Chasing a Presence: Originary Trace and Entropy in Translations and Arcadia When reading Translations and Arcadia, many problems concerning how the characters know what they know are brought forward as part of a project to uncover the relationships between the characters and their world. In order to understand how the characters believe in meaning in their world, it is important to also recognize how meaning does not develop in the world of the characters. More importantly, I want to delve into the issues concerning the ways in which the lack of a present moment influences how the characters construct meaning, know meaning, and attempt meaning. The way I have looked at this is based on a post-structuralist perspective grounded in the absence of presence, the originary trace, and the dialogic. However, in order to understand what these plays leave for audiences with the final curtain, entropy and its implications needs to be considered. The first of these ideas allows for a repositioning of the ways characters in the play conceive of and interact with their present moment. In Translations, the characters have difficultly accepting the domineering, militant role the renaming of their landscape by British soldiers has on their ability to conceive of any time in which the present can manifest itself. In Arcadia, the present-time characters are wholly unable to see their moment as imbued with any presence and must always interpret it through the ways in which past characters are changing the landscape, for meaning, in which present characters live. In both of these plays, the inability of characters to conceive of a world that adheres to a knowable present becomes the driving force behind an underlying inability to construct meaning in their world. In this vein of thinking, I also want to discuss the inability of the characters in both plays to live in a present which can be extricated from future contexts. As it is written, the characters
of Translations cannot live in a present not infected by the concept of a future in which the potato blight is nonexistent. Likewise, the past and present characters of Arcadia are locked in a world that prohibits a conception of the present which is not grounded and absolutely tied to a future knowledge. In a way, then, the actions and characters of each play tend to revolve around a moment which cannot be articulated. For the characters of Translations, the ancient past is impinging on the current situations, which are always anxious about what the future will do to current meanings. As a result, the present moment is devoid of stability and only pregnant with possibilities. In Arcadia, as well, the present characters are defining their present scholarly lives by what they believe past characters have done, engendering a speculative moment for the present characters, a moment which is never quite fulfilled and must wait longer for a meaningful presence. The second of these ideas, that of the originary trace, holds interesting implications for each of these plays and forms the means by which the charactersâ€™ construction of meaning for their world is disrupted. In Translations, the characters repeatedly announce that the meanings to which they cling, which are grounded in place names, lack any inherent meaning. The language used by the people of Ballybeg cannot find a home in the objects it describes, allowing the mediation of their landscape, and its inherently constructed nature, to take the forefront. This foregrounding of the insufficiency of their language is the basis for understanding their inability to preserve the constructed, meaningful connections to the land. In Arcadia, the concept of the originary trace is more prominently on display. In order to understand the world in which the present characters find themselves, they must use the information of the past. However, the reality of their situation is based on an obviously mediated conception of the past, which remains the basis on which their world rests. Even if the referents from past events were, in fact, reliable,
the use of such referents by the present characters prohibits the knowledge from being unfettered from the language in which its past referents were constructed. This type of mediation is the basis for the entropic present moment driving each of these two plays. As a result, entropy plays an important part in each of these two plays. For the most part, I plan on using the idea of entropy as it relates to the dispersal of energy within a system. As a result, the system then becomes capable of enabling new microstates. These microstates are the basis on which possible meanings are constructed. In fact, it also is the means by which a nonmanifest present can also be conceived. Each of the previous two ways on understanding the plays in question can also be understood as the possibilities available when energy is perpetually dispersed in the system of the play due to an ever-increasing mediation of an originary trace. The present, as any manifest sense, always gives way under the pressure of the opportunities available through the new state available with the constant release of energy into the closed system of each play. For the characters of Translations, the energy that is released derives from the meaning that becomes available when the renaming of the landscape begins to erode all previous meanings. As a result, the characters are lost in a changing world in which they cannot continue to ground their meanings in a recognizable system. In Arcadia, the characters in the present are always attempting to write over the history of their present, but the constant introduction of new ways of constructing their world leave them with a sense of futility in their ability to know what their present can actually mean. Before looking at the two plays, an explanation of how these various concepts will influence how we can read and respond to the plays needs to be considered. Bakhtin is an excellent place to start in our attempt to understand how we put together meaning in a language system. For Bakhtin, different systems of meaning construction enter contact zones, places
