The Pathway of Phenomenology: Examining the connection between Husserl and Derrida
John Haglund (Jönköping)
Deconstruction has at many times been assumed to depart from the ruins of phenomenology. Jacques Derrida’s critique of phenomenology in his early works would then be looked upon as preparatory studies in the advent of deconstruction, eventually spelling a final farewell to all things Husserlian. Contrary to this reading, I propose a strong, although complicated, ongoing relationship between deconstruction and phenomenology. In my view, the legacy of the work of Derrida cannot be safely disentangled from its phenomenological roots. In other words, the way to understand deconstruction goes via phenomenology. And more still, attempts of understanding phenomenology will find a powerful tool in Derrida’s interpretation.
We have hopes of explicating this by focusing on the problem of the constitution of language via a reading of key passages in Derrida’s investigation into Husserl’s treatment of the sign (Derrida 1967). Language poses a most precious problem to phenomenology and a telling example of that is indicated in the first chapter. We will answer to why it is necessary for Husserl to sharply distinguish the linguistic sign in expression and indication (Husserl 1900/1901). Expressive signs have meaning whereas indicative signs do not. But if those aspects cannot be safely kept apart, as we will see, the whole ground of phenomenology will begin to shake.
In that it is intimately linked to the distinction between speech and writing in general, and as such to presence and absence, the distinction between expression and indication can give us a glance into what is at stake in Derrida’s occupation with these matters. It is through the pathway of phenomenology that Derrida will have begun to outline his own adventure of redeeming writing as something that throughout all of philosophy has been repressed in the name of presence. That itinerary would hence have found one of its most important inaugurations in Husserl’s ambiguous reduction of indication. However, this pathway is nothing one can bypass or simply leave behind and forget, it is not a ladder to be thrown away once one has managed the climb; quite on the contrary Derrida’s reading of phenomenology will have us keep reading.
Derrida, J. (1973). Speech and Phenomena.
Husserl, E. Logical Investigations (1900/1901) vol. 2, first investigation.