A poem encrypts, though not predictably, the effects it may have when at some future moment, in another context, it happens to be read and inscribed in a new situation, in ‘an interpretation that transforms the very thing it interprets’, as Jacques Derrida puts it in Specters of Marx. In Wallace Stevens's ‘The Man on the Dump’ (1942), we are told: ‘The dump is full/Of images’. The poem's movement is itself a complex temporal to and fro that aims to repudiate (...) and even annihilate these images. This renunciation leaves the man on the dump ‘The Latest Freed Man’, as the title of another Stevens poem puts it. Like Walter Benjamin's Angel of History, he has his back toward history and has rejected its images in ‘disgust’ in order to face toward a future that will, he hopes, be purified of ideology. Yet Stevens knows that more such images will come and will need in their turn to be rejected and junked, in an endless task of purification. In a now impossibly outdated way, Stevens nevertheless wanted the poet – that is, himself, the man on the dump – to be the begetter of a new ideology, or a new fiction that would, in a powerful speech act, replace all those outworn images on the dump. In the context of potentially catastrophic climate change (as the result of something like a global auto-immune disorder), the second part of the essay complements this commentary on the poem with a free reading; a performative reading, reading as work or as oeuvre that does something with words, for which Jacques Derrida calls. This reading sees Stevens's text as somehow the proleptic foretelling of a present situation. Such future chiming is also, it is argued, a sign to sign relation, an anticipatory allegory or prophecy, or, perhaps, a miniature apocalypse in the etymological sense of an enigmatic unveiling of what has not yet happened. (shrink)
Derrida has been perennially concerned with hands and touching. This interest finds its most concentrated form in On Touching—Jean-Luc Nancy. This text outlines a number of concerns Derrida has in that book which might be extrapolated as exemplary of Derrida's reading strategies in general. It concludes with a consideration of what is revealed about the Derrida-Nancy relationship in this book.
This essay elaborates and engages an influential reading of the late Derrida as put forth in J. HillisMiller’s book For Derrida. Sensitive to the complicated ambiguities and nuances of Derrida’s deconstructive philosophy, Miller elucidates how our common preconceptions are intimately bound up with the very facts of life which we do our best to marginalize and reject. Mourning, for example, cannot be so easily distinguished from melancholy when the loss of the other is impossible for us (...) to completely work through. Miller thus provides us with a careful analysis of precisely that which so often resists analysis, and does so in an accessible manner. I will nonetheless argue that the deconstructive project is susceptible to its own reifications, and that Miller’s sharp delineation between the individual and community is one such example. (shrink)
1. A Profession of Faith -- 2. Who or What Decides, for Derrida : A Catastrophic Theory of Decision -- 3. Derrida's Destinerrance -- 4. The Late Derrida -- 5. Derrida's Remains -- 6. Derrida Enisled -- 7. Derrida's Special Theory of Performativity --8. "Don't Count Me In" : Derrida's Refraining -- 9. Derrida's Ethics of Irresponsibilization ; or, How to Get Irresponsible, in Two Easy Lessons -- 10. Derrida's Politics of Autoimmunity -- 11. Touching Derrida's Touching Nancy -- 12. (...) Absolute Mourning : It Is Jacques You Mourn For -- Notes -- Index. (shrink)
Miller undermines traditional ideas and beliefs about language, literature, truth, meaning, consciousness, and interpretation. In effect, he assumes the role of unrelenting destroyer—or nihilistic magician—who dances demonically upon the broken and scattered fragments of the Western tradition. Everything touched soon appears torn. Nothing is ever finally darned over, or choreographed for coherence, or foregrounded as magical illusion. Miller, the relentless rift-maker, refuses any apparent repair and rampages onward, dancing, spell-casting, destroying all. As though he were a wizard, he (...) appears in the guise of a bull-deconstructer loose in the china shop of Western tradition. Vincent B. Leitch, associate professor of English at Mercer University, is the editor of Robert Southwell's Marie Magdalens Funeral Teares and The Poetry of Estonia: Essays in Comparative Analysis. Sections of the present essay will appear in his The Poetics of Deconstruction, which offers a critical history and anatomy of deconstructive criticism. (shrink)
Debates rage over what kind of literature we should read, what is good and bad literature, and whether in the global, digital age, literature even has a future. But what exactly is literature? Why should we read literature? How do we read literature? These are some of the important questions J. HillisMiller answers in this beautifully written and passionate book. He begins by asking what literature is, arguing that the answer lies in literature's ability to create an (...) imaginary world simply with words. On Literature also asks the crucial question of why literature has such authority over us. Returning to Plato, Aristotle and the Bible, Miller argues we should continue to read literature because it is part of our basic human need to create imaginary worlds and to have stories. Above all, On Literature is a plea that we continue to read and care about literature. (shrink)
