"The sentence is a body."
          -Roland Barthes

By Tom Hibbard

Does the word "difference" as a Structurist term originate from the iconoclastic generation of the turn of the 20th Century-Pound, Proust, Lawrence, Joyce, Gide, Stein and many others-a generation of rebels that felt it their duty always to stand apart? Before "deconstruction" was "destruction." This term applied in precisely the manner that called for disassembly and dispelling of formal irrelevance and pretense in all branches of art and life.

For the earlier writers and artists, "being different" from normative social standards was an aesthetic necessity. But for the generation that followed, "difference" became a quality inherent in the fabric of reality, rather to be accepted than invented. Difference characterized an individuality and uniqueness so fundamental that it encompassed vastly more problems and ideas than simply the removal of falseness and excess form. Derrida's difference was a philosophical difference, "ontological difference," that introduced the abysses of horror and failure and, to some extent, legitimized "falseness" in the sense of artificiality. It connected with community. It connected with identity and nature. It constituted an agency of knowledge. It was a prerequisite for thought. "[Difference became] the condition...for the possibility...of conceptualization, idealization and comprehension."1 Difference affected all the dilemmas of existence-psychological, philosophical, social, sexual, ethical, economic, artistic.

In Derrida, "difference" means "Being." It is true that Derrida's word in fact was "Differance," an untranslatable generaized term around which a philosophical discussion was permitted to take place. Derrida's difference is synonymous with possibility. It is a "schism" and a "crisis" which gives rise to meaning. As Emmanuel Levinas writes (in a style that incorporates division into its syntax), "Thesis and antithesis, in repelling one another, call for one another."2 The "separation" of the I in relation to infinity and alterity results in a "positive movement." Difference is a point of departure. Difference is the infinite Other, without explication but, at the same time, receptive and communicative. Difference is both negative and positive. It is the authentic immanence of the fragmented self entering life, as opposed to the intact motionlessness of the undifferentiated "same" shunning it. Only via the Other does the I come into existence. Only the incomplete I is able to become whole.

In difference are found certain constants: distance ("Planck's distance"), an opening (up) and a closing, desire and longing, historicity, the Stranger, absence ("the true life is absent"), return. Difference is a journey that leads to origins and a past, but it is "a past that has never been present."3

To be I is, over and beyond any individuation that can be derived from a system of references, to have identity as one's content. The I is not a being that always remains the same, but it is the being whose existing consists in...recovering its identity throughout all that happens to it.4

Without the perception of its differences, the Other has no meaning. Difference transcends the for-itself. It identifies presence, but the transcendence that it brings about is one of absence, crisis, distance ("an absolute distance") and exteriority, for history in its repeated cycle of singularities attains no permanent supreme face. Because it consists of a diversity of voices rather than one voice, because of empiricism and actuality, the transcendence of difference in history speaks to posterity only in a haunting silence of sand and rock.

According to Robert Bernasconi, in Derrida's 1968 lecture titled "La differance"-a "nonword" describing "what has been most decisively inscribed in the thought of what we conveniently call our epoch"- "The emphasis in the summary is on difference, but the notion of trace could have served to unite the theme of the lecture almost as well."5

One aspect of Derrida's work that distinguishes it from Sartre (for example) is its preoccupation with linguistics and language, particularly the written word, as its witness. Derrida speaks of an "astonishment" and "a surprise incomparable to any other," a surprise "extended to the dimensions of world culture." That surprise is the discovery "of language as the origin of history,"6 which Derrida calls the discovery "of historicity itself." In considering the association of psyche and text in Freud, Derrida states,

From a system of traces functioning according to a model Freud would have preferred to be a natural one, and from which writing is entirely absent, we proceed toward a configuration of traces which can no longer be represented except by the structure and functioning of writing.7

The trace, a relatively recent term, emerges from language but particularly from writing and also from printing-hot type, lithography, Xerox, typewriters, mimeograph, newsprint-along with archeological discoveries of scattered earlier writing, such as cuneiform, Hebrew scrolls, maps, hieroglyphics, petroglyphs. The trace "involves the notion of inscription" and is "detectable only in written form." The trace is the indelible mystery in the language of a disturbing dream, a revelatory human mark accidentally left behind. The trace is errant ink splotches on a printed poster. It is the indefinite edge of type on a Depression-era letterpress leaflet magnified into an artwork. It is the abstractness and autonomy of alphabetical letters. Because its form is taken from an early stage of its own formulation, the trace underscores the nonlinearity of all images. It is at once both the discourse and the logos. In his monograph The Trace of the Other (including a section titled "Movement Without Return"), Levinas writes that "the traces of the irreversible past are taken as signs that ensure the discovery and unity of a world."8

Derrida associates the trace with presence. He labels it "a simulacrum of presence," a suggestion of or sign of presence-an inescapable historical and anthropological imperfection exhorting human reality continually toward its fulfillment.

In simple terms, the trace expresses the absence of full, present meaning; in so far as meaning is differential, a matter of constant referral onwards from term to term, each of which has meaning only from its necessary difference from other signifiers, it is constituted by a network of traces.9

Of the trace, despite language being manmade and artificial, Derrida paradoxically states that "there is no origin before the trace." In this way, Derrida sheds light on the beginning of the universe.

