Philosophy Before Literature Deconstuction, Hisoricity, And the Work of Pal de Man

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Philosophy Before Literature: Deconstruction, Historicity, and the Work of Paul de Man Author(s): Suzanne Gearhart and Paul de Man Source: Diacritics, Vol. 13, No. 4 (Winter, 1983), pp. 63-81 Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press Stable URL: . Accessed: 16/10/2013 11:46 Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at . . JSTOR is a not-for-
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  Philosophy Before Literature: Deconstruction, Historicity, and the Work of Paul de ManAuthor(s): Suzanne Gearhart and Paul de ManSource: Diacritics, Vol. 13, No. 4 (Winter, 1983), pp. 63-81Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press Stable URL: . Accessed: 16/10/2013 11:46 Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at  .  . JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new formsof scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact  . The Johns Hopkins University Press  is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to  Diacritics. This content downloaded from on Wed, 16 Oct 2013 11:46:16 AMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions  RESPONSE PHILOSOPHY EFORE LITERATURE: DECONSTRUCTIO HISTORICITY ND TH WOR O P UL E M N SUZANNE GEARHART The word deconstruction has always bothered me.... I had the impression that it was one word among many others, a secondary term of the text that was destined to disappear or in any case take its place in an ensemble where it commanded nothing. For me it was a word in a chain with many other words like trace and diff6rance ... It happens, and this merits analysis, that this word that I wrote once or twice, I don't even remember very well where, all of a sudden leaped outside of the text and others took it up and used it in such a way that afterwards, faced with this result, I had to justify myself, explain it, try to play with it. -Jacques Derrida, L'Oreille de I'autre 1 The question of the relationship between literature and philosophy has taken on new meaning at a time when assumptions central to the languages of both disciplines - assumptions about language, form, representation, etc. - are being challenged. If these assumptions are indeed fundamental to philosophy itself, and if literary criticism and interpretation have in their own way depended on these same assumptions, then to challenge them is in some sense to move beyond both literature and philosophy, to a region that is strictly speaking no longer philosophical [ Deconstruction as Criticism hereafter DC) 188], or literary critical. Any attempt to move beyond a given state of a prob- lem or a discipline, however, must pay scrupulous attention to that state if the attempt to move beyond s not to result instead in a regression. nsofar as the relationship between literature and philosophy is concerned, a certain specifi- city of each must be respected if the challenge to the assumptions underlying the languages of both disciplines is not to result in a simple blurring of dif- ferences and a confusion of tongues. Clarification of the meaning and context of the terms that figure prominently in the vocabulary of each discipline is thus indispensable. But the necessary labor of clarification is limited by the simple fact that there is no such thing as a language of philosophy or a language of criticism, no matter what the level at which one analyzes discourse within these two disciplines. The risk of a blurring nd toning down [DC 180] of the effects of a critique written, say, in philosophy does not merely begin when that cri- diacritics / winter 1983 This content downloaded from on Wed, 16 Oct 2013 11:46:16 AMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions  tique is translated nto another language and its specificity distorted - say when deconstruc- tion is appropriated by literary criticism. The risk s just as great when one seeks to clarify he stakes of such a critique from a position totally within philosophy. In two recent articles, Deconstruction as Criticism nd 'Setzung' and 'Ubersetzung': Notes on Paul de Man [cited hereafter as SU], Rodolphe Gasche undertakes a clarification of-the relationship between philosophy and literature n a recent phase in the history of that relationship. Moreover, it is as a philosopher that Gasche writes: his aim is to subject to rigorous philosophical analysis terms that, he argues, have been used loosely and unrigorously by philosophically untrained readers [DC 1831- notably by literary critics. Gasche's position is in many ways an ironic one, for the literary ritics he is criticizing are not those who reject what could be called a philosophical approach to literature but precisely those who ostensibly accept such an approach. Gasche calls them the deconstructive critics and argues that their use of philosophy (or theory) and particularly heir attempt to apply the theoretical insights of Jacques Derrida to the study of literature result in a literary aestheticism or formalism that is in almost all ways the antithesis of the philosophy of Der- rida. Thus Gasche must use philosophy against precisely the deconstructive literary critics who claim it for themselves, or, as he puts it, he must restore the rigorous meaning of deconstruction against ts defenders [DC 182]. Two terms in particular are the focus of Gasche's clarification and analysis: self-reflexivity and deconstruction. According to Gasche, it is when they are placed in their philosophical context that the virtually antithetical mean- ings of these two terms become clear. The lack of rigor in the use of philosophical categories by deconstructive criticism is most evident for Gasche when it equates deconstruction with self-reflexivity: Deconstruction is not what is asserted by positive definitions in Newer [deconstruc- tive] criticism. Here deconstruction is said to represent the moment in a text where the argument begins to undermine itself; or, in accordance with Jakobson's notion of the poetic and aesthetic function, the relation of a message of communication to itself that, thus, becomes its own object; or, finally, the self-revelation and indication by the text of its own principles of organization and operation .... Deconstructive criticism ... asserts and simultaneously depends on the autonomy of the text. It is this rationale of almost all of modern criticism that totally distorts the notion of deconstruction. [DC 180-81] For Gasche, deconstruction is virtually he opposite of self-reflexivity, hence the opposite of deconstruction s it is used by deconstructive criticism: Put another way, deconstruction is an operation which accounts for and simultaneously undoes self-reflection DC 194]. Just how deconstruction does this becomes evident, Gasche argues, when one considers that it comprises two stages: a reversal and a reinscription. The