Supplementarity

Derrida on “the theme of supplementarity”:

[It] is no more than one theme among others. It is in a chain, carried by it. Perhaps one could substitute something else for it. But it happens that this theme describes the chain itself, the being-chain of a textual chain, the structure of substitution, the articulation of desire and of language, the logic of all conceptual oppositions… (1696)

I wonder if some of this section is lost in translation (and I mean more so than the extent to which it would be lost in translation even had it been written originally in English). Derrida focuses on the weighty implication of the “supplement,” whose incomplete presence “fills and marks a determined lack” (1691).  Certainly even in English the word carries the connotation of an adding-on function, appending a lesser “bonus” to the more valuable material. But I wonder if in French the word is even more imbued with the mental image of filling-out, plumping up, in the sense of “fill,” “fill up,” “supply.” (This is beginning to sound self-referencing, isn’t it?) Supplementing (filling a space) then works even more like substitution, or standing in the place of something that is missing. The absence of the object of desire is palpable, so it must be addressed, but it is never completely eradicated by the apparent “presence” of something to fill the space of what is absent. Derrida seems to be saying that this is exactly the way language works within a text to fill the holes in understanding, the “blind spot[s]” (1697) of absence around which the text is ordered; it supplements (fills to some extent) the blind spots but does not eradicate them. Words will only ever stand in for, but never fully fill the space left by, the concepts we want to express.

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