TABLE OF CONTENTS
A. General Overview
B. Statement of the Problem
C. Significance of the Study
E. Review of Related Literature
F. Limitations and Delimitations
G. Definition of Key Terms
II. Poststructuralism and Indeterminacy
A. Derrida and Birth of Differance of Meaning
1. Binary Opposition and Supplementation
B. Paul de Man and Rhetoric
C. Nietzsche and Truth as a Mobile Army of Metaphors
D. Modern Physics: Indeterminacy and the Beauty of the Observer's Eyes
III. Shepard's Buried Child and True West as Indeterminate Texts
A. Buried Child and Indeterminacy
1. Quantum-like Behavior of the Characters
2. Buried Child as a Mobile Signifier
3. Nietzsche's Concept of Translation
B. True West and Indeterminacy of True West and Identity
1. The Question of Identity
2. Characters, Binary Opposition and Supplementation
3. The Nonlinear Behavior of Characters
IV. Pirandello's Six Characters in Search of an Author and It Is So
A. It Is So and the Question of Identity
1. Floating Truth
2. Document as an Indeterminate Fact
3. Indeterminacy and Relativity of Character's Truth
B. Relativity and Indeterminacy in Six Characters in Search of an Author
1. Various Perspectives toward Reality
2. Characters', Actors' and Audience's Truth
3. Characters' and Actors' Exchange of Roles
4. Indeterminacy of Characters' Behavior
V . Conclusion
A. Summing Up
C. Suggestions for Further Research
After the World Wars, a sense of skepticism and indeterminacy towards the objective reality and truth, thought to be attained by the heritage of modernity, became an obsession for the thinkers and philosophers questioning the nature of truth. The present study is an attempt to trace the notion of indeterminacy in the plays of Luigi Pirandello's Six Characters in Search of an Author and It Is So! and Sam Shepard's True West and Buried Child from the point of view of poststructuralist philosophers, namely Derrida, Paul de Man, Nietzsche and theories of modern Physics (Einstein's relativity and quantum physics). To achieve this purpose, a thorough investigation of the plays through the lens of indeterminacy has been conducted. The first focus is Derrida's two notions, Differance and binary oppositions. Differance reflects on the deferment of meaning; and his idea of binary oppositions concentrates on the fact that of the two sides of oppositions neither side has privilege over the other side since a part of meaning exists in the opposite one and they get their meaning from each other. Furthermore, de Man's rhetoric, pointing to the figurative nature of language, which causes the meaning to delay; Nietzsche's view of truth, having a mobile stance; and the theories of modern physics, with regard to Einstein's relativity and indeterminacy extant in quantum mechanics, have been approached. Through the application of these ideas, it is proved that neither Pirandello's nor Shepard's have fixed meanings; rather, they always grant floating meanings that never reach a definite signified. Characters of the plays have an indeterminate natures changing from one type of personality to another one. Moreover, it is seen that how the concept of relativity is working through the play causing different characters to have the same view of the same event regarding reality and truth.
A. General Overview
After World Wars I and II, the attention turned against objectivity and truth that intellectuals supposed to have attained through reason and knowledge whereby they could constitute objective reality in social institutions. However, after these Wars in which more than 100 million people were killed, a sense of uncertainty overwhelmed the world in different fields of science. In physics, Einstein with his theory of relativity contends that what we call truth is relative and has a fluid stance. In philosophy, Nietzsche by his famous assertion that "old God liveth no more; he is indeed dead" (253) raises a storm of protest at the objectivity of truth and contends that truth is not absolute. Furthermore, the inception of postmodernism emerging out of modernism shakes the foundations of modernity; the modernity which is concerned with rationality, objective reality and truth. Doubting the nature of truth and reality, postmodernism has changed the notion of reality to something subjective, based on the situation a person lives in or the culture that embraces them.
With the advent of deconstruction, Derrida’s poststructuralist view of the world challenges the very institutions of modernity through which objective reality and truth have been taught. Charles Bressler explains that for Derrida and other postmodernists, no objective reality exists, but the subjective one, the creation of “human mind”. Truth is “relative” depending on the “nature”, “culture” and “social influences” of a person’s life. “Many truths exist not the truth”. Objective reality of the modernity has been supplanted by the subjective reality of the postmodernism in which many “interpreters of reality” come to life (99).
