Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Reacting to Derrida

So, I am perplexed about any topic for research in our new reading of Leonard Lawlor's Voice and Phenomena. We're taking a look at the new translation he has provided, and our own Anthony Steinbock is an editor for the project. We're reading the French and David Allison's translation alongside Husserl in the German (maybe it should be said that Steinbock is doing all of this in front of us as we all try to play the game of catching up to his pace). It is a daunting task to see in motion. It's quite wonderful actually. I'm digressing though.

I can't find a research project for the seminar paper.

I think there are two overall reactions to Derrida with a spectrum of nuance in between these readings. First, the Analytic in me wants to slap Derrida upside the head, calling his deconstructionist reading of texts a denunciation of meaning itself. Such a denunciation is a denial to be philosophical. In so doing, I would wear a T-shirt that says Unrepentant Logocentrist. Don't be taking this idea! I'm uploading it as a T-shirt on cafepress.com in the near future.

At the outset, it seems that Derrida could find where the meaning breaksdown in a text since the literary interpretation from the outside looks like self-serving selection of what binary opposition is at work, and how exactly Derrida pushes that binary opposition to the limit. All this could be self-serving, read in a particular way in which Derrida couldn't help but come to a skepticism about the meaning of a text. For instance, the abuse Derrida puts Husserl through in wanting to conclude that phenomenology is just a guilty version of the metaphysics of presence sometimes comes off as pure word-association.

Even in such an outside portrayal of Derrida's project(? Is that even the right word?), one is misinformed. This leads me to the second interpretation. Derrida started out as a Husserlian, and interrupts phenomenology in the very beginning of his work (what constitutes this interruption is not important). The ties to this interruption as I call it signify a gross under-appreciation and over-estimation of his project when it is taken outside the limit of the phenomenological interruption it seeks to provide. That is why, I think, it is so essential to understand Voice and Phenomenon, and situate Derrida works within the horizon of a well-versed historical and Continental reading of his work, NOT COMPARATIVE LITERATURE DEPARTMENTS!

Realize in between completely rejecting Derrida and fully embracing him with appropriate understanding, there is a world of Derrida in-between.

So my reactions to Derrida probably constitute the impression I get from him, or the trace of him in his writings. In his early work, he is detailed and knowledgeable of Husserl's project, but at the same time that knowledge is synthesized with what appears to be an abuse of the text. Or is the the text that abuses me, convincing me of its life independent of the philosopher? As if taking a life of its own, the text takes on a seductive allure, and comes into its interpretation only through me, or I it? One cannot be sure in Derrida's world.

As such, I said to many of my readers I would post about this seminar, and the related topic of a metaphysics of presence. However, with the active efforts to find a possible paper topic, I have exhausted myself. I've actually found that the Continental French Feminists have what the analytics would call a sustained research program, and find their criticism of Western philosophy fascinating. It is a very descriptive and hermeneutic project, and each has implemented Continental philosophy in different ways unlike other areas of Continental philosophy awaiting or reinventing the past for a sustained research project---a move that for me never gets old. But, I am an old soul so to speak, agreeing with Husserl that to be a philosopher is always to begin anew with the same questions that motivated curiosity before (or was this Fink talking about Husserl?). I just wish a paper topic would spring up in my beginning anew.

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