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Reading Deconstruction/Deconstructive Reading

Reading Deconstruction/Deconstructive Reading

Copyright Date: 1983
Pages: 168
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  • Book Info
    Reading Deconstruction/Deconstructive Reading
    Book Description:

    Deconstruction -- a mode of close reading associated with the contemporary philosopher Jacques Derrida and other members of the "Yale School" -- is the current critical rage, and is likely to remain so for some time.Reading Deconstruction / Deconstructive Readingoffers a unique, informed, and badly needed introduction to this important movement, written by one of its most sensitive and lucid practitioners. More than an introduction, this book makes a significant addition to the current debate in critical theory.

    G. Douglas Atkins first analyzes and explains deconstruction theory and practice. Focusing on such major critics and theorists as Derrida, J. Hillis Miller, and Geoffrey Hartman, he brings to the fore issues previously scanted in accounts of deconstruction, especially its religious implications. Then, through close readings of such texts asReligio Laici, A Tale of a Tub,andAn Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot, he proceeds to demonstrate and exemplify a mode of deconstruction indebted to both Derrida and Paul de Man. This skillfully organized book, designed to reflect the "both/ and" nature of deconstruction, thus makes its own contribution to deconstructive practice. The important readings provided of Dryden, Swift, and Pope are among the first to treat major Augustan texts from a deconstructive point of view and make the book a valuable addition to the study of that period.

    Well versed in deconstruction, the variety of texts he treats, and major issues of current concern in literary study, Atkins offers in this book a balanced and judicious defense of deconstruction that avoids being polemical, dogmatic, or narrowly ideological. Whereas much previous work on and in deconstruction has been notable for its thick prose, jargon, and general obfuscation, this book will be appreciated for its clarity and grace, as well as for its command of an impressively wide range of texts and issues. Without taming it as an instrument of analysis and potential change, Atkins makes deconstruction comprehensible to the general reader. His efforts will interest all those concerned with literary theory and criticism, Augustan literature, and the relation of literature and religion.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-5834-1
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-12)

    Inaugurated in America in 1966 by Jacques Derrida’s devastating critique of Lévi-Strauss at a Johns Hopkins symposium, deconstruction has become the critical rage (or, depending upon point of view, outrage). Deconstructive efforts regularly appear not only in avant-garde journals likesub-stanceand theory-oriented publications such asDiacriticsbut also in major scholarly journals, includingPMLA. At least one journal (Glyph) was evidently established to accommodate if not further deconstructive efforts. Deconstructive readings are by no means limited to essays, however, although that form appears particularly congenial to such efforts, suspicious as deconstructionists are of the totality connoted by the idea...

  5. Part One: Reading Deconstruction

    • 1. The Sign as a Structure of Difference: Derridean Deconstruction and Some of Its Implications
      (pp. 15-33)

      A major force in contemporary literary criticism is Jacques Derrida. Derrida’s star has risen precipitously since his participation in 1966 in a Johns Hopkins University international symposium, where he took structuralism, and particularly Lévi-Strauss, to task and inaugurated deconstructive criticism in America. The following year he publishedLa Voix et le phénomène: introduction au problème du signe dans la phénoménologie de Husserl, De la grammatologie,andL’écriture et la différence,all of which are now available in English. In 1972 Derrida published three more books:La dissémination, Positions,andMarges de la philosophie;these too have recently appeared in English...

    • 2. Dehellenizing Literary Criticism
      (pp. 34-48)

      In a recent essay, entitled “Fear and Trembling at Yale,” Gerald Graff lambastes some of today’s leading literary critics, principally the “Yale School”: Harold Bloom, Paul de Man, Jacques Derrida, Geoffrey Hartman, and J. Hillis Miller. Graff points to the supposed self-absorption of these critics, whose “agony” as critics is said to be the main focus of their criticism; and he remarks on their disjunctive and self-reflexive style, the “creative” response they offer to texts, and their overriding “rejection of objective norms of interpretation.”¹ These characteristics, in his interpretation, reflect “modernism weary of itself and knowing it, but not ready...

