Last Updated September 5, 2023.
Of Grammatology is considered to be a foundational text in the Post-Structuralist Movement. Unlike the Structuralist Movement which precedes it, post-structuralism is most concerned with the reader of a text and the context in which something is read. Post-structuralism, therefore, takes into account the influence of culture and society on how we come to understand the world around us.
In the first essay, Derrida argues against structuralism and its totalitarian assumptions. He argues that structuralism presumes absolute truths. In addition, he questions how we come to derive meaning from language, and he critiques how Western philosophy uses language. He believes that speech has become dispossessed from meaning through structuralism. In other words, language gets in the way of what we are trying to say. He coins the phrase “signifier of the signifier” to question what is meant by the language we use. This is based off of the linguistic and philosophical terms “signifier” and “signified.” The signifier is what we use to express meaning. Meanwhile, the signified is the concept or idea behind the signifier. Derrida believes that more often than not, structuralism uses signifiers to point to other signifiers. When this happens there is nothing signified, or there is no meaning behind what is being said.
It is a bit ironic that Derrida writes about how Western philosophy has come to lose its meaning through the use of language, because his writing can be so dense and difficult to understand. However, the ideas are quite simple. What we say does not mean the same thing to everyone. Therefore, a text is not stable and absolute.