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Research of Jacques Derrida’s Concept of The Trait of Drawing

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This essay will be addressing Jacques Derrida’s concepts on the ‘trait’ of drawing. Jacques Derrida explores issues of the faculties of sight, destituteness of vision, self-representation, and their relation to the draftsman’s drawing and sketching, while offering in depth readings of a vast collection of images. Selected by Derrida from the drawings and print department of the Louvre, the pieces depict blindness in biblical, fictional and historical form.

For Derrida the act of drawing is itself sightless. It is a performance embedded in anticipation and memory. The sketches re-establish mediated and direct types of seeing.

We are confronted with a question, that assumptions need to be deconstructed and deciphered, thus becomes the content of the reading. Derrida foreshortens the writing processes to their most basic element identifiable as the “the gramme ́” or “the trace ́”. In Memoirs of the Blind the trace is identified as the process that makes drawing indispensable. It is comparable to the miner and their lamp. Articulated by the the artist, presenting objects but making them otherwise absent out of blind bleakness. “The trait must proceed in the night. It escapes the field of vision. Not only because it is not yet visible, but because it does not belong to the realm of the spectacle”. Derrida then continues to describe the procedure of creating drawings and pinpointing their significance. Using blindness as a cliché for repeated processes moving beyond the significance of the trace as measurement of the artists or art critic success. Derrida signifies a consciousness of the drawings themselves. For Derrida, artists producing self-portraits is a journey of self-reflection and an expression of how the artist is feeling at a specific time. That affects the significance of a particular drawing. Every self-portrait is a memoir that reflects the story and the history that was, is and always will be. Each and every drawing is inevitably a ruin, signifying an unclear trace due to a profound blindness and insight.

When we view a piece of work, we look but we do not see. We read what the representation of the work is, we make assumptions of what the work means from what we have previously seen before. We make a relationship between gestural marks and visual representation. We make sense of that work by using descriptive language. But when we are confronted with a question Derrida insinuates that our assumptions need to be deconstructed. This is then derived as the content. The trait of the mark indicates blindness. When we see something, art blinds us to something else. We are then bound and restricted by linguistic features and preconceptions of the world. Derrida speaks of the blind drafts’ men, not that they are visually blind in general but blind to the act. “In the tracing potency of the trait, at the instant when the point at the point of the hand moves forward upon making contact with the surface, the inscription of the inscribable is not seen.” In essence, a perspective of the act, you cannot see the point that you are drawing, you can never watch the subject and the paper at the same time. There is a gap between the relationship of object and the mark. Overlapping elements create spaces, linework flattens the shape of the object. This is described as the first powerlessness of the eye. James Elkins agrees with Derrida’s first powerlessness of the eye statement as he explains that “every brush stroke, pencil line, smudge, and erasure must function as a sign and have meaning.”Elkins proceeds to comment “marks are those that “are part of what makes us interpret the work.” Elkins infers that the work speaks for itself. The marks and gestures hold major significance in the derivative meaning of the art itself. The second powerlessness of the eye is when a line is made, it is not static, and it needs to be related to everything around it. Derrida demonstrates “Once the limit is reached, there is nothing more to see, not even black and white, not even a figure/ form, and this is the trait, this is the line itself.” Elkins once more states that “marks and signs are at the root of competing versions of how pictures mean and of what happens in pictures.” Finally, the third powerlessness of the eye is described as the as the rhetoric of the trait. It’s as if we cannot hold ourselves to look at a line in its physical state and form. We have to verbalise them. Blind to see it as it were. “is it by chance in order to speak of the trait we are falling back upon the language of narrative theology”. Derrida insinuates that language will always be present to decode and decipher the draftsman’s art. Elkins states his feelings toward the rhetoric trait arguing that “the drawn trace can be a stable object of inquiry, something about which it is possible to say more than “it withdraws,” “it wears itself out,” it becomes invisible, it becomes writing.” 

Escoubas draws our attention and train of thought towards Derrida’s relationship with his brother. She explains “Derrida had a brother who drew and whose talent the whole family admired. Derrida on the other hand, was extremely untalented in this regard, and his drawings enthused no one. What I will call compensation in Derrida’s case led him to denigrate drawing and to value writing in which he planned not only to display his own talent, but which also seemed to him superior to the act of drawing.” This is especially interesting as Derrida opens on page 37 “ I suffered seeing my brother’s drawings on permanent display”. It is as if Derrida felt the need to diminish his brother’s talent, creating the impression that his reading is emotionally structed. Escoubas proceeds still on the topic of Derrida and his brother, “What difference is there then between drawing and writing? There is always a skin, a canvas, a page upon which the hand operates. Are not drawing and writing then the same surgical operation. Viewed from this perspective, are not Derrida and his brother equivalent and even capable of being substituted one for the other? Is the rivalry between the drawing’s line and writing’s letter justified?”. Escoubas clearly agrees with Derrida’s comments, especially when he says, “I draw nets of language about drawing, or rather, I weave, using traits, lines, staffs and letters.” 

In conclusion, Derrida’s method of deconstruction yielded critiques with not only literary movements and philosophical ideas but also political institutions. Diffe ́rance is the main concept in Derrida’s method of deconstruction. Diffe ́rance was notably and famously in his essay ‘Différance’ The term means the difference and deferral of meaning. Barbara A. Biesecker argues with Derrida’s concept writing, especially the “rhetorical dimension” of the reading, “we conceive audience as the effect of diffe ́rance and not the realization of identities, then our conception of rhetorical events must allow the potential for the displacement and condensation of those provisional identities. I will recommend that we rethink the rhetorical situation as governed by a logic of articulation rather than influence. Once we take the identity of audience as an effect-structure, we become obliged to read every ‘fixed’ identity as the provisional and practical outcome of a symbolic engagement between speaker and audience. 

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Research Of Jacques Derrida’s Concept Of The Trait Of Drawing. (2021, August 06). GradesFixer. Retrieved September 30, 2022, from
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