Friday, 22 May 2020

On Derrida’s Deconstruction of Logos

The search for a logos, or original presence, is the oldest in the history of philosophy. The Hindu thinkers believed that the logos is in the Trinity of godheads, the Platonic and Aristotelian thinkers found their logos in Plato’s forms, and Augustine and his followers found it in the Christian Trinity. Till the modern period, philosophy has been dominated by systems which are logocentric, or which held that meaning emanates from some sort of logos. For Descartes, cogito is the logos; for Kant, the logos gets internalized in the form of the absolute self or transcendental ego; for Hegel, the logos is the idea or spirit. Logocentrism is generally expressed in the form of binaries in which one term is more privileged than the other: for instance, the Platonic Form is more privileged than the real object or idea which the Form represents. There are several other binaries: soul versus body; theory versus practice; mental versus physical; conscious versus unconscious; rational versus emotional—in these binaries, the term that is closer to the eternal, and has the ability to remain unchanging, is more privileged.

According to Derrida, the philosophers since Plato have devoted their metaphysics to the search for a higher reality, which, while being untouched by materialism, gives meaning and purpose to the material world. He says that most philosophers, even the structuralists who try to avoid the logocentric approach, use the traditional terminology and its binaries—at times, they reverse the binaries, but they can’t avoid thinking in its terms. In his 1967 book, Of Grammatology, Derrida deconstructs the attempts to posit a center and establish a system of binaries; he tries to replace the logocentric approach with a free play of meaning. He argues that whenever we think that we have discovered the logos, or original presence, or center, we find that it points towards some other logos; thus, the search for logos becomes never-ending, the search for meaning becomes never-ending, and there is a breakdown between the signifier (the word) and the signified (the meaning that the word refers to). Derrida saw deconstruction as a freedom from fixed truths or origins, and the guilt over absence of meaning.

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