Derrida and Seng-Zhao: Linguistic and Philosophical Deconstruction
By Cai Zongqi

Philosophy East and West
Vol. 43, No. 3
(July 1993)
pp. 389-404

Copyright 1970 by University of Hawaii Press
Hawaii, USA


 

 

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Contemporary Western deconstructive philosophy and Maadhyamika Buddhism are, historically and geographically, far apart from each other. One grew out of the "beyond-thinking" of the French philosopher Jacques Derrida around the late 1960s. The other was founded by the Indian thinker Naagaarjuna (ca. 100-200) and established in China by Seng-zhao (374-414), and flourished in Korea from the sixth to the fifteenth century and in Japan from the seventh to the twelfth century. [1] However, there exist many important parallels in method, strategy, and rationale between these two philosophical traditions. Recently, a number of scholars have discovered significant parallels in the Derridean negation and the Maadhyamika prasa^nga (reductio ad absurdum), and carefully compared the logic of negativity at work in both traditions. [2] Here, we will turn our attention to the hitherto unexplored parallels in Derridean and Maadhyamika deconstructive use of language. [3] First, we will examine how Derrida and Seng-zhao, the founder of Chinese Maadhyamika, perform lexical-syntactical deconstructions in their philosophical writings. [4] Then, we will consider how Derrida and Seng-zhao use their lexical-syntactical deconstructions to demonstrate the impossibility of claiming ontological-theological (hereafter ontotheological) essence in and/or through language, and how they proceed to double-negate Name-reifying and Matter-reifying ontotheologies in their respective traditions. Lastly, we will observe how Derrida and Seng-zhao theorize about their double negation in similar terms of neither/nor but pursue their deconstructive enterprises along different paths.

 

I. Lexical-Syntactical Deconstruction: Derrida's Word Game and Seng-zhao's Word Maze

    Derrida's handling of words has often been compared to a sleight of hand. In his writings, Derrida plays with words the way a magician plays with his objects. He takes a special delight in juggling opposite meanings within a word and creating a dizzying illusion of presence and absence, affirmation and denial. To figure out the secrets of his word game, let us now look at the ways he plays meanings off against each other at the typographic, morphological, orthographic, semantic, etymological, and syntactic levels.

    Derrida's typographic deconstruction is the most eye-catching or "eye-twitching" of all his word games. When he writes the words "writing," "encasing," and "screening" as "wriTing," "encAsing," and "screeNing," [5] he immediately puts their conceptual meanings sou rature (under erasure). With these deliberately misplaced capitalizations, Derrida

 

 

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not only delays our recognition of these words, but also injects doubt into our mind as to whether these words are meant to mean what they ordinarily mean. As we cannot figure out what "Ting," "Asing," and "Ning" stand for, we are left to assume that these embedded nonsensible signs function like an overstrike ("writing," "encasing," and "screening") -- making these words signify simultaneously what they do and do not mean under normal circumstances.

    Derrida's morphological deconstruction is less visually conspicuous but more thought-provoking. At the mention of morphological deconstruction, we immediately think of the very name by which Derrida prefers to let his philosophy be known. The word deconstruct results from a combination of two opposing morphemes: "de" (to undo, to destroy) and "construct" (to do, to build). [6] Violently yoked together, these two opposing morphemes come under a more dramatic kind of erasure than typographical deconstruction. Our response to this word, when first heard, is a dramatic sense of tension arising from a bizarre coexistence of destructive and constructive forces, a sense hitherto unconceptualized by any existing words. To bring our attention to the tension of opposite meanings latent in morphology, Derrida does not merely cast opposite morphemes into a new word like "deconstruct." More often, he hyphenates or brackets conflictual morphemes of an existing word, and thereby compels us to perceive the word not as a lifeless concept but as a vortex of conflicting meanings. For instance, in his Dissemination, he hyphenates the two morphemes of the word "preface," and discusses conflicts between "pre" and "face" in respect of temporal sequence. Then, he associates "pre-face" with its pseudosynonym "pre-text" and conceives of a conflict between a substitution and an original implicated in the two morphemes of "pre-face." [7]

    Derrida's orthographic deconstruction is, of course, best represented by his well-known coinage of differance. As we shall discuss the significance of differance in section II, we can move on to consider Derrida's semantic deconstruction. To put words sous rature, Derrida exploits the semantic discrepancies as much as he manipulates morphological contrariety. If a word contains discrepant meanings within itself, he seeks to bring them into our consciousness. By so doing, he hopes to put us on guard against letting the word be overdetermined at the expense of its double entendre. His analysis of the opposite meanings of "to break" and "to join" in the French word la brisure is a typical example:

you have, I suppose, dreamt of finding a single word for designating difference and articulation. I have perhaps located it by chance in Robert's Dictionary].... This word is brisure [joint, break]" -- broken, cracked part. Cf. breach, crack, fracture, fault, split, fragment, [breche, cassure, fracture, faille, fente, fragment.] -- Hinged articulation of two parts of wood-or metal-work. The hinge, the brisure [folding-joint] of a shutter. Cf. joint." [8]

