The Text

Pure Presence and the Task of Translation
  • Martin C. Srajek
Part of the Contributions To Phenomenology book series (CTPH, volume 32)


From an epistemological perspective everything can be understood as a sign, i.e., as an indication of the absence or removedness of pure unadulterated meaning. Linguistic and textual practice as the production of signs is what Jacques Derrida calls writing (écriture). He uses the concept of writing as a pattern to show that différence, i.e. a differing/deferring movement, is vital not only to language but to the whole world. This is true despite his cautioning remarks at the beginning of Of Grammatology, where he refers to the “problem of language,” the “devaluation of the word‘language’,” the “inflation of the sign ‘language’,” but he also makes clear that this is a problem that can no longer be contained within the framework of linguistics only, for it has “invaded, as such, the global horizons of the most diverse researches and the most heterogeneous discourses, diverse and heterogeneous in their intention, method, and ideology.”1 He asserts that the epoch that we are living in “must finally determine as language the totality of its problematic horizon.”2 It is this epoch, then, that enables the deconstractive strategy.


Kantian Sense Textual Practice Global Horizon Pure Presence Phenomenological Project 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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    Derrida, Of Grammatology, p. 15/6.Google Scholar
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    Of Grammatology. For the applicability of Derrida’s critique of writing and phonocentrism also cf. pp. 87-93 where he establishes explicitly the relationship between the different power-structures in the world and the possibility of access to the written sign.Google Scholar
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    On the question of the relationship between presence and the point and the question of temporality in the thought of Husserl see for example Timothy Stapleton, “Philosophy and Finitude: Husserl, Derrida and the end of Philosophy,” Philosophy Today, Spring 1989, pp. 3–15.Google Scholar
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    In his 1989 dissertation Simon Critchley (op. cit.) asserts that deconstruction is always a deconstruction of a text. “The way of Derridian deconstruction, then, lies in the reading of texts, primarily philosophical texts” (ibid). This, unfortunately, sets the agenda in an entirely lopsided way, as if Derrida’s approach was not also anchored in the problematic of understanding deconstruction as a possibly ethical approach to issues that deal with texts only on a secondary level. The fact that he can use texts in order to show the shortcomings, contradictions, and sometimes oppressiveness of a given tradition or system of thought has its origin not in the misleading notion that only texts can be deconstructed but in the fact that such traditions have caused the proliferation of an infinite amount of documents that all, in one way or another, affirm the tradition in its hierarchical superiority. Yet, what really gives unlimited power to a deconstructive approach are not philosophical texts but the regimentation of the sign that governs all human discourse and interaction.Google Scholar
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    It is interesting that not only Husserl but also Cohen himself started rethinking the systematic position of psychology over against philosophy. Presumably under the influence of Natorp he started lecturing on psychology. (Cf. Schwarzschild, “Introduction (to Herman Cohen’s Religion of Reason),” unpublished essay.)Google Scholar
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    Ibid, p. 117/104. Franz Rosenzweig, who is generally in agreement with Derrida on the question of the impossible present, makes an exception for the one situation in which I confess my love imperatively to my lover by saying “love me!” Rosenzweig explains: “The indicative has behind it the whole cumbersome rationalization of materiality, and at its purest therefore appears in the past tense. But the ‘Love me!’ is wholly pure and unprepared-for present tense, and not unprepared-for alone, but also unpremeditated.” (Stern, p. 197/177) Rosenzweig sees thus inscribed the difference between “Gesetz” (“law”) and “Gebot” (“commandment”). Whereas the former always appears in the indicative mode (i.e., a past that is still waiting for the future) the latter “knows only the moment”(Stern). It is tempting to apply this logic to the difference that Derrida makes between law and justice (for this see the following chapter). But the problematic of Rosenzweig’s approach is the strong notion of phono-centrism that is woven through this passage. The English version only renders this insufficiently. But it is clear that the imperative’s appeal to the present stems from the fact that “Lautwerden und Entspringen sind beim Imperativ eins” (“for emerging and finding voice are one and the same thing in the case of the imperative”) (Stern). It is then clear that Rosenzweig merges the audible qualities of the imperative with its logical ones in order to arrive at what he calls “die Sofortigkeit des Gehorchens” (“the immediacy of obedience”) (Stern). However, that it was especially phonocentrism that causes the mistake of believing in the possibility of presence is clearly the thrust of the first part of Of Gramatology (“This notion remains therefore within the heritage of that logocentrism which is also a phonocentrism: absolute proximity of voice and being, of voice and the meaning of being, of voice and the ideality of meaning.”) and maybe at the heart of everything Derrida has to say about the possibility of presence.Google Scholar
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    Cf. the introduction to the translation of Speech and Phenomena by Newton Garver.Google Scholar
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    Derrida thus strikes a line here that is reminiscent of Hegel’s reflection on the question of the immediacy or mediacy of a given object to sense-certainty. Hegel argues that although commonly we would assume that an object in front of us is given to us immediately within the confines of space and time, he can show that it is exactly the framework of space and time which is given as “here” and “now” (“Mer” und “jetzt”) that indeed causes the mediacy of any given object to sense-certainty. Even though the “now” and the “here” both can be maintained (“aufbewahrt”) in their universality, their sense of immediacy with a respect to a specific time or place changes constantly and cannot be maintained in the same fashion. Hegel concludes that sense-certainty is nothing but the history of its movement (“…daß die Dialektik der sinnlichen Gewißheit nichts anderes als die einfache Geschichte ihrere Bewegung ihrer Erfahrung und die sinnliche Gewißheit selbst nichts anderes als nur diese Geschichte ist.”).Google Scholar
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    It might be beneficial at this point to remember also that virtually the same structure that Benjamin suggests for the process of translation is what Bergson had, approximately forty years earlier, expressed in his Matter and Memory about the function of memory. At least one aspect of this memory-image, which is also asymptotically located between pure memory and pure perception, is that every part of it bears a date and is thus unrepeatable. In other words, every new experience adds another layer to the memory already accumulated. Bergson thus notes “at each repetition there is progress” that is to say the repetition is never simply just a repetition. It includes an ever-increasing surplus.This became especially clear to me during a conversation with my friend and colleague Gereon Kopf who is presently working on a thesis on body-mind philosophy in relation to Bergson.Google Scholar
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    Apocalyptic Tone, pp. 10/3-4.Google Scholar
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    Derrida also makes a couple of remarks about the possibility of thanking and gratitude in this context which should probably be read together with similar thoughts in his essay “En ce moment dans cet oeuvre me voici,” At this point it should suffice to say that gratitude, like translations, are impossible, since they presuppose the possibility of a return to the giver/author of the gift/text. In that sense the giver/author will always remain other to my own efforts to respond.Google Scholar
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 1998

Authors and Affiliations

  • Martin C. Srajek
    • 1
  1. 1.University of Illinois at Urbana-ChampaignIllinoisUSA

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