By Ken Whyld
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Additional info for Les échecs en un week-end
As he pointed out in 1988, in the wake of his exchange with Searle, any careful reading of his texts would show ‘that in his work the value of truth (together with all the values that go with it) is never contested or destroyed, but only ever reinscribed in more powerful, more inclusive, more stratified contexts’ (L, 270; 146; translation modified). In much the same way, for instance, that the truth claims of Austin’s discourse were not undermined by the assertion that the criterion of truth or falsity was not pertinent for an analysis of performatives, so too it hardly followed from Derrida’s critique of the claim, going back to Plato, that the very essence of literature was to be mimetic, and was therefore necessarily dominated by the question of truth or untruth, that Derrida’s own analysis was an irrational exercise in postmodern fiction-making.
Derrida went so far as to suggest that if he were to venture (‘God forbid’, he added) a single definition of deconstruction, this would be it: a responsiveness to language transfer and transference, to the fact that there was, as he put it in French, plus d’une langue, meaning both more than one language and no more one language (MM, 38; 15). The singularity of idiom was inescapable, and could not be effaced, only ever affirmed. And it became an increasingly characteristic signature feature of Derrida’s own writing, in particular from the early to mid-1970s onwards, as he left behind some of the rhetorical norms of orthodox philosophical discourse, that he should exploit with virtuosity – to the despair of his translators – the many resources of French idiom and other languages, too.
Derrida’s paper is in four parts, and comprises a preamble and three main sections devoted in reverse order to each of the three terms given in the title. Like all good conference delegates, Derrida announces the purpose of his intervention early on: it is to demonstrate ‘why a context is never absolutely determinable or, better, in what way its determination is never assured or saturated’ (M, 369; 310). From this central proposition, Derrida adds, flow two important corollaries, namely that the standard, received concept of (linguistic or nonlinguistic) context, among others, is theoretically inadequate; and that it is necessary (as Derrida proposes in Of Grammatology) to effect both a generalisation and a displacement of the concept of writing (M, 369; 310–11).