 

 

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   To accentuate a word's semantic contrariness, Derrida often goes beyond its common usage and digs into its rich semantic sediments within writings of disparate types and different times. It is often a formidable task to track down such a semantic investigation because it threads through a great many texts without following a predetermined route. A case in point is his semantic investigation of the Greek word pharmakon in his lengthy essay "Plate's Pharmacy," in Dissemination. He starts with the undecidability of the word between "remedy" and "drug," "cure" and "poison." Then, by way of an anagrammatical twist, he goes into the mythical figure "Pharmaricja" and the word "pharmakeos" (sorcerer, magician). In the course of this semantic investigation, he pursues the manifold meanings of pharmakon through "such 'other' domains as medicine, painting, politics, farming, law, sexuality, festivity, and family relations." [9] The result is a startling revelation of pharmakon's double entendre pertaining to a wide range of philosophical issues such as speech and writing, literal and figurative meanings, and paternity and language.

    Such a rigorous semantic deconstruction seems already to have crossed the boundary of semantics into the field of etymology. To expose the "in-tension" of conflictual forces within a word, Derrida often avails himself of etymological deconstruction. He traces a word to its etymological roots of opposite import and thus invalidates the monolithic conceptualization of the word in question. For instance, he traces his neologism archie on the one hand to the Greek arche, meaning foundation, order, and principles (as reserved in words like architecture and hierarchy), and on the other to the Greek aporia, meaning excess resistant to order or logic. [10] Notably, this etymological deconstruction attests to the coarising of order and disorder, passion and logic. Like many other words of similar "in-tension," archia becomes a prized deconstructive term for Derrida.

    Derrida's syntactical deconstructions are far less frequent and far less varied than his lexical deconstructions. They are usually intended to enhance the effects of lexical deconstructions. For instance, to drive home the significance of his orthographic deconstruction, Derrida deliberately deconstructs the syntax of his concluding statement in his seminal essay "Differance":

Such is the question: the alliance of speech and Being in the unique word, in the finally proper name. And such is the question inscribed in the simulated affirmation of differance It bears (on) each member of this sentence: "Being/speaks always and everywhere/throughout/language." [11]

When he cuts his concluding statement into pieces, Derrida virtually destroys its syntax and what is inherent in it -- a hierarchical order of subject-predicate-object. As a result, the lexical elements get freed from the binding syntax and become equal, free-floating components. These

 

 

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lexical elements may easily exchange positions and bring forth meanings contradictory to that of the original syntax:

language/throughout/always and everywhere/speaks/Being
Being/speaks/language/always and everywhere/throughout/

Insofar as this mangled syntax results in such heterogeneous, opposite meanings, it may very well be assumed to reaffirm the significance of differance: an exposure of the pluralistic, contradictory import within any concept and a proof of the impossibility of self-presence within language. Indeed, this deconstructed sentence deals with none other than the issue of language and Being. Just as "differance" shows Being (signified) always to be deferred in time and differentiated in space by language (signifier), this deconstructed syntax enacts a play of signifier and signified caused by that ineluctable gap in space and time. Indeed, the syntactical interchangeability of "Being/speaks/language/..." and "language/speaks/ Being..." aptly highlights Derrida's deconstructive conception of Being. When he casts Being into this deconstructed syntax, he intends to demonstrate that Being is not a self-present, transcendental signified lodged in the traditional copula syntax (Being is...) of an ontotheological discourse. For Derrida, Being is nothing more than a signifier that "speaks/language" -- speaking and re-speaking, writing and rewriting itself perpetually and indeterminately like differance. Moreover, the syntactical interchangeability of "Being/speaks/language/..." and "language/speaks/Being..." emblemizes the infinite circularity in the movement of Being as a sign.

    Now, let us examine how words and syntaxes are handled in the writings of Seng-zhao. In the spirit of Maadhyamika deconstruction, Seng-zhao seeks to break the conceptual confines of the Chinese language just as Derrida does those of the French language. Many Chinese characters (zi) can function independently as meaningful, self-contained words or combine with other characters, often those of their opposite import, to form a binome (shuang-yin zi), a rough equivalent of a compound word in a Western language. For example, the characters fang and yuan, when alone, denote "square(ness)" and "circle(ness)," but, when combined as a binome (fang-yuan), mean literally "area" or "scope". To give another example, the characters chang and duan denote "length(y)iness" and "short(ness)," respectively, but together they form a binome, changduan indicating measurement of length. To a Derridean deconstructionist, these binomes of "in-tension" would be nonphonetic differance, which disproves the assumption that words contain fixed, singular signifieds. One can imagine that the Derridean deconstructionist would not spare this wonderful opportunity to perform a sleight of hand between square and circle and even continue onto the metaphorical implications of "square(ness)" and "circle(ness)." [12] For Seng-zhao, however, there is a

