Différance [ difeʀɑ̃s ] (from French différence "difference", intentionally spelled wrong with 'a', but this does not affect the pronunciation) is a word created by the French philosopher Jacques Derrida (1930-2004) and a central term in the one he developed philosophical idea of deconstruction .
The term was particularly influential in the hermeneutics of poststructuralism and in gender studies . In the school sector, the term was included in the approaches of product and action-oriented literature teaching . Sometimes it is also used in language policy concepts. In German, the term Differänz was constructed to convey the French pun, but the original term is often used.
The word différance illustrates that there can be significant differences between reading and writing that go unnoticed or neglected while speaking. The word itself makes a difference in the way it is explored with the concept of the same name. In this way Derrida illustrates his view that speaking is fundamentally based on an (often ignored) script. Derrida's criticism of logocentrism , which he expands in his influential grammatology , elevates the material sign (the letter) above oral language and what is meant.
Write and read
The term is a neologism of Derrida: it actually means nothing and yet everything. It opens one's eyes to phenomena of language and gives them a space for exploration ( French espace de recherche ). The différance thus appears as an indispensable phenomenon of language, which at the same time stands for a lack. The two meanings of the French word 'différer' - namely 'distinguish' on the one hand and 'postpone' on the other - illustrate this connection. The author of a text can only present his topic one after the other, with the same or different words with different meanings. This leads to differences in meaning that arise at different times. The seemingly unproblematic presence of speaking dissolves into a multitude of references when one takes into account the movements of writing and reading. Instead of an alleged timelessness of certain meanings, there are always inhibitions or delays in understanding. Some authors (e.g. Günter Grass ) use this phenomenon as a stylistic device.
What happens when you write a text is understood when you read it. Only when the reader has grasped the words one after the other and related them to one another, what is presented becomes understandable for him. The most varied of associations and interpretations have an effect as understanding, misunderstanding, clarity or ambiguity. This movement is ignored and something essential is faded out if the difference is only related to the differences between the linguistic elements, as if it were about characters, although only living language is being spoken of (as Ferdinand de Saussure practiced). Words, so it follows, then stand for themselves, differ from one another and represent distinguishable things in the world. In this way, something is fixed that is actually constantly in motion.
Literary and philosophical texts (in principle, however, every text down to what is simply said) become a game of continual "differentiation" through postponements and contradictions and the "mutual reference" of the signifiers to one another. The game of differences has no recognizable center and no clearly identifiable hierarchy . Meaning is therefore always "relational", never absolute.
'Trace' and 'bundle'
The character of différance as a movement that brings about understanding is made more precise by Derrida's term “trace”. No word, no linguistic element stands on its own, rather it always draws traces of other words with it, which require the possibility of reading, writing, listening and speaking. These traces are added to the text, to every word ("tracked") without naming them. Derrida radicalizes this statement by claiming that there are no words, only traces.
“ Every trace is a trace of a trace. No element is ever present anywhere (not even simply absent): there is nothing but traces. "
In this sense, différance stands for “a kind of force” that creates a wide range of written possibilities and manages this diversity.
The power of the many possibilities also appears to be in the word “bundle” with which Derrida describes the economy of différance . It is suitable to make the movements of binding , weaving and plaiting clear for the meaning of a text and other of its effects.
Unlockability of the sense
Apart from this arbitrariness of differentiation ( arbitrariness means linguistic arbitrariness , so nothing derogatory) Derrida emphatically points out that the sense of text cannot be closed. The meaning of a word, sentence or text is fundamentally incomplete, because as long as one speaks, the meaning of what has been said so far changes permanently. In the flow of speech, new words and terms come into relationship with one another and create new meaning in the process. Hence, meaning can only be a “tentative meaning,” depending on what precedes what is said and what will follow what is said. The sense of text is therefore not only arbitrary in the sense of arbitrary differentiation, but also temporary and relative, because it circulates in a permanent loop of postponement .
The concept of différance thus affects both the ontology of writing and the ontology of reading, but is not limited to this, rather it precedes any formation of terms and identities.
Deconstruction can show that a text contradicts its own statements or conflicts with them, which is often perceived as unnecessarily problematizing the simple and the obvious. On the other hand, the deconstructive reading of texts enables a “text-analytical search for clues”, which opens up productive freedoms for the reader and ultimately strengthens the text.
Derrida's theory represents a radical critique of language and knowledge. By repeatedly 'crossing' known texts in an interpretive manner, he compels
"The same texts [...] to say something completely different from what they always seemed to say [...] "
In practice, one assumes a 'true core' of a text that can be represented by other texts (comments and explanations). The many different interpretations, erroneously also called 'representations', indicate that in reality “plurality” is being brought about: the différance is at work.
