Jacques Derrida: Signature Event Context, 1972

In order for my “written communication” to retain its function as writing, i.e., its readability, it must remain readable despite the abso­lute disappearance of any receiver, determined in general. My communication must be repeatable—iterable—in the absolute absence of the receiver or of any empirically determinable collectivity of receivers. Such iterability—(iter, again, probably comes from itara, other in Sanskrit, and everything that follows can be read as the working out of the logic that ties repetition to alterity) structures the mark of writing itself, no matter what particular type of writing is involved (whether pictographical, hieroglyphic, ideographic, phonetic, alphabetic, to cite the old categories). A writing that is not structurally readable—iterable—beyond the death of the addressee would not be writing. Although this would seem to be obvious, I do not want it accepted as such, and I shall examine the final objection that could be made to this proposition. Imagine a writing whose code would be so idiomatic as to be established and known, as secret cipher, by only two “sub­jects.” Could we maintain that, following the death of the receiver, or even of both partners, the mark left by one of them is still writing? Yes, to the extent that, organized by a code, even an unknown and nonlinguistic one, it is constituted in its identity as mark by its iterability, in the absence of such and such a person, and hence ultimately of every empirically determined “subject.” This implies that there is no such thing as a code—Organon of iterability—which could be struc­turally secret. The possibility of repeating and thus of identifying the marks is implicit in every code, making it into a network [une grille] that is communica­ble, transmittable, decipherable, iterable for a third, and hence for every possible user in general. To be what it is, all writing must, therefore, be capable of func­tioning in the radical absence of every empirically determined receiver in gener­al. And this absence is not a continuous modification of presence, it is a rupture in presence, the “death” or the possibility of the “death” of the receiver inscribed in the structure of the mark (I note in passing that this is the point where the value or the “effect” of transcendentality is linked necessarily to the possibility of writing and of “death” as analyzed). The perhaps paradoxical consequence of my here having recourse to iteration and to code: the disruption, in the last analysis, of the authority of the code as a finite system of rules; at the same time, the radical destruction of any context as the protocol of code.

Derrida, Jacques. “Signature Event Context.” in Jacques Derrida, Limited Inc., 1–25. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1988[1972].