Sunday, September 21, 2008

The status of his writing

I’m interested in the recent language that we have been using to introduce Derrida, to make beginnings into explanations of him. It rarely describes what he does. Rather, we are introduced to a set of statements about reality—a point of view, in a word. Rarely do we actually start with something about his writing—unless it be either something about style or difficulty, interesting topics in themselves (though I think we’ve also seen a recoil even from this question of style, which once seemed a more popular topic). At most we might get something like, “Derrida produces a reading of a text.” To write like Derrida would produce a reading—of a philosophic tome, of a political situation, of whatever. But what does this mean? Well, then we get into statements about what the reality of the situation of reading is, which becomes a discussion of the historical subordination of writing under speech, etc. etc. Very rarely do we get a really cogent introduction to Derrida that just tries to tackle the problem of the status of his writing, such that it could say—and I mean say significantly, not just something about how you want to sound—you can write, you can analyze, perhaps, like this. No doubt this is because starting with writing would much be too abyssal a beginning—our conception of it is so determined by Derrida himself (and so disruptive of the notion of "status") that you wouldn’t be able to say anything about it with any sort of critical or even explanatory distance (not to mention accuracy). But what concept or word in Derrida is not like this? And how many introductions begin like this anyway? And so why not begin here?
Maybe this was how things were introduced in the 70’s and 80’s, I don’t know. This of course is the great understanding of Derrida’s writing as a method—deconstruction. But even then, it is hard to see even this idea of deconstruction as saying something about a mode of writing, as a set of remarks with a certain singular status. If deconstruction was mistaught as a method, as the story goes, why do we still have trouble describing the status of the remarks that it produces? Why do we so quickly go towards what it does to the texts it rips apart or inverts or whatever? Doesn't this lend credence to the idea that this misunderstanding was also an attempt to get at what we're also failing to get at now?
This brings me back to the best description I have of this status of Derrida's remarks. Gayatri Spivak said (and she has told this, I'm sure, to many students) working like Derrida is “acting as if you are writing the text you’re reading.” This doesn’t tell me so much about how to go about this as it does about the state of the analysis. All the weight falls on the “as if.” What would it be to write as if you were the writer of the document you are looking at? This means obviously that you write both as this writer and not as this writer—you’re somewhere in between the thing you are analyzing and the position of the reader that you imagine you are in. But it also means that this "in between" is the nature of the words themselves that you produce: the writing you make is only this “as if.” It is only this "as if you are writing the text you are reading:" it doesn't seek to be either a writing about what you are reading or a writing that is a direct extension of what you are reading. In other words, your writing is purely this odd relation to the object that is not coming from your position as a subject: it has no source and no destination, and yet it is both emerging from somewhere and heading somewhere. Thus, it has the status (or non-status) of an inscription: a reading that is also a writing, a rewriting, or what Derrida called a long time ago "the difference of a hermeneutical effort" ("Violence and Metaphysics," in Writing and Difference, 80).


Mike Johnduff said...

I should also note that this status of the writing undoes precisely whatever we mean by status, type, etc. The inscription is totally singular, which is why it is a rewriting of a text--and a text in its own right. This all follows from the state of the writing being only that of "as if," a likeness without something it is likened to. This inability to explain on a general level what Derrida is doing is no doubt also a reflection of the fact that all his writings are singular.

fayyadl said...

Hello Mike,

I'm Muhammad Al-Fayyadl, from Indonesia, Southeast Asia..

I'm interesting like you to poststructuralist philosophies, and currently has published a book titled DERRIDA, in Indonesian language.

I'm glad to know you