Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Jacques Derrida initiated a seismic wave throughout the field of literary criticism with the essays collected in Writing and Difference, in particular with the essay “Structure, Sign, and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences,” which was first presented at a conference at Johns Hopkins University in October, 1966. Through his challenges to structuralism, Derrida helped give rise to the movement in literary theory known as poststructuralism.
The book presents a series of loosely affiliated essays from earlier presentations and publications, and it ends with a new essay titled “Ellipsis.” Taken together, the essays explore the key strategies of what came to be called deconstruction, despite Derrida’s own insistence that he created no system or school of thought. The essays in the collection reflect an ongoing effort to avoid closure by introducing and then changing the vocabulary through which Derrida interprets a variety of writers, from philosophers to poets. The essays both discuss and demonstrate in various ways the role that writing plays in creating difference.
This crucial term, “difference,” gives rise to the Derridean alternative, “differance.” The change from difference to differance can be read but not heard—that is, while they appear differently on the page, the two words have the same pronunciation, so the neologism can be specified orally only by reference to written language (by uttering a phrase...
(The entire section is 1886 words.)
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