chapter  16
8 Pages


WithNigel Thrift

Now ‘discourse’ is, of course, a notoriously tricky term and (thankfully) I do not have the space to go into all the twists and turns of the debate. But one thing is certain, the assertion that discourse constitutes or inscribes its object, and that there is no outside to language, is now a commonplace. Even so, when it comes to it, surprisingly large numbers of discourse theorists do still work, explicitly or implicitly, with a linguistic model of sign and referent (or expression and content), and so tend to argue that the world cannot be considered to be a purely discursive construction. For example, that apparent Derridean, Drucilla Cornell (1992:1) argues that ‘very simply, reality is not interpretation all the way down’. Even the current doyenne of discourse theorists, Judith Butler (1993:68), argues that ‘it is not the case that everything including materiality, is always already language’. (Though Butler’s position is more nuanced than this statement suggests; Kirby (1997:126) argues that Butler still works with a model of the split-however performative-between sign and referent, thereby intervening only on to ‘the surface of the surface because she assumes that the differentiation of contour-ing is given by/in signification’.)

In other words, in many works on discourse representation is continually smuggled back in and all kinds of displaced ghosts and phantoms therefore still haunt this work. Perhaps, then, it may be time to go back to Derrida who, in a sense, tried to mix up sign and referent through a notion of writing which moved beyond the semiological so that ‘nature scribbles or flesh reads’,

some sense that word and flesh are utterly implicated, not because ‘flesh’ is actually a word that moderates the fact of what is being referred to, but because the entity of a word, the identity of a sign, the system of language, and the domain of culture-none of these are autonomously enclosed upon themselves. Rather they are all emergent within a force field of differentiations that has no exteriority in any final sense.