Structure, Sign and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences: Revie

1577 Words Dec 17th, 1999 7 Pages
‘Structure, Sign and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences' (Derrida, 1978: 278 –293) may be read as the document of an event, although Derrida actually commences the essay with a reservation regarding the word "event", as it entails a meaning "which it is precisely the function of structural – or structuralist – thought to reduce or suspect" (278). This, I infer, refers to the emphasis within structuralist discourse on the synchronous analysis of systems and relations within them, as opposed to a diachronic schemata occupied with uncovering genetic and teleological content in the transformations of history.
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<br>The event which the essay documents is that of a definitive epistemological break with structuralist thought, of the
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The "guiding thread" Derrida chooses is Levi-Strauss' opposition between nature and culture. (I am in parts paraphrasing elements from page 282 – 287). Derrida writes that Levi-Strauss encounters a scandal, which is the "incest prohibition" (283). The scandal is in that the prohibition is simultaneously universal and thus natural, while also at the same time as "a system of norms and interdicts" (283): it is cultural. The contradiction encountered by Levi-Strauss is that the difference established in the nature/culture binary opposition is erased or at least questioned. Due to this erasure of difference the origin of this prohibition becomes unthinkable as the "whole of philosophical conceptualisation…is designed…" (283/284) to leave the possibility of the conceptualisation unthinkable, that is, the meaning of the construction of meaning, difference having been erased, becomes itself impossible to bring to account.
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<br>Levi-Strauss, by way of this realization, is forced to move from metaphysics to metacommentary (cf. Jameson, 1988) because even though he…