Of Drammatology: Form and Content in Performative Exchange
In Of Grammatology, Derrida analyzes the relationship between speaking and writing, and the order of their appearance: did speaking appear before writing, or vice versa? The notion that speaking appeared before writing, for Derrida, comes from a certain ethnocentric attitude of Western philosophy according to which illiterate tribes are of somewhat inferior intelligence compared with literate Westerners. The question of the order of appearance also creates a certain pressure to establish the point of origins, to define the difference between speaking and writing and to place the concept of writing in an ontological framework. Looking at graphic writing, Derrida suggests that instead of writing being a representation of oral language, oral language “already belongs to writing” (55). In this sense, “‘the natural,’ ‘original,’ etc. language had never existed, never been intact and untouched by writing, [. . .] it had itself always been a writing” (57). This would suggest that the thought is already a symbolic thought, a graphic image, which does not exist outside of language (“il n’y a pas de hors-texte”). This is, Derrida believes, an essential question of literature, as it redefines speech as a form of archi-writing.
If speech is a form of archi-writing, would that mean that performance is a form of archi-drama? The problem with that definition of the dramatic text is that the field trapped itself in the Derridean aporia of Lehmann’s concept of the post-dramatic. Is the postmodern theatre then fundamentally a theatre of ontological aporia? Performance Studies scholars, like Richard Schechner, for example, argue that performance appeared before text; that performance is that “primitive” pre-dramatic impulse, a visceral response of the body to the world (embodied experience). Simultaneously, Hans-Thies Lehmann asserts that our postmodern theatre is predominantly post-dramatic, post-textual. What are the implications of that dialogue about the point of origins between text and performance in performative exchange? Is this dichotomy between text and performance (Performance Studies’ own deconstructive “elemental opposition”) fundamentally anachronistic? Did Performance Studies misread Derrida’s foundational thesis?