Manifestations of Derrida

I’m not much in for apologizing for Derrida, since I don’t like looking like a tool (being one is another matter), but this strikes me as odd given that Of Grammatology is a book wholly about traces, writings, etc., and not “manifestation.” But a helpful Larval Subjects post:

Anti-Realist Ontologies: An ontology addresses not the question “how do we know?”, but rather “what, in the most general and abstract sense, is and what dynamics govern these beings?” An anti-realist ontology is thus an ontology that equates the being of beings, what beings are with the outputs of our little black boxes. To be, the thesis runs, is to be the output of a black box, a manifestation (as Derrida put it in Of Grammatology), or, as Kant put it, a phenomena.

I actually don’t think—looking down at the first chapter of OG—that there’s anything LS would disagree with here: it’s a critique of the fundamental untenability of linking everything to “experience in general” (p. 9). And then he traces the link between voice, signifier/signifieds, and the logos back to Aristotle’s discussion of meaning. In as much at the “program,” as he calls it, works through texts that are themselves “anti-realist” (in both of Larval Subjects’ senses) then you can argue, as Ian Bogost has, that it just ends up never getting out of a certain position within the metaphysics of presence. I’m willing to have that argument, and in fact, I think there’s a case to be made beyond Derrida that a certain trace structure in its logic can be quite “realist,” even perhaps materialist, as Martin Hägglund is now arguing (though I have qualms about the “materialist” part). But in so far as Of Grammatology concerns a thorough attempt to show the limits and fundamental problems (again, successful or not is a discussion for another day) of the “phonocentrism” that “determine[s] the meaning of being in general as presence [emphasis in OG]” including “presence of the think to the sight as eidos” and the “self presence of the cogito, conciousness, subjectivity, the co-presence of the other…” then I’m not sure where the black box is. I could see that his discussion of historical closure could be problematic for those wanting to jump out of onto-theology, but I think we could at least agree that he’s right about naive attempts to move beyond it often replicate its prejudices at another level (e.g., naive realism). For example, I think the discussion in chapter one on “exteriority’ and the logic that brings “sciences of nature” back to “self-presence, as subjectivity” (p. 16) should be fruitful. And then simplifying to the extreme, the rest of the book is aimed in at showing how a particular “anti-humanist” science (structuralism) takes on all the problems of the humanisms it was saying it replaced. His pass-key is the sign as it is thought in various works under discussion. Again, I see the problem insofar as one thinks all signs are human signs. Again, another discussion. (As a rule, I try to keep blog posts to a short limit, but long enough to say something.) But at the least: writing does not equal black box does not equal manifestation. (And now that I think of it: why would a manifestation be a black box?)

Ok, off to pop some more advil for the stomach and then to bed…

6 comments

  1. He’s actually quite explicit on these points in both Speech and Phenomena and Of Grammatology as well as a number of essays from this period. This was the topic of my MA thesis, paradoxically written after my dissertation. In Of Grammatology he talks directly of manifestation (around the places that he speaks of Hjelmslev and Peirce, as I recall). Elsewhere he speaks of presencing. A manifestation (i.e., phenomenality) does not equal a black box insofar as a manifestation is an output. A manifestation is the product of what I call a black box. The question of “where the black box is” is not quite the right question. A black box is not so much a thing, but a series of operations or functions that render something else possible. For Derrida writing, the trace, differance, and so on are these mechanisms or functions that produce the output or manifestation. Derrida’s critique of presence, therefore, is not to suggest that there is no manifestation, but that the mechanisms that render manifestation possible are differential in such a way that they efface the sufficiency and immediacy of presence, producing presence as a sort of illusion.

    1. I just checked all uses of it in OG and SP and I just don’t see the prominence you’re giving the term.Each use in these texts is a citation or interpretative glance at Pierce or Husserl, referring (as was his want) to a discourse that he’s reading. For example, the use in OG is to stipulate that Pierce’s phenomenology, which includes a thinking of the sign (the thing=sign), is actually close to the intuitions of Husserl, rather than far afield from the latter’s work as one might think. Be that as it may, For Derrida writing, “the trace, differance, and so on are these mechanisms or functions that produce the output or manifestation” is more in the direction of what I would say (though “produce” is a bit loose) and which is not then analogous to phenomena in Kant. Again, I can see the black box, but I would think “non-manifest” as much as “manifest” in this regard. Unless you’re thinking differance=schematism? This sounds like a stupid hermeneutic thing over Derrida, but it’s not: stipulating what would be a “non-realist ontology” that is non-idealist is obviously important in the steps you generally follow in your approach, namely that this NRO follows down a false path similar to the others listed, before getting to SR or OOO. Anyway, I may have just misread you on all this, since I think you were just really saying manifest=output of some mysterious process, rather than manifestation being the actual process. And thus the black box is the mysterious process, acting as a non-real deux ex machina. But I don’t know: I think when you’re getting to “orginary” questions, can you fault a thinker (I’m thinking of all that Aristotle wrote on just this question) for teasing out a logic that is …black box-y? I’m not saying it is a black box, but at that point, you could say that for any philosopher who is talking about being-qua-being. What is pure actuality in Aristotle but a black box for then getting his metaphysics going? Oh…and hi!

  2. Peter,

    Right I am saying that manifestation is output, not the black box. From your post and response to my comment I get the sense that you think I am saying that speculation about black boxes is a bad thing. For example, you suggested that I was criticizing Derrida in your initial post. Thus you write:

    nyway, I may have just misread you on all this, since I think you were just really saying manifest=output of some mysterious process, rather than manifestation being the actual process. And thus the black box is the mysterious process, acting as a non-real deux ex machina. But I don’t know: I think when you’re getting to “orginary” questions, can you fault a thinker (I’m thinking of all that Aristotle wrote on just this question) for teasing out a logic that is …black box-y? I’m not saying it is a black box, but at that point, you could say that for any philosopher who is talking about being-qua-being. What is pure actuality in Aristotle but a black box for then getting his metaphysics going?

    I might not have made the point clearly enough in the two posts in question, but I am in no way suggesting that we should cease speculating about black boxes. If anything, my position is that all objects are black boxes or input/output machines. What I was criticizing in the post you’re responding to is the anti-realist tendency to attribute black boxes to homo sapiens alone or to give a sort of privileged place to the human.

    Yeah, I know the crew of ’68 wants to claim they’re anti-humanists, but with the sole exception of Deleuze that is complete and utter bullshit. Everything thinker from the crew of ’68 restricts the black boxes to human phenomena (language, power, discursive practices, etc). You don’t get to call yourself an anti-humanist while making something like language, which is only available to humans, the condition for everything else. That’s exactly what Derrida does with his concepts of writing, trace, differance, etc. The problem isn’t that he’s trying to think about black boxes. That’s what us philosophers should be doing. The problem is he’s treating the human as the only site of black boxes.

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