OK, I said I wasn't going to do any more Derrida postings. But a few discussions I've read tonight have made me think better of this. So many people are ascribing arguments to Derrida he never made. The biggest one always seems to be that he gets rid of notions like reference, right, wrong, true, false, or even the very nature of good readings or bad. Yet he's explicitly denied this. Probably the most forceful place he has done this is in the very clear and readable interview that forms the conclusion to Limited Inc. Since those attacking Derrida so forcefully demonstrate they've not read this interview, allow me a few selected quotes. All critics of late ought really read these. In fact, I'd say that this interview is one of the better explanations Derrida makes of his own philosophy. It is, for that reason alone, a must read text.
[L]et it be said in passing how surprised I have often been, how amused or discouraged, depending on my humor, by the use or abuse of the following argument: Since the deconstructionist (which is to say, isn't it, the skeptical-relativist-nihilist!) is supposed to not believe in truth, stability, or the unity of meaning, in intention or "meaning-to-say," how can he demand of us now that we read him with pertinence, precision, rigor? How can he demand that his own text be interpreted correctly? How can he accuse anyone else of having misunderstood, simplified, deformed it, etc.? In other words, how can he discuss, and discuss the reading of what he writes? The answer is simple enough: This definition of the deconstructionist is false (that's right: false, not true) and feeble; it supposes a bad (that's right: bad, not good) and feeble reading of numerous texts, first of all mine, which therefore must finally be read or reread. Then perhaps it wil be understood that the value of truth (and all those values associated with it) is never contested or destroyed in my writings, but only reinscribed in more powerful, larger, more stratified contexts. And that within interpretive contexts (that is, within relations of force that are always differential-- for example, socio-political-institutional--but even beyond those determinations) that are relatively stable, sometimes apparently almost unshakeable, it should be possible to invoke rules of competence, criteria of discussion and of consensus, good faith, lucidity, rigor, criticism, and pedagogy." (Derrida, Limited Inc, 146)
Once again (and this probably makes a thousand times I have had to repeat this, but when will it finally be heard, and why this resistance?): as I understand it (and I have explained why), the text is not the book, it is not confined in a volume itself confined to the library. It does not suspend reference-- to history, to the world, to reality, to being, and especially not to the other, since to say of history, of the world, of reality, that they always appear in an experience, hence in a movement of interpretation which contextualizes them according to a network of differences and hence of referral to the other, is surely to recall that alterity (difference) is irreducible. (ibid)
The following is a quote from an interview with Derrida, but I can't seem to find in my notes the reference. I'll post it later when I can find it.
Q: It might be argued that deconstruction inevitably leads to pluralist interpretation and ultimately to the view that any interpretation is as good as any other. Do you believe this and how do you select some interpretations as being better than others?
JD: I am not a pluralist and I would never say that every interpretation is equal but I do not select. The interpretations select themselves. I am a Nietzschean in that sense. You know that Nietzsche insisted on the fact that the principle of differentiation was in itself selective. The eternal return of the same was not repetition, it was a selection of more powerful forces. So I would not say that some interpretations are truer than others. I would say that some are more powerful than others. The hierarchy is between forces and not between true and false. There are interpretations which account for more meaning and this is the criterion.
Q: You would reject, then, the view that meaning is any response whatever to a sign? That meaning is determined by the person who reads the sign?
JD: Yes, of course. Meaning is determined by a system of forces which is not personal. It does not depend on the subjective identity but on the field of different forces, the conflict of forces, which produce interpretations.
Q: You would, therefore, reject the theory of authorial intention as determinate of meaning?
JD: Yes. I would not say that there is no interest in referring to the intentional purpose. There are authors, there are intentionalities, there are conscious purposes. We must analyse them, take them seriously. But the effects of what we caul author's intentions are dependent on something which is not the individual intention, which is not intentional.
Q:There is a pragmatic aspect to this question of intentionality. It has been suggested that it is only in the field of literary theory that reader-based theories of interpretation are taken seriously, that all other fields of discourse accept author-based intention. Reader-based theories of interpretation tend, therefore, according to this view, to partition off literary speculation from the rest of experience and thus to trivialise literary speculation. What are your views on this?