The common view is related to the fact that texts follow the Platonic dualism of spirit and matter and are oriented towards truth . Derrida connects this epistemological aspect of his theory with the term deconstruction . Linguists in the wake of Saussure think of language as a construct of elements that produce correct interpretations according to logically determinable rules, which critics call logocentrism .
According to Derrida, on the other hand, language is an endless, web-like hyphae or network of roots in which the individual elements are constantly exchanging, changing and circulating. Within this network there could therefore never be a signified as absolute meaning, there was only the “game of the signifiers ”. Derrida explains why this game of signifiers is not recognized as such, with the occidental preference of language over writing.
Loss of control and identity
As a rule, according to Derrida's view, authors assumed that texts were only the written representation of thoughts, but that the presented idea exceeded the text. Texts and words represented something that could not be inferred from them. When speaking and writing, speaking, writing and listening to yourself as well as reading would coincide with listening to yourself speaking and reading yourself while writing. This process creates a “regression”, that is, tracing back what has been heard or written to a self-affirming intellect. The result of such self-referencing leads to a loss of control over one's own thinking, which is fraying itself into worlds of "illusion, phantasm and hallucination". So it happens that every word and every sign detaches itself from the world unnoticed and is lost without content in the 'difference' of constant postponement and arbitrary differentiation. This is a characteristic of metaphysical texts. The task of deconstruction is therefore to follow the trail of the signifier and to prove its différance .
Derrida himself saw something unspeakable in the différance , neither a word nor a concept. He suggests, however, to see it as the counterpart to difference in Hegel , for whom the differences must be canceled out in order to allow identity to arise:
“ If one could define différance, one would have to say that it opposes the Hegelian annulment wherever it works as a border, interruption and destruction. "
Identity cannot be achieved by abolition (by overcoming contradictions), the differences are always there, the différance cannot be overcome.
- Derrida: The Différance. In: Peter Engelmann: Postmodernism and Deconstruction. Stuttgart 2015, p. 80f.
- The art of procrastination in Günter Grass in: Arnd Flügel: Postpone the end with words: Conceptualization of experience in the rat by Günter Grass. Bern 1995.
- Geoffrey Bennington: Jacques Derrida. A portrait, Suhrkamp, Frankfurt am Main 2001, p. 83. ISBN 978-3-518-29150-4
- Cf. Anne Brenner: Reading Rooms: Investigations into reading processes and functions in Gottfried Keller's novel "Der Grüne Heinrich" . Würzburg 2000, pp. 20-23.
- Derrida: The différance. In: Peter Engelmann: Postmodernism and Deconstruction. Stuttgart 2015, p. 77.
- Geoffrey Bennington: Jacques Derrida. A portrait, Suhrkamp, Frankfurt am Main 2001, pp. 79-106.
- See on this section Derrida: Die Différance. In: Peter Engelmann: Postmodernism and Deconstruction. Stuttgart 2015, pp. 82–90. - Gerald Posselt: Commented Derrida, Jacques (1988): "Die différance (commented (D))" , in: Derrida, Jacques (ed.): Marginal passages of philosophy. Vienna: Passagen, 29-52 reprinted in: Postmoderne und Dekonstruktion. Texts by contemporary French philosophers, ed. by Peter Engelmann, Stuttgart: 1990, 76-113. University of Vienna
- Dieter Kafitz: Literary theories in text analytical practice. Würzburg 2007, p. 86.
- Geoffrey Bennington: Jacques Derrida. A portrait, Suhrkamp, Frankfurt am Main 2001, p. 15.
- Geoffrey Bennington: Jacques Derrida. A portrait, Suhrkamp, Frankfurt am Main 2001, pp. 21–44.
- Christer Petersen: The postmodern text. Reconstruction of a contemporary aesthetic. Ludwig Verlag, Kiel 2003, p. 204.
- Michael Eggers: Texts that say everything: Narrative literature of the 18th and 19th centuries. Würzburg: Königshausen & Neumann, 2003, p. 56
- Geoffrey Bennington: Jacques Derrida. A portrait, Suhrkamp, Frankfurt am Main 2001, pp. 46–47.
- Jacques Derrida: The différance. In: Peter Engelmann (Ed.): Postmodernism and deconstruction. Texts by contemporary French philosophers. Reclam, Ditzingen 2004, p. 82.
- Jacques Derrida: Positions , Vienna 1986, p. 91.
- Jacques Derrida: The différance . In: The margins of philosophy. Passagen, Vienna, pp. 29–52 (French "La différance", in: Marges de la philosophie . Paris: Minuit 1972) - First use of the term
- Jacques Derrida: The différance. In: Peter Engelmann (Ed.): Postmodernism and deconstruction. Texts by contemporary French philosophers. Reclam, Ditzingen 2004, 76-113. ISBN 3-15-018338-3 . Reprint of the same article.