October 11, 2004

The question of the question and the question of the place

In juxtaposition with Jacques Derrida's death, we here at Language Log have undertaken a post-structuralist analysis of route direction nomenclature. As a result, the Transportation and Parking Services department at the University of California at Santa Cruz has already changed the naming system for its campus buses from East vs. West to Clockwise vs. Counterclockwise, although the US Department of Transportation is still stonewalling on the issue of Beltway signage.

Meanwhile, I imagine that Jacques Derrida has been disputing the inscriptional fallacy with the Recording Angel. Since Raduriel surely reads Language Log, perhaps the issue of loop direction naming has come up in their discussions. Jacques' initial reaction was no doubt dismissive: "But of course: difference is never in itself a sensible plenitude." If Raduriel then introduced the point-of-view problem -- topologists vs. cartographers, students vs. gophers, those in the loop vs. the outsiders -- the discussion will have become more animated, with Jacques quoting from one of his recent essays:

The very form of this question concerning a question -- namely "where?, in what place can a question take place?" -- supposes that between the question and the place, between the question of the question and the question of the place, there be a sort of implicit contract, a supposed affinity, as if a question should always be first authorized by a place, legitimated in advance by a determined space that makes it both rightful and meaningful, thus making it possible and by the same token necessary, both legitimate and inevitable.

According to the French idiom -- and already the usage of this idiom, the effective authority of this idiom, brings us back to the question of the cosmopolitical and would by itself enjoin us to ask this question -- one would say that there are places where there are grounds for asking this question.

Score one for the gophers.

Meanwhile, back at Language Log, our plain duty is to deconstruct chapter two of Of Grammatology, the one entitled Linguistics and Grammatology, on behalf of Derrida's many fans and anti-fans among our readers.

My earlier post on Derrida's 9/11 essay has stimulated as much email as anything else I've ever written. Most of the correspondents have either praised me for showing that Derrida's writings are nonsense, or attacked me for suggesting the same thing. Only Chris Waigl noticed what I actually said, in the end: that Derrida's ideas on 9/11 have content and are wrong. It's an appropriate tribute to his life and work, to believe the same thing about his views on language. If I were to discuss them, that's where I'd end.

[Signage via Reality Control via Nathan's Notebook.]


Posted by Mark Liberman at October 11, 2004 08:55 AM