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Writing & Difference - Derrida > Discussion - Essay One - Force and Signification

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message 1: by Jim (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jim | 3056 comments Mod
This discussion covers Essay One - Force and Signification in Derrida's Writing and Difference


Kane Faucher (docx) I'm migrating the questions from the other thread here:
1. Derrida appears to open up on structuralism as a moment of crisis in 20th century thought, and this especially so with respect to that untamable thing known as the “literary.” For him, literary criticism takes place under the assumption that the creative forces have been drained off in the very act of criticism and formalization. Form governs over the now dead content (which still haunts the empty shell of form!). Do you think Derrida is correct in pointing his finger to structuralism for attempting to manufacture a crisis, or is this too polemical?
2. The paradox of experimentation and schematization: have authors (even today) bought into the method of neutralizing meaning in their work by insisting on crafting its form? Here we can consider “form” as lofty as “an attempt to impose conceptual structure upon the work” (like those of the language-poetry school) or more generally as the (perceived) demands of genre (must all zombie stories follow a particular set of narrative rules which are effectively a rehash of the triumphant survivalist in a staged war of all against all?).


Kane Faucher (docx) I also wanted to take the opportunity to reply to some of Bill's key questions in the other thread:

1. "what is "the literary" and how is it "untamable"? What would "taming" it mean? Does it mean depriving it of the power to affect the reader or to limit the range of aesthetic/emotional response?"
-Derrida will most likely state that the distinction between the literary and the non-literary is a false one (even hard science will occasionally draw from metaphor, analogy, and other literary devices). Taming it refers to akin of rationalizing schema to break the work down into almost analytic components and declare with a triumph a single, true interpretation. Perhaps many of us remember that high school English teacher who held this view, grading our papers against some single, correct recipe of "what the book means."

2. "Whose creative forces and how may they be drained off? The structuralist critics? Surely criticism is incapable of draining the created force from a literary artifact?
-Indeed! I think that is part of D's point. However, again, the critic might be deluded by a belief that criticism of the text somehow operates outside the text as some kind of transcendental that gives form and meaning to the text. D is pushing us to think that every act of interpretation actually plays "inside" the text.

"In general I'm deeply suspicious of the retreat into abstraction without constant references to cases, examples of how that abstraction is played out in the concrete."
-Yes, and D is one who has raised the hackles of those especially in the anglo-American analytic tradition of philosophy. Still, D is not an absolute relativist either who says "any interpretation goes!" There are "better" interpretations than others (none of them having a monopoly over the meaning and truth of the text). The crude analogy I use for my students would be "go ahead an interpret the red light as meaning go, but pay the consequences of doing so!"

You raised an interesting question about the [poetic] license of critics, whether they actually can draw from it. If taken from a purely rhetorical standpoint (i.e., in the use of rhetoric itself), the criticism becomes another object of poetic license. There are formulae for constructing arguments using rhetoric in useful primers by Aristotle, Cicero, Quintilian, Erasmus, et al., and all seem to adopt certain "literary" methods for driving home a point in such a way as to elicit certain emotions by means of various cues (arrangement of arguments, enthymemes, repetition, etc.)

I want to answer a bit more in depth here, but I, too, have to run for today!


message 4: by Bill (last edited Feb 22, 2012 05:20AM) (new)

Bill (BillGNYC) | 443 comments Kane,

Thank for your gracious responses. I hadn't originally intended to participate, but I will stick around for at least a while.

I know this is long, mea culpa, but it should read quickly.

1) Derrida will most likely state that the distinction between the literary and the non-literary is a false one (even hard science will occasionally draw from metaphor, analogy, and other literary devices).

Well, you had used the word "literary" in your question.

2) Taming it refers to a kind of rationalizing schema to break the work down into almost analytic components and declare with a triumph a single, true interpretation. Perhaps many of us remember that high school English teacher who held this view, grading our papers against some single, correct recipe of "what the book means."

No, I don't. This seems to be a straw man. I never had a teacher like that in high school. And when I was in college during the heyday of the New Criticism, teachers routinely said, "There is no right interpretation, but you need to defend whatever interpretation you provide with reference to the poem/play/novel." Teachers also said the notion that a poem/play/novel may have a number of interpretations but not an infinite number.

I am glad you tell your students not to run red lights, and I don't think they can support "red" as "go" in that context. I would agree that red doesn't invariably signal "stop" in other situations. (A woman in a low cut, slinky red dress going to a party may not have put it on as warning to keep people from approaching her.)

I am preparing to lead a discussion on Eliot's "The Waste Land" which is not a poem that leads to a high degree of confidence in interpretations. BUT I feel extremely comfortable saying the poem does NOT show a vision of the human condition as Edenic, pleasurable and exclusively filled with delight. Anyone who derives that from the reading may be in need of therapy.

I'm glad to know that Derrida doesn't think texts may be interpreted in an infinite number of ways -- although I thought that was a tenet of post-structuralist criticism (Barthes?) Or was the point that one can't specify the number of ways in advance? I won't be able to find the reference -- maybe you know what I'm talking about.

3. Kane wrote, However, again, the critic might be deluded by a belief that criticism of the text somehow operates outside the text as some kind of transcendental that gives form and meaning to the text. D is pushing us to think that every act of interpretation actually plays "inside" the text.

