Monday, November 7, 2011

il n’y a pas de hors-texte

My professor in Legislation and Regulation said something interesting today. She said, "today everyone is some kind of neo-textualist." I was initially appalled, textualism as I understand it is the most boorish, wooden, unsophisticated, type of legal interpretation.

However, even I may be willing to admit to subscribing to textualism, with one caveat: That as I understand it nothing is outside the text. Of course a textualist who recognizes that "there is no outside-text" is essentially meaningless. Because, everything is inside the text, being a textualist should allow one to use everything, words, grammar-rules, dictionaries, historical context, and perhaps most importantly personal life experience to interpret a text.

As per Derrida, meaning is a matter of différance. D
ifférance is a play on the French word for difference. So to say that meaning is a matter of difference, is first to say that a word can only mean something in relation to other words. "Medium hot," means something different than "mild," and something different than "hot," and this difference gives sense to the word. Différance also suggests that meaning is constantly differed. To define a word we use other words, whose meaning is themselves only found by reliance on other words, whose meaning is themselves only found by reliance on other words, ad infinitum. Therefore, meaning is constantly differed. Furthermore, because a word can only be understood relative to every other word; and because there is, literally, an infinite separation between a word and its meaning; there is nothing outside the text.

Therefore, anything a reader brings to bear in their interpretation of a text is legitimate because there is nothing outside the text.


  1. I think Justice Scalia might disagree with you. Things that are outside of Scalia's (and therefore the legions of judges who get on his textualism bandwagon) text: legislative history, "personal life experience and impressions," policy preferences, evidence of the "purpose" of the text, and sympathies for parties in court.

    I think Derrida applies pretty well to literary analysis - not so much legal statutory interpretation.

  2. If there is no outside-text, then Derrida applies everywhere. Of course, he also applies nowhere, as all meaning is aporiatic.