Derrida: The Morpheus of Western Metaphysics

“This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill – the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill – you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes.” – Morpheus, The Matrix

Except, because you chose (who am I kidding? We were all assigned) to read Jacques Derrida, you do not have a choice to determine what pill you want to take. Instead, Derrida forces multiple red pills down your throat as he challenges your accepted beliefs about thoughts and language. “Western thought, says Derrida, has always been structured in terms of dichotomies or polarities: good vs. evil, being vs. nothingness, presence vs. absence, truth vs. error, identity vs. difference, mind vs. matter, man vs. woman, soul vs. body, life vs. death, nature vs. culture, speech vs. writing” (Johnson viii). However, because of the “hierarchical order which gives the first term priority” we tend to think that the second term in the pair is negative and undesirable (viii). Observe: light vs. dark, appears as if dark is the negative version of light. You are probably taking a second to take this in, don’t worry, this is only your first dosage of the red pill.

Although this Western metaphysical mindset upsets Derrida, he is more upset about its assumptions of language and speech. We value presence: it is visible, it is tangible, and it exists in the present. Due to this, we tend to believe that the spoken word is more valuable than the written word. This is because “there is no temporal or spatial distance between speaker, speech, and listener, since the speaker hears himself speak at the same moment the listener does. This immediacy seems to guarantee the notion that in the spoken word we know what we mean, mean what we say, say what we mean, and know what we had said” (viii). Following this mindset posed by Western metaphysics, let’s examine my very post. Clearly, it is written (as you are now reading these very words). Yet there is a distance between us, I am writing this now, and you will be reading it then in the future, but when you will be reading this, now will be then, and the then will be now. Now let’s look at the sentence right before this, perhaps you misunderstand what I meant, yet how would you know? We cannot immediately discuss it as time will elapse (from me completing the post, posting it, and you reading up until this very part). In spoken word, if you need clarification all you have to do is ask me, but if you ask me about this post later on, I may have forgotten exactly what was written! And to that, Derrida does NOT say that writing is better than speech, no instead he thrusts another red pill down your throat as he upsets the very identities of the spoken and written word.

For Derrida, “speech is already structured by difference and distance as much as writing is” (viii). This goes back to the notion that a word is divided into the signifier (sound/word) and the signified (concept). Oral language is a product of difference and distance. Using this line of reasoning, one cannot conclude that the spoken word is closer to truth than the written word. Drawing on Rousseau, Derrida claims that “there has never been anything but writing; there have never been anything but supplements, substitutive significations which could only come forth in a chain of differential references, the “real” supervening, and being added only while taking on meaning from a trace and from an invocation of the supplement” (NATC 1692). Through this, Derrida claims that these two seemingly opposite modes of expression (spoken and written word) are both supplements. In French, the word supplement has two meanings, “an addition” and “a substitute.” Writing “may add to something that is already present . . . and/or replace something that is not present” (viii). Through this, writing is no longer perceived as a dichotomous activity involving either A or B; yet writing is not A and B together. Thus “’writing’ and ‘speech’ can therefore no longer be simply opposed, but neither have they become identical. Rather, the very notion of their ‘identities’ is put to question” (viii). In other words, Derrida upsets the Western metaphysical matrix that categorizes the world into binaries. Derrida, or should I say Morpheus, uses the logic of the supplement to produce enough red pills to fuel the literary framework of deconstruction. Yet just like with Morpheus, Derrida only gives (force feeds) us the red pill leaving us to clean up the mess due to his mind-blowing. With that, we become Keanu Reeves, struggling to recover from The Matrix (I know he played Neo in the film, but his career has remained on a plateau ever since).

Works Cited

Derrida, Jacques. Dissemination. Trans. Barbara Johnson. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1981. viii-xvii. Print.

Derrida, Jacques. “On Grammatology.” The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. Ed. Vincent B. Lietch. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2010. 1688-1697. Print.


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