Either, a) I have no idea what you mean -- which is possible -- or b) this seems another straw man.

Doesn't the critic have to stand outside the text. In fact, standing inside the text suggests cramped quarters. What does that mean? I'd like an operational definition, please.

If this means simply that one interpretation doesn't exhaust all possible interpretations -- fine. Again, I was always taught that. If it means the critic should be aware of multiple meanings -- fine. Obviously when one is arguing for a particular interpretation, he is not arguing both sides of the case, usually. But it's for someone else to make the opposing case.

Let me indulge myself for a moment.

The following interpretation would seem to have been perfectly acceptable in 1966, although it actually just occurred to me this morning. I don't understand how Derrida's insights would lead to readings categorically different from what I propose.

Consider the following short poem, with which I think we are all familiar.:

Roses are red
Violets are blue
This card says
I love you.

Critique: Roses are red.

This short poem, one of the better known works of Anonymous, is a masterful satire of academic criticism.

The speaker presents himself as a straight shooter, stating obvious facts in simple declarative sentences. We are inclined to take him/her at face value, as we might a university professor. And roses are of course red. But it doesn't take us long to remember that roses aren't always red. Surely some roses are white, some are yellow, some are pink. Similarly, violets are quite specifically violet -- we've named a color after them. And it is one of the major spectrum colors (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet. The distinction isn't trivial.

On the other hand, the speaker does not say "violets are shocking pink." He distorts by over simplification -- the necessary position of a theoretician. Violet is not so very far from blue, as most roses are red. Blue is a primary color, as is red, whereas violet isn't.The speaker is not a fool but one gifted in leading a reader/listener not paying attention into questionable positions.

We should be wary when a speaker like this engages in interpretation of a text -- which he does in the next line.

"This card says" -- prepares us for an interpretation of the text. Given that his claims are already suspect I read the line ironically.

And the interpretation is -- surprisingly -- "I love you" This is not a logical deduction. "I love you" is not entailed by the colors of flowers.

What we have, obviously, is a satire of the academic critic whose initial claims to truth don't hold and uses questionable claims to justify wholly unjustifiable interpretations. In fact, what we have here is the Cloud Cuckoo Land of Aristophanes and perhaps a echo of the sophists' claim to make the weaker argument the stronger.

____

Or looking at the poem another way it is the portrait of the lover who oversimplifies reality so that everything confirms his sense of the world inspired by love, that all signs have a similar singular interpretation?

For those of you who know Keats' "La Belle Dame Sans Merci," there is the verse

She found me roots of relish sweet,
And honey wild, and manna dew,
And sure in language strange she said—
“I love thee true.”

This is one of the great misinterpretations in literature for the conclusion of the poem strongly suggests "I love thee true" is not what the lady was saying.

For the lover, though, perhaps that is an inevitable interpretation. In the line "Roses are red" is there an aural pun on "Roses are read" -- the drama of the lover unable to refrain from reading everything as a sign of love. In fact is "love" is his constant and invariable refrain? Is interpretation the refrain from which he cannot refrain? Are all lovers erotomaniacs?

And by extension does it suggest the impossibility for the reader of anything to refrain from interpretation -- so that interpretation is the invariable result of reading. And all interpretations misleading.

_____

And then there is...okay, enough.

I enjoyed that, hope you did, but my point was that outlandish interpretation was legitimate before. How would one get into the text from the inside? How would one "deconstruct" it? It "sounds" like it is saying something, but is it really?

What I have trouble with is that a text can always be read against its obvious meaning. Or that doing so is always a useful idea. :-)

Consider this more sophisticated verse from a nursery rhyme, which I like. It is better than "Roses are Red" if not up to the verse of Keats.

I saw Esau kissing Kate
In fact we all three saw
I saw Esau, he saw me
And she saw I saw Esau.

I don't see how exactly that poem can be read to suggest that no one saw anyone.

Is that not a claim of post-structuralism, that conventional meanings generate opposite meanings? If they only do sometimes, why is that interesting? If the claim is they do always, surely that's rubbish. No?

"Hand me the book" seems unambiguous, assuming there is a single book and I have at least one hand.

3.) Poetic license. I remember a New Yorker cartoon with Shakespeare at a desk writing away. Over his head, on the wall, there was a framed certificate which said, "Poetic License. You can write anything you want to."

I have no trouble with critics using rhetorical devices -- for example, like rhetorical questions -- but I don't think they can write anything. I think they can write so long as the meaning is clear.

This could be a criticism of modern philosophy since Kant, whose philosophy consisted of critiques. "Clear" is not the familiar adjective for German idealism. At least Kant made an effort at clarity in the Prologomena.

I will acknowledge that at times some ideas are so original and so different that it is impossible for them not to seem obscure. But I think they should be few and far between.

What concerns me is the identification of the critical imagination with obscurity.

4. I love literature. And I'm concerned for its sake (poor darling) when it is badly used, for example when people use literature as a case in point of a particular theory -- post-colonialism, Marxism, feminism, linguistic theory -- as opposed to using the theory to illuminate the poem, which is primary.

