Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Bruns, Gerald. "Review of Asja Szafraniec's BECKETT, DERRIDA, AND THE EVENT OF LITERATURE." NDPR November 14, 2007.

Over the years there have been various efforts to engage Jacques Derrida's conception of literature. I think it is widely acknowledged now that there is (or was) no concept or theory of any sort but instead an ongoing attraction to forms of language that make certain works of writing peculiar enough to trouble the ways in which we make sense of things. Anyhow here is what I think we think we know about Derrida's thinking with respect to literature:
  1. There is no literature as such. It is, whatever else it is, the transformation of something given into something other, that is, non-identical, outside the grasp of concepts, categories, distinctions, not to mention purposes, functions, or positions in any standing order of things. This leaves us with almost nothing to say about what a work of literature is. One recalls what Adorno said about the task of art: "To make things of which we do not know what they are."
  2. Literature has a history rather than an essence. Derrida's way of addressing this issue is to characterize literature as an 'institution,' by which he appears to mean (apart from the imposing edifice of French Literature) the history of genres, conventions, forms, and movements with their assorted "isms." No doubt much of what is written belongs to this "institution," but Derrida thinks that every work is always in advance of what the "institution" of literature is able to recognize as belonging to itself. In this respect Derrida is pretty much a classic modernist keyed to experiment and innovation.
  3. Literature is thus not so much an object as an event in which each work is absolutely singular, a law unto itself, but perhaps less autonomous than antinomian, irreducible to any reading or appropriation. Literature is a work of writing (écriture) in Maurice Blanchot's sense of the term, referring particularly to the materiality of language that works on us as a kind of limit-experience, that is, an experience that takes us out of the role of cognitive agents grasping things (like texts) and construing their intelligibility. This materiality perhaps forms the meeting ground where philosophy and literature approach only to recoil from one another.
  4. How does one register this event of language? There is no 'literary hermeneutics.' Each experience of a literary work is itself singular and unrepeatable, however "iterable" the work itself may be as a construction of words. One responds to the work not by way of commentary and exegesis but by close attention to the anomalies of the text, its phonic and graphic complexity, its dissonance or antinomies, the openness of its form and the many different directions this may lead us. Such a reading, however, is less philological or critical (much less philosophical) than ludic: the idea is to play along with the text or perhaps to take off from it. Every text is in some sense a pretext, even as every reading is a supplementation or, more exactly perhaps, a kind of marginal writing or parody -- of which Derrida's Glas is perhaps the canonical example. . . .
For the complete review, please go to: http://ndpr.nd.edu/review.cfm?id=11683.

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