I am fairly uneducated person in philosophy, yet trained in theoretical physics. For irrelevant reasons, I have became very much curious about Sous rature (or under erasure). The concept(or strategy?) which I know near to nothing about it, like things available in the corresponding entry at Wikipedia. But, that does not help me much, which should not surprise professional philosophers or those studying Heidggere. For example, in the opening of the mentioned entry, we read the following passage which the bolded phrase is not clear to me:

Used extensively by Jacques Derrida, it signifies that a word is "inadequate yet necessary";that a particular signifier is not wholly suitable for the concept it represents, but must be used as the constraints of our language offer nothing better.

Perhaps, I am being too ambitious but please, I would like to know

  1. What is this strategy of writing called "Under Erasure" and what is its purposes (if there are any)? What does Heidegger means, when he says "all language is under erasure"

  2. Are there epistemological ground for it or (as I guess) it is independent of epistemology as a general writing strategy should be independent of context)

  3. Are there alternative (quicker) routs/expositions/reference for learning Under Erasure, other than works of Heidegger.

Any help is much appreciated.

  • Where does Heidegger say "all language is under erasure"?
    – jeroenk
    Commented Dec 11, 2014 at 9:10

3 Answers 3


I enjoyed this question (I would upvote it but don't have the needed reputation yet). I'm not a professional philosopher either, but here is my attempt at your three questions:


Under Erasure means that a word is crossed out (literally on the page, as if it were deleted by an editor) but allowed to remain in the final text. This indicates that the word is inadequate, but no better word could be found. It's a deconstructionist technique which calls attention to the limitations and relativity of language.

Language mediates between people and their reality. During this process, language helps create reality as it affects how people 'slice up' their reality by determining where and when they experience differences (contrasts, if you like): hot/cold, bland/bitter, etc. However, these divisions may not always capture the full nuance of an experience and different languages divide up reality differently. Thus language is both relative and arbitrary. There is nothing about the signified (roughly meaning concept) orange which indicates the signifier (roughly meaning word) "orange." Nothing about a dog necessarily or logically leads towards the word "dog." Language is not a direct experience of reality but rather a socially constructed approximation. Hence, no word is ever entirely adequate to explain reality and thus "all language is under erasure" -- or, put very simply (and run the risk of redaction): language is always different from direct experience.


Yes -- the fact that languages possess conflicting, overlapping, and contradictory signifiers which produce inadequacies in expression could be verified. Eco's "Theory of Semiotics" discusses these problems at length.


Check out Catherine Belsey's "Poststructuralism, A Very Short Introduction." It doesn't mention "Under Erasure" directly but will help with understanding where Heidegger and Derrida were coming from.


Derrida said that all language is under erasure, not Heidegger. Heidegger first used the technique when writing a letter to his friend to interrogate the word Being. He posited that any expression of the concept of being through the word Being would always presuppose a 'Beingful' relationship to being (i.e. that being itself, expressed through language would assume that it is always already 'concernfully opened up for introspection') which is the very notion he was trying to question! Derrida, however, was more concerned with the wider implications of this idea, that all language is, to an extent, both entirely untranslatable and fully translatable. That the excess that allows all interpretation and translation (even within a single subject) is fundamentally undecidable, that without that tension of 'madness', language could not exist at all.


In seeking to "overcome" metaphysics, Heidegger increasingly felt the inadequacy of the word "being" (Sein). (The first letter is usually capitalized in English translations but in German, as we all know, all nouns begin with a capital letter.) So he begins to write in its old German, Seyn. The old English equivalent is "beyng." Still not satisfied, he finally crosses out the word Sein and states that "the cross-like sign" brings forth "the four regions of the quadrant, their coming-together at the location where the cross operates" (Question of Being (QB), 83; as quoted in Jean-François Mattéi (co-authored with Dominique Janicaud and translated by Michael Gendre), Heidegger: From Metaphysics to Thought, (Albany: SUNY, 1995), 95). As Mattéi argues persuasively that the structure of the cross is not only evident in Heidegger's well known fourfold: the sky, gods, the earth, and mortals but also in many of his crucial statements that are delivered in chiasmus such as:

But the question into the house (Wesen, essence) of Being crumbles if it does not renounce the language of metaphysics, because metaphysical representation prevents thinking the question into the house (Wesen, essence) of Being (QB, 73).

Or, more simply but enigmatically put:

Being and Reason [Grund]: the same. Being: the abyss [Ab-ground] (Principle of Reason, 51).

The chiasmus structure becomes visible if we put the four words on each corner of an imaginary square as follows: sky and gods on the upper corners and earth and mortals on the lower corners; or, for another example, in the same way: being and reason on the upper corner and being and abyss on the lower (with the word "same" at the center).

Heidegger's point, as Mattéi explains, is that the four are in a relationship to each other in both "tearing-apart" [écartellement] and in "the unity of being" with the center that is crossed out (if you draw the imaginary oblique lines from corner to corner). Mattéi writes:

The four tearings disjoin the unity of Being into a fourfold tearing [déchirure], without ever allowing a resorption of the chorismos. However the unity of Being emerges reinforced from this tearing-apart, so that, as Plato said, 'Being... encircle, must itself be transformed into a circle surrounding and founding the totality of beings" (Cratylus, 204; as quoted in Heidegger: From Metaphysics to Thought, 96).

Being gets crossed out. Being is at the center of the tearing apart and pulling together of the fourfold that constitutes the non- or beyond-metaphysical structure of "being-in-the-world" (to use the language of Being and Time) in relationship to the heaven and the earth in concert with mortals, as Heidegger describes (in a gallant effort to use non-metaphysic language) in "The Thing," Poetry, Language, and Thought. Mortals come from earth and return to earth (in death), after having inhabited the dwelling granted by the generous gift of being, which in its giving withdraws itself into the abyss of being, into nothingness, into Ab-grund. The oblique cross expresses the grounding of all beings by being that in itself is Ab-grund (abyss). This is Heidegger in essence exhibited in the figure of chiasmus. Being gives under the erasure of the oblique cross at the center of chiasmus.

"By revealing itself in the being [Seiende, tó ōn, the totality of beings], being [Sein] withdraws."

Heidegger repeats this chiasmus twice in "Anaximander Saying," each in a paragraph all by itself. (Pathmarks, 253, 254).

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