I realize that's an impossible distinction to derive a test for. But as the Potter Stewart famously said about hard-core pornography, he might not be able to structure a perfect definition, but he knew it when he saw it. :-)


message 5: by Filipe (new) - added it

Filipe Russo (russo) | 94 comments Bill wrote: "Kane,

Thank for your gracious responses. I hadn't originally intended to participate, but I will stick around for at least a while.

I know this is long, mea culpa, but it should read quickly.

1)..."


I really liked your reply, Bill. Is your waste land approach like that? I might go there for a read. I also think the main focus of deconstruction is not inversion but subversion of the formal dialetics (which justifies the poetic obscure nature of the language employed).


message 6: by Bill (last edited Feb 21, 2012 12:59PM) (new)

Bill (BillGNYC) | 443 comments Thank you, Felipe.

My approach to The Waste Land is to find a way for people to enjoy it. It's lack of narration, argument and clearly identified speakers is off putting. I'm trying to find ways for people to find a way into it. I certainly don't want to problemztize it. It's a problem to begin with.

That's not to say we won't talk about interpretations, but I don't think there's a single interpretation.

I did post some "Clues to Reading The Waste Land". You can find it in "The Waste Land" discussions.


message 7: by Jim (last edited Feb 22, 2012 12:30AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jim | 3056 comments Mod
Bill wrote: "Kane,

Thank for your gracious responses. I hadn't originally intended to participate, but I will stick around for at least a while.

I know this is long, mea culpa, but it should read quickly.

1)..."


Great stuff Bill! As interesting as this post is, I want to note that Kane is paraphrasing Derrida, who is himself commenting on texts by Jean Rousset and others. I suppose Derrida is making some sort of statement of his own which isn't easy to pin down. I don't want to jump to any unfounded conclusions, but is your post specifically about the Force and Signification essay? Or a more general answer to post-structuralism? I'm asking this because the actual F&S text is a fairly complex read so I'd like to be sure I know what you're responding to. The ideas pile up rapidly in Derrida, so I'm trying to dig my way through as best I can!!

And while I'm at it, since we don't have the source texts available that Derrida refers to, what are your (all of us) feelings about reading this book? Are we going to be able to understand Derrida without knowing the materials he's critiquing? Should we be reading some other part of his oeuvre?


message 8: by Traveller (last edited Feb 22, 2012 05:36AM) (new) - added it

Traveller (moontravlr) Which brings me to a question I was going to ask. How about we define structuralism in the exact context of this discussion, like Kane suggested in the other thread?

The structuralist school of thought can be brought to bear in many disciplines after all, and as far as I can make out, Derrida is concerned with two or 3 main disciplines; that of linguistics, that of literary criticism, and of phenomenology (as in structure of consciousness).

In the Q 1 & 2 thread, Kane wrote: "It might be helpful if we compile a glossary of key terms as we go along (there are specific uses of words such as Being, sign, force, structuralism, etc. that might be of some utility to unpack as we go along)."

I asked this question before, and ask it again, because Derrida just talks about "the structuralist invasion" during the intro to the essay. So I googled Derrida and structuralist and Force and signification together, and I came up with Rousset.

However, as we know, Hussrl initiated Structuralism re phenomenology, and Hussrl is indeed mentioned in the translator's note to Writing and Difference.

So, to clarify, please correct me if I have this wrong:
In Force and signification, is Derrida responding (specifically?) to Jean Rousset's Forme et signification , in which Rousset focused on formal elements such as narrative structure in determining the meaning of a work, and which Derrida labelled as one of the principal works of early structuralism?

Just to confirm the background and make sure I'm on the right track here?


message 9: by Traveller (new) - added it

Traveller (moontravlr) The next term I'd like to have defined in terms of our discussion, I think, would be "being". This is such a broad concept that it would be useful for me if we narrowed down "being" ITO the essay.

"Force", it seems to me, would partly be the creative force, but also, in a way "force of action"; the force that any activity, such as reading and writing creates. Up to that point, I'm still with the program.

But then, Derrida even seems to broaden the idea of "force" to that of language and the text itself? How exactly does this work?


message 10: by Bill (last edited Feb 22, 2012 05:25AM) (new)

Bill (BillGNYC) | 443 comments Jim,

I was responding first to Kane's paraphrase, then to some things I understand or misunderstand about post-structuralist criticism and "theory", and lastly to Derrida's essay, which I've just begun to read as a pdf -- and as I anticipated -- I'm not doing well with.

I wonder also if it might not have smarter to start with Saussure -- or a even a book about Saussure -- and then some structuristic writing -- Tristes Tropiques? -- or something else.


message 11: by Jim (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jim | 3056 comments Mod
Bill wrote: "Jim,

I was responding first to Kane's paraphrase, then to some things I understand or misunderstand about post-structuralist criticism and "theory", and lastly to Derrida's essay, which I've just..."


Thanks Bill! Just checking in...

Well, let's see how we do with this first essay and we can discuss whether to forge ahead or re-group. It's definitely easier to move through difficult fiction than difficult non-fiction. I'm feeling out of my depth with Derrida's arguments. Maybe I just need to keep reading 'til things click. I'm also going to take a look at Of Grammatology and see what that does for me.


message 12: by Traveller (new) - added it

Traveller (moontravlr) Bill wrote: "I wonder also if it might not have smarter to start with Saussure -- or a even a book about Saussure -- .."