JD: I do not accept this opposition between reader-based and author-based meaning. It comes from a misunderstanding of deconstruction, one which sees deconstruction as free interpretation based only on the fantasies of the reader. No one is free to read as he or she wants. The reader does not interpret freely, taking into account only his own reading, excluding the author, the historical period in which the text appeared and so on.
Q: So you would not consider yourself an anti-historicist?
JD: Not at all. I think that one cannot read without trying to reconstruct the historical context but history is not the last word, the final key, of reading. Without being anti-historicist, I am suspicious of the traditional concepts of history, the Hegelian and Marxist concepts.
The interview you quote from was originally published in "Literary Review" (Vol 14.18 April - 1 May (1980):21-22), and was later republished in Anthony Easthope's "British Post-Structuralism Since 1968" (Routledge: 1988).
Thank you Michael. I remember "talking" to you about Derrida a great deal way back while first learning about Derrida. (You probably don't recall) In fact I think I originally got the quote in question from you. So it is nice to see you reading my blog.
I thought your name seemed familiar. I stumbled on to your blog via your comments on Jim Faulconer's blog about Derrida. I can't say I know much about Mormon Metaphysics, but I'm definitely interested in reading more about what can be found when Derrida's thought is brought to bear on Mormonism.
Clark, thanks for posting these. I hope a lot of people will refer to them because they dispell a good many nonsense claims about Derrida.
"...people who read me and think I'm playing with or transgressing norms--which I do, of course--usually don't know what I know: that all of this has not only been made possible by but is constantly in contact with very classical, rigorous, demanding discipline in writing, in 'demonstrating,' in rhetoric. ...the fact that I've been trained in and that I am at some level true to this classical teaching is essential. ... When I take liberties, it's always by measuring the distance from the standards I know or that I've been rigorously trained in." (Derrida, 2003, pp. 62-3)
"... the sense aimed at through these figures [of metaphor] is an essence rigorously independent of that which transports it, which is an already philosophical thesis, one might even say philosophy's unique thesis..." (Derrida, 1982, p. 229)
"As soon as you give up philosophy, or the word philosophy, what happens is not something new or beyond philosophy, what happens is that some old hidden philosophy under another name--for instance the name of literary theory or psychology or anthropology and so on--go on dominating the research in a dogmatic or implicit way. And when you want to make this implicit philosophy as clear and explicit as possible, you have to go on philosophizing.... That's why I am true to philosophy." (Derrida, 1989b, p. 218)
"I can be reproached for being insistent, even monotonous...."
"Don't you see, what has seemed necessary and urgent to me ... is a general determination of the conditions for the emergence and limits of philosophy, of metaphysics, of everything that carries it on and that it carries on." (Derrida, 1981, pp. 50, 51)
"I try to place myself at a certain point at which -- and this would be the very 'content' of what I would like to 'signify' -- the thing signified is no longer easily separable from the signifier." (Derrida, 1968, in Wood and Bernasconi, 1988, pp. 88-9)
The ideality of mathematical objects makes their being "thoroughly transparent and exhausted by their phenomenality," meaning that they have a universality and objectivity suitable for them to serve as "the absolute model for any object whatsoever." (Derrida, 1989a, pp. 27, 66)
"There is no sense in doing without the concepts of metaphysics in order to shake metaphysics. We have no language-no syntax and no lexicon-which is foreign to this history; we can pronounce not a single destructive proposition which has not already had to slip into the form, the logic, and the implicit postulations of precisely what it seeks to contest" (Derrida 1978, pp. 280-1).
Derrida, J. (1978). Structure, Sign and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences. In Writing and Difference, pp. 278-93. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Derrida, J. (1981). Positions. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Derrida, J. (1982). Margins of philosophy. Chicago, Illinois: University of Chicago Press.
Derrida, J. (1989a). Edmund Husserl's Origin of Geometry: An introduction. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.
Derrida, J. (1989b). On Colleges and Philosophy. In L. Appignanesi (Ed.), Postmodernism: ICA Documents, pp. 66-71. New York: Columbia University Press.
Derrida, J. (2003). Interview on writing. In G.A. Olson and L. Worsham (Eds.), Critical Intellectuals on Writing. Albany: State University of New York Press.
Wood, D., Bernasconi, R. (1988). Derrida and différance. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press.
Thanks for the extra quotations. They are rather relevant for some of the discussion over at Certain Doubts as well.