What Derrida Means When He Talks About Meaning

What the hell does this even mean???

“Meaning” is a multivalent term, which means that any attempt to discuss it meaningfully will be fraught with difficulty. Jacques Derrida makes a similar point when he asks, “Is it certain that to the word communication corresponds a concept that is unique, univocal, rigorously controllable, and transmittable: in a word, communicable?” Yet difficulty doesn’t entail impossibility. In the present paper, I wish to outline several distinctions that cut across the nebulous concept of “meaning” and which serve to alleviate some of its thorniness. First, we need to differentiate between (a) semantic meaning (often called “literal meaning”), (b) communicative meaning (which involves a speaker’s intentions) and (c) informative meaning (the non-semantic and non-communicative content expressed by an utterance). Second, we ought to distinguish between issues of epistemology (truth, certainty, etc.) and those of semiology proper.

In light of these distinctions, the Derridean account of meaning—insofar as it’s articulated in “Signature Event Context”—loses much of its initial unintelligibility. Specifically, it appears that the purported disjunction between meaning and a speaker’s intentions only holds with regards to semantic meaning. And even then, such a claim needs to be qualified. In what follows, I will first discuss the importance of separating semiology from epistemology. Next, I will delineate the notions of semantic, communicative and informative meaning. Finally, I will investigate the relationship between meaning and a speaker’s intentions.




You entered our lives like a gigue and departed
Just as quick, the echoes sounding
Naked rooms: where you’d meet us, bounding
To the door to greet us; broken-hearted,
I recall you, Poe, as a warm, soft weight,
In nighttime rounds across the bed;
“The happiest cat in the world,” I’d said,
A flimsy glove tossed at the foot of fate.
For too bright you burned and now, an afterimage,
You’ve astonished us with grief and rage;
So tender me this final privilege:
Inscribe my heart as words upon the page.

Song of (de)liberation

The dream of every cell is to become two cells.
—François Jacob

O eyes, I gouge you blind
O ears, I prick your resonate drums with rusty needles
O nose, I plug your oozy channels with pitch and gum
O tongue, I scrape the buds from off your soggy back
And you, exasperating nerves:
I deaden you with mercury, arsenic & lead

And so with sightless eyes
And soundless ears
And scentless nose
And tasteless tongue
I direct my anesthetized gaze out at the world:

Savouring the spastic sputterings
Spewed forth by these most senseless of receptors

And to bring my purposelessness to a close
I will engage an accomplice
(Whom I’ve instructed earlier)
To sever my genitals, balls and all

Dispassionate fate, I throw down the gauntlet:
Explain this sorry wad of flesh, blood, fat & bone!
Explain the one who snubs the hypocrisy of your mechanical imperative!

INTERVIEW: Scuba (Paul Rose)


Originally published in BeatRoute Magazine.

“At the time, I just wanted to do something different,” says Paul Roseaka Scubaexplaining his move away from dark UK bass music and toward techno and house. “Very early on in the dubstep thingI guess just as it was becoming popular, actuallyI didn’t want to do it anymore, which from a career perspective was probably a bad idea. But you’ve got to do what you feel like, I guess.”

Rose’s first two recordsA Mutual Antipathy (2008) and Triangulation (2010)were both classic exercises in English gloom. But to the puzzlement of many long-time fans, he followed these up with a string of dancy, tech-infused releases, culminating in the aptly titled Personality LP (2012). (more…)