Sunday, July 26, 2009

The D chases its tail

A rant, beating a dead horse-tb

Deconstruction, which arises from a tradition of structuralist and post-structuralist practice , seems more a trivial pursuit these days. So much time was spent belaboring such bromides like "every text contains it's counter argument" and "there is nothing outside the text" (to perhaps crudely paraphrase) are not so revolutionary once you realize that you've come to a blind alley if you've followed the bread crumbs these chatty fellows left for the rest of us. Nothing useful was revealed, and clarity, the essence of criticism in it's concentration on how literature works succeed or fail as both art and socially useful objects, is the thing that gets hidden.

There comes a time when the critic,the real critic unafraid to side step cant and convenience and willing to interrogate an author's work , has to decide the emphasis a text, a book , takes, and contrast that against other contingent forces. The critic, I'd say, needs to transcend those theories that excited him and and decide what an author means by something he wrote and whether , on it's terms and in more generalized considerations, that piece of writing works as either an aesthetic or a social object, or whether it succeeds or fails at both. Deconstruction was an attempt to demonstrate, through increasingly abstruse text, that all our judgements are lifted from an archive of binary opposed concepts that form our infinite replenished dual-isms; one may say yes, fine, very good, that's very interesting, but this is the world we recognize and that we live in none the less, and it is possible to make statements about this sphere that creates meaning, context, empathy. Deconstruction was a dead end, really. It was a bad cold which took the American literature departments a few decades to shake.

Investigating the style and substance of a writer's ideas was no longer a priority, and critics took this to mean that they were take apart the clocks and radios apart (figuratively speaking)without a worry about rebuilding them.This was liberating at first, of course, but deconstruction, as it was misread in turn, encouraged academics to not even try to parse a writer's novels or poems.I rather think that deconstruction, as a method of taking apart arguments and reducing them to the a rumble of disassembled rhetorical devices, is late in the game and I would also consider it's alleged intent, to debunk the notion of totalizing accounts of human experience and reveal the limits of how far we can assert our ability to make statements about human experience in the world through writing, redundant among the spread of critical approaches.

It can , at best, be the particular means by which particular individuals come to realize that the limits of their own assumptions and from which one may push their thinking harder. In any case, criticism is the sort of writing that already acknowledges a number of existing takes on the variety of literatures civilizations approaches; one is compelled, drawn, I believe, to decide which of the ethical/moral/political outlays are useful to frame their arguments to the greater significances of narrative method, which is to say one decides what is useful among the the theories they've investigated in bringing new thinking to bear on texts that, one hopes, makes an ostensibly recognizable set of metaphors of an experience something quirky and quizzical.

I prefer a subjective response rather than one that adheres to a systematic checklist, and I think that the point of criticism, the point of having an ongoing discussion of literature, fiction, drama,poetry isn't to demonstrate one's recollection of their graduate studies, but how one's reading has blended over time and broadened, broadened to the extent that one finds a cohesion of New Criticism, Marxism, Structuralism , existentialism and classicism providing ones with a habit of mind that is flexible, alive, and able to articulate value and beauty in places one wouldn't expect to find it. My own thinking about literature is a mix of the approaches I mentioned, though I am loathed to call myself any one thing; an overabundance of one theory that seems to smooth out all problems and contradictions, which seems poised to explain everything , is a tendency that becomes dogma too easily. In that case, one finds themselves in a sealed box they cannot see beyond.

Indeed, which I think is the irony of deconstruction; a tool meant to expose the allegedly arbitrary criteria used for making our language produce meanings--the emphasis on binary oppositions that define particular objects, concepts, social agendas rigidly by their opposite (day/night, good/evil)--
turns out to have been a clustering of prejudices that turned a generation of critics into abstruse sloganeers. Derrida himself was reticent to discuss deconstruction , after a point, because he thought focusing too long on on what he considered merely as an effective analytical technique would distract from what he considered the longer, larger ongoing project, which was to realize how power is invested within language . He wanted to defuse the power that provides only a limited variety of templates with which to map our impressions and thinking. His skepticism of given discourses was one that he intended to lead us to a harder way of thinking about the words and their trace meanings. The circular and exclusive thinking of religion, the arts, sciences and hardened ideology (which is ossified political philosophy) he brought an exhaustive critiques to seems to have rusted the very tool intended to scrape away the rust.

... wasn't part of the problem that teachers taught students that deconstruction should be their primary or sole form of exegesis, rather than suggesting that it be merely one of a variety of ways to understand a text?One of Derrida's concerns was to invert the hierarchies of classes of writing, and intended to make criticism not subservient to primary literary writing but rather equal to it. All forms of writing were equal to one another, since texts don't actually refer to the external world or real experience but instead solely to other texts, in his idea of inter-textuality, a concept that makes all writings on a par with each other. The trend declared that the task of edifying what an author intended was a dead end, which enabled one critic after another to concentrate on establishing their mastery of their theory rather than the novels, the poems, the plays others of us consider as the real object of study.

1 comment:

  1. On a daily level, deconstruction -- the act of rending with a conceptual claw hammer -- may be just the act of peeling back the cranial epidermis to expose the hungry raw grey matter beneath. A remark can pin you like a squirming bug -- say, someone tossing off a comment like, "HOW MANY LIGHT BULBS DOES IT TAKE TO CHANGE A PSYCHIATRIST?" The effect of this is akin to what evangelical Christians call being "slain in the Spirit." Except, of course, you are being stabbed in the funny bone.


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