Friday, February 12, 2010

Reynolds, Jack. Review of Michael Marder, THE EVENT OF THE THING. NDPR (February 2010).

Marder, Michael. The Event of the Thing: Derrida’s Post-Deconstructive Realism. Toronto: U of Toronto P, 2009. It has become a pervasive prejudice, in some philosophical circles, that deconstruction is nothing more than some kind of textual or linguistic idealism. After liberating itself from the oppressive hegemony of the 'real' world, the text can surrender itself to the infinity of free-play and ignore all questions of faithful representation. Hilary Putnam notes in Renewing Philosophy, for example, that "deconstructionists think that the whole idea of representing reality . . . needs to be deconstructed" (p. 108). We think that this is incorrect, at least insofar as it purports to represent Derrida's own views, but, of course, this kind of comment does not come from nowhere. First, we must recognise that Derrida is consistently concerned with the way in which metaphysical realism seems to entail that the world is divided into objects and properties that are represented for metaphysical realism (cf. 'Sendings -- On Representation'), although this is something that also worries the later Putnam. Second, this idealist interpretation that is sometimes championed by the enthusiastic avowals of over-zealous acolytes, is also at least partly based on statements made by Derrida that prima facie give it credence, e.g., "there is nothing outside the text." It is hence perhaps fair to say that Derrida, like much of contemporary continental philosophy, has a complicated relationship to realism, often attempting to steer a middle-way between idealism and realism, and certainly being wary of epistemic realism (and the correspondence theory of truth), as well as the metaphysical suppositions of naïve realism, but not necessarily anti-realist for all that. Let us simply note here against the charge of linguistic idealism that Derrida has always been interested in that which is other than language, that which is undecontructable, and that his subsequent commentaries on his infamous remark, Il n'y a pas de hors-texte, clearly defuse it of an idealist interpretation (see 'Afterword' in Limited Inc.). In this respect, there has been a concerted effort by some to counter idealist views of deconstruction by presenting a more nuanced understanding and a closer reading of Derrida's texts. Michael Marder's The Event of the Thing: Derrida's Post-Deconstructive Realism is such a book and is therefore a valuable contribution to contemporary Derridian scholarship. In it, Marder argues that Derrida is in fact committed to a form of realism that is unequivocally opposed to the idealism with which he is often charged. He collects a conglomeration of quotes from Derrida to support this reading, and in some ways makes things more difficult for himself by focusing upon the thing, which Marder accepts at one point is "one of the most inconspicuous terms in Derridian philosophy" (p. xv). Although we are sympathetic to Marder's overall thesis, as well as to the very interesting trajectory on which it takes us (through Derrida's reflections on death, literature, art, commodity fetishism, Heidegger, etc.), there are some points of contention that we feel obliged to note, especially as they pertain to the contrast between traditional realism and the deconstructive/post-deconstructive realism that the book hinges upon. Read the rest her:

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