[All of the posts related to Lee Braver’s book – A Thing of This World – are collected here.]
The chapter on Derrida is the last one in the book (there is a short conclusion as well) and I have to admit that even though we have only been reading this book for 8 weeks now, it seems as though it was at least a year or so, most likely because of the rich content and the amount of potential distractions and my own attempts to chase down some reference or a thought I found to be especially interesting. I hope that if the time allows us to do so sometime this week or next week, it would be great if Jon and Lee could post their own impressions of this reading group in a sort of conclusive post.
1. Metaphysics of presence as a form of realism.
The first point of the chapter is, I think, easy to make and easy to see – what Derrida labels “metaphysics of presence” is a form of realism, that is, realism as a philosophical move that is premised on a view of reality that consists of things “out there” presencing and thoughts “in here” thinking about things immediately and through language:
“Words get their significance from the prior existence of things which are wholly different from and do not depend upon language.” 
“The existence of a referent wholly outside the circulation of signs enables a unique account of the world and a language with determinate meanings.” 
“If extra-linguistic reality (R1) secures a determinate meaning (R3) which can then be perfectly translated, then language is R5 Passive; it does not affect the meaning it contains, but allows them to be passed between sterile containers which do not affect their contents in any way.” 
For Derrida, all of these descriptions and many more similar observations are the stuff of philosophy, it’s what philosophy does, even if in most cases without paying much attention to it. I think it’s difficult to explain for sure why, despite the abundance of material stating the above-mentioned formulations of “metaphysics of presence” in Derrida’s corpus, it seems that the insight itself did not produce as much real effect as one would hope. Braver’s explanation of Derrida’s formula is clear and to the point, yet I wonder if resistance to Derrida’s insight has proved to be quite strong as the most one hears about it today is that it is “annoying” or “dangerous” – see all that discussion of how criticizing any position today without offering anything positive is bad bad bad. But Derrida of course does not stop with his critique of most philosophy as “metaphysics of presence,” he goes further and this is where he seems to offend even more “serious” philosophers (like Quine), he talks about such silly things as “play” and “supplement” and “difference/defferance = différance” – you can almost hear the grumpy and the self-important scholars yell him off the proverbial philosophical lawn, shaking their thick CVs and albums of photos they took with their important books.
If “metaphysics of presence” is a sort of realism premised on the existence of mind-independent world that is in need of being described and understood, then speech as the most seemingly immediate interaction between things and words is a privileged form of interaction with writing being pushed aside as a copy of a copy and so forth – all of these things are common knowledge today a good half-century after Derrida came up with all of these ideas in the 1960s. I wonder what role can Derrida play in the recent discussion of “speculative realism” or any sort of return to metaphysics (let’s call it “Back to Leibniz-Wolff!”)? Is a big Derrida revival still ahead or is it on the decline now that all the derridalogists are either retiring or found some other cool ideas to play with (Zizek’s?)? I think Braver’s inclusion of Derrida is quite interesting as it not only puts Derrida in the same group as Kant, Hegel, Heidegger and so on, but also shows how his thought relates to all the “traditional” philosophical issues (making him into a “real philosopher”).
2. Play of signification.
For Derrida, argues Braver, the move of deconstruction is not the move of destruction or any sort of negative attempt to discredit a specific text or a specific philosophical position (even Derrida’s “metaphysics of presence,” in this sense, is not a critique or a call to reject such position, I think this is an absolutely essential point) – to deconstruct here is not really a transitive verb (one cannot deconstruct anything, it deconstruct itself, it is deconstructing itself):
The deconstructed claims are not so much false as naive and insufficiently analyzed; when rigorously examined, the oppositions that structure the discourse cannot be maintained in any kind of pure mutual exclusivity.” 
Thus the famous “there is nothing outside the text” is just a restatement of what A1 Dependence is all about: we cannot get outside of ourselves and peek at the world (and ourselves) as if from the perspective of an observer (or “the absolutely exterior”). This does not mean that there is no reality and Derrida is preaching some sort of idealist/anti-realist nonsense; it’s just that “our relation to any kind of reality is inevitably mediated by all kinds of interconnected influences such that we can never comprehend them in their entirety or correct for them.” 
This is where Derrida’s discussion of “play of signification” is such a royal pain in the ass for those who, possibly without knowing it or wanting to know it, assume the existence of some “full presence” and “univocal meaning” – our interaction with language is far from simple one- or two-way highway, but is rather something that always escapes being completely captured by any of the means of signification we so proudly display on our philosophical walls (“Here’s a meaning over there, yep, shot it in 1972 while at a conference, gave me quite a trouble, tracked it for days and then boom, gotcha.”) In terms of Braver’s terminology, Derrida’s play embraces a new version of R5 Passive Knower:
…we are not the autonomous source of the organizing structures of experience but recipients of them, rendering us deeply dependent on what we have been “thrown” into. 
Braver has several interesting sections on Frege and how Derrida’s ideas help us understand Frege’s issues – not knowing a whole lot about Frege, I found those sections to be quite illuminating, but I cannot really comment due to the mentioned deficiency. One image that I really liked however was that of the lack of “extra-semantic anchors” to keep us at bay – a sort of a need for foundation and certainty, whether we are doing some old-fashioned metaphysics or creating some cool and hip easily abbreviated philosophy.
3. Derrida as Kant (or Heidegger).
Braver has a couple of sections addressing the issue of Derrida’s “quasi-transcendental arguments” [464-69 and 484-95] – was Derrida, in fact, a kind of Kant dealing with conditions of possibility and impossibility and so on? I think that it’s interesting how the book ultimately loops back to Kant and Kantian Paradigm, as Braver labels it throughout, even though Heidegger does present a challenge to Kant, it seems that the ghost of Kant is very much close at hand which is of course also confirmed by the constant Kant-bashing in the blogosphere. However, Braver’s point is more subtle, it seems: on the one hand, différance could certainly be read as “quasi-transcendental” and a necessary condition for articulation , yet on the other hand, Derrida is very much aware “of the metaphysical and potential entanglements of transcendental arguments.”  Does Derrida ultimately escape these metaphysical entanglements? Braver is not so sure, it seems.
Braver’s strategy in taking a closer look at Derrida’s transcendental arguments is to examine Derrida’s relation to Heidegger:
Here my guiding hypothesis is that Derrida’s relationship to Heidegger resembles the later Heidegger’s to Kant: Heidegger’s thought representes a deeply divided legacy for Derrida, as Kant’s was for Heidegger. For each, the predecessor’s work is inescapable in that it opened up the paths of thought that will be pursued, but at the same time the earlier thinker remained mired in some of the very problems that he identified and tried to escape. 
Derrida reads Heidegger as both making an advance and as being still caught up in some of the rejected metaphysical issues – oh, the tenacity of metaphysics! The paragraph on the bottom of page 472 (continuing to 473), I think, is one of the more concise formulations of the book’s intention to show that the history of continential anti-realism reveals a progressive erosion of realism – all of the thinkers discussed neatly fit in this narrative. The chapter ends with Braver’s detailed discussion of how Derrida can be seen as overcoming some of the Heideggerian Paradigm’s metaphysical difficulties.
The conclusion to the book deserves a separation post which I am still working on and will post tomorrow with some of my own observations about this novel experience of a reading group.