Posts Tagged ‘Jacques Derrida’
It’s a glorious summer vacation filled with already profuse blooms. We have three nests on the house, have been visited by?our bear,?and a rock wall?is slowly but surely materializing?around the entire length of our driveway thanks to my two very rough and beaten hands.?
Still, with this wonderful flurry of spring activity, the brain doesn’t have an off switch. Listening to Car Talk on Sunday’s leisurely?drive had me thinking about?theory?as Ray posed?this week’s puzzler:
In 1951, when I was 10, our folks told me that Aunt Bertha would not be coming for Christmas …. Before the week was out she was dead. The county medical examiner of course had to list a cause of death on her death certificate. Now I can’t be 100% sure, but I think that Aunt Bertha could very well have been the last person in the U.S. to die of, and have this listed as his or her official cause of death. There were many Americans who died of the same thing in 1951, and before, but none after. The question is, what did Aunt Bertha die of?
RAY: Aunt Bertha died of a rare disease called? old age. Starting in 1952, the Bureau of Health Statistics which is part of the CDC, decided that you couldn’t just die of old age, you had to have a reason, like you fell on your knitting needles, got hit by a bread truck, or something like that. I think they listed 130 official reasons for death … They wanted everyone to be pigeon-holed. So Aunt Bertha, because she died a week after Christmas (She could have died like at 11:59 on New Year’s Eve) could have been the last person in 1951 to die of old age.
TOM: What do you do, pick something out of a hat?
RAY: Yeah. In fact when you’re about 75 they send you a flier: Please pick a cause of death from the list below.
So, what would the theorists say? Foucault is rolling in his grave,?pigeonholed?as an AIDS victim, the last declarative statement of his identity within a legal and medical system of labels. Baudrillard’s cause of death? The murder of his reality. Any other determination?is a hyperreality for those of us left behind?while he escapes into the ether. And Derrida??He’s haunting?Albany’s student ghetto as giant brain stripped of the assumptions of doom drawn from words like pancreatic cancer. I think I bumped into his ghost outside Valentine’s some years ago. Then again, maybe I just had one too many Jack and Cokes and was feeling a wee bit too brilliant.
That’s as deep as I intend to get today. The sun is calling and there are giant rocks to be rolled into position. (Gravity is my greatest tool.) I’ll be back when I’m not diligently concentrating on keeping my fingers… or soaking in the hot tub.?Is?having my life back?really as?decadent as it feels??I have become human once more.
For our final presentation, our group filmed our own docu-parody wherein characters dressed as one theorist speak lines reflecting the viewpoint of another. Essentially, they all bumble around?being ridiculous, acting out parts we think will produce sufficient commentary.
MY CHARACTER SUMMARY
While it is difficult to comment on a film you have yet to see, I can tell you that?the character I created is?a woman pimped out against her will. She eventually becomes?a cyborg with found parts and learns that she is with child, MiniBorg. Dreaming of?the child’s future, she?spouts off some Derridian dissallusionment?about the failure of?merriment when it is created from broken toys, planning to circumvent this for the sake of her child.
Haraway with a dash of Derrida
My interpretation of the text is obviously influenced by Donna Haraway’s “A Manifesto for Cyborgs.” To focus first on the character of Oppressed Woman, she is?nameless and only called “baby.” It is?as though her own identity is something she cannot claim, yet her body is taken. She is pimped out, a slave to the male dominated power stucture the likes of which Haraway seeks to escape. Haraway believes that the cyborg can exist?outside the confines of Western duality. As new beings, they can be recoded. In the film, once Oppressed Woman becomes Cyborg, she is empowered and moves on.
MiniBorg, the bastard child of Oppressed Woman and Mickey Mouse, is a genderless zygote bridging the gap between male/female, physical/non-physical, human/machine… and cyborg/mouse. This last lovely twist?joins humans?and machines with animals at once, breaking down all the barriers. Because cyborgs have no origin story, no dominating patriarchal tradition or otherwise, there exists possibility for freedom from Western dualisms which Haraway names as:
?Self/other, mind/body, culture/nature, male/female, civilized/primitive, reality/appearance, whole/part, agent/resource, maker/made, active/passive, right/wrong, truth/illusion, total/partial, God/man? (Haraway 2296).
