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Derrida on the Convention of Textual Spacing

Mark Michael Raftery-Skehan


This paper focuses on various textual elements in prose writing (footnotes, titles, and prefaces) such as they determine, and are determined by, the textual spacing of the page. Far from functioning in the way that the typographical, syntactical spaces between words do, or from replicating the pauses punctuating words in speech, such spacing is singularly and irreducibly textual. Functioning like non-phonetic marks such as parentheses, or expressing relations of hierarchy (as between footnote and text), textual spacing’s manifold functions belie their pristine blankness. I look at this textual spacing of the preface, title, and footnote, as its orthodox and deviational modes of functioning come to light in certain of Derrida’s readings. A second phase of analysis focuses on the unconventional spatial organization of certain of Derrida’s own texts—on his juxtaposition of cited texts in a determinate spatial configuration, and his composing of a book comprising two columns facing one another. To make sense of such gestures in the face of the derision they can occasion, I have recourse not, as one might, to French modernist art’s ostentatious engagement and display of its own material conditions, but to the conventional exploitation of textual space as analyzed in the first section devoted to the spacing of footnotes, prefaces, and so on. I conclude Derrida’s gestures to continue the tradition in which prose writing has innovatively availed of textual space to institute such conventional textual components as footnotes, prefaces, and titles—components integral to the apparatus of “the book” that gives material form to or “realizes” the logos. Derrida’s gestures are thus to be judged, not on the basis of the bemusement we might feel at an instance and mode of textual spacing that falls under no familiar convention, but only vis-à-vis their deconstruction of the text as an exhaustible totality of sense, and their visually attesting to the intertextuality interwoven in any text’s composition.


Derrida; Hegel; Mallarmé; deconstruction; phonocentrism; textual spacing; grammatology

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