as objectivity and interiority. The locus of truth becomes the object, albeit an ideal object, and this could be known by the subject only via the inner light of Reason. There was also a certain interiority of objectivity brought into the world by Plato: the forms, and indeed the Form of form: the Concept. Thus it was Plato who began the “epoch of logocentrism,” according to Derrida. As he says, it is “the epoch of onto-theology,... the philosophy of presence, that is to say, philosophy itself.”27 As we can see the original boundaries are already shifting somewhat for Derrida. The notion of presence as the locus of truth, although first installed by the Pre-Socratics, is herein regarded as authorized by Plato. The difference is simply one of degree and therefore in some respects inessential. Plato’s formulation of the issue marks a crucial point in the development and indeed foundation of metaphysics for Derrida. The former’s unification of the notion of presence and evidence with objectivity, ideality, and interiority, and above all (perhaps) with the Good—as the ultimate Good—is a turning point in the history of thought and in turn in the thought of History. All that is is essentially formal from that time on. The meaning of meaning is established in Plato’s thought as objectivity, and this is indeed still the foundation for modern science. The ultimate pair of oppositional concepts which determines all others, according to Derrida, was also inaugurated by Plato: “The difference between the sensible and intelligible—with all that it controls, namely metaphysics in its totality.”28 This “epoch of the logos” is not, however, without an end and indeed perhaps a death, as we shall see shortly.
According to Derrida, the fourth major figure in the birth of metaphysics was Aristotle. The essential contribution he made, which did not change significantly until Husserl and even then lingered on in some respects beyond him to Heidegger, was the concept of time as a line, as linear. Although time is made up of individual points, together they form a line which admits of no gaps. The continuity of time and therefore of history are thus established. It is this line that Hegel folds back on itself into the circle which closes itself in Absolute Knowledge, but nevertheless the linearity of the line is therein maintained, even reaffirmed. It is with this notion of time, first as a series of points, and therefore essentially as a point, which inaugurates the Now and constitutes the presence of the present in Aristotle. Once again truth and evidence are situated in the moment of the now—the present, which is at once this now and all nows. The moment of truth is thus the intersection of the eternal Now with this now; it is the present indicative.
The end of the line, of history, of absence, of man, and of the sign (which has been reserved throughout the history of metaphysics as an absence in the service of a promised presence) is the culmination of metaphysics, according to Derrida, and this takes place with Hegel.
He [Hegel] undoubtedly summed up the entire philosophy of the logos. He determined ontology as absolute logic; he assembled all the determinations of philosophy as presence; he assigned to presence the eschatology of parousia, of the self-proximity of infinite subjectivity ... he had to debase or subordinate writing.30
The horizon of absolute knowledge is the effacement of writing in the logos, the retrieval of the trace in parousia, the reappropriation of difference, the accomplishment of ... the metaphysics of the proper.31
Derrida’s concept of metaphysics thus comes to a close with the appearance of Hegel’s system, in particular with The Encyclopedia. The epoch of metaphysics as logocentrism remains essentially unchanged from Plato to Hegel, and the notion of the line of time ‘n’ a pas bougé’ from Aristotle to Hegel, Derrida claims. With Hegel32 therefore the height of metaphysics is reached: the system is closed, finitude is essentially united with infinity, and all differences are essentially subsumed within one unity. It is precisely this collapse, this totality, this closure of the circle, when the Presence of the origin is returned to in the Presence of the telos, which in turn reveals the finitude of metaphysics as a whole, for Derrida. When the sign, the empirical world, the detour that is history is ultimately effaced, as in Hegel, the movement essential to metaphysics, albeit denounced as inessential, is paralyzed, and the circle, or the egg (the metaphor of the world for Derrida as for Bataille)33 must begin to crack. Thus Derrida recognizes in Hegel both “the last philosopher of the book and the first thinker of writing.”34 As he says: “All that Hegel thought within this tradition, all that is except eschatology, may be reread as a mediation on writing.”35 Writing for Derrida is of course the notion of différance,36 the excess, supplement, that which exceeds the closure and capture by metaphysics. It is intrinsically absent. Thus Hegel is on the border, for Derrida, between the end of metaphysics and the beginning of “something else” “which as yet has no name”—(Grammatology?) There is little doubt that Hegel’s thought is what Derrida has in mind concerning the unity and history of metaphysics as a unity, as the Concept, and in particular as the history of the Concept. It was Hegel that first unified “metaphysics” as such and made it into “a history,” and indeed who first showed the essence of essence as historical, and the essence of history as essential. The key problem, however, which opens up this finality for Derrida, is precisely that of eschatology. It is the Hegel’s Achille’s heel according to Derrida. It is death that metaphysics has always claimed and intended to overcome, and it is the realm of the infinite, as also that of Absolute Presence—the light of Eden and Heaven—that metaphysics has always promised and moved towards. Hegel’s system is the ultimate overcoming of death—the Aufhebung of finitude itself—of man himself. The philosopher of Absolute Knowledge has solved all mysteries, and especially that of death. We will live forever. The catch is that the condition for infinity, for that promised eternal life, is precisely the sign. It is writing that is the gateway to infinity and not presence. The pure essence of “s’entendre-parler” is the ephemeral moment that can never become an object, and certainly not an object of knowledge. It has no longevity essentially. Only the sign: (a) is intersubjectively available, and (b) can constitute objectivity. We learn this from both Hegel and Husserl.37 Language, for Hegel, is the element of truth and thus of the eternal. In this sense, then, the ultimate Presence of consciousness to itself is infinitely deferred, even in Hegel. The here and now is the realm of the voice, of immediacy and hence of falsity—at least with respect to the metaphysical tradition; that is, of the epistème itself.
