"Speech Versus Writing" In Derrida and Bhartṛhari
By Harold G. Coward

Philosophy East and West
Vol. 41, No. 2 (1991)
pp. 141-162

Copyright 1991 by University of Hawaii Press
Hawaii, USA



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A question suggested by Processor T. R. V. Murti in his 1963 Presidential Address to the All India Philosophical Congress focused on the status of the spoken word within language. [1] Murti points out that for Indian thinkers, language was primarily the spoken word or speaking itself (vāk). However, this definition of language does not identify it with the overt sounds produced physiologically or with the written signs which are merely phonetic copies of the spoken sounds. In fact, said Murti, "the distinction between śabda (Word) and dhvani (Sound) is basic to the Indian philosophy of language. To identify them, to take the physical sound as the word, is a category mistake." [2] With this contention Jacques Derrida agrees. It is Derrida's contention that virtually the whole of Western metaphysics from Plato to Rousseau and Levi-Strauss has made the category mistake of identifying language or logos with the spoken word. [3] But whereas for Murti the category mistake was in taking the outer sound instead of the inner word to be the essence of language, Derrida makes the utterly surprising move of seeming to go in the opposite direction -- of identifying the essence of language with writing. While Murti was challenging naturalistic schools of philosophy such as the Buddhists, Derrida confronts both the logocentric position (which Murti represents), as well as the Buddhists. For when Derrida describes language as "writing" he not only means that writing is prior to the spoken reflection of the inner logos, but also that language is not merely a sort of external speaking or writing as the Buddhists suggest. What Derrida attempts is a deconstruction or self-analysis of language that exposes the mistake of a reductionism in either direction, inward to the divine logos or outward to the conventional sign. In his desire to escape all philosophical oppositions such as ''inner" versus "outer," Derrida subtly states his position: "language is not merely a sort of writing 'but' a possibility founded on the general possibility of writing." [4] For Derrida, as we shall see, "writing" characterizes both the "inner" and the "outer" word in dynamic interrelationship, which, at points, bears striking similarity with the Indian philosophy of language put forth by Bhartṛhari in his Vākyapadīya. [5]

    Indian philosophy has been even more emphatic than Western thought with regard to the priority of the oral over the written. The tradition in both Hindu and Buddhist philosophy has been to correct the written text with the oral. It is the oral word, carefully memorized, guarded by the discipline of the Prātiśākhyas, [6] and passed down from teacher to student through succeeding generations that has remained authoritative in India. [7] Thus Derrida's proposition that writing is prior, not secondary, to



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speech will seem at first blush to be quite incredible. Even the West, with its greater stress on the written, has generally accepted the historical priority of oral languages to writing and so finds Derrida's thesis to be outrageous. However, recent research by Andre Leroi-Gourhan on the marks associated with cave paintings, and by Alexander Marshack on the possibility of calendrical markings on prehistoric bone implements, in the discovery of the Tartaria Tablets, raises fundamental questions about our dating of the invention of writing to Sumer, around 3100 B.C. [8] Derrida cites this evidence as an initial reason for why we should take him seriously. But his real point has nothing to do with the historical priority of the written. His proposition that writing is prior to speech is simply part of his Nāgārjuna-like tactic of exposing the weakness of a position by turning its own stratagems against itself. [9] By reversing the usual speech/writing hierarchical opposition, which has obtained in the West since Socrates and throughout Indian thought, Derrida's ultimate aim is to counter the simple choice of one of the terms over the other -- to escape the system of metaphysical opposition that has dominated much Western and Indian philosophy. "Writing" for Derrida is not just the inscription of words on paper or computer program, but includes the neuronal traces in the brain which Freud identifies as memory, [10] and indeed is the active moment of differentiation which is the creative force of all language. [11] Derrida even playfully alludes to DNA as a "writing" or trace present in all living substances. Writing and its originary trace begins to sound like the saṁskāras or originary memory traces of traditional karma theory. Derrida's initial aim in all of this is to deconstruct the traditional priority accorded speech (and its logocentric metaphysics of presence) over writing.

    In relating Derrida's critique to Indian philosophy and, in particular to Bhartṛhari, we will examine: (1) Derrida's deconstruction of the logocentric priority of speech over writing, (2) language as manifested in Derrida and Bhartṛhari, and (3) language as a means for spiritual realization.


Derrida's Deconstruction of the Priority of Speech over Writing

    Derrida follows Nietzsche and Heidegger (and perhaps implicitly Nāgārjuna in Indian philosophy) in elaborating a critique or "metaphysics," by which he means not only the Western philosophical tradition but everyday thought and language as well.

Western thought, says Derrida, has always been structured in terms of dichotomies or polarities: good vs. evil, being vs. nothingness, presence vs. absence, truth vs. error, identity vs. difference, mind vs. matter, man vs. woman, soul vs. body, life vs. death, nature vs. culture, speech vs. writing. [12]

These opposites, however, have not been seen as equal entities. The second term is always put in the position of being a fallen or corrupted version of the first. Thus evil is the lack of good, absence is the lack of



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presence, error is a distortion of truth, and difference is an obstruction of identity. The two terms are not held in an opposing tension but are placed in a hierarchical order which gives the first term priority both in time and quality. The general result has been the privileging of unity, identity, and temporal and spatial presence over diversity, difference, and deferment in space and time. Thus Western philosophy (and much of Indian philosophy) has answered the question of the nature of being in terms of presence.