where dialogic meaning is formed. In Discourse in the Novel, he focuses on how language cannot be neutral. He writes, “As a result of the work done by all these stratifying forces in language, there are no ‘neutral’ words and forms—words and forms that can belong to ‘no one’; language has been completely taken over, shot though with intention and accents” (349). For Bakhtin, language does not exist without some one to appropriate it, turn it into a function of personal accents, personal semantics, and personal ideologies. As a result, we are always speaking words and using connotations that come from someone else’s mouth. If the words are not neutral, and we must appropriate the language of others, Bakhtin recognizes an all-too obvious centrifugal force in the heteroglossia of language. Bakhtin is continually acknowledges that unitary language is always fighting against centrifugal forces. He writes, “A unitary language is not something given but is always in essence posited—and at every moment of its linguistic life it is opposed to the realities of heteroglossia” (343). An important aspect of heteroglossia is brought forward here; it is a part of the reality of language. Unitary language is, then, always working with centripetal efforts to defend itself from “the pressure of growing heteroglossia” (343). A centered language, as can be seen, cannot hold, as the reality of heteroglossia constantly spins out away from the efforts to form a unitary language. Language consciousness is recognizing that we are surrounded by heteroglossia, which entails a choice of language, which will lead to another moment of pervasive heteroglossia. A consciousness in tune to this process realizes it only has the power to perform in certain ways. Bakhtin writes, “With each literary-verbal performance, consciousness must actively orient itself amidst heteroglossia, it must move in and occupy a position for itself within it” (349). Each moment of linguistic reification is only a place where we can adopt and adapt into a new position from which to move into a new moment of reorientation.
While Bakhtin is an important part of understanding how the multiple languages inherent in both Translations and Arcadia, Derridean analysis can take readers further in their understanding of how meaning unfolds. When I mention the originary trace, I wish to invoke the sense that all language stems from the idea of being a mediated system. This system is the outcome of a language that can never be a substitute for its metaphysical antecedent, but, instead, a system in which language can never fully present any meaning unattached to language itself. This very important precept of Derrida’s brings the idea of mediation to a point of origin. Arthur Bradley, in Derrida’s Of Grammatology, writes, “[the reader] will see how every ‘present’ term, ground or value depends for its identity upon the trace of other values that are never themselves simply present….Every sign must retain the traces of the other sign against which it is to be defined” (69). The most important aspect must be the notion that every sign must retain the portions of all other signs by which we construct its meaning through difference. The originary aspect is found in language’s inability to ground any present meaning, which forces originary meanings to be defined against other available signs within the system, inherently shutting the door on any sense of originary meaning. Penelope Deutscher, in How to Read Derrida, also points out how this concept can be developed further within Derrida’s broadened definition of text. What the originary trace points out, with its lack of unmediated signification, is that intertextuality is the basis of meaning for all languages. Deutscher writes, “To say there is nothing outside the text is to say that there is always relationality and differentiation. No matter what we imagine as ‘reality’, it could be argued that differentiation is critical to it” (34). Any attempt to create meaning remains perpetually tied to the differences available within the system. Relationality, then, is merely another way of underscoring the lack of any pure presence within any system of meaning
construction. Existence beyond the process of textual meaning construction is not possible, and tracing of the differences among signs within a language system is the only means by which we can hint at meaning. In addition to the idea of an originary trace, when invoking the concept of the absence of presence, I conceive of it as being purely a system. This is a system in which the beginning points on which any final meaning can be based are absent, and, because of this absence, the meanings we think are available are shown to be those which are continually deferred throughout the system itself. Bradley likens the concept to cybernetics and the ways in which a system is designed to only move information from one part of he system to another. The problem we can encounter is when we conceive of this system as being the offspring of some other part of our world. Bradley addresses these concerns, writing, “To put it simply, Derrida’s concept of an ‘originary writing’ is not an attempt to establish a new point of an origin—as if it would be plausible to say that writing really did evolve before speech—but a way of calling into question the very idea of an origin, an absolute beginning, a pure historical, theological or philosophical point of ‘presence’ to which everything can be traced back” (55). It is interesting to note the simultaneous conception within a language system Derrida implies. To understand the lack of beginning is to first let go of the ways in which we understand the world, which is bound to sequential representations. We see this following that. We understand that to be a product of this. However, Derrida sees any system of intertextual meaning existing as a complete, unavoidable part of a knowledge generating system. Binaries such as before and after become irrelevant, and in this world of intertextual construction, where absolute being is forever tied to absolute mediation, presence remains elusive.