The significance of this double edge of the Hegelian system for Derrida is crucial. Hegel thus reveals: (a) the closure of metaphysics, in the very production of its infinity and boundlessness; (b) the limits of the Concept; and hence, (c) the boundaries of philosophy itself, beyond which it cannot go. Philosophy as a totality thus becomes captive and in this finality is revealed: (a) as a finite system, but also (b) as one which can continue indefinitely. What lies beyond this closure extends to the realm of différance, for Derrida, and hence will be examined in greater detail in the following section.
Although Hegel is the apex of the triangle, or the final dot or moment in the circle that is history, that is metaphysics, that is philosophy, there are two other loose ends for Derrida that are of significance with regard to the limits of the at least centrally unified tradition of metaphysics. One is Husserl and the other is Heidegger. The fact that they are historical antecedents of Hegel is of little significance here. They represent folds in the tradition and also do not contradict Derrida’s demarcation of the closure with Hegel since this finitude of the “system” is, as Derrida says, not its death: “That which is included within such a closure can continue indefinitely.”38 Husserl sustains the notion of presence as the criterion for evidence and truth despite his own contradictions on this point (which Derrida has demonstrated in his introduction to the Origin of Geometry). And Heidegger, as we have shown, returns to the phonological basis of the voice of Being, albeit unheard throughout the history of metaphysics.
The ultimate basis for Derrida’s unification of the history of philosophy as a single tradition concerns a fundamental desire which he claims animates the totality of philosophy. This desire is for a “transcendental signified” which therein would be liberated from all worldly representation and any attachment to empirical signifiers, to language in particular. Not only are specific languages reduced in this act, but also language in general—the sign as such. The ultimate transcendental signified has of course always been God—“the name of indifference itself,”39 that ultimate unity, omnipotence, omniscience that has no bounds, no limits and hence is essentially independent of all worldly, empirical form. He is the essential meaning of the notion of the transcendental signified; the essence of essence—indeed its ground of possibility. In the tradition of philosophy, God is represented metaphorically and necessarily so. This sign for the non-sign is presented in philosophy in general as the Light, or the Sun. Thus Derrida considers philosophy as heliotropic: incessantly turning towards the Light of truth, from one Sun to another: in search of the daylight, a photosynthetic plant that lives only within certain conditions of visibility and invisibility. The systematic appearance of these metaphors will be considered in greater detail, in terms of the “Grammar of Conceivability,” in particular, but for the moment we wish only to point towards that archè which forms the telos for Derrida and for the history of metaphysics as such: that movement between one presence and another, that world whose changes are conditioned from one Sun to another.
Philosophic discourse—as such—describes a metaphor which is displaced and reabsorbed between two suns. This end of metaphor is not understood as a death or dislocation, but as an interiorizing anamnesis (Errinerung), a recollection of meaning, a sublation of living metaphoricity into a living property. Philosophic desire—irrepressible—to summarize-sublate-interiorize-dialecticize-master the metaphoric movement between the origin and itself, the oriental difference.40
Thus History, for Derrida, as for all metaphysics, is essentially (has always been and will always be) the “teleology of meaning.”41
(e) The Grammar of Conceivability
La langue nous empoisonne le plus secret de nos secrets, on ne peux même plus brûler chez soi, en paix, tracer le cercle d’un foyer, il faut encore lui sacrifier son propre sacrifice.42
Metaphysics not only inhabits our language, according to Derrida, but also prescribes a “determined and finite system of conceptual possibilities.” It is “a systematic chain and constitutes in itself a system of predicates. There is no concept of metaphysics in itself. There is a work [un travail] ... on conceptual systems.”43 Metaphysics is thus a system of force, power, mastery, domination, violence and, above all, surveillance, for Derrida. Its territory includes all Western (occidental) languages and therefore all thought from this region of the world. There is apparently no escape from this “system” since metaphysics has itself “understood,” included, and therefore dominated its other, and all possible others. The act of exclusion as “other” is therefore a more subtle act of inclusion,44 since the “other,” as understood by metaphysics, i.e., non-metaphysics, non-truth, non-philosophy, non-rationality, non-presence, non-essential, is captive within the system as a derivation from the proper; from the essential, true, etc. This framework provides the ground of the possibility of meaning in general and also of meaning for each “single term,” word, or name in the system. The structure of this framework must now be examined in its particular manifestations and acts of domination and mastery, as Derrida understands these terms. It should be recalled, however, that despite this all-inclusive capture of thought by language and in turn by metaphysics, Derrida finds “within the system” an opening for the possibility of an “essentially” non-metaphysical thought. Of course this must be considered the “madness of the day,”45 at least for the moment.
In striking contrast to the Anglo-Saxon notion of “ordinary language philosophy,”46 Derrida insists that “ordinary language” is always already installed within the system of metaphysical conceptuality. That which it presupposes in its formulations and that which gives words, phrases, and the act of predication itself their meaning is essentially metaphysical. This means that in pretending (or insisting) that these constraints on the discourse do not exist, one falls victim to their commands, and all knowledge generated therein is necessarily in accordance with this ultimate command. Hence, metaphysics sustains its dominance and its hold on Western thought from within discourse, and most strongly in the cases where this is not taken into account. As he says, “... ordinary language is not innocent or neutral. It is the language of Western metaphysics and it carries not only a considerable number of presuppositions of all types but also inseparable presuppositions and for the little attention one pays to them, tied into a system.”47 This structure of presuppositions that are inseparable includes the preformulation of questions and answers according to a set of rules concerning the nature of questionability.48 For instance, the question “what is....?” as we have shown, always installs the response within a definitive, essential, proper, and non-changing characterization. It is the question of the proper name. The question “why?” (pourquoi?) always presupposes the metaphysical notions of sign, origin, presence, absence, telos, and archè—and immediately so.49 The instant one asks “why?” one is always already asking “what for?” which entails the philosophical notions of purpose, causality, destination, sender, receiver, and essentially the sign as a derivation from a more essential “non-sign”; its telos and origin.
The organization of the word itself is also taken into account by metaphysics. In order to be meaningful, a word must “stand for” something else; that is, it must signify a signified. The essential nature of the word is therefore defined as arbitrary; as a sign which is not essentially attached or linked to its referent. In Saussurian terms, which betray an inner link to classical metaphysics, for Derrida, the signified is independent of the signifier.50 We should recall that philosophy is based, for Derrida, on the desire for the transcendental signified and, in addition, that he does not believe this to be actually achievable, although metaphysics insists on it. Thus the meaning of the word, that which it signifies, is severed from all essential relation to particular languages. It is this structure which provides the condition of the possibility for translation itself. Without an independent signified, one could not alter signifiers from one language to another. Thus metaphysics provides a theory of translatability which, if generalized to its highest level, turns into Chomskian universal grammar and, of course, ultimately a mathematics of meaning. Computer translation is already well installed in the business of realizing these aims.
For Derrida, however, the signifier and signified have an intrinsic relation the severing of which also violates the essential meaning of the term. The polysemic aspect of a term, for instance, is treated by metaphysics as inessential insofar as it will search for an underlying unity which serves to ground all differences. Derrida describes this movement of reduction in the following way:
It [philosophy] will have doubtlessly sought for the reassuring and correct rule, the norm of this polysemy. It will have asked if a “tympan” [Derrida’s exemplary term] is natural or artificial, if it is not founded ultimately on the unity of a fixed star, bordered, framed, surveying its margins as if a virgin, homogeneous, and negative space leaving its outside outside, without mark, without opposition, without determination, ready as matter, master, khora to receive and to reflect the patterns. This interpretation will have been true, in fact the history itself of truth.51
Thus the structure of reducibility of all differences to an essence that is the same, the center, and the form which inhabits their only apparent multiplicity is inherent in the metaphysics of language, according to Derrida. In the act of translation, it is this center that forms the possibility of the signified-in-itself: the meaning, the message without support from its means of transport, the end in itself. Thus a certain violence is carried out in the name of the name. For Derrida, this collapse of differences is suspect, since it is precisely the structure of metaphysics itself. In addition, he will claim that no such center necessarily exists or is to be found. Instead what occurs in this formation of the concept is an act of domination of one “concept” by another, or of the many by the one. For instance, he cites the term ‘pharmakon’52 as used by Plato, particularly in the Phaedrus. This Greek term entails both notions of remedy and poison at the same instant. It does not choose between them. However, all translations of this term have severed one from the other and installed either poison or remedy in the English and French texts, for example. The duplicity cannot be tolerated within a notion of translation based on the unity of a central signified. This theory, as we have shown, is essentially metaphysical.
A name is proper when it has only one meaning. Better, it is only in this case that it is properly speaking a name. Univocity is the essence, or better the telos of language. This Aristotelian ideal has never been renounced by any philosophy as such. It is philosophy as such.53
The constitution of this “proper name,” the univocal essence, is a function of a system of oppositions within metaphysics which themselves betray a more original violence. It is precisely the constitution of the Concept that is in question here. For Derrida, this is an essentially violent act whereby a radical exclusion of making the inside pure and the outside external and thus extrinsic occurs. This is an act, or perhaps the act of Mastery within and by metaphysics itself. “It is the infinite mastery which seems to secure the instance of being (and of the) proper for it; this permits it [metaphysics] to interiorize all limits as being and as being properly its own.”54 We have already exposed the paradox within the exclusion, albeit in spite of metaphysics. There are two sorts of excluding/including acts for Derrida, therefore, which interrelate and are mutually supportive of the metaphysical structure as a whole. One is a hierarchical organization of oppositions such that inside/outside, truth/falsity, intelligible/sensible, etc., are installed as parallelisms in a system where each numerator relates essentially to each other numerator and likewise for the denominators. The interdependence of numerators (essence, for example) with denominators (inessential) is by definition inessential. In addition, the conceptual pairs (binary oppositions in contemporary terminology) are related to other conceptual pairs in accordance with two essential pairs (instituted by Plato) which in turn are organized (defined) by one above all others. The opposition of sensible/intelligible is the key to the system as a whole, and the second, almost equally essential couple of couples include: interior/exterior; Good/Evil. From these three sets of oppositions we can quite simply derive all others which govern the history of Western thought. For Derrida, the most important of these pairs includes the following representative list (they are not in any order of priority, however, except the first three):
The representatives of the hierarchical ordering of thought include, for Derrida: Aristotle, Descartes, Kant, Husserl, Heidegger. Thus the hierarchy of concepts can be revealed as a system of constraints of genres/species in which all forms of knowledge, of science, have a place. Some more essential than others. Philosophy, of course, forms and performs the foundation for all such systems. The paradoxes in the system will be addressed shortly in terms of the “secret,” but one should recall that the terms “philosophy” and “non-philosophy,” for instance: (a) are to be found inside the conceptual pairing, hence within the system, yet (b) the name of the system as a whole is of course: philosophy. This is no accident. In addition, some terms seem to be duplicates. For example, the concept of nature on one side is paired with “totally” different opposites on the other side. What can this mean with respect to the essential concept of Physics? Further, one can illustrate that some concepts on the “inessential” side, for example, can also be found on the essential side, albeit paired off with “other” others. How can a term be à la fois both essential and inessential? Is this not a violation of the system as such? One such term involves the notion of the sign as defined by signifier/signified. The signifier is considered inessential, yet this is a formal character; the signified is essentially “content,” and content is defined in opposition to form and thus on the side of the inessential. Yet the signified is defined as essential. This confusion is not by accident either, as we shall explain shortly. The contamination implicated here is thus not without reason, as Derrida will insist.
A second formal characteristic animates the structure of metaphysics for Derrida, and this entails the notion of envelopment: “The whole is implicated, in the speculative mode of reflection and expression, in each part. Homogeneous, concentric, indefinitely circulating, the movement of the whole re-marks itself in each particular determination.”55 The representatives of this framework include: Spinoza, Leibniz, and Hegel. It is this quality that prescribes the limitlessness of metaphysics, its ultimate authority with respect to knowledge, and the closure that is total. There are no exceptions, no accidents, no chances, and no laughter. It is the determination of meaning itself according to the logos. It is also therefore the systematization of all particularity, since the meaning of the part is always already determined by the whole. The meaning of the whole being unquestionable, especially by the part, whose identity is therein determined. Membership in the system is a given, since existence, Being itself, is determined by this structure of presentation. To not be thus determined is to be non-sense, madness, non-existence, or nothing. All of which are essentially interchangeable terms. As we have shown, these non-inclusive terms for what the system seems to exclude are thus essentially determined by the system. It installs its own other “outside,” but nevertheless as its own. Hence the outside is itself inside. It is the exterior of metaphysics. Its backyard, as it were, which is nevertheless surrounded by a fence—a barbed wire, an electrified one at that, with a guard at the gate: surveying the scene. Albeit a Kafkaesque description of the world of thought, Derrida insists this is not only a literary illusion but also a philosophic one. As he says: “Philosophy has always held to that: to think its other. Its other: that which limits it and that from which it rises in its essence, its definition, its production.”56 As we have shown, non-philosophy was included in the list of binary oppositions essential to philosophy itself. It thus captures its other and names it “other.” This capture which names and incorporates, which allows for philosophy to “understand the whole,” is essentially a movement of the Aufhebung (“rélèvance”) for Derrida: “To think it as such (its other), to recognize it, one misses it. One reappropriates it, one disposes of it, one misses it or rather one misses missing it, that which with respect to the other, returns always to the same.”57 Thus Derrida claims all means of escape are a priori blocked and put out of play. Meaningfulness itself is always paid for by the currency, and only that currency, of metaphysics. To not pay the price is to be excluded by inclusion, and therefore displaced, devalued, abandoned, albeit remaining captive within that same system. Such has been done to the sign, Derrida insists. This inclusion and devaluation therein is a mode of effacement that is essential to the theory and practice of metaphysics. Indeed metaphysics’ finest hour is represented by Husserl, for Derrida. The “return to the things themselves” is precisely this ultimate effacement of metaphysics itself in the act of its predominance. The “principle of principles,” that which guarantees the truth of the things themselves is essentially a metaphysical one: the presence of presence to itself. That is, the evidence that founds truth presents itself without the sign, without a body, without the need for the empirical world (which was always only an example, for Husserl) immediately to a pure albeit transcendental consciousness. Nothing could be more profoundly governed by the presuppositions of metaphysics. For Derrida, the sign of this effacement par excellence is to be found concerning the effacement of the sign:
One can efface the sign in the classical manner of a philosophy of intuition and of presence. This effaces the sign in deriving it, annuls reproduction and representation in making an unwarranted modification to a simple presence. But as it is such a philosophy—and in truth the philosophy and the history of the occident—which has thus constituted and established the concept as such of the sign, which is, since its origin and in the heart of its meaning, marked by this derivative or effacing will.58
There is thus an essential geneology for metaphysics and for all that falls within its scope, according to Derrida. The meaning of the sign is essentially determined and cannot be simply abandoned. Nevertheless Derrida does not simply accept it as given either, as we shall see shortly.
These two main features of metaphysics—(i) hierarchical ordering and (ii) envelopment of all—are also interrelated for Derrida. “These two types of appropriating mastery . . . communicate between each other.”59 Indeed they form a system of “total surveillance,” he claims. The hierarchy is the means of including “all,” of dominating and defining the other, of excluding it from essentiality; and the notion of the “totality” as closed is the precondition and thus basis for the movement of hierarchical organization. What to do with the other? The first step, as we have seen, has been to name it “other,” and thus as inessential. What to do with the unknown? Approach it in terms of the known, in terms of language, in terms therefore of metaphysics. That is to say: appropriate it, include it within the system in one way or another. It is this prescriptive regulation of all thought and of all possibilities of thought as “meaningful”—that is for an other—which closes the system. It is therefore a finite system of principles with a potentially infinite range of possibilities. The genetic code forms a rather good analogy, on many levels, for this “model” of metaphysics, although Derrida does not rely on it. Instead he invokes the metaphor of the family: metaphysics is “an entire family of concepts”; it provides a ready and inescapable “inheritance” in Western thought; it is the dominion of the proper which is essentially that of the Father: the phallus.60 It is Oedipus therefore that will threaten the system, or perhaps a Judas (as J. M. Rey has suggested). It is the copy, the representative, the non-original, dependent, derivative, indebted, guilty, inadequate, essentially false and evil son that will threaten the system. And necessarily so. Although essentially understood within the realm of the proper—the Father’s house—the language of Being—the son, which is the Sign, par excellence, can therefore only rebel from within the dwelling that is called home but yet is not “chez lui” (his own), at least not essentially.
(f) The Trace of the Trace
White mythology—metaphysics has effaced in itself the fantastic scene which produced it and which remains nonetheless active, restless, registered in white ink, invisible design and recovered in the palimpsest.61
Derrida has called metaphysics the “logos that believes itself to be its own father,”62 thereby implying: (a) that metaphysics has foundations, a heritage, an origin which is not within itself; that is, not metaphysics itself; and (b) that metaphysics, as a closed system, has effaced this ground and therein erased the trace of its essential heritage. It is this “past” of metaphysics that Derrida aims to reveal. It is the condition of the possibility of metaphysics itself, the origin of the Concept of the concept, and it is fundamentally the question of the determination of Being as Presence (Heidegger’s question) which must now be addressed. As we have seen, this has not always been the case, in historical terms, since certain proper names, especially Plato, have been associated with its origin. In returning to these beginnings, however, as Husserl has shown with respect to the origins of geometry (which do not essentially lie with Galileo63 but with structural, conceptual possibilities), we do not reach the essence of the problem. Since, according to Plato, he does not constitute the Forms, or the Concept, but rather merely uncovers them, he more precisely remembers them since all learning we should recall was for him a form of recollection.64 Thus the nature of nature is given to philosophy as a ready-made discovery. We should be suspicious already of this “givenness” as the effacement of a process of constitution, as Husserl and Kant before him have shown. Thus Derrida’s search for the origins of metaphysics is not essentially a historical one, although the signs of this effacement are certainly to be found in the historical manifestation of its beginnings. What this means is that one must begin to read metaphysics otherwise. It is this shift in perspective that we shall attempt to document here so as to reveal what Derrida has called “the trace of the trace,”65 another name for what metaphysics has called “Presence.” We should also recall that “presence” is the condition of the possibility and the ultimate criterion for evidence and therefore truth within the conceptual apparatus of the Western world, according to Derrida. Thus the stakes are rather high.
As we have shown, it is toward the limits of philosophy that Derrida turns in search of the exposure of the essential threads which constitute this discourse as a whole. Where the Concept no longer comprehends all, or where there is an apparent excess or inadequacy, an inadequation of form to content (in Hegelian terms), is where Derrida claims the roots of the system become somewhat visible. Since this comprehension is already (and always already) within the domain of metaphysics, the excess can only be determined in a negative way, or else with a neologism. Derrida uses both. One of his terms for this foundation is différance:
... différance in its active movement—what is comprehended in the concept of difference without exhausting it—is what not only precedes metaphysics but also extends beyond the thought of being (of presence). The latter speaks nothing other than metaphysics, even if it exceeds it and thinks it as what it is within its closure.66
As is perhaps all too well known and reiterated as such, the term différance for Derrida is a combination of the terms différer (to differ) and déferer (to defer), but this in itself tells us little about its meaning. We insist that this entails a double conception of timing and spacing, a movement that allows for the constitution of the object-as-such, and hence for the constitution of the concept. It is textualization itself, in a certain sense. A better clue perhaps for the understanding of this term is from Husserl concerning the phenomenology of internal time consciousness. He claims that there is a fundamental “unnameable” movement which grounds the possibility of all that is made present to consciousness as such.67 This is more than simply protention and retention, although it includes these aspects. Derrida’s claim is that this essentially shifting, opening, spacing, and timing à la fois is the essential condition for metaphysical conceptuality and further that it is precisely this that metaphysics as such cannot comprehend. The rupture of the system, albeit from within, can never be comprehended from inside that system, he insists. As he says:
Reason is incapable of thinking this double infringement upon Nature: that there is lack in Nature and that because of that very fact something added to it. Yet we should not say that Reason is powerless to think this; it is constituted by that very lack of power, it is the principle of identity. It is the thought of the self-identity of the natural being. It cannot even determine the supplement [another name for différance] as its other, as the irrational and the non-natural, for the supplement comes naturally to put itself in Nature’s place. The image is neither in nor out of Nature. The supplement is therefore equally dangerous for Reason, for the natural health of Reason.68
Thus it is not the “Heraclitean flux” that Derrida is appealing to in his proposal of a ground for metaphysics. It is rather an essential gap inside the closure of the concept which is both an excess and an inadequation. But how is this possible and what proof can there be to substantiate such a claim?
Derrida insists that the system of metaphysical conceptuality entails a hierarchical ordering of binary oppositional concepts which are both recognized and not recognized within metaphysics. For example, the notion of the signified is considered as independent of the signifier; it is the “unbound ideality” that Husserl speaks of. However Derrida has shown in great detail that the constitution and recognition of the signified (of meaning itself) is a function of the signifier, of absence from that essential presence. If we examine the word “book,” for example, we can divide it into signified and signifier without difficulty. Now if we examine only the signifier—the letters that form the word as a whole—we find the essence of this form is an ideality that this particular empirical example “book” partakes of. Each letter and indeed the word itself is a representation of the ideal letter b, etc., and the ideal word: “book.” This is necessarily the case in order that this particular formulation can be recognized as the word “book.” In order to be recognizable it must be repeatable, reiterable, citable, and hence must entail an eidos for which, as we have claimed, this particular instance is only a representation. Thus the essence of the “pure” signifier is always already a signified. In turn we can analyze the purely signified in a similar manner. The idea of “book” is essentially (metaphysics will claim) non-empirical, non-sensible, and purely intelligible. Yet the constitution of objectivity is only possible: (a) via language, which itself transforms the particular here and now into an eternal always; and hence (b) via the sign—or more precisely, the signifier. Without this “means” of separation of the object from this particular subject, it could never become an “object for anyone”; that is, never an object for science and hence could not possibly participate in the realm of truth, which is essentially public. Thus, at the heart of the possibility of the signified as such, we find the signifier. And the reverse is also true. This is not a particular instance of contamination and paradox regarding the relations of essence and appearance, of sensible and intelligible, but a fundamental, albeit effaced, condition for the possibility of metaphysics itself. As Derrida says:
That the signified is originarily and essentially (and not only for a finite and created spirit) trace, that it is always already in the position of signifier, is the apparently innocent proposition within which the metaphysics of the logos, of presence and of consciousness, must reflect upon writing as its death and its resource.69
We shall examine the paradoxical conclusion of this discovery shortly, but first we must pursue the différance as a general phenomenon inside/outside metaphysics as a whole.
For Aristotle, as for the entire history of metaphysics, as we have shown, the time of evidence and of truth is the time of the present. It is the moment of the Now which is both here and now and yet also eternally Now. This is expressed in the form of the third-person present indicative of the verb to be: is. However, Derrida insists that the now is fundamentally non-existent, it is a constituted moment of time which essentially is non-temporal. In a certain respect, he is applying the investigations of Husserlian notions of time to the tradition of metaphysics as a whole. What this entails is a recognition of a fundamental absence within the moment of the present. That is, with the movement of consciousness from retention to protention, and back again, we have a result that is synthetic which forms that which metaphysics calls the Now: the Present. This essential moment for the understanding of truth is internally divided and essentially so. It is always a “recollection” of the past, albeit “held” in consciousness, and a movement toward the non-yet-present future. It is in short, extended. Yet only spatial objects within metaphysics have the property of extension. This overlap, Derrida claims, is not by accident: “complicity, the common origin of time and space, the co-appearance as the condition of all appearance of being.”70 Paradoxically, and yet also necessarily for metaphysics, it is precisely this that Aristotle discovered, yet then recovered; that is to say effaced in order to constitute a metaphysics based on the point in time, of the Now as Present. As Derrida says:
that which unfortunately will constitute the mainspring of metaphysics, this little key that opens and closes at the same time in its play the history of metaphysics, this clavicule where the entire conceptual decision of Aristotle’s discourse is supported and articulated, it is the little word ama.
Ama in Greek means “together,” everything at once, both together, at the same time. This expression is initially neither spatial nor temporal.71
It is Ama that is différance, the trace, the supplement, the resource and threat to metaphysics. It is the spacing that allows for the constitution of the Present, and hence the truth, as metaphysics understands these terms. What this means is that the relation between the binary oppositions of metaphysics must be understood in a new way. The radical exteriority that allows for their identification as other than each other, as different, which therein constitutes within each side, the “same,” must be re-thought. The foundation for this “complicity,” this “secret relation,” is the relation of “form” to Being, for Derrida. That is, of Presence to Truth, as an immediate relation of subject to object, of consciousness to the Concept. As we have seen, the Present is not essentially thus, and the object or the Form in itself is also a constitution as a function of the temporalizing spacialization that is the movement of différance itself. In terms of this revelation, Derrida asks:
Thus what is the concept of form? How does it register phenomenology within the closure of metaphysics? How does it determine the meaning of being as presence, as the present? What is secretly communicated with this delimitation of the meaning of being which is to be thought essentially in the verbal form of the present ...? What does the complicity between the form in general (eidos, morphè) and “is” (esti) force us to consider?72
In a sense—or a non-sense—that metaphysics will have excluded from its field, retaining nonetheless a secret and incessant relation with it, the form will be already in itself the trace (ikhnos) of a certain non-presence, the vestige of the “in-form,” announcing—calling its other, as did Plotinus, to the whole of metaphysics.73
Thus the term “presence” is essentially, for Derrida, the trace of the trace. It is apparently metaphysical, yet also and essentially non-metaphysical, and it is the latter that of necessity has been effaced within the system in order to “propertize” the identity and name the presence-as-such. We shall return to this.
There is another fundamental place within metaphysics that he remarks upon in terms of this complicity. This is the relation of philosophy to mythology, of philosophy to poesis, to imitation, and more precisely, of the philosophème to the mythème: to metaphor.74 The notion of metaphor for metaphysics has always been determined by that “for which” it stands; for which it signifies, its referent as non-metaphorical. It is thus a derivative concept; indeed represents the concept of derivation as such. Metaphor is a displacement of meaning from its origin, from the literal meaning, and as such finds a place within philosophical discourse as a “mere adornment,” as a heuristic addition that serves as an illustrative demonstration of a truth beyond itself. Its role is thus essentially self-effacing and self-effaced within philosophic discourse. Nevertheless, it appears within the latter and repeatedly, indeed, Derrida will claim, essentially. We must now trace this appearance, as it will reveal more precisely what Derrida insists takes the place of the essence of metaphysics as such.