    Within this broad context, Derrida's critique of Western metaphysics focuses on the privileging of the spoken over the written word. As we have already noted, this same privileging of speech over writing has characterized Indian thought. Barbara Johnson, one of Derrida's translators, clearly summarizes his analysis of the privileging of speech as follows:

The spoken word is given a higher value because the speaker and listener are both present to the utterance simultaneously. There is no temporal or spatial distance between speaker, speech, and listener, since the speaker hears himself speak at the same moment as the listener does. This immediacy seems to guarantee the notion that in the spoken word we know what we mean, mean what we say, say what we mean and know what we have said. Whether or not perfect understanding always occurs in fact, this image of perfectly self-present meaning is, according to Derrida, the underlying ideal of Western culture. [13]

Derrida calls this belief in the self-presentation of meaning "Logocentricism," from the Greek logos (speech, logic, reason, the Word of God). Writing, from the logocentric perspective, is seen as a secondary representation of speech to be used when speaking is impossible. The writer puts thought on paper, distancing it from the immediacy of speech and enabling it to be read by someone far away, even after the writer's death. All of this is seen as a corruption of the self-presence of meaning, an opening of meaning to forms of corruption which the presence of speech would have prevented. [14] Derrida's critique is not aimed at reversing this value system, and showing writing to be superior to speech. Rather, his critique attempts to dissect the whole system of metaphysical opposition upon which the speech versus writing debate is grounded. In so doing, Derrida finds that both speech and writing are beginninglessly structured by difference and distance. The very experience of meaning is itself an experience of difference, and this difference is shown by Derrida to inhabit the very heart of what appears to be immediate and present. In his commentary on Freud's "mystic writing-pad" Derrida shows that difference is present even in the structures of the unconscious. [15] The apparent experience of a unitary self-presence of meaning and consciousness is found to arise from the repression of the differential struc-



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tures from which they spring. [16] Logocentricism deconstructed is shown to depend on difference, and difference, in both time and space, to be characteristic of speech as well as writing.

    Before examining Derrida's deconstruction of logocentricism in detail, let us see if there are schools of Indian philosophy that fit into the logocentric category and are thus subject to Derrida's critique. Within the āstika or Orthodox traditions certainly the Sāṁkhya/Yoga, Vedanta, and Nyāya schools are structured in terms of polarities such as identity versus difference, soul or self versus matter/māyā, truth versus error, and so forth, in which the second term of the pair is always of a lower status. Ontological Being/Presence/Consciousness is identified with the first term of the pair. All also venerate speech over writing, perhaps even more strongly than is the case with Western philosophy. There is also a valuing of phonetic speech and writing over nonphonetic languages, such as Chinese. Pāṇini's Aṣṭādhyāyī or Grammar is based on the sound of spoken Sanskrit, [17] and is thus a prime candidate for what Derrida calls "phonocentricism," which is open to all the criticisms of logocentricism. [18] The negative status given to writing in the West is paralleled and accentuated in the Indian tradition. Scribes in India have had a low status and the texts they write are judged to be very unreliable. The written is valued only as a teaching aid for those too dull to remember. In fact the very act of writing was held to be ritually polluting in a late Vedic text -- the Aitareya āraṇyaka 5.5.3 states that a pupil should not recite the Veda after eating meat, seeing blood or a dead body, having intercourse or engaging in writing. [19] Clearly the āstika or Orthodox schools of Indian philosophy (with the exception of the Grammarian school, which will be discussed later) largely share the same logocentric biases toward Being and Speech and against writing as those located by Derrida in Western metaphysics. Nor do the nāstika or Heterodox schools escape Derrida's net. Jainism strongly shares in the soul/matter dialectic and, like Buddhism, agrees that language is merely conventional and cannot touch the real. This complete separation of speech from the real (most extreme in the Mādhyamika negation of speech into silence) is attacked by Derrida as being just as unsatisfactory as the extreme logocentric position, with its identification of speech with the real. It is not just the logocentric view which Derrida criticizes, but any philosophy which privileges one opposite or extreme over the other. Derrida's net of deconstructive critique would then seem to be as potentially devastating to Indian philosophy as it is to Western philosophy. The one school that may escape Derrida, by having prefigured much of his critique, is the Grammarian school, especially in its formulation by Bhartṛhari. Let us now test out this suggestion as we examine Derrida's deconstruction of logocentricism.

    Both Derrida and Bhartṛhari agree that since philosophy must be done



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in language, literary analysis is as important as, and perhaps more important than, logical analysis. As Derrida puts it, philosophers have been able to impose their various conceptual systems only by ignoring or suppressing the disruptive effects of language. [20] Bhartṛhari in Vākyapadīya I:14 describes grammar as the "purifier of all the sciences." It is through the use of correct forms of language -- as identified by the Grammarians -- that philosophic or any other kind of knowledge can be obtained. Both Bhartṛhari and Derrida break down the barrier between literary criticism and philosophy.

    If all knowledge comes through language, is there a source or ground of language which is outside of or beyond language? Does language depend on something else -- God, the logos, Brahman? The answer for both Derrida and Bhartṛhari is "no." In Bhartṛhari's Vākyapadīya the Absolute is the Śabdatattva, the Word-Principle, and therefore is not something apart from or beyond language. Derrida establishes his "no" by deconstructing the point of view that has dominated metaphysics: namely, that a separate Being or Presence is immediately reflected in speech and then given a secondary representation in writing. Derrida deconstructs this argument as it is presented in Plato, Rousseau, and others, by finding writing, when understood as diffèrance, to contain all of spoken language, and all inscribed language. This of course requires an enlarged concept of writing. In his reading of the Phaedrus, Derrida locates the basis for such an enlarged view of writing in Plato's own text. Whereas Western philosophy has seen writing in the Phaedrus as being an orphan unable to communicate knowledge, Derrida finds evidence for a second kind of writing at 276a of the Phaedrus:

    Socrates: But now tell me, is there another sort of discourse that is brother to written speech, but of unquestioned legitimacy? Can we see how it originates, and how much better and more effective it is than the other?
    Phaedrus: What sort of discourse have you now in mind, and what is its origin?
    Socrates: The sort that goes together with knowledge, and is written in the soul of the learner, that can defend itself, and knows to whom it should speak and to whom it should say nothing.
    Phaedrus: Do you mean the discourse of a man who really knows which is living and animate? Would it be fair to call the written discourse only a kind of ghost (eidolon) of it?
    Socrates: Precisely... [21]

In this passage Derrida finds evidence for a deconstruction or reversal of the usual Platonic view of writing:

While presenting writing as a false brother -- traitor, infidel, and simulacrum -- Socrates is for the first time led to envision the brother of this brother, the legitimate one, as another sort of writing: not merely as knowing, living, animate discourse, but as an inscription of truth in the soul. [22]



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This other sort of writing, written on the soul of the learner, is called the trace [23] or arche-writing [24] by Derrida, and is seen as the dynamic source of both speech and external writing. The necessity of arche-writing or trace being composed of the movement of difference is established in Derrida's analysis of another dialogue, Philebus (17 a-b). Here Socrates notes that although the sound or cry which we first speak is one, it also possesses an unlimited variety of different sounds. [25] It is only through a limiting and mastering of the differences that understanding is obtained. Difference and relation are irreducible, says Derrida, and are designated as "writing" by Plato. [26] Derrida goes on to observe that all of this wisdom of Socrates, though originally spoken, comes to us only because it is written down after his death.

    Derrida also establishes the need for the inner trace or arche-writing by a critique of Saussure's linguistic theory. For Saussure, the basis of language is found in the natural bond of the signified (concept or sense) to the spoken word of which the written linage is a contamination. [27] But Saussure suggests that language can be best understood by an analogy to both the form and content of writing. Saussure finds that "difference" is the source of linguistic values. [28] It is precisely this general movement of difference, says Derrida, that is the arche-writing or trace which contains within it the possibility for all oral and written language. Speech and writing are expressions of one and the same language. Arche-writing is nothing but dynamic expressive difference. It does not depend on sound or writing, but is the condition for such sound and writing. Although it does not exist, its possibility is anterior to all expressions (signified/signifier, content/expression, and so forth). This intrinsic diffèrance, concludes Derrida, permits the articulation of speech and writing, and founds the metaphysical opposition between signifier and signified. Diffèrance is therefore the formation of form and the being imprinted of the imprint. [29]

    Instead of the term arche-writing or trace, Bhartṛhari uses the term Śabdatattva or Word-Principle. [30] Brahman, the Word-Principle, is without beginning or end. Although proclaimed to be one, it is divided by the function of its inherent powers. In particular it is through the sequencing power of time (kāla) that the Word-Principle manifests itself in the expressive activity of language, which becomes the model for all other activity. [31] This activity is seen as a real manifestation and not as a merely apparent (Śaṅkara's understanding of vivartate) activity. Bhartṛhari states:

Knowers of tradition (the Vedas) have declared that all this is the transformation [pariṇāmaḥ] of the word. It is from the chandas [hymns of the Vedas] that this universe has evolved. [32]

"Here the term pariṇāmaḥ is used to describe the same process which is described in I.1 by vivartate." [33] Writing at the end of the fifth century A.D.,



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Bhartṛhari does not speak in terms of causality such as typify Śaṅkara's later debates, but emphasizes the marvelous activity by which the multiple universe is manifested out of the one Word-Principle or Śabdatattva. [34] For our present purposes the important point is that for Bhartṛhari, Brahman, as the Word-Principle, is an intrinsically dynamic and expressive reality, and that language (and all of the universe) is its manifestation through the process of temporal becoming. [35] Like Derrida, Bhartṛhari also uses the notion of a beginningless trace which is inherent in consciousness. Unlike Derrida, however, Bhartṛhari discusses the trace of speech in relation to previous births.

This residual trace of speech has no beginning and it exists in every one as a seed in the mind. It is not possible that it should be the result of the effort of any person. Movements of the articulatory organs by children are not due to instruction by others but are known through intuition. [36]

Iyer notes that the term pratibhāgamyāḥ used here stands (1) for the residual traces of language use in previous births, and (2) for the faculty of speech with which the child is born and for the child's instinct toward activating these traces in human life situations. [37] The next verse makes clear that such instinctual traces are inherently involved in all cognition, for "There is no cognition in the world in which the word does not figure. All knowledge is, as it were, intertwined with the word." [38]

    As was the case for Derrida, Bhartṛhari sees the inherent trace consciousness of language as conditioning all psychic experience from deep sleep to dreams, to ordinary awareness and even to mystical states (states in which there is a direct supersensuous perception of the meaning-whole or sphoṭa). In the dream state, says Bhartṛhari, the only difference is that the seeds or traces of language function in a more subtle manner. [39] It seems evident that Derrida's development of Freud's thought would be easily accommodated within Bhartṛhari. Just as Derrida finds the psychological mechanism behind the Western experience of an unchanging logos, presence, or Self to be the suppression of the experience of difference within the psyche, so Bhartṛhari rejects other Indian schools who equate the experience of Self with something external to consciousness and language. "[The Self] exists within in every individual, but appears to be external." [40] For Bhartṛhari, and it would seem for Derrida, the experience of Self is the unobstructed experience of Śabdatattva or arche-writing manifested in the temporal dynamic of language. Obstacles to this experience are identified as the incorrect understanding and use of language forms and the "ego-knots" that such impure usage produces. [41]

    Not being part of the Western debate over the opposition between speech and writing as sparked by Socrates in the Phaedrus, Bhartṛhari gives only passing reference to the status of writing -- and then only to



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identify texts whose authors are known as opposed to texts considered to be without an author (apauruṣey.). When he does refer to it, as in Vākyapadīya I:132, Bhartṛhari uses the term āgama. In his review of this verse and others where āgama is used, Iyer concludes that what is meant is simply a text composed by some writer, in contrast to śruti or Vedic texts, which are said to be without authors. The contrast is not between written and spoken -- as is the case for Derrida -- but between texts whose authors are known and texts that are considered to be without any author. [42] Although the Vedas may be written, they are, like consciousness, eternal and so do not depend on any human author. [43] They are the criterion manifestation of the Śabdatattva and do not depend on being written down by any human author for their preservation. For those who cannot see the meaning of the Vedas, the composing of commentaries, through the use of reason which divides up the unitary meaning of the sentence, is done for teaching purposes or for the benefit of those who can only see superficially. [44] Bhartṛhari, however, agrees with Derrida that one benefit of āgama is that when teachers or authors die, their words continue and serve as the seed basis for the formation of further tradition. [45] Overall, there is no doubt that texts composed by authors, like authorless speech, are a manifestation of the Śabdatattva for Bhartṛhari. For both, however, the temporal transformation of the originating source of language through speech and writing is seen to be continuous. If Bhartṛhari were here today, and able to understand Derrida's thought, perhaps he would not find the term arche-writing too far from his Śabdatattva. Certainly both would find common cause against those who locate the absolute outside of language or who maintain that language has no purchase on reality.


Language as Manifested in Derrida and Bhartṛhari

    For both Derrida and Bhartṛhari it is the pure possibility of difference that is manifested as language. It is the intrinsic diffèrance of the arche-trace that permits the articulation of speech and writing. The arche-trace manifests into the opposing forms of inner concept and outer sound-image. Derrida uses the technical term "sign" to refer to the whole, "signified" to refer to the abstract concept, and "signifier" to refer to the spoken and heard sound-image. [46] Bhartṛhari's technical terminology would seem to provide a virtually perfect parallel: "sphoṭa" [47] to indicate the whole, "artha" to refer to the concept or meaning and "dhvani" to refer to the uttered and heard sound. For both Derrida and Bhartṛhari the linguistic whole (the sign or sphoṭa), has an inherent force toward differentiation that produces the double manifestation of inner meaning (signified, artha) and spoken sound (signifier, dhvani). Although sign and sphoṭa are irreducible, neither can be experienced as pure presence.



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Rooted within language, even in its most holistic form, is the pregnant push towards sequencing, sparing, punctuation -- differentiation in time and space. In the Vākyapadīya, the Śabdatattva, symbolized by the seed sound AUM, [48] is sequenced by the power of time into the various recentions of the Veda and all spoken words. [49] For Derrida the image is one of the sign, as the linguistic whole, being differentiated by spacing (on the page) and interval or pause (in speaking) into articulated meaning and sound-image. It is the actualizing of this inherent force for differentiation that enables language to function. But it is, at the same time, the limit of language. As Derrida puts it, since a sign (the unity of signified and signifier) cannot be produced within the plentitude of absolute presence, there is, therefore, no full speech, no absolute truth or full meaning. [50] In the words of Lao Tzu, "The tao that can be spoken is not the eternal tao" [51] Or as Hegel once put it, "When speaks the soul, alas, the soul no longer speaks." [52] But whereas Lao Tzu and Hegel are mourning the inability of manifested language to make present the soul or the tao, Derrida and Bhartṛhari emphasize the positive contribution of articulated speech. The sphoṭa and the sign (Derrida's whole) are manifested, and in the dynamic tension of that manifestation lies truth.

    Rather than arriving at a skepticism of language, namely, that it is devoid of any truth content (the conclusion of the Buddhists and many modern skeptical critics of language), truth is seen to be contained in the very dynamics of language itself. Thus Derrida's thesis that there is no referent outside of the text is not as nihilistic as it at first sounds, and Bhartṛhari's sphoṭa is not as artificial an entity as much Indian philosophy has assumed.

    In Vākyapadīya I:5, there are two terms which Bhartṛhari uses to describe the Veda: it is the prāptyupāya or the means for the attainment of Brahman; and it is the anukāra or symbolization of Brahman. For now let us confine our attention to the term anukāra, which comes from the root kṛ, "to do" or "to make" and suggests the dynamic activity of the Word-Principle. The Vṛtti elucidates the verse by stating that the activity of the Vedic seers in speaking the mantras is the criterion case of word-making activity. The term mantra, notes Aurobindo, signifies a "crossing over" through thought (root man, "to think," and tṛ, "to cross over") from the Absolute or Unmanifested to the human experience of manifested language. [53] As pure Sanskrit language, the mantras are conjunctions of certain powerful seed syllables which induce a particular rhythm or vibration in the psychosomatic structure of consciousness and arouse a corresponding psychic state. Such seed sounds can be differentiated in a great variety of ways producing an immense progeny of language. The evocative power is at its height before the mantras become too locked into particular forms of articulation. Poetry is at its peak



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before language becomes too fully elaborated. Then it must be deconstructed or evolved backwards to recover its original power for signification. Articulation is necessary, but the further it goes the greater the loss of freedom and power within language.

    This also seems to be what Derrida means when he refers to the prose book as a corpse of language which must be exited from or transcended [54] -- the delimiting of the multisignificant roots has been pursued to its logical conclusion, and the power of the word has been exhausted. The aim of the project of deconstruction, says Derrida, agreeing with Aurobindo, is to get back to metaphoric, poetic language, where the power for signification has not yet been used up. [55] Bhartṛhari also reminds us that as language divides and separates, this necessary process in the end can become a source of confusion. The process of difference, pushed to its logical conclusion, produces such a plethora of speaking accents that communication of knowledge is obstructed. [56] Unlike Derrida and Aurobindo, Bhartṛhari's solution is not to deconstruct or reverse the process of differentiation, but to control it by the imposition of strict grammatical rules (the science of the Grammarians) by which the power of the root mantras to convey knowledge and action will not be obfuscated. [57] Bhartṛhari, along with the other Grammarians, claims to have uncovered the pure forms of the correct unfolding of the patterns of differentiation inherent in the Śabdatattva and symbolized (anukāra) in criterion form in the initial speaking of the Vedas. [58]

    Another aspect of the meaning of anukāra, as we find it in Vākyapadīya I:5, is the notion of resemblance. Carpenter puts it well:

The Veda, as the anukāraḥ of Brahman standing in a position of imitative resemblance to its source, occupies a mediating position between this source and the diverse forms of the world. It presents, within the dynamic framework of the world as a whole, a level of expression and action which is directly related to the unitary ground of that world. It thus presents the established order of dharmaḥ in contrast to the often disorderly world of everyday experience (vyavahāraḥ). [59]

The Veda is not a direct description of Brahman, the Śabdatattva. Language functions to mediate action, not ideas. It is the verb not the noun that is basic. Vedic revelation, for Bhartṛhari, does not provide us with a representation of the transcendent object, the Word-Principle. What the Veda does do is to mediate the inherent action of the Śabdatattva directly through the dynamic idiom of language. "The Veda is thus the outward linguistic form of the dynamic self-manifesting act of the Word-Principle itself." [60] To the extent that other language use approximates the Veda, it also shares in the self-manifesting of the Word-Principle. The function of the Grammarians is to help all language use, from whatever science, realize that goal. [61]



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    It seems dear that Derrida would not agree with Bhartṛhari's privileging of scripture in general or of the Veda in particular. He would probably also criticize the notion of the Veda as manifesting the original linguistic form or anukāra of arche-writing. The critique Derrida offers of the Bible as a Grammar of Being in accordance with which "the world in all its parts is a cryptogram to be constituted or reconstituted through poetic inscription or deciphering..." [62] has yet to be tested against the Veda -- but that is another project. It is clear, however, that Bhartṛhari's emphasis on language as active rather than passive, as necessarily engaging both thought and action, as not representing but mediating the absolute, is largely in agreement with the overall thrust of Derrida's deconstructive critique.


