There are several levels of paradox. The shallowest level, aleph-one,
exists where words contradict themselves. One meaning is
juxtaposed with a contradictory one. Such paradoxes can be articulated,
such as in "This sentence is lying." The deepest level,
aleph-null, exists where language contradicts itself. Here
the possibility of meaning itself is cast into doubt. (This very
formulation assumes that which it denies, for to speak of doubt
is to assume that there is certainty.) Such paradoxes cannot be
articulated, for a successful articulation would require the destruction
of meaning itself. Derrida cannot of course articulate a paradox
of type aleph-null, so he does the next best thing: he writes
under erasure. To write under erasure is to write a word and cross
it out, but to let both the word and the deletion stand.
Derrida borrows this practice from its originator Heidegger, who
critiques the word "Being" because simply to say the
word presupposes that anything can be. This is precisely
the pressuposition Heidegger wishes to examine, but it is very
difficult to question the possibility of being in a language which
exists because it assumes the possibility. Heidegger therefore
writes the word as [.]. This allows him to point, metaphorically,
to the fact that he cannot help but use the word in the very process
of questioning its meaning.
Heidegger's use of the technique suggests that Being does
exist and can somehow be apprehended through philosophy (the same
hope articulated by Plato and, for that matter, by Hilbert, Norris
and Whitehead.) Derrida assumes no such thing. He goes Heidegger
one better, so to speak, by arguing that all language is
written "under erasure." Language exists only because
there is a paradox at the very place where language comes into
being. In other words, there is an aleph-null paradox at the origin
I suggest that the lethal text articulates an aleph-null
paradox. Naturally, this text can only be written in a language
which does not have the limitations of human language. Lethal
texts have to be written in a transcendental language. Such languages
cannot be translated into human ones, and those who read them
cannot possibly convey what they have learned. Gayatri Spivak
suggests that Heidegger "makes it clear that Being cannot
be contained by, is always prior to, indeed transcends signification.
It is therefore a situation where the signified commands, and
yet is free of, all signifiers--a recognizably theological situation"
(xvi). It is also a recognizably Platonic
situation. To escape from the cave into the light is a metaphor
for escaping into a world not bound by human language.
suggests that its destroyer signal is simply a text which teaches
its readers how to read the transcendental language in which it
itself is written. It is a primer in transcendental language.
Therefore, it is not what it says that is devastating,
but rather how it says it. Its mere existence critiques
human language and make the paradoxes that underlie it unbearable.
It is important that the destroyer signal is simply a text about
itself, in such a way that to read it is to instantly experience
what it describes. In describing transcendental language, it carries
its readers into a transcendental realm. It is a text in which
the USE-MENTION distinction, normally tanglable and tangled, becomes irrelevant.
To mention it is to use it. The nam-shub described in Mesopotamian myth,
and excavated in Snow Crash,
is self-reflexive in exactly this way. It is a story about the
destruction of language, which, when heard, destroys the language
of its hearers.