Vandana Shiva's writings concerning India's agrarian cultures, natural medicines, seeds and their relationship with politics and government, especially democracy, are associated with the discussion of the trace. Shiva focuses on "diversity," but, like Derrida's difference, in Shiva's philosophical writing, diversity is a part of the basic character of reality. Shiva finds the digitized profit-driven business models tyrannical toward originary life-styles set stably within the irregularity of natural beauty. She terms the self-directed and one-dimensional economic structure of "market economies" and corporate hegemony "moncultures." Rather than sympathetically "growing" in indigenous spaces, monocultures are detached from them and degrade them. Shiva speaks of emergent politics based on diversity and self-organiztion, not on monocultures and manipulation.10

She feels that "patent monopolies" and trade agreements tilted toward foreign business interests "simultaneously threaten the regenerative freedom of diverse species and the free and sustainable economy of small peasants and producers based on nature's diversity."11 In seeds, forests, grains, Shiva observes a basic structure, parallel to that of the Structurist trace and difference, that needs to be accounted for in the inner workings of governments and economies if they are to foster a "positive movement" for society, rather than neglect and privation. Monocultures produce debt. Monocultures deplete resources and ignore human needs. Monocultures are invasive and antagonistic toward the structural building principles derived from the experience of nature, permanence, creativity and Creation. In trampling diversity and failing to perceive difference, monocultures become inherently destructive. They fail to fully and profitably (in a global sense) engage the Other-particularly the Other that is our planet and, by Sartian logic, that is also ourselves. In Shiva, identity is only possible because of diversity.

In this way, the discourse of materialism and visibility enters in. The trace and diversity are the horizon of visibility-beyond which, in its evolutionary setting, lurks despotic appearance and duplicity. Though many entities that we perceive in their incompleteness today will be viewed in their entirety and clear knowledge in the future, the contradictory and graphic trace, the absolute distance of transcendence, with its unavoidable problematics that continue to challenge society independent of local triumph or failure, and the living, moving heritage of diversity will always mediate our understanding of these entities. In their ultimate reality, they will always be primarily a representation that appears to us within the parameters of a changing conceptual halo. As such, the quality and justness of their make-up continually pass judgment on itself.

As science, with its array of elusive particles, brings to the fore the idea of matter, Structurism seemingly begins arbitrarily with any word. In the writings of Derrida, no primary object is the target of deconstruction. In fact, Derrida states that deconstruction "is not a negative operation." Rather it is a process of writing and examination that attempts to persuasively redefine the plane of meaning and thought. It is a reworking, called for with new evidence. It is a laying bare. Derrida at times calls deconstruction "construction" and says that it has been "difficult to efface" the "negative appearance" of the term.12 In deconstruction, an imaginative new and broader "'ensemble' is this end." Like the trace-and unlike monocultures-deconstruction revives complexity. It attempts to distinguish a certain hesitation and powerlessness ("play") in the justification of human actions. As Levinas writes, "Separation is not reflected in thought but produced by it."13 With notable structural features in its writings-such as terminology from economic, social, psychological or scientific models or objective correlatives-deconstruction boldly traverses the borderlines of linguistic formalism, at times moving from prose to visual writing and at other times to poetry as it delineates the schema of the universe. Deconstruction is "language reaching its own state of perfection."14 Although Derrida does not view "critique" as a synonym of deconstruction, I feel that in its style of examination and recording, "critique" is basically the same as deconstruction. Decades earlier, Andre Gide illuminatingly used the term "decrystalization." Deconstruction is an attempt to imaginatively uphold forever in metaphysical dialectics an unlikely positivity and productivity in the face of the corrupt and corrupting power of discouragement and obstruction.

1  Derrida and Difference, David Wood, Robert Bernasconi eds., Northwestern Univ. Press, Evanston IL 1988, pp.48.
2  Totality and Infinity, Emmanuel Levinas, Duquesne Univ. Press, Pittsburgh PA 1969, pp.53
3  This phrase appears in both Jacques Derrida and Emmanuel Levinas writing.
4  Ibid., Emmanuel Levinas, pp.36.
5  Ibid., David Wood, Robert Bernasconi eds., pp.13.
6  Writing and Difference, Jacques Derrida, Univ. of Chicago Press, Chicago IL 1978, pp.4.
7  Ibid., Jacques Derrida, pp.200.
8  The Trace of the Other, Emmanuel Levinas, Center for Jewish Studies, Univ. of Florida website, unpaginated PDF.
9  Derrida, Christina Howells, Polity Press, Malden MA 1999, pp.50.
10  Earth Democracy, Vandana Shiva, South End Press, Cambridge MA 2005, pp.96.
11  Ibid., Vandana Shiva, pp.91.
12  Ibid., David Wood, Robert Bernasconi eds., pp.3.
13  Totality and Infinity, Emmanuel Levinas, Duquesne Univ. Press, Pittsburgh PA 1969, pp.37.
14  Ibid., David Wood, Robert Bernasconi eds., Northwestern Univ. Press, Evanston IL 1988, pp.2.

Artworks. Jim Leftwich, "postcard"; Carlos Luis; Joel Lippman; Jim Leftwich, "stencil."