Ok, but wasn't Saussure pretty focused on linguistics and semiotics? Saussure might be a good intro to Derrida's 'differance' and the binary pairs aspect of meaning, plus the relationship between signifier and signified.

For stucturalism, what about Roland Barthes?

Bill wrote: "and then some structuristic writing -- Tristes Tropiques? ."

I for one, would LOVE to do some Claude Lévi-Strauss. (Tristes Tropiques)


message 13: by Jim (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jim | 3056 comments Mod
I don't want to bail on Derrida just yet, but I do want to consider what we might do in terms of foundation reading/discussion to help us understand his ideas.

Force and Signification is a response to a conversation already in progress. So the question is, what source material would most quickly get us into Derrida's arena?


message 14: by Traveller (last edited Feb 22, 2012 07:24AM) (new) - added it

Traveller (moontravlr) Jim wrote: "Force and Signification is a response to a conversation already in progress. So the question is, what source material would most quickly get us into Derrida's arena?
"


Well, I did seem to come up with extraneous pointers that point to the fact the Derrida is critique-ing Jean Rousset's Forme Et Signification. I wonder how accessible that is?

In any case, it would be nice if we could do Claude Levi-Strauss in some kind of discussion at some point in time. (I'm interested in the anthropology aspect :) )


message 15: by Bill (new)

Bill (BillGNYC) | 443 comments Jim, Traveller,

Having just don't a little research, I think there is no English translation - and never was one - so to the extent it's accessible, it's accessible in French.

The problem is partially that Derrida is writing in response to structuralism, and he naturally enough assumes we understand structuralism. Personally, I only understand it vaguely.

As I understand it, all structuralism finds its root in linguistics, Saussure in particular, and that would include Levi-Strauss. Even when you look at society, you can look at it diachronically (historically) or synchronically (what it is at the present time) and read it in terms of signs and binaries -- for example, the Raw and the Cooked, one of Levi-Strauss's distinctions. .

Barthes is very much in that tradition, as I understand it. I wouldn't mind reading him, but I think the root here is understanding Saussure and linguistics.

Structuralism itself was never that accessible, although some writings are likely to be more so than others.

None of this is easy -- partially as the result of HOW these writers wrote as well as what they said.

But it seems easier if you at least understand what they -- in essence -- assume you already understand.


message 16: by Traveller (new) - added it

Traveller (moontravlr) Ok, I found a bunch of books by Saussure, and about Saussure. Who's going to sift through them in order to choose one, if we're going to go the Saussure way?
Course in General Linguistics ,Ferdinand de Saussure ,Saussure for Beginners ,Writings in General Linguistics, The Cambridge Companion to Saussure ,Ferdinand de Saussure ,Saussure and His Interpreters

The latter one seems to be paydirt...


message 17: by Jim (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jim | 3056 comments Mod
Traveller wrote: "Ok, I found a bunch of books by Saussure, and about Saussure. Who's going to sift through them in order to choose one, if we're going to go the Saussure way?
[book:Course in General Linguistics|28..."


Not it!

I don't know that Saussurre is going to clarify Derrida. Might be better to look at Of Grammatology and some sort of broad overview of structuralism.


message 19: by Jim (last edited Feb 22, 2012 10:17AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jim | 3056 comments Mod
Traveller wrote: "So are we temporarily to ditch Force and Signification for now, and go on with Of Grammatology, rather? ..."

Short answer - no.

Let's run with this first essay for its allotted two weeks and I'll look at alternatives. Will also peruse the rest of W&D and see what it looks like in terms of do-ability...

I would recommend taking a look at the first half of Of Grammatology in the interim, simply because Derrida thought of it as an intro to W&D. We can discuss again in 10 days time.

We can certainly look at Saussure, but let's hold off for awhile until we decide where we are with W&D.


message 20: by Bill (last edited Feb 22, 2012 10:35AM) (new)

Bill (BillGNYC) | 443 comments Jim, Traveller,

Jim I wrote this before your response to Traveller, so I'm just letting you know.

I don't know that Of Grammatology is going to be easier. I think the general problem is that Derrida is not writing a general introduction but is very much writing in response to structuralism. I'm not sure why you would dismiss Saussure as a way to begin -- since he is really at the root of most of this. I FULLY appreciate that you want to read Derrida and not Saussure -- and me too -- but I don't know that he's best approached cold. For me anyway. I don't have the chops.

I checked out your books, some of which I knew.

1) Saussure's Coures in General Linguistics was compiled by his students from their notes. It's not a pleasure either.
2) Writings on General Linguistics was a manuscript found after his death and Derrida couldn't possibly have read it when writing Writing and Difference and Of Grammatology. I think. (I haven't read this thoroughly.) The fact that it's not available in paperback but only hardcover at $99 (Amazon $85) that makes me suspicious of its being the way to go.

Also -- I think for anyone not primarily interested in Saussure, reading about him might be the way to go.

Saussure for Beginners gets very mixed reviews on Amazon, and how you feel about it may depend on what you already know or want. It is a graphic treatment.

The Cambridge Companion to Saussure is inexpensive, has a nice Table of Contents (you can check it Amazon) but I'm not sure the intended audience -- it may be for people already familiar with Saussure. I suspect that's the case.

