Sunday, October 9, 2011

Derrida's Signification, Locke + Showing A Little Love to Rivkin/Ryan

The post structuralist movement, led by Jacques Derrida, created quite a bang in philosophical and theory circles in the 1960s. The ideas of the post structuralists presented new and radical theory of signification, asserting that one's perception of an abstract idea in language is determining its meaning by relating it the idea of another. While we have neglected the background readings in lecture, I feel that Rivkin and Ryan's "Introduction: Introductory Deconstruction" really helped guide me in understanding Derrida's theories in relation to signification and how they counter structuralism. According to Derrida and his colleagues, the mind does not does not infer meaning through assigning concrete tags to objects, or ideas. Instead, our brains basically determine the meaning by through a process a comparing and contrasting the sign to other mentally stored signifier s.

As Rivkin and Ryan note that signs "either represent an idea which the signify in order to mean something, or, they must substitute for the presence of an object in the world that they designate...All signifiers relate to an other--the signified--that makes their identity relational and differential" (p. 259). While this theory is easily applicable to a concrete object (I know a cat is a cat because it is not a dog or a bird or a frog), I can hear the voice of Locke screaming in the back of my head when reapplying the theory to the signification of language and abstract ideas. I would like to take this unique opportunity to play devils advocate and compare the thoughts on meaning, signification and language of a 16th century philosopher and a post structuralist.

Locke contends that “The very nature of words makes it almost unavoidable for many of them to be doubtful and uncertain in their significations” (817). I presume that Locke would roll over in his grave if Derrida proposed then that inference of meaning and signification is through complex system of interrelation? How can one accurately convey or infer meaning if each individual uses a different set equation to arrive at the accurate perception of an idea. If the meaning of even one of the other ideas that is used as a relational comparative, then the accurate communication of knowledge fails. Its the domino effect of signification, a slippery slope that Locke would certainly have a coronary over.

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