Literature and the Touch of the Real

Literature and the Touch of the Real

Literature and the Touch of the Real

Literature and the Touch of the Real

Synopsis

"Literature and the Touch of the Real argues that Saussurean linguistic theory that has become the dominant view of language cannot sustain any kind of nonstructuralist analysis of literature. Criticism has moved increasingly toward history and politics, but it has neither forged nor adopted a philosophy of language suited to its new purposes. There is, therefore, pressure to bring to bear on literary and cultural studies a philosophy of language that will enable "literary criticism to make contact with the real," in Stephen Greenblatt's recent words, by showing how language grasps material reality through a process of practical consciousness and social activity." "The book offers a detailed account of the constitutive contradictions of Saussure's Course in General Linguistics that have been ignored by literary theorists. It argues that Derrida and Wittgenstein offer differently conceived, but related ways of avoiding both the neo-Saussurean view that language either is disconnected from the world or constitutes reality, on the other hand, and the neo-Realist view that literature and fiction are secondary, etiolated forms of language use, on the other. It demonstrates through a close reading of Derrida's early texts that the notorious statement "there is nothing beyond the text" does not claim that there is nothing outside of language. Rather, the broader context of this claim shows that the reduction of the world from language is in fact one of Derrida's earliest philosophical targets. By examining the polemics concerning the term "apartheid" and J.L. Austin's philosophy of speech acts, and Derrida's essays on the proper name in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet and James Joyce, it argues that Derrida maintains a sophisticated and critical view of the relationship among words, concepts, and things in the world that may be related to Saul Kripke's "causal" theory of reference, developed within the analytical tradition of philosophy." "The book uses the philosophy of Ludwig Wittgenstein to offer a renewed vision of the defamiliarizing power of literature. Literature, it argues, offers the kind of "grammatical investigation" with which Wittgenstein himself was concerned. It is grammar (in the specialist sense in which he uses the term) that tells us "what kind of object anything is" and the literary is the place where the coming together of language and the world is registered most fully. It uses the Wittgensteinian notions of "samples" and "criteria" to show that language is involved in the appropriation of aspects of the world through the historically contingent activities of linguistic practice, and it uses Wittgenstein's analysis of aspect perception to forge a new account of the ideological role of the literary and its relation to the real." Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Excerpt

For the past three decades, the intellectual world has been divided between two sharply conflicting conceptions of reference. One, arising from powerful forms of philosophical empiricism and realism, and carried out in the largely unselfconscious practice of contemporary science, takes an interest in reference chiefly as a path from language to the world. the other, rooted in Saussure’s diacritical view of language, has tended to hold that, at best, any reference to a world beyond language is conditional on self-referential relations that make up language itself. If the realist concept of reference means that language needs be regarded as little more than an instrument for grasping reality, the neo-Saussurean position regards language as constructive of the world itself or, in its weaker versions, of our conflicting views of that world. As a theory, or set of theories, that has come to predominate in areas such as literary and cultural studies, constructivism has influenced work in anthropology, history, philosophy, law, and even physics itself. the “two cultures” of which C. P. Snow spoke have been displaced by two antagonistic pictures of the relationship of words to the world: signs are either mere conduits of information and communication, or they are said to make the world.

The conflict between these two pictures came to a head in a sensational way in 1996, in what has come to be known as the “Sokal/Social Text affair.” the editors of the journal Social Text published as a genuine piece of constructivist scholarship what its author, the physicist Alan Sokal, finally revealed to be a carefully “booby-trapped” parody or hoax. This event quickly became a sign for many of the general malaise, indeed the insanity, of a constructivist orthodoxy that was said to dominate intellectual activity in cultural and literary studies and informed more broadly, the “postmodern condition” itself. the polemic is a messy one: each side shifts the terms to such a degree that it is unclear what exactly is at stake. But Social Text’s blunder in publishing Sokal’s parody was taken by the popular media to signify that the editors of the journal, now taken to represent a . . .

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.