Bauserman Within such a system, meaning becomes a non-textual entity at which we can only asymptotically hint. Even though we can conceive of the ways in which writing invokes a system, we are still bound to hinted-at meanings. Bradley underscores how this process works, writing, “For Derrida… even the most rigorous disciplines…remain caught within the foundational incoherence of the metaphysics of presence because, once again, their sponsorship of truth, presence and speech is bought and paid for by the repression of mediation, difference, writing” (34). In order for any truth to be established by those working within the system, the negotiated aspect of meaning needs to be ignored, overlooked, or abandoned. To posit a meaning as if it had presence is a deliberate attempt to overlook the traces inevitably inherent within a system based on difference. When we do this, we tend to arrest the play of the system in order to situate a meaning as present despite the fact that we have violently suppressed all other constructions of meaning that are also available within the traces of difference. When the system is used in such a way, we open ourselves up to the fact that our meaning will never be as perceptible to other as it is to us. The problems associated with the construction of seemingly closed meaning is that it must constantly defend against forces which hope to break apart that very meaning. In such instances, entropy can be considered that force. Entropy might first need to be thought of as the erosion of certainty. While scientists tend to depict entropy as a simple process by which heat (or, more generally, the ability to do work) is dispersed from higher energies towards lower energies, in a literary sense, this remains entirely true, as well. Patrick O’Neill, in The Comedy of Entropy, discusseshow a system must, inevitably move towards a particular state, due to an increase of entropy, writing, “the story is a linear progression from a pre-lapsarian, originary state of untroubled order and authority,…to a fallen state of rampant disorder rapidly
approaching maximum entropy” (13). Likewise, language cannot simply be seen as the progression from the inception of writing by an author towards any inevitable meaning. Such a movement does not conform to the laws of energy dispersal proposed by entropy. The story, or language, has moved from control to disobedience, and the ensuing moment allows for what Lambert calls “a larger number of microstates” (Entropy). These microstates become the unpredictability, the basis on which all future dispersals will rest. Each new microstate was not conceived of beforehand, and, therefore, the eventual ways in which these new microstates disperse energy into the system cannot be accounted for. The repetition of this process is the means by which a system approaches maximum entropy. This initial introduction of unpredictability marks the entry point for literary theorists. I intend to use this approach within a system in which language is the driving factor. O’Neill writes of what has happened to the ways language functions, as well. “There is a marked entropic—not to say apocalyptic—quality in the work of many contemporary thinkers, the suggestion of the end of an era, where the philosophical, metaphysical, and even physical fictions that have been in operation since Plato seem to have reached a point of exhaustion, while the future remains veiled in undecidability” (20). The coming to an end seems like the eventual complete dispersal of all available energy within the system, but that is not the case. The beginning of the dispersal of energy within the system directly engenders a much more undecidable future, especially from a post-structuralist perspective. When the metaphysical narratives of language begin to break down, entropy begins, and all the stored energy of these narratives is released into the system. The stored energy lies in the active containment of the metaphysical narrative possibilities inherent in the language and fictions used in the past in order to conserve a sense of wholeness (any sense of presence). Lambert makes clear what hinders
entropy, â€œThe second law of thermodynamics says that energy of all kinds in our material world disperses or spreads out if it is not hindered from doing so. Entropy is the quantitative measure of that kind of spontaneous processâ€? (Entroy). Lambert goes on to talk about the activiation energy needed to upset the stored energies, which is what allows the universe to remain without constant, involuntary, devolvement into an absolute dispersal of energy. When we consider this in light of Derridaâ€™s notion concerning texts, the pre-postmodern senses of how the world worked together to create a supposedly stable meaning was the hindrance alluded to by Lambert, and, in a postmodern world, the energy that was being held back must be dispersed into the language system; control is being given up, and certainty is being eroded. This is the exact sense of entropy that I wish to invoke. In language, we need to consider how energy can be dispersed, and how entropy makes this possible. Language, when we consider the ways in which I have outlined my view of the originary trace, can be seen as an engine by which we can disperse the stored energy of definite signification. Without a concept of the originary trace, language remained a set of self-contained units which, no matter how removed from a referent, were still attached to referents outside of language itself. This forms the basis from which energy became available in the system. When the originary trace is introduced into a system, the whole energy supposedly inherent within each signified instantaneously becomes diffuse as a part of all other signified meanings, which, while decreasing the energy of each individual signified, sent the system itself into a cycle of creating ever more possibilities for energy within the microstates now part of the system. Each signified can no longer cling to its wholeness, but, at the same time, language itself is home to microstates in which numerous smaller amounts of energy are stored in each part of the system, which increases both the undicidability and the potential of the language system itself.