deconstructive critic is guilty of equating deconstruction with what is only its first stage: reversal. Thus he takes the colloquial meaning of writing as it appears in the philosophical tradition and, simply reversing the hierarchy between speech and writing, privileges writing in a traditional and colloquial sense over speech. By stopping with this simple reversal, deconstructive criticism manages easily to assimilate ecriture to literature and to equate the negative, critical thrust of deconstruction with a revelation of the autonomy and auto-referentiality of the text. In its complete and philosophically rigorous form, deconstruction necessitates not only reversal but reinscription. Thus Derrida not only upsets the hierarchy between writing and speech when he gives writing a thematic privilege in Of Grammatology, he also displaces or reinscribes writing o that it no longer coincides with its colloquial meaning. According to Gasch6, in reinscription, the hierarchy and hence the newly privileged term are situated in relation to an absolute other, that is, an rreducible non-phenomenal structure hat accounts for the difference under examination [DC 203]. Ecriture or the arche-trace) hen, is as much the other f writing in a colloquial sense as it is of speech in a colloquial sense. And yet, it is necessary to have recourse to an arche-trace in order to understand the phenomenal dif- ference between speech and writing, presence and absence, for these differences cannot be accounted for by either speech or presence (or writing and absence) in themselves. The philosopher can never explain the irruption of writing if he starts by defining the essence of 64 This content downloaded from on Wed, 16 Oct 2013 11:46:16 AMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions  speech, nor could the irruption of speech be accounted for if the hierarchy were to be sim- ply reversed, and writing granted the essential attributes (even in negative form) formerly bestowed upon speech. The phenomenal, conceptual, and historical difference between speech and writing thus occults he arche-trace or srcinary riting, but it is nonetheless produced by it. In his effort to distinguish clearly between reversal and reinscription and thus decisively show the limitations of the deconstructivist critics' use of deconstruction, Gasche is led to insist on the absolute break between the arche-trace and the phenomenal or con- ceptual opposition that occults it: Although t uses the same name as its negative image, the deconstructed term will never have been given in the conceptual opposition it deconstructs [DC 193]. Deconstruction, then, does not operate from an empirically present outside of philosophy ; it does not proceed from a phenomenologically existing exteriority DC 196] like literature, for instance. What separates Gasche from deconstructive criticism, the philosopher from the literary critic, is this insistence on the irreducible function of reinscrip- tion within the complex procedure of deconstruction, the insistence on the non- phenomenal, absolutely other character of the arche-trace, on the impossibility of its ever appearing as such without simultaneously being occulted. Clearly all or much of the force of deconstruction in its most rigorous, philosophical sense and also all the risks associated with it lie here: in the determination of the (an) absolute other or, in Derrida's words, in the enigma of absolute alterity. The danger is ever present that there will be a confusion of regions, strata, and types of discourse, with the result that it is no longer an absolute other that is reached for, but a phenomenological, empirical, ideal, or essential other-that is to say, a version of the same, of the present, etc. With the substitution of an ideal or real other for the absolute other, the opening to the absolute other, its irruption n a given system, is negated, deconstruction becomes deconstruction, hat is, a philosophy of self-reflexivity, and the philosopher becomes a mere literary critic. The problem that confronts the philosopher is thus in a sense both thematic and formal. His aim is to determine the point that separates the irreducible absolute other from the absolute other hat is in reality simply an essence or a presence and hence self-positing and self-reflexive. Or, to put it another way, he must determine the point at which reversal ends and reinscription begins, for it is pre- cisely when the literary critic confuses reversal and reinscription hat his deconstruction f a given opposition wittingly or unwittingly yields an essence, a presence, or the mere negative face of one of these. Both of these determinations require the utmost philosophical vigilance and rigor. One could say that for Gasch&, the work of Paul de Man represents the most difficult case with respect to these determinations, because it can neither be dismissed as Newer (deconstructive) criticism, nor can it be assimilated entirely to the critique of self-reflexivity that for Gasche constitutes the core of proper deconstruction; it provides an example of both a self-reflexive theory of literature and one in which literature ( in he absence of a better term [DC 183]) functions as an absolute other, never present as such except through its occultation. Gasche points to de Man's essay entitled Action and Identity in Nietzsche as the point where a shift in de Man's perspective occurs. The main thrust of Gasche's discus- sion of de Man's work in Deconstruction as Criticism s to argue that the essays in Blindness and Insight and particularly The Rhetoric of Blindness onstitute a defense of a theory of lit- erary self-reflexivity, whereas, in 'Setzung' and 'O0bersetzung': Notes on Paul de Man, Gasch6 argues that de Man's later work, Allegories of Reading, offers a critique of self- reflexivity. The distinction between Blindness and Insight and Allegories of Reading is thus crucial in GaschP's reading of de Man. If there is to be a philosophically rigorous rapproche- ment of the work of de Man and Derrida (or Lyotard), t can only be because de Man's later work is radically different from his earlier work. Though Gasche argues that Allegories of Reading is infinitely closer than Blindness and Insight to the work of Derrida, he nonetheless acknowledges that differences between the two do exist. For example, de Man uses the term deconstruction in an altogether different way than Derrida SU 43]. De Man's work borders upon the work of Derrida, but it is at the same time srcinal SU 43]. The topography that allows the work of Derrida and de Man to share a common border-presumably the critique of self-reflexivity-and at the same time to remain unique and distinct is never explicitly mapped out by GaschP, but an diacritics / winter 1983 65 This content downloaded from on Wed, 16 Oct 2013 11:46:16 AMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
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