The metaphysical tradition can be characterised by two basic desires or trends, admittedly manifested in various different forms, with many complex and subtle inflections and widely differing doctrines, particular styles, tones and contents. First there is a consistently manifested desire to reconstruct a transcendental realm, which is otherwise radically absent. The lost origin of our finite or fallen state drives us to continuously reconstruct our beginnings. Second, in the search for lost origins the ideal and supreme value of presence turns up everywhere. All aspects of experience and/or existence are relegated to a moment of presence.

Presence, we assume, describes an original state, a state that must have come first. As I gaze out into the world I can say the world is present to my observing eye. If that is the case, then my observing consciousness must be present to my own self-reflection.

It thus follows that meaning, in its most pure sense, as conscious thought, must be present to me as I gaze out onto the world. Presence is, therefore, the main predicate for a text’s meaning (its sense or its reference), despite the fact that this meaning is always absent and in need of reconstruction through reading or interpretation.

For this reason, a second moment of presence invades consciousness as absence--the disappearance of the world behind the veils of language, consciousness going astray, the reign of death, non-sense, irrationality. In this way gaps, absences and deficiencies of all imaginable kinds (the structurality or play of a structure) are subordinated to a principle of presence. Is it possible to imagine an absence without reference to the principle of presence? It would be a radical absence, something always and from the beginning absent, missing, lost to experience. If there was such an absence, how could we glimpse it?

From Jacques Derrida

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