Logic of Supplementarity

Derrida’s logic of supplement helps me understand Foucault’s view on “sex” and how it has changed to something we now use to identify ourselves by rather than what it used to be see perceived as in the past. She explains this logic as the thing that is identified as a “supplement”, comes to also need supplementation, because it shares the qualities thought to only be present in the original supplement. Derrida states that “the idea of the original is created by the copies, and that the original is always deferred – never to be grasped,” meaning that the original, becomes a supplement which will then leads to more supplements needed to help explain it (original). This causes a never ending chain of supplements.

When viewing Foucault’s view on sex, the original in this case would be the thought of “sex” in the past centuries when it was seen as a natural act. This act was repressed in different ways during that specific time period. The ways in which it was repressed become the supplements. The supplements serve to add, complete or compensate for the lack of something. Therefore, because “sex” was subjugated it led to the talks/discourses of sex to become its way of making up for the way in which it was repressed. In other words speaking of what is not supposed to be spoken about/done becomes its form of release, which makes up for its absence.

These supplements were necessary for the transformation of the concept of sex. The discoursing become the copies of the original (sex) in the sense that it was a topic that was being talked about in different ways. As a result of these supplements, the original (sex) came to mean something entirely different, which Foucault explains as “an artificial unity of sex” which is made up of the supplements. This unity has become what we now use to attempt to identify ourselves with. This original like Derrida mentions can “never be grasped.” Sex becomes a means of identifying ourselves. Identity is constantly changing depending on our surroundings and how we perceive ourselves in at different times. Identity cannot be grasped and therefore becomes a supplement because like it has the same qualities supplements have, they need to be linked to something other to be understood. Keeping this in mind, if we attempt to identify ourselves through sex, we will find ourselves connecting different aspects, such as female/male, and other characteristics that can explain who we are. These characteristics become supplements and are essential to us making sense of what we define ourselves as since identity cannot do it on its own, it becomes a supplement because it needs supplements.

“Reading the silence” in Women’s Literature

I was really intrigued by Barbara Johnson’s notion of writing/literacy used as enslavement. Reading the Fredrick Douglas excerpt refreshed my memory about how severe a threat literacy was to people in power, and how it was important to keep the “others” ignorant of their own self worth and human rights, by intellectually incapacitating them.

This initially sparked an interest because of Johnson’s reference to women’s literature, and how she relates Derrida to a new (at least to me) reading of it. She emphasizes the significance of “reading the silence” in female lit, which, to me, meant zeroing in on the undertones of suppression and submission in women’s writing. However, it occurred to me that Johnson must be achieving something more in a deeper reading of this specific literature. In another class, I read Mary Wroth, an early Renaissance writer who, I would argue to be among the pioneer female authors who helped earn and establish a validated spot for female writing in a male dominated field. In analyzing her sonnet sequence Pamphilia to Amphilanthus, it was instinctual to read each sonnet within the bounds of its own time, i.e., primarily focusing on the implications of patriarchy on Mary Wroth herself, and how that, in turn, showed up in her writing. This caused my analyses and interpretations to be pretty generalized, as it could be related to any female author, at any time, writing through patriarchy. Instead, I decided to look for the “suppressed, distorted, or disguised messages that women’s writing has encoded.” (Johnson, 47) In doing this, the text went beyond my feminist implications of it being displaced in a general patriarchy, and focused on the value of women within the literacy field of Renaissance poetry, more specifically the ‘complaint’, which is basically a sonnet that expresses dramatic anguish about love.  In looking at the structure of her writing, I noticed she followed the traditional structure of a sonnet, but certain essential thematic values present in other traditional complaints were missing. Through these specific absences, Wroth expresses the value and ability of female writers, specifically regarding the male-dominated authorship of the complaint.

This is one way I felt like I could apply a part of Johnson/Derrida’s methodology in “reading the silence”, i.e., analyzing the absence of something and producing an interpretation with just as much merit, if not more, than it’s presence. It’s also something that I feel “takes full advantage of writing’s capacity to preserve what cannot yet be deciphered”, as the value of women in patriarchy is still questioned today.