chapter
Introduction
WithWilliam Myers
Pages 4

Anyone who believes as I do in the strongest possible version of free will, and who hopes to find support for that belief in literature might be expected to dislike the following summary by Terry Eagleton (1983) of the thought of Jacques Derrida. It reads as follows:

nothing is ever fully present in signs: it is an illusion for me to believe that I can ever be fully present to you in what I say or write, because to use signs at all entails that my meaning is always somehow dispersed … Not only my meaning, indeed, but me: since language is something I am made out of, rather than a convenient tool I use, the whole idea that I am a stable, unified entity must also be a fiction …

… [The] Western philosophical tradition, all the way from Plato to Levi-Strauss, has consistently vilified writing as a mere lifeless, alienated form of expression, and consistently celebrated the living voice. Behind this prejudice lies a particular view of ‘man’: man is able … to be in full possession of himself, and to dominate language as a transparent medium of his inmost being …

Just as Western philosophy has been ‘phonocentric’ … so it has also been … ‘logocentric’, committed to a belief in some ultimate word, presence, essence, truth or reality which will act as the foundation of all our thought, language and experience. It has yearned for … the ‘transcendental signifier’ — and for the anchoring, unquestionable meaning to which all our signs can be seen to point (the ‘transcendental signified’). (129–31)