dimarts, de novembre 07, 2006

Comments on a Student's Submission about Meaning and Deconstruction (English)

I really enjoyed this contribution, and what I like most about it is that it demonstrates how interdisciplinary approaches can be meaningful in more than one academic direction.

I think you hit on something with your Derridian comments about the non- compositional meaning in language. One thing that more science-oriented linguists struggle with is the very nature of meaning. The problem they arrive at is that it's incredibly difficult, within the subdiscipline of Semantics, to establish what meaning is.

Of course, the irony is that inspite of his apparent railing against "traditional" literary criticism, Derrida created a whole new nomenclature which is now repeated like Biblical rote throughout the circles of literary criticism among my colleagues who are a little bit older than I, and at times even among my generation and the younger generations of literature students. For some reason however, Derrida's work is rarely deconstructed with any seriousness (rarely is not to say never...), which I think he would see as a pity. "Derrida," professor David Wills of SUNYA said," only had one idea, but it was a big one." I would at least in part concur with Wills. Wills is, by the way, a Derridist, and was a personal acquaintance (perhaps indeed an actual friend) of Derrida before he died. To me, Derrida did have one idea, although it wasn't very big really.

Deconstruction has been inflated well beyond its origins, but is nonetheless an amazingly powerful tool for literary analysis. Due to is flexibility, it's also a great tool for other kinds of social analysis as well. Without a doubt, Deconstruction, in its essence, belongs in the realm of the cognitive sciences, as one of the many tools in the arsenal to coming to terms with the understanding of how the human mind works and what it is capable of grasping and creating.

To be honest though, I would have to side with the "anti-Derridians," by large an far in the same way that, while I more often than not agree with Dawkins and the other New Atheists, that reason and science are most likely to solve our problems and lead more humans to some kind of rational enlightenment, I feel that we would be foolish to throw out the spiritual baby with the religious bath water. Derridians and their ilk have a tendency to scoff at older forms of literary analysis, and at times even scoff at literature itself! Their adherence to their absolute ideals is no better or different than Structuralists or other traditionalists, in the same way that how the New Atheists approach their Work is no different from the zealots of any religious movement.

You will notice that I link my comments back to literary criticism when I reference Derrida because that is where I believe his work is best equiped to make meaningful (hehe) contributions. While Deconstruction can be (and should be) applied to many disciplines, the vast majority of Derrida's work beyond his one big idea is founded on very faulty knowledge. He often made forays into sociology, anthropology, theology and philosophy while having no real background in those areas, despite his self-proclamation as a philosopher, and his comments in those fields are often viewed by their respective specialists as specious and spurious. While there is a small camp of Derrida-fans in some branches of Linguitics, since one of the main projects of the discipline has been to move toward hard data and hard science whenever possible, a largely untrained literary critic and his novel idea haven't met many warm welcomes. It must furthermore be said that Derrida's rise to prominence was based more on whom he knew rather than on what he knew.

Finally, while it is true that Semantics struggles to define meaning, other subdisciplines of Linguistics (notably Pragmatics), when married with Semantics, do begin to define how we understand what each other is saying, even if the absolute meaning is still open to interpretation.

Oh, and why I titled this post "Derridian Nightmares".... your post put in mind of a nightmare I had a couple months ago in which Derrida was alive and well and had come to teach at the college. In the dream he conned me into helping him get a tooth imprint of a woman he was in love with, but was not sure of her identity. At the same time, he was dossing down in the Administrator of Technology's office, who himself was hiding from an irrate faculty because he had given us all ridiculous and mildly insulting email addresses. It was my perogative to find both Derrida in order to deliver this still spit-moist clay tooth mold and to give the administrator a piece of my mind. I never did find the administrator, but I did, as I mentioned, find Derrida fast asleep on a vintage 1970's sofa at the back of said adminstrator's office. We had words and many twenty year old copies of Of Grammatology some with the pages still uncut went crashing to the floor as I put my hands around his neck and began pushing him around. Sundry yellowing pages then went floating through the air as I used some WCW moves on him (he was surprisingly strong!). The dream ended as I gazed on Derrida sitting on the floor rubbing his throat amid strewn remains of Of Grammatology, a small piece of clay with the bite marks of his septagenarian love-interest laying atop one of the torn pages.

I would prefer that you neither deconstruct nor psycho-analyze that dream!