Haraway?also says that?”social and historical constitution, gender, race, and class cannot provide the basis for belief in ?essential? unity” (2275). We must deconstruct the labels, the sense of other, and in turn?deconstruct oppression.
?The conception of MiniBorg, the little “hu-mouse-chine,” demonstrates Derrida’s?decentering as he says:
Ethnology could have been born as a science only at the moment when European culture . . . had been dislocated . . . forced to stop considering itself as the culture of reference?? (Derrida 918).
The same holds true for a male dominant culture. In the film, the Marxist Pimp is the obvious power center, but not for long. Hope lies with the MiniBorg Messiah who will?dislocate Marxist Pimp?power and create a new center. As Haraway says, illegitimate offspring are often exceedingly unfaithful to their origins. In this case, that’s a good thing.
In both our docu-parody and our commentary, the characters and presenters have been incorporated onto disc. They/we are now cyborgs as technology is part of us/them. This is one more way of merging with and educating through communications machines, recoding meaning for ourselves. Of course, Haraway would say the we are all cyborgs already, with or without the disc.
While theory presents an opportunity to look at the world through a new and different lens, a strong tendency also exists to reinforce beliefs I have always held. By examining the writing I have produced throughout the semester, a core theme is revealed time and time again. The only truth is that there is no absolute truth. For this reason I cannot label nor limit myself as one type of theorist, or even a combination of several. Because theory opens a window into the era when it was produced, I find value in every one whether or not I agree with every aspect it presents at present. Of all the theorists, Derrida, Fanon, Rubin, and Haraway have captured my interest most within my blog, yet all call to me as they reveal the social constructs of reality.
When I first encountered Derrida?s theory of deconstruction, I found the text incredibly dense. Deciphering which ideas were his and which belonged to philosopher Levi-Strauss proved difficult. In my frustration, I italicized and quoted every instance of Derrida?s name as if it were a curse word. In my confusion I was prone to believe that:
?Derrida? uses the term ‘bricolage’ to admirably describe Levi-Strauss? method of study. He likes that Levi, a jack-of-all-trades, finds no central set of rules with which to study his myths but uses the known aspects at hand like tools.?
I later learned that Derrida was not applauding this method of crafting theory. Bricolage was Derrida?s way of deflating Levi-Strauss? absolute definition of metaphysics. From what I understand now of Derrida?s opinion, no allusion to cursing required, the function of bricolage is neither good nor bad. It simply is what it is. Bricolage allows for no absolute center, no one truth, but instead ?can always be completed or invalidated by new information? (Derrida 922) much like Levi?s essays themselves. I fully appreciate that we must move forward using what we have at our disposal. At the same time, we must also allow for the understanding that truth is relevant only until supplemented by new information, essentially creating a new center.
If I label myself a post-colonialist, although I prefer not to, this would explain my affinity with this theory. The intellectual event that created a shift from a European center was the culmination of World War I, the holocaust, scientific discovery and modernism as a new art movement (Barry 67). These details are less evident in the language of Derrida?s essay, ?Structure, Sign and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences.? It is mentioned most directly where he says, ?ethnology could have been born as a science only at the moment when European culture . . . had been dislocated . . . forced to stop considering itself as the culture of reference’” (Derrida 918). This ideas becomes far more obvious through the explanation in Peter Barry?s Beginning Theory where he says:
in modern times a particular intellectual ?event? which constitutes a radical break from past ways of thought ? ?man? as the Renaissance slogan had it, was the measure of all other things in the universe: Western norms of dress, behavior, architecture, intellectual outlook, and so on, provided a firm center against which deviations, aberrations, variations could be detected and identified as ?Other? and marginal. In the twentieth century however, these centers were destroyed and eroded. ? In the resulting universe there are no absolutes or fixed points, so that the universe we live in is ?decentred? or inherently relativistic. Instead of movement or deviation from a known center, all we have is ?free play.? (Barry 66-67)
As I have learned in Modern Poetry, distrust of language as a center, particularly since it had been used as harmful propaganda, spurred literary works such as Woolf?s ?Mrs. Dalloway? and Eliot?s ?The Wasteland.? Language, the broken tool, is reordered and thus newly centered. Creativity also experienced a new freedom of personal and political expression in the forms of painting, sculpting, performance and poetry. Painters Dali, Picasso, and Loy broke free from their identity as painters by writing poems and as poets they painted, freeing themselves as a total being. This idea can also be applied to the limitation of our national borders. As I see it, under control of the Bush Administration, America today is in dire need of a similar decentring away from the Empirical. Like the bumper sticker says, ?I love my country but I think we should start seeing other people.? We must allow for decentralization in order to stop the oppression in places like Darfur. As this cycle begins once more, Derrida appears to be a theorist for all time.
