A Fellow Traveller

April 13, 2007

It was a weak moment. After Harley over at Jewbiquitious posted about her love affair with the OED, Dash, ever the jealous type when it comes to descriptive dictionaries, felt somehow slighted. My love had been stolen from under me. Maybe not stolen, but at the very least she was taking too many other partners (they have a tendency to stray); I thought about blogging “cuckold.” It took me a while to get over the initial hurt, but I did. I was rational and I rationalized: I’d been neglecting my duties. A love needs to feel more love, a love needs to know that it is in the quality of being loved. It needs to be treated with care.

So I took time, and was gentle. I didn’t just bluntly badger her for a word, I looked around, played. And I was rewarded. A new word, a new draft addition from March, 2007: différance, n. That word. Always there and sometimes understood. Now in the dictionary. Only just now? What took so long?

Here is the kernel of the word’s meaning, taken not from the definition, but the etymology. I do this because language (especially etymologies and puns) was a game Derrida loved more than almost anything else. In The Post Card, Derriday argues that Freud’s Beyond the Pleasure Principle is inconsistent and seems to go back and forth as to whether there actually is something beyond the PP (itself a pun, this time on pepe). Derrida makes an elaborate pun to convey his reading, using the French words for a step beyond, “pas au-dela.” For Derrida, to take the step beyond the pleasure principle, “pas,” is to not be beyond the pleasure principle at all, “pas.”  So here, the etymology:

[< French différance (J. DERRIDA De la Grammatologie (1967 ) I. i. 38) < différer to postpone, defer, also to differ (see

DIFFER v.) + -ance -ANCE suffix, punningly after the homophone différence difference (cf. quot. 1968 at main sense).]

Postponing and also difference. The essence of the term, then: no final fixing, no set exchange. Everything postponed because all is constantly in flux. But also the things that can not be expressed in speech, but can be expressed in writing. “différance” vs. difference. The “definition” also includes, “an instance of this,” which is another thing Derrida would have loved.

And I have only my fellow traveller Harley to thank. Always good to slow down your reading.

We get too many search engine hits from that damn post I did on Supreme Commander. And I really don’t understand why. So, allow me a moment to show some tremendous disrespect of the kindly people who boost our blog stats. Better reviews of the game, written by bona fide English majors, can be found elsewhere on the web, such as Gamespot, and more comprehensive articles on the history of real-time strategy (RTS) games can be found Wikipedia. Furthermore, I didn’t even like the game that much. It’s a good game. But it’s not a great game.

A great RTS game would be Relic’s superb Company of Heroes, or the less tactical, yet sublimely fun Command and Conquer 3. Both are titles that should appeal to fans of RTS’ and newcomers alike, and frankly, Company of Heroes should appeal to anyone interested in the history of World War II… or heck, anyone who enjoyed watching Saving Private Ryan.

So, to shift gears of war entirely, let me propose a premise for a better remake of Supreme Commander by means of a seemingly oblique anecdote. Notwithabang… returned to his New York alma mater earlier this week in order to work on some science-y stuff that he had left over from the past school year, also taking the occasion to visit with Ms. Notwithabang… (hence Shewhomustbeobeyed). The trip was busy and fun, and given the amount of work I had to do, was without incident. That is, until I took a break from the lab and went to the corner grocery store for a snack. There I bumped into none other than GustRobot, future Yesterday’s Salad philosophy columnist and former sublet-er of the SaladCave, the dusky locale in which Yesterday’s Salad was spawned, if not necessarily conceived.

In and of itself, this too would be unremarkable. The SaladCave is in a building adjacent to the store, and numerous salads eaten a day late and other cooking misadventures sponsored by Yesterday’s Salad were made possible by the store’s overpriced-yet-delightful victuals. What was remarkable was what GustRobot was buying. In the many years I have known GustRobot, I have seen him eat approximately five things. 1) Pizza. 2) Carrots. 3) Steak. 4) Double-meat turkey sandwiches. 5) Plain hamburgers. Occasionally there’s a desert item in there. Nothing more. No seasoning, save for some heavy garlic salting of the steak. Certainly no garnishes. Given the cruel efficiency with which he consumes these item, and the superhuman regularity and promptness with which he does so, it’s not hard to see why some of us were under the impression that he *might* be a robot.

Yet, lo and behold, he was there buying a can opener. This confused me. To my knowledge, none of the aforementioned items comes in a can (save for heavily sugared carrots, and God help us all if pizza is ever made available in can form). Could it be that he had simply decided to cut out the charade of human food, and would switch to eating scrap metal he had julienned with the can opener? And if he did, would it give him the strength of five gorillas? So I quit belaboring the obvious and asked him. Read the rest of this entry »