As I pointed out in another thread, Derrida displaces objective things and subjective ideas from thier usual priority and he puts writing ahead instead. There is some dispute over whether this is a correct interpretation, some believe Derrida was 'bringing writing up to speech and thought', rather than privileging writing. For Derrida, language constitutes the human world and the human world constitutes the whole world.
This is a monism. Rather than sending ideas into the outside world, it has the effect of materialising subjectivity.
Derrida wields his concept of Writing against the mind-soul-spirit term. The unconscious mind underlies the conscious mind and the unconscious mind exists in the form of Writing.
This Writing is like a form of 'script', written upon the matter of the brain. This is what Derrida also calls 'trace'. Freud once wrote an essay called 'Note on the Mystic Writing Pad'. It was referring to one of these:
When we write on these 'magic pads', we don't actually posit on the paper. You can make it disappear by lifting the paper away from the base. There is however, as Freud pointed out, a mark is still remains on the base below the top layer. The base is to be considered as being like the unconscious mind which retains what it does not perceive. The paper on top can be compared to the perception-consciousness system which transmits what it does not retain.
A pathway is created from perceptual circuits to neurological systems in the brain according to Freud. This pathway remains as the physical form of the unconscious memory.
For Derrida, this is a writing-machine. The writing from the stylus on the machine occurs by pressing down but from the darkness of the base showing up.
Writing, supplements perception before perception even appears to itself.
This is a delayed effect - the experience which only surfaces to consciousness long after the actual event. This effect represents the fundamental case of all experience. We are eternal latecomers to the present, or 'now' of our experience. The 'perceived' may be read only in the past, beneath perception and after it.
Life becomes a kind of dream, much like the sleepers in Plato's cave.
Past that has never been nor will ever be present
Such a condition dislodges us from the middle of of our own experience, what the traditional model of the psyche allows us to claim. This model runs into problems with hypnotic recall. Patients are able to, under deep hypnosis, recover experiences which were repressed and taken out of consciousness at the time of their taking place, they can also recover experiences which were not significant enough to be selected presentation to consciousness at the time of taking place.
The facts of hypnotic recall indicate that the unconscious mind records a great deal more than consciousness has ever inspected. It has been suggested that it keeps track of everything, absolutely and in the finest of detail.
According to Derrida, consciousness in the ordinary sense is an illusion that human beings have invented because they feared the consequences of a materialist conception of the brain.
All such ghostly presences are considered in the special theory of Writing - the signfied.
In Derrida's terminology, these are all symptoms of the logos, a single concept that brings together the inward rational principle of verbal texts, the inward rational principle of human beings and the inward rational principle of the natural universe. It also brings them toegther with law. Logos can give us a feeling of mastery, but any version of logos is mere wishful thinking as far as Derrida is concerned.
This general theory of Writing is a general theory of materialism, in a special sense. Derrida overturns the ordinary conception of mind with a materialist conception of the brain. He refrained from using the word 'matter' as it was too invested in 'logocentric' values.
Signifiers are fundamental to Derrida's theory. They are not things which first exist in thier own right and then point away from themselves even before they are themselves. The trace must be thought before the entity, explains Derrida. Signifiers lead to other signfiers endlessly, what Derrida calls 'radical alterity'.
This is very different to neurological positivists - when they study neurons and electrical charges in the brain, they are studying positive things and entities. It's the old atomising assumption, observe on small scales and all will be revealed. The question of how such entities signify however, is conveniently left aside.
Derrida is concerned with the configuartions between entities, the ungraspable and invisble difference between branches. How do configurations signify? One possible way is the way of the computer.
In a computer, electrical states signify not simply by what they are, but by a formal relation of what they are not. Passages of current signifies because it is not the absence of a current and the absence of a current signifies because it is not the passage of a current. It can't be studied in a positive way. You require the positive and the negative in a 'more-than physical' flow.
Derrida also speaks of grooves and tracks as ways in which configuartions might signify.He describes a path carved out by the Nambikwara Indians, a path cutting through a forest, it is therefore a trace and a sign. It is not a sign of its cause, it does not inspire a deduction about the passage of the people who made it. Instead it inpisres meditation.
Signifier to signifier to signifier
The meditation on this path meaning is a meaningfulness that is a kind of expanding, unfolding. This indeed is a meditators kind of meaning. Meditation begins from a special type of object or from a special type of word. A shaped object, like a pebble, or a word like 'OM'. Natural object and human word are essentially in the same condition. The present themselves as configuartions, as patterns of formal difference. The objects are no longer self-sufficient things, but a sign; the word is still a sign, but no longer expresses a humanly intended signified. The word is nothing more- the object nothing less - than a signifier.
The signifier with signified does its signifiying in a very special direction. Meaning in a pebble or word, can be generated with referring to any partiocular thing or inspiring any mental content.
Meditation generates a sense of void and infinity of space opening all sides. Into the emptiness meaning spreads out - sucked forth by the surrounding vacuum. Meditation does not involve directed activity on the part of the subject. Grasping is not something we strive for in meditation, but rather letting go, opening up the mind and to surrender control.
Signifying as Derrida understands it, is outside of the self, an objective and impersonal movement of meaning. To realise the true being of the sign, one must learn how not to control and direct it, must learn how to leave it free to follow its own inclinations.
Signifying comes before signifier and nothing comes before signifying.
Spaces open up endlessly. This is a position far beyond the scientific conception of the Universe.
Derrida and metaphysical philosophers
Metaphysical philosophers give an unusual importance to negativity. Spinoza says determination is negation, what a thing is depends upon its limits, the limits are what the thing is not. Hegel carries this further to say all negation is determination.
Spinoza tries to identify the force that runs through the mental world and the force that runs through the material world. This is the essentially the same as Derrida - he unites causal force with meaning.
Spinoza is on the one hand mystical, in the sense that it dissolves ordinary thingishness and gives pride and place to bodiless abstract ideas. On the other hand, it's also mechanical. It discards the ordinary mental push of individual minds and allows ideas an objective impersonal deterministic movement of their own.
This position can be termed metaphysical materialism.
This kind of signifying can't be accounted for in terms of causal force and ordinary meaning, or vice versa.