Interestingly, decentralization is something that I had latched onto prior to reading Derrida. On January 23rd I wrote, ?rather than the traditional approach of unifying the diversity in art, something Bakhtin obviously abhors, he prefers that we celebrate our creative differences.? Bakhtin knocked criticism of authorship off its center by supplementing the idea of heteroglossia within a text. This created a new consideration for both the author and the voices of the characters simultaneously. On February 2rd in regard to the value of language I questioned:
Although this seems to prove that Saussure?s value system is a good place to start, is societal value so absolute? What if value shifts slightly between the process of expression and interpretation, dependant upon the individual?s world of reference.
Granted, while these ideas are not fully formed, they positively hint at shifting centers. By the time Derrida?s assignment appeared on the syllabus for February 3rd, I was well on my way to requiring a well structured theoretical argument to articulate my own point of view.
Once I grasped Derrida, his theory began to appear in every day application. At the end of my initial post I wrote, ?This is MY hypothesis, and it too will either be verified or invalidated by new information in class.? Interestingly, while parts of my first interpretation were incorrect, I had grasped the greater message. There is no absolute truth because new information will always combine with the old to form a new center. On February 5th, in a test post practicing the inclusion of video, I used the concept in jest:
In my Saussure post, I unfairly present my cat, Kringle, as a flesh eating monster. I now offer you his softer side, ?Derrida Style.? Decentralizing that singular murderous aspect, allowing for supplemental information, you can now arrive at a more accurate truth.
Truth may not have been the best word choice for Kringle?s totality, yet the idea of supplementary information changing the initial understanding is poignant.
?I recognized these ideas in other theorists as well, particularly in regard to identity. Gayle Rubin in ?The Traffic of Women? quotes Derrida. ?We cannot utter a single destructive proposition which has not already slipped into the form, the logic, and the implicit postulations of precisely what it seeks to contest? (Rubin 1678) On February 6th, in relation to this statement, I noted that:
Rubin made me understand Derrida much better ? I saw the cultural baggage we unintentionally carry in conjunction with examination of the role women occupy in society. This was profound for me. I was suddenly struck by how I?ve lived both theories without knowing.
In my analysis, I had studied fathers giving away their daughters at weddings. I suddenly became aware of my inability to create new meaning in a failed attempt at bridal liberation during my own wedding. To call for liberation recognizes the ownership from which liberation is necessary. Through theory, the external constructs of my reality had been revealed and my understanding shifted. As a woman, I was other, woman and property in a way I hadn?t considered. Betraying my own self, I was complicit in reinforcing the fact through a presence-absence dichotomy.
While Rubin helped me to understand Derrida, both helped me to understand Fanon. On March 13th I wrote of Coetzee?s novel Disgrace, ?Lurie?s sense of being is fixed, set. Recall Fanon. The mind, in conjunction with the body, is being. This is not to be mistaken with identity. Identity is imposed in relation to and as supplement of ?other.? Being is who you are before that happens.? Fanon says of his own realization in a quote I used in my post:
I analyzed my heredity, I made a complete audit of my ailment. I wanted to be typically Negro ? it was no longer possible. I wanted to be white ? that was a joke. And when I tried, on the level of ideas and intellectual activity, to reclaim my negritude, it was snatched away from me. Proof was present that my effort was only a term of the dialectic. (Fanon 132)
To revisit the Derrida quote Rubin chose above, I see that Fanon too has difficulty escaping the stereotypical center of racism. I had noted on March 18th that ?Negritude embraces both the French meaning of black and derogatory Martinique meaning of ?nigger.? Those who accept this inclusive definition empower themselves to redefine their own meaning.? Although the concept is an admirable attempt at reclaiming identity, even this falls short for Fanon. As he speaks of black or white, the sense of ?other? is continually called into being by way of a binary dichotomy.
