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John Zaixin Zhang

 
 
 

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Culler on Deconstruction  

2008-03-02 22:26:07|  分类: 后结构理论 |  标签: |举报 |字号 订阅

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Culler, Jonathan. On Deconstruction: Theory and Criticism after Structuralism. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1982. Beijing: FLTRP, 2004.

85-6.

Deconstruction must, Derrida continues, “through a double gesture, a double science, a double writing, put into practice a reversal of the classical opposition and a general displacement of the system.”

 86.

To deconstruct a discourse is to show how it undermines the philosophy it asserts, or the hierarchical oppositions on which it relies, by identifying in the text the rhetorical operations that produce the supposed ground of argument, the key concept or premise.

       The principle of causality asserts the logical and temporal priority of cause to effect. But Nietzsche argues in the fragments of The Will to Power, this concept of causal structure is not something given as such but rather the product of a precise tropological or rhetorical operation, a chronological reversal. Suppose one feels a pain. This causes one to look for a cause and spying, perhaps, a pin, one posits a link and reverses the perceptual or phenomenal order, pain…pin, to produce a causal sequence, pin…pain…. The basic fact of ‘inner experience’ is that the cause gets imagined after the effect has occurred.’

 87.

       The deconstruction itself relies on the notion of cause: the experience of pain, it is claimed, causes us to discover the pin and thus causes the production of a cause. To deconstruct causality one must operate with the notion of cause and apply it to causation itself. The deconstruction appeals to no higher logical principle or superior reason but uses the very principle it deconstructs.”

       If “cause” is an interpretation of contiguity and succession, then pain can be the cause in that it may come first in the sequence of experience.

[Footnote: One might object that sometimes we observe the cause first then the effect: we see a baseball fly toward the window and then witness the breaking of the window. Nietzsche might reply that only the experience or expectation of the effect enables one to identify the phenomenon in question as (possible) cause.]

 88.

       Working within the opposition, the deconstruction upsets the hierarchy by producing an exchange of properties. If the effect is what causes the cause to become a cause, then the effect, not the cause, should be treated as the origin. By showing that the argument which elevates cause can be used to favor effect, one uncovers and undoes the rhetorical operation responsible for the hierarchization and one produces a significant displacement. If either cause or effect can occupy the position of origin, then origin is no longer originary; it loses its metaphysical privilege.

 92.

       “It could be shown,” Derrida writes, “that all names related to fundamentals, to principles, or to the center have always designated the constant of a presence.”

       Derrida: Presence of the object to sight, presence as substance/essence/existence, temporal presence as the point of the now, self-presence of the cogito, consciousness, subjectivity, co-presence of the self and the other. Logocentrism would thus be bound up in the determination of the being of the existent as presence.

 93-4.

       Among the familiar concepts that depend on the value of presence are: the immediacy of sensation, the presence of ultimate truths to a divine consciousness, the effective presence of an origin in a historical development, a spontaneous or unmediated intuition, the presence in speech of logical and grammatical structures, truth as what subsists behind appearances, and the effective presence of a goal in the steps that lead to it.

 94.

       The notions of “making clear,” “grasping,” “demonstrating,” “revealing,” and “showing what is the case” all invoke presence. To claim, as in the Cartesian cogito, that the “I” resists radical doubt because it is present to itself in the act of thinking or doubting is one sort of appeal to presence. Another is the notion that the meaning of an utterance is what is present to the consciousness of the speaker, what he or she “has in mind” at the moment of utterance.

       There is, however, a problem that it characteristically encounters: when arguments cite particular instances of presence as grounds for further development, these instances invariably prove to be already complex constructions.

       Consider, for example, the flight of an arrow. If reality is what is present at any given instant, the arrow produces a paradox. At any given moment it is in a particular spot; it is always in a particular spot and never in motion… The presence of motion is conceivable, it turns out, only insofar as every instant is already marked with the traces of the past and future. Motion can be present, that is to say, only if the present instant is not something given but a product of the relations between past and future. Something can be happening at a given instant only if the instant is already divided within itself, inhabited by the nonpresent.

       This is one of Zeno’s paradoxes, purported to demonstrate the impossibility of motion, but what it illustrates more convincingly are the difficulties of a system based on presence. We think of the real as what is present at any given instant because [95] the present instant seems a simple, indecomposable absolute. The past is a former present, the future an anticipated present, but the present instant simply is: an autonomous given. But it turns out that the present instant can serve as ground only insofar as it is not a pure and autonomous given. If motion is to be present, presence must already be marked by difference and deferral.

