“Exergue,” (epigraph), from Of Grammatology

  1. What is the literal meaning of "grammatology"? (science of writing)
  2. How would you place Derrida in relation to Lacan, Saussure and Foucault?
  3. Derrida believed that “Western metaphysics” consists of the claim that phonetic writing is the most advanced kind (as opposed to pictographs) and that the spoken language is superior to the written word. Are these claims really the essence of “Western metaphysics,” in your view? What is their importance in this context? The importance of denying them? (need to deny possibility of single, fixed referent)
  4. He feels that science is modelled on a logic of speech, so that grammatology (the science of writing) is a contradiction in terms--since the text must be both ravelled and unravelled (1817, 1818). What does it mean to speak of a “science of writing”?
  5. Why in his view is writing more important than speech, in his view? (1818)
  6. What are some purposes served by calling grammatology a “science”? (science-envy) He proposes a method, a reading of texts which “speak” about writing. What kind of messages do these reveal? (unpacks these to reveal conflicting messages)
  7. What qualities does he ascribe to the “science” of writing? (this will liberate, 1823, sense of impending revolution) Why cannot this be defined? (1823)
  8. What is the relation between the “science of writing” and the concept of origin? (1824)
  9. What is meant by logocentrism? (1822) What are its biases?
  10. Do you find comparisons between Derrida's veiws and those of Bakhtin, Jauss, Heidegger or Freud? (Bakhtin, multiplicity of languages, Freud, suppression, Jauss, deferral of meaning in appeal to future readers)
  11. What does it mean to say that the signified and signifier don’t quite correspond?
  12. Why do you think Derrida’s work has found a wide audience? (sense of ultimate change, appeal to future, impending revolution)
  13. What are some features of his style?

"The Exhorbitant. Question of Method"

  1. What does it mean to say that there is nothing outside the text? (1825, paen to disappearance) Which others whom we have read might to some extent have agreed with him?
  2. What does Derrida mean by the destruction of writing by “the writing that is yet reading”? (1826)
  3. On what grounds does he criticize pychoanalytic readings? (1826, they provide security of convention; the reading of literary symptoms is “most banal, most academic, most naive”; they operate outside the text)
  4. Why is Rousseau chosen as a text for discussion? (1829, object of medical case histories) Which text in particular is chosen, and why? (Essay on Origin of Language and other linguistic writings)
  5. Are there any feminist/anti-feminist implications to his presentation of the concept of the supplement? (1824, wife a substition!)
  6. What linguistic/philosophic process is embodied in the Confessions and Rousseau's other writings? What prompts the chain of desire?
  7. What does it mean to say that reading aims at the relationship experienced by the writer? (cmp. Freud)
  8. What does it mean to say that the writer doesn’t perceive the relationship between what he/she “commands” and doesn’t “command,” i. e., is aware of? What does this oblivion offer the critic?
    (If author were aware of the relationship between his/her conscious choices and his/ her unconscious, there could be no Derridean deconstruction of the “signifyi ng structure.” Every reading is double, remaining within the text’s structure of contradictory or incompatible readings and revealing the inherent fissure in the logocentric system it reproduces and resists.)
  9. What is important in his comparison between the French words differer and difference? (difference = differ in a sychronic comparison; differance = the process of postponing. These two words are pronounced identically in French)
  10. Writings tend toward “the repression of writing,” i. e., to the claim to represent speech, conceived as logos, truth, and reason. What method/insights can be used to undermine this false claim?
  11. What is meant by the search for the transcendental signified? (1827) What failed project should it be the goal of interpretation to uncover? (philosophical texts seek to efface self in the face of content, reading should be aware of this even as it exposes the project’s failure, e. g., that it cannot efface itself, 1827)
  12. What is the relationship of Rousseau’s text and of Derrida’s remarks to psychoanalytic theory? (operates within these languages, 1827)
  13. What does he mean by the opposition between philosophy and empiricism? (1828)
  14. What is meant by the concept of the supplement? (1829-30) What pun is included in this discussion? (supplement/supplement, suppleant, substitute) What is significant about this concept? (describes the chain itself, mise en abyme, a representation of the process of repetition and the splitting of the self)
  15. What is meant by the references to “exceeding”? (to exceed is to sustain on one’s own and to the limit the coherence of one’s own discourse, 182, being produced as truth and at the moment when the value of truth is shattered, 1829) In this context, what does it mean to say that we “must begin where we are”? (we must begin with thoughts of the trace, we cannot justify an absolute, new departure; that is, texts depend on texts)
  16. What pun is associated with the concept of mise en abyme? (abime, abyss; en abyme, mirrors within mirrors)
  17. What does it mean to say that the concept of the supplement is a blind spot in Rousseau’s text? (1830)
  18. For Derrida, what is meant by translation? (Translation is the key to meaning in its expression and repression of doubleness, its relations to a prior text, intertextuality) What does this view offer to literary/translation studies?
  19. What might you describe as a Derridean reading? (He analyzes words in specific texts, chosen because of their ultility in enabling a rereading of the text and an understanding of a thread within it.) How might you offer a Derridean reading for a text you have read?
  20. Prompted by Derridean assumptions, what literary texts would be most appropriate for study? How would he have regarded opening up the “canon” to new works, say of women and writers of different ethnic groups?
  21. What kind of curriculum would be most appropriate for Derridean interpretations of texts? Would the French academy in 1967 (the date of the French version of Of Grammatology) have been a more appropriate site for such readings than those of an American university in the 21st century?

