Original Research

Deconstruction the end of writing: 'Everything is a text, there is nothing outside context'

Gavin P. Hendricks
Verbum et Ecclesia | Vol 37, No 1 | a1509 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/ve.v37i1.1509 | © 2016 Gavin P. Hendricks | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 04 August 2015 | Published: 20 October 2016

About the author(s)

Gavin P. Hendricks, Department of Biblical and Ancient Studies, University of South Africa, South Africa


In this article, I read Derrida’s critique of the ‘sign’ over against the challenges of the metaphysics of presence as featured in Western theology and philosophy. Derrida argues that logocentric interpretive interest in theology and philosophy is widely held and contradict by the West, as this somehow reveals the Western belief of the metaphysics of presence. He argues that the idea of metaphysics of presence which is strongly held in Christianity and Judaism is somehow privileged speech (Logos) over against writing which is seen as death and alienated from existential and transcendental reality. Derrida focuses on the reading of Saussure and how presence has been perceived over against writing in Western discourse in terms of the interpretation from Plato to Rousseau. Derrida prefers to deconstruct presence, which is perceived in Western theology and philosophy as truth and the ideal moment of pure, unmediated firstness. This article focuses on the reading of the work of Saussure, who has been greatly influential in the study of oral traditions, verbal arts and the interpretive interest of the sign. For Derrida writing has been suppressed by Western discourse for almost 400 years, as speech has been privileged over writing. The function of deconstruction is to deconstruct the binary opposition between speech and writing. Derrida provides clear examples of his deconstructive activity, which turns the text in traces of more text in opposing speech as unmediated firstness of presence. Derrida’s critique of speech hopes to expose the dishonesty and false consciousness in a Western interpretive discourse that suppressed writing and perceived speech as presence. This relation is both oppositional and hierarchical, with writing as secondariness understood as a fall or lapse from firstness. For Derrida, ‘there is nothing outside of the text’. In the original French, Derrida wrote: ‘Il n’y a pas de hors-texte’ [There is no outside-text]. Language is a constant movement of differences and everything acquires the instability and ambiguity inherent in language (Callinicos 2004). The implications of Derrida’s reading based on his work Of Grammatology (1976) have impacted everything in the humanities and social sciences, including law, anthropology, linguistics and gender studies, as the meaning of the text is not only inscribed in the sign (signifier and the signified), but everything is a ‘text’ and meaning and representation are how we interpret it.

Intradisciplinary and/or interdisciplinary implications: Derrida sought to subvert the ‘sign’ in structuralism, as it opens the door to dialogue with the socially constructed ‘Other’ in relation to the ‘sign’ and the false consciousness construction of the text by the West. This challenges the existing interpretive paradigm and open oral and written dialogue of the text for the ‘other’ in terms of the meaning and representation of the oral text, the oral archival memory of the other, indigenous knowledge systems, African rituals, folklore, storytelling and verbal arts.


aporia; speech; writing; structuralism; deconstruction; sign; signifier; dissemination; logocentrism; phonocentrism; metaphysics of presence; linear writing; non linear writing


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