Sassure and His Interpreters may hit the spot -- but there'a a used copy for almost $30 and then it gets more expensive. I'd like to see a review or read a chapter first. Too often books seem exactly what you want and then turn out not to be that at all. :-)

KANE -- what do you think about all this?

You have some bright, interested people who know a little about Structuralism and Derrida -- but not really very much, not comfortable with the lingo, and not convinced in advance the emperor is wearing clothes.

Maybe we should stick with Writing and Differe/a/nce, which is not giving up its secrets to me, anyway,

Maybe we should read Of Grammatology instead - is it clearly, does it make fewer assumptions about your background

Maybe we should read something more introductory -- a work on structuralism? Work our way to reading Derrida? What do you think?


message 21: by Jim (last edited Feb 22, 2012 10:42AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jim | 3056 comments Mod
Bill wrote: "Maybe we should read something more introductory -- a work on structuralism? Work our way to reading Derrida? What do you think? ..."

Yes, I think we just need some more background on the territory Derrida covers. I kind of know what he's saying, but not enough to discuss.

For now, let's ride out our two weeks on the first essay and I'll research some materials that could/should help us before we move on to Essay two.

My instinct is telling me that we might want to jump over to Of Grammatology (the first section), then move back to W&D, might be a good strategy (along with an overview of structuralism).

For now, courage!


message 22: by Traveller (new) - added it

Traveller (moontravlr) Bon courage, mes amis! :)


message 23: by Bill (new)

Bill (BillGNYC) | 443 comments Oui. Quand on dit "courage" je l'entends avec l'accent français. :-)


message 24: by Kane (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kane Faucher (docx) Hi everyone!
If we are drowning in WD, Of Grammatology won't be much of a life-preserver I'm afraid. There comes a moment when reading Derrida when one can feel admittedly punch-drunk or "stoned" with his frequently elliptical phrasing, use of brackets, use of erasure (strikethoughs), etc. Perhaps Derrida is a bit too much for a broader reading group discussion since his work does presuppose a stronger than normal familiarity with structuralism and hermeneutics.

If we still want to soldier our way through, there are a few books about Derrida that might help: one by Christopher Norris (which is ok, but not great), and Vincent B. Leitch's very readable "Deconstructive Criticism" which contextualizes Derrida and many of the other continentals of this period in the philosophical and linguistic tradition. It's also a bit easier on the brain!

Another work on the French philosophers is also a handy reference: V. Descombes.


message 25: by Traveller (new) - added it

Traveller (moontravlr) Kane wrote: "there are a few books about Derrida that might help: one by Christopher Norris (which is ok, but not great), and Vincent B. Leitch's very readable "Deconstructive Criticism" which contextualizes Derrida and many of the other continentals of this period in the philosophical and linguistic tradition. It's also a bit easier on the brain!

Another work on the French philosophers is also a handy reference: V. Descombes.
.."


Looking those up, thanks!


message 26: by Bill (last edited Feb 22, 2012 03:25PM) (new)

Bill (BillGNYC) | 443 comments Kane wrote: "Hi everyone!

If we are drowning in WD, Of Grammatology won't be much of a life-preserver I'm afraid. There comes a moment when reading Derrida when one can feel admittedly punch-drunk or "stoned" w..."


It can feel like being stoned, although in the original sense, not the metaphorical sense. :-)

So -- question --

If one wanted to become more familiar with Structuralism and hemeneutics than is necessary to get by at a cocktail party -- assuming you go to those kinds of cocktail parties -- is there anything you can recommend? A general introduction to structuralism and hermeneutics, perhaps, like the Leitch and Norris are to Derrida?

I ordered the Leitch -- got one new for $2.50 + $3.99 shipping. :-)

I was also wondering about S/Z as a first book to read because it's somewhere between structuralist and post-structuralist (?) and it's a very extraordinarily detailed bit of lit crit.

Or is there something you that might be better?

I still am curious, with regard to my explanation of "Roses are Red" how Derrida or post-structuralism allows a different kind of reading. I'm trying to understand it as an approach to literature that provides tools that let us literature in a different kind of way. Or does it just use literature -- as I spoke about above again in my long post -- to demonstrate its points about language.

In the end, how does bring us closer to a text in a way that enriches us, not diminish the text -- my general problem with theory with my miserably poor understanding of it.

Where's the fun? :-)


message 27: by Whitney (new)

Whitney | 326 comments Bill wrote: "It can feel like being stoned, although in the original sense, not the metaphorical sense. :-) "

Too funny, I can't stop laughing. I was avoiding this discussion since this topic makes me feel as expressed above, but now I'm glad I stopped by. Carry on everyone, remember that what doesn't kill you makes you stronger.


message 28: by Bill (new)

Bill (BillGNYC) | 443 comments Whitney,

Or leaves you crippled, demented, begging on the street for scraps, or perhaps on life support in a hospital.

What doesn't kill you doesn't kill you -- and that is not necessarily a good thing. :-)


message 29: by Traveller (last edited Feb 23, 2012 01:54AM) (new) - added it

Traveller (moontravlr) Well, let me put it this way. Although I agree that Derrida's own use of language leaves me awash in a sea of...frustration, especially, like I said before, due to his overuse of allusive and emotional language, I do get to understand the concepts he propounds when I read about Derrida.