Language as a Means for Spiritual Realization

    If language is experienced as a mediation of arche-writing or Śabdatattva, then it is also a means for spiritual realization. Language is not merely epistemological in function. Over against Śaṅkara's assessment of māyā (including all language and even the Vedas) as having epistemological but not ontological status, [63] both Derrida and Bhartṛhari locate the real in arche-writing or Śabdatattva, which is not separate from manifested language. While for Śaṅkara language (and the Vedas) must be transcended for spiritual realization (mokṣa), for Bhartṛhari it is in language that union with the Śabdatattva is realized.

    Before looking at Bhartṛhari's clear conception of vāk or speech as the means for the spiritual realization (prāptyupāya) of Śabdatattva, let us test Derrida's grammatology to see if, like Bhartṛhari's science of grammar (vyākaraṇa) it can also be construed as a means for spiritual realization. In his deconstruction of the Western metaphysics of logos or presence, Derrida takes pains to distance himself from any suggestion of theistic religion. Derrida considers his own notion of arche-writing or prototrace to be an atheistic or, more properly, a nontheistic proposal. Of course the term arche-writing is meant to be confounding. How can a writing or trace precede that writing or trace which is left behind? But, aside from Derrida's perplexing play of language with regard to the divine, we do find some hints that support our interpretation of arche-writing as being parallel to Śabdatattva. In Of Grammatology [64] Derrida discusses the nature of arche-writing or trace. The manifested trace cannot be thought, without the thinking of the retention of difference, of all manifestation, so that the trace contains all history and all possibility. This history and possibility is not static but contains an inherent force for unmotivated self-manifestation. [65] This self-manifestation is structured according to the diverse possibilities -- genetic and structural -- of the trace. "This formulation is not theological, as one might believe somewhat hastily," says Derrida. "The 'theological' is a determined moment in



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the total movement of the trace." [66] The theological is a historically second dissimulation of the trace. The general structure of the unmotivated trace is that of temporal becoming. The trace is not more natural than cultural, not more biological than spiritual. "It is that starting from which a becoming-unmotivated of the sign, and with it all the ulterior oppositions between physio and its other, is possible." [67]

    Derrida's writing is purposely not systematic. But he does give a fair hint as to the shape that the becoming of the trace takes:

Representation mingles with what it represents, to the point where one speaks as one writes, one thinks as if the represented were nothing more than the shadow or reaction of the representer... In this play of representation, the point of origin becomes ungraspable. There are things like reflecting pools, and images, an infinite reference from one to the other, but no longer a source, a spring [source]. There is no longer simple origin. For what is reflected is split in itself and not only as an addition to itself of its image. The reflection, the image, the double, splits what it doubles. The origin of the speculation becomes a difference. What can look at itself is not one; and the law of addition of the origin to its representation, or the thing to its image, is that one plus one makes at least three. [68]

It is the direct experience of this dynamic process of becoming, not as a process of static reflection or metaphysical opposition, that would for Derrida be the realization of the spiritual whole. The sensitive deconstruction of the illusions of permanence, of stasis, or presence (which our ordinary experience and many of our philosophies have superimposed on the becoming of language) is Derrida's prescription as the means for the realization of the whole. We cannot name this whole "spiritual," for that is already to engage the vocabulary of metaphysical opposition. But to understand the whole as manifestation of the inherent difference of the trace is for Derrida the goal. To go from the inscribed trace (writing) to the spoken word and the arche-writing which prefigures and predisposes both, only to be thrown back again, in a continual deconstructive reverse, would seem to be Derrida's use of language as a spiritual discipline. Although this may look like a Mādhyamikan answer, it is not. The deconstructive reverse does not result in the silence (śūnya) of language, but rather in the realization that the dynamic tension in the becoming of language is itself the whole. For Derrida, all of this cannot be understood as abstract theorizing. The language we are deconstructing is our own thinking and speaking -- our own consciousness. We ourselves are the text we are deconstructing. That is why, for Derrida, there is nothing outside of texts. Deconstruction is the process of becoming self-aware, or self-realization.

    Can we say that this Derridean deconstruction of language is a means for spiritual realization? A comparison of Derrida with Bhartṛhari helps us to see why we can answer this question in the affirmative. Like Derrida,



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Bhartṛhari maintains that the analysis of linguistic experience is an examination of the very nature of our consciousness. Just as for Derrida consciousness is nothing but trace or writing, so for Bhartṛhari consciousness is nothing but Śabdatattva -- the inextricably intertwining of consciousness with the word. [69] But one difference that must be acknowledged immediately is that while Derrida deconstructs all books, all scriptures, privileging none, Bhartṛhari explicitly states that the Veda is the means for the realization of Brahman. [70]

    Bhartṛhari is not simply privileging one book or one scripture over all others. His thought is more complex and subtle than that. On the one hand, as we have seen above, Bhartṛhari has said that the Veda is the anukāra of the Śabdatattva -- that is, the Veda is the normative form of the manifested Śabdatattva. All other language is merely a further elaboration of the criterion manifestation of the Śabdatattva as the Veda. The Veda is not one book among others; it is the true manifestation of the Śabdatattva. That is why Bhartṛhari describes it in Vākyapadīya I:5 as both the anukāra and the prāptyupāya or means of realization of Brahman. On the other hand, however, Bhartṛhari also describes the science of grammar as the royal path and door to spiritual realization. [71] Grammar is no longer merely an aid to the study of the Veda but is itself a yoga or means to realization. This shift is possible because Bhartṛhari sees Veda as the manifestation of the Śabdatattva itself; grammar, as the science of the Veda, is at the same time the science of the Śabdatattva or Word-Principle itself and thus a yoga. A few verses later, Bhartṛhari specifically describes a "Yoga preceded by the knowledge and use of the correct forms of words," namely, the science of grammar. [72] Later on at Vākyapadīya I:131, Bhartṛhari gives more detailed indications as to what this yoga of the word involves. I have given a detailed analysis of this passage elsewhere and will not repeat it here. [73] For our present purpose the important point to note is Bhartṛhari's locus on the individual's inner experience of language as involving an inner transformation -- which parallels Derrida's emphasis on grammatology as the science of writing before speech and in speech with power to change the individual's self-awareness. [74]

    Bhartṛhari's emphasis on language as an inner transformative experience not only provides promising links with the modern thought of Derrida, but can also be seen as a compromise between the more individualistic Buddhists and Naiyāyikas. Carpenter puts it this way:

This is the case because for Bhartṛhari, the Word-Principle is the foundation not only of the Veda and the orthodox traditional world derived from it, but also of the individual's experience in appropriating that world. This experience is characterized by elements of genuine interiority, yet these elements are grounded in the same Word-Principle which manifests itself as the Veda. [75]



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Like Derrida, however, Bhartṛhari analyzes the individual's inner experience not as the static presence of a set of divine words or forms (the logos model), nor as a superimposition of epistemological forms (Śaṅkara's māyā), but as an inner word which is primarily productive of activity and only secondarily productive of knowledge. [76] Bhartṛhari's Śabdatattva, the Word-Principle, is primarily an ontological principle, and only secondarily epistemological.

