Why does Derrida say in his Grammatology:

The formal essence of the signifier, is presence; and the privilege of its proximity to the logos as phone is the privilege of presence

How does a formal essence have presence - should it not be, perhaps material essence? Or does this simply mean that the essence of a signifier, is purely formal; finally, what does Derrida mean by presence here?

  • 1
    Well -- a mark, if nothing else, always already denotes its own presence, contrasted against a background/absence
    – Joseph Weissman
    Feb 25, 2016 at 4:18

1 Answer 1


I think Derrida means more than just actuality when he refers to "presence." Presence in the sense of formal essence stipulates a functionality as placeholder but only in the generic sense of being indexical, or pointing to. This is presence in the more localized sense, what Deleuze associates with territorial reason.

If we take logos in the sense of Heidegger's "gathering" as the intersection of sending and receiving, the mobility of presence goes beyond the purely formal sense. This is the kind of semantic structure that speaks to the hermeneutics of any possible readers and writers and shows the radical way in which presence is de-centered and, therefore, not logocentric--oddly enough.

  • Thanks for this; given H's admiration of Aniquity, and noting that 'sending' is the opposite or contrary of 'receiving'; should gathering be a unity of opposites rather than 'intersection', which - I am supposing - takes its meaning from the modern set-theory? Feb 25, 2016 at 15:45
  • No doubt! I think it may be better to think of intersection as the transpositionality or multi-locality of contrasts, rather than opposites. Contrasts that may be either compatible or incompatible, which may elicit conformal or non-conformal relations. But I don't think this is consistent with modern set-theory--does that make sense? Feb 25, 2016 at 17:01
  • I think it's a matter of language; for example, I've used the word 'opposites' since I've seen the term 'unity of opposites'; but in Sorabjis translation of A he uses the word 'contrary'; the problem, I find with using scientific discourse in philosophy - and my training is all scientific - math & physics - is that philosophical usage of those terms tends to gets tangled up with that; it's too easy to think, without other grounding, to think this is just efflorescence of language. Feb 25, 2016 at 17:22
  • For example, 'conformal' has a precise meaning in physics, meaning that in such a transformation, of say a picture, all angular relations are preserved but length won't be; so the picture looks distorted as one might see in the concave or convex faces of a spoon; but one might push this further in a non-scientific context, to signify a transformation of a relationship; say of two relations, one dependent on the other, and vice-versa; in short, inter-dependent. Feb 25, 2016 at 19:31
  • and the 'conformal' transformation preserves one, and not the other - ipto some approximation, say; but is this how you're using the term? Or have I just made this up - well I have made this up, as an educated guess or conjecture; more importantly, does it match your usage of it, I mean how you're concieving - theres not enough, I suppose in a short comment, to verify this; I have similar questions about your usage of transposition and multi-locality! Feb 25, 2016 at 19:35

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