Bauserman 10 In Translations, heteroglossia and Derridean analysis play an important part in understanding the process of renaming the Irish landscape. A very important scene occurs in act two, scene one where Yolland and Owen are trying to rename a crossroad that is named after an accidental drowning in a nearby well. The problem is that not many people actually know that the intersection in question is actually named such because of the event that happened nearby. In fact, Owen is certain that he is the only one who actually remembers why the intersection is named Tobair Vree. The referent in the real world has long since been overwritten and corrupted as the name itself has taken on new meanings over time, and, as a result, the signifier continues on as a part of a system in which the number of signifieds has multiplied. In the play, Owen points out the tangential relationship evident within the landscape’s naming system, which was previously conceived as being inextricable. The name is Tobair Vree, but that name itself cannot even hold onto the meaning it originally had. Owen explains to Yolland, “
And we call that crossroads Tobair Vree. And why do we call it Tobair Vree? I’ll tell you why. Tobair means well. But what does Vree mean? It’s a corruption of Brian…an erosion of Tobair Bhriain. Because a hundred-and-fifty years ago there used to be a well there, not at the crossroads, mind you—that would be too simple—but in a field close to the crossroads….And ever since that crossroads is known as Tobair Vree—even though that well has long since dried up….Do we scrap Tobair Vree altogether and call it—what?—The Cross? Crossroads? Or do we keep piety with a man long dead, long forgotten, his name ‘eroded’ beyond recognition, whose trivial little story nobody in the parish remembers? (53)
Bauserman 11 Owen is contemplating what it means to supposedly have a signified in a system of language. In history, the signified was supposedly present, but it has, inevitably, fallen, eroded, been corrupted to the point that any type of signified invoked by the naming of an intersection because of the landscapeâ€™s contours cannot be distinguished. Even if the well had not dried up and disappeared into the earth, its relation to the crossroads was poor at best. So, even though the British soldier chooses to keep name intact, the traces of the old name cannot be avoided. The traces of the old name remain present, infiltrating the new British name, which does quite a lot to undercut the power supposedly available in the British renaming process. The two voices, British and Irish, force Yolland into a dialogic zone where the name by which he chooses to orient himself is literally from the mouths of the Irish people. Because it is from the mouths of the locals, the accents the people used when expressing their belief of what the word means is the means by which Yollandâ€™s new expression of their word, in hopes of creating his own unitary language, must be dialogic in nature. Polyglossia is probably a more apt description, though, since Owen, the current local characters, and the Irish people of 150 years ago all have now entered a zone of contact in which Yolland cannot find any way of consolidating his usage into any sense of a neutral, unitary language. The continuous line of borrowing the phrase can only move into one new moment which is also one more step away from any centered meaning the word might have once had. As a result, the name Tobair Vree continuously drifts further from the tangential relationship it once had with its signified namesake. As a result of the entropy of the system, the meaning became multiplied beyond its original capacities. The name of the intersection originally held only one meaning, but the energy available in such a locked meaning was too much for the name to bear, and the release of this energy brought on an expansion of the
Bauserman 12 meanings by which the characters of the play can invoke the intersection. The corruption of the name is the first indication that the energy of the name could not be held together; the course entropy must take forced the energy to be released into a never-ending process by which Tobair Vree could continually take on new meanings, which is exactly what Yolland continues when he chooses to reify the original name. He cannot reclaim any original meaning, and, instead, the continued use of Tobair Vree only makes possible the release of new meanings (energy) within a different referent system (England), which will certainly enable any energy the meaning had to be dispersed further. In a sense, all Yolland accomplished with his reification of the original name was to move the point at which play is arrested in a system that inherently cannot be stationary. Originally, Tobair Vree was tangentially related to a well and a person, and for the Irish characters, that was what it remained until the meaning could not remain still and was re-arrested to signify a specific crossroads. The Irish characters know the name to refer only to its second arresting of it possible meanings, and, even though Yolland attempts to reclaim such a notion by instituting Tobair Vree within the English system, it cannot help but become a different arresting moment without presence in the meaning-shifting history and future of the name. Contrary to Yollandâ€™s efforts, Tobair Vree will not be the name of the crossroads for British troops that follow; it will now be the weird name given, by the weird Irish people, to a point on a map the British will use to imperialistically navigate their way across the country. The ability of the word to be forever reified belies Yollandâ€™s belief that he can conjure up the past, which is supposedly made of constituent parts of a meaning. The word remained unchanged, but the meaning is forever being propelled towards meanings that can only temporarily arrest the play of possible meanings in the future. The system must continue to change, and, despite the seemingly