Luigi Pirandello, the son of a wealthy owner of sulfur mines, was born in Sicily in 1867. He did not follow his father’s desire to become a businessman. He pursued his study in philosophy at the University of Bonne in Germany where he got his doctorate in 1891. Pirandello began his literary career as a poet but soon turned to fiction and published his first widely recognized novel, The Late Mattia Pascal, in 1904. He wrote more than forty plays, the most well-known of which are Is It So! (1916 ), Six Characters in Search of an Author (1921) and Henry IV (1922), and Each in His Own Way (1924) . He was awarded the noble prize for literature in 1934 and died in1936. Michael L. Green states that Pirandello in his plays questions the “objective” or “scientific observation” as a means of ascertaining truth…, his characters as well are put in a situation to challenge the meaning of truth and illusion (1466). Pirandello’s plays have influenced much of the twentieth century’s playwriting. Martin Essline, who coined the term theatre of absurd, affirms that
Pirandello more than any other playwright has been responsible for a revolution in
man's attitude to the world that is comparable to the revolution caused by Einstein's
discovery of the concept of relativity in physics: Pirandello has transformed our
attitude to human personality and the whole concept of reality in human relations by
showing that the personality-character in stage terms- is not fixed and static entity but
an infinitely fluid, blurred, and relative concept. People appear different to different
fellow human beings, they act differently in different contexts, they react differently to
differing situations. (189-190)
As was mentioned before, after the Wars a sense of skepticism preoccupies the thinkers’ and theorists’ mind, and Pirandello, as a writer and philosopher, could not escape the influence too, and in his plays he has reflected his ideas along with the growing skepticism about the “objective reality” which was long-held by philosophers and theorists, defending modernity. Pirandello’s idea and philosophy may have best been summed up in what Olga Ragusa remarks that “truth is always relative”, and a person’s view of reality to a great extent depends on his or her circumstance (1205). Eric Bentley in his essay “Varieties of Comic Experience” talks about Pirandello's philosophy and virtually makes a criticism about him:
Ostensibly Pirandello's plays and novels are about the relativity of truth, multiple
personality, and the different level of reality. But it is neither these subjects nor-
precisely his treatment of them that constitutes Pirandello's individuality. The themes
grow tiresome after a time, and those find nothing else in Pirandello give him up as a
bad job. The novelist Frantz Kafka was long neglected because his world also gave the
impression of philosophic obsession and willful eccentricity. Then another and deeper
Kafka was discovered. Another and deeper Pirandello awaits discovery. (187-188)
Sam Shepard, the director, writer, and player, was born in 1943 in Illinois. He moved to New York where he joined off-off Broadway (an experimental theatre) and wrote plays for the group. Then he moved to London where it had a great impact on his acting career. He has written over fifty plays. The numerous awards Shepard has received illustrate the originality of his works. He has won more than ten Obies awards for best off-off Broadway plays, and a Pulitzer Prize for Buried Child (1979). His other famous plays include , A Lie of the Mind, Fool for Love, Curse of the Starving Class, and True West. Shepard has gained so much fame that his works need to be studied carefully to find out why they soon gained attention and he has been deemed as the "most American of our contemporary playwright" (Wade 286). His plays are mostly concerned with family fragmentation in America, loss of identity, nostalgia for the past, power struggle and old and new values of the west. Brian Ryan in Major 20th Century Writers asserts that if we want to consider the playwrights of his [Shepard's] -‘generation’ he has exceeded his contemporaries in his ‘prolific output and imaginative intensity’ since he both writes plays and directs them (2706).
The plays Six Characters in Search of an Author and It Is So! by Pirandello and True West and Buried Child by Sam Shepard may be studied as indeterminate works. In the plays mentioned, identity, characters, and truth engage us with a sense of indeterminacy or what Derrida calls floating signifiers. The concept of ‘indeterminacy’, as was mentioned earlier, is suggested in different sciences, as in philosophy, Physics, literary theory and literature, and thereby the very concept of indeterminacy has gained a universal appealing.
In True West by Sam Shepard, we see two characters at the beginning of the play, Austin as a writer and man of letters and Lee as a loafer and thief. But at the end of the play, they change their places without any linear reason. The writer, Austin, becomes a thief and the thief, and Lee, becomes a writer. We see that their identity is floating and is not stable and even the meaning of west for each character is different and has an indeterminate nature. In them, it seems that various layers of personality are hidden, changing the identity of the characters from one type to another. As Sarah Lawall argues, "successive layers of personality, conflicting among the various parts, and the simultaneous existence of multiple perspective shape an identity that is never fixed but always fluid and changing" (1428-29). The same behavior of the characters can be explained in terms of modern physics especially that of quantum physics. Moreover, the rhetoric of Paul de Man is at work causing the meaning of the words and even the identity of the character to refer to something else and thus adding to the indeterminacy of the text of the play. Nietzsche's idea of truth is partially treated in the play. He explains that we are living in an illusion of reality since we can never find the reality and what we do is just translating what exists outside through our mind which is not a pure vehicle to do that.
Buried Child, another play by Shepard, begins with Vince’s return to home with his girlfriend Shelly. When he arrives, neither his father, Tilden, nor his grandfather, Dodge, recognizes him. Dodge’s wife, Halie, is the only female inhabitant who lives in her own imaginary world. Halie has born a baby, out of a marriage, whose father is unknown. The play goes on, presenting strange images like the strewing of the corn husk over Dodge by Tilden, the savage haircut by Bradley and Bradley’s vague sexual rite of domination upon Shelly. At the end of the play, before Dodge dies, he leaves the house to Vince, whom he now claims his grandson. Tilden enters with the infant corpse in his arms buried by Dodge in the family’s farm house for over thirty years and climbs the stairs toward Halie. In the play, we see that the identity of the infant is not well-defined, and to whom the infant belongs is not clear. Even we as readers are not sure of the identity of the Vince saying that he is a member of the family until Halie comes and says she knows him while from now on he does not recognize himself as he had earlier. This text can also be studied as a text having indeterminate nature in which the characters, too, find themselves living in an indeterminate atmosphere of the house. Whoever comes to the house loses their stability.
