The Problem of Textuality: Two Exemplary Positions

Critical Inquiry 4 (4):673-714 (1978)
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Derrida and Foucault are opposed to each other on a number of grounds, and perhaps the one specially singled out in Foucault's attack on Derrida—that Derrida is concerned only with "reading" a text and that a text is nothing more than the "traces" found there by the reader—would be the appropriate one to begin with here.1 According to Foucault, if the text is important for Derrida because its real situation is literally an abysmally textual element, l'écriture en abîme with which criticism so far has been unable really to deal,2 then for Foucault the text is important because it inhabits an element of power with a decisive claim on actuality, even though that power is invisible or implied. Derrida's criticism therefore moves us into the text, Foucault's in and out of it. · 1. Michel Foucault's attack on Derrida is to be found in an appendix to the later version of Folie et déraison: Historie de la folie à l'âge classique , pp. 583-602; the earlier edition has been translated into English: Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason, trans. Richard Howard .· 2. Jacques Derrida, La Dissémination , p. 297. Edward W. Said, Parr Professor of English and comparative literature at Columbia University, is the author of Orientalism and The Question of Palestine, along with numerous publications on literature, politics, and culture; his Beginnings: Intention and Method received the first annual Lionel Trilling Memorial Award. "The Problem of Textuality" will appear in a slightly different form in his Criticism between Culture and System



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