Derrida’s idea of binary opposition

Derrida introduces his idea of binary opposition in his analysis of Saussure’s structuralism. The concept is narrated in his seminal essay entitled “Structure, Sign, and Play in the Discourse of Human Sciences” which he delivered at a conference at John Hopkins University in 1966. He argues that Saussure’s structuralism has two inevitable aspects which include center and binary opposition which determine. These are determining characteristics of confirming the meaning of a sign.

Binary Opposition

Derrida borrows the idea of binary opposition comes from Levi Strauss who claims that the units in a structure are linked as opposed to one another. These units are placed in a binary form on both sides of a slash being opposite in nature to one another. He also argues that the opposite words are inseparably connected with each other. They also share imbalanced cultural values. The first word in a binary is always attributed with more cultural value than the other.

Derrida and binary opposition

Through the analysis of the binary opposition, Derrida attempts to explore the nature of Western metaphysical ideas. According to him, the first term of a binary is always attributed with more cultural value in Western metaphysics. Their design of the binary is as follows-

Good/bad, Male/female, Boy/girl, White/black

Derrida assumes that the whole Western brand of knowledge is set on the binaries like those given earlier. They are considered fixed and rigid. Moreover, they can not move too much with more meanings. They are also socially and culturally determined which offer them permanence.

Derrida on the binary of speech/writing

In his Of Grammatology, Derrida analyses the binary opposition speech/writing. He attempts to explore the whole set of Western brands of knowledge through the analysis of this binary opposition. He opines that speech requires the presence of the speaker. Without the confirmation of the presence of the speaker, speech becomes unreliable and so, untrue. It confirms the existence of the speaker. The existence of God is proved with his speech – let there be light, and there was light- delivered after the creation of the earth. If Derrida’s binary is analyzed, it gets the shape given below:



Speaker/no speaker

Primary or original/transcript of speech

Thus, Western metaphysics confirms the presence of God referring to the statement “let there be light and there was light”. His argument is that the statement was made by someone present there in the time of uttering the line. Thus, it can be said that God himself was present when he uttered the line. So, Western metaphysics confirms that God exists as He is a speaking entity.

Binary and logocentrism

Derrida sums up the whole idea of binary saying that Western knowledge is based on this idea of the presence. He calls it logocentrism. The trend of this favouring of the speech over writing is also found in Freud who confirms the superiority of masculinity over feminity in his psychoanalysis by stating that penis confirms presence while the female genital is taken as absence.

Abdur Rahim
Abdur Rahim

Assistant Professor, and Member of the Proctorial Body
Department of English Language and Literature (DELL), Premier University, Chattogram,
& Doctoral Fellow, English Department, Jahangirnagar University, Savar, Dhaka.

Phone: +8801715638298


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