In Pirandello’s Six Characters in Search of an Author, we can again perceive the same indeterminacy and uncertainty. A play is in the making that suddenly six characters come on the stage seeking for an author to write their play, which is, as they themselves say, inside them. Each group has a different view toward the other one; Actors toward characters about their existence as being real or illusory and characters about themselves. Even we as an audience are involved in the play to the point of questioning our own existence. As we may comprehend, actors, characters, and even we as an audience are faced with different layers and perspectives about reality and the existence of the characters and even our own existence. Accordingly, all the groups engaged in the play are left baffled about the fact that what is ‘real’ and what is ‘illusion’.
As for the other play, It Is So, Pirandello presents family members discussing the identity of a family who has just come to the city. Signor Ponza, the husband, and his mother in law, Signora Flora, perceive the wife, Signora Ponza, as a different person. Signor Ponza claims that Signora Ponza is his second wife not Flora’s daughter, but signora Flora claims that Signora Ponza is her daughter and that Signor Ponza is misled and imagined that she is not his (Flora’s) daughter. Both of them give convincing evidence for why mother- in law and Signora Ponza never meet each other face to face. When Signor Ponza is asked to come to clarify the matter and tell the truth, she explains that she is both the second wife of Signor Ponza and the daughter of Signora Flora. She at the end asserts, “I am whom you believe me to be” (138). Again, here the concept of truth and identity like in Six Characters in Search of an Author have a floating nature and each person has a different view toward the nature of truth, which are at the same time right. Therefore, “there can be no truth because truth varies with the individual and the circumstance” (Greenwald1467).
B. Statement of the Problem
The present study seeks to investigate the notion of indeterminacy in the text of the plays, True West and Buried Child by Shepard and Six Characters in Search of an Author and It Is So! by Pirandello. Besides, the researcher wants to clear up the aspects of this indeterminacy common in the above-mentioned plays. It might be that many investigations have already been done on the two playwrights and the plays named. However, one of the most significant aspects of these texts_ their indeterminacy_ has mostly been overlooked. The characters in the plays suddenly shift their personality from one type of character to another one, which sometimes is entirely different with his earlier condition. They lose their identity to which they might never return and do bizarre things, which cannot be normally explained. In Pirandello's plays, this indeterminacy can be viewed through the relativity occupying the spaces of his plays. Different days will bring the characters different experience and in different circumstances, the characters retain various views toward their surroundings. The researcher intends to illustrate the influence this concept (indeterminacy) might have on the works of the playwrights. Although the culture in which these plays have been written and the time of the playwrights do not accord with each other, they seem to be influenced by the ideas of Nietzsche, Derrida, and modern physics (quantum and Einstein theories). Through reading the works of these two playwrights, one might come across the following questions that the present study is going to answer:
1. Can Pirandello's and Shepard's plays be considered indeterminate?
2. Why are Pirandello's and Shepard's texts reckoned indeterminate?
3. How are Derrida’s ideas, concerning indeterminacy, applying in the plays?
4. What aspects of Einstein's relativity are relevant to the present study?
4. How does Nietzsche's idea of truth work in the present study?
5. How does de Man's rhetoric influence the texts of the plays?
C. Significance of the Study
A writer must have been obsessed with some happenings around him to have internalized some notions in his mind so as to reflect them in his works. Therefore, this application of the notion of indeterminacy and relativity in the works of Pirandello and Shepard also enables us to perceive how indeterminacy works even inside human beings as an unconscious process and sometimes may constitute our character as being unstable. From all poststructuralist or postmodernist notions, the concept of indeterminacy might have been neglected to be paid attention to and applied in literary works. The present study puts its focus of attention on the very concept in order to demonstrate that the texts of the plays have an indeterminate nature. The significance of the study is made prominent when the texts are from different cultures and times. Moreover, no one has ever made such a comparison between these writers form Italy and America in spite of the fact that both Pirandello and Shepard are the forerunners of a new kind of theory and vision in their literature. This comparative study may have a great effect on our own literature since investigating a text and showing it as being indeterminate based on poststructuralist approach is not so much well known in Iran and this study may pave the way for the literature-seekers to be encouraged to work on the same concept and approach. One of the most important points of this study is that it will cover different fields of study, as a case in point, how physics and especially modern physics may influence a work of art. The researcher has studied a lot of books and done many researches on the subject of indeterminacy, having found that no one has done such investigation considering quantum and Einstein theories on these works although modern physics has had a great impact on the new movements in literature.
