Back    All discussions

The Concept of Scene in Derrida
Hi everyone,

Can anyone please explain to me in simple terms what Derrida understand by the concept of "Scene" and what is it its realtion to the concept of authorship.

I'm truly sorry for not adding any further background to my quarry but I'm totally and completelly lost.

Thanks so much everyone!

The Concept of Scene in Derrida
Reply to Juan Peréx
Derrida's figures are eliptical - and it is difficult to speak of on without having to invoke all the rest. 

That said, and with the risk of misrepresenting these figures, there is never an "author" in an essential, present, metaphysical sense:  there is a text that can be read in the absence of the "signature" that produced a specific iteration; and this same text is iterated in the absence of the reader;  texts therefore invoke the absent and are beyond the "control" of any "present' "author."

  Texts communicate outside of intentionality - what is written is as much what is communicated to the always already absent reader as it is to the already absent "author."  Writing is supplementarity - that which remains after and because of and in spite of what readers and writers bring to the "text.'

  Writing is always indebted - inherited.  The "scene" of writing is a scene of "re-pression," of repeating, but never in an identical way - always slightly displaced, deferred.  The "scene" might be understood in its pristine sense as the skene - the backdrop which conceals the actors and allows for their exits and entrances:  a text is always a scene - it is a place of inheritance and bequeathal, of absence, of brief processions.
This is a very rewarding topic but dense - you might find Derrida's Positions a helpful entree.

The Concept of Scene in Derrida
Reply to Juan Peréx

Dear Juan


For the moment I’ll write something on the first your query: Derrida and the concept or imagine of scene.

Setting out from the structuralist and post structuralist experience, in the 1970s, Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, Jean-François Lyotard, Jean Baudrillard, Julia Kristeva, and many others all seemed to embrace Deleuze’s claim that ‘the task of modern philosophy is to overturn Platonism’. But, did they all agree with Deleuze when he argued that Plato himself pointed the way toward a reversal of Platonism?

 How Plato himself pointed out the direction for the reversal of Platonism?

In Plato’s Pharmakon, Derrida by means of his exemplar and original interpretation of the Phaedrus emphasizes the critical significance of Plato’s use of the word pharmakon, as that which produces a complex, self-contradicting and ambiguous account of the metaphysical opposition of speech and writing. His comment is a sort of Beau Jeu, a Play, and represents a scene in which we see in an amusing theatrical scene two personages: the king Thamus on the one side and the demigod Theuth who offers him the alphabet (writing), his new invention, on the other. Through multiple plays on word φάρμακον, Derrida throws himself and the reader towards a kind of collapsing into a series of binaries: Theuth and his father, and by implication, writing and speech, Plato's story and Egyptian father, Plato's story and Egyptian myth, philosophy and mythology. In distinguishing himself from his opposite, Theuth also imitates Thamus, and becomes his sign and representative, obeys and conforms to him, finally replaces him. He is thus the father's other, and stands for subversive movement of replacement. The god of writing is at once his father, his son, and himself. He cannot assign a fixed spot in the play of differences. Perhaps, is Theuth- Derrida thinking of himself? Sly, slippery, and masked, an intriguer, like Hermes, he is neither king nor jack, rather a sort of joker, a floating signifier, one who puts play into play.  Maybe is this the classical figure of philosopher.

Have we a subordination of philosophy to poetry with Derrida? Certainly not. But the theatre does philosophy, and philosophy as in Platonic dialogue is poetry. The dialogue is different from treatise, but where Plato’s thought hardens into a systematic or quasi systematic theory, following the logical move of thinking, his dramatic writing becomes a kind of treatise, as well as many other examples along the course of Western philosophical tradition. On the other hand, one thinks of Shakspeare.

Francesco Tampoia

Max Statkiewicz, Rhapsody of Philosophy, Dialogues with Plato in Contemporary thought, The Pennsylvania State University Press, University Park 2009. Reviewed By Francesco Tampoia

See also: Francesco Tampoia in Academia. Edu


The Concept of Scene in Derrida
Hi Karen and others

Do you ever feel that we have reached a point where "theory" has got in the way of reading? I suspect that if took Derrida seriously I would never read a book again!

Also, what I find disappointing about so much "theory" is that one learns so little about literature and art themselves (a feeling I often have about aesthetics as well, incidentally). Somehow "theory" seems to have detached itself from its object - at least where that object is literature and art - and taken on a strange life of its own.

I even find myself wondering at times if certain "theorists" (and writers in aesthetics) are genuinely interested in art or if it just serves as a kind of useful philosophical pretext...


The Concept of Scene in Derrida
Reply to Juan Peréx

I think Derrida is coming from a psychoanalytic angle with this idea.  I looked at the entry for "Primal Scene" in the Freud Encyclopaedia ( edited by Edward Erwin, page 425 (you can get it on googlebooks)) There he quotes a letter in which Freud uses this concept, defining it as, "things that have been experienced and things that have been heard, past events..." 

