procrastination, heresy, and navel-gazing.

Monday, January 12, 2009

9. How do you solve a problem like Derrida?

Derrida: Why does Derrida ‘deconstruct’ things?

Derrida was motivated primarily by political and ethical reasons. From a linguistic perspective he was interested in being aware of the histories and bases and implications of the language we use, for much of what we say can have meanings beyond what we may be aware of. He raised awareness of this by closely scrutinising the text to discover what else it may be saying. What may be seen as literal may indeed be a caged metaphor, with a whole world of meaning possible. And what may be discovered, at least this is his premise, is that within the thesis there is also the antithesis.
So when he looks at something such as forgiveness, he discovers a paradox: to forgive someone means that the deed was forgivable. But if that deed was forgivable, then it was hardly worth forgiving them in the first place. Rather, what truly deserves forgiveness is the truly unforgivable act. Yet this act is so heinous that it, by definition, is unforgivable. Uncovering such a paradox should then change the way we see something such as forgiveness – viewing the small forgiveness as but a picture of the big act that truly requires forgiveness.
Forgiveness and justice (and indeed his whole project), are ultimately impossible things. Yet they occur daily, and should be pursued, but must be more properly understood. For Derrida then, deconstruction is no idle task, for it reshapes our ethics, pulling them apart, like the reductionists of long ago, helping us see what is at the heart of them. His hope is then a real sincerity in the way we relate, and a decrease in dogmatism.
From my brief reading about Derrida, it seems that although unique, he was influenced by Kierkegaard, Roland Barthes, and even bears some semblance to the psychoanalysts.
It should also be noted that Derrida sees language as iteratible, that is, easily transplanted and ‘emic’ meaning thence lost. Thus there is no sanctity in language as such, the deconstructor is free to pull it apart as much as one will.

i should add, i've been reading On Cosmopolitanism and Forgiveness to help me think through this. more on that book in particular later

this is part of a series. check here for the others uploaded.

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Blogger mark said...

i heard a great comment the other day that the one thing deconstructionists are able to make sense of is their employment contract ;)

see you soon bro!

1:08 am  
Blogger Drew said...

no sanctity in language as such

Hey Doug, nice little snapshot. I wonder if I might qualify your point about sanctity of language?

D. was always extremely careful about what he focused his philosophical attention. He says in a few places that it is the very things he loves that he analyses. This is hard for us to believe because of the negative connotations we think the 'de' possesses in English.

For me, in deconstruction I think I see a dim reflection of the command to 'speak the truth in love'...

10:11 am  
Blogger Michael Ducey said...

Derrida had a very serious problem.

Out-of-body Thinking

Derrida gets the language for his epistemology from Husserl. Phenomenology starts with a "principle of principles" that "primordial presence to intuition is the source of sense and evidence, the a priori of a prioris."

This means that "the certainty, itself ideal and absolute, that the universal form of all experience (Erlebnis), and therefore of all life, has always been and will always be the present. The present alone is and ever will be. Being is presence or the modification of presence. The relation with the presence of the present as the ultimate form of being and of ideality is the move by which I transgress empirical existence, factuality, contingency, worldliness, etc." [Speech and Phenomena, 53-54.]

However, the choice of the words "present" and "presence" to indicate the ground of all knowledge has some very unfortunate consequences. That choice sets up a confusion between two completely different meanings of the word "presence."

One meaning is "phenomenological presence". This refers to the immediate access to being in the original act of knowledge. It does not refer to time at all. So, phenomenological presence might be better expressed by calling it presence-to-being. That would save it from being confused with the other meaning of "presence", what we should call "temporal presence", that is, the occurrence of an event at a particular moment in time.

Derrida also calls this living presence "the now". This reinforces the confusion between presence-to-being and occurrence-at-a-particular-moment-in-time. It is also unfortunate that Derrida uses the word "form" in the phrase "the universal form of all experience". What he wants to refer to is the "universal basis of all experience", which is not a form. It is an act. But this word-slippage is also quite telling, and one of the many clues in Derrida's work that he is confusing the order of abstract concepts and the order of actual reality.

This epistemology leads to the cornerstone mistake of claiming that iterability is an a priori condition of knowing, whereas in fact iterability is an a posteriori result of knowing. An original presence-to-being (insight) occurs in time. Consequently it is repeatable. So, iterability is not "inside" phenomenological presence, it is extrinsic to it. This mistake is made all the more easy since both relationships are necessary. Once you get this, then all of Derrida's objections to realist epistemology collapse, and his whole philosophical system collapses into imaginary ashes.

I have discussed these issues at length in my article "Dealing With Derrida", which you can find on the Radical Academy web site.

Although running down Derrida's mistakes in his text is difficult, once you get the key point that he was dissociated, the whole pattern of his out-of-body thinking makes sense. Once you discover Derrida's dissociation, you find it in many thinkers. There is a lot of out-of-body thinking in philosophy and social theory. Perhaps leaving one's body is an occupational hazard for professional thinkers. Dissociation is the result of trauma, and trauma is easy to come by.

There are many sources of insight into dissociation. I recommend Trauma and the Body (2006) by Pat Ogden et al. as a start.

4:24 am  
Blogger psychodougie said...

drew: that's really helpful, thanks for that. i did get the feeling that as you say 'the sanctity of language' was a very positive thing, he didn't want language, a great love of his, to be devalued by misuse.

michael: thanks for that, and for your link as well. much of that goes beyond my admittedly superficial reading of Derrida. although he is quite opaque, his genuineness is appreciated in his project as a whole. the underpinnings of his philosophical theory and his issues with other philosophical projects are other questions - which i feel very inadequate to discuss! but thanks.

3:03 pm  

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