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«Logocentrism and the Gathering Λόγος: Heidegger, Derrida, and the Contextual Centers of Meaning1 Jussi Backman University of Helsinki Abstract ...»

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16 Derrida, De la grammatologie, 11–12, 23–24; Of Grammatology, 3, 12. In his last seminar, Derrida interestingly maintains that phonocentrism is, to a certain extent, universal, while logocentrism is a particular feature of Western philosophy and the monotheistic religions—implying that logocentrism as a mode of thought is rooted in phonocentrism and not vice versa. (Jacques Derrida, Séminaire: La bête et le souverain, vol. 1: 2001ed. Michel Lisse, Marie-Louise Mallet, and Ginette Michaud [Paris: Galilée, 2008], 461; translated by Geoffrey Bennington as The Beast and the Sovereign, vol. 1, ed. Michel Lisse, Marie-Louise Mallet, and Ginette Michaud [Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009], 347.) 17 Derrida, De la grammatologie, 13–14; Of Grammatology, 4.

that... a logocentrism is not totally absent from Heidegger’s thought, perhaps it still holds that thought within the epoch of onto-theology.... This would perhaps mean that one does not leave the epoch whose closure one can outline.”18 Accordingly, there is an...ambiguity of the Heideggerian situation with respect to the metaphysics of presence and logocentrism. It [sc., Heidegger’s situation] is at once contained within it [sc., the metaphysics of presence] and transgresses it.... The very movement of transgression sometimes holds it back short of the limit.19 In what follows, I will look at the complex relationship of inheriting, reaffirming, and filtering between Heidegger and Derrida in terms of this notion of logocentrism.

(1) I begin by arguing that in spite of their heterogeneous, suggestive, and aporetic character, Derrida’s readings of Heidegger do have a certain focal point—namely, the question concerning the very possibility of focal points, in other words, the problem of the unity and plurality of discursive meaning.

(2) This problem is seen to be especially prominent in Derrida’s detection of an inherently “logocentric” move in Heidegger’s interpretation of the Presocratic concept of λόγος as “gathering” (Versammlung) and in the latter’s constant reaffirmation of the primacy of gathering, concentration, and unity over dispersal

–  –  –

(3) Even though Heidegger does not simply adopt or endorse the Greek concept of λόγος as such but, rather, transforms it in a decidedly non-Greek and postmetaphysical manner, he does indeed retain a certain notion of the unifying and focalizing function of discourse and language. This, I suggest, is the only kind of “logocentrism” that can properly be attributed to Heidegger. However, I Derrida, De la grammatologie, 23–24; Of Grammatology, 12.

Derrida, De la grammatologie, 35; Of Grammatology, 22 (translation modified).

maintain that what is at stake here is a transformation, not an uncritical continuation, of the “ontotheological” logocentrism of traditional metaphysics.

(4) Turning to Derrida’s concession that a certain logocentrism is “philosophically necessary” and unavoidable, I will end by asking to what extent and at what cost the deconstructive abstention from looking for unifying centers of discursive meaning, or the active “dispersion” of such centers, is feasible. In other words, how far can the deconstruction of logocentrism be taken? Are not deconstructive readings, in the end, committed to a certain minimal “logocentrism,” a narrativity that no longer claims the status of metanarrativity?

1. Narrative Unity: Heidegger’s Unthought?

The feature that most clearly distinguishes Derrida’s deconstructive readings from more traditionally hermeneutical ones is their seeming lack of focus. Derrida refuses to follow the methodological tenet of Heideggerian hermeneutics, according to which “[e]very thinker thinks one only thought.... [F]or the thinker the difficulty is to hold fast to this one only thought as the one and only thing that he must think.”20 For Heidegger, reading texts of the metaphysical tradition involves mapping their “fundamental metaphysical position,” i.e., a specific point or situation within the general framework of the history of metaphysics around which the text or texts of a particular thinker can be grouped. 21 Heidegger’s readings accordingly manifest a tendency to integrate texts into more and more comprehensive wholes, ultimately into what seems to be a kind of “master narrative” comprising the entire history of Western philosophy. However, he does this with a strong hermeneutical awareness that such a narrative is itself narrated from a particular historical Martin Heidegger, Was heisst Denken? [1951–52], 5th ed. (Tübingen: Niemeyer, 1997), 20 [hereafter, WHD];

translated by J. Glenn Gray as What Is Called Thinking? (New York: Harper & Row, 1968), 50.

