I’m no expert in the nuances of French, but it’s always struck me as interesting that Derrida’s La voix et le phénomène was published in English under the title Speech and Phenomena. “Voix” could also be translated “voice,” as it is in a more recently published translation (and doesn’t speech suggest a different book called La parole et le phénomène?). I find this interesting because of a faint difference of meaning between “voice” and “speech,” which for all I know isn’t reflected in the meanings of voix but which anyway seems relevant to the book, and to Derrida’s work. Speech has a stronger connection with language as social and conventional, whereas voice is more embodied. What’s interesting about this distinction is how it reflects the English reception of Derrida’s work, particularly the way in which connecting Derrida with the “linguistic turn” might have occluded important features of his work. I’m thinking particularly here of the importance of phenomenology to Derrida’s early development of his philosophy. The story I got told when I was introduced to Derrida was one which placed Derrida, and post-structuralism more generally, one one side, and the opponent of this side was phenomenology. This kind of direct opposition now seems to me very un-Derridean, and indeed looking again at his early work, it’s clear that the deconstruction of phenomenology is not a rejection of phenomenology, but retains phenomenology with a deconstructive twist. The narrative which set up an opposition between speech and phenomena, or which posited a linguistic turn against phenomenology, however, has had important theoretical ramifications.
Consider Joan Scott’s article, “The Evidence of Experience.” This is, rightly, a classic, with its necessary criticism of positions that neglect the mediation of theory in favour of an appeal to “experience” as an unquestionable foundation. Rather than seeing experience as a foundation, Scott thinks that our analysis can question experience, and ask how we come to experience things in certain ways. In explaining how this analysis would take place, though, Scott continually slips towards a position which distinguishes language and experience and then privileges language. Continue reading “Speech and phenomena”