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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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Within the domain of the leading question [sc. the Aristotelian metaphysical question concerning being qua being],... the essentiality of essence [Wesens] lies in its greatest possible generality.... When, by contrast, be-ing [Seyn] is conceived of as taking-place [Ereignis], essentiality is determined from the originality and uniqueness [Einzigkeit] of Parmenides, DK 28 B 3. Cf. Heidegger, EM, 104–06; Introduction to Metaphysics, 145–48; WHD, 146–49; What Is Called Thinking?, 240–43; ID, 13–15, 27; Identity and Difference, 27–30, 38–39.

61 See, for example, GA 65, 188–201; Contributions to Philosophy, 132–41; Martin Heidegger, Gesamtausgabe, vol.

45: Grundfragen der Philosophie: Ausgewählte “Probleme” der “Logik” [1937–38], ed. Friedrich-Wilhelm von Herrmann (Frankfurt am Main: Klostermann, 1984), 108–90 [hereafter, GA 45]; translated by Richard

Rojcewicz and André Schuwer as Basic Questions of Philosophy: Selected “Problems” of “Logic” (Bloomington, IN:

Indiana University Press, 1994), 95–164; “Der Spruch des Anaximander,” in HW, 336–72; “Anaximander’s Saying,” 253–80.

be-ing itself. Essence is not what is general but rather precisely the abidance [Wesung] of

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4. Contextual Centers: Narrativity after Logocentrism Derrida’s main reservation concerning the notion of gathering as the basic function of discourse—namely, his suspicion that it precludes singularity and heterogeneity—thus begins to seem unwarranted. Heidegger’s rethinking of λόγος as Sage, “saying” or “tale,” as the narrative and textual, collecting, collocating, or “reading” function of language, regards discourse no longer as a gathering in the sense that it would refer all meaning back to an absolute, pure, or ideal presence but, rather, as a “gathering into Ereignis,”63 i.e., into the situational happening of meaningfulness in its singularity in which it always refers to a specific context. This linguistic transformation of λόγος is part of the process that Heidegger calls the transition (Übergang) to the other beginning, to the postmetaphysical perspective in which the differential relationship between presence and its context becomes constitutive of presence. The focal point of presence becomes irreducibly embedded in a context of non-presence and thereby relativized.64 As Sheehan puts it, using one of Derrida’s favorite expressions, meaningful presence becomes an irreducible trace—a trace of nothing, as it were, in the sense of the focus in a nexus of references to meaning-dimensions that always exceed what is presently “there” and can never themselves be made immediately present.

Reading is indeed the referral of ta onta [sc. beings] beyond themselves, but it is always a referral to no-presence; hence, always a referral of entities as traces-of-no-presence....

[I]n reducing the entity to a trace, reading refers that trace to the differentiating process GA 65, 66; Contributions to Philosophy, 46 (translation modified).

Heidegger, “Die Sprache” [1950], in US, 12; translated by Albert Hofstadter as “Language,” in Poetry, Language, Thought (New York: Perennial Classics, 2001), 189.

64 On the transition from the first beginning to the other, see Heidegger, GA 65, 171–88; Contributions to Philosophy, 120–32; GA 45, 124–27; Basic Questions of Philosophy, 108–11.

itself, to the... movement that is logos, the referring that refers to no-presence.65 This irreducible referentiality of discursive meaning is what Derrida himself articulates in the 1980 essay “Envoi”: “Everything begins by referring back [par le renvoi], that is to say, does not begin.... I do not know if this can be said with or without Heidegger, and it does not matter.”66 Derrida hesitates (and professes indifference) as to whether the radical kind of referentiality he has in mind remains within or goes beyond Heidegger’s scope. We should here take another look at Heidegger’s notion of ontological difference, especially at the way in which it is developed in Identity and Difference (1957), a text that Heidegger himself considered one of the most lucid articulations of his main topics:67 For us,... the matter [Sache] of thinking is difference [Differenz] as difference.... what does it say, this being [Sein] that is mentioned so often?... What do you make of difference if being as well as beings [Seiendes] appear from difference, each in its own way?... Insofar as being abides as the being of beings, as difference, as discharge [Austrag], being grounds beings and beings, as what is most of all, establish being.68

The word “being” seems to be used here in two distinct but overlapping senses:

(1) being as appearing from (the ontological) difference; and Sheehan, “Derrida and Heidegger,” 214, 215. Cf. Thomas Sheehan, “Getting to the Topic: The New Edition of Wegmarken,” in Radical Phenomenology: Essays in Honor of Martin Heidegger, ed. John Sallis (Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press, 1978), 299–316; “Heidegger’s Topic: Excess, Recess, Access,” Tijdschrift voor Filosofie 41 (1979): 615–35; “Heidegger’s Philosophy of Mind,” in Contemporary Philosophy: A New Survey, vol.