 95.

       A deconstruction would involve the demonstration that for presence to function as it is said to, it must have the qualities that supposedly belong to its opposite, absence. Thus, in stead of defining absence in terms of presence, as its negation, we can treat “presence” as the effect of a generalized absence or, as we shall see shortly, of differance.

       The paradox of structure and event.

       A word’s meaning is a result of the meaning speakers have given it in past acts of communication. And what is true of a word is true of language in general: the structure of a language, its system of norms and regularities, is a product of events, the result of prior speech acts. We find that every event is itself already determined and made possible by prior structures. The possibility of meaning something by an utterance is already inscribed in the structure of the language.

 96.

       Acts of signification depend on differences, such as the contrast between “food” and “nonfood” that allows food to be signified, or the contrast between signifying elements that allows a sequence to function as a signifier. The sound sequence bat is a signifier because it contrasts with pat, mat, bad, bet, etc. The noise that is “present” when one says bat is inhabited by the traces of forms one is not uttering [nonpresent], and it can function as a signifier only insofar as it consists of such traces. As in the case of motion, what is supposedly present is already complex and differential marked by difference, a product of differences.

       An account of language, seeking solid foundation, will doubtless [sic] wish to treat meaning as something somewhere present—say, present to consciousness at the moment of a signifying event; but any presence it invokes turns out to be already inhabited by difference.

       Derrida: “We can extend to the system of signs in general what Saussure says about language: ‘The linguist system (langue) is necessary for speech events (parole) to be intelligible and produced their effects, butt he latter are necessary for the system to establish itself.”

 98.

       The value and force of a text may depend to a considerable extent on the way it deconstructs the philosophy that subtends it.

 99.

       Derrida: “Whether in written or in spoken discourse, no element can function as a sign without relating to another element which itself is not simply present… This linkage, this weaving, is the text. Nothing, either in the elements or in the system, is anywhere simply present or absent. There are only, everywhere, differences and traces of traces.”

       The concept of the sign itself, from which Saussure starts, is based on a distinction between the sensible and the intelligible; the signifier exists to give access to the signified and thus seems to be subordinated to the concept or meaning that it communicates.

 102.

       Derrida produces a general demonstration that if writing is defined by the qualities traditionally attributed to it, then speech is already a form of writing. For example, writing is often set aside as merely a technique for recording speech in inscriptions that can be repeated and circulated in the absence of the signifying intention that animates speech; but this iterability can be shown to be the condition of any sign in general, not just of writing… A speech sequence is not a sign sequence unless it can be quoted and put into circulation among those who have no knowledge of the “original” speaker and his signifying intentions… Writing-in-general is an archi-ecriture, an archi-writing or protowriting which is the condition of both speech and writing in the narrow sense.

       The relationship between speech and writing gives us a structure which Derrida identifies in a number of texts and which he calls, using a term that Rousseau applies to writing, a logic of the “supplement.” A supplement, Webster’s tells us, is “something that completes or makes an addition.” A supplement to a dictionary is an extra section that is added on, but the possibility of adding a supplement indicates that the dictionary itself is incomplete. “Languages are made to be spoken,” writes Rousseau; “writing serves only as a supplement to speech.”

 103.

       The supplement is an inessential extra, added, to something complete in itself, but the supplement is added in order to complete, to compensate for a lack in what was supposed to be complete it itself… The supplement is presented as exterior, foreign to the “essential” nature of that to which it is added or in which it is substituted.

 104.

       For example, Rousseau discusses education as a supplement to nature… But the description of this supplementation reveals an inherent lack in nature; nature must be completed—supplemented—by education if it is to be truly itself: the right education is needed if human nature is to emerge as it truly is.

       Rousseau also speaks of masturbation as a “dangerous supplement.” Like writing, it is a perverse addition, a practice or technique added to normal sexuality as writing is added to speech. But masturbation also replaces or substitutes for “normal” sexual activity. To function as substitute it must resemble in some essential way what it replaces, and the fundamental structure of masturbation—desire as auto-affection focusing on an imagined object that one can never “possess”—is repeated in other sexual relationships, which can thus be seen as moments of a generalized masturbation.

