Language, meaning, text
Weedon maintains that Derrida, like Saussure, claims that meaning in language is a product of relations of difference, whereas Saussure argues for a fixed network of meaning. As Weedon notes (1987:24-25), the ‘post-structuralist answer to the problem of the plurality of meaning and change is to question the location of social meaning in fixed signs. It speaks instead of signifiers in which the signified is never fixed once and for all, but is constandy deferred.’ Derrida’s work expresses this critique most clearly and, as Weedon notes, for ‘Derrida there can be no fixed signifieds (concepts), and signifiers (sound or written images), which have identity only in their difference from one another, are subject to an endless process of deferral’ (ibid.), thus meaning for Derrida can only be fixed temporarily. As Weedon indicates, ‘Signifieds are always located in a discursive context and the temporary fixing of meaning in a specific reading of a signifier depends on this discursive context’ (ibid.). Derrida therefore encourages the free-play of textual meaning, positing the idea of multiple interpretations over fixed interpretations.
In addition, while Derrida remains close to Lacan and Freudian psychoanalysis, as Grosz (1990a: 95) notes, Derrida also attempts ‘to deconstruct their logocentric commitments’ (Derrida 1978a, 1978b). Despite the fact that structuralism and semiotics are also seen as moments of rupture or subversion, they still remain committed to binary concepts. Thus, in order to designate difference within difference, Derrida coins the term diffemrne. As Grosz (1990a: 97) notes, Derrida’s deconstruction ‘aims to undo the history of logocentrism in order to allow differance its space of free-play’.
While the influence of Derrida’s work has been considerable within both French and Anglo-Saxon feminism, it has also aroused, as Grosz states, considerable controversy within feminist circles, especially for his use of the term ‘“woman” and “becoming woman” as metaphors for the demise of truth and the play of difference’ (ibid.).