Introduction

By McCANCE, Dawne | Mosaic (Winnipeg), March 2000 | Go to article overview

Introduction


McCANCE, Dawne, Mosaic (Winnipeg)


Friedrich Nietzsche in Thus Spake Zarathustra proposes this as the sole regulative certainty governing all things in the world: "that they prefer--to dance on the feet of chance" (186). As Jacques Derrida puts the point in of Grammatology, "The supplement to Nature is within Nature as its play" (258). Derrida's term diff[acute{e}]rance might be a name for the indeterminacy, "supplement of deviations," that inhabits (haunts) every system in its constitution and that makes of every text an intertwining, entrelacement, of the other-in-the-same. Contemporary French criticism investigates and performs the play of diff[acute{e}]rance in various signifying systems, and as the essays in this issue suggest, the French-critical interest in diff[acute{e}]rance is changing the way "literature" gets written and read.

In this, its first issue of the millennium and with a new Editor in place, Mosaic brings together ten essays that are, in varying ways, informed by contemporary French theory and its critical notion of diff[acute{e}]rance, or of what Jean Francois Lyotard calls le diff[acute{e}]rend: a distress in the sign/signifying system wherein something that cannot be represented, something "sublime," shows itself only in retreat/retrait. In the third essay in this issue, Eric Wilson argues that Ralph Waldo Emerson, despite traditional readings of him as a transcendentalist, is an advocate, before his time, of such a "postmodern," paralogical sublime. Emerson's sense of the sublime is informed by postmodern physics which for him, Wilson says, implies that the world, also writing, is not a fixity so much as a dynamic condition, an interplay, intertwining, of sameness and difference: "phenomena, ranging from the ant to the Andes, are simultaneously discrete and continuous, stable and unstable, local and global, attractive and repulsive." What is "postmodern" for Wilson as for Lyotard, is what "emancipate[s] forces incommensurable with unifying concepts;' forces that are not spiritual or metaphysical but physical, beyond logos. It's a view that today's academics are responding to in different, not always positive, ways. In the sixth essay in this issue for instance, Nicholas O. Pagan, taking Roland Barthes as his case study, argues for the presence of a locatable logos, "an underlying logical structure," to which literary criticism must be held accountable. Typically read as a postmodern proponent of the Nietzschean aesthetic, Barthes, in Pagan's essay, is "made to face up to the rigors of logic," and at the same time, "the logical status of contemporary literary criticism" is said to be established.

As a word that signals differences, and debate, "postmodernism" has occasioned what Foucault would call a "discursive proliferation" around questions of sexuality and sexual difference. David Landrum's essay explores ways in which the genre of the postmodern novel, in this case John Fowles's The French Lieutenant's Woman, at once sets up and subverts prevailing heterosexist assumptions; and the essay shows how ideas about the nature of sexuality depend on some theory of the text. …

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