 135.

       A systematic treatise on textual grafting: It would treat discourse as the product of various sorts of combinations or insertions. Exploring the iterability of language, its ability to function in new contexts with new force, a treatise on textual grafting would attempt to classify various ways of inserting one discourse in another or intervening in the discourse one is interpreting.

 140.

       On the one hand, the marginal graft works within these terms to reverse a hierarchy, to show that what had previously been thought marginal is in fact central. But on the other hand, that reversal, attributing importance to the marginal, is usually conducted in such a way that it does not lead simply to the identification of a new center…, but to a subversion of the distinctions between essential and inessential, inside and outside. What is a center if the marginal can become central?

       This double practice of relying on the terms of an opposition in one’s argument but also seeking to displace that opposition yields a specific graft that Derrida identifies in discussions of the logic of “paleonymics”: the retention of old names while grafting new meaning upon them. Arguing that, given the way writing has been characterized, speech is also a form of writing, Derrida in effect produces a new concept of writing, a generalized writing that includes speech as well, but he retains the old name as a “levier d’intervention”—to maintain leverage for intervention, to keep a handle on the hierarchical opposition that he wishes to transform.

 142.

       In the Phaedrus writing is described as a pharmakon, which means both “remedy” (for weakness of memory, for example) and “poison.” Offered to mankind by its inventor as a remedy, writing is treated by Socrates as a dangerous drug. This double meaning of pharmakon proves essential to the logical placement of writing as a supplement: it is an artificial addition which cures and infects.

 143.

       Derrida: “The pharmakon is ‘ambivalent’ because it constitutes the element in which opposites are opposed, the movement and play by which each relates back to the other, reverses itself and passes into the other: (soul/body, good/evil, inside/outside, memory/forgetfulness, speech/writing, etc.)…. The pharmakon is the movement, the locus, and the play (the production) of difference.”

 153-4.

       Since deconstruction is interested in what has been excluded and in the perspective it affords on the consensus, there can be no question of accepting consensus as truth or restricting truth to what is demonstrable within a system. Since deconstruction attempts to view systems from the outside as well as the inside, it tries to keep alive the possibility that the eccentricity of women, poets, prophets, and madmen might yield truths about the system to which they are marginal—truths contradicting the consensus and not demonstrable within a framework yet developed.

       The preservation of the notion that truth might emerge from positions of marginality and eccentricity is part of this theoretical strategy…

 161.

       The most general instance of Freudian deconstruction is the dislocation of the hierarchical opposition between the conscious and the unconscious.

       Freud: “Everything conscious has an unconscious preliminary stage… The unconscious is the true psychical reality.”

       Freud inverts the traditional hierarchy and makes consciousness a particular derivative instance of unconscious processes.

       But there are two ways of thinking about this Freudian operation. We have an inversion that emphasizes the superior power of the unconscious but still defines it in terms of consciousness, as repressed or deferred consciousness. Experiences are repressed, relegated to the unconscious, where they exercise a determining influence. During a psychoanalysis their hidden presence is revealed; they are brought back to consciousness.

 162.

       By this way of thinking, the Freudian inversion privileges the unconscious, but it does so only by making it a hidden reality that can in principle be unveiled, reappropriated in and by a superior consciousness.

       Freud’s formulations are often open to this interpretation, but he also insists on a distinction between the psychoanalytic unconscious and what he calls the “preconscious,” whose memories and experiences are not conscious at a given moment but can in principle be recovered by consciousness. The unconscious, on the other hand, is inaccessible to consciousness…. Freud emphasizes that the unconscious is by no means simply a layer of actual experiences that have been repressed, a hidden presence… The unconscious itself is not a simple hidden reality but always, in Freud’s speculations, a complex and differential product.

 163.

       Derrida: “In the otherness of he ‘unconscious’ we are dealing not with a series of modified presents—presents that are past or still to come—but with a ‘past’ that has never been nor ever will be present and whose future will never be its production or reproduction in the form of presence.”