    We have seen how for Derrida the movement of language was a continuous sequencing of the arche-writing or trace into the spoken and written words, only to be thrown back again in a continual deconstructive reverse. The same kind of implosion-explosion cycle can be found in Bhartṛhari. Just as the Śabdatattva manifests itself objectively as the cosmos, [77] so the same Word-Principle manifests itself within all individuals in their experience of language. [78] Within the individual, the experience of the sequenced parts (letters and words) is subordinate to the unified whole (the sentence). Understanding of the sentence is only possible because its words taken together evoke a flash of illumination (pratibhā or sphoṭa) which is in some sense already prefigured (Derrida's arche-trace?) within consciousness. [79] This is due to the activity of the Śabdatattva. Bhartṛhari describes it as follows:

When the meanings (of the individual word) have been understood separately, a flash of understanding takes place which they call the meaning of the sentence, brought about by the meanings of the individual words.

It cannot be explained to others as such and such. It is experienced by everyone within himself and even the subject [of the experience] is not able to render an account of it to himself.

It is something indefinable (avicāritā) and it brings about a kind of amalgamation of the meanings of individual words, covering the whole sentence as it were, it becomes its object.

No one can avoid in one's activity that (flash of understanding) produced either through words or through the working of one's predispositions. [80]

This pratibhā or flash of understanding is insight into the whole meaning and form of the Śabdatattva. Pratibhā precedes and predisposes all human and animal activity. But it is also the culmination of our sequenced language activity as the illumination of the sentence. As such pratibhā is the means for the realization of the Śabdatattva, for they are but two sides of the same coin. Pratibhā is of the nature of one's inner self (Śabdatattva), but requires the words of language for its manifestation and realization. [81] Bhartṛhari's theory of intuition is not separate from his theory of language, but, indeed, is its fulfillment. Pratibhā is the experience in which the twofold manifestation of the Śabdatattva - as language and world, as knower and known -- meet. This intuition is neither



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a purely subjective event nor an intuition of a thing-in-itself. "It is rather the intrinsic luminosity of the world as a dynamic interrelated whole which is revealed by language." [82] Language is the enactment of the interrelatedness of the manifested Śabdatattva. As Bhartṛhari puts it in Vākyapadīya III:2:14:

That one Reality is seen as the word, the meaning and their relation. It is the seen, the seeing, the see-er and the fruit of the seeing. [83]

Pratibhā is the intuition of all of this and is described by Bhartṛhari as the light which removes ignorance. It is indefinable (avicāritā) because what it reveals is not some "thing," "idea," or "presence," but rather the dynamic interrelatedness of all things -- an insight giving rise to action resulting in spiritual realization.

    For both Derrida and Bhartṛhari, the science of grammar enables one to experience language as more than purely epistemological in function. As we speak and write it, it "speaks and writes" us impelling us to action (dharma). While it is clear that Bhartṛhari's speaking, writing, and acting of the word is a yoga or means of spiritual realization, Derrida only offers hints in that direction. It is clear that for Derrida the "theological" is a secondary manifestation of the trace, and that its problem and the problem with most Western metaphysics (and religion) is that the theological is a reification resulting from the suppressing or the difference inherent in language -- the locus of its power in both spiritual and worldly action. Derrida's rejection of theology, metaphysics, and much philosophy is rooted in Bhartṛhari's observation that the dynamic interrelatedness of language cannot be described by the agent who experiences it. For both Bhartṛhari and Derrida any such description would be a reduction of the "dynamic interrelatedness of all experience" to some "thing" or "idea." Such a reductionism robs language of its power of action. This loss is simultaneously a loss of linguistic power, and a loss of the power of spiritual realization.

    For both Derrida and Bhartṛhari the correct understanding and practice of language results in a teleological transformation of experience. This common conclusion arises from remarkably different religious roots: Derrida's understanding from a prophetic critique of the Jewish and Christian experience of God; Bhartṛhari's from an interpretation of Vedic dharma which took into account the Nyāya and Buddhist claims for individual spiritual experience.

    We cannot say much of Derrida's religious roots and goal. In his relentless deconstruction of every logocentric theology, and even every negative theology, he keeps his spiritual self well hidden. [84] But perhaps this is the clue. Could it be that his spiritual source and vision are rooted in the Hebrew prophets? Just as Hebrew prophecy ruthlessly criticized



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every objectification of God which packaged and separated God from the divine demand for ethical action in daily life, [85] so Derrida rigorously deconstructs all theology, philosophy, and ordinary language which objectifies our experience into false Gods and unreal presences. That Derrida's deconstruction does have a prophetic goal is suggested by his essay "Of an Apocalyptic Tone Recently Adopted in Philosophy." [86] In this reading of the New Testament "Revelation or Apocalypse to John," Derrida suggests that the apocalyptic be considered "a transcendental condition of all discourse, of all experience itself, of every mark or every trace." [87] The Apocalypse of John, he suggests, could be taken as an exemplary revelation of this transcendental structure. And the theme of the Johannine Apocalypse he identifies as the recurrent and imperative "come" of the text (Revelation 22:17-20). "Come" evokes both the imminent coming of the Lord and the imperative that the hearer come quickly. The call beyond being or logos itself comes from beyond being. It cannot come from a voice which is given any personification in our hearing of it -- for that would be to "package" it in categories of presence. "Come" is plural in itself, in oneself. Its only content, says Derrida, is its resounding imperative tone [88] that calls forth from us action. The other characteristic of this exemplary book of Apocalypse is indicated in its final words "Do not seal [close] the words of the inspiration of this book..." To seal is to encapsulate or close off the inherent "come" of language and/as religion. The "come" from beyond being and the imperative "come" within oneself never close. The action of coming to the call that never ceases is the end to be realized. All of this fits well with the prophetic impulse of the Hebrew Bible. Its relentless negation of any conceptualization or speaking of the divine (the sin of idolatry), its prophetic hearing of the call to obedience which must always translate into action, and its open-ended future which calls us to become to an end which is always simultaneously a new beginning -- all of this seems to justify our rooting of Derrida in the spiritual critique of the Hebrew Prophets, which Derrida has reformulated as a critique of all idolatrous use of language.