    • 3. Reader-Responsibility Criticism: The Recent Work of Geoffrey Hartman
      (pp. 49-63)

      Even as reading as an activity has declined, the Age of the Reader has arrived, at least so far as literary theory is concerned. In what amounts to a virtual paradigm shift, emphasis on the reader seems to have replaced focus on “the text itself.” Certainly reader-response criticism is now a burgeoning industry, the past couple of years having produced several important books dealing with the reader or the reading process. These include Robert Crosman’sReading “Paradise Lost,”William Beatty Warner’sReading “Clarissa,”Suzanne Kappeler’sWriting and Reading in Henry James,Paul de Man’sAllegories of Reading,Umberto Eco’sThe...

    • 4. J. Hillis Miller, Deconstruction, and the Recovery of Transcendence
      (pp. 64-76)

      Following publication ofCharles Dickens: The World of His Novels(1958),The Disappearance of God(1963), andPoets of Reality(1965), J. Hillis Miller became known as one of the most knowledgeable and articulate spokesmen for religion in modern literature. These works, and others, not only testify powerfully to Miller’s interest as a literary critic in religious questions, but they also reveal his own deep religious convictions. A member of what was originally the Society for Religion in Higher Education, Miller has frequently contributed to conferences dealing with the growing interest in literature and religion, and his work has been...

  6. Part Two: Reading Deconstruction Becomes Deconstructive Reading

    • 5. The Story of Error
      (pp. 79-88)

      Vincent B. Leitch’s essay “The Lateral Dance: The Deconstructive Criticism of J. Hillis Miller” is an admirably full, sympathetic, and therefore welcome treatment of this important critic and of deconstruction generally.¹ But despite Leitch’s obviously wide reading in deconstruction and his close familiarity with Miller’s texts, he seems to have mistaken some crucial points. Miller’s response to Leitch in the same journal (“Theory and Practice,” pp. 609-14), though often helpful in quarreling with emphases, may not confront forcefully enough certain major problems. In order that these misconceptions not go virtually unchallenged, I offer the following response. More is at stake,...

  7. Part Three: Deconstructive Reading

    • 6. Reading and/as Swerving: The Quest(ion) of Interpretive Authority in Dryden’s Religio Laici
      (pp. 91-104)

      As I have argued in a recent book, inReligio LaiciDryden cleverly and skillfully uses the “layman’s faith” tradition, trying to deflect it from its inherent individualism to a ringing celebration of an ultimate authority outside the self.¹ Like many other texts of the Augustan period, Dryden’s layman’s faith is designed to convince man of his own insufficiency and to “guide” him “upward” so that he recognize his absolute dependency on God. Despite man’s vain, proud attempt to soar “by his own strength to Heaven” and “not be Oblig’d to God for more” (II. 62-63), Dryden argues, we can...

    • 7. Allegory of Blindness and Insight: Will and Will-ing in A Tale of a Tub
      (pp. 105-117)

      Whatever reader desires to have a thorough comprehension of an author’s thoughts, cannot take a better method, than by putting himself into the circumstances and postures of life, that the writer was in upon every important passage as it flowed from his pen, for this will introduce a parity and strict correspondence of ideas between the reader and the author. (p. 265)

      They will furnish plenty of noble matter for such, whose converting imaginations dispose them to reduce all things into types; who can make shadows, no thanks to the sun, and then mould them into substances, no thanks to...

    • 8. ‟Grac[ing] These Ribalds”: The Play of Difference in Pope’s Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot
      (pp. 118-135)

      An Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnotis normally read as Pope’s defense of himself and justification of his satire, as—in other words—hisapologia pro satura sua. In the prose “Advertisement” that precedes the poem, Pope describes his aim, in fact, in legal terms as an indictment, establishing an adversarial situation and pitting himself and his word against certain others, their charges, and their “truth”: “This Paper is a Sort of Bill of Complaint, begun many years since, and drawn up by snatches, as the several Occasions offer’d. I had no thoughts of publishing it, till it pleas’d some Persons...

    • 9. The Vanity of Human Wishes: A Conclusion in Which Nothing Is Concluded
      (pp. 136-139)

      The desire of a conclusion is as understandable as it is widespread. If we say such desire is natural, that may be revealing, for nature appears connected with our tendencies to mythologize or mythify. We naturally want (desire as well as lack) the comfort and solace afforded by a (fantasized) world in which conclusions are possible. As has been frequently suggested in the preceding chapters, however, such definiteness is impossible. In a recent essay entitled “Living On” Derrida has gone so far as to problematize even the seemingly indisputable opposition life/death.¹ The question of style is inescapable here. As I...

  8. Notes
    (pp. 140-152)
  9. Index
    (pp. 153-160)