By Andrew Stables (auth.), Andrew Stables (eds.)
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Extra resources for Be(com)ing Human: Semiosis and the Myth of Reason
We can never be sure that beauty is an abstract truth, like a Platonic form, or of where it comes from. Fundamentally, ‘beauty’ is a word; signs are signs. As Wittgenstein showed, we can become clearer about how ‘beauty’ operates within language games, but not what the ‘beauty’ is that is being expressed through those games. The sign must remain epistemologically prior to its referent. To Wittgenstein, as to Saussure and his followers, conceptions are contextual and language can only show us what it can show us as language.
Again, this is not an idea unique to Derrida: Emmanual Lévinas, for example, more or less simultaneously developed an ethical theory based on respect for the never fully knowable Other: Lévinas, 1967). Derrida’s epistemology is deconstructive: we should seek to unsettle certainty wherever we find it. Derrida’s metaphysics and ethics both embrace the sense that what is at the heart of things is not substance, essence, innate qualities or even Being (in the sense of Heidegger’s dasein) but rather difference and otherness.
In short, Barthes, for all the potential weaknesses of his argument, seriously challenges assumptions about the scope and boundary of textuality, another issue that would be developed further in the writings of Derrida and the poststructuralists. 21 CHAPTER 1 From the 1960s onwards, Continental philosophy took its most radical turn away from the Anglo-American tradition, resulting in the set of positions collectively referred to as poststructuralism: For the semiotic generation of the 1960s, the interface with Saussure’s ideas was not in the form of textual erudition and exegesis.