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
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.