What's the definition of the idea of "play" as developed by Jacques Derrida?

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Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

According to Jaques Derrida, "play" is elemental in the concept of the integrity, the unity, of absence and presence, which are the play of difference. Play is "the disruption of presence." It is in fact the originator of absence and presence. Play is in language. Play is in words. Play is in concepts.

Since for Derrida nothing is outside of differences in presence and absence--the system of difference--then play is that which extends the domains of meaning from the narrative or discoursive structural center thereby opening an infinity of meaning for words and language and concepts. This proves his assertion that "all is textual play with no connection with original truth." Play is the exploration of meaning.

lit24 | Student

Derrida's 1966 lecture "Structure, Sign and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences"  at the conference in Johns Hopkins University is generally accepted by critics to mark the beginning of Post-Structuralism. Derrida expressed his reservations and remarked on the limitations of structuralism.

Derrida's main argument was that the structuralists were trying to seek unity in all  aspects of human activities by glossing over inherent contradictions and ambiguities and imposing a false sense of complacency.

Derrida on the other hand reacted by emphasizing these inherent contradictions, inconsistencies and ambiguities. 'Play' refers to the impossibility of seeking a single unified meaning in any given context, thus resulting in an acceptance of the ambiguities and inconsistencies of human existence.

kc4u | Student

The idea of 'play' as different from the usual theatrical context of the word. The principal text here is Jacques Derrida's Baltimore Lecture which is titled 'Structure, Sign and Play in the Discourse of Human Sciences'. The idea of play as developed by Derrida relates to the play of the elements within a paradigmatic structure and the deconstructive or post-structuralist break in the essay is Derrida's contradictory statement about the existence of the centre as both inside and outside the structure. This decentred structure thus has a virtually uncontrolled play of elements which linguistically put is a free play of signifiers. A signifier is differed and deferred to further signifiers in an endless process of proliferation where the signified is never reached. This is the deconstructive notion of the play of endless signification.