The Theory Mess: Deconstruction in Eclipse

The Theory Mess: Deconstruction in Eclipse

The Theory Mess: Deconstruction in Eclipse

The Theory Mess: Deconstruction in Eclipse

Synopsis

Although deconstruction has become a popular catchword, as an intellectual movement it has never entirely caught on within the university. For some in the academy, deconstruction, and Jacques Derrida in particular, are responsible for the demise of accountability in the study of literature. Countering these facile dismissals of Derrida and deconstruction, Herman Rapaport explores the incoherence that has plagued critical theory since the 1960s and the resulting legitimacy crisis in the humanities. Against the backdrop of a rich, informed discussion of Derrida's writings -- and how they have been misconstrued by critics and admirers alike -- The Theory Mess investigates the vicissitudes of Anglo-American criticism over the past thirty years and proposes some possibilities for reform.

Excerpt

The Theory Mess is an account of the general reception of Jacques Derrida's work in Anglo-American academies, since the story of this reception provides insight into what has been happening in the field of critical theory within these academies over roughly the past thirty years. Whereas in the late 1970s there was some euphoria concerning the promise of a new theoretical episteme that might replace Enlightenment humanism, the late 1990s has reflected a time of intellectual deflation in which there is cynicism about an overproliferation of theoretical models that have rapidly come and gone. By the late 1980s it was clear that no new episteme from continental Europe was going to supplant Anglo-American pragmatisms or empiricisms and that at best we might see the success of compromise formations like New Historicism and postcolonial studies. The irresolution of epistemic differences — due in part to extremely different cultural traditions — has left us in a messy philosophical state with respect to criticism and theory. This theoretical messiness has pervaded the languages and literatures by a widespread subscription to a left-of-center politics that reflects a convergence of Marxist currents in recent European critical theories with the liberation politics of Anglo-American countercultural thinking. Under this political umbrella, figures like Jacques Derrida, Theodor Adorno, Michel Foucault, Louis Althusser, Drucilla Cornell, Fredric Jameson, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Barbara Johnson, Trinh T. Minh ha, Edward Said, Henry Louis Gates Jr., and Judith Butler could be said to speak the same language. In fact, they do not.

In considering the vicissitudes of deconstruction, it is crucial to take into account Derrida's repeated remarks in a number of interviews and articles that warn us against imagining that theory could be anything other than a disseminative broadcasting of ideas that inevitably undergo multiple displacements, hybridizations, misroutings, misconstructions, and mutations. As Derrida has often said of deconstruction, it is not something that he could ever possess or control, since deconstruction is not a system, not a method, not a technology but rather a “differentiated movement” whose sites and re-

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.