The Materiality of the Sign in Khasi Oral Tradition: Derrida’s Linguistic Materialism

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Several interesting and significant philosophical, political and other possibilities abound in Derrida’s linguistic materialism, but the objectives of my paper are to describe the general tenets of Derridean linguistic materialism, and to deploy it in the context of Khasi oral tradition in order to lay bare the sensory origin of the sign. I therefore argue, firstly, that Derrida’s oeuvre espouses a nuanced case of linguistic materialism of the sensible-physical trace, which in its materiality is constantly in the process of standing for or representing another sign/signs through the basic process of mediation that he calls écriture—‘writing’ in a more originary sense. Meaning is inscribed in the materiality of the sensible world, is manifested in the material trace of signifiers and is not mediated through the transcendental signified or metaphysical idea. By implication, Derrida’s linguistic materialism is also a theory of the material and empirical origin of the sign. However, the material nature of the thing, which itself is a sign, is not fixed, but is multifaceted, split and polysemic, making meaning contingent and differential. I argue, secondly, that such an understanding of language and meaning must direct us to language in its most original and primordial forms as found in (ab) original oral cultures, where the materiality of the sign is most unhidden and discernible. I, thus, give an account of the sensory, original and material character of linguistic meaning with reference to the case of the oral culture of the Khasi community of India. Khasi words, metaphors and imageries can be demonstrated more plainly in their sensory derivations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)151-168
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Indian Council of Philosophical Research
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 05-2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Philosophy


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