Form and Content

(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

Jacques Derrida’s Of Grammatology is the seminal work of what has come to be called deconstructionist criticism. Essentially, deconstructionist critics reduce texts to their most fundamental elements in order to reach irreducible signs. The text as narrative in effect ceases to exist in order to privilege the signs it conveys; deconstructionists see this process as necessary violence which yields positive results. Consequently, there is no definitive text of any sort at any time, only a series of signs which can be reconstituted in an infinite number of ways. For example, this discussion of Derrida’s Of Grammatology is not his book; yet it reconstitutes its signs, the grammai (Greek for “the strokes of writing”), and thereby becomes a proximate model of it. Still, this discussion is far from what came from Derrida’s mind, which was itself different from what came from his pen; indeed, this discussion of Of Grammatology is the product of this writer’s deconstruction of Derrida’s text as it was translated by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak (the translation is an earlier deconstruction). In essence, the only constant in this process is the gramme, the single stroke.

Because it relies upon the gramme, not even the lettre, Derrida’s book cannot strictly be called literary criticism; nor does it present a theory of linguistics, a discipline Derrida believes “grammatology” supersedes. Nevertheless, despite its unconventional nature, Derrida would be the last to deny the eclectic influences which one can trace in his work. Indeed “trace” is a recurring word in Derrida’s vocabulary. He argues that one can discern the trace in every text; this trace remains an indelible indication of the signifier within what is signified. All writing is, therefore, a process carried out, as it were, sous rature (under erasure). Derrida uses...

(The entire section is 765 words.)