21 Martin Heidegger, “Die ewige Wiederkehr des Gleichen” [1937], in Nietzsche, vol. 1, 6th ed. (Stuttgart:

Neske, 1998), 401–23 [herafter, N I]; translated by David Farrell Krell as “The Eternal Recurrence of the

Same,” in Nietzsche, vol. 2: The Eternal Recurrence of the Same, ed. David Farrell Krell (San Francisco:

HarperSanFrancisco, 1991), 184–208.

situation and therefore relative to a particular context. While crediting Hegel with having produced “the only philosophical history of philosophy heretofore”22 and having thus challenged philosophy to think historically, Heidegger is careful to distinguish between the Hegelian metanarrative and his own. Hegel’s quest for an absolute position with respect to the history of thought is for Heidegger an ultimately self-defeating venture to “jump over one’s own shadow” in which the constitutive finitude of thinking—i.e., the fact that in every thought, something is inevitably left unthought in such a way that it is accessible as an unthought only from another standpoint—is, in a sense, shrugged off.23 In contrast to Hegelian absolute teleology, Heidegger suggests that his own attempts, in the later phase of his career, to think being as Ereignis, as the “event” or “taking-place” of meaningfulness, imply only a relative teleology, the end of a particular history. The “end of the history of being” that Heidegger speaks of in his latest texts is simply the end of the progressive unfolding of the different conceptual forms under which the metaphysical tradition has articulated being. This end signifies that it is no longer helpful to articulate Ereignis in terms of “being,” since the traditional metaphysical connotations and limitations of this word are, as Heidegger acknowledges in his latest work, indissoluble.24 While Hegel concentrates on what was effectively thought by the Heidegger, “Die ewige Wiederkehr des Gleichen,” in N I, 404; “The Eternal Recurrence of the Same,” 186;





cf. “Die onto-theo-logische Verfassung der Metaphysik,” in ID, 33; “The Onto-theo-logical Constitution of Metaphysics,” 44.

23 Martin Heidegger, Die Frage nach dem Ding: Zu Kants Lehre von den transzendentalen Grundsätzen [1935–36], 3rd ed. (Tübingen: Niemeyer, 1987), 117–18; translated by W.B. Barton Jr. and Vera Deutsch as What Is a Thing? (Chicago: Regnery, 1967), 150–51.

24 Martin Heidegger, “Protokoll zu einem Seminar über den Vortrag ‘Zeit und Sein’” [1962], in Zur Sache des Denkens (Tübingen: Niemeyer, 2000), 44, 53–58 [hereafter, ZSD]; translated by Joan Stambaugh as “Summary of a Seminar on the Lecture ‘Time and Being,’ ” in On Time and Being (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002), 41, 50–54. In a later marginal note to “Anaximander’s Saying” (1946), Heidegger notes that the word “being” inevitably designates the “being of beings” and is therefore insufficient for his purposes (“Der Spruch des Anaximander” [1946], in Holzwege, 8th ed. [Frankfurt am Main: Klostermann, 2003], 364 n[d] [hereafter, HW]; translated by Julian Young and Kenneth Haynes as “Anaximander’s Saying,” in Off the Beaten Track [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002], 275 n[a]). In the 1966–67 Heraclitus seminar, Heidegger notes that he no longer likes to use the word “being” (Martin Heidegger and Eugen Fink, “Heraklit” [1966–67], in Gesamtausgabe, vol. 15: Seminare, ed. Curd Ochwadt, 2nd ed. [Frankfurt am Main:

Klostermann, 2005], 20; translated by Charles H. Seibert as Heraclitus Seminar [Evanston, IL: Northwestern thinkers of the tradition in order to dialectically bring their incomplete insights to a definitive fruition, Heidegger’s attention centers on what these thinkers—as seen from his particular position—implicitly presupposed but omitted to think.25 The Heideggerian metanarrative is thus more modest than Hegel’s: it only incorporates the specific history of a specific situation (its own), from the point of view of what, in that situation, is emerging as something excluded by the tradition as it shows itself when considered retrospectively from that situation. Heidegger’s narrative does not place itself above “history as such”; indeed, it denies the possibility of any metahistorical vantage point. It may therefore not be altogether appropriate to call it a metanarrative.

