Writing Différance & the Art of Writing What Must Be Written | Margins of Philosophy by Jacques Derrida

The Eckleburg Workshops


“For the same reason there is nowhere to begin to trace the sheaf or the graphics of différance .* For what is put into question is precisely the quest for a rightful beginning, an absolute point of departure, a principal responsibility. The problematic of writing is opened by putting into question the value of the arkhe [arche]. What I will propose here will not be elaborated simply as a philosophical discourse, operating according to principles, postulates, axioms, or definitions, and proceeding along the discursive lines of a linear order of reasons. In the delineation of différance everything is strategic and adventurous. Strategic because no transcendent truth present outside the field of writing can govern theologically the totality of the field. Adventurous because this strategy is a not simple strategy in the sense that strategy orients tactics according to a final goal, a telos or theme of domination, a mastery and ultimate reappropriation of the development of the field. Finally, a strategy without finality, what might be called blind tactics, or empirical wandering if the value of empiricism did not itself acquire its entire meaning in opposition to philosophical responsibility. If there is a certain wandering in the tracing of différance , it no more follows the lines of philosophical-logical discourse than that of its symmetrical and integral inverse, empirical-logical discourse. The concept of play keeps itself beyond this opposition, announcing, on the eve of philosophy and beyond it, the unity of chance and necessity in calculations without end.” (Jacques Derrida, Margins of Philosophy)
Derrida’s “différance” is a deliberate departure from the word difference and an important critical foundation of postmodernism. Différance alludes to the French différer, which means simultaneously to defer and to differ. For Derrida, the concept of “meaning,” as conventionally regarded, has no true beginning or end. We are always in search of meaning, a word, phrase, concept, ideal, logos, even axiom…. We can never truly attain this meaning because meaning depends upon context and the perception by which context is being given and so meaning for one particular entity, be it a word or logos (the concept of good/bad, for instance), if it is to be fully understood, must be empirically tested against other contexts and perceptions and there is no absolute. Meaning shifts from one person to another, one person’s situation to another. It’s all in the context. There is always a deferral of meaning, a constant search. To ever find this ultimate meaning or “truth” would be antithetical to the craft and artistry of the writer because we are not, I repeat, we are not the truthsayers. We are the explorers, the devil’s advocates prodding our readers to ask the questions, embark on collective and individual searches for meaning. And one must be a passionate explorer, a master in the art of not knowing the absolute in order to lead this search. Writers who have embraced différance  are our greatest explorers.
Derrida gives us the foundation for pushing past boundaries while recognizing boundaries. As writers, we study the lines and rules that govern language and story so that we can better know how and when to break these rules. We are always aware of the rules, character, plot, grammar, etc., and as we write and develop our voices and aesthetics, we search always for the moment of différance, the act of “departure and deference.”