Review pending re-reading, which is in progress. I will say that this has some of Derrida's most exciting and powerful writings. "Sign, Structure, andReview pending re-reading, which is in progress. I will say that this has some of Derrida's most exciting and powerful writings. "Sign, Structure, and Play" leaves me breathless each time I revisit it....more
Review pending re-reading. The preface, "Outwork," and "Plato's Pharmacy" are essential. I recall being unimpressed by "The Double Session" and annoyeReview pending re-reading. The preface, "Outwork," and "Plato's Pharmacy" are essential. I recall being unimpressed by "The Double Session" and annoyed by "Dissemination."
Update: My re-reading of "The Double Session" went very well. It is hailed - and "hailed" is the appropriate word, given the strange status Derrida has - as one of Derrida's most important texts on literary criticism. Apparently it takes two readings to begin to appreciate.
I was looking at some of the other reviews of this book, about how it "is a great introduction to," or "shows the basic schematics" of "deconstructionI was looking at some of the other reviews of this book, about how it "is a great introduction to," or "shows the basic schematics" of "deconstruction." This is the type of proposition Derrida would problematize. His texts cannot be reduced to anything called "deconstruction," there is no "thing" called deconstruction, which might be excavated from reading this (or any other) book by Derrida. He never attempts to sum up his own work like that; the notion of describing in writing some idea, some fragment of logos, called "deconstruction," is contrary to how Derrida conceives of writing. To read Derrida to understand "deconstruction" is absolutely the wrong way to read him; it isn't a faux pas as much as it is, as Derrida himself shows, an impossible and absurd task.
I had to say that.
"Limited Inc" consists of three parts. The first, "Signature Event Context," is an essay problematizing the idea of "intention," arguing that it is impossible for some notion of "intention" to govern the meaning of any sign system, flesh of text, for text is by its own nature full of undecidabilities, is constituted by the possibility of meaning. Derrida also traces the ripples, the ruptures, this has for speech acts theory and the notion of communication. In addition it is a complex, rich, literary text - still structured, unlike some of his later work, but also charged with ambiguities.
The second essay, "Limited Inc abc," is a response to a critique "Signature Event Context" by analytic philosopher John R. Searle. It includes a brief summary of Searle's essay, "Reiterating the Differences," which Searle refused to allow be published in the collection, and Derrida ends up quoting almost the entire thing in his length response. As I understand it, Searle missed the point of Derrida's critique and ended up making the same argument Derrida deconstructed, the argument Austin made, again, with different words. Derrida's response is polemical - in a mischievous way; he takes plenty of detours, using this as an opportunity to show how "the author" is an arbitrary label and an ideology, among other things; and using this as an excuse to do - again, among other things - amusing things with Searle's name. His response is serious intellectually, however. Derrida shows not only that Searle's logic is no different than Austin's, that Derrida had already done away with it; he also shows that the possibility Searle misunderstood Derrida in fact is an example of one of the things he showed in "Signature Event Context": how we can never be sure communication can or will take place.
The third part is an interview with Derrida, which I have heard is "a good introduction to deconstruction" - I will not comment....more
An expensive book - I happened to get it at a used bookstore for relatively cheap. If you can find it at a low price, grab it. The quality of the essaAn expensive book - I happened to get it at a used bookstore for relatively cheap. If you can find it at a low price, grab it. The quality of the essays is sometimes uneven, which is to be expected, seeing as how much of a fad deconstruction was. Overall the quality is anywhere from insightful to brilliant - but then there are a few downright stupid essays. The ones that are good are really good, though.
What makes this book worth taking a look at is that it includes some really big names. Judith Butler, Rudolph Gasche, Geoffrey Bennington, Richard Rorty, Simon Critchley, John Caputo, Jean-Luc Nancy, Emmanuel Levinas, Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe, Drucilla Cornell, Gayatri Spivak, J. Hillis Miller, Paul de Man, Barbara Johnson, Helen Cixous, Geoffrey Hartman, Jean-Fracois Lyotard, Peggy Kamuf. There are several essays by Jacques Derrida, and they are excellent selections because they are difficult to find elsewhere - not the standard samples from "Of Grammatology." Also, there is a valuable chapter that includes some writings by thinkers who influenced deconstruction: Heidegger, Freud, Benjamin, Bataille, Marx, Blanchot, Valery....more
A superb, varied collection of essays, each one a deconstruction of, at, or near the political. This is one of the few books in which the 'method' ofA superb, varied collection of essays, each one a deconstruction of, at, or near the political. This is one of the few books in which the 'method' of deconstruction, its basic moves, inasmuch as we can rigorously determine what is and what is not 'deconstructive' - and this is not a minor point, given that 'deconstruction' designates something that has, for instance, been of both philosophical and (pop)cultural import - is discernible in each of the essays without them sounding too much stylistically or content-wise.
