3 min read

Speech and Phenomena notes 2: hearing yourself speak

So last time I talked about Husserl's distinction between indicative and expressive signs, and how even expression goes through a kind of 'indicative layer' when talking to someone else. In the next part (this is chapter 3, 'Meaning as Soliloquy'), Derrida cuts out the second person and considers what happens when you just monologue to yourself. This initially sounds like it might wholly cut out the indicative layer, but Derrida says no, it's more complicated. This whole concept seems important and it would be good if I understood it better.

[Note: I'm not sure if comes up as early as chapter 3, but Derrida uses the phrase 'auto-affection' to refer to this whole category of doing something (talking in this case) and then also perceiving the results (hearing it back). I found this good explanation of the idea by Leonard Lawlor when reading chapter 6, 'The Voice That Keeps Silence'. Would be worth returning to that. I also have this feeling that Merleau-Ponty talked about a similar thing in The Phenomenology of Perception.]

Here's Husserl on interior monologue, saying yes, it is pure expression:

Expressions continue to have meanings (Bedeutungen) as they had before, and the same meanings as in dialogue. A word only ceases to be a word when our interest stops at its sensory contour, when it becomes a mere sound-pattern. But when we live in the understanding of a word, it expresses something and the same thing, whether we address it to anyone or not

Derrida's response:

The first advantage of this reduction to the interior monologue is that the physical event of language there seems absent. Insofar as the unity of the word—what lets it be recognized as a word, the same word, the unity of a sound-pattern and a sense—is not to be confused with the multiple sensible events of its employment or taken to depend on them, the sameness of the word is ideal; it is the ideal possibility of repetition, and it loses nothing by the reduction of any empirical event marked by its appearance, nor all of them.

The first sentence of this is fairly straightforward, but the rest is kind of complicated and difficult to understand. But probably important to try, because it looks suspiciously like a version of his 'différance' concept.

Actually I was rereading the introduction last night (by Newton Garver, who was coming from Wittgenstein's tradition and trying to explain Derrida in terms of that) and it has some useful historical context, so maaaybe this makes more sense now. Garver framed his discussion with the ancient split between logic and rhetoric in language, with logic as dealing with atemporal fixed meanings of signs and rhetoric as dealing with their use in context. Garver:

What rationalists and empiricists disagree about is the origin of ideas; what they have in common is the view that signs represent ideas and that an idea is something that can stand in semantic contrast or contradiction to another idea—and can be seen to stand in such contrast or contradiction without reference to contexts of communication, to "voices resounding in the corridors," or to how they figure in the "stream of life."

Derrida is referring to something like the 'logical' view above when he says 'Insofar as the unity of the word... is not to be confused with the multiple sensible events of its employment or taken to depend on them, the sameness of the word is ideal'. In this view, the sign is a fixed token that can be deployed as many times as you want, with the same meaning each time. Repeating this token to yourself in an interior monologue would therefore communicate nothing new.

(This 'logical' view now seems extremely strange to me, I think this is why I'm having trouble understanding Husserl.)

So, of course Derrida is going to start picking this apart:

Is this to say that in speaking to myself I communicate nothing to myself? Are the "Kundgabe" (the manifesting) and "Kundnahme" (the cognizance taken of the manifested) suspended then? Is nonpresence reduced and, with it, indication, the analogical detour, etc.? Do I not then modify myself? Do I learn nothing about myself?

Apparently Husserl did consider this case, but rejected the idea of an indicative step in inner monologue:

Shall one say that in soliloquy one speaks to onself, and employs words as signs (Zeichen), i.e., as indications (Anzeichen) of one's own inner experiences? I cannot think such a view acceptable"

I'm going to stop there before I get on to Derrida's argument, I remember this next bit being difficult and I'm already running out of steam.