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The gift of language separates humans from any other creation in the planet. With this gift, man can explore the things around him, from the largest to the smallest, and from the most mysterious to the explicit. It provides power through the synergy it brings by uniting the minds of nations, races – maybe not in agreement in all aspects but mastering the ability to be understood, and that in itself is power.
Through time, across civilizations, this power of being understood has been captured and made tangible through writing. From the caves of ancient ages to the e-tablets that men and women, old and young hold and use today, we see writing as the tool to this power – of being understood. Inherently, before writing can come to the scene, one must have something to write about – an idea, observation, fact, event or human emotion. These stimuli can be grouped, documented in tangible formats, of which time was able to witness its transformations – from the stone tablets, scrolls, letters, journals books, and now we have the World Wide Web.
One particular philosopher, by the name of Jacques Derrida (1967) dissected the intricate web of the interrelationship between the writing (form) and what is written (substance). Derrida’s observation and sentiment over the whole idea of – language being captured in writing, is that, impurities of speech abound, that it has become inflated with loose vocabulary, emphasizing that these are rooted from a problematic range of knowledge, experience, interest of today’s writers/ authors, specifically on the subject matter they choose to write about and the appropriate form to use.
Derrida organized his dissection by stating the general thesis to which he built how writing is to be treated, then goes on to develop three main sections: (1) “The Program”; (2) “The Signifier and the Truth” and (3) “The Written Being and the Being written”.
The section opens up in discussing the transition of language to becoming a part of writing. Ultimately it theorized that, “…writing thus comprehends language” (Derrida, 1967, p.7). He goes on to explain/discuss that writing describes the movement of language. It is interesting to note, that even at that early time of Derrida, he mentioned the ‘liberating’ of the writing form/ style is beginning to surface, despite today’s norms that his age is mainly ascribed to formal English in its strictest sense. To elaborate more on the style, he further clarified that, the “effacing of limits” (p.8) of writing cannot be simply explained by the differences in the ‘technic’ or the style used by an author.
The mentioning of sources or of ‘books’, specifically, “of this death of the civilization of the book, of which so much is said and which manifests itself particularly through a convulsive proliferation of libraries” (p.8), opened up the need to define separately language and writing, to properly justify his claim that, language is inflated and that writing comprehends language. Writing is defined as, “…all that gives rise to an inscription in general, whether it is literal or not and even if what it distributes in space is alien to the order of the voice: cinematography, choreography, of course, but also pictorial, musical, sculptural "writing." (p.9), emphasizing that this definition, through a short span of ‘adventure’ or transformations through centuries, is also considered for defining language.
Plainly, writing precedes a certain processing of information in the mind of the writer/author, and this processing may take in various forms or ascribe to different modalities of human thinking or processing. Derrida mentioned most common and emerging ‘programs’ by which humans process the diverse stimuli that undergo detected by his senses. These programs were the theory of cybernetics and the meta-physical concepts. Here, Derrida emphasized the need for the meta-physical concepts to be conserved in writing if the program of cybernetics would completely replace the concepts of soul, life, value and of memory (p.9). Simply these programs are the ‘sciences’ humans have coined, termed through which we better understand or comprehend our surrounding, co-creations, our experiences and events taking place in the planet.
Derrida closes this section by mentioning the rapid changes in how information is retrieved through time, and how this further extends the ‘message’ the language contain which needs to be written, thus calling on the need for a change as well in the style/ form of writing. To conclude the section, he stated that “phonetic writing” is not fully equipped or is still limited to encompass all the meta-physical concepts, scientific, technical and economic expeditions constantly happening in the rapidly developing nations.
The Signifier and Truth
The discussion on the ‘programs’ of human means of understanding his surrounding was generously explained by Derrida in the first section. It is logically preceded by a section discussing on how these faculties of the human mind interact or takes in the universal realities of human existence, vis-à-vis how it is best represented to be understood. Derrida followed the first section with “Signifier and Truth”, opening up in debating his own concept of ‘rationality’.