    Like Derrida, Bhartṛhari's science of grammar is also a call to action, to dharma. Bhartṛhari reinterprets Vedic dharma as the dharma of the Word-Principle, the Śabdatattva. This shift means that the dharma that one seeks to realize is no longer outside oneself, one's language or the Veda, but is the very essence of one's consciousness just as for Derrida the voice of the prophetic "come" becomes the "come let us go," the inner voice of language, so also for Bhartṛhari, the Vedic dharma as the Śabdatattva becomes the dharma of "correct" language within individual consciousness. The purification of speech, the task of the traditional Vedic discipline of grammar, becomes the means for inner spiritualization.



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    This initial comparative study of Derrida's deconstructive grammatology and Indian philosophy has proved stimulating and fruitful. It has identified many points of formal and often substantive contact between Derrida and traditional Indian thought. Further analysis of these areas of contact should prove challenging and invigorating for both Eastern and Western thought. That this will be the case has been exemplified in the more specific comparison offered between Derrida and Bhartṛhari. This comparison has demonstrated new insights on both sides. Reading Bhartṛhari with Derrida highlights the error of previous interpretations which have read the Vākyapadīya through decidedly Advaitic eyes. It has also highlighted the remarkably original way in which Bhartṛhari accommodated the Buddhist and Nyāya stress on individual spiritual experience while yet retaining an orthodox grounding in Vedic dharma, now reinterpreted as Śabdatattva. Derrida's challenge to Bhartṛhari would take the form of a thoroughgoing deconstruction of the Vākyapadīya. The most evident point of challenge here would be directed at Bhartṛhari's Pratibhā doctrine as a case of "mystical perception." This is of course the very criticism mounted against Bhartṛhari by the Mīmāṁsakas. Since Derrida does not believe that anything like "pure" perception -- perception free of representation or interpretation -- exists, [89] his challenge is a significant one.

    From the side of Western thought, the comparison has also been fruitful. It has called into question current suggestions that Derrida can be understood as a Mādhyamikan Buddhist -- for this analyst shows him to agree with Bhartṛhari on exactly those points which separate Bhartṛhari and Nāgārjuna. The comparison with Bhartṛhari also suggests that Derrida's relation to scripture (as evidenced in his reading of Revelation) may well turn out to be functionally parallel to Bhartṛhari's handling of the Veda. Scripture is incorporated into the very structure of language and consciousness, thus becoming an ontological ground rather than a metaphysical object.

    But perhaps even more important than what each side can learn about itself from the other are the significant points of common emphasis: that language is beginningless and coextensive with consciousness, that language is grounded in its dynamic sequencing by time rather than in any fixed structural forms, that this sequencing takes the form of the dynamic interrelatedness of the cosmos and carries within it an imperative call for action, that this call is obstructed or suppressed by our egocentric creation of concepts with which we identify ourselves as true presence (the sin of idolatry or the ignorance of avidyā), and that the way to counteract this obstruction is the scientific deconstructing (grammatology) or purifying (Vyākaraṇa) of language, which results in some form of "spiritual realization."



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    For the practice of philosophy, both Derrida and Bhartṛhari would reserve a high place. The task of philosophy is to deconstruct (grammatology) or purity by linguistic criticism (Vyākaraṇa) language use in all the sciences. The specific application of this philosophic critique to religion was stated by Professor Murti in a way that Derrida and Bhartṛhari would perhaps both accept:

Without philosophical appraisal and critical alertness, religion would be blind, like the proverbial cock which had picked up a diamond but did not know its worth. It would degenerate into Dogma and Fanaticism. [90]

The call of Derrida and Bhartṛhari is that philosophy (both Western and Indian) urgently needs to get on with its deconstructive and purging task.



1. T. R. V. Murti, "The Philosophy of Language in the Indian Context," in Studies in Indian Thought: The Collected Papers of Professor T. R. V. Murti, ed. by Harold Coward (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1983).

2. Ibid., p. 363.

3. Jacques Derrida, Of Grammatology, trans. by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1976).

4. Ibid., pp. 52 and 14.

5. The Vākyapadīya of Bhartṛhari, trans. by K. A. Subramania Iyer (Poona: Deccan College, 1965). I have also read K. A. Subramania Iyer's edition of the Sanskrit text with Professor T. R. V. Murti. An English summary of the primary Sanskrit philosophical texts of the Grammarian tradition of India along with a major introductory essay has been edited by myself and K. Kunjunni Raja, Philosophy of the Grammarians Princeton; Princeton University Press, 1991).

6. See Harold Coward, The Sphoṭa Theory of Language (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1986), pp. 7-9.

7. See Harold Coward, Sacred Word and Sacred Text: Scripture in World Religions (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 1988), chaps. 4 and 5.

8. Herbert N. Schneidan, "The Word against the Word: Derrida on Textuality," Semeia 23 (1982): 10.

9. Jacques Derrida, Writing and Difference (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978), p. 20.



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10. Jacques Derrida, "Freud and the Scene of Writing," in Writing and Difference, chap. 7. pp. 222 ff.

11. Derrida, Of Grammatology, p. 51. Grammatology, for Derrida, is the science of writing before speech and in all speech.

12. Jacques Derrida, Dissemination, trans. by Barbara Johnson (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981), Translator's Introduction, p. x.

13. Ibid., p. ix.

14. Ibid.

15. Derrida, "Freud and the Scene of Writing," pp. 221 ff.

16. Ibid., p. 197.

17. George Cardona, Pāṇini: A Survey of Research (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1976), p. 142.

18. Derrida, Of Grammatology, p. 3. In this regard it should be noted that a recent article by Zhang Longxi shows Derrida's adoption of the view of Leibniz, Hegel, and others that Chinese and other ideographic (rather than phonetic) languages are mute, and thus free of Western metaphysics, to be wrong. As Zhang puts it, "Chinese poetry is essentially not a script to be deciphered but a song to be chanted, depending for its effect on a highly complicated tonal pattern." See his article "The Tao and the Logos" Critical inquiry 2 (1985): 390.