The Concept of Scene in Derrida
Thank you Francesco - locating Derrida on "writing" in "Pltao's Pharmacy"is a very good strategy for "explaining " and you did so very elegantly.

The Concept of Scene in Derrida
Reply to Derek Allan

You ask the best question - for clarifying one of the chasms between so-called continental and analytical philosophy:

 I do not think  we are lost in theory:  the brief and probably unsatisfactory answer, at least with respect to Derrida, if not all of his benefactors and fellow sojourners - is that above all - Derrida invites us to read SPECIFIC texts with him - and if there are elliptical resonances, repetetiive figures - that emerge from various readings he has offered - that is for the reader of the writing to inherit, reflect :  but there is nothing in Derrida that is not evidenced in a specific text. 

So - no - I think this way of reading  opens us to the beauty and art and depth of texts - rather than distance us.  It is difficult to express - but one entree might be to consider Derrida as the heir of Adorno - who  as a writer of the Critical Theory - never purported to prescribe - but first, to describe - to analyze - to critique the very assumptions of critique as well as the content of the critique. At the same time, such a performance was is always located in a specific.  So - no - we are not lost in theory - we try to practice the art of reading.  I refer you yo Francesco's inter-locution.

Bets regards,
Karen Elizabeth

The Concept of Scene in Derrida

Hi Karen

Thanks for your reply.

I guess, in the end, we might have to agree to disagree since perhaps all this depends ultimately on one’s own personal experience.

Personally, I find the most useful critical interpretations to be those that not only stay close to the text but also draw their conclusions from the text itself without the intervention of any “theory” at all. This, of course, leaves me open to the objection that all interpretations presuppose a theoretical position – i.e. a view of what literature (and art generally) is. Touché. But I still think there are two distinct questions: What are works of art in general trying to do? And: what is this work of in particular trying to do? The answer to the first question should always be a frame – a background – for the second but it should not obtrude too much (unless of course one is discussing the general theory of art, in which case it moves to centre stage.)

My experience of Derridean “readings” of literature – and of “theory”-oriented readings in general – is that the dividing line between these two questions is often blurred. Every work then tends to become an example of “deferral”, or “floating signifiers”, or whatever, and we learn little or nothing about what is distinctive and specific about the work that interests us.

I think this tends to impoverish our understanding of works of art. I want to know what kind of work Hamlet is and how it differs from Tom Jones or Great Expectations or whatever. Certainly, I also want to know what art in general is. But I don’t want one question to get in the way of the other.


The Concept of Scene in Derrida
Reply to Juan Peréx
Thank you so much everyone!! I really appreciate your thoughts on this matter. :)

@Karen, thank you so much for your answer. Do you know any other books or articles written by Derrida or by any other scholar that thematizes explicitly the concept of scene? As far as I can tell this concept is profusely used but never explained.

Is it true that Derrida is taking this concept from Freud and Lacan or is he taking it from performance studies or threathical theory, or both?

I followed your recommendation on reading Positions but as far as I can tell the concept of scene hardly appears.

Cutting through any speculative answers,  do you think that is it possible that the concept of scene asumes in Derrida a veritative prerrogative to uncover the truth of the text, one that could be seen as the law of the text, but as such as its own putting forward, and thus as a kind of desmantling of the "truth" process that ocurrs on every text. Could the scenic dimension open up a space of showability in the text that parallell to the process of deconstructing the truth of the text as a way of showing the absesnce of its law could assume any "presentative" power by not succumbing to the reification of the present, and thus, making translucid this very same process?

Could the scene of the text  be the showability of its absent law, a showability that would be temporal, and historical but not be found on the theoritical underways of an absolute truth?

The Concept of Scene in Derrida
Reply to Juan Peréx

I am not sure how to respond - except to say that I do not know if Derrida has appropriated the figure of "scene" from Lacan or Freud.  But in terms of the elliptical relationship of this figure to his many writings, I think we might have to think of "scene" in relation to the performativity of "texts,"  which are also always repetitions of a kind: so - yes - theatricallly, the "scene" is written to be re-played, over and over again.  The "scene" is also a space - as opening, as interval.  I look at the "scene of writing" as space where one can momentarily engage with and reflect on what writing might be - as Derrida enjoins in his essay, "Freud and the Scene of Writing," the question is not what is the psyche that writing can serve as an analogy for it, but rather, what is writing that it can be represented by the psyche!  and so, "text," and spectrality, inheritance, hospitality . . . .
The questions you are asking are insightful, and I think you are already coming to a place of playing with the figure of scene:  but no definitive or essential statements about "scene" in Derrida are possible, because of the force of differance, of resistance and reception, of displacement and deferral, - "No Weg without Umweg"!! 
I hope I haven't thrown more mud on the question.