Daily Archives: September 7, 2017

Deconstruction / Postmodernism: Derrida’s ‘différance’

In their introduction to deconstruction, Rivkin and Ryan explain that Derrida’s term ‘différance’  is a ‘primordial process of differentiation,’ a ‘simultaneous process of deferment in time and difference in space’ (258). Attempt to explain this concept in your own words and/or examples.


I have to admit with struggling with this concept for awhile before I felt like I might have gotten a handle on it.

In the introduction to Derrida’s essay, the author mentions the pre-Socratic philosopher, Anaximander. Anaximander wondered that if Z has a beginning then there must be a state, Y, in which Z came from. But where did Y come from? Y must have come from X which also had a beginning.

Further complicating this concept is at what point does X become Y, and Y become Z? Or to use another analogy, at what point does a person who is dry become wet? Is there a state of dryness and wetness that is either both or neither? Even in math we see this concept when we keep dividing by 2. 2 divided by 2 is 1, half of 1 is 1/2, half again is 1/4, and so on. At no point is there ever really half, or even a defined point in space anymore – it’s just an infinite series of points we can say is there, but never really point to since there is not a “there” there.

Time is another example. When is “now”? “Now” happened in the past and there might be another “now” coming in the future, but the slippage between the future and the past is immediate; “Now” never happens, it’s either going to happen or has already happened.

I started to think of this concept in relation to M. Butterfly. At what point is Song Liling the Butterfly or the spy? And for that matter at what point are any of the Chinese actual individuals or a collective (‘commrades”) who make up the new communist state? What concrete identity do they posses at any given time? Is there a point where Song Liling is Butterfly “right now” and is there another point when Song Liling is a spy “right now”? Or are they fluid and do they overlap with no discernible distinction between them?

Also, as pertains to how symbols are related to each other (a trace, as the text uses the term), how would Song Liling as Butterfly be defined if Song Liling wasn’t also a spy? Each symbol, or binary, is dependent on each other for meaning since while Song Liling could easily be one or the other, each in themselves would not have the same context as we understand it from the film without being each related and necessary to the other.

This is what, I believe, Derrida means by différance.

Structuralism: Barthes definition of the intermediate; the ethics of signs

Barthes says that ‘the intermediate sign[…]reveals a degraded spectacle’ (84). What does Barthes mean by intermediate? And how does this relate to ‘an ethics of signs?


‘Intermediate’ means a sign that stands halfway between “the artificial and [the] natural,” (84), it is a sign that is attempting to explain a particular effect (in this case that the offending senators of Rome were under great moral and psychological stress), but is also so completely artificial that to even achieve the effect for the actors it required large quantities of vaseline.

Barthe’s believes a sign must either be completely abstract, such as the flag in a Chinese play signifying a military regiment, or it must be formed naturally from the genuine experience. Here Barthe’s mentions Stanislavski who is famous for his school on acting and preparing actors to react genuinely to the material they are performing rather than just taking a few vocal and dance lessons. An actor who is genuine in their performance would not need vaseline to convey moral struggle, their moral struggle would manifest itself naturally without the aid of a prop.

This relates to an ‘ethics of signs’ in that the ‘intermediate’ sign is thus considered a “degraded spectacle,” (84) because it is unethical in that it fails to be genuine in how it is attempting to signify its intent and it adds a layer of artifice to the real world where none should be needed. Barthe’s goes as far to say that this intermediate sign is “deceitful” because it can actually “confuse the sign with what is signified,” (84) – in this example it confuses the sweat with real moral struggle. The sweat is not the moral struggle, however, it is an artificial prop attempting to show moral struggle, but it fails to actually represent the moral struggle of the killing of Caesar and the plunging of all Roman civilization into political turmoil.

page 244 of 348 of Myths from Mesopotamia: Creation, the Flood, Gilgamesh, and Others

Anshar tells his vizier, Kakka to relay a message to his parents tha Tiamut is pissed and Marduk wants to be champion. Lots of repetition here, but one confusing aspect is that Anshar says that he had sent Anu and Nudimmud (on seperate attempts) to face Tiamut, but I re-read it and it was Ea who was sent and chickend out.