4: Philosophy of Mind, ed. Guttorm Fløistad (The Hague: Nijhoff, 1983), 287–318; “Time and Being, 1925–7,” in Martin Heidegger: Critical Assessments, vol. 1: Philosophy, ed. Christopher Macann (London: Routledge, 1992), 29–67; “How (Not) to Read Heidegger,” American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly 69 (1995): 275–94; “A Paradigm Shift in Heidegger Research,” 183–202.





66 Derrida, “Envoi,” 141–42; “Envoi,” 127–28.

67 Heidegger, “Protokoll zu einem Seminar über den Vortrag ‘Zeit und Sein’,” in ZSD, 39; “Summary of a Seminar on the Lecture ‘Time and Being’,” 36.

68 Heidegger, “Die onto-theo-logische Verfassung der Metaphysik,” in ID, 37, 55, 61–62; “The Onto-theological Constitution of Metaphysics,” 47, 63–64, 69 (translation modified).

(2) being as this difference itself.

In the more narrow sense (1), being is the framework or context of a being but not a being in its own right, in other words, the frame of reference in which any particular presence is implicated but which is itself present only implicitly, never immediately as such. In this sense, both beings and being—i.e., the foreground of presence and its respective background context—appear “from” their reciprocal differentiation. In the more comprehensive formulation (2), however, being is this very differentiation, not as a relation between two pregiven relata but as a reciprocal “discharge” (Austrag)—identified by Sheehan as another name for λόγος69—in which a determinate, context-specific being is “carried out” by its background context and thereby “discharged” or “delivered” into presence.70 Austrag, in this reading, is the contextual, differential, and referential happening of presence, the contextualization in which the focal point of presence is differentiated from, and at the same time inextricably intertwined with, a background that is present only in the references and traces that constitute the focus. Austrag is what Derrida designates as différance—a word that does not convey a difference “between” any pregiven identities but rather stands for a process of indefinite contextualization, referral, and deferral in which relative meaningful identities are constituted through a chain of references to further references that never lead to any ultimate reference point.71 Sheehan, “Derrida and Heidegger,” 215.

Heidegger, “Die onto-theo-logische Verfassung der Metaphysik,” in ID, 56–65; “The Onto-theo-logical Constitution of Metaphysics,” 65–72. This is corroborated by Heidegger’s later marginal note to “On the Essence of Ground” (1929) in which he indicates the necessity of “overcoming the ‘distinction’ [Unterschied; sc.

the distinction between being and beings] from out of the essence of the truth of be-ing [Seyns], or of first thinking the ‘distinction’ as be-ing itself” (“Vom Wesen des Grundes” [1929], in WM, 134 n[c]; translated by William McNeill as “On the Essence of Ground,” in Pathmarks, 105 n[c]; translation modified.) On the twofold account of being as the ontological difference as well as an aspect of the difference, cf. Max Müller,

Existenzphilosophie im geistigen Leben der Gegenwart, 3rd ed. (Heidelberg: Kerle, 1964), 43; John Sallis, Echoes:

After Heidegger (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1990), 150–51; Julien Pieron, “Heidegger, du tournant à l’Ereignis,” Revue philosophique de Louvain 105 (2007): 385–97.

