The Deconstructive Angel

Critical Inquiry 3 (3):425-438 (1977)

That brings me to the crux of my disagreement with Hillis Miller. The central contention is not simply that I am sometimes, or always, wrong in my interpretation, but instead that I—like other traditional historians—can never be right in my interpretation. For Miller assents to Nietzsche's challenge of "the concept of 'rightness' in interpretation," and to Nietzsche's assertion that "the same text authorizes innumerable interpretations : there is no 'correct' interpretation."1 Nietzsche's views of interpretation, as Miller says, are relevant to the recent deconstructive theorists, including Jacques Derrida and himself, who have "reinterpreted Nietzsche" or have written "directly or indirectly under his aegis." He goes on to quote a number of statements from Nietzsche's The Will to Power to the effect, as Miller puts it, "that reading is never the objective identifying of a sense but the importation of meaning into a text which had no meaning 'in itself.'" For example: "Ultimately, man finds in things nothing but what he himself has imported into them." "In fact interpretation is itself a means of becoming master of something."2 On the face of it, such sweeping deconstructive claims might suggest those of Lewis Carroll's linguistic philosopher, who asserted that meaning is imported into a text by the interpreter's will to power: "The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things.""The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master—that's all." But of course I don't believe that such deconstructive claims are, in Humpty Dumpty fashion, simply dogmatic assertions. Instead, they are conclusions which are derived from particular linguistic premises. I want, in the time remaining, to present what I make out to be the elected linguistic premises, first of Jacques Derrida, then of Hillis Miller, in the confidence that if I misinterpret these theories, my errors will soon be challenged and corrected. Let me eliminate suspense by saying at the beginning that I don't think that their radically skeptical conclusions from these premises are wrong. On the contrary, I believe that their conclusions are right—in fact, they are infallibly right, and that's where the trouble lies. · 1. "Tradition and Difference," Diacritics 2 : 8, 12.· 2. Ibid. M. H. Abrams’s contributions to Critical Inquiry include "Rationality and Imagination in Cultural History: A Reply to Wayne Booth" and "Behaviorism and Deconstruction: A Comment on Morse Peckham's 'The Infinitude of Pluralism'"
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DOI 10.1086/447898
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Nägarjuna's Appeal.Richard P. Hayes - 1994 - Journal of Indian Philosophy 22 (4):311.
Deconstruction: The Unacceptable Face of Hermeneutics.H. P. Rickman - 1998 - Journal of the British Society for Phenomenology 29 (3):299-313.
Derrida and Criticism.Ann Wordsworth - 1978 - Oxford Literary Review 3 (2):47-53.

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