- Structural Reject
I believe that the final three essays of Derrida’s Writing and Difference ought to be read together. They can be said to constitute a Bataillean series, for there can be no doubt that the trace of Bataille features sharply in them. “From Restricted to General Economy” is self-evidently a text on Bataille. Structure, Sign, and Play,” on the other hand, may concern itself with the work of Lévi-Strauss, but if it is a text on the structurality of structure, or rather the play [le jeu] of structurality, and if Derrida himself furthermore has said that mettre en jeu or “putting at stake […] is one of Bataille’s most fundamental and frequently used expression,”1 then “Structure, Sign, and Play” is forcefully Bataillean at the same time. The third essay of this series, “Ellipsis,” may be on Edmond Jabès, but again the Bataillean trace cannot be ignored if one discerns the glaring Bataillean rhetoric that Derrida deploys in announcing the theme of that essay: writing or écriture as “expenditure without reserve.”2
The three essays might even be said to have a Bataillean ambition or endeavor, à la Bataille’s Inner Experience, to reach the point of impossibility of philosophy, a point where philosophy confronts the unthinkable or unthinkability, a point where it experiences, in anguish and in joy, the slippage of all systematicity or structure of thinking, a point where it loses its pivoting capacity to center all the elements of thought into a comprehensible totality or harmony For Derrida, unthinkability or impossibility is the thinking of structure without center, and this thought of a structure without center would in fact constitute Derrida’s critique of early or pre-1967 structuralism. By 1967, Derrida would become uneasy with the thinking of structure by structuralism at that time. Certainly, there was nothing wrong with thinking with structure, thinking how structure gives to things, events, and thoughts. But as Derrida notes in “Structure, Sign, and Play,” the notion of structure had begun to govern almost all intellectual discourse. In other words, early structuralism in the disciplines that ranged from science to philosophy had ossified and limited all modes of thought to a law or necessity of structure. Structure began to be thought of as a centering or centripetal force that governs and harnesses all other elements around it, using them to systematically construct and fortify its own center or sense of centeredness. Consequently, “the notion of a structure lacking any center represents the unthinkable itself.”3
It is necessary to underscore that the anxiety for a center is not the fault of structure itself. The imposition of a necessity of a center onto structure arrives but from the perspective of a subject, that construct of modern philosophy, or that category of thinking-being that demands everything to gather into a hypostasis so that it can grasp them all into a cognitive and visible totality. Henceforth, this subject determines its own corporeal spatio-temporal coordinates as the reference point for everything. It is this subject that would be responsible for arresting structure, to set it to work on a center, reducing structure in this process. As Derrida would argue, it is “by a process of giving [structure] a center or of referring it to a point of presence, a fixed origin,” via a subject, that structure “has always been neutralized or reduced.”4 If structure is thought to have a center, it is but a fictive construct of the subject. According to Derrida then, early structuralism would not have “properly” thought about structure yet. The structure of early structuralism would only be a fiction of structure.
To free structure from a metaphysics of the subject and its metaphysics of presence, one must rethink structure therefore in terms of the “unthinkable” structure without center. This does not take leave of structure, except the thought of structure now resists delimiting or grounding structure with a notion of a pivoting center. Structure “proper” in fact fails this notion of center or centeredness. It disrupts the operability or proper functioning of any center, rendering it inoperative. Deleuze, in a parallel spirit of critique of early structuralism, would...