Theory at Yale: The Strange Case of Deconstruction in America

By Marc Redfield | Go to book overview

Notes

Introduction: The Strange Case of “Theory”

1. Jonathan Arac, Wlad Godzich, and Wallace Martin, eds., The Yale Critics: Deconstruction in America (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1983), xi. Signs of discomfort proliferate. Since they miss “the coherence of a ‘school,’ “ the editors will “focus on four ‘critics’ “ after having subtracted Derrida: “Although Derrida is a regular visitor to Yale and lectures there, we do not devote an essay to him alone but allow his effect to be diffused throughout our discussion.” Then, after mentioning Shoshana Felman, they explain why they are not including her: “Her work, however, we have judged part of another story. Written in French, it has helped make the ‘Ecole de Yale’ known in Paris, but it is only beginning to be known here, as translations of her major books appear” (xi–xii). By 1983, Felman had published influential papers in English and was known in particular for her great essay “Turning the Screw of Interpretation,” Yale French Studies 55–56 (1977): 94–207, so Arac, Godzich, and Martin’s reasoning is pretty lame. Barbara Johnson, herself another candidate for election as yet another “Yale Critic,” offers a relevant analysis with respect to a different text in her essay “Gender Theory and the Yale School” (1984): “Would it have been possible for there to have been a female presence in the Yale School? Interestingly, in Jonathan Culler’s bibliography to On Deconstruction, Shoshana Felman’s book La folie et la chose littéraire is described as “a wide-ranging collection of essays by a member of the ‘école de Yale.’ Felman, in other words, was a member of the Yale School, but only in French…. For now, suffice it to say that there was no reason other than gender why Felman’s work—certainly closer to de Man’s and Derrida’s than the work of Harold Bloom—should not have been seen as an integral part of the Yale School.” Barbara Johnson, A World of Difference (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1987), 32–41, at 32–33. I think Johnson is unfair to Culler here (who, it seems to me, does consider Felman part of the Yale School; his shift to French seems little more than a bit of rhyming with the language of Felman’s title); but Johnson has put her finger on a pattern that Arac, Godzich, and Martin’s preface exemplifies.

2. Readers who want to read up on that history should begin with the following texts: Paul de Man, Wartime Journalism, 1939–1943 (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1988) and Responses: On Paul de Man’s Wartime Journalism (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1989). Both collections are edited by Werner Hamacher, Neil Hertz, and Thomas Keenan. I discuss the media uptake of the “de Man affair” in Chapter 1. Within the academy, the most important polemical exchange to know about is the one that took place in the pages of Critical Inquiry in response to Jacques Derrida’s essay,

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