Sous rature

One of the more enjoyable aspects of studying Derrida this last semester was learning about an act called “writing under erasure” (Fr. sous rature). It is a method Derrida borrowed from Heidegger. If a word is necessary for communication yet one wants to show that it is not sufficient for conveying the intended meaning one can use sous rature.

Sous rature as used by Derrida has the impact of denouncing the metaphysics or “presence” that is supposed to exist behind a word in order. Let me provide as example. If I write “God is love” there is a lot of baggage behind the word “God” and “love” (heck, even “is”). I cannot think of a better word that “God” to describe my idea of a higher deity, supreme being, and so forth. Therefore, I use the word “God”, but I denounce its baggage (i.e. accumulated meaning) by writing it like this God. You can see the form of “God” behind the line, but you know I am denouncing how this word has been used by others.

Again, we know our culture has many ideas about “love”. I want to use the word “love” because I have nothing better to explain the concepts I associate with “love”, but I do not want my reader to merely assume that when I write “love” I mean the same thing as the author of the Twilight series, or as it is depicted by short-lived Hollywood “romances”, or what the show host of the Food Network says about her favorite hamburger. So I write love.

While sous rature is not easy on the eyes it is effective in communication. It affirms the “inadequate, yet necessary” nature of words like “god”, “love”, “being” and so forth. I wonder how many words in our culture could use a bit of sous rature when we write them?!