 

 

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much simpler approach to destroying the conceptuality or an ontotheological term. Instead of reviving the dormant conflicts within an already conceptualized binome like fang-yuan or chang-duan, he seeks to split a conceptual term into a new binome pregnant with contradictions. For instance, to demolish the concepts of existence (you) and nonexistence (wu), he simply renders them into binomes by combining them with the character fei, which can be taken as a prefix ("non") or a verb ("to be not") depending on the context and the way one interprets it. Whatever its grammatical function, the added character fei causes the monolithic you and wu to split into polarized binomes:

you ("exist") -- fei you ("not exist")
wu ("nonexist") -- fei wu ("not nonexist") [13]

This kind of concept-splitting immediately reminds us of Derrida's yoking of opposite concepts: "good/evil, intelligible/sensible, high/low, life/death." [14] As compared with Derrida's practice, Seng-zhao's seems to produce a greater disorienting effect because the split parts collide with one another head-on and result in a total cancellation. His "not nonexist" would probably inhibit one's capacity to conceptualize more effectively than Derrida's lexical deconstructions. However, while Seng-zhao more successfully taxes our conceptuality in his concept-splitting, he does not utilize varied means of lexical deconstruction as does Derrida.

    To realize the extent to which Seng-zhao's lexical deconstruction plays havoc with our mind, we must show how Seng-zhao's conceptsplitting binomes, already disorienting enough, become even more so in a deliberately ambiguous syntax. The following sentence, Seng-zhao's rebuttal of the idea of Original Nonexistence, is a typical example:

[N]onexistence means having no real (absolute) existence, and that no nonexistence means having no real (absolute) nonexistence.... Why must having nonexistence be interpreted to mean that [this particular thing] has no existence, and not nonexistence be interpreted to mean that that [particular thing] has no nonexistence? [15]

Even though this English translation has smoothed out all the syntactical ambiguities in the original text, it still strikes us as thought-twisting on account of the frequent recurrence of convoluted words like "no nonexistence." When the syntactical ambiguities are restored in the following word-for-word translation, this passage becomes nearly incomprehensible:

gu(1) fei(2) you(3) you(4) ji(5) fei(7) wu(8) wu(9) ji(10) wu(11)
thus not exist exist namely nonexist not nonexist nonexist namely nonexist

...zhi(12) yi(13) fei(14) you(15) fei(16) zhe(17) you(18) fei(19) wu(20) fei(21) zhen(22) wu(23) er(24)
...simply with not exist not real exist not nonexist not real nonexist (exclamatory particle) [16]

 

 

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Of the twenty-four characters numbered by us for convenient reference, there are only six particles, on which the classical Chinese language depends for the formation of a syntax. Among these six particles, there are five "adverbial" particles (nos. 1, 5, 10, 12, 13), roughly corresponding to the English "thus," "namely," "simply," and "with" and one exclamatory particle (no. 24). Only the exclamatory particle er can be regarded as a final particle that functions to mark off a syntactic unit like a comma or period. [17] With the syntax-forming particles kept to a minimum, this passage practically degenerates -- in terms of syntactic logic -- into an almost orderless recurrence of these three characters: fei ("non"), you ("exist"), and wu ("nonexist").

    So arranged, these three words produce a good effect of self-deconstruction. First, the coupling of fei with you and wu creates the four concept-splitting binomes (nos. 2-3, 7-8, 14-15, 19-20) whose features we have already discussed. Then, these four binomes which are, once made, on the threshold of conceptualization are immediately deconstructed by virtue of contiguity with characters identical with their components. For instance, when the first binome fei you (nos. 2-3) is followed by you (no. 4), and when the second binome fei wu (nos. 7-8) is flanked on both sides by wu (nos. 6, 9), it becomes rather difficult to disentangle these binomes from the adjacent characters and to conceptualize them -- even if we already know which are binomes and which are not. Compounding the difficulty is the fact that many of these characters can function either as a noun or a verb. Reading such a passage in the original, even an initiated reader may find his or her conceptual understanding held in check by Seng-zhao's semantic-lexical deconstructions. Indeed, one often gets entangled in a maze of words -- the semantic concatenation of which one must sort out and the syntactic functions of which one must decipher before one can ever get out. This word maze of Seng-zhao's undoubtedly measures up to "a grouped textual field," [18] the ideal of Derridean lexical-syntactical deconstruction. Like Derrida's word game, it is deliberately construed for the purpose of dislodging our habits of conceptual thinking, and it usually occurs when Seng-zhao sets himself to deconceptualize important philosophical terms. [19] What distinguishes it from Derrida's word game is an unwillingness to indulge in prolix, convoluted wordplay and take such textual proliferation as a substitute for all existing modes of ontotheological inquiry. For Seng-zhao, lexical-syntactic deconstructions are merely a means of breaking through conceptuality and leading to a transformed state of consciousness. This essential difference between Derrida's word game and Seng-zhao's word maze will become clearer as we proceed to examine the different philosophical agendas behind these two kinds of deconstructive textual practices.

