Chapter 8: “Outwork, Prefacing” by Jacques Derrida
Derrida again! Get your aspirin. Is this a dense piece? Yup, you bet your sweet ass it is. Ignoring how your posterior, something usually covered in shit, got sweet, Derrida here attempts to deconstruct the concept of a preface/ introduction while writing… a preface/introduction. I can already see the cataracts in your eyes. Get ready for some dense, dense argumentation. Good news, however: since the preface here, from his 1981 book Dissemination, is so radically condensed (6 pages compared to the original 60 or so), the train of thought is greatly reduced to a mere migraine instead of mental exhaustion.
Cleaving down into the meat of the matter, Derrida’s thesis-deconstructing the preface as a preface- is shown through how he handles the concept of dissemination; normally envisioned, dissemination is the play of signifiers and signified which disrupts the concept of a totalized structure. Yet this structure and non-structure, if the deconstruction is handled correctly, constitutes a structure in its self- to be able to succeed in his endeavor would result in a negation of his own writings. So it is a catch-22 or what he calls it a double-mark.
This double mark is “a repetition without identity- one mark inside and the other outside the deconstructed system (148)” which necessarily gives rise to a “double meaning and a double writing”. An inescapable structure. Hence why a text’s exterior cannot take the shape of an extra-text which arrests the development of dissemination. Doing so would result in a “movement of the trace” which effaces what Derrida will describe as the natural reversal inherent in deconstruction, a reversal which negates the folly of relapsing into the system which you are trying to deconstruct.
At this point it should be intelligible that Derrida is failing in his efforts as the effort to deconstruct a preface by virtue of a preface is relapsing into what he is trying to deconstruct, hence negating his entire effort.
Further into his argument Derrida introduces both metaphysics and temporal traits to augment his criticism; the former to articulate his conception of sequences and the latter to situate the concept of a preface as redundant to the remainder of the book. Using both of these he then launches into dividing empirical and mathematical sciences into non-empirical and non-mathematical; the former needing a preface while the latter needs none on the grounds that the latter are able to formulate their thesis through the process of dissemination; this is something the former are unable to do, considering their philosophical discourse and origin: language has both difference between words as well as being able to defer meaning; math, on the other hand, is mechanical- the apparatus attempted to be elucidated needs the help of language (a preface) in order to make clear its intentions. Two plus two does not tell why the author believes it actually equals five.
This is a grossly condensed condensation of what is already mightily condensed in the first place. Even so it touches upon the concepts which Derrida is concerning himself with and why most of his disciples would consider his efforts here a failure. Whether or not it is a failure, however, is beside the point. Derrida attempts an ambitious undertaking utilizing what is, yes, dense and esoteric theory, but what is, at the end of the day, highly relevant in how we look at both literary theory, philosophy, and the future of the humanities in general. A large statement to be sure but one which should be required reading for any poststructuralist (and even structuralism) student(s).