Mark is a comprehensive term of a multiplicity of natural or artificial phenomena, with or without intention of communication or meaning. So that any mark can be understood as an index of any phenomenon, it is not necessary that this phenomenon has occurred with the intent to question others or signify whatever it may be, but rather that there is an interpreter that interprets. So, natural phenomena like a thunderstorm or a plague of insects, contrary to what the Ancient people believed, is not a sign of fury from the Gods, but rather the result of atmospheric, climatic or other phenomena that only gain index value when a casual factor is attributed to them. In this sense, all the marks may be “read”, that is, re-sent to their contiguous causes and therefore evaluated in their effects; like vestiges or indexes.
However, there are, in the formation of the term mark, determinant components such as temporality and exteriority. As for the former one could affirm that the mark only works as such when deferred from the phenomenon of which it is a mark. Therefore, the mnesic mark stays imprinted in memory, in spite of the passage of time or the corporal mark, like a scar, vestige of any act of incision on meat. In this case writing is also a mark that remains, as opposed to speaking, evanescent. In this sense, the figures of Foz Côa are marks that tell us temporal abundance of what they mark. As for the second component, exteriority, it reveals itself above all in the nature of concreteness of the mark. Trails, ridges, erosion, fossils, scars, fingerprints or penetrations of substances in whatever surfaces fill the world with what was called, in the pre-classic time, signatures. The world would therefore be a book of signatures, of marks to be interpreted. In their concreteness, “every mark creates space in time”, turning it into a monument, tombstone, ruin or document.
In relation to the cave paintings specifically, although they are expressed in an iconic register, they are marks of an abstract elaboration intrinsically related to concepts organised by language, as Leroi-Gourhan states. In this aspect, the mark is objective in its absolute exteriority. Not only because it supposedly exteriorises something that otherwise is imperceptible, but also because this exteriorisation articulates and gives form to what would otherwise always escape from its formulation.
Thus, one can proceed in the sense of extending the term to cover a concept founder of the symbolical field. The mark is related to the constitution of the symbolical order, organising it, that is, establishing the symbolic as an order. Therefore, verbal communication as a whole organised in the interior of language is defined as a system of markedness, that is, as a formal group of differences. It is in this context that Saussure states “in language there are only differences, and no positive terms”. The markedness becomes the discrete element developed from phonology but also, and starting from here, of the structuralist thought. It was Jakobson who radicalized and immaterialized the structuralist perspective. This linguist takes to the limit the notion of trace or markedness as the developing notion of the phonological regime and, from then on, of all the sign systems in general. “Distinctive quality” or “cluster of distinctive properties” are immaterial notions that are at the base of the creation of phonology and at the base of semiological systems. Markedness, in its founding negativity, is structuring.
Derrida resumes precisely the principle of difference in Saussure to explain the process of signification as a “formal game of differences, i.e., of marks”, given that for Saussure difference is the condition of any signification. Each element comes marked by other elements of the chain or system; but this marking is done by the difference inscribed in the mark. The difference is the mark, an archi-mark since it possesses an amplitude that separates the elements of opposition, which is why it is différance. On the other hand, the Derrida’s différance is part of an economic vision of difference that, not only desubstantializes the signifier – the signifier is not phonic – as it relates it inexorably to the meaning – there is no meaning without signifier -. In fact, Derrida finds in linguistic theory of value substantiation, which Saussure does not take all the consequences, for his theory of difference. Difference, being exterior and artificial, excludes any substance, namely the phonic as origin of the signifier, means that the fact of the value while conventional, is not bound to any sound or other corporality. Still in the development of the thought of difference that can be translated by the mark while negativity, the derridian inversion proposes that not only all writing is trace, mark, but that fonè is also already traced, that is, all of thought is affected by the mark as absence but also as exteriority (speech is also part of this same writing principle given its regularity and exteriority). Writing as a system would be a structurality of marks. That would be the mark of the process of writing. It does not mark the thing in its positivity, but marks the absence of the thing, and of the trace as differential and for that reason, iterative. The big game of marks of which writing is an assumption, is so because the marks are no longer positive marks – responding or corresponding to the essence of the thing – and, concomitantly, are inserted in the system that support them foreseeing their systematic repetition, their iterative as marks. In this way, the marks that are part of the Foz Côa paintings, in their figurative nature, in their positivity, but also, in their repetition, do not constitute yet the writing system that only writing specifically alphabetical or language – as a symbolical system by excellence, because its institution, and because it is marked in such a way to build the system – grants. Therefore, as Stiegler, states, “to think literally is to access the differential game of writing originating from language by the actual fact of always being able to re-access it identically”. The character is therefore the name of this artificial mark, exterior and, at a time, structural. The drawings of Côa, reveal themselves from this positivity of the figural, attached as they are, apparently, to the thing, to the world that they represent, can and should be read in the register in which Leroi-Gourhan places them when he states that “their content implies an inseparable convention of concepts already highly organised by language” (idem, p. 191), that is, systematised.
Lafont, Robert, Anthropologie de l’écriture, Paris, Centre de Création Industrielle/ Centre Georges Pompidou, 1984 – «la parole et la trace», p.44