Poststructuralism is the focus of the present study. However, it does not mean that the study is concerned with one specific approach in which various branches of the approach might be sought. Poststructuralism, which is sometimes compared with postmodernism and deconstruction, bears concepts such as uncertainty, indeterminacy. Structuralism and most significantly its founder, Ferdinand de Saussure, concentrate on sign which itself is divided into two parts, signifier and signified, confirming that signifier corresponds to the signified. That is to say that each word (signifier), written or spoken, carries a meaning (signified); “a system of distinct signs corresponding to distinct ideas” (Saussure 4). Or as Christopher Norris states, “language is a differential network of meaning” (24). With the advent of post structuralism following Derrida’s deconstruction, structuralism's chief idea of the correspondence of signified and signifier was questioned. “There is no self-evident and one-to-one link between ‘signifier’ and ‘signified’, the word as vehicle and the concept it serves to evoke” (ibid). Derrida, by coining the word differance, constituted of two words difference and deference, argues that each signifier, word, as soon as it is said falls into differance. No signifier reaches its signified. It is always floating. As Foucault in his essay, "what is an author?" writes: “It is an interplay of signs arranged less according to its signified content than according to the very nature of signifier” (175). As Derrida argues, we are dealing with a set of floating signifiers, which do have no destination. This brings about the indeterminacy in the works of art. M. H. Abrams in his essay, "Deconstructive Angel " contends “what Derrida‘s conclusion comes to is that no sign or chain of signs can have a determinate meaning” (246). He adds, “for Derrida’s chamber of texts is a sealed echo-chamber in which meanings are reduced to a ceaseless echolalia, a vertical and lateral reverberation from sign to sign of ghostly non-presences emanating from no voice, intended by no one, referring to nothing, bombinating in a void” (ibid). We are not sure of the stability of the word said or written. Paul de Man also with his new vision toward rhetoric adds to this indeterminacy. He explains that all languages are rhetorical and this figural view of language causes everything to delay since this metaphor or trope refers us to other meanings. This can also be seen in our daily activity and life. We are acting within language and since rhetoric is the main feature of it, it always causes the meaning to postpone. Meaning has no limit since allegory is at work referring us to the other words; allegory has a temporal character. Nietzsche also talks about the concept of truth that truth is a mobile army of metaphors. No absolute truth exists since our perception of the world is summed up in what our mind perceives and its perception is based on our arbitrary translation of the objects outside. It cannot tell us the real nature of the objects and therefore what we see is just the illusion of truth. The same uncertainty and indeterminacy along with literature and linguistics occur in other fields as well. In physics, especially in modern physics and ideas of Einstein and quantum theories, this indeterminacy was compounded. "If we think of physical reality as an onion, physicists have penetrated through layer after layer into what they thought was the onion’s center , only to find that there was still another layer underneath" (Christian 516). Einstein’s relativity might have had a drastic impact on literature. Likewise, quantum physics and Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle prove indeterminacy in particles. Not surprisingly, Heisenberg accords with Derrida and de Man on the uncertainty of language. According to Heisenberg, “the problem of language here is very serious. All the words or concepts we use to describe ordinary physical object, such as position, velocity, color, size and so on, become indefinite and problematic" (qtd. in Christian 516). The reading strategy based on the approach just mentioned could be applied to Sam Shepard’s True West and Buried Child and Luigi Pirandello’s Six Characters in Search of an Author and It Is So! so as to trace what these texts have to say about indeterminacy .
E. Review of Related Literature
Paul de Man (Routledge Critical Thinkers) (2001) by Martin Mc Quillan demonstrates de Man's ideas concerning literature. It explains what de Man’s definition of the notion of rhetoric is. De Man changes the meaning of rhetoric from an art of eloquence to figures of speech. He maintains that the "truth value" of an interpretation cannot be made because the figural dimension of language is always at work never letting us to put a fixed meaning to a text. To put it simply, "rhetori c is the use of language constantly referring to something other than itself" (Mac Quillan 19). Chapter two of the book deals with the notion of allegory in de Man's thought where he defines allegory as a literary figure in which one thing refers to something else. For de Man, all narratives are allegories. The interpretation of a narrative refers to something other than itself and therefore causes the meaning of a text to delay, creating indeterminacy in the text.
Philosophy: An Introduction to the Art of Wandering (2009) by James L. Christian is a book on many philosophers' lives and their methods of thought. A part of this huge work is devoted to one’s knowledge of the world with regard to physics. It is actually a survey of the history of physics from classical physics (Newtonian physics) to Einstein's theories of relativity and quantum physics. The book gives us a philosophical approach towards physics and its impact. In classical physics, time and space have an absolute nature different from each other, but in relativity, Einstein demonstrates them as being together. Einstein explains that time has elastic and experiential nature and everybody can have their own definition of the same time different from the others according to their circumstance. Through this, Einstein establishes a new theory that everyone can have their own definition of truth and all definitions are simultaneously true based on the situation observing that event. As Peter Childs in his Modernism argues, based on Einstein's theory, "no physical law is entirely reliable, but that the observer's position will always affect the result, will make the result relative and contingent" (66). Furthermore, the classical notion of cause and effect being defined as causal law gives its place to quantum notion of law as something probable, indeterminate and unpredictable.
"Differance"(1982) is a comprehensive article by Jacques Derrida, which explains the concept of differance, consisting of the words differ and defer, meaning that the words take their meanings from the other words being absent and that the sign always refers to other signs. We are facing floating signifiers, which are never reaching any specific signified. Moreover, in this article Derrida ponders on the letter a in differance. Previously, it was said speech is privileged over writing in that speech conveys a sense of presence and writing that of absence. However, Derrida by the coinage of the word differance, disturbs this presence, arguing that the letter a can only be perceived in writing and it is not palpable in speech. Through this, Derrida deconstructs the long-held belief that speech has priority over writing, saying that each of the two sides of opposition can easily be vice versa.
