Deconstruction

Deconstruction

Deconstruction The Post-structuralist Turn Last week: Barthess description of a text as a confluence of a multiplicity of texts enjoyed in a multiplicity of ways by liberated readers; Foucaults scepticisms about the total knowability of the archive or the full, objective description of any episteme. Symbolic moment: Jacques Derrida (1930-2004) wrote "Structure, Sign, and Play" to present at a conference titled "The Language of Criticism and the Sciences of Man" held at Johns Hopkins University

in Baltimore from 1821 October 1966. The Post-structuralist Turn 2 The conference was meant partly to celebrate the work of LviStrauss, so Derrida chooses to criticise him. Instead of attacking head-on: teasing out the more disconcerting implications that are already there in the texts analysed, in this case in the structuralist tradition, going back to Saussure. Not proposing a new thesis instead of the old one, but demonstrating the ultimate impossibility of ever arriving at an unproblematic final truth.

Saussure re-thought Saussures concept of arbitrariness means that there are no positive terms in language, only relative ones. Each sign has the value it does not because of reference but because of difference. For structuralism this leads to an image of a full inventory of all the items in a system imagined as a spatial order. To Derrida, this opens up an endless temporal process of differentiation, with no completion. No place outside language.

Diffrance Diffrance plays on the double meaning of differer as both to differ and to defer. Combines the sense of difference in space between two different things and deferment in time that inserts a delay in arriving at a presence. Presence absence truth Derrida feels that structuralism never faced the challenge of de Saussures separation of the linguistic system from reality. Even

applied this method to the description of historical, social, psychological reality. Language often traditionally seen as making things present: enabling us to talk about things that are absent. Generalised by Derrida to a metaphysics of presence: part of a philosophical tradition (esp. M. Heidegger) critical of the Platonic inheritance. Logocentrism Logos, the divine Word. --- Uttered word, which is truth itself.

Not uniform but takes a variety of guises: Platos Form; Aristotles concept of substance; Hegels absolute idea or Kants categories of the understanding. Modern equivalents in Western society might be concepts such as freedom or democracy. All of these terms function as what Derrida calls transcendental signieds. Once the Logos vanishes from the picture, there is nothing to hold together the orders of language and reality. Language is metaphorical. No sharp distinction between philosophy, science or poetry.

Writing Soc. But he who thinks that in the written word there is necessarily much which is not serious, and that neither poetry nor prose, spoken or written, is of any great value, if, like the compositions of the rhapsodes, they are only recited in order to be believed, and not with any view to criticism or instruction; and who thinks that even the best of writings are but a reminiscence of what we know, and that only in principles of justice and goodness and nobility taught and communicated orally for the sake of instruction and graven in the soul, which is the true way of writing, is there clearness and perfection and seriousness, and that such principles are a man's own and his legitimate offspring;-being, in the first place, the word which he finds in his own bosom;

secondly, the brethren and descendants and relations of his others;-and who cares for them and no others-this is the right sort of man; and you and I, Phaedrus, would pray that we may become like him. (Plato, Phaedrus) Literature Derrida was not a theoretician of literature, nor a critic (although he did write a bit about esp. modernist writers, like Joyce, Kafka or Celan), but he did sometimes contend that literature tends to be more clear-sighted about the way language works than most discursive writing.

His impact on literary theory was enormous, especially in the U.S. The Yale School Harold Bloom, Paul de Man, Jacques Derrida, Geoffrey Hartman, and J. Hillis Millerlocated in the departments of French and Comparative Literature, and of English, at Yale University between 1972 and 1986. Study of the Enlightenment and Romanticism. Yale comparative literature doctoral program students came to dominate literary and cultural theory in the United States for a generation.

The Yale School Paul de Man (1919-1983) Celebrated essayist and teacher, no systematiser. Radicalising the new critical tradition of close reading, but where for new critics ambiguities are contained by the organic unity of the work, for de Man, such closure is made impossible by the Derridean understanding of language. Return to rhetoric: instead of truth, language displays an endless play of rhetorical figures. What a text says (its theses) is invariably undermined by what it does, i.e. its rhetorical structure.

No text exempt from this all texts, especially philosophical ones, become the province of the student of literature. The Yale School J. Hillis Miller (1928) His primary focus has always been on what he saw from the beginning as the strangeness of literary language. The critic as host (1977): there can be no simple reading of a text, indeed that texts are unreadable, if by readable one means open to a single, definitive, univocal interpretation . . ..Neither the obvious reading nor the deconstructionist reading is univocal [deconstructive reading is simply good

reading] In the 1980s, he focused on critics who turned to history and historical and ideological readings in order to be ethically and politically responsible this sort of reading sometimes suspends the obligation to read, carefully, patiently, with nothing taken for granted beforehand. A text is not explained by its relation to history, the material base and its context. The Yale School J. Hillis Miller (1928) 1986 The Ethics of Reading: literature has its own ethics, not in the form of commandments but in the stories that we tell. It is part of the

text not a matter of its relation to "external reality. The Yale School Harold Bloom (1930) Since 1959, in many books, articles, and reviews, he has written about an extensive range of individual writers and genres: religious themes, mysticism, the Bible, and Jewish culture, Romanticism, poetic influence, and Aestheticism. Also best-selling critical anthologies and popular studies. Polemical defence of the Western Canon against the School of Resentment. In the 1970s, notably in The Anxiety of Influence (1973), Bloom developed his highly influential analysis of poetic influence. History of Western poetry since the

Renaissance as a competitive Oedipal struggle between poets and their precursors. Bloom argues that all poetry is intertextual, and that modern poetry needs to be understood in terms of its relationship to past work. Since Milton, poetry has suffered from an anxiety of influence, a mode of melancholy, in which there is a fear that the writing of poetry is no longer possible... a force that makes poetry happen. Scandal and Demise In 1988 de Mans wartime journalism came to light: cultural reviews and essays during the German occupation of Belgium. Some articles show pro-Nazi sentiments and anti-Semitism.

This was taken as a sign of deconstructions ethically and politically irresponsible disregard of historical reality. This, despite Derridas and Millers explicit turn to ethics and politics, and also the fact that the new historicism of the 1980s was immensely indebted to the deconstructive understanding of textuality. Deconstruction as Inspiration Numerous feminist thinkers, for example, notably Luce Irigaray and Helene Cixous, use Derridas ideas to critique patriarchy or male rule and the way of thinking phallocentrism that sustains it.

Postcolonial thinkers such as Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak and Homi Bhabha identify the binary oppositions which support colonial discourse, for example: white/ black, West/East, colonizer/colonized, inside/outside. Gender studies: Judith Butler noted that gender norms are differential, while Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick suggested that supposedly normal heterosexuality and deviant homosexuality exist on a continuum.

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