So perhaps I should leave reading Derrida himself (I hate his style of writing) to the birds, and focus instead on reading about Derrida.

Much as I adore everything French and Italian, and feel a coldness towards things Germanic, perhaps that bit of Germanic/Nordic blood I have in me is stronger than I'd like to admit. It seems to have an affinity to colder more clinical use of language when it comes to discussing the theoretical aspects of things. :(

I still love poetic and emotive language when reading poetry or fiction though, but that's something different to what should be more intellectual and analytic discussions of abstract and semi-abstract and analytical topics.


message 30: by Jim (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jim | 3056 comments Mod
So let's say for the short-term, W&D is on hold.

I'm working on a proposal that will give us some background on the world of Derrida and his peers, but without it being too much like school. Give me a few days to iron out the details and I'll post here on Monday or Tuesday.

I want to explore and understand Derrida's work, so we will return to him later this year, but better prepared to understand where he is coming from.

'Til then...


message 31: by Traveller (new) - added it

Traveller (moontravlr) Sure, Jim, happy to follow your lead, and let's hope more people will join in when we jump into him again full-scale.
I was starting to feel a bit of anxiety with only the three of us (besides Kane) around, and other people only seeming interested in watching from the sidelines.


message 32: by Whitney (new)

Whitney | 326 comments Bill wrote: "Whitney,

Or leaves you crippled, demented, begging on the street for scraps, or perhaps on life support in a hospital.

What doesn't kill you doesn't kill you -- and that is not necessarily a good..."


I know, I was being flippant for the sake of the topic at hand I've known too many PTSD soldiers to believe in that particular aphorism (not to mention cancer patients, schizophrenics, etc...)

I look forward to resuming my place on the sidelines when you all resume treading where the bold dare not go.


message 33: by Jim (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jim | 3056 comments Mod
Whitney wrote: "I look forward to resuming my place on the sidelines when you all resume treading where the bold dare not go..."

I have an idea forming which may draw you into the game...


message 34: by Kane (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kane Faucher (docx) Bill -

S/Z is a good text to whet the appetite (and Barthes is a slippery fish, too, straddling the structuralist/poststructuralist divide while remaining a bit in the wilderness). For a handy companion to understanding the central tenets of structuralism, there is Jean Piaget's book by that name which might appeal to the reader who wants a bit more of the "concrete" in hand.

Now, back to how would Derrida read "Roses are Red." Already there is the tradition to which it is critiquing (which does not appear intrinsically in the text and thus refers to the "outside" by means of reference which relies on some degree of familiarity with the context). If taken literally instead of a figure of speech, the "this card says" might be an odd duck. A card is a piece of written text, not vocal. Derrida would remark how the burden of signification is placed on the text as reliving the utterance, making the text "speak" as such. It is easy to dismiss this as merely idiom, but the idiom itself seems grounded in a metaphysics of presence, attributing more value to the spoken word than to the written text (but even this is not always so clear: in court, we value the spoken testimony as well as a dissertation defense viva voce, yet contract relations rely on written evidence, etc).

Roses are red functions as a firm ontological claim. Logically, it might be safe to infer from this line that "of all things that belong to the class of roses and can thusly be named roses, they contain the attribute of redness in their set (if you really wanted to boggle this even more, Bertrand Russell's stuff on sets is a gas). This declarative is given no hedging, no space to maneuver to say that roses are yellow or any other colour. What is implied is an absolute, i.e., ALL roses are red, not just some or one. It is not THE rose is red or A rose is read, but all roses.

Everything we choose as an instrument of interpretation will not necessarily exhaust the potentiality of interpreting the text. One can always add more (what Derrida calls the supplement, and what Bataille might name as the remainder, though that stretches his notion uncomfortably far). Now, an instrument is beneficial in extending our senses or understanding (telescopes for sight, philology for sifting meaning in classical texts), but instruments by their very nature will always contain some limitation. Now, if we take structuralist critique as an instrument of interpretation, we do come up with some interesting insights when we apply it to a text, yes, but not all is said and done. Derrida will point to a long tradition of metaphysical assumptions that we may be blind to on account of them having been normalized in our understanding. Derrida is riding the wave of seeing what can be done in stripping off some of those assumptions to produce alternate perspectives on the text, similar to the way Heidegger attempted to in his revisiting of the concept of Being.

Although we cherish "writing", it is perhaps (to take Derrida's line) only on account of a utilitarian bias. We have made it "useful" to us and thus must subordinate it to our bias, and thus "tame" it using instruments by which we can "grade" or evaluate its meaning structures. We graft upon the text a schema, and so we have invariably imposed a new "level" of text upon the existing text, in some cases obscuring it or effacing it (what Derrida calls the palimpsest).

Anyhow, as a possible suggestion since Barthes has already come up, would there be any takers for reading his short essay on Death of the Author (available free online)?


message 35: by Jim (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jim | 3056 comments Mod
Kane wrote: "Anyhow, as a possible suggestion since Barthes has already come up, would there be any takers for reading his short essay on Death of the Author (available free online)? .."

Why not? Can you post a link here.