"On Truth and Lying in an Extra-Moral Sense"(1873) is an essay by Friedrich Nietzsche on the perception of one’s surroundings one designates as truth. In this essay, Nietzsche embarks upon two important points concerning one’s view of the world, both of them illusionary and false. He states that one sees different things outside and translates them within one’s mind and puts a name upon them as these names really reflect the true nature of the objects outside. Furthermore, he argues that one puts the same name for one’s different experiences. One calls today's leaf as it is the same as yesterday's and tomorrow's. Nevertheless, both the leaf and the person as human beings are different in every day of one’s life. In every day of our life we are a different person and our today is different from our yesterday and tomorrow. As Domenico Vittorini argues, "man thinks that he possesses an unchanging unity while in him are intertwined infinite personalities which are in constant state of change. His illusions of today prove to have been the truths of but yesterday, and the truths of today will be the illusions of tomorrow" (294). Accordingly, he comes upon the idea that truth is an army of metaphors whereby he means that what one sees and experiences in the daily life falls upon the domain of language and as the nature of language is arbitrary and figurative, referring one to something other than itself, it does not illustrate the truth and nature of the object being received but the false interpretation one has of it. What one experiences as truth is just the illusion of truth by which one has beguiled themselves to survive.
Sam Shepard: Casebook (1988) by Kimball King is a collection of essays written on Sam Shepard by scholars identified with major critical appraisals of the author's works. Kimball King has selected articles suggesting Shepard's range and complexity, often focusing on his better known achievements, such as his Pulitzer prize-winning Buried Child and True West, the concern of this study. As a case in point, one of the essays included in the book is "Great Expectations: Language and the Problem of Presence in Sam Shepard's Writing" by Ann Wilson, which goes over the problem of language not finding stability in Shepard's plays. Signifiers are mobile and do not signify a fixed meaning. The next one is another article by Bruce J. Mann, "Character Behavior and the Fantastic in Sam Shepard's Buried Child", which explains the indeterminate and unpredictable behavior of the characters in this play.
Rereading Shepard: Contemporary Critical Essays on the Plays of Sam Shepard (1993) is an important collection of essays by key experts written on Shepard . One of the main issues around which this book is developing is Shepard's relation to modernism and postmodernism. This book tries to answer some questions related to the discussion of this thesis such as" is he a postmodernist for whom essence is illusory, origins are irretrievable, an inner hermeneutical core of truth has been eclipsed by textuality and language"? The book seeks to bring a diverse range of viewpoints to the subjects, which are the concern of this study including indeterminacy and uncertainty.
One of the brilliant books compiled on Pirandello is Bloom's Major Dramatists: Luigi Pirandello (2003) , which is a collection of essays on the writer. In this book, a critical analysis of each play of Pirandello is followed by tracing significant themes, patterns, and motifs in the work. Some of the essays indirectly discuss the concepts, which are the focus of this study such as relativity, and indeterminacy that can be traced in Six Characters in Search of an Author and It is so! Each chapter, including a play, comes upon a thorough analysis of the play along with the plot summary and brief explanations about each character, which is of great help to understand the layers of meanings hidden between the lines of the plays, especially those previously mentioned.
The Longman Anthology of Drama and Theatre: A Global Perspective devotes a part to Luigi Pirandello that gives one a very succinct and helpful account of Pirandello's major concerns affected by his life and works. It explains Pirandello's challenge toward the "validity of scientific or objective observation as a means of ascertaining truth" (Green 1466). He maintains that, to Pirandello, truth has a relative nature depending on the observer. Furthermore, the book argues that Pirandello puts his audience in an uncertain condition concerning the nature of truth causing the audience to ask themselves what is truth and what is illusion, as the borderline between illusion and reality, in Pirandello's plays, has been shattered.
F. Limitations and Delimitations
The present study has some limitations and delimitations. As it is obvious, a thorough study of the notion of indeterminacy requires one to cover disparate fields of humanities including those of linguistic, cultural, and psychological, etc. Approaching to comprehensively covering each of these fields needs both time and space, which are out of the capacity of this thesis. Therefore, given the fact that even, the very concept of indeterminacy in poststructuralist approach has a very broad capacity to be worked upon and because of time limitation, a good covering of the study seems to be impossible. In addition, above all, as usual the dearth of sources in this area is a very serious problem. Relating and comparing the works of these popular writers need a lot of study, concerning the indeterminacy and uncertainty in their works. Since the sources which have compared them and the concepts common in their works do not exist, they are to be read and studied individually. This necessitates one to study sources, which are written about them, but unfortunately these sources are hard to find too.
G. Definition of Key Terms
Binary Oppositions: Bressler defines binary oppositions as a "term introduced into literary theory by Jacques Derrida to represent the conceptual oppositions on which he believes Western metaphysics is based, such as light/dark, good/bad, and big/small (334).
