There are two illuminations and/or dilemmas passed on to us in so called postmodern philosophy from the 20th century:
- The ontological question of the nature of language (i.e. phonetic language)
- The infinite and unconstrained power of modernity proper to knowing (i.e. privileged modern knowledge); the self-contradictory and anthropocentric form of knowledge proper to a structurally overloaded subject (i.e. privileged modern man)
The first illumination and/or dilemma
Sinologist John Lagerwey states: Derrida has demonstrated the Western “civilization of Writing” [civilisation du Livre] in reality is the “civilization of Speech” [civilisation de la Parole]. The act of phonetic writing leads us to see script as a “double” of speech: only speech – of man or God can create or express the intention and the will of things – is identified as creator, spirit, soul, and breath [souffle], as Derrida writes, “writing, the letter, the sensible inscription, has always been considered by Western tradition as the body and matter external to the spirit, breath, speech, and the logos.”
Derrida calls attention to the notion that Hegel “rehabilitated thought as memory productive of signs”, so “the essential necessity of the written trace in philosophy – that is to say Socratics – discourse that had always believed it possible to do without it”, according to Derrida, Hegel is “the last philosopher of the book and the first thinker of writing”.
Since the early 20th century, the question of the nature of language has become a central point in Western philosophy, and it has received extreme attention. Stephen Hawking remarks, from a scientist’s view, “Philosophers reduced the scope of their inquiries so much that Wittgenstein, the most famous philosopher of this century, said ‘The sole remaining task for philosophy is the analysis of language.’ ”
Accordingly, speech has achieved the highest domination in our time, while language itself has become “myth”. Roland Gérard Barthes writes:
Barthes believes “every object can pass from a closed, silent existence to an oral state, open to appropriation by society”. What modern speech and discourse convey is not about the substantial knowledge and information of object, but the way of speech and discourse of object conveyed.
Foucault thinks that modern Western language “became one object of knowledge among others, on the same level as living beings, wealth and value, and the history of events and men”; “to know language is no longer to come as close as possible to knowledge itself; it is merely to apply the methods of understanding in general to a particular domain of objectivity”. In The Order of Things an Archaeology of the Human Sciences, Foucault writes:
Foucault gives detailed accounts how modern phonetic language is already a “double” of a language, and it doubles itself once again in writing:
Derrida confirms, “The formal essence of the signified is presence, and the privilege of its proximity to the logos as phonè is the privilege of presence. This is the inevitable response as soon as one asks: ‘what is the sign?’ that is to say, when one submits the sign to the question of essence, to the ‘ti esti.’ The ‘formal essence’ of the sign can only be determined in terms of presence.”
The second illumination and/or dilemma
Since he declares that the formal essence of the signified is presence, and the privilege of its proximity to the logos as phonè is the privilege of presence, Derrida contends that phonetic writing, which copies the sound of words, is not only coextensive but also equiprimordial with metaphysical thought. Nevertheless, phonetic writing, “the medium of the great metaphysical, scientific, technical, and economic adventure of the West” has reached its limit in our time,
British cultural critic Robert j. c. Young expatiates on Derrida’ notes socially and politically:
“Phonocentrism” + “logocentrism” + “white mythology” + metaphysics = metaphysics + white mythology + logocentrism + phonocentrism: this “ontological imperialism” is deeply enmeshed in Hegelian metaphysics and ethnocentrism. According to Hegel, History of World represents the progress of Spirit of self-consciousness, which is Reason, and thus constitutes Freedom (at this juncture the notion of History, World, Spirit, Reason, and Freedom based on Western self-interest). As Michel de Certeau argues vigorously that the History of the World is – Western fabrication – writing that conquers:
Jürgen Habermas suggests that with Kant the modern age is inaugurated. But the modern form of knowledge as marked from the beginning by the aporia that knowing subject raises itself up out of the ruins of metaphysics in order – in the consciousness of his finite powers – to solve a task requiring infinite power. As Foucault articulates it: “Modernity begins with the incredible and ultimately unworkable idea of a being whose very finitude allows him to take the place of God.”
We are now wandering about unseeingly, aculturally, and ahistorically indeed. As stated by Hegel, in the progress of unfolding and making Spirit explicit, history that is not relevant to the realization of Spirit is excised of historical time and is assimilated into the eternal present. Thus the arrival of modernity of self-consciousness celebrates its break with history by abolishing what is different from itself in history. In other words, now the self-consciousness knowing subject surmounts the unnecessary, contingent stuff of history.
This unified subject, self-consciousness of his or her freedom, is the paramount premise in the conception of modernity. Max Webber declared that this premise is demonstrated by the notion of “methodological individualism”, which is one of the most distinguishing trademarks of modernity: the beliefs and attitudes in modern society are based on choice – constrained, but still choice – on the part of the individual. Thus modern thinking recognizes what traditional societies had failed to recognize: values are self-chosen and not grounded in a larger cosmic scheme. Traditional societies like China or India may reveal highly sophisticated and rational systems; nonetheless, they are ultimately constrained by the unquestioned beliefs of the culture.