Though the students of Jacques Derrida, as well as Derrida himself, insist upon the undefinability of deconstruction, a close look at deconstructive readings shows that they all consist of certain operations - therefore, ironically, the reduction of deconstruction to a series of axioms is not inconceivable. One of the most important of such axioms - were they to be written out - would surely be, 'All truth, all being, is constituted on the basis of an exclusion, and that exclusion will structurally determine the truth, or being, thus constituted.' Here deconstruction is not far from dialectics; deconstruction, however, does not follow up this gesture - determinate negation, essentially - with any sort of aufheben. Within a text, exclusions are found, and the text is unravelled; and also unravelled are the metaphysical ideas underlying the text's exclusions. This brings me to my last point about deconstruction in general. (A) deconstruction is almost always a reading of another text. The text itself is looked at, but just as important are the metaphysics behind it, of which the text may itself be unconscious. Deconstruction makes much of 'representation' and 'writing,' and so a deconstruction has to do not only with a text and 'the metaphysics behind it, of which the text may itself be unconscious' - more important is the relationship, the tension, between the two.
I will end the review by briefly discussing some of my favorite essays from the text. At the moment I do not have the book with me, or I would quote from it. This I may amend later. For now:
'Impossible Speech Acts,' by Andrew Parker, is an engagement with the French political philosopher Jacques Ranciere. I read the essay as another consideration of that old question, Can the subaltern speak? Parker's response is not quite a yes, not quite a no - which is okay, since he is not explicitly trying to answer the question: according to him, the subaltern's speech is that which shatters the logic according to which the subaltern could not speak. The subaltern's speech changes speech itself.
'On the Multiple Senses of Democracy,' by Jean Luc-Nancy, is a meditation on some of the consequences of 'democracy' being accepted almost universally in the Western world. Its acceptance comes at the cost of its destitution of meaning, Nancy says - even as there remains, in the background, the ghost of the ideal.
'The Art of the Possible,' by Derek Attridge, is an essay in defense of Derrida's book, 'The Gift of Death,' which according Attridge's interpretation is quite radical. Attridge argues that Derrida, in 'The Gift of Death,' shows how we cannot legitimately define the sphere of morality - that is, what or whom morality bears upon. The truly responsible person maintains fidelity to the impossibility of saying exactly what being responsible is; for there is something irresponsible, an attempt to escape responsibility, Derrida says, about establishing criteria on the basis of which one can have a clear conscience. The essay does not do it explicitly - but implicitly, it demonstrates that morality overflows into politics. What is done implicitly may be what is best about this essay.
'Graphematics, Politics and Irony,' by Claire Colebrook, summarizes Derrida's deconstruction of speech acts theory. It is an excellent summary that draws out its political implications well. I advise reading the essay by Derrida it summarizes, too - 'Signature Event Context.' Derrida at his best.
There are a few other essays in here I could write about - but I have already written a fair amount, and some of the essays I've not described I would need to re-read....more
A very important work for me personally. What Eagleton accomplishes here is remarkable.
The body of the work is an introduction to literary criticismA very important work for me personally. What Eagleton accomplishes here is remarkable.
The body of the work is an introduction to literary criticism that goes, more or less, school-by-school according to when they came into being and grew to be popular. Eagleton is a master both at explaining the theories in terms of their formal structures and historicizing. This book contains some of the shortest yet most detailed introductions I know to the most difficult of thinkers: Derrida, Freud, Lacan, Kristeva, Heidegger, Husserl, Gadamer, and others. The ones on Freud, Derrida, and Lacan are particularly strong. And, as I said, Eagleton's engagement with these thinkers never loses sight of the historical and sociological: he sees the literary criticism, and the literature, of a historical moment as being bound in essential ways with contemporary social and political problems.
But it is not the body of the work that I love most; I was influenced most profoundly by the "Introduction," subtitled "What Is Literature?," and the "Conclusion," subtitled "Political Criticism." These two chapters are nothing short of stunning.