Signifier is defined as “…the relationship translation between being and mind and feelings…” (p.11). This is how humans interpret what they perceive thru their senses and make it known first through the spoken language, then it gets translated to the written language through use of symbols – what is in between is the signifier. This is the bridge that gives life to the processes happening inside a human’s brain, as to how he understands the stimuli he experiences/ encountered. Truth was defined as the infinite knowledge through man’s environment was created – that of God’s immeasurable understanding/ wisdom beyond comprehension of human’s mind.
The section was concluded by a discussion of the ultimate book, that of nature. “…as if nature had spread out all her magnificence in front of our eyes to offer its text for our consideration…” (p.18), it is through the lens of an ‘eternal presence’ that knowledge of the natural world is brought into light to comprehend what nature has shown us for the last millennia.
The Written Being/The Being Written
“The formal essence of the signified is presence, and the privilege of its proximity to the logos as phonè is the privilege of presence” (p. 18), this simply put that anything written, comprehended by the writer and made tangible through symbols/text should first and foremost have its presence. To be present, means to ascribe to the senses of the writer, it must have its presence encountered, experienced by the author.
“It follows that to learn to read and write an alphabetic writing should be regarded as a means to infinite culture (unendliches Bildungsmittel) that is not enough appreciated; because thus the mind, distancing itself from the concrete sense-perceptible, directs its attention on the more formal moment, the sonorous word and its abstract elements, and contributes essentially to the founding and purifying of the ground of interiority within the subject”.
In summary, the absence of representing an object/ sign to be documented in tangible means, is a threat to the history that is created simultaneously by the minute in every mind/ comprehension that took place from a split-second to over the millennia that passed, to quote Derrida, “If the nonphonetic moment menaces the history and the life of the spirit as self-presence in the breath, it is because it menaces substantiality, that other metaphysical name of presence and of ousia. First in the form of the substantive. Nonphonetic writing breaks the noun apart. It describes relations and not appellations. The noun and the word, those unities of breath and concept, are effaced within pure writing.” (p.26). The final product of one’s interpretation, evaluation or observation of the concepts, information is the written being. It is encapsulation of one version of the human mind’s interpretation of how he understands things. This is further explained by Derrida, “…This situation, the analytic notation of representations in hieroglyphic script, which seduced Leibniz to the point of wrongly preferring this script to the alphabetic, rather contradicts the fundamental exigency of language in general, namely the noun. . . . All difference [Abweichung] in analysis would produce another formation of the written substantive” (p.26). The variation in the representations of meanings/ signs lies in the difference of ‘analyses’ by the two or more authors.
Power of Converging
The main thesis opening of Derrida opening Chapter2 of the book, “Of Grammatology” encourages and warns the academic community and generally the public, that the current language (in his time) is loose, due to the problematic take-up of people on concepts, information that surrounds him.
He goes on to show the faculties by which a human mind intercepts and comprehend the physical world as well as the insides of a human, heart and mind. These he called programs. To be able to take-up or understand these concepts/ information encountered by the author every day, he must be able to ascribe to a certain program of understanding the ‘signs’. Putting label/symbol for these signs is the process of signification, through which translates into simple daily life as – spoken language. This, taken to a higher level of representation, we then now resort to the use of all programs/ faculties of the human mind, and put it together in writing.
Hence, the opportunity, that chance given to a man to comprehend what is around him, is limitless, it can happen altogether simultaneously – interpreting the word ‘apple’ could send his mind into millions of pictures/graphics in his mind to represent that object/ sign. But once he puts it in writing, perhaps in a ‘book’ the rightful term as used by Derrida, would encapsulate all the ideas/ interpretation, significations that the man has done for a day in his life, and beyond. The ‘book’ is a capsulated/ enclosed dimension by which the author has put all his comprehension of a sign/ object. Aptly, it is the end of the ‘book’, to which another reader takes it, digests it and begins again the journey of making representation/ processes to signify an object/ sign – that is writing, it is never resting.
The representations/ signifying and making it tangible for others to understand provides humans a comprehensible method to better exist and the community as a whole. It is through written significations/ representations that man begins to understand his world and achieve leverage to better exist physically, mentally and physically.