Bauserman 13 constant nature of Tobair Vree, its actual meaning is unable to remain permanently positioned at any point with any sense of presence. Where Translations tended to talk about the ways in which meaning can be constructed, Arcadia enacts the problems associated with the inability to recognize any sense of an originary trace. For Bernard, this inability turns into a spinning out of progressively less present meanings in his prepared speech. In order to see how all of the possibilities inherent in meaning construction plays out in Arcadia, we need to look no further than the misapprehensions available in Bernard’s lecture, delivered in spurts, in scene five. The point of emphasis rests on how Bernard chooses to orient his meaning-making process in light of the information he has found in the pages of an old book. As audience members, we know that Chater and Hodge are, in fact, the two characters fighting over Chater’s wife. Chater, rightfully so, feels slighted by Hodge, and little doubt remains as to whom the threatening letters Bernard references are directed. Bernard finds these letters among the pages of a book which became part of Byron’s library. First, we need to look at how the letters have changed their meanings over time because Bernard is unwilling to recognize where traces were actually left, and second, how the meanings associated with the scathing reviews on Chater’s last book of poetry transform in meaning to conform to Bernard’s wishes. These two pieces of writing will be changed into new pieces of signification for those who choose to orient its meaning in variously arrested systems. First, we should look at the different texts surrounding The Couch of Eros. First, we need to consider a review written by Hodge about Eros. Even though it was published anonymously in Piccadilly Recreation, the review’s intention seems to be rooted in Hodge’s general dislike for Chater, whom Hodge feels is a dolt. Superiority drives Hodge to humiliate his under-achieving foe, which literally adds insult to insult since Hodge is having an affair with his wife. As a
Bauserman 14 written work, it endures without context and author, allowing others to speculate on what it might actually signify. In reality, it is possible that it only signifies Hodge’s belief in his ability to bully Chater. Based on Hodge’s ability to diffuse Chater’s righteous hostility, it is obvious that the signified referent for the letter in history lies in Hodge’s perpetual and relentless besting of Chater. However, such referents can only, at best, be inferred based on the available surrounding texts. A copy of Eros was found, after many years out of sight, in one of the homes Bernard’s family owns. It was part of a lot purchased from Byron’s estate, and Bernard readily attributes the copy to being solely the possession of Byron. Inside, the inscription is dedicated to Hodge, “’My friend Septimus Hodge who stood up and gave his best on behalf of the Author’” (34). While the real world referent for such a text lies in Hodge’s ability to effectively stroke Chater’s ego, Bernard finds it wholly incongruous with the notion that Hodge actually wrote the ridiculing reviews of Chater’s work, which, to Bernard, is the reason for the indignant letters left in the book. So we need to look at what is influencing this type of referent displacement. The original referent for the inscription rests in Hodge’s ability to over-write Chater’s anger, which leaves the words wanting for any referent in the world of the characters since the signified was never actually available, and certainly remained unfulfilled. The relationship, then, between the inscription and Hodge’s motives is completely tangential, and the relationship must bear the trace of being uncomplimentary in its complementariness. Such a trace, an infiltration, of the actual referent leaves even the original referent without any presence in the world the characters of the past inhabit. Based on this non-present meaning, Bernard embraces the absence as being linked to the actual referent. The problem lies in the inability of Bernard to recognize the inherent traces of
Bauserman 15 absence present in the process by which Hodge actually formed his meanings. The original referent is a façade, and all subsequent meanings based on this referent Bernard could hope to make must bear this original trace. Believing in the presence of the signified, Bernard imbues the notes he has found in “Byron’s” copy of Eros with all the presence of meaning he feels is available due to the inscription. So when Bernard reads “’Sir—we have a matter to settle. I wait on you in the gun room. E. Chater, Esq.’” and “’I call you a liar, a lecher, a slanderer in the press and a thief of my honor. I wait upon you arrangements for giving me satisfaction as a man and a poet, E. Chater, Esq.’” (35), he finds his own presence of meaning to be both whole and without a trace of its inability to be such. Chater must be addressing Byron. Just as the original referents in Translations are without any real presence in the world, so too are these referents, on which Bernard then creates a whole new meaning making system for his own person ends, bearing the trace of existing without any presence. Within this new system, the past, false referents remain outside of Bernard’s system of forming new meanings for the present characters in Arcadia. The letters found in Byron’s Eros are given new possibilities once they are freed from the restraint the actual referents marginally had on the texts. The energy should have been hollow from the start, but the recuperation of the letters actually releases the energy into an even greater moment of entropic potential, a moment in which microstates become infinite. In Translations, the entropy was based on single words that had marginal relationships to their associated referents. With no relationship to the referents, the energy being held back by the past referents is much larger—it bears an originary trace with greater implication than a tangential place name—and the release becomes an infinite diffusion into which Bernard chooses to indulge himself.