Let's read over the weekend and discuss "Death of the Author" starting this Monday, 2/27. And let's continue on in this thread since there's already a lot of good discussion going on here.


message 36: by Kane (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kane Faucher (docx) Sounds good!

Here's a link to the text: http://evans-experientialism.freewebs...


message 37: by Jim (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jim | 3056 comments Mod
Kane wrote: "Sounds good!

Here's a link to the text: http://evans-experientialism.freewebs..."


Thanks Kane!


message 38: by Bill (last edited Feb 23, 2012 06:30AM) (new)

Bill (BillGNYC) | 443 comments Thanks Kane. Interesting, this begins referencing the story Balzac that is the subject of S/Z. I have ordered S/Z which includes the story. What strikes though is its similarity of subject matter to the play, M. Butterfly about a French diplomat's affair with a member of the Beijing opera who was in fact a man pretending to be a woman. This apparently was based on a true story.


message 39: by Traveller (last edited Feb 23, 2012 07:15AM) (new) - added it

Traveller (moontravlr) Balzac's idea of "Woman" makes the feminist in me seethe, grr, but I'll try to ignore that and stick to the point...


Kane wrote: "Derrida will point to a long tradition of metaphysical assumptions that we may be blind to on account of them having been normalized in our understanding. Derrida is riding the wave of seeing what can be done in stripping off some of those assumptions to produce alternate perspectives on the text, similar to the way Heidegger attempted to in his revisiting of the concept of Being. ."

I so agree with Derrida on that one. (That it is essential to "see with new eyes"). Post-structuralists have done a lot by now to 'deconstruct' clichés, but it's astonishing how many people can't get their minds out of the rut they've been conditioned into. I've been doing a lot of brooding lately about the phychology behind why people tend to be so stuck in their comfort zones.

In spite of me priding myself to a large extent on my (*cough* or so I thought) ability to look at things objectively and quite analytically, I'll admit to having been lulled by the familiarity of the Roses are Red rhyme (Which usually goes: 'Roses are red, violets are blue, and that is why I love you' or; Roses are red, Violets are blue, Sugar is sweet, And so are you) into not seeing the statements it makes.
I never even thought of the point that violets are indeed violet, and one tends to think that the rhyme infers only that SOME Roses are red, if one doesn't analyze it closely.

I absolutely love deconstructions of familiar tropes, and I think it's terribly fun taking a familiar theme, pulling it apart and saying something like: but maybe Snow-White wanted to get rid of her stepmother, and framed her; or ; did Humpty-Dumpty commit suicide? Did the three little pigs deliberately set a trap for the poor wolf so they could eat him? (Pigs also theoretically eat meat, btw- since they are omniverous.)


message 40: by Sean (new)

Sean Reading this essay has definitely been a difficult, but wholly worthwhile, endeavor.
A good Derrida primer might consist of selections from Heidegger's "Basic Writings" and J.L. Austin's "How to Do Things With Words." Heidegger always seems to be Derrida's go-to philosopher, whenever matters get dicey ("Being has already begun..." "Inscription alone has the power of poetry..."). "Force and signification" seems to be leading up to Derrida's appropriation of Austin's work, specifically when discussing the performative (rather than constitutive)aspects of language, and hurtling towards those key points of Derrida's philosophy ("absence of an author," "Deconstructionism"). And, AGREED, Barthes' "S/Z" (which I've been eager to read myself), or selections from other works, would also be an enlightening read.


message 41: by Bill (last edited Feb 23, 2012 07:47AM) (new)

Bill (BillGNYC) | 443 comments I'm glad you and Kane think S/Z might be a good intro -- we'll see if JIm and "the committee" will get on board with that. :-)

On the other hand, going to Heidegger to elucidate Derrida may be jumping from the frying pan into the fire. Heidegger is a philosopher frequently in need of elucidation himself. :-)


message 42: by Kane (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kane Faucher (docx) Traveller: There is a wealth of psych theories with respect to stubborn ways of seeing, and I have a personal fascination with these on account of my own research and teaching (msg me sometime; I can recommend some shocking reads!)

Bill: Heidegger (or "Headgear" as we affectionately call him) complicated and abstruse? :D Oh, yes... In translation it is even worse (almost as tortured in syntax as Hegel) To paraphrase: The everydayness of beingness that is not-yet-Being (Dasein) to realize its projects on its horizon in authentic manner that is not ontic, but can authentically realize its going-towardness with objects ready-to-hand (???). Bad flashbacks of having to pound against the Heideggerean wall of Sein und Zeit (his later stuff is a bit more accessible).

[Just to paraphrase Hegel as a similar example: "Being is not Being as such in and for itself in its Beingness by means of its determination, which must be outside itself as the pure concept (Begriffe) by which it can be Nothing since Being and Nothing are similar without a subsequent determination that is Becoming; Becoming is not yet determined and so must progress by further determinations to furnish the content of the concept to be made concrete"]


message 43: by Sean (new)

Sean Bill wrote: "...going to Heidegger to elucidate Derrida may be jumping from the frying pan into the fire."

precisely.


message 44: by Bill (last edited Feb 23, 2012 10:06AM) (new)

Bill (BillGNYC) | 443 comments What fascinates me is the desire to write like that. From a young age, I found myself rejecting obscurity -- first in art and then critical writing. And when I write gibberish, I try to clean it up.

