Friday, October 29, 2010

Fortuitous Reading

I haven't had time to type lately, and sometimes even lack the means (the y is now missing off my personal laptop), so I'll quickly share a piece of Derrida that made me strangely happy. At the end of "Structure Sign and Play" he's talking about how the implications of deconstruction can be interpreted as either positive or negative, as something to be struggled against, or as something affirming, in the Nietzschean sense. This bugger is made up of only two sentences, the second one the more exciting:

"For my part, although these two interpretