What if Derrida was Wrong About Saussure?

Mr Russell Daylight
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By far the dominant reading of Saussure today is Derrida's. But what if Derrida was wrong about Saussure, or at least, if Derrida's reading was limited? What if, for example, Derrida went too far in incorporating Saussure within a "classical semiology," which is itself of doubtful unity? Or if it were possible to separate phonocentrism from logocentrism? What if Saussure did not reproduce a transcendental signified, that is, a concept independent of language? What if Saussurean theory does not join a sign to a referent, or betray a nostalgia for presence? It is clear why Saussure was necessary for Derrida's legitimate project of identifying logocentric presuppositions in even the most careful projects of anti-metaphysics. But an unfortunate result of Derrida's efforts is that the true specificity and originality of Saussure - in his approach to the language user - continues to be overlooked. I feel that the dominance of the Derridean reading of Saussure has meant that certain explorations in structuralism were extinguished before they even began, and that there are some extremely difficult but rewarding ways of thinking that a new reading of Saussure can offer us now; a reinvigoration of certain possibilities of Saussurean thought which have been compressed into the logocentric framework. Above all, it is to rethink Saussure's forgotten dictum, that "In order to determine to what extent something is a reality, it is necessary and also sufficient to find out to what extent it exists as far as the language users are concerned."

Keywords: Derrida, Saussure, Language, Structuralism, Populism, Democracy
Stream: Language, Linguistics, Knowledge
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
Paper: What if Derrida was wrong about Saussure?

Mr Russell Daylight

Doctoral student., Department of Sociology.
Division of Society, Culture, Media, Philosophy., Macquarie University.


I am a final-year doctoral student at Macquarie University in Sydney. My thesis is titled "Communication and Structure: Derrida on Saussure." It considers Jacques Derrida's equivocal engagement with Ferdinand de Saussure and linguistics generally. I have presented papers on this topic and more generally on language, structuralism, democracy, and society.

Ref: H06P0182