In the first, "Introduction: What Is Literature?," which sets a dynamic stage for everything else in the book, Eagleton argues that we must realize that, literally, what counts as literature at a given moment is determined by outside -- that is, social and political -- forces. In other words, he lays out the theory, explained above, according to which he interprets the history of literary criticism. And he takes things to their logical conclusions: there is no thing-in-itself, the essence of which we could know, he says, designated by the term "literature." When we study literature, we cannot hope to find anything about "the fixed being of things." Comparing "literature" to the word "weed" - what plants do we pick when we say we are "picking 'weeds'"? - he says that both terms can at most only "tell us about the role of a text or a thistle in a social context, its relations with and differences from its surroundings, the ways it behaves, the purposes it may be put to and the human practices clustered around it." It's powerful stuff.
"Conclusion: Political Criticism," is probably the text that convinced me of the truth of that old phrase -- or is it a speculative proposition? -- "everything is political." We might say that this is Eagleton's much longer version of Marx's Eleventh Thesis on Feuerbach. I will try to trace some of it.
First, Eagleton situates contemporary literary criticism historically. He says:
"As I write [the book was first published in 1983:], it is estimated that the world contains over 60,000 nuclear warheads.... The approximate cost of these weapons is 500 billion dollars a year, or 1.3 billion dollars per day. Five per cent of this sum - 25 billion dollars - could drastically, fundamentally alleviate the problems of the poverty-stricken Third World."
Yet he does not leave it there. He returns to the topic of literary criticism, convicting it of a certain insignificance in the face of these affairs. He continues:
"Anyone who believed that literary theory was more important than such matters would no doubt be considered somewhat eccentric, but perhaps only a little less eccentric than those who consider than the two topics might be somehow related."
Eagleton then makes a compelling argument that literary theorists must debate politics if they are even to do literary theory properly today. His point is not that literary theory needs to become political, though -- not exactly. "There is, in fact, no need to drag politics into literary theory," he says; "as with South African sport, it has been there from the beginning." Rather, he says, concluding one of the book's major "subplots," the manner in which the tradition in literary theory has ignored politics politics, setting it in a separate domain with one meta-narrative or another, is in itself political. He then goes on to make that more concrete, insisting that what he calls the "liberal humanist" position -- a position, and a common one, characterized by tothe wishy washy belief that literature "teaches 'values'" or "makes you a 'better person'" in some abstract way -- is not enough. Literature and literary theory have futures only insomuch as they seek to engage with the political, carefully defined by Eagleton as "no more than the way we organize our social life together, and the power-relations which this involves."
This piece effected a decisive change in my thought; I was forced to realize that I could not escape from politics to theory; if theory itself terminated in politics, then I had to turn to politics in my own way, too.
In this collection of essays, Chantal Mouffe targets liberal democrats - namely, Habermas and Rawls - who believe that today's most important task conIn this collection of essays, Chantal Mouffe targets liberal democrats - namely, Habermas and Rawls - who believe that today's most important task consists in conceiving of an idea of government that will be universally accepted. According to Mouffe, these theorists miss what is essential about "the political": conflict. The desire for universal consensus misses that exclusion is a necessary precondition of any consensus; therefore, all attempts at achieving universal consensus will be self-contradictory and doomed to failure.
In her arguments Mouffe innovatively employs the ideas of Jacques Derrida, Ludwig Wittgenstein, and Carl Schmitt. She has a gift for working their ideas - which, in the case of Derrida and Wittgenstein, do not seem to lend themselves easily to political theory - organically. None of the philosophers are misused by Mouffe by having their ideas placed within the context of her political theorizing, and the political theorizing itself does not seem at all as if put "on hold" when Mouffe turns to expounding the philosophers' ideas. And Mouffe's language is as simple as political theory gets - surprising, given the dense technical prose of Ernesto Laclau, with whom she wrote "Hegemony and Socialist Strategy," the book which serves as the foundation of both her and Laclau's other work.
The book has two flaws, but we needn't be too hard on Mouffe.
1) "The Democratic Paradox" does get repetitive. Each essay is essentially a variation on the same theme: the constitutive nature of conflict for democracy. However, each essay is a genuine variation on this theme; in one essay, it is Derrida that serves as Mouffe's reference, in another, Wittgenstein, etc.
