Much ado about ‘nothing’: evaluating three immanent critiques of post-structuralism

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In this paper I defend Jacques Derrida’s assumptions about language and discourse from three immanent critiques of post-structuralism. I refer to these as the ethical, metaphysical, and political critiques. At the heart of Derrida’s approach is an emphasis on the terrain of signification, understood as a precondition of our perception of/engagement with ‘the world’. This is encapsulated in his statement that ‘there is no(thing) outside of the text’, and the ethical, metaphysical, and political critiques turn on what can or cannot be said about this ‘nothingness’ that marks the limit of the discursive terrain. I examine the assertions that the extra-discursive ‘nothingness’ is a) the source of an inscrutable ethical demand, b) can be understood as a material realm of ‘vital forces’, and c) that nothing positive can be said about this limit point of the discursive, but ‘it’ nonetheless becomes manifest within the terrain of signification in the form of a disruptive event. Whilst I reject the ethical and metaphysical responses, I feel sympathy for the political critique of deconstruction. Indeed, I argue that politics unfolds in a tension between the manifestation of the event and the kinds of manoeuvres that are possible within the field of signification.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)564-576
Number of pages13
JournalPolitical Studies Review
Issue number4
Early online date16 Sept 2017
Publication statusPublished - 16 Sept 2017


  • discourse
  • nothingness
  • ethics
  • the new materialism
  • the event


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