En route for this “apparently auspicious” and “definitely spectacular” outlook, postmodern thinkers are definitely pessimistic and disenchanted. Jean-François Lyotard states that in the frontiers of the “formal rationality” of modern man the continuous differentiable function is losing its preeminence as a paradigm of knowledge and prediction:
Says Lyotard, “we no longer have recourse to the grand narratives – we can resort neither to the dialectic of Spirit nor even to the emancipation of humanity as validation for postmodern scientific discourse.” What we have is something Lyotard calls “the little narrative [petit récit] remains the quintessential form of imaginative invention, most particularly in science”.
Foucault nevertheless primes his basic idea that modernity characterized by the self-contradictory and anthropocentric form of knowledge proper to a structurally overloaded subject. This overloaded subject becomes a “double” of Self, thus the “double” transcends Self to take the place of God. Habermas expounds as:
As Foucault states: “We are inclined to believe that man has emancipated himself from himself since his discovery that he is not at the center of creation, nor in the middle of space, nor even, perhaps, the summit and culmination of life, but though man is no longer sovereign in the kingdom of the world, though he no longer reigns at the center of being, the human sciences are dangerous intermediaries. The truth of the matter is, however, that this very posture dooms them to an essential instability.”
According to Foucault, human sciences with anthropocentric thinking, which was set in motion by Kant and which with its utopias of liberation, gets all but implicated in the practice of enslavement.
Conclusion and/or question In view of some of the postmodern thinkers, in Modernity, starting with the ontological question of the double nature of phonetic language, and the double nature of the self-contradictory and anthropocentric structurally overloaded subject, we, the privileged Modern Man with our privileged Modern Knowledge, have marched in a large circle around the practice of enslavement of double realities of Self and Language perpetually.
At any rate, Derrida asserts that Chinese language “included phonetic elements” but remained ideographic, which testifies a powerful movement of civilization developing outside of logocentrism.
Lagerwey is certainly aware of the fact that “the history of modern China is every bit as tragic, and its tragedies, likewise, are rooted in millennia of rupture and denial.”
So the conclusion and/or question is: Can Sinology render its “unique place” in the uncovering of the modern work of language an ontological status and/or logocentrism? Can the “ontological imperialism” tolerate and let this "unique place" take place?
 Jacques Derrida, Of Grammatology, (London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1974), p. 26.
 Ibid., p. 10.
 Stephen Hawking, A Brief History of Time, from the Big Bang to Black Holes, (Toronto New York London Sydney Auckland: Bantam Books, 1988), p. 174.
 Jacques Lacan, The Language of the Self, the Function of Language in Psychoanalysis, (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1981), p. 9.
 Roland Barthes, Mythologies, (New York: Hill and Wang, 2013), p. 217.
 Michel Foucault, The Order of Things an Archaeology of the Human Science, (New York: Vintage Books, 1994), pp. 295-296.
 Michel Foucault, “Language to Infinity” in Donald Bouchard edited, Language, Counter-memory, Practice, Selected Essays and Interviews by Michel Foucault, (Cambridge Massachusetts: The MIT Press), p. 56.
 Ibid., p. 60.
 Jacques Derrida, Of Grammatology, (London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1974), p. 18.
 Ning Zhang “Jacques Derrida’s First Visit to China: A Summary of His Lectures and Seminars” in Dao: A Journal of Comparative Philosophy, December 2002, Vol. II, No. 1, p. 154-155.
 Jacques Derrida, Speech and Phenomena and Other essays on Husserl’s Theory of Signs, (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1973), p. 156.
 Jacques Derrida, Of Grammatology, (London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1974), p. 10.
 Ibid., p. 23.
 Jacques Derrida, Margins of Philosophy, (Brighton Sussex: The Harvester Press, 1982), p. 213
 Robert j. c. Young, White Mythologies, Writing History and the West, (London and New York: Routledge, 2004), p. 38.
 Ibid., p. 45.
 Michel de Certeau, The Writing of History, (New York: Columbia University Press, 1988), p. xxv.
 Jürgen Habermas, The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity, (Cambridgr MA: The MIT Press, 1990), pp. 260-261.
 Ibid., p.161.
 Prasenjit Duara, Rescuing History from the Nation, (Chicago and London: University Of Chicago Press, 1997), p. 87.
 Ibid., p. 87.
 Jean-François Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge, (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 1991), p 60.
 Jürgen Habermas, The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity, (Cambridgr MA: The MIT Press, 1990) p. 261.
 Ibid., p. 262.
 Michel Foucault, The Order of Things an Archaeology of the Human Science, p. 348.
 Jürgen Habermas, The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity, p. 265.
 Ibid., p. 264.
 Michel Foucault, The Order of Things an Archaeology of the Human Science, p. 348.
 Ibid., p. 386.
 Jacques Derrida, Of Grammatology, (London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1974), p. 90.
 John Lagerwey, “The Oral and the Written in Chinese and Western Religion,” Religion und Philosophie in Ostasien, p. 301.
 Ibid., p. 317.
 Michel Foucault, “Language to Infinity” in Donald Bouchard edited, Language, Counter-memory, Practice, Selected Essays and Interviews by Michel Foucault, p. 56.