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  1. How to Deconstruct Almost Anything
  2. Jacques Derrida
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  4. About J. Hillis Miller and the Possibilities of Reading

It is then that deconstruction is allowed to arise. To deconstruct a text is therefore not to comment or to interpret a work, but to theorize its means of signification. And the reading must always aim at a certain relationship, unperceivcd by the writer, between what he commands and what he docs not command of the patterns of the language that he uses.

This relationship," Derrida continues, is "a signifying structure that critical reading should produce. The rather simple idea that the significance of the text is governed by reading spurs the inquiries of both reader-response and reception aesthetics. Such conventions are now the ultimate basis for each and every construal of meaning. Lacking all objectivity, "the text in itself" is meaningless. Literature is no longer contained on the page; it is an experience occurring in the mind.

Unlike the treatment of this issue on the part of Iscr and Jauss, the actual repertoire of a text is not the final, decisive factor. That is why the particularly American approach to the construal of meaning which is called reader-response takes a turn toward the psychological, pragmatic, and political constitution of both collective and private interpreters, particularly in the work of David Bleich, Norman Holland, and some versions of feminism.


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Both schools see the literary parole as necessarily inscribed within a langue, whether this langue be the interpretive conventions of the reader, the rhetorical context of literary history, or all this and more-lhat is, the entire history of discursive practices in which literature itself is only a parole. Given this situation, one would want to ask how the very institution of literature is established as a privileged arena of expression, and how it relates to those other modes of inscription which are politics, gender, economics, emotion, and religion.

Literature would no longer seem to be independent from discursive practices at large, as once in Kantian fashion. It would appear to be as contaminated by them as they by fictionalizing devices. One would begin to measure the rhetoric of literature by political grammars and political grammars by rhetoric. Institutions of reading, authors, and privileged interpreters would underlie the whole question of textual transmission. The inquiry into canon formation, which has led a number of schools to change their core curriculum and which presages, I think, a mimetic response on the part of other pedagogical institutions, would not have been possible without deconstruction and reader-response.

To engage such questions in the classroom is not to veer from the proper object of literary study. It is to inquire into the mechanics of symbolic significance, into the power of metaphor and of narrative organization-in short, into the devices already at work in the text at hand, but whose ramifications are greater than marks on paper. With langue as the backdrop of every parole, the categorical distinction between the literal and figurative between what Professor Barilli earlier called rhetoric and logic becomes a problem. Literature would either lose its specificity or turn into the discipline of all disciplines, the audacious leader of discursive invention, as Vattimo and others have claimed.

In the second case, the study of literature would turn into an analysis of ruling metaphors, governing tropes, the very modalities of cultural rhetoric and discursive formation. However, in both cases the issue would remain interpretation, its means of operation and historical force. And there is no reason why the study of a sanctified, canonical text could not yield the very same questions as an altered curriculum; but it would require a new understanding of the scene of teaching.

Instruction would still be necessary —for the many methods of reading are there to be taught— but would become admittedly subordi- nate to education: a leading out, and away, of the mind. A student reads herself into the character of a novel? So be it. She brings all her preconceptions to a reading of The Prince?

So be that as well. For the text under analysis now has doubled; it is no longer The Prince but discourse about The Prince that is the thing to master. Now it is the exchange between students and text, teacher and text, students and teacher which is at stake — a mutual reading and writing, which the teacher can never exactly predict, but must analyze at every moment as best as possible. Only within this reading are pedagogical effects obtained. And that is why I spoke of education in contrast to instruc- tion.

Every good pedagogue, from Socrates through the psychoanalytic therapist, is an anti-pedagogue, as Felman has argued — a teacher by indirection. If the scene of a classroom is that of a mutual reading, it must be openly that.

How to Deconstruct Almost Anything

The essay of a class is indeed dialogical, as the hermeneutical theorists have persuasively argued, but not only that. Taught in in a deconstructive, self-interpretive mode, the class would not achieve that synthetic harmony, or filling in of gaps, which reception theory imagines in the act of dialogue. Rather, the class would open those gaps.

Pedagogy is not transmission of knowledge; it is the deliberate scrambling of knowledge's codes. The students must be shaken, to see what loosens and drops out. To this end, the teacher must be a Cagliostro, an intellectual Pied Piper, seducing the students away from conscious stasis, only to change direction once this direction seems to have been found, or to abandon students in regions with which they are unfamiliar. The mask of the pedagogue will no doubt be useful, but primarily to serve an anti-pedagogical function: a subtle critique of the fixed and unessayistic.

Hillis Miller is undoubtedly one of the most important literary critics of the past century. For well over five decades his work has been at the forefront of theoretical and philosophical thinking and writing. From his earliest work with Georges Poulet and the so-called Geneva School, which introduced a generation of North American critics to the concept of a phenomenological literary hermeneutic, to a deconstructive rhetorical philology and an ethically motivated textual analysis, Miller's readings have not only reflected major movements in literary theory, they have also created them.

Surprisingly, Eamonn Dunne's J.


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Hillis Miller and the Possibilities of Reading is the first book devoted exclusively to examining Miller's work. Dunne argues that an appreciation of Miller is crucial to an informed understanding about the radical changes occurring in critical thinking in the humanities in recent years.

This book, the first of its kind, will be a vital and enabling avenue for further research into J. Hillis Miller's exemplary and prolific output. Introduction 1. Reading as Conduct 2. Fugal Reading 3. Double Reading 4. This second definition is less metaphysical and more political.

Jacques Derrida

On the one hand, there is the genealogical style of deconstruction, which recalls the history of a concept or theme. Earlier in his career, in Of Grammatology , Derrida had laid out, for example, the history of the concept of writing. But now what is at issue is the history of justice. On the other hand, there is the more formalistic or structural style of deconstruction, which examines a-historical paradoxes or aporias. Here Derrida in effect is asking: what is freedom. On the one hand, freedom consists in following a rule; but in the case of justice, we would say that a judgment that simply followed the law was only right, not just.

Thus a decision aiming at justice a free decision is both regulated and unregulated. The violent re-institution of the law means that justice is impossible. A decision begins with the initiative to read, to interpret, and even to calculate. The undecidable, for Derrida, is not mere oscillation between two significations. It is the experience of what, though foreign to the calculable and the rule, is still obligated. We are obligated — this is a kind of duty—to give oneself up to the impossible decision, while taking account of rules and law.

Justice therefore is always to come in the future, it is never present. There is apparently no moment during which a decision could be called presently and fully just. Either it has not followed a rule, hence it is unjust ; or it has followed a rule, which has no foundation, which makes it again unjust ; or if it did follow a rule, it was calculated and again unjust since it did not respect the singularity of the case.

This relentless injustice is why the ordeal of the undecidable is never past.

Even though justice is impossible and therefore always to come in or from the future, justice is not, for Derrida, a Kantian ideal, which brings us to the third aporia. A just decision is always required immediately. It cannot furnish itself with unlimited knowledge. The moment of decision itself remains a finite moment of urgency and precipitation.

The instant of decision is then the moment of madness, acting in the night of non-knowledge and non-rule.

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Once again we have a moment of irruptive violence. This urgency is why justice has no horizon of expectation either regulative or messianic. Justice remains an event yet to come. This ability for justice aims however towards what is impossible. It is a kind of thinking that never finds itself at the end. Here is what Derrida says:. But, this life is not unscathed; it is life in its irreducible connection to death. Thus what deconstruction values is survival.

About J. Hillis Miller and the Possibilities of Reading

Life and Works 2. There is no secret as such; I deny it. And this is what I confide in secret to whomever allies himself to me. This is the secret of the alliance.