Bauserman 16 Bernard uses the referents he believes to be real in an effort to place Byron into even more situations completely lacking any trace of a presence. Because he assumes the letters were directed at Byron, Bernard takes a simple gaming trip, with its own textual referent, and turns it into a life and death literary affair. Without the game log, Bernard would have no textual traces linking Byron to the estate, and he takes this referent to be wholly present. However, we are aware that this referent also bears its own traces. Bernard also even admits that he can know the textual referents available, pointing to the Byron as the belittling reviewer of Chater, which enrages the poet. We know that Bernard is wildly making meaning with the little pieces of textual referent available, but, in his quest, he is also suppressing the traces of mediation that destroy what he assumes to be wholly self-evident. Despite his wild spinning out of meaning based on his initial lack of recognition of the trace found in Chater’s inscription, the other characters are in no position to dispute Bernard’s new meaning constructions. The signified of the inscription remains in tact. Chater’s reviewer remains a newly- discovered part of the Byronic canon. These new points of historical reference become new energy within the system the contemporary characters inhabit. Bernard will publish his paper, and the birth of a new textual referent will lead to the new energy being held in place in an effort to keep the meaning whole. This energy, invariably, will prove too great, and the trace will overcome all efforts to hold in place a present moment at all. An originary trace is felt throughout each play, and the absence of presence in each play becomes more prominent as the plays progress. The result becomes that each play is incapable of creating its own present moment, and the characters’ lives are forced to revolve around this absence. For each play, the present moment remains always one step ahead of the current situations in which each character finds himself or herself. Every moment of the play then,
Bauserman 17 attempts to form a presence based on the anticipation of a moment to come in which all will supposedly be fully restored. The plays, then, tend to move forward based on the continued attempts to move into a present moment, but that moment always tends to be in yet another further moment, which is only realized upon gaining the previously-anticipated moment. These results are unavoidable in a world where energy always disperses from its present state. I am using the word moment to describe any instance—literally—within the play in which the characters assume a definite meaning can be constructed. For instance, soon after Owen’s speech, quoted at length earlier, Yolland announces that he would like to have the name remain Tobair Vree. Within this instance, Yolland is attempting to posit a meaning in hopes that it can fully be the meaning he intends, but that cannot be the case. First, this moment is interrupted by the fact that any meaning the name may have had has been lost to the past, which is to say that the meaning Yolland attempts to reify is already a meaning that ceases to be fully present since it has been eroded in the past. These moments are the ones that I am referring to when I say that moments in which characters had assumed a meaning can be posited remain unfulfilled. More specifically, I am talking about doubt. The scenes in each play are plagued by doubts, doubts that meaning can actually be known, be manifest. Even Hannah believes that a final meaning will come to her at some point in the future regarding the study of the hermit, but that moment is not realized, and never could be. At the end of Translations, Hugh finally agrees to teach English to Marie, to begin the following day (after the play ends), but she immediately asks what ‘always’ means. Hugh explains—in Latin—and then comments, “It’s not a word I’d start with. It’s a silly word, girl” (90). Always is a silly concept to learn because of the nowsedimented doubts apparent to Hugh about the permanence, or lasting ability, of any language’s
