Stars in the sky appear to be close together, even though they are galaxies apart. Two notes exist side by side only to be separated indefinitely by harmony. The people closest to us can so quickly become strangers. In the case of language, there are only differences. We swim in a sea of signs, and whether we take the signified or the signifier, we are forever lost in a detour. What is a difference? The verb, “to differ” (french - différer), carries two distinct significations. According to Jacques Derrida -
“on the one hand, it indicates difference as distinction, inequality, or discernibility; on the other, it expresses the interposition of delay, the interval of a spacing and temporizing that puts off until later what is presently denied, the possible that is presently impossible.”
Thus, “to differ” signifies nonidentity, and at the same time, the order of the same. Derrida offers a provisional word, différance, that relates the two movements of differing to one another, that can encapsule this “sameness which is not identical”, and can unite the two verbs to differ and to defer. Furthermore, “différance is the movement by which language, or any code, any system of reference in general, becomes “historically” constituted as a circular fabric of differences.” In language, we generate meaning based on a word’s surroundings rather than the word or sign itself. Every sign in itself is forever silent. The meaning of a sign can only be generated by the functional condition, the condition of possibility, the play of difference or differences. In music, we have no vocabulary of primary meanings to aid a comprehensive discussion. Discussing music is an infinite battle with the cliché. We are challenged with the obvious task of “differing”, yet at the same time, must “defer” to the intention of the written music. We gain “authority” by studying biographies, and find comfort in historically informed performances. However, this does not bring us closer to generating meaning.
For example, Chopin - we still debate his exact birthday. There is no exact evidence of his appearance, for every picture is different. Perhaps the point is recognizing the multi-faceted nature of this individual. The fierce, courageous, and revolutionary character so often neutralized by a coat of romantic tradition, and even this, only a fraction of his being. His life and music is a play on differences, and this is why his second Sonata, the “Marche Funebre”, is about life rather than death. It is an assertion of a dark irony that permeates humanity. It is an impression of how we as people perceive tragedy.
The meaning is generated through difference - the first two movements, dramatic and chaotic, precede the tragedy of the funeral march. It is the stark contrast between the tragedy and the final movement - the sound of two voices mumbling in unison - that conveys the necessary implications. The Sonata becomes an archetype of how society perceives tragedy, with the only difference being in scale. Instead of two voices, society has billions, and all are susceptible to this kind of ignorant mumbling.
We are flawed in seeking an absolute inside a fabric of differences. Différance - a deference to an album in the future, a nod to a different Chopin.