At one point in "Rationality and Imagination in Cultural History" M.H. Abrams cites Wayne Booth's assertion that the "deconstructionist" reading of a given work "is plainly and simply parasitical" on "the obvious or univocal reading."1 The latter is Abrams' phrase, the former Booth's. My citation of a citation is an example of a kind of chain which it will be part of my intention here to interrogate. What happens when a critical essay extracts a "passage" and "cites" it? Is this (...) different from a citation, echo, or allusion within a poem? Is a citation an alien parasite within the body of its host, the main text, or is it the other way around, the interpretative text the parasite which surrounds and strangles the citation which is its host? The host feeds the parasite and makes its life possible, but at the same time is killed by it, as "criticism" is often said to kill "literature." Or can host and parasite live happily together, in the domicile of the same text, feeding each other or sharing the food? · 1. Critical Inquiry 2, no. 3 : 457-58. The first phrase is quoted from Wayne Booth, "M.H. Abrams: Historian as Critic, Critic as Pluralist," ibid., p. 441. J. HillisMiller's contributions to Critical Inquiry are "Ariadne's Thread: Repetition and the Narrative Line" and "Theory and Practice: Response to Vincent Leitch". (shrink)
The story of Ariadne has, as is the way with myths, its slightly asymmetrical echoes along both the narrative lines which converge in her marriage to Dionysus. Daedalus it was who told Ariadne how to save Theseus with the thread. Imprisoned by Minos in his own labyrinth, he escapes by flight, survives the fall of Icarus, and reaches Sicily safely. Daedalus is then discovered by Minos when he solves the puzzle posed publicly by Minos, with the offer of a reward (...) to the solver: How to run a thread through all the chambers and intricate windings of a complex seashell? Daedalus pierces the center of the shell, ties a thread to an ant, puts the ant in the pierced hole, and wins the prize when the ant emerges at the mouth of the shell. Thread and labyrinth, thread intricately crinkled to and fro as the retracing of the labyrinth which defeats the labyrinth but makes another intricate web at the same time—pattern is here superimposed on pattern, like the two homologous stories themselves. J. HillisMiller is Gray Professor of Rhetoric and chairman of the department of English at Yale. He is the author of Charles Dickens: The World of His Novels, The Disappearance of God, Thomas Hardy: Distance and Desire, Fiction and Repetition, and a study of narrative terminology, called Ariadne's Thread, of which his essay in this issue of Critical Inquiry is a part. His contributions to Critical Inquiry are "The Critic as Host" and "Theory and Practice: Response to Vincent Leitch". (shrink)
-/- For I have to remind you, somewhat bluntly and simply, that my most constant interest, coming even before my philosophical interest I should say, if this is possible, has been directed towards literature, towards that writing which is called literature. -/- What is literature? –Jacques Derrida, “The Time of a Thesis, Punctuations” -/- Literature is everywhere in Jacques Derrida's writing. It is there from one end to the other of his work, even in essays or books that superficially do (...) not seem to involve “literature.” If Derek Attridge had not already invented or borrowed the phrase “Acts of Literature” as the title for his fine anthology of Derrida's writings about literature I might have called this chapter “Derrida's Acts of Literature.” The phrase “acts of literature” is a double genitive, subjective and objective at once. It names acts performed by literature, and at the same time acts that create or comment on literature. In what sense can literature, or writing about literature, or writing literature, or reading literature be an “act”? That is one of my main questions here. -/- Derrida, along with all the other things he is (as this volume testifies), is one of the great literary critics of the twentieth century. (shrink)