Bauserman 18 meanings. The word always itself is already being undercut by the fact that the words the characters thought were secure have already been degraded by the British soldiers. If words cannot maintain their meanings, then what is the point of trying to contemplate a word such as always, whose meaning is effaced by the fact that it is being invoked in a situation fraught with fleeting referents. Such prospects always lead to doubts concerning whether any meaning can ever be fulfilled, whether the meaning can ever be made available, whether a presence can ever come to those speaking it. This is exactly what Neel is talking about throughout Plato, Derrida, and Writing. He makes it a point to draw a distinction between writing for purpose (anti-writing) and writing for meaning (attempting meaning). For Neel, writing for meaning is nothing more than attempting cross the inherent gap that exists in language between the signifier and any signified that can be imbued with meaning. He writes, Plato uses writing’s capacity to have the opposite effect of its process better than anyone else ever has. He uses it to generate a longing for understanding and closure, while at the same time hiding the knowledge that the thing that allowed him to generate the longing is the thing that precludes it. The deficiency of humans who do not know ‘truth’ is not the inadequacy of their souls or the weakness of their intellect; the deficiency is inherent in the system that created the longing in the first place. (71) While it is true that Neel was talking about Phaedrus, the Derridian implications have farreaching influence. This process, as explained by Neel, is the inadequate generation of closed meaning, a final truth. Neel’s point is that in writing, which he points out to be no different than spoken language, a closure is always precluded by the inadequacies inherent in the system of
Bauserman 19 written language. To begin writing anything is to begin a never-ending search for a closed truth. We can see this playing out in act II, scene five when Bernard recites his new, ground-breaking speech. He begins his speech by wanting to put forth his idea that Byron fought a duel at Sidly Park, but, as he progresses through his speech, the speculations become more desperate in their attempts to find an unequivocal meaning. He has begun a process by which a meaning closed within his speech will be accepted by others, but Hannah and Valentine continually point out the deficiencies which are inherently part of the story. Closure within such a system is impossible. Any sort of inevitable final point is incapable of being realized, and, as such, the plays are constantly being propelled forward in hopes of finding such a point. Each play finds work to be done in the future in hopes of finding that elusive moment when presence can actually being attained. It is not to be, though, and, instead, only new possibilities are generated within the system employed to develop closure, which, of course, only drives meaning further into an un-catchable future. The forces of entropic energy dispersal push the formation of innumerable microstates, which, in turn, create innumerable moments of potential, not present meaning. As a result, each newly activated energy within each play is only bringing forth the ability for a future meaning to become absolutely present in a never-ending procession. In order to finally understand why the seemingly simple definition of a point on the Irish landscape or hollow inscriptions of praise in a preface become so unstable, the idea of entropy becomes important in a different way. One of the most important laws of entropy is that it only works in one direction. The constant dispersal of energy is the only path available to the energy within any system. When this is applied to the language systems in each play, the only path for the energy of consolidated meaning to travel is towards a dispersal into multiple possibilities.
Bauserman 20 Tobair Vree must change its meaning; its energy within the languageâ€™s system must be made multiple as difference gestures towards meaning. The hermit must push forward the current world of the characters; the sight of the hermit must drive Hannah towards am elusive moment in which the mystery will be completely answered. Once a system has been set in motion, in this case by an originary trace, no energy can withstand the force that pushes towards a dispersal of meaning, which inevitably follows any inscription. As result, both plays move towards what appears to be chaos, but, in actuality, is only the exposition of the a rapidly increasing state of manifold potentials.
Bauserman 21 Works Cited Bakhtin, Mikhail M. From The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays. Theory of the Novel: A Historical Approach. Ed. Michael McKeon. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 2000. Print. Bradley, Arthur. Derrida’s Of Grammatology. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 2008. Print. Deutscher, Penelope. How to Read Derrida. New York: Norton, 2005. Print. Friel, Brian. Translations. London: Faber and Faber, 1981. Print. Lambert, Frank L. “Entropy is Simple—If We Avoid the Briar Patches.” Occidental College, 2008. Web. 29 November 2009. Neel, Jasper. Plato, Derrida, and Writing. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 1988. Print. O’Neill, Patrick. The Comedy of Entropy: Humor, Narrative, Reading. Toronto: U Toronto P, 1990. Print. Stoppard, Tom. Arcadia. New York: Faber and Faber, 1993. Print.