Derrida: Trace and Play

With the death of the author as theorised by Barthes, the text gets liberated and revels in an endless freeplay of meanings, and escapes from all forms of textual authoriy. As words/ signs erupt into multitudes of signifiers that differ and defer infinitely in an endless chain of signification, there inevitably occurs a freeplay of meanings, characterised by a profusion of “traces”, resulting from the disruption of presence and interplay of presence and absence.

Derrida argues that meanings can be located only in these traces, which are what signs differ/defer from. Trace is the absent part of the sign’s presence. In other words, through the act of differance, a sign leaves behind a trace, which is whatever is left over after everything present has been accounted for.

According to Derrida, “the trace itself does not exist’ because it is self-effacing, that is, “in presenting itself, it becomes effaced”. Since all signifiers viewed as present in Western thought will necessary contain traces of other signifiers or “absence”, the signifiers can neither be wholly present nor wholly absent.

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