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Synopsis of Jacques Derrida, Avertissement: Lévi-Strauss dans le dix-huitième siècle

[Foreword: Lévi-Strauss in the Eighteenth Century]

CpA 4.Introduction:3–4

If the first three volumes of the Cahiers were devoted to an analysis of discourse and the logic of the signifier that organises discourse and its subject, the general issue at stake in this fourth volume of the Cahiers, Jacques Derrida explains, is the non-linear ‘genealogy of a text.’ A text is neither a ‘simple accumulation of layers’ nor a pure ‘juxtaposition of borrowed pieces’. A text cannot itself represent its own extra-textual roots. Interrogation of the status of such ‘rooting’ immediately puts the finite categories of metaphysics themselves in question – implying, as Derrida famously puts it in another section of the book he was soon to publish as On Grammatology, that ‘il n’y a pas de hors-texte’, there is no outside of a text.1

Derrida proposes an analysis (if not a sort of textual psychoanalysis) of a ‘text’s consciousness of itself’, i.e. of the more or less deluded and ‘circumscribed discourse’ through which it represents its own origins and genealogy. The case or ‘example’ at issue here will be Lévi-Strauss’s affiliation (especially as evoked in his travel memoir Tristes Tropiques) to a certain model of the eighteenth-century enlightenment. The articles by Derrida and Mosconi in this volume will analyse the ‘organising role’ played by this model, the way it serves to underwrite representation not only of the text’s own lineage but that of its claimed textual ancestor as well, i.e. the enlightenment or ‘French eighteenth-century’s [...] own provenance and its own presence.’

What is ultimately at stake in the treatment here of the ‘concepts of analysis, of genesis, of origin, of nature, of culture, of the sign, of speech, of writing, etc.’, is the degree to which the play of textual genealogy and self-representation at work in the texts of anthropology and the social sciences falls within (or perhaps closes) a ‘history of metaphysics’.

English translation:


1. Jacques Derrida, Of Grammatology [1967] trans. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997), 158.