 

 

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II. Critiques of Ontotheologies: Derrida's "Double Seance" and Seng-zhao's Double Negation

   Derrida's word game and Seng-zhao's word maze exploit the codependence of opposite elements at different levels of language. Through such lexical-syntactical deconstructions, Derrida and Seng-zhao aim to demonstrate that language is not a matter of a signifier presencing a signified as a self-identity, but an interplay of opposing yet mutually dependent signifiers. According to both Derrida and Seng-zhao, this codependence in linguistic signification precludes the possibility of a pure self-presence not only in language per se but in all language-thought constructs in the domain of philosophy and religion. They believe that all claims of ontotheological essence in and/or through language are necessarily invalid insofar as they go against the codependent rule of linguistic signification. By virtue of this reasoning, Derrida and Seng-zhao proceed from linguistic deconstruction to critiques of ontotheologies. Derrida uses the play of a sign to disprove the self-present truth of Being valorized by all Western ontologists and theologians:

the sign is that ill-named thing, the only one, that escapes the instituting question of philosophy: "what is...?" [20]

Here Derrida crosses out the name of Being twice (first calling it "illnamed thing", then overstriking it) and puts the copula sou rature. This is because the rule of a sign forbids our conception of Being as a self-present "thing" or our description of it with a copula. As a sign, "Being" must also signify "Nonbeing(s)." By the same token, the copula "is," once posited as a sign, must denote "is not" as well. Owing to this codependent rule, a sign, Derrida holds, escapes -- and in fact displaces -- the instituting question of "what is...." For him, it is the instituting question "what is Being?" that gives rise to all the wrongheaded pursuits of the phantom of a self-present truth in Western ontotheologies.

    Similarly, Seng-zhao exploits the codependent rule of linguistic signification to demolish all kinds of ascription of self-identity to the Name or Thing found in the Buddhist ontotheological traditions.

[T]he actuality of things cannot be equated with their names, and names in their true meanings cannot be matched by things. This being so, the absolute truth remains tranquil outside of any elucidation through names. How can it be expressed by letters and words?

For Seng-zhao, "name" and "thing" are locked in a conependent relationship of the signifier and the signified, and allow no space for the existence of an absolute truth. When one perceives "thing" as a signified, its actuality cannot be presenced by its signifier, that is, a "name". If, on the contrary, one considers "name" as a signified, its so-called essence

 

 

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cannot be matched by its signifier "things". On the ground of this inevitable gap between "name" and "thing," Seng-zhao argues that all claims of "name" or "thing" as absolute truth are mere illusions and that it is utterly impossible to conceive of an absolute truth in and/or through language. Seng-zhao reiterates this rationale of ontotheological deconstruction when he writes:

If we look for a thing through a name, we shall find that there is no actuality in that thing which would correspond to the name. If we look for the name through a thing, we shall find that the name is not capable of helping us to discover a thing.... As name and actuality do not correspond to each other, where do the myriad things exist? [21]

The way Seng-zhao plays the "name" and "thing" off against each other reminds us of how Derrida exploits the temporal difference and spatial differentiation between the signifier and the signified for the purpose of expunging the reification of either. It is also reminiscent of how Zhuang Zi applies the same rule of codependence to deny the possibility of taking either existence or nonexistence as the ultimate form of reality in the passage cited in note 19. However, while Zhuang Zi and Seng-zhao utilize codependence in the same deconstructive vein, they hold vastly different views of codependence itself. For Zhuang Zi, the rule of codependence is none other than that of yin-yang polarity, which generates and sustains all things and constitutes the operative mode of Tao, the ultimate cosmic principle. For Seng-zhao, codependence is nothing more than a deconstructive tool with which he seeks to dispose of all existing ontotheological positions. The last thing he wants to do is to reify codependence as the ultimate cosmic principle.

    According to both Derrida and Seng-zhao, all ontotheologies err in reifying one side or the other of their respective philosophical dualisms -- the Logos versus Matter, Name versus Thing, Being versus beings, Nonexistence versus Existence, and so forth -- as essence (a transcendental signified) and denigrating the other side as representation (a signifier) . Hence, all Western and Buddhist ontotheologies fall into two opposing camps. Those who valorize "the Logos" or "the Name of Nonexistence" are called idealists in the West and Essentialists in the Buddhist tradition. Those who valorize "Matter" or "Thing" are known as materialists in the West and as Realists in the Buddhist tradition. Both Derrida and Seng-zhao readily apply the codependent rule of linguistic signification to stage a two-pronged attack on these two opposing camps. They launch the first prong against the reification of the logos by the Western idealists and of the Name of nonexistence by the Buddhist Essentialists. They direct the second prong against the counterreification of Matter by the Western materialists and of the Thing by the Buddhist Realists.