19. As quoted by F. Stāl, 'The Concept of Scripture in the Indian Tradition," in Sikh Studies, ed. by M. Juergensmeyer and Gerald Barrier (Berkeley: Berkeley Religious Studies Series, 1979), pp. 122- 123. See also J. A. B. van Buitenen, "Hindu Sacred Literature," Encyclopaedia Britannica, 3d ed., vol. 8; and C. Mackenzie Brown, "Purāṇa as Scripture: From Sound to Image of the Holy Word in the Hindu Tradition," History of Religious 26, no. 1 (1986): 68-73.

20. Christopher, Norris, Deconstruction: Theory and Practice (London: Methuen, 1982), p. 18.

21. The Collected Dialogues of Plato, ed. by Edith Hamilton and Huntington Cairns (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1969), p. 521.

22. Jacques Derrida, "Plato's Pharmacy," in Dissemination, p. 149.

23. Ibid., p. 152.

24. Derrida, Of Grammatology, p. 57.

25. The Collected Dialogues of Plato, "Philebus," p. 1093.

26. Derrida, "Plato's Pharmacy," Dissemination. p. 163.



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27. Derrida, Of Grammatology, p. 38.

28. Ibid., p. 52.

29. The sentences above summarize pp 57-63, Of Grammatology.

30. Vākyapadīya I:1.

31. Ibid., I:2.

32. Ibid., I:120.

33. D. Carpenter, "Revelation and Experience in Bhartṛhari's Vākyapadīya," Wiener Zeitschrift für die Kunde Sudasiens 29 (1985): 190.

34. Ibid. See also Vākyapadīya III:3:81, and III:9:17 and 26.

35. Ibid., I:120.

36. Ibid., I:122, Vṛtti.

37. Iyer's note 2 on Vākyapadīya I:122, in The Vākyapadīya of Bhartṛhari, p. 110.

38. Vākyapadīya I:123.

39. Ibid., I:123, Vṛtti.

40. Ibid., I:128, Vṛtti.

41. Ibid., I:130-131 and the Vṛttis.

42. See Iyer's note 1 on Vākyapadīya I:132, in The Vākyapadīya of Bhartṛhari, p. 119.

43. Vākyapadīya I:132.

44. Ibid., I:135.

45. Ibid., I:132.

46. Derrida, Of Grammatology, p. 63.

47. Vākyapadīya I:81.

48. Ibid., I:9.

49. Ibid., I:5.

50. Derrida, Of Grammatology, p. 69.

51. As explained by Zhang Longxi, "The Tao and the Logos," p. 391.

52. As quoted by Ernst Cassirer, Language and Myth, trans. by Susanne K. Langer (New York: Dover, 1953). p. 7.

53. Aurobindo, The Secret of the Veda (Pondicherry: Sri Aurobindo Ashram, 1971), p. 48 and pp. 203-214.

54. Jacques Derrida, "Edmond Jabès and the Question of the Book" in Writing and Difference, pp. 75-76.



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55. Derrida, Of Grammatology, p. 272.

56. Vākyapadīya I:88.

57. Ibid., I:14.

58. For a presentation of the whole Grammarian tradition, see Harold Coward and K. Kunjunni Raja, The Philosophy of the Grammarians (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1991).

59. Carpenter, "Revelation and Experience in Bhartṛhari's Vākyapadīya" p. 194.

60. Ibid.

61. Vākyapadīya I:12-14.

62. Derrida, "Edmond Jabès and the Question of the Book," p. 76.

63. T. M. P. Mahadevan, The Philosophy of Advaita (Madras: Ganesh & Co., 1969), chap. 8.

64. Derrida, Of Grammatology, pp. 46 ff.

65. One thinks here of the notion of līlā or the unmotivated free play of the divine in Indian philosophy -- the free phenomenalizing of the divine.

66. Derrida, Of Grammatology. p. 47.

67. Ibid., p. 48.

68. Ibid., p. 36.

69. Vākyapadīya I:123. See also K. A. S. Iyer, Bhartṛhari (Poona: Deccan College, 1969), pp. 61, 68.

70. Vākyapadīya I:5.

71. Ibid., I:14-16 and 131.

72. Ibid., I:20.

73. Harold Coward, "The Yoga of the Word (Śabdapūrvayoga)," The Adyar Library Bulletin 49 (1985): 1-13.

74. Derrida, Of Grammatology, p. 51.

75. Carpenter, "Revelation and Experience in Bhartṛhari's Vākyapadīya," p. 199.

76. Vākyapadīya I:51. "The energy (kratu) called the word, existing within, as the yolk in the pea-hen's egg, has an action-like function and assumes the sequence of its parts."

77. Ibid., III:3:81.

78. Ibid., II:144.



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79. Ibid., II:437-438 and II:143-145. For a more detailed discussion, see Harold Coward, The Sphoṭa Theory of Language (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1986), pp. 119-125.

80. Vākyapadīya II:143-146. Translation by K. Subramania Iyer (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1977), pp. 60-61.

81. Vākyapadīya II:146, Vṛtti.

82. Carpenter, "Revelation and Experience in Bhartṛhari's Vākyapadīya," p. 203.

83. Vākyapadīya III:2:14. Translation by K. Subramania Iyer (Poona: Deccan College, 1971), p. 72.

84. See Jacques Derrida, "Structure, Sign and Play," in The Structuralist Controversy ed. R. Macksey and E. Donato (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1972), pp. 248, 249, 264, 265; Dissemination, pp. 293-294; Of Grammatology, pp. 71-73. etc; and Writing and Difference, pp. 64-78 and 79-153.

85. See the book of Amos in the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament. Habermas also traces Derrida to Hebrew roots; see Jurgen Habermas, Discourse on Modernity.

86. Jacques Derrida, "Of an Apocalyptic Tone Recently Adopted in Philosophy," Semeia 23 (1982): 63-97.

87. Ibid., p. 87.

88. Ibid., p. 94.

89. Derrida, Of Grammatology, p. 54.

90. Murti, "The Philosophy of Language in the Indian Context," p. 376.