In this regard, Derrida is even more modest. During his philosophical career he gradually became more and more cautious of all historical metanarratives and of narrative structures in general, noting with reservation the presence of a “hidden teleology” or “narrative order” in Heidegger.26 Suggesting, perhaps, a general impasse of narrativity rather than a personal incapacity, he ironically asks: “I have never known how to tell a story.... Why am I denied narration? Why have I not received this gift?”27 Derrida is indeed remarkably reluctant to draw general conclusions from his readings or even to summarize them, refusing to incorporate the texts he works with into a comprehensive and systematic account. For the most part, he simply extracts from texts particular components that generally appear to be “marginal” or relatively irrelevant in terms of what is normally University Press, 1993], 8.) Cf. Thomas Sheehan, “A Paradigm Shift in Heidegger Research,” Continental Philosophy Review 34 (2001): 187–92.

25 Heidegger, “Die onto-theo-logische Verfassung der Metaphysik,” in ID, 37–39; “The Onto-theo-logical Constitution of Metaphysics,” 47–49.

26 Jacques Derrida, De l’esprit: Heidegger et la question (Paris: Galilée, 1987), 29; translated by Geoffrey Bennington and Rachel Bowlby as Of Spirit: Heidegger and the Question (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989), 12. Cf. Paola Marrati, Genesis and Trace: Derrida Reading Husserl and Heidegger (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2005), 106, 223–24.

27 Derrida, Mémoires pour Paul de Man (Paris: Galilée, 1988), 27; translated by Cecile Lindsay et al. as Memoires for Paul de Man, revised ed. (New York: Columbia University Press, 1989), 3. For an excellent discussion of deconstruction “neither as a simple affirmation nor negation of narrative but rather as a radical perplexity in the face of narrative,” see James Gilbert-Walsh, “Deconstruction as Narrative Interruption,” Interchange 38 (2007): 317–33.

taken to be the focal point of these texts, playing with their hidden connotations in order to disclose ways in which they precisely resist integration into a single coherent narrative.

Derrida’s readings of Heidegger, for example, do not amount to a conventional interpretation of Heidegger’s work as a unified totality hinging on the author’s “fundamental intentions.” Their specifically deconstructive function is rather to expose in Heidegger’s writings implicit connotations of traditional commitments that Heidegger never explicitly subscribes to and thereby to reveal specific ways in which Heidegger’s actual discourse fails his integral project. For Derrida, this is not a contingent individual failure but rather a predicament of all discourse—including the philosophical, in spite of its inherent desire to be unequivocal. It is constitutive of the textuality of texts that they can never be harnessed, once and for always, to serve a single purpose. In a reading of Heidegger, a deconstructive operation involves showing how some of the components (phrases, idioms, or metaphors) of his discourse resist integration into the general logic of his thought and can also be construed to serve purposes that potentially conflict with his explicit project of opening up avenues for postmetaphysical forms of thinking.

This is Derrida’s particular tactic in the Geschlecht essays (1983–89), in Of Spirit:

Heidegger and the Question (1987), and also in his recently published last seminar on The Beast and the Sovereign (2001–3), which extensively studies Heidegger’s 1929–30 lecture course on The Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics.28 A basic “point” of these commentaries is to exhibit the irreducible plurality of potential meanings present in the Heideggerian corpus. This point is made performatively, precisely by not explicitly making it, in order to See Jacques Derrida, “Geschlecht: différence sexuelle, différence ontologique” [1983], in Psychè: inventions de l’autre (Paris: Galilée, 1987), 395–414; translated by Ruben Berezdivin as “Geschlecht: Sexual Difference, Ontological Difference,” in Research in Phenomenology 13 (1983) : 65–83; reprinted in A Derrida Reader: Between the Blinds, ed. Peggy Kamuf (New York: Columbia University Press, 1991), 378–402; “La main de Heidegger (Geschlecht II)” [1985], in Psychè: inventions de l’autre, 415–51; translated by John P. Leavey, Jr. as “Geschlecht

II : Heidegger’s Hand,” in Deconstruction and Philosophy: The Texts of Jacques Derrida, ed. John Sallis (Chicago :

University of Chicago Press, 1987), 161–96; “L’oreille de Heidegger: philopolémologie (Geschlecht IV)” [1989], in Politiques de l’amitié suivi de L’oreille de Heidegger (Paris: Galilée, 1994), 341–419; translated by John P.

Leavey, Jr. as “Heidegger’s Ear: Philopolemology (Geschlecht IV),” in Reading Heidegger: Commemorations, ed.

John Sallis (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1992), 163–218.



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