Differance, No-self and ecological interconnectedness

In Buddhism, the understanding is that there is no-self (anatman), or rather, what we believe as the self is not what it seems to be. Put in another way, there is no concept of Soul as in the Western sense. And also because there is no belief in a soul there is no final resting place like Heaven. Life just extinguishes (nirvana). The Buddha came to this conclusion through thorough analysis of the conditions of life.

But if there is no Soul and Heaven then who or what is it that gives us our identity and purpose? It is a loaded assumption, of course, that there needs to be either or both in order to exist, much like the meaning of a word.

Jacques Derrida, that Deconstructionist, in his study of the structural linguistics of Saussure came up with the concept of differance. The spelling is not a mistake but an invented word to describe something which had no construction until then (Deconstructionists will tell you it is a non-concept). It is pronounced (in French at least) the same as ‘difference’, the word it relates, but also differs, to it at the same time. It is also related to ‘defer’ in meaning. Playful was this man.

Saussure had brought to light two important properties of language. First, is that a word (signifier) and the thing it represents (signified) are completely arbitrary (see sign). There is no reason why any word should represent any object. If that be the case then the name of an object would be same in all languages. But there is no such determination in language. Some may argue that certain words are imitations of the object or concept (eg. gong, bang) but even then this does not determine that it will be the same across languages.

The second property is that a word gains its identity from its difference to other words. A symbol, therefore, only means something because it is in a system of signs. So, for example, to add an extra letter to English alphabet would mean nothing unless it plays a role within the system of the English language. Similarly to introduce a new word into a language doesn’t guarantee its use. That can only be done through agreement by at least two people of the language in question.

What Derrida did with this structural linguistic concept was to take it to its logical conclusion. So if there is nothing but differences within the system, it must necessarily mean that they do not have an inherit meaning or definition. And this is what is meant by Derrida when he says meaning is ‘deferred’, that words cannot come to full and independent meaning. He says words are forever partially marked by absence.

But, as far as I can tell, the Derrida’s concept of differance was only limited to the study of signifiers, or words. It seems logical, to me, to extent this also to the entire system of signifieds, to see meaning as created from the difference between all objects.

And so, if we extend this to the concept of No-self and see it is like the concept of differance, we will see they are similar in that they both believe that no internal meaning is possible. Or to go by the deconstruction logic, what we call the self relies on everything else for its definition.

And in a similar vein interconnectedness in ecology works in the same way, that nothing independently exists, but that everything is part of the intricate web of life. All three areas of thought seem to have a commonality. They dif(f)er only by their choice of words or path to the conclusion.

2 thoughts on “Differance, No-self and ecological interconnectedness

  1. Dan

    would like to write a paper on Derrida and sustainability, but not finding much. Any sugggestions?

    Reply

Thanks for the comments.

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