Public Access: Literary Theory and American Cultural Politics

By Michael Bérubé | Go to book overview

Meaning, of course, that deconstruction, even the deconstruction of 'race', can paradoxically work to further white male privilege too. About that possibility I think it's best to be theoretical--which is to say, in my language, it's best to be explicit.

In ten years I've had a lot done to me. I've been gendered, I've been racinated, I've become grim and orthodox, I've turned thirty and, worst of all, I've been disciplined by theory again and again, and it keeps showing me my interpretive presuppositions, making me stay after class and write fifty times on the board, 'I will not take my interpretive presuppositions for granted.' In one way I haven't changed from the person I was ten years ago: I still think the business of criticism is interpretation. I just no longer believe that interpretive criticism is transparent, or that it sees the world steadily and sees it whole. Nor is interpretation properly 'supplementary' to its object, like reader's guides and Cliff Notes. I believe instead that interpretation is always partial, that it never 'fills up' its object, and that its 'partiality' needs to be interpreted in its turn. For literary criticism, too, is written, just like the writing that occasions its writing, and there can be no final writing that clarifies everything, no final reading that obviates all further reading. I've heard tell that this is precisely the kind of thing literary critics say to keep themselves in business, but I hold fast nonetheless to the conviction that reading, writing, and interpretation are historical processes, and that historical processes do not end until history does. And if 'theory' does nothing more--or less--than make explicit such interpretive variables as races, genders, and historical processes, well, then, it's not just a discipline I can live with; it's something I can no longer do without.


Notes
1.
Louis Menand, "Illiberalisms", review of Dinesh D'Souza, Illiberal Education, New Yorker, 20 May 1991, p. 103.
2.
Peter Shaw, "The MLA Is Misleading the Public", Chronicle of Higher Education, 27 November 1991, p. B3.
3.
Henry Louis Gates, "What's Love Got to Do with It?: Critical Theory, Integrity, and the Black Idiom", New Literary History, vol. 18, no. 2 ( 1987), p. 351.
4.
Stanley Fish, "No Bias, No Merit: The Case Against Blind Submission", PMLA, vol. 103, no. 5 ( 1988), p. 739.
5.
For an extremely helpful elaboration of this series of points on deconstruction and 'iterability', see Jonathan Culler, On Deconitruction: Theory and Criticism after Structuralism ( Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1982), pp. 110-34. For equally helpful critiques of Derrida's slippages and weak points, see John Searle, "Reiterating the Differences: A Reply to Derrida", Glyph, no. 1 ( 1977), pp. 198-208; Robert Scholes, Protocols of Reading ( New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1989), pp. 59-69.
6.
Toni Morrison, "Unspeakable Things Unspoken: The Afro-American Presence in American Literature", Michigan Quarterly Review, no. 28 ( 1989), p. 3.

-58-

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