Philosophy as theory of metaphor will have been initially a metaphor of theory.75
The conditions of the possibility of philosophy as such, Derrida insists, are essentially metaphoric, although the concept of metaphor, it must be remembered, is essentially a metaphysical one. Thus there is an inextricable “zig-zag” process needed in order to understand either “term,” since each is essentially understandable only in terms of the other. The notion of truth in philosophy has always been a function of visibility, of seeing by the Natural light of Reason in which we all partake as essentially constituted as Rational Animals. For Descartes, this meant the criteria of clarity and distinctness of ideas; for Plato it was a vision of the Forms themselves. This illumination of the truth to the eyes of consciousness, indeed of the mind itself, can be traced throughout the history of philosophy. Truth always appears; it always becomes visible; it is in effect always made present, brought to light. This is intrinsic to its meaning in philosophy. As Derrida says:
The opposition itself of to appear and to disappear, the entire lexicon of phainesthai, of alētheia, etc., of day and night, of visible and invisible, of present and absent, all of which is possible only under the sun. This, in as much as it structures the metaphoric space of philosophy, represents the nature of philosophic language. The appeal to the criteria of clarity and obscurity suffices to confirm that which we have announced earlier: all of this philosophic delimitation of metaphor is itself already constituted and produced by metaphors. How could a knowledge or a language be properly clear or obscure? [my emphasis].76
Of course the philosophic answer to this question must be the movement towards univocity, towards ideality as such, and therefore beyond the obscurity of poetic language and, in particular, of a metaphor. Thus Plato exiled the poets from the perfect Republic, and Husserl insisted on the exactitude of non-poetic, scientific univocal discourse for the truths of philosophy. It is this “precision” that would ensure “mutual understanding,” a proper intersubjectivity and hence the possibility of universal truths—for anyone at any time. Thus language was to be purified, and metaphor, for instance, to be disposed of. This banishment of the other, as a threat to the purity of truth, Derrida has revealed as precisely the latter’s resource at the same instant. It is thus the case with metaphor. Not only is the Sun the central metaphor around which the “orbit of metaphysics” revolves and toward which it incessantly turns as a “heliotrope,” Derrida also claims that “the movement of metaphorization” is itself that of idealization or more precisely, the reverse is the case. As he says: “Above all, the movement of metaphorization (origin then effacement of the metaphor, passage from the detour of figures) is nothing other than a movement of idealization. It is understood within the master category of dialectical idealism, that is, the Aufhebung or the memory which produces signs, interiorizes them in raising, suppressing and conserving the sensible exteriority ... it describes the space of the possibility of metaphysics.”77 This movement of metaphorization is essentially the movement of signification itself, which underlies both metaphorization and idealization. For the constitution of the ideal is only possible via the sign; that is, as an intrinsic relation of signifier to signified, no matter how radically one attempts to distinguish them. The other continually reappears within the same and must necessarily do so. It is “really there”; essentially. This is not to say, however, that the idea is essentially a metaphor, unless one is prepared to consider the notion of truth as essentially a construct; that is, as a telos and origin the reading of which is both always immediate and thus always mediated. One should recall that the essence of immediate presence is that spacing which is absence itself—the distance from one moment to the next, which is incessantly on the move. This mediation forms the essence of essence, which is to say, the sign as the detour on the way to truth, is precisely the truth of the truth. The metaphysics of metaphysics, if one prefers. But this is of course no longer metaphysics. Derrida’s thought is focused on absence, on non-identity, on signifiers rather than signifieds-as-such, on “mythology” rather than “philosophy,” and on the trace rather than the essence. Thus the trace of the essence, of the Concept, of metaphysics, is at once its essence and its non-essence. The trace is essentially non-essential. This means that Derrida’s claims must be considered outside of metaphysical conceptuality in order to be understood. Yet he himself insists that the condition of the possibility of understanding is itself this metaphysical conceptuality. Thus the double bind is at once installed and hence can be overcome. It is essential to metaphysics that it master its other, indeed all otherness. The non-metaphysical, albeit effaced, origin of metaphysics will be effaced again, necessarily. As Derrida says: “According to a law, which one could formalize, philosophy always reappropriates for itself the discourse which delimits it.”78 In fact this essay is a part of that movement. Any attempt to understand Derrida’s work is a movement toward its reappropriation by metaphysics, and thereby a movement, paradoxically, toward the former’s recognition and thus destruction. If Derrida’s work is essentially therein comprehended, it will be (a) discarded as merely parasitic and hence not essentially philosophical or (b) acclaimed as a giant step in the history of metaphysics as such. It could not be otherwise. However, at the risk of being Oedipus at the moment of facing the Sphinx, and considering the question, prior to formulating a clear and precise response, we have sought to present the concept of metaphysics according to Derrida as faithfully as possible. The tragedy will be, as Derrida himself recognizes:
The heliotrope can always lift itself up. And it can always become a flower dried in a book.79
The ultimate risk is perhaps, as Bataille said of Hegel, “He did not know to what extent he was right.”80