Page numbers are from the Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism, 2001 edition.

“Différance” (Ritvo and Ryan, Literary Theory)

What are the meanings of différance and difference? What is meant by the acute accent and variant spelling?

How does this concept differ from conventional speech and philosophy? (381-82)

What are its qualities?
--not logical
--not empirical
--not spoken—a text
--delays (283)
--multivalent (283)
--process of scission and division (284)
--dissolves notion of presence (identity) (284)
--neither active nor passive (284)
--signified concept never present in itself (285)

What are the implications of this concept? (inscribed in a chain of differences, 285, wishes to deconstruct notions of presence, subordinate to différance; oppositions related to each other within system, 291)

What is the trace and its function? (preserves past, 287, anticipates future—proto-writing)

In what ways are these concepts similar to those of other 19th and 20th century European theorists? (Hegel, Freud, Benjamin, Jakobsen, Foucault, Jauss, Iser)

Is it possible always to recover deferred items? (292, no, one wins and loses each time)

What does it mean to say that the unconscious is structured by différance? (292-93)

Why does he quote Levinas’s view that the trace/the Other is a past which has never been present? (293)

Why can trace never present itself? (294-95; trace is simulacrum of a presence, 295)

What is meant by his call for a violent transformation of language? (296)

Why is différance a metaphysical name, and unnameable? (297)  What should be our response? (uses metaphors of laughter and dance, 297, hope)

According to Derrida, why is this an anti-metaphysical process, a mysticism? (297)

What conclusion does he reach? (298, marriage between speech and Being in the unique word, a question that enters into affirmation put into play by différance)

Are these concepts Heideggerian? Are they a form of affirmation for him, and why may this be so?

“Of Hospitality” (1997, in French; translation 2000)

What is the purpose and meaning of the pun in the title?

What seems Derrida’s method of approaching this topic?

What initial problem of contradictory definitions of hospitality does he set up?

What does it mean to say that “for the invited guest as much as for the visitor, the crossing of the threshold always remains a transgressive step” (75)?

What are implications of the law of unlimited hospitality? (77)

What relationship do the two law(s) of hospitality hold to each other? (two plurals that are different at the same time, 81; one conditional, the other unconditional)

What image of “laws of hospitality” does he give? (manuscript above bed, 85)

What examples does he give of laws which transgress/provide hospitality? (Antigone with her father, 87; question of where foreigner is buried, 87)

What sources of regret characterize displaced persons? (their “dead ones” and their language, 87; language a home or resting place, 89)

Why is language both mobile and immobile? (91)

How does he interpret the significance of Oedipus’ refusal to let his daughters know where he is buried? (93) His desire to be buried in a secret place? (103) The combination of foreignness with his burial in an unknown place? (105)

What effect does Oedipus’s demand for secrecy have on his host Theseus? (holds him hostage, 107) On his daughter Antigone? (she sheds tears and demands that he see her, complains that he has died in a foreign land and by his proscription forbidden the conclusion of her mourning, 109, 111, 113)

What does Antigone mean by her charge that her father desired his fate? (115) Why does she desire her father to see her tears? (117)

What aspects of Antigone’s response does Derrida consider of symbolic significance?

How do you relate this story to the account of the man who placed a letter to his guests above their bed? (everyone is the hostage to everyone else, 123; hospitality always leaves something to be desired, 127)

In the tale of Roberte and Octave, how does the figure of the potential or approaching guest affect their relationship? (129) What message does the scroll above the bed contain? (129-31) Do you find anything remarkable about this text?

What questions does Derrida ask of the foreigner? (131) What is the answer to his question, “In what language can he or she be interrogated?” (131)

What broader concept of “language” does Derrida advocate? (an ethos or culture, 133) With what kinds of persons does Derrida have most in common? (133)

How is this related to citizenship or nationality? (not closely, 133)

From which aspects of hospitality and language should we refrain? (asking of stranger what her name is, where he comes from, etc., 135)

What thoughts are suggested by the notion that hospitality and language must negotiate between unbounded openness and the laws of duty, exchange, and so on? (137; language which we carry with us, language as untranslatable, as in a name)

How is the internal war of Russian against the Chechnyans relevant to his point? (not permitted to be foreign, 139, wish to be foreign) Why can’t European civil wars be considered efforts at decolonization? (141)

How is the history of French-Algerian relations relevant to his discussion? (141, 143; at first, Algerian Muslims were nationals but not citizens; set of differentiations continued until Algerian War, 147)

What does it mean to say that the problem of hospitality is coextensive with the ethical problem? (149)

What final example does he give of an instance of “hospitality”? (151) How does the choice of this horrific example offer a critique of controlling notions of hospitality?

What are features of the patriarchal model which he deplores? (151) What moral issues are raised by his example of Lot? (151)

What is the intent behind his final example, of the woman cut into twelve pieces and sent throughout Israel? (155) What forms of cruelty is he protesting, and what alternative does he offer?

What do you make of his final question, “Are we the heirs to this tradition of hospitality?” (155) What contemporary issues or debates seem relevant to Derrida’s discussion, and what positions do you think he would take? (e. g., the status of legal and illegal immigrants, the separation of family members)

How would you contrast “Of Hospitality” in tone and method with Derrida's earlier writings?