Deconstruction:"Deconstruction views texts as subversively undermining an apparent or surface meaning, and it denies any final explication or statement of meaning. It questions the presence of any objective structure or content in a text…. Instead of discovering one ultimate meaning for the text, deconstruction describes the text as always in a state of change, furnishing only provisional meanings" (Guerin 377).
Differance: "A coinage which plays on two meanings of the French differer: difference_ between signs as the basis of signification, and deferment _ deferment of presence by the sign which always refers to another sign, not to the thing itself. Derrida's misspelling can not be heard in French pronunciation; it exists only as written, emphasizing writing and textuality at the expense of speech" (Childs and Fowler 49).
Indeterminacy: G. Graff in the essay Determinacy/I., defines indeterminacy as “A term drawn from poststructuralist crit[ sic.] which suggests the impossibility of stabilizing a text’s (or word’s) meaning. In traditional lit[ sic.].hist[ sic.]., meaning is either inherent in the work or produced by context. But when context itself is drawn into the conditions of textuality, all connections one may make to “determine” meaning are open to the originary instability of lang" [ sic.] (582).
Play: Roger Webster defines the term play as the "idea that language is not authoritatively fixed and singular, but open to a range of meanings which are fluid and can modify” (27).
Poststructuralism: M. A. R Habib explains about the term, poststructuralism that it "denotes a range of critical approaches emerging after the 1960s which took from structuralism its insights into language as a system of signs…. It rejected the centrality of structure , the use of binary oppositions, and structuralism's ahistorical approach, emphasizing instead the indeterminate and polysemic nature of semiotic codes and the arbitrary and constructed nature of the foundations of knowledge" (77).
Relativism: Robert Kirk simply puts what relativity means saying, that "there are several varieties, but the underlying idea is that there is no such thing as truth independent of point of view"(183).
Rhetoric: Mac Quillan explains that in the past rhetoric was regarded as an art of eloquence but the current meaning of rhetoric is associated with the "collective name" for the tropes and figures of speech (17).
Signifier and Signified: According to Ferdinand de Saussure, “Each sign in language is a union of signifier (a sound image and its graphic equivalent) and a signified (the referent; the concept referred to)” (Cuddon 829) .
Supplement:"The exact relationship between light and darkness, Derrida asserts, is not clear. Derrida uses the term supplement to refer to the unstable relationship between the two elements coined in this hierarchy. Rather than being two totally separate entities, light and dark supplement each other… each term thus helps define the other and is necessary for the other to exist" (Bressler 363).
Uncertainty Principle: Stephan Hawking defines Uncertainty Principle as "the principle formulated by Heisenberg that one never be exactly sure of both the position and the velocity of a particle. The more accurately one knows the one, the less accurately one can know the other"(Hawking 208).
Undecidability: is “a term used by deconstruction and other postmodern critics to decree that a text’s meaning is always in flux, never final. Accordingly, foreclosure of meaning for any text is impossible” (Bressler 366).
II Poststructuralism and Indeterminacy
A. Derrida and Birth of Differances of Meaning
From Plato to structuralism, it has been perceived that speech is privileged over writing since it guarantees the fullness of the sense of authors or speakers' presence that Derrida calls phonocentricism. Speech appears as an assurance that the fullness of meaning is possible as we can always see the living speaker behind the voice or speech and when she or he is speaking, s/he has access to his or her own idea. S/he understands both the signifier (sound image) and the signified (mental concept) as the origin of speech. Therefore, s/he has a full and fixed presence. We have always yearned to be conscious of our own mind and the origin of our thought as Rene Descartes (1596-1650) claimed, "cogito, ergo sum" (I think therefore I am). In this reference to Descartes, we can see that he thought we could recognize human mind to perceive the reality of the world as unshakable. Later on, we come upon Ferdinand de Saussure (1857-1913) who asserts that in language there are only differences and that words are signs made up of two parts: the signifier (the written or spoken mark) and signified (a concept). For each signifier there is a signified and each signifier has a separate identity. The relation between these two is also arbitrary and conventional. Words hail their existence through difference. As a case in point, hat is hat because it is not mat. A word receives its meaning because it is not another word. It denotes that the meaning of a word is not present in itself and instead words signify as much from what they are not. Thus, when in each word there is the existence of another word, no word can give us a distinct and fixed meaning of the word since the word contains other words in itself. Jacques Derrida calls this trace. As Thomas A. Schmitz puts it, "absent signs leave their trace in what is present; they are there and not there at the same time" (119). Trace prevents meaning from being fully present. According to Madan Sarup, the meaning of a sign, for Derrida, emanates from the other sign, which is forever absent. This other sign is not present in itself and always defers like answering to a child's question or definition of a word in a dictionary, one sign leads to another sign (33). Every word in a language carries within itself the traces of all other words (absent words). Accordingly, it promises us to receive full meaning of a word but it always defers delivering it by referring us from one absent trace to the next. Whereas for Saussure, sign is established from signifier and signified and each has a separate identity, for Derrida there is no present signified as it is always deferred and instead we are facing the process of signification in which each sign refers to the other signs preventing the stability of signified and meaning. Derrida, then, coined the word Differance for this play of differences, which keeps deferring the presence of meaning and makes reaching its fullness impossible. The word Differance is not understood completely until it is written because its ance is not prominent in oral production of the sound. It is just in its written form that we can see the difference. The word differance is derived from the word differer, meaning to differ, to be different from, as well as to defer, to postpone and to delay, the deferment of meaning which is always promised but never fulfilled. A sign through difference always refers to other signs and it is not self-definable. We know the meaning of a word by relating the word to the other words. We are just dealing with the plays of sign in which no sign has a determinate meaning but always defers. There is just a process of signification. M. H. Abrams embarks upon the process of signification in his essay " Deconstructive Angel", saying that
Any attempt to define and interpret the signification of a sign or chain of signs consists
in nothing more than the interpreter's putting in its place another sign or chain of signs
, 'sign substitution', whose self-effacing traces merely defer laterally, from substitution
to substitution, the fixed and present meaning ( or the signified 'presence') we vainly
pursue. The promise that the trace seems to offer of a presence on which the play of