I wouldn't have defined myself as interested in "freshness," but my related fascination is the inability of people to tolerate uncertainty, a multiplicity of possible meanings to which there is no solution. There is a strong human compulsion to be convinced -- and very little in life comes with such certainty.

There is a book called On Certainty which I haven't read but which I do intend to. The argument, by a psychiatrist, is that "certainty" is a psychological attitude that is separate from assenting to an argument.

I do think a lot of habits of thought and perception are practical. If you're trying to cross the street without getting hit, an extreme sensitivity to the way light describing a scene on a second by second basis is impractical. the visual average is a much better way to go.

One way, as I understand it, to distinguish between the conscious and unconscious mind is that the unconscious is quick and the conscious slow.

Freud's notion of phobia as repression based on traumatic events has been superseded by the insights of neuroscience which show that those kind of events never get to the conscious mind. They go straight to the amygdala because the reaction necessary, if they reappear, doesn't have time to be processed in consciousness. You need an instinctive reaction.


message 45: by Bill (last edited Feb 23, 2012 10:18AM) (new)

Bill (BillGNYC) | 443 comments Traveller,

What's interesting about your comment about Balzac is that the stereotypes of being a woman are being instantiated by a man, castrated though he be. And what is always subversive about that, or the notion of more subtle female impersonators (not campy drag queens), is that what we conventionally think of as feminine can be presented in a man.


message 46: by Filipe (new) - added it

Filipe Russo (russo) | 94 comments I guess the "unwritable" can only be written like that. Nothing triggers the curiosity and challenge in a person like the supposedly impossible. Language wasn´t originally made to conceive all that it does nowadays, it was from work to work and by collective usage that it evolved to such complexity. Some themes require obscurity since there isn´t a proper language/method to approach it besides mind-bending eliptical mental tricks. There is also always the case of the pseudo-intelectual trying to seem smart by writing in any non-sensical way.


message 47: by Traveller (new) - added it

Traveller (moontravlr) Bill wrote: "Traveller,

What's interesting about your comment about Balzac is that the stereotypes of being a woman are being instantiated by a man, castrated though he be. And what is always subversive about ..."


Subversive as it may be, I feel offended that "femaleness" or "femininity" whether it be physically embodied in a male or female, is described as: "This was woman herself, with her sudden fears, her irrational whims, her instinctive worries, her impetuous boldness, her fussings"

So, conversely, if I do not get "irrational whims" I am not feminine? I feel offended even, by the idea of: "what we conventionally think of as feminine" would embody: sudden fears, her irrational whims, her instinctive worries, her impetuous boldness.

I know I am outnumbered here genderwise, but I can start thinking about equally insulting labels for masculinity as well, but I refuse to because I dislike gender stereotypes per se.


message 48: by Lily (last edited Feb 23, 2012 11:32AM) (new) - added it

Lily (joy1) | 350 comments So we return to what the Hebrews kept "so simple" - Yahweh, "I am who I am" or any one of the other ways the Hebrew symbols get translated into modern language (e.g., English)?

In the short time that I have had to encounter F&S, three things, besides its obscurity, in particular struck me: 1) the significant amount of spiritual and mystical terminology (I expected a decidedly "secular" text.), 2) the vast number of citations of others with whose work I am either only vaguely aware, let alone familiar or have ever even encountered previously, 3) the relative clarity, at least in form, if not necessarily of content or meaning, of virtually each sentence if I returned to Miss Getty's insistence to all her fourth and fifth graders upon the value of diagramming. (That may be at least partly to Alan Bass's credit as translator.)

My one other comment at this point is the question: For what audience or readers did Derrida write this essay?


message 49: by Traveller (last edited Feb 23, 2012 11:49AM) (new) - added it

Traveller (moontravlr) Btw, I'm really enjoying Barthes so far: "Who is speaking thus? Is it the hero of the story bent on remaining ignorant of the castrato hidden beneath the woman? Is it Balzac the individual, furnished by his personal experience with a philosophy of Woman? Is it Balzac the author professing ‘literary’ ideas on femininity? Is it universal wisdom?
Romantic psychology? We shall never know, for the good reason that writing is the destruction of every voice, of every point of origin. Writing is that neutral, composite, oblique space where our subject slips away, the negative where all identity is lost, starting with the very identity of the body writing. "

What he says above, is one of the reasons why I'm always reluctant to get into arguments as to whether an author is sexist, or racist, and so on. He may not be speaking in his "own voice" to start with, and as we discussed in the Waste Land thread, according to some, it doesn't even matter in the interpretation of the text, what the author's intention was.

However, for me, as the reader of that text, that little issue I mentioned in my post above, niggles me personally - in my experiencing that text as a reader thereof.


message 50: by Lily (new) - added it

Lily (joy1) | 350 comments Traveller wrote: "I feel offended even..."

Trveller -- don't bother. It isn't worth the energy expended!

Unless you want to add to the growing countervailing bodies of meaningful writings. Then go for it!

Do consider, even if it matters, one may not "know", may not be able to discern, what the author's intention was -- and that sometimes it can be as interesting to ponder whether the text has subverted the author's intention!


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