Deconstruction and Saussure

Memorial has several graduate courses that are taught by a series of profs on a given theme. For example, we are deciding for next semester the theme for our philosophy grad students next semester, and each prof in the department will lecture on that theme from his/her given competence. For the humanities grad students, I’m lecturing today on language, and I chose to go back to Derrida’s reading of Saussure. This leads to a couple of questions;

1. Does Derrida’s early grammatology have as its working premise Saussure’s linguistic system, however “deconstructed”? On the one hand, it would seem to, given its pride of place not just in Of Grammatology but also how that reading of Saussure provides the very language for many of the works of that period. (In fact, if you are deconstructing each of these terms, such as premise, for their hidden play and indecidability as you read this, well, then you may be stuck in Saussure and the arbitrariness of the sign.)

2. Would deconstruction get off the ground using other readings of the linguistic sign, e.g., Chomsky’s generative linguistics? I think, in the end, it would, but it would mean a whole different slew of deconstructive “vocabulary.”

There are many more incisive questions to be asked. But for me, this is why I prefer to think of Derrida’s work ontologically, as a thinking of time and temporality, not because I think one could just jettison its avowed context in given readings, but also because these temporal stakes become clearer later when Derrida makes his political turn. While this risks producing another metaphysics, concentrating on the play of language itself risks reifying Saussure’s interpretation of the linguistic sign, which is itself a metaphysics of the philosophy of language.