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In a typical instance, "always already" appeared in the narrative theory of Paul Ricoeur, in the argument that "human action can be narrated...because it is always already symbolically mediated" (by signs, rules, and norms).
Another central idea behind the phrase "always already" is that once a certain place in time is achieved, the being of places in time earlier than that place is transient, problematic, or unthinkable. For example, after a person finishes reading Hamlet for the first time, we may say that they have "always already" read [Hamlet], and that the time before the person had read Hamlet, being now past, was or is always past. Common extensions of this phrase might follow from this example: in our modern society, we might say that having always already read Hamlet is the nature of contemporary intellect. Similarly, the modern subject has "always already" learned a language, so in a certain sense it is inconceivable to consider the pre-linguistic subject.
"Always already" is important in Heidegger's idea that Dasein anticipates or is "ahead of itself". Heidegger's terms, ideas, and constructions are central to deconstruction, more so than is Marxism. With the decline of Marxist critical theory after the 1960s, the phrase is still seen frequently in the discourse of literary theory, hermeneutics, and deconstruction/post-structuralism into which continental philosophy moves after Heidegger, for example in Derrida's use of trace.
The term was also central to much of the work of Maurice Blanchot (1907–2003), who criticized Heidegger's analysis of anticipation in Hölderlin's poetry, and who drew on the work of Stéphane Mallarmé. Blanchot subsequently influenced Jacques Derrida.
- Paul Ricoeur, Time and Narrative, vol. 1 (2012), p. 57