The function of Nietzsche in our present intellectual life is a salient example of the continued vitality of the nineteenth-century in the thought of today. In Germany, in France, in Italy, and in the United States new work of editing and commentary has made Nietzsche a current force. The monumental Colli-Montinari edition, which includes many of Nietzsche’s hitherto unpublished notebooks and drafts, is the most conspicuous evidence of this on the textual side. This edition will make available in German, French, (...) Italian, and Japanese versions a far more complete and accurate Nietzsche than we have had. Mention should also be made of the new English translations by Walter Kaufmann. These have made good versions of most of Nietzsche’s books available to those with no German, though the Kaufmann translations are far less complete than the Colli-Montinari edition. On the side of commentary, the bibliography of new work on Nietzsche is enormous. Two collective volumes may be mentioned. They indicate at least a sketch map of this rugged terrain: The New Nietzsche: Contemporary Styles of Interpretation, edited and introduced by David D. Allison, and Nietzsche Aujourd’hui? The new work appropriates Nietzsche for present purposes. Ideas which may seem especially characteristic of the literature and philosophy of our own day are found to have been already worked out by Nietzsche in his own way. These would include linguistic, artistic, historical, social, and psychological concepts. Among these is Nietzsche’s systematic putting in question of the idea that the self is a substantial and integral entity. (shrink)
"Matters"! This is an odd word when used as a verb. Of course we know what it means. The verbal form of "matter" means "count for something," "have import," "have effects in the real world," "be worth taking seriously." Using the word as a noun, however, someone might speak of "literature matters," meaning the whole realm that involves literature. The Newsletter of the Maine Chapter of the Appalachian Mountain Club is called Wilderness Matters, punning on the word as a noun (...) and as a verb. We might say, analogously, "Literature Matters," as my title does. In medieval Europe learned people spoke of "the matter of Rome," "the matter of Arthur," "the matter of Greece," meaning the whole set of stories that lay behind .. (shrink)
This essay attempts to ‘read’ the first page of Jacques Derrida's Glas, while at the same time reporting as best I can what actually goes on when I make this effort of reading. I try to exemplify in detail my claim that what goes on in reading is much stranger and more complex that one might think. An intricate series of events took place when I first received Glas in the mail and opened it, reading first the single-sheet insert and (...) then looking at the cover, the title page, and, finally, the first page of the text proper. In my case, at least, in addition to trying to make sense of the words on the page, all sorts of somatic and affective responses were involved, as well as a constant unsuccessful attempt to create a coherent mental image based not only on the way the words are arranged on the page, but also on the bewildering complexity of what the words say. (shrink)
Leitch speaks of his procedure with my work as employing an "abrupt asyndetic format" and as being "a metonymic montage in which themes and citations are playfully and copiously combined." One form of this playfulness is the panoply of figures he uses to describe me and my criticism. The need to use figures for this is interesting, as is their incoherence, though the figures can be shown to fall into a rough antithetical pattern. At one moment the deconstructive critic is (...) a fairy godmother able to turn the pumpkin of the Western tradition into a phantasmal coach. He is a magician or wizard who shows that things are not what they have seemed with the great texts of our tradition or who turns them into something other than what they have seemed solidly to be, pragmatic pumpkins, unequivocally there. At the next moment the deconstructer is a disco dancer, moving sideways in the "lateral dance of interpretation" . The more or less benign fairy godmother and dancer then turns into a "nihilistic magician - who dances demonically upon the broken and scattered fragments of the Western tradition." He becomes a ferocious shaman, "Ravening, raging, and uprooting that he may come/Into the desolation of reality" . He is "a bull-deconstructer loose in the china shop of Western tradition" . In the next moment the bull metamorphoses into a lamb, as Leitch realizes the conservative aspects of deconstruction, the way it claims to be rescuing and preserving aspects of our culture which have always been there, both in literary and philosophical works and in the techniques of interpreting them. The same point is made more sharply and critically by William E. Cain in another recent essay on my work . In the final paragraph of his essay, Leitch has fun inventing permutations of an image of sand in the salad from one of my essays. Will deconstruction sandblast the whole shebang, or will the alien grain of sand turn into a pearl of price? J. HillisMiller is Frederick W. Hilles Professor of English at Yale. His previous contributions to Critical Inquiry are "Ariadne's Thread: Repetition and the Narrative Line" and "The Critic as Host". (shrink)
fusion theory challenges efforts to see theory as inhibiting by presenting an approach that is innovative, eclectic, and subtle in order to draw out competing and constellating ideas and opinions. This collected volume of essays examines fusion theory and demonstrates how the theory can be applied to the reading of various works of Indian English novelists.
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