signification can come to rest in a determinate reference is thus never realizable, but
incessantly deferred, put off, delayed. Derrida coins … differance to indicate the
endless play of generated significances, in which the reference is interminably
We also cannot talk about truth without considering the process of signification and substitution of signs in which no pure definition of a sign or word is granted to us. It is also true about truth of things. How can we recognize truth when we are caught up in a floating world of signifiers. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan in their essay "The Class of 1968- Post structuralism Par Lui-Meme" maintain that "one cannot speak of truth without signification, without those processes of substitution ( of a signifier for a signified) and differentiation (of the signifier from the signified and from other signifiers) … and of non-identity (of the original truth with itself because its self is entirely other than itself, being difference) that are essential in making meaning" (341).
Thus for Derrida this is an usual characteristic of a language that even when we speak as a living presence and being as an identity present to ourselves and hear ourselves, the meaning of our words cannot be fully present to us because it is always deferred through differance inherent in language. Every word via its difference refers to every other word. By this, Derrida makes the monolithic foundation of logocentrism in which living consciousness of the speaking subject plays a dominant role collapses. Derrida in his "differance" (1982) comprehensively defines differance:
Differance is what makes the movement of signification possible only if each element
that is said to be present, appearing on the stage of presence is related to something
other than itself but retains the mark of a past element and already lets itself be
hollowed out by the mark of its relation to a future element. This trace relates no less to
what is called the future than to what is called the past, and it constitutes what is called
the present by this very relation to what is not, to what it absolutely is not; that is , not
even to a past or future considered as a modified present. (394)
1. Binary Oppositions and Supplement
Western metaphysics has brought about many terms, which function as centers regarded as being self-sufficient and self contained. They are called transcendental signified such as good, God; reason, man, truth, etc. Derrida calls this tendency toward center logocentericism. As Bressler argues, this is " the belief that an ultimate reality or center of truth exists and can serve as the basis for all our thoughts and actions" (120). We are at a loss to get ourselves out of the center and logocentric thought. For example, if the concept of self operates as a center and I then find that the unconscious self is the center, I have established a new center. We cannot get out of the center. Having decentered the self, I cause the unconscious to become a new center. By setting up one center, another center is decentered and I have privileged one term over the other. This establishes a binary opposition (conscious/ unconscious). For each center, an opposing center exists. We recognize good because it is not bad, we recognize truth because it is not lie. Derrida is not satisfied with this kind of either/or opposition privileging one term over the other. He decides then to decentre this view of western metaphysics, starting with reversing speech/writing opposition. As mentioned above, speech is privileged over writing because speaker's word is present to us and writing comes secondary and as a copy of speech. Derrida believes that we can decentre terms because truth is so elusive. By reversing any hierarchy, Derrida does not want to establish new hierarchy but to examine the values of both terms. He puts them under erasure that for a moment each of the signifiers is clear and distinctive in that it evaluates both of them simultaneously without considering any definitive meaning for each. As said before, speech is privileged over writing as western metaphysics has thought. Derrida contends that writing contains the same element as speech does. They are both established of a linguistic system. Whatever you say comes from a linguistic system that is even prior to writing. It is called arche writin g. Language and witting are the same then. Language, as Saussure points out, is made of differences. For example, something is good because it is not bad. Accordingly, as soon as you begin to speak, you as a speaking subject fall into the trap of linguistic system of differences and you become a signifying subject since there is something prior to your speech that is arche writing, indicating language as a system of differences. Therefore, there is no stable relation between the binary oppositions. We realize light because there is darkness. Light is not self-sufficient in itself as it gets a part of its meaning from light. They are defined by each other. According to Ryan, "Metaphysics claims that difference arises from identity but in fact difference generates identity" (69). Then he uses the word Supplement to refer to the unstable relation of binary oppositions. Previously, especially by Saussure it was held that supplement is something, which just adds to something else like writing, which was supposed to be secondary and added to speech. In speech/writing oppositions, Derrida argues that not only writings add to speech but also it takes the place of speech. Supplement both adds and replaces. Raman Selden and Peter Widdowson (1993) explain that
Derrida uses the term 'supplement' to convey the unstable relationship between
couplets such as speech/writing. For Rousseau writing is merely a supplement to
speech; it adds something inessential. In French, 'suppleer' also means to substitute'( to
take the place of), and Derrida shows that writing not only supplements but also takes
the place of speech because speech is always already written. All human activity
involves this supplementarity (addition and substitution). (146)
Derrida in his "Structure, Sign and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences" maintains that the overabundance of the signifiers, its supplementary character, is thus the result of a finitude, that is to say, the result of a lack which must be supplemented (100). We can infer from the concept of supplement that every term or idea gains its existence only if it is supplemented by other terms or ideas. No term is complete in itself and unconsciously it refers us to other words to find its meaning. It is only through difference with other words that a word can gain meaning. Therefore, meaning is never present in a word and just acts through difference. Ryan in his another book Literary Theory: A Practical Introduction (2007) mentions that Derrida utilizes the word supplement for the way difference acts to disrupt ''presence and identity''. Anything or any idea can have an identity if it is related by difference to other things or supplemented by the addition of those things and each supplement needs supplementation. It is an interminable process. Supplementation thus undermines that metaphysical belief that ''truth consists of presence of ideas in the mind of self-identical things'' is what we perceive in the world (67). From the quotations given, we can deduce the fact that human activity or what we may call truth has an unstable nature since a part of what we do is contaminated with the other things around through the differences preexisted in language they have with each other and whereby they have got their identity from. Derrida in his Writing and Difference points out about the effect of trace that might be even perceived in life that "life must be thought of as trace before Being may be determined as presence" (255).
B. Paul de Man and Rhetoric
Unlike Derrida whose attention aims at semiology, grammatology, sign, difference, play, structure, etc., Paul de Man is not explicitly obsessed with such terms. The dominant words in his terminology are language and rhetoric and similar to Derrida, de Man claims "logic, grammar, and rhetoric are not merely different aspects of language, but enter into conflict with one another, thus producing undecidabilities or aporias. These are responsible for the unreadability of text" (Peter V. Zima 95). Of course, before de Man Nietzsche has talked about rhetoric in which he has shifted the study of rhetoric from an art of eloquence to the theory of tropes and figures. Like New Criticism, American deconstruction develops a text-oriented theory in which they continue, in many ways, the tradition of close reading. Nevertheless, in contrast to the new critics, the American followers of Derrida do not aim to expose the semantic or syntactic coherence of the text, but focuses on its ambivalences, contradictions, and aporias and also unlike the new critics, de Man does not go beyond a text to interpret it.
Rhetoric is an art of a speaker who through using language persuades others. This meaning of language has caused rhetoric to be associated with false, showy, or artificial uses of language but the current meaning is the name for the tropes or figures of speech like metaphor and metanomy. Thus, rhetoric is the use of language referring to something other than itself. De Man challenges this view of language contending that all language is rhetorical. In relation to what de Man believes, we cannot rely on our interpretation since we are always confronting with figural language causing the meaning of a text to delay. This figural language does not refer to one single meaning but to a chain of meanings as rhetoric does not refer to a presupposed or fixed thing and meaning but to something else and thereby making language very difficult to understand. Martin Mcqillan sums up the theory of de Man that, "figural language does not suppose a single meaning, which has no authoritative centre; therefore, because rhetoric by definition does not refer to a single or fixed meaning, the interpretation of rhetoric cannot lead to set readings with essential centers" (18). Neither the reader nor the author is aware of the meaning of a text because every text is figurative referring us to something other than itself. For that reason, our reading is misreading. We cannot be sure of what we say, as it is a characteristic of language over which we have no control. The ''truth value'' of our interpretation or (mis)reading cannot be decided as the figures of speech always interfere frustrating us to arrive at a fixed meaning of a text. By the time, the rhetorical language is at work the readability of a text for producing a single meaning is put into question and in that way preventing us from placing a limit on the meaning and closure on the text. As Zima puts it, "Our reading aiming at unity and fulfillment of meaning is ultimately subverted by the rhetorical elements of language" (89).
Figural language does not suppose a single meaning but makes reference to a chain of meanings. Thus, our reading is not reading but a misreading as far as our reading is open to the unlimited meanings of a text. This might not be pleasant to know that even our perception of the world around us would fall into the trap of figurative language and then misinterpret it. "In so far as figurality is a characteristic of language, it also determines the way we talk and the way we think" (Mcqillan 19). We are always engaged within language while interpreting and perceiving the world and "it is the effects of language and rhetoric that prevent a direct representation of the real" (Selden and Widdowson 152). There is no end to the task of reading and this is a tragic condition of human beings that we think we are true of our judgment and interpretation whereas it is all figures of speech, which lead us to misinterpreting the world. Therefore, our view and perception toward the world is also "figurative and cannot escape figurality" and thereby in this way our understanding of the world "refuses to accept a desire for stable or single meaning" (Mcqillan 19). We are always preoccupied with figures of speech even in our daily life. Hence, any interpretation or reading of a text and the world is misreading, as our reading is an ongoing process always referring to something else. We identify the world around us figuratively; and as a result, no stable and accurate definition of the events is given to us. We are in a flow of misinterpretation.
- Quote paper
- Mehdi Sepehrmanesh (Author), 2011, Shepard's and Pirandello's Selected Works as Indeterminate Texts: A poststructuralist Study, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/197772