    In the opinion of Derrida, all Western idealists from Plato to Heidegger

 

 

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reify the logos on the ground of the "proximity of voice [its phone] and being, of voice and the meaning of being, of voice and the ideality of meaning." [22] As a corollary to this reification of the phone, the signified, they have banished the gram, the corporeal signifier, from the logos. While Plate and later idealists see the reified logos as an intermediary between the divine and the human realms, Derrida sees it as the Achilles' heel of Western idealisms. He believes that as long as one can demonstrate the externality of the logos or, to be exact, its phone, all the ontotheological claims by Western idealists will collapse. For this purpose of ontotheological deconstruction, Derrida coins the word differance, which is on the one hand the nominal form for the French verb differer (which means both "to differ" and "to defer") and on the other a dissimulation of the French noun "difference." First, this neologism calls into question the reification of the phone by Western idealists, because it is not the phone but the gram of differance that makes its meaning understood. If heard but not read in French, differance is bound to be confused with the noun "difference." Thus, differance exposes the false anteriority of the phone and its alleged primacy over the gram. Second, differance spells out the fundamental rule for linguistic signification. A sign cannot exist unless it differs spatially and is deferred temporally from the signified. This ever-receding gap between the signifier and the signified disjoins the alleged fusion of the phone and the ontotheological essence in the logos. Third, through its spatial-temporal opposition, differance reaffirms the codependence of opposite referents as the necessary condition for linguistic signification. The phone can convey the idea of phonetic tenor only through the intimation of the nonphonetic tenor. No word can exist without presupposing the existence of its opposite. That is, A cannot be called A unless A also signifies or implies the existence of non-A. For Derrida, this threefold operation of differance rules out the possibility of taking the logos as the transcendental signified. Differance will condemn all logocentric concepts -- "eidos, arche, telos, energeia, ousia [essence, existence, substance, subject], aletheia, transcendentality, consciousness or conscience, God, man, and so forth" [23] -- to an infinite circularity of signifiers and will render them incapable of presencing a transcendental absolute.

    Derrida holds that all Western materialists counterreify the gram, the corporeal signifier, insofar as they elevate Matter to the status of "an absolute exterior." [24] He argues, "the signifier 'matter' appears to me problematical...when its reinscription cannot avoid making of it a new fundamental principle." [25] Among different forms of materialism (realism, sensualism, empiricism, and so forth), Derrida singles out Marxist doctrine as a typical Matter-reifying philosophy because it has turned Matter into an absolute cosmological and sociohistorical principle. As Matter the signifier has been "reinstituted into a transcendental signified" by Marxists

 

 

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and other materialists, [26] Derrida deems it imperative to deconstruct it through the same operation of differance. "The concept of matter," he writes, "must be marked twice (the others too): in the deconstructed field-this is the phase of overturning -- in the deconstructing text...." [27]

    When he first marks the concept of matter in the deconstructed field, he strives to dismantle the hierachy of the logos over matter established by Western idealists. When he re-marks the concept of matter in the deconstructing text, he aims to overturn the order of matter over the logos ("matter/spirit, matter/ideality, matter/form, etc.") [28] re-instituted by Western materialists. He calls this two-pronged attack on logos-reifying idealisms and Matter-reifying materialisms "double seance" or "double register in grammatological Practice." [29]

    Seng-zhao's double negation of the Buddhist Essentialists and Realists bears an interesting resemblance to Derrida's "double seance." First, Seng-zhao directs his attack on the School of Original Nonexistence propagated by Tao-an (312-385), its Variant School of Original Nonexistence headed by Fa-shen (286-374), and the School of Nonexistence of Mind led by Fa-wen (fl. 374). [30] These are Essentialist schools "whose valuation of Speech and of Names [Non-being] had all the character of religious veneration -- for whom the Word was an eternal positive Ens existing in an eternal union with the things denoted by it." [31] As all these Essentialist schools hypostatize the Name of Nonexistence, Seng-zhao takes them to be "nothing but a talk partial to non-being." [32] Then, he turns around and attacks the School of Matter as It Is represented by Chih Tao-lin (314-366) and other related schools. These are Realist schools which valorize Existence as the eternal Ens -- what Derrida calls "thing, reality or presence in general." Seng-zhao denounces these Realist schools because they do "not understand that matter [including its conditional existence] is really not matter at all." [33]

    According to Waiter Liebenthal, Seng-zhao's two-pronged attack on the School of Non-existence and the School of Matter as It Is "had no relation to Indian Buddhist controversies" (Chao Lun, p. 133), but grew out of the Neo-Taoists' debates on Existence (you) and Nonexistence (wu). [34] In the light of this view, Seng-zhao's double negation should also be understood as a double negation of the Name-reifying Neo-Taoism of Wang Bi (266-249 B.C.) and the Matter-reifying Neo-Taoism of Guo Xiang (d. 312). While Wang Bi hypostatizes the name of Tao of Lao Zi (sixth century B.C.?) as Original Nonexistence (ben-wu), Guo Xiang valorizes the "sell-being-so" (zi-ran) of Zhuang Zi (ca. 399-295 B.C.) as the ultimate Existence in the phenomenal world.