       In the case of the Wolfman, the child had witnessed his parents copulating at age one-and-a-half. This “primal scene” had no meaning or impact at the time; it was inscribed in the unconscious like a text in an unknown language. When he was four, however, a dream linked to this scene by a chain of associations transformed it into a trauma, though it remained repressed except as a displaced symptom: a fear of wolves. The crucial experience, the determining event in the Wolfman’s life, was one that never occurred. The “original” scene was not itself traumatic, and it may even have been, Freud allows, a scene of copulating animals transformed by deferred action into a primal scene. One cannot track down and make present the event or cause because it exists nowhere.

       The case of “Emma” is another classic illustration of the textual, differential functioning of the unconscious. Emma traces her fear of shops to an incident at age twelve when she entered a store, saw two shop assistants laughing, and fled in fright. Freud traces it to a scene at age eight when a shopkeeper had fondled her genitals through her clothes… The sexual content is neither in the first scene, when she was aware of no sexual implications, nor in the second scene. [164] Freud: “The memory is repressed which has only become a trauma by deferred action.”

       Derrida: “The unconscious text is already a weave of pure traces, differences in which meaning and force are united—a text nowhere present, consisting of archives which are always already transcriptions… Always already: that is to say, repositories of a meaning which was never present, whose signified presence is always reconstituted by deferral.”

 171.

       Freud: psychoanalysis seeks to understand “how a woman develops out of a child with a bisexual disposition.” Without this originary bisexuality, there would be simply two separate sexes, man and woman. Only by positing such bisexuality can Freud treat feminine sexuality as derivative and parasitic: first an inferior phallic sexuality [the clitoris as the little penis], followed by the emergence of femininity through the repression of clitoral (masculine) sexuality. But the theory of bisexuality—one of the radical contributions of psychoanalysis—brings about a reversal of the hierarchical relation between man and woman, for it turns out that woman, with her combination of masculine and feminine modes and her two sexual organs, one “male” and one “female,” is the general model of sexuality, and the male is only a particular variant of woman, a prolonged actualization of her phallic stage… Or perhaps one should say, in keeping with the Derridean model, that man and woman are both variants of archi-woman.

 173.

       Many theorists influenced by deconstruction have worked to invert the traditional hierarchy and assert the primacy of the feminine. Cixous, Irigaray, Kristeva, Sarah Kofman.

 174.

       Writers who celebrate the feminine in this way can always be accused of myth-making, of countering myths of the male with new myths of the female… But the promotion of the feminine should also be accompanied by the deconstructive attempt to displace the sexual opposition.

 175.

       A final hierarchical opposition with institutional implications is the distinction between reading and misreading or understanding and misunderstanding… Misunderstanding is an accident which sometimes befalls understanding, a deviation which is possible only because there is such a thing as understanding…. When Harold Bloom propounds a theory of “The Necessity of Misreading,” his critics reply that a theory of necessary misreading—a claim that all readings are misreadings—is incoherent, since the idea of misreading implies the possibility of a correct reading. A reading can only be a misreading if there is a true reading that it misses.

 176.

       Reading and understanding preserve or reproduce a content or meaning, maintain its identity, while misunderstanding and misreading distort it; they produce or introduce a difference. But one can argue that in fact the transformation or modification of meaning that characterizes misunderstanding is also at work in what we call understanding. If a text can be understood, it can be understood repeatedly, by different readers in different circumstances. These acts of reading or understanding are not identical. They involve modifications and differences, but differences which are deemed not be matter. Then understanding is a special case of misunderstanding, a particular deviation or determination of misunderstanding. It is misunderstanding whose misses do not matter.

       The claim that all readings are misreadings can also be justified by the most familiar aspects of critical and interpretive practice. Given the necessity for a reading to select and organize, every reading can be shown to be partial. Interpreters are able to discover features and implications of a text that previous interpreters neglected or distorted. They can use the text to show that previous readings are in fact misreadings, but their own readings will be found wanting by later interpreters… This history of readings is a history of misreadings, though under certain circumstances these misreadings can be and may have been accepted as readings.

 178.

       According to the paleonymic strategy urged by Derrida, “misreading” retains the trace of truth, because noteworthy readings involve claims to truth and because interpretation is structured by the attempt to catch what other readings have missed and misconstrued. Since no reading can escape correction, all readings are misreadings; but this leaves not a monism but a double movement. Against the claim that, if there are only misreadings, then anything goes, one affirms that misreadings are errors; but against the positivist claim that they are errors because they strive toward but fail to attain a true reading, one maintains that true readings are only particular misreadings: misreadings whose misses have been missed.

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