The Way That Is Not: Derrida’s Motif of Différance

Irony is the form of paradox. Paradox is what is good and great at the same time.

Friedrich SchlegelJacques Derrida

The other, namely, that It is not,

and that something must needs not be, –

that, I tell thee, is a wholly

Untrustworthy path

For you cannot know what is not –

that is impossible –

nor utter it …

— Parmenides

Derrida introduces the motif of ‘différance’, the purposive misspelling of the word difference, for purposes of ‘strategy’.[1] The playfulness associated with its usage is meant to be disruptive, subversive and adventurous (note Beaufret’s third question to Heidegger in the Letter on Humanism, regarding turning philosophy itself into an adventuress).  Différance, according to Derrida, is neither a concept nor a word, but a motif which intimates a play that, he claims, is prior to Being, and the ontological difference between beings and Being.  This motif that is neither a word nor a concept is instead a trace of that which does not itself have being, or presence.  Derrida informs us moreover that he intends the essay with its nameless name to proceed through the intensification of the play of the sign which, with regard to our customary expectations, is a misspelling – or perhaps a child’s game of no immediately useful significance.

To read the rest of the essay, please visit The Way That is Not: The Motif of Différance.


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