I had initially used the concept behind Negritude to defend Lucy?s behavior in Disgrace. While offering a way for her to redefine who she is on her own terms, I said:
Lucy also embraces the duality of her being, encompassing who she was before as well as who she is after transgressions were committed against her. This provides no comfort in the face of being violated, as Fanon too experiences, but to relinquish that sense of being, to retreat and accept the identity of victim as imposed by another, would allow only for absolute defeat.
I have just now become aware of Lucy?s reason for silence. Unlike the Negritude movement, where black men actively and vocally sought to claim a new identity, Lucy does the opposite. If she never breathes a word of her victimization, neither will she speak into existence the horrific domination and violation that has scarred her soul.
I could continue on about each and every additional instance where Derrida appears in the rest of my posts, but I find it important to shift gears before I wrap up. If Derrida says that to speak against something is to, at the same time, call it into existence, then Haraway introduces a fascinating escape from this repetitious system of binary oppositions. I say in my last blog post on April 21st:
Because cyborgs have no origin story, no dominating patriarchal tradition or otherwise, there exists possibility for freedom from these Western dualisms: ?Self/other, mind/body, culture/nature, male/female, civilized/primitive, reality/appearance, whole/part, agent/resource, maker/made, active/passive, right/wrong, truth/illusion, total/partial, God/man? (Haraway 2296). This is brilliant and beautifully Utopian. I love it. I love Haraway.
According to Haraway, communication systems and technologies are the tools necessary to recraft our selves, to disassemble and reassemble, to recode who we are. This provides an opportunity to exist somewhere within the gray areas between black and white, the genderlessness between male and female, etc. We are all cyborg. We all have the ability to slip through our confines.
?The combination of Derrida?s ?decentring? and ?supplement,? along side the questions of true identity as discussed by Rubin, Fanon, Haraway and others have already helped to interpret texts and life events I have encountered. I will carry these and many other concepts with me throughout my career and my life. I have always recognized the fact that I thrive best in gray areas and what I have been seeking, although unaware of my own quest until now, is how to break free from the confines of Western duality. I have consistently incorporated theory into my arsenal of proof for what I already believed true, that this duality is an unjust system of binding categorization. The difference is that now I am aware of what cultural apparatuses are in place to confine us within our binary systems, and my conceptual skills better articulate my displeasure in concrete terms. This has been the process by which I have learned to use theory instead of letting theory use me.
Barry, Peter. Beginning Theory. New York: Manchester University Press, 2002
Clune, Kim. Brain Drain: I Think Its Sprained.?05 May 2007. <http://atticfox.wordpress.com>.
Derrida, Jacques. ?Structure, Sign and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences.? Classic Texts and Contemporary Trends. Ed. David H. Richter. New York: St. Martin?s Press, 1989. 914-926.
Fanon, Franz. Black Skin White Masks. Trans. Charles Lam Markmann. New York: Grove Press, 1952
Haraway, Donna. ?A Manifesto for Cyborgs.? The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. Ed. Vincent Leitch. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2001. 2269-2299.
Rubin, Gayle. ?The Traffic in Women.? Classic Texts and Contemporary Trends. Ed. David H. Richter. New York: St. Martin?s Press, 1989. 1663-1683.
Postmodernism?= Modernism flipped ass over tea cup. That which?was of?dominant importance in the 40′s and 50′s is now secondary, giving all those original underdog qualities renewed appreciation upfront and center.
I?like the?way Jameson refers?to Gerty’s-got-her-groove-on?Stein. In her manifesto,?Composition Explained, she’s all about,
“The only thing that is different from one time to another is what is seen and what is seen depends on how everybody is doing it.”
