"Writing and speech have thus become two different species, or values, of the trace. One, writing, is a lost trace, a nonviable seed, everything in sperm that overflows wastefully, a force wandering outside the domain of life, incapable of engendering anything, of picking itself up, of regenerating itself. On the opposite side, living speech makes its capital bear fruit and does not divert its seminal potency toward indulgence in pleasures without paternity. In its seminar, in its seminary, it is conformity with the law. In it there is still a marked unity between logos and nomos. (Dissemination 152)."
"What law governs this "contradiction," this opposition to itself of what is said against writing, of a dictum that pronounces itself against itself as soon as it finds its way into writing, as soon as it writes down its self-identity and carries away what is proper to it against this ground of writing? This "contradiction," which is nothing other than the relation-to-self of diction as it opposes itself to scription, as it chases itself (away) in hunting down what is properly its trap--this contradiction is not contingent (Dissemination 158)."
Imagine two categories placed in opposition, situated as poles, turned against each other by their very definition, yet wedged in a necessary coexistence. For ages, Western thought has implicitly set up this type of conceptual relation in constructing its theories of metaphysics, continually scavenging for terms to fit either side of the dichotomy. This categorization process manifests itself in the dispersal of widely accepted oppositions such as presence/absence, good/evil, truth/error, man/woman, positive/negative, identity/difference, and so on. One opposition in particular strikes the interest of Jacques Derrida: the opposition between speech and writing. Using the critical procedures of deconstruction, Derrida shows how the terms in this and other such oppositions are never equivalent, but hierarchical. Derrida noticed that one term in the system, usually the first, is privileged over the other term. In the case of speech and writing, speech is attributed the positive qualities of originality, center, and presence, while writing is given secondary, derivative status. Plato, one of the first to propose such a hierarchy, believed that speech offered direct access to true meaning, while meaning in writing was opaque, mediated, and open to perversion. The written word was considered merely a representation of the spoken word, a material object to stand in its place. Derrida calls this bias in the Western tradition "logocentrism," which attempts to associate philosophical discourse with universal logic and reason. Taken in a Saussurian light, the speech/writing opposition can be translated into an opposition between signified and signifier. Philosophical writing therefore claims to have the most intimate ties with absolute, centered, denoted meaning. By validating speech over writing, Plato intends to subordinate the signifier to the signified. However Derrida collapses this presumptuous opposition using deconstructive techniques, most notably in illustrating how the two categories are not autonomous, but mutually dependent, not to mention how the qualities of writing (/the signifier) and speech (/the signified) are not distinct, but actually permeate into one another. Ultimately, Derrida intends to prove that the order of the signified in fact depends on cuts, difference, and references on the side of the signifier to be meaningful in the first place.