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Philosophy Beside Itself

Philosophy Beside Itself: On Deconstruction and Modernism

Stephen W. Melville
Foreword by Donald Marshall
Volume: 27
Copyright Date: 1986
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    Philosophy Beside Itself
    Book Description:

    The writings of French philosopher Jacques Derrida have been the single most powerful influence on critical theory and practice in the United States over the past decade. But with few exceptions American philosophers have taken little or no interest in Derrida’s work, and the task of reception, translation, and commentary has been left to literary critics. As a result, Derrida has appeared as a figure already defined by essentially literary critical activities and interests. Stephen Melville’s aim in Philosophy Beside Itself is to insist upon and clarify the distinctions between philosophy and criticism. He argues that until we grasp Derrida’s philosophical project as such, we remain fundamentally unable to see his significance for criticism. In terms derived from Stanley Cavell’s writings on modernism, Melville develops a case for Derrida as a modernist philosopher, working at once within and against that tradition and discipline. Melville first places Derrida in a Hegelian context, the structure of which he explores by examining the work of Heidegger, Lacan, and Bataille. With this foundation, he is able to reappraise the project of deconstructive criticism as developed in Paul de Man’s Blindness and Insight and further articulated by other Yale critics. Central to this critique is the ambivalent relationship between deconstructive criticism and Lacanian psychoanalysis. Criticism—radical self-criticism—is a central means through which the difficult facts of human community come to recognition, and Melville argues for criticism as an activity intimately bound to the ways in which we do and do not belong in time and in community. Derrida’s achievement has been to find a new and necessary way to assert that the task of philosophy is criticism; the task of literary criticism is to assume the burden of that achievement. Stephen Melville is an assistant professor of English at Syracuse University, and Donald Marshall is a professor of English at the University of Iowa.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-8230-0
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. xi-xxiv)
    Donald Marshall

    In 1912, Arnold Schönberg composedPierrot Lunaire, a musical setting of “thrice seven” poems by the French poet Albert Guirard. The texts assemble a conventional symbolist environment, through which move characters from thecommedia dell’arteengaged in vaguely ritual actions of indeterminate import but with overtones of hostility to the order and monuments of ordinary bourgeois culture. They are, in short, “dated.” But Schönberg’s music remains irreducibly strange even after three-quarters of a century (this fact has seemed to some Schönberg’s chief excellence). And the “method of composing with twelve tones” goes even further. For that method can no longer...

  4. Preface
    (pp. xxv-2)
    S. M.
  5. Chapter 1 On Modernism
    (pp. 3-33)

    Speaking at Johns Hopkins University in 1967, Jacques Derrida introduced his work to the English-speaking world in the following way:

    Perhaps something has occurred in the history of the concept of structure that could be called an “event” if this loaded word did not entail a meaning which it is precisely the function of structural—or structuralist—thought to reduce or suspect. But let me use the term “event” anyway, employing it with caution and as if in quotation marks. In this sense, this event will have the exterior form of a rupture and a redoubling.¹

    The simultaneous reliance on...

  6. Chapter 2 A Context for Derrida
    (pp. 34-83)

    We begin then, once again, in and from the double bind constituted by and constitutive of Derrida’s philosophic position.

    The double bind, like so many of the terms by which one would describe Derrida’s position, has itself come to work as a figure within it.¹ And as with most of Derrida’s terms, what begins its life as the name of a concept ends, in his hands, differently—as a word or a trace or a gramme (more “concepts” that Derrida has retrieved from themselves, or destroyed). The double bind translates itself into French, miming its sound and its sense, as...

  7. Chapter 3 Psychoanalysis and Deconstruction
    (pp. 84-114)

    It can be tempting to describe Jacques Derrida’s work as in large measure an extension of psychoanalysis into the history of philosophy. Despite Derrida’s insistence to the contrary (in the section called “The Exorbitant Question of Method”), the reading of Rousseau offered inOf Grammatology—probably the work best known to Derrida’s English-speaking audience—looks like a particularly sophisticated variety of psychobiographical analysis, showing the inevitable inscription of the word “supplement”—the word with which Rousseau would name writing, his own writing in relation to speech, and culture in relation to nature—in a larger psychosexual economy (in which it...

  8. Chapter 4 Paul de Man: The Time of Criticism
    (pp. 115-138)

    The burden of the argument to this point has been that philosophy, in response to needs generated within its “own” history, has come to be at necessary odds with its self, its history, and the proprietary self-presence implicit in such notions of self and history. In these straits, philosophy has turned increasingly to criticism for an understanding of its activity, and so has risked also its possible disappearance into literature. Literary criticism and theory thus find themselves in an odd position: a discipline that has a long-established habit of looking elsewhere—primarily to science or philosophy—for models of its...

  9. Chapter 5 Psychoanalysis, Criticism, Self-Criticism
    (pp. 139-158)

    Freud is hardly mentioned inBlindness and Insight, and the few scattered references to him inAllegories of Readingseem aimed at assimilating psychoanalysis to literature. Here is de Man discussing Paul Ricoeur’s work on Freud:

    The part here played by Freud (and we are not now concerned with the “validity” of this interpretation with regard to Freud) could be equally assigned to literary texts, since literature can be shown to accomplish in its terms a deconstruction that parallels the psychological deconstruction of selfhood in Freud. The intensity of the interplay between literary and psychoanalytical criticism is easy enough to...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 159-172)
  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 173-182)
  12. Index
    (pp. 183-188)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 189-189)