“To produce this signifying structure obviously cannot consist of reproducing, by the effaced and respectful doubling of commentary, the conscious, voluntary, intentional relationship that the writers institutes in his exchanges with the history to which he belongs thanks to the element of language. This moment of doubling commentary should not doubt have its place in a critical reading. To recognize and respect all its classical exigencies is not easy and requires all the instruments of traditional criticism. Without this recognition and this respect, critical production would risk developing in any direction at all and authorize itself to say almost anything. But this indispensable guardrail has always only protected, it has never opened, a reading.” (1692)
In this section of his text, Derrida is attempting to describe the act of reading. A signifying structure is produced when a reader encounters a text, Derrida explains, but that structure is not a perfect reproduction of the text itself. The reader’s experience with a text is not a perfect exchange of experience with the author of the text. The reader and author are both at the mercy of language and its intrinsic ambiguities, and the act of reading is always an act of translation and interpretation, not resulting in a perfect corollary of experience between reader and author, but producing a new experience between reader and text.
The object of traditional criticism, Derrida says, has been to attempt to narrow that inherent ambiguity. Criticism attempts to closely define the text and close off other avenues of interpretation in an attempt to get as close as possible to what the author intended. Without this “guardrail” that traditional criticism attempts to define, “critical production” or meta-textual discourse would be at risk of having no discipline at all and descending into utter chaos. This is all well and good, says Derrida, but the act of reading is actually a distinct and separate experience from the act of writing, the text itself does not correlate to the author’s experience (there is no nontextual experience for it to correlate to, in fact), so why are we so busy trying to define THAT experience when we could be paying a little bit more attention to what is happening when we just read the text for itself.