Plan for the Class
- Finish up Knoblauch’s Chapter 5: “Expressivist Rhetoric”
- Mention the Derrida documentary on Youtube
- Let’s figure Derrida out…
The three interviews shouldn’t be considered a totality of Derrida’s ideas; nor should we think all of deconstruction is answered. As he was quoted in his obituary, “deconstruction requires work”; therefore, its meaning can’t be handed to you.
Terms to Define
I think the following terms need to be defined, so we’re all (somewhat) on the same page. This discussion is our introduction to Derrida, but his influence will be felt for quite some time:
- Phenomenology: the study of the structure of experience; reflection of consciousness.
- Existentialism: the idea that human (individual) existence comes from experience, that of the individual.
- Structuralism: studying culture as a system made up of identifiable connections that are all related to a grand structure, an overarching paradigm.
- Post-Structuralism: well, this is structuralism “deconstructed.” What? Refer to p. 41 in Positions.
- Liguistic terms
- grammatology: writing doesn’t reproduce speech (the window pane theory); instead, everything to do with writing constructs/affects meaning.
- phoneme: basic (smallest) unit in a language that builds words. (think phonetic…do re mi)
- grapheme: words, punctuation, numbers–they don’t carry meaning themselves
- Absolutist/Monolithic Critiques
- logocentrism: the Western assumption that “the word” is the superior conveyor of meaning, one that has an identifiable in an ideal form.
1) “the systematic play of differences, of the traces of differences, of the spacing by means of which elements are related to each other” (p. 27)
2) “reference to a present reality [or meaning] [is] always deferred” (p. 29)
- trace: Because the meaning of a sign is generated from the difference it has from other signs, especially the other half of its binary pairs, the sign itself contains a trace of what it does not mean.
- transcendental signified: the first cause or zero point–absolute origin.
Now, we just need to figure out where to go next. If I haven’t already, let me mention my approach to Derrida and, more importantly, teaching Derrida. Maybe one of my mentors can help us out…
Derrida list several homonyms–words that sound alike but have different meanings (p. 40 and 42). Let’s consider some English words:
Derivatives of cat?
cat, catsup, Catawba, catch
What about cognates across Italian and English? (Beware of false friends!)
Let’s get into groups and try to “trace” meaning in the following terms:
widow, crime, slut, chaos, education
Looking Closure at Derrida’s Interviews
It strikes me as ironic (at first) that a theorist as loquacious as Derrida has a paragraph introduction for these republished interviews. Then again, I think about what an introductory is and how it frames a text. Introductions and the opposite, conclusions, bookend a text, which reproduces the idea–that Derrida works against–that the physical book, the writing between the covers of a book is the complete story.
Of course, I still would like more of an “Introduction”! Derrida does give us some context in that short introduction when he identifies that “these three interviews….form…the gesture of an active interpretation,” which are “arrested here” (p. vii).
“Implications” Interview with Henri Ronse
- p. 5: Concerning the three texts he cites, “All these texts, which are doubtless the interminable preface to another text that one day I would like to have the force to write, or still the epigraph to another I would never have the audacity to write”
- p. 6: “what is dead wields a very specific power.”
- And, as Bob Dylan tells us, “Forget the dead you left / they will not follow you” (“Baby Blue”)
- p. 8: “First, différance refers to the (active and passive)…deferring by means of delay, delegation, reprieve, referral, detour, postponement, reserving….What defers presence, on the contrary, is the very basis on which presence is announced or desired in what represents it, its sign, its trace…”
- p. 10: ontico-ontological
- ontico: pertaining to real
- ontological: the study of being
- p. 13-14: “writing does not begin. It is even on the basis of writing…that one can put into question the search for an archie, an absolute beginning, an origin. Writing can no more begin, therefore, than the book can end…
- p. 14: “To risk meaning nothing is to start to play, and first to enter into the play of différance which prevents any word, any concept, any major enunciation from coming to summarize and to govern from the theological presence of a center the movement and textual spacing of differences.”
“Semiology and Grammatology” Interview with Julia Kristeva
Let’s start off by thinking about the different meanings of “metaphysics”:
- philosophy concerned with explaining the fundamental nature of being and the world.
- Modern, non-empirical inquiry into the nature of existence.
I should also point out this interview was first published in Information sur les sciences sociales. How would you define “social sciences”?
- p. 17: “All gestures here are necessarily equivocal.”
- p. 19: “‘everyday language’ is not innocent or neutral. It is the language of Western metaphysics.”
- pp. 19-20: “‘transcendental signified,’ which in and of itself, in its essence, would refer to no signifier, would exceed the chain of signs, and would no longer itself function as a signifier.”
- p. 20: On translation…”We will never have, and in fact have never had, to do with some ‘transport’ of pure signifieds from one language to another, or within one and the same language, that the signifying instrument would leave virgin and untouched.”
- p. 24: Goal of deconstruction–“Like the concept of the sign–and therefore semiology–it can simultaneously confirm and shake logocentric and ethnocentric assuredness.”
- “transform concepts, to displace them, to turn them against their presuppositions, to reinscribe them in other chains, and little by little to modify the terrain of our work and thereby produce new configurations.”
“Positions” Interview with -Jean-Louis Houdebine and Guy Scarpetta
- p. 41: “One of the two terms governs the other…or has the upper hand. To deconstruct the opposition, first of all, is to overturn the hierarchy at a given moment.”
- p. 49: “‘thought’ means nothing.”
- p. 57: “The metaphysical character of the concept of history is not only linked to linearity, but to an entire system of implications (teleology, eschatology…a certain type of traditionality, a certain concept of continuity, of truth, etc.)”
Let’s try to deconstruct, if possible, the following passage from the preface of Ashley Montagu and Floyd Matson’s The Dehumanization of Man:
It neither kills outright nor inflicts apparent physical harm, yet the extent of its destructive toll is already greater than that of any war, plague, famine, or natural calamity on record—and its potential damage to the quality of human life and the fabric of civilized society is beyond calculation. For that reason this sickness of the soul might well be called the “Fifth Horseman of the Apocalypse.” Its more conventional name, of course, is dehumanization (p. xi).
Next Week’s Reading
Next week (4/06–can you believe it’s already April?) we continue into postmodernity with Lyotard’s The Postmodern Condition. Don’t forget to read the Appendix–pp. 71-82.