Edmund Husserl's treatment of signs as derivative from the lived presence of human consciousness has evoked quite divergent critical comments. Two can paradigmatically be singled out. Whereas Jaques Derrida in a Heideggerian move shows the metaphysical assumptions hidden in unmediated presence, Ernst Tugendhat exchanges Husserl's emphasis on phenomenological explorations of the human mind for the tools of analytical philosophy of language. Although Derrida and Tugendhat eventually move into very different directions their objections start from similar concerns. Talk about signs is almost incomprehensible unless a certain dualism between something that is employed to indicate, refer to, mean ... something else is assumed. It can be argued that, consequently, Husserl's attempt to tie such a dichotomy back to the presumably unshrouded clarity of Cartesian consciousness threatens the very idea of signification. According to this consideration semantics cannot be grounded in the noetic realm. ,,Signs are foreign to this self-presence of consciousness'' (SP, 58) since their possibility rests on some systematically antecedent set of differences governing the relations between what is present (the signifier) and what is indicated or expressed by it (the signified). This idea can be expressed not only in the Saussurian terms the early Derrida draws upon, but also by using the distinction between syntax and semantics familiar in analytical philosophy.
The consequent complexity of a sign calls for a careful description of its constitutive elements as well as of the overarching structure that keeps those elements from disintegrating into mere givens, lacking significative value. In outlining these relationships I shall link the terminology of formal semantics to considerations that are closer to the European tradition. The outcome will justify Derrida's observation about ,,the sign (being) from its origin ... marked by this will to derivation or effacement.'' (SP, 51) Derrida's insight (which coincides with analytic philosophy's insistence on mediation by language) raises the question of how to deal with the permanent unfulfillment such a status inflicts upon a sign. Husserl's concern with the fulfillment of intentional (semantical) phenomena, however, also deserves to be taken seriously. I will, therefore, develop an account of i,,the sign'' that retains its metaphysical non-primordiality while accommodating the fact that in describing its successful employment we constantly find ourselves referred back to just the language of originary insight attacked by Derrida. Introducing an illustrative simile and relating its discussion to the traditional distinction between first and second nature I hope to show how the autonomy of intentional and semantical notions can be upheld even as attempts to ground them in some basic intuition or successful employment are conceived as perfectly legitimate. It will become clear in the course of the argument that only by abandoning the rhetoric of exclusiveness can a satisfactory account of the sign be given. In general terms: signs are characteristic examples of transient satisfaction. The fundamental constituents of any semantic theory have to be able to fit smoothly into a pattern of originary relations while preserving the susceptibility to disruption that marks their non-primordiality.