71 Derrida, “La différance” [1968], in Marges de la philosophie (Paris: Minuit, 1972), 13; translated by Alan Bass as “Différance,” in Margins of Philosophy (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982), 13: “It is because of differance [différance] that the movement of signification is possible only if each so-called ‘present’ element, each element appearing on the scene of presence, is related to something other than itself” (translation modified). However, Derrida also insists (“Implications,” 19; “Implications,” 8) that, as opposed to différance, the Heideggerian ontological difference is “in a strange way... in the grasp of metaphysics. Perhaps then,...

we would have to become open to a differance that is no longer determined, in the language of the West, as As différance, as indefinite contextualization, being/Austrag/λόγος also unifies beings— not as some absolute reference point or “transcendental signified,” but rather in the way in which a text as a system of references interweaves its individual elements into an articulated texture. As Rede, Lese, and lesende Lege, Heidegger’s linguistic, post- or trans-Greek λόγος stands for the readability, textuality, and contextuality of meaningfulness—for the gathering of meaningfulness around a central focus which, however, is meaningful only as the focal point of a specific context.72 To read and to interpret is to gather a text around a focal point, some center or another; the very notion of “context” presupposes a center. Nonetheless, no reading can even in principle be definitive and no interpretation exhaustive. Texts always remain open to shifts of focus, reinterpretations, and recenterings.

Derrida’s famous and much-abused 1967 dictum, Il n’y a pas de hors-texte, “There is no outside-the-text,”73 which he much later translated to say, “There is no outside-context,”74 would thus be quite in concordance with the Heideggerian “logocentric” notion of the contextual gathering of meaning. As Jonathan Culler and David Wood put it, two central principles of Derridean deconstruction are the contextuality of meaning and the indeterminacy of every context.75 All meaning is inscribed in a configuration of background dimensions which, because of its heterogeneity and singularity, cannot be specified and identified. Or, in the formulation of Rodolphe Gasché, “inscription [i.e., becoming-textual, insertion into a text]... contextualizes that which claims uniqueness and oneness. Deconstruction reinscribes the the difference between being [l’être] and beings [l’étant].... Differance... therefore would name provisionally this unfolding of difference, in particular, but not only, or first of all, of the ontico-ontological difference” (translation modified). For an excellent discussion that locates différance at the heart of

Heidegger’s enterprise, see Tilman Küchler, Postmodern Gaming: Heidegger, Duchamp, Derrida (New York:

Lang, 1994), 23–53, 127–60.

72 On the aptness of the word focus (Latin for “hearth”) for designating, in a Heideggerian framework, this kind of context-sensitive center, see Albert Borgmann, Technology and the Character of Contemporary Life: A Philosophical Inquiry (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987), 196–99.

73 Derrida, De la grammatologie, 227; Of Grammatology, 158. Spivak offers two alternative translations: “There is nothing outside of the text” and “There is no outside-text,” of which the latter is more literal.

74 Jacques Derrida, Limited Inc. [1988] (Paris: Galilée, 1990), 251; translated by Samuel Weber and Jeffrey Mehlman as Limited Inc (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1988), 136. In the original French: il n’y a pas de hors contexte. Weber and Mehlman translate: “There is nothing outside context.” 75 Jonathan Culler, On Deconstruction: Theory and Criticism after Structuralism (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1982), 128; Wood, Philosophy at the Limit, 96.

origin into the context or text of its infrastructural possibilities.”76 There is no absolute origin, no reference point of meaningfulness that would rest beyond the endless meaning-generating play of references. There are only different possible focal points and context-specific centers. It is true that in his early texts, Derrida speaks of a post-logocentric “decentering” as a disappearance or loss of center.77 What is at stake, however, is not a loss of the notion of center as such, but rather its transformation, which entails abandoning the traditional aspiration to an

absolute and permanent center:

[I]t was necessary to begin thinking... that the center could not be thought in the form of a present-being, that the center had no natural site, that it was not a fixed locus but a function, a sort of nonlocus in which an infinite number of sign-substitutions came into

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Derrida makes this especially clear in the 1966 discussion at Johns Hopkins related to the original presentation of “Structure, Sign and Play,” reacting to Jean Hyppolite’s assertion that one cannot think of a structure without a center, whether in the sense of general rules that allow us to understand the interplay of the elements of the structure or in the sense of certain elements which enjoy a particular privilege within the structure:79 Structure should be centered. But this center can be either thought, as it was classically, like a creator or being or a fixed and natural place; or also as a deficiency, let’s say; or something which makes possible “free play”... and which receives—and this is what we call history—a series of determinations, of signifiers, which have no signifieds....



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