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From Literary Theory: An Introduction (Page 144)


Against the metaphysics of presence, deconstruction brings a (non)concept called différance. This French neologism is, on the deconstructive argument, properly neither a word nor a concept; it names the non-coincidence of meaning both synchronically (one French homonym means "differing") and diachronically (another French homonym means "deferring"). Because the resonance and conflict between these two French meanings is difficult to convey tersely in English, the word différance is usually left untranslated.

In simple terms, this means that rather than privileging commonality and simplicity and seeking unifying principles (or grand teleological narratives, or overarching concepts, etc.) deconstruction emphasizes difference, complexity, and non-self-identity. A deconstructive reading of a text, or a deconstructive interpretation of philosophy (for deconstruction tends to elide any difference between the two), often seeks to demonstrate how a seemingly unitary idea or concept contains different or opposing meanings within itself. The elision of difference in philosophical concepts is even referred to in deconstruction as a kind of violence, the idea being that theory's willful misdescription or simplification of reality always does violence to the true richness and complexity of the world. This criticism can be taken as a rejection of the philosophical law of the excluded middle, arguing that the simple oppositions of Aristotelian logic force a false appearance of simplicity onto a recalcitrant world.

Thus the perception of différance has two sides, both a deferment of final, unifying meaning in a unit of text (of whatever size, word or book), and a difference of meaning of the text upon every act of re-reading a work. Repetition, and the impossibility of final access to a text, of ever being at the text's "ground zero" so to speak, are emphasized, indefinitely leaving a text outside of the realm of the knowable in typical senses of "mastery". A text can, obviously, be experienced, be read, be "understood" -- but that understanding, for all its deep feeling or lack of it, is marked by a quintessential provisionality that never denys the possibility of rereading. Indeed it requires this. If the text is traditionally thought to be some perdurable sequence of symbols (letters) that go through time unchanged in the formal sense, différance moves the concept toward the realization that for all the perdurability of the text, experience of this structure is impossible and inconceivable outside of the realm of the unique instance, outside of the realm of perception.
A text cannot read itself, therein lies the provisionality of différance.

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