Category Archives: Deconstruction / Postmodernism: Derrida’s ‘différance’

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.