2) Mouffe is blind to the way in which social and economic forces shape the political. For that reason she is unable to account for the paradoxes that lie at the core of liberal democracy, unable to see what conditions them. This explains why she is a "radical democrat"; she advocates for a type of democracy that does not shy away from conflict, which she calls this "agonistic pluralism." I find this "solution" unsatisfying. Nevertheless, I do not think one can find a better "radical democrat" than Mouffe: she gives us all that is good in that position, as well as all that is bad. It may be this last aspect of her text - that its weak points are exposed - that makes it most worth reading....more
The reviews calling it "the most important book in the field in X years" are correct, but it is not a book everyone needs to read.
Butler's style is nThe reviews calling it "the most important book in the field in X years" are correct, but it is not a book everyone needs to read.
Butler's style is not vague and literary, as is that of some Continental thinkers; it is precise and technical. This means, however, that Butler makes use of a number of different theoretical paradigms, throwing in Derridean, Lacanian, and Foucauldian neologisms, coining some of her own, etc. Her default writing - when she is not exactly making a point or talking about a thinker but simply introducing a topic or transitioning - is very abstract. She also has the tendency to form long, awkward sentences, and to make her main points in the form of rhetorical questions. There is as much obfuscation here - no more, no less- as there is in a VCR manual. (Incidentally, I am not sure if that constitutes a warning, a value-judgment, a plain statement - whatever.)
For those interested specifically in gender studies this should probably be read front-to-back. Those of us for whom gender studies (or, if you prefer, feminist theory) is an important side issue, read the conclusion, maybe the last chapter, too. Butler's "theory of performativity" - succinctly, gender is something you do, not something you are - is mostly laid out there. Most of the book is a sustained dialogue with the thinking of gender as it appears in the thought of Lacan, Levi-Strauss, Wittig, de Beauvoir, Iragaray, Foucault, and Derrida. Of these chapters, I found the ones of Lacan and Levi-Strauss and Foucault the best - if you are not a specialist you can skip these and be fine.
A decent introduction to Foucault for literary studies students, maybe philosophy students, too; but this book misses the extent to which Foucault's pA decent introduction to Foucault for literary studies students, maybe philosophy students, too; but this book misses the extent to which Foucault's project is in line with Marx's, and without that I think Foucault's whole thing goes out the window. Maybe that's just me. I'd recommend just reading Foucault. He's a splendid writer....more
In "Reading Capital" Althusser defines philosophical work as an intervention in science, an exposing of what the object of a science is. "The Birth ofIn "Reading Capital" Althusser defines philosophical work as an intervention in science, an exposing of what the object of a science is. "The Birth of the Clinic" is a philosophical work in this sense.
"The Birth of the Clinic" does not make as clear use of the power/knowledge paradigm that characterizes Foucault's other work. Modern medicine is hardly some absolute, objective science that we, after years of struggling with medieval medicines, happened to stumble upon; but neither was it borne more or less purely out of a desire to govern and control, as was criminal science and the prison. I must recommend "The Birth of the Clinic" to anyone who does research in the field of medicine; for those interested in Foucault because of his influence on other fields - political science and philosophy especially - "The Birth of the Clinic" can be skipped. This latter group should, however, still check out some of Foucault's other writings on the politics of health, which explain the relationship between modern forms of government, medicine, and population control, which are not quite the concern of "The Birth of the Clinic." Some I recommend: "Governmentality" is available in "Secutirty, Territory, Population," "Power: The Essential Works of Michel Foucault Volume III," and "The Foucault Effect"; "The Politics of Health in the 18th Century" can be found in "The Foucault Reader" and "Power/Knowledge"; and "Space, Knowledge, and Power" can be found the "The Foucault Reader" and "Language, Counter-Memory, Practice." "The Order of Things" is also worth checking out for this line of thought.
There is one extremely interesting break Foucault notices between medieval and modern medicine, and that is in their attitude towards death. I will do my best to outline it. The analysis does not justify reading "The Birth of the Clinic" in its entirety; check out Barry Smart's book on Foucault, perhaps. Medieval medicine, Foucault says, saw death as something accidental, something that descended upon man from the outside; modern medicine is characterized by its view of death as something essential to man, something that is part of the core of his being. A possible line of research: in what was does the birth of modern medicine pre-figure, make possible, what we now call existentialist philosophy? Could we have had Heidegger without the clinic? Sartre? Kierkegaard? Hegel, even, for whose master-slave dialectic death plays a key role?...more