Jameson?agrees, and in fact borrows this idea which was written in 1926. Ooooh, the irony. In art, we still?create representations of the same things we used to. The focus just shifts as we use new lenses to look at the same old, same old.
Modernism?is?like a Dadaist collage in that?previous art is deconstructed and resynthesized into new art. Dadaism took art?from the hands of masters and brought it to the people.?As an original idea (in it’s day), this?is parody.
What differs?in?postmodernism is that art is?no longer?out to change the world so much as to?”respect the vernacular of the American city fabric”?(1968). This is pistiche, mimicing styles which are already dead. All the while, we look back with nostalgia to what has come before and try to recreate it with new tools.
TAKING IT FOR A SPIN:
So, to me, this sounds like the closed structure of Derrida, where one thing supplements another to make a whole new piece of art. The possibilities are as infinite?as the combinations of coupling, yet the pieces to work with are limited. According to Jameson, we have reached a dead end in finding “the new” and must begin to reconstitue and recycle the old in new ways. Yes?
In my Saussure post, I unfairly?present?my cat, Kringle, as a flesh eating monster.?I now?offer you?his?softer side, “Derrida Style.”?Decentralizing that singular murderous aspect, allowing for supplemental?information,?you can now?arrive at?a more accurate truth. Kringle actually has many sides. I can assure you that “centered” he is not. Enjoy!
This video has been?monitored?for Kitty Porn.
Jacques “Derrida” says in his very wordy “Structure, Sign and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences:”
“… pardon me for being so elliptical in order to bring?me more quickly to my principle theme” (“Derrida”?916).?
Apology not accepted, “Derrida.”
I flip you the bird.
THAT SAID, I bagged the handout and went for the cheap score.?Chapter 3?of Barry’s Beginning Theory,? was far easier to swallow. Most consoling was the comment on page 70,
“You will not find these pages of “Derrida” [emphasis mine]?by any means easy, but?they will repay some intensive work, ideally in group discussion.”
I must admit, I need to be spoon fed here. I found greater understanding of “decentralization” when Barry described it?as an event in modern times where the norm was no longer taken for granted:
… thus ‘man,’ as the Rennaisance slogan had it, was the measure of all other things in the Universe:?white Western norms of dress, behavior, architecture … provided a firm center against which deviations, aberrations, variations could be detected and identified as ‘Other’ and marginal (66-67).
This shift?from center was caused by things like the end of WWI, the Holocaust, scientific theories of relativity and art movements. Because of these events, “in the resulting universe there are no fixed points or absolutes” and ‘all we have is free play’” (Barry 67).
With my cheat sheet in hand, its time to revisit the “Derrida” handout.
Good night and good luck.
THE NEXT DAY
(because I am SO obsessed with kicking “Derrida’s” ass.)
Derrida’s” theory?is rooted in?Philosophy, thus accounting for his discourse with philosopher Levi-Strauss. Using Levi’s example of incest-prohibition, “Derrida” argues that what seems to be “naturally” rooted in our core being is really a prohibition set up by cultural society.
The best example I can come up with to show that incest is not a “natural” prohibition is with Greek and Roman mythical gods. Incest was often a necessity as no mortals were equally worthy for marriage. In this context, we can accept the idea. Even throughout English rule, first cousins were often joined because common folk would dilute the royal bloodline, yet first cousin marriages are currently?banned in our society.?Perhaps this is why incest-prohibition is not considered an instinctual or?”natural” phenomenon, but one constructed by culture.
“Derrida” uses the term “bricolage” to describe Levi-Strauss’ method of study. He likes that Levi, like a?jack-of-all-trades, finds no central set of rules with which to study his myths but uses the known aspects at hand like tools.?This system of study offers no concrete point of view from which to begin, no center, but instead “can always be completed or invalidated by new information” much like Levi’s essays themselves. (922) I?get this idea as there are no absolutes. Truth in lit studies exists only until it is proven false, just like any other scientific method.
This is MY hypothesis, and it too will either be verified or invalidated by new information in class. What I hope more than anything is that we touch on all the things I didn’t here.
Off Topic Question: If Barthes was so key and so cool in bridging Saussure?with “Derrida,” why did we skip him? I’m feeling no love here.