Saturday, 6 October 2012

Derrida and Plurality

I'm going to begin this blog with some reflections on the reasons why I'm starting it and an indication of some of the things I intend to explore in it. I've no idea how long the blog will continue, knowing, as I do, from previous experience of blogging, that this is difficult to say, not least because the impetus behind blogging can be one that, after a while, dissipates. However the basis of the blog is to try to explore, through reading some texts aloud in a public forum, a general suspicion. 

The suspicion can be formulated in both a positive and a negative way. I'll begin with the positive way. This can be put by venturing to remind whoever is reading this that many of Derrida's texts are explicitly set up as plurivocal. This is the case, for example, with Cinders, The Post Card, Glas and at least some of the texts gathered together in Psyche. The plurivocality of these texts is part of the performance of them and is often marked as requiring them to be read in a way in which sexual difference is seen as articulated in them. I take this to be important and there is at least one case I can think of where Derrida underscores this importance. It is when he replies to Jean-Luc Marion's reading of an earlier text on negative theology published in On the Name which Derrida qualifies by reminding Marion that the text in question was written in a plurivocal way, a fact that Marion's interpretation simply erased. In underscoring that this is important Derrida implicitly rebuked the scores of interpreters who have proceeded as if the plurivocal character of his texts is without significance and can be simply ignored. It is to show that such readers have, as Derrida often states, not seriously read his texts.

Now, this theme of plurivocality, if it is connected to the sense that the different voices are in some way a staging of sexual difference, as Derrida says they are, suggests to me a thought that would be a guiding principle that I would hope to somehow flesh out in reading his work. The way in which I would like to try to operationalise this insight is only by means of one access that is opened up by it and I am aware there are others which it would be good if other readers were to try to work on (by, for example, attending to the multiple languages in Derrida's works and how this requires a continual exercise of translation, an area of work outside my competence but which would also be essential for the interpretation of it). My means of extending the insight of plurivocality would be by taking as a formative key to his writing a certain practice that engages intimately and continuously (across his work, sometimes explicitly and, more often, implicitly), with psychoanalysis and its legacy. The immense theme of Derrida and psychoanalysis is one which is, I am waging, only in its infancy of being related to. I would like to begin the process of developing the exploration of this theme and connecting it to the sense that there are plural voices working in Derrida's texts also at points where this plurality is not made explicit.

A negative way of making this same point is by way of contrast with what I am finding in works published since Derrida's death. In these works there is a practice quite distinct from the one I am outlining in which authors are instead finding a single logic to govern Derrida's texts, a logic whose simplicity and privilege will render these darkly difficult writings more simply open to all whilst also enabling them to be deployed more overtly in a polemical way. Such a tendency is openly evoked, for example, in Martin Hagglund's Radical Atheism, a work which stakes everything on a logic which is traced as operative throughout Derrida's writings and sets this logic up against other accounts (such as those given in "theological" readers of Derrida). In some respects this work of Hagglund performs an obvious service reacting as it does to works that are themselves singularly problematic in their unilateral accounts of Derrida's texts. It performs this service, however, by the simple process of rendering a different logic to the ones it "opposes" and in its opposition reframes the debate around Derrida in terms of the degree to which Derrida's texts can be made accessible by means of the logic it elucidates. In a different way, much less polemically and more interestingly, Andrea Hurst in her book Derrida Vis-a-vis Lacan also suggests a general logic is to be found in Derrida's work, a general logic that provides the key to the reading of this work and enables a clearer grasp of its central concerns. (This book is one to which I will return in future postings however since it contains resources that perhaps resist this way of reading that it also champions.)

The hermeneutic postulate adopted by both Hagglund and Hurst is, as a hermeneutic, unimpeachable. There could be no other task when engaged in interpretation concerned centrally with the elucidation of meaning than finding governing logics and marginalizing that in texts which does not fit such logics. It is a classical programme of reading and one whose necessity in central respects is hard to dispute. But it does, as a programme of reading, precisely erase the singularity of Derrida's texts rendering them readable by reducing them to a level of meaning-logic that is meant to be spoken through their textuality and hence ignoring that textuality. Such a form of reading, useful as it is in central respects and inevitable in certain ways, is precisely not deconstructive. This is not merely because the practice of Derrida's texts is precisely one that resists hermeneutic closure through availing itself of textual techniques that resist such reduction though this is evidently true (and manifest in texts such as Glas and The Post Card). It is also, I am waging, because the plurivocal is meant to be insisted upon within Derrida's texts and if these texts are read without this plurivocality in some sense emerging a key feature of them is lost which, once lost, renders Derrida into a writer like many others with nothing special or specific left over to be read. 

One of the effects of such forms of reading that avow their commitment to governing logics is precisely that sexual difference disappears from their purview and, with this, a real sense of the relation to psychoanalysis. This, at least, is the suspicion that motivates beginning this blog and provides me with a rationale for attempting to undertake on it the reading of Derrida's texts otherwise than by means of governing logics. The readings I will provide will instead be focused specifically upon the three inter-related questions of plurivocality within the texts read, the trace of sexual difference within them and the relationship of them to the legacies of psychoanalysis that is marked within them. 

Having announced thus the rationale for the appearance of this blog it only remains to indicate the way that I will proceed in writing it. It will be by means of attending, in postings, to reading specific texts. These texts will be read by means of the guiding themes mentioned above and the reading of them will thus attempt to release these texts for the further analysis and dispute that they will subsequently require. No one of these texts of Derrida's can be given a reading that closes them down and decisively provides "the" essential sense of them. Instead what will be attempted will be provisional ways of giving a certain access, an access that will be interesting in particular to those who concern themselves with a plural event understood in a sexually marked way that manifests a guarded relation to the heritage of psychoanalysis. Whilst this access is only one of the plural ways these texts work it is one that has some call to be regarded as specifically important in relation to the development of Derrida's work in relation to the scene of "French theory" in general. This is because within "French theory" the contestation over psychoanalysis is a matter unlike any other. 

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