 

III. Pursuits of "Neither/Nor": Different Consequences of Deconstruction@

    Derrida and Seng-zhao not only launch two-pronged attacks on Name-valorizing and Matter-valorizing ontotheologies, but also describe

 

 

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their double negation in similar terms. In Positions, Derrida characterizes his deconstructive terms (pharmakon, supplement, hymen, gram, spacing) as double-negating agents and sums up his double negation as an exercise of "neither/nor":

[T]he pharmakon is neither remedy nor poison, neither good nor evil, neither the inside nor the outside, neither speech nor writing; the supplement is neither a plus nor a minus, neither an outside nor the complement of an inside, neither accident nor essence, etc.; the hymen is neither confusion nor distinction, neither identity nor difference, neither consummation nor virginity, neither the veil nor unveiling, neither the inside nor the outside, etc; the gram is neither a signifier nor a signified, neither a sign nor a thing neither a presence nor an absence, neither a position nor a negation, etc.; spacing is neither space nor time; the incision is neither the incised integrity of a beginning, or of a simple cutting into, nor simple secondarity. Neither/nor, that is simultaneously either or... [35]

Likewise, after his critiques of the reification of "name" and "thing" in the passages cited above, Seng-zhao characterizes the Maadhyamika double negation as "neither this nor that":

The Chung lun [Treatise on the Middle Doctrine, Maadhyamika `saastra, by Nagarjuna] says, "Things are neither this nor that." ... "this" and "that" do not definitely refer to a particular name, but deluded people would believe that they necessarily do. This being the case, [the distinction] between "this" and "that" is from the beginning nonexistent, but to the deluded it is from the beginning not nonexistent. If we realize that "this" and "that" do not exist, is there anything that can be regarded as existent? Thus we know that things are not real; they are from the beginning only temporary names. [36]

In their rigorous pursuits of neither/nor deconstruction, [37] both Derrida and Seng-zhao ineluctably reach a point where a new dualism arises between their deconstructive stance and traditional ontotheological views. Therefore they are compelled to deconstruct their own philosophical positions as well as those of others. Derrida's deconstructive and self-deconstructive practice takes the form of an infinite textual proliferation. Often, he deliberately gets himself "entangled in hundreds of pages of a writing simultaneously insistent and elliptical... carrying off each concept into an interminable chain of differences, surrounding or confusing itself with so many precautions, references, notes, citations, collages, supplements." [38] However, the "non-sense" that results from such verbiage takes on a philosophical meaning of its kind, even though it is intended to negate philosophical meanings and positions. As to how to interpret the meaning of the Derridean "non-sense," critics are quite divided. Many take the meaning to be that of antiphilosophy or even nihilism, and hold Derridean deconstructionism responsible for what they call the fads of denying humanistic values in present-day literary studies.

 

 

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Some are more sympathetic to Derrida's deconstructive enterprise and seek to ascribe a positive philosophical purpose to the Derridean "nonsense." For instance, Coward holds that the Derridean "non-sense" is not an aimless linguistic play, but is "itself an ontological process." [39] While Derrida deconstructs "illusions of permanence, stasis, or presence" superimposed on language, Coward argues, he pursues the dynamic process of becoming of language as "the means for the realization of the whole ('the sign')." [40]

    Whether we interpret the Derridean "non-sense" in a negative or a positive light, we would agree that it is fundamentally different from the kind of "non-sense" arising from Seng-zhao's lexical-syntactical deconstructions. Maadhyamika deconstructions and self-deconstructions follow a clearly directional path, defined by step-by-step advancements and negations of lemmas. The Maadhyamika tetralemma (catu.sko.ti) effects a radical negation of all existing ontotheological positions and, if seen from these positions, represents a "non-sensical" position. When Ji-zang (549-623), the leading Chinese Maadhyamika thinker after Seng-zhao, undertakes the self-deconstruction of this Maadhyamika tetralemma, he continues to follow the path of reductio ad absurdum and reaches a hexalemma: neither-affirmation-nor-denial-of-both- being-and-nonbeing. [41] This hexalemma itself seems to exemplify the most mind-taxing, the most "non-sensical" of the Maadhyamika "non-sense". Unlike Derrida, Maadhyamika Buddhists do not see their deconstructive "non-sense" as a consequence that needs justification. For them, such "non-sense" helps lead to religious enlightenment beyond language and conceptuality. Their deconstructive endeavors are geared to none other than this dawning of Nirvaa.na upon the transcendence of language and conceptual thinking.

 

NOTES

@I wish to thank the three anonymous Philosophy East and West readers for their constructive criticisms and comments on earlier versions of this article.

1 - For a succinct account of the complex pedigree of Maadhyamika in these four countries, see Hsueh-li Cheng, Empty Logic: Maadhyamika Buddhism from Chinese Sources (New York: Philosophical Library, 1984), pp. 9-32. See also Junjiro Takakusu, The Essentials of Buddhist Philosophy, ed. Wing-Tsit Chan and Charles A. Moore (Westport, [Connecticut]: Greenwood, 1974), pp. 96-100. Chinese words are transliterated according to the pinyin system, except for established terms like Tao and for words otherwise transliterated in the titles and citations of published works.

 

 

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2 - See Robert Magliola, Derrida on the Mend (West Lafayette, [Indiana]: Purdue University Press, 1984), pp. 3-129; David Loy, "The Closure of Deconstruction: A Mahaayaana Critique of Derrida," International Philosophical Quarterly 27, no. 105 (1987): 59-80.

3 - At the time of the final revision of this article, Harold Coward's Derrida and Indian Philosophy (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1990) just came out of press. Coward also focuses his attention on the deconstructive philosophy of language in Derridean and Maadhyamika Buddhism as well as other schools of Indian philosophy. He regards his study as an answer to the call by Professor T. R. V. Murti to rethink traditional schools of Indian philosophy from the perspective of language (p. 27).

4 - Seng-zhao accepted, through his half-Indian and half-Kuchen teacher Kumaarajiiva (344-413), the Middle Doctrine of Nagarjuna and laid the cornerstone for the Three Treatise School (San-lun zong), the first systematic Buddhist philosophy in China. The Three Treatises are Naagaarjuna's Maadhyamika `saastra (Treatise on the Middle Doctrine), Dvaada`sanikaaya `saastra (Twelve Gates treatise) and his disciple AAryadeva's `Sata `saastra (One Hundred Verses treatise). Seng-zhao' bestknown works are "The Immutability of Things," "The Emptiness of the Unreal," and "On Praj~naa not Cognizant," collected in a book entitled Zhao-lun. For an interpretive summary of these four essays as a philosophical system, see Fung Yu-lan (Feng You-lan), A History of Chinese Philosophy, trans. Derk Bodde, 2 vols. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1953), 2: 258-270.

5 - These three words make up the subheading for the fifth section in part I of "Dissemination," in Jacques Derrida, Dissemination, trans. Barbara Johnson (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981), p. vi.

6 - When Derrida incorporated his early journal writings into Of Grammatology, he replaced the purely negative term "destruction" with the partially negative and partially positive term "deconstruction." He also considers "deconstruction" preferrable to "desedimentation," another term he tried out before he settled upon "deconstruction."

7 - Cf. Derrida, Dissemination, pp. 7-15.

8 - Jacques Derrida, Of Grammatology, trans. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1974), p. 65.

9 - Barbara Johnson, "Translator's Introduction," in Dissemination, pp. xxiv-xxvi. True to her own wish, her remarks on the essay provide "a kind of roadmap that will detail some of its prominent routes and detours" (p. xxiv) for our understanding of Derrida's semantic investigations.

 

 

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10 - Cf. Jacques Derrida, Writing and Difference, trans. Alan Bass (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978), pp. xvi-xvii.

11 - Jacques Derrida, Margins of Philosophy, trans. Alan Bass (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982), p. 27.

12 - For a discussion of the ontotheological significance of this binome, see Willard Peterson, "Squares and Circles: Mapping the History of Chinese Thought," Journal of History of Ideas 49, no. 1 (1988): 47-60.

13 - You and wu are normally translated as "existence" and "nonexistence." These two English words cannot suggest the verbal quality of these two characters. To bring out their verbal quality, we render them here as "exist" and "nonexist." We render fei as "not" rather than the prefix "non" in order to underline its status as an independent word and its verbal quality.

14- Derrida, Dissemination, pp. 25-26.

15 - "The Emptiness of the Unreal," collected in A Source Book in Chinese Philosophy, ed. Wing-tsit Chan (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1963), p. 352. For different translations, see Chao Lun: The Treatise of Seng-chao, trans. Waiter Liebenthal, 2d rev. ed. (Hong Kong: University of Hong Kong Press, 1968), p. 56; and Three Theses of Seng-zhao, trans. Hsu Fang-cheng, bilingual ed. (Beijing: Chinese Social Sciences Publishing House, 1985), pp. 26-27. Chan's anthology contains translations of only two of Seng-zhao's essays ("The Immutability of Things" and "The Emptiness of the Unreal"). Liebenthal's book is a complete translation of Seng-zhao's writings with copious annotations and citations from the Chinese texts. Despite its incompleteness, Chan's translation has the virtue of being faithful to the original and is adopted for citation in this article.

16 - The Chinese text is cited from Zhao Lun Zhong-wu ji-jie (The Zhong-wu collected annotations to Zhao Lun), ed. Jin Yuan (fl. 1058), collected in Luo Xue-tang xian-sheng quan-ji (Complete works of Mr. Luo Xue-tang), 1st ed., vol. 19 (Taipei: Wenhua, 1968), pp. 8241-8242. For a punctuated version of this passage, see Pen Ji-yu, Han-Tang fo jiao si-xiang lun-ji (Collected essays on Buddhist thought from the Hen to the T'ang dynasties) (Beijing: San-lian, 1963), pp. 209-210.

17 - In classical Chinese, particles function not only to establish syntaxes but also to indicate different kinds of pauses in lieu of punctuation.

18 - Jacques Derrida, Positions, trans. Alan Bass (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1972), p. 42.

19 - Seng-zhao's syntactic deconstruction is probably the most thorough, but definitely not the first to be seen in Chinese philosophical writ-

 

 

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ings. Zhuang Zi seems to deconstruct his syntaxes deliberately for the same purpose of de-hypostatizing you and wu in the following passage: "There is a beginning. There is a not yet beginning to be a beginning. There is a not yet beginning to be a not yet beginning to be a beginning. There is being. There is nonbeing. There is a not yet beginning to nonbeing. There is a not yet beginning to be a not yet beginning to nonbeing. Suddenly there is nonbeing. But I don't know, when it comes to nonbeing, which is really being and which is nonbeing" (The Complete Works of Chuang Tzu, trans. Burton Watson [New York: Columbia University Press, 1968], p. 43). To understand fully the effect of Zhuang Zi's syntactical manipulations, one probably would have to examine this passage in the unpunctuated original.

20 - Derrida, Of Grammatology, pp. 18-19.

21 - Chan, Source Book, p. 356.

22 - Derrida, Of Grammatology, p. 12.

23 - Derrida, Writing and Difference, pp. 279-280.

24 - Derrida, Positions, pp. 64-65.

25 - Ibid.

26 - Ibid.

27 - Ibid., pp. 65-66.

28 - Ibid., p. 66.

29 - Ibid., pp. 42, 35.

30 - For a brief introduction to these three Buddhist Essentialist schools before Seng-zhao, see chap. 20 of Chan, Source Book, pp. 336-342; and the appendix I of Liebenthal, Chao Lun, pp. 133-150. For general studies on the Maadhyamika attack on Buddhist Essentialisms, see G. C. Nayak, "The Maadhyamika Attack on Essentialism: A Critical Appraisal," Philosophy East and West 29, no. 4 (October 1979): 467-490; and Peter G. Fenner, "Candrakiirti's Refutation of Buddhist Idealism," Philosophy East and West 33, no. 3 (July 1983): 251-256.

31 - F. Th. Stcherbatsky, Buddhist Logic, 2 vols. (New York: Dover, 1962), 1:480.

32 - Chan, Source Book, p. 352.

33 - Ibid.

34 - For comments on the correspondences between Wang Bi's Neo-Taoism and Dao-an's School of Original Nonexistence, between Guo Xiang's Neo-Taoism and Zhi Dao-lin's School of Matter as It Is, see

 

 

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Tang Yong-tong, Han-Wei Liang-Jin Nan-Bei-chao fo-jiao shi (History of Chinese Buddhism from 206 B.. to A.D. 589) (Shanghai: Shang-wu, 1938), p. 261.

35 - Derrida, Positions, p. 43.

36 - Chan, Source Book, p. 356.

37 - For comparative studies of the neither/nor deconstructions in the Eastern and Western traditions, see Thomas McEvilley, "Early Greek Philosophy and Maadhyamika," Philosophy East and West 31, no. 2 (April 1981): 141-164; and "Pyrrhonism and Maadhyamika," Philosophy East and West 32, no. 1 (January 1982): 3-36. See also I. W. Mabbett, "Naagaarjuna and Zeno on Motion," Philosophy East and West 34, no. 4 (October 1984). 401-420; and David Dilworth, "Naagaarjuna's Catu.sko.tika and Plato's Parmenides: Grammatological Mappings of a Common Textual Form," Journal of Buddhist Philosophy 2 (1984): 77-104.

38 - Ibid., Philosophy East and West 32:1, p. 14.

39 - Coward, Derrida and Indian Philosophy, p. 140.

40 - Ibid., p. 139.

41 - For a discussion of Ji-zang's doctrine, see Fung Yu-lan, A History of Chinese Philosophy 2: 293-297. I have given a more detailed discussion of Derrida's and Ji-zang's self-deconstructions in my article "Derrida and Maadhyamika Buddhism from Linguistic Deconstruction to Criticism of Onto-theologies," International Philosophical Quarterly 33, no. 130 (1993): 183-195.