I've been reading Derrida's Speech and Phenomena, and understanding more than I expected. Seems like a more comprehensible read than his other work, or maybe I had the right background this time, I don't know. I want to start trying to explain things from the book, but it's going to take a few passes to get my head round what I want to say, so I'll start with some notebook posts here.
Caveat: this whole book is a critique of Husserl, and I've read no Husserl. So this could go badly!
Anyway, let's start. One of the background pieces I need is that Husserl had this distinction between 'indicative' and 'expressive' signs. I'll make my own crude attempt at an explanation below, for a better one you could try this.
The canonical example of an indicative sign is smoke as an indicator for fire. There's a direct perceptual cue, the smoke, which has an associated referent, fire. This association happens without conscious thought, I don't have to think 'oh yeah, smoke, that's the thing that has fire with it'. Husserl:
... To be emphasized is that I do not come to signitively intend the fire as existing as a result of a deduction. I do not have to think (categorially intend); there is real smoke, real smoke is created by real fire; therefore, there is a real fire. The reawakening of the associative link occurs immediately and without any intellectual mediation.
Expressive signs, as I understand it, are ones that 'have some actual thinking behind them'. There's a meaning to them. Derrida characterises them in this way:
What is expression? It is a sign charged with meaning.
(There's more detail in the linked reference. For Husserl, expressive signs were 'structured in accordance with a grammatical system'. And the expressive sign doesn't need to be present in direct perception as with the indicative sign. These features might be important later, I don't know, for now I'm just going for a gloss of 'expressive signs are the ones with the meaning in'.)
Now because this is Derrida, he's going to want to pull apart this binary, to find its internal contradictions through a close reading of Husserl's own work. So for a start, expression is apparently a verbal thing for Husserl, excluding things like facial expressions and gestures 'without communicative intent'. Here's a quote from Husserl:
Such a definition excludes (from expression) facial expression and the various gestures which involuntarily (umuillkiirlich) accompany speech without communicative intent, or those in which a man's mental states achieve understandable "expression" for his environment, without the added help of speech. Such "utterances" (Ausserungen) are not expressions in the sense in which a case of speech (Rede) is an expression, they are not phenomenally one with the experiences made manifest in them in the consciousness of the man who manifests them, as is the case with speech. In such manifestations one man communicates nothing to another: their utterance involves no intent to put certain "thoughts" on record expressively (in ausdriicklicher Weise), whether for the man himself, in his solitary state, or for others. Such "expressions," in short, have properly speaking, no meaning (Bedeutung).
Or as Derrida puts it:
everything that escapes the pure spiritual intention, the pure animation by Geist, that is, the will, is excluded from meaning (bedeuten) and thus from expression. What is excluded is, for example, facial expressions, gestures, the whole of the body and the mundane register, in a word, the whole of the visible and spatial as such.
My understanding of this is that expressive meaning has to be bound up with the conscious will, so e.g. grinning involuntarily doesn't count because there's no intent to communicate.
Derrida starts blurring this distinction by pointing out that there is 'a considerable sphere of the nonexpressive within speech itself'. All speech has to go through a sort of indicative layer to get to the other person. I might have a fully expressive meaning 'in my head', but I can't directly beam that to the other person's head, I have to make noises and move my face around and so forth. The other person hears the noises and sees the face-flapping, and has to regenerate expressive meaning from that.
All speech inasmuch as it is engaged in communication and manifests lived experience operates as indication. In this way words act like gestures.
Derrida has this nice quote (my bolds):
Sensible phenomena (audible or visible, etc.) are animated through the sense-giving acts of a subject, whose intention is to be simultaneously understood by another subject. But the "animation" cannot be pure and complete, for it must traverse, and to some degree lose itself in, the opaqueness of a body.
This gives a vivid picture of Husserl's world... if you have two people, the meaning is trapped inside them, attenuated by the inert lump of the body. Communication can still happen, but it's this dead, meaningless indicative thing that's reconstituted into meaning at the other end by the listener. This is what Derrida wants to break up, I think.
It's funny, I went into this expecting not to understand Derrida... but actually, it's Husserl who has felt alien and difficult to comprehend. Why would you even try and make this very sharp split between indication and expression? (I have a note at this point that says 'sounds like god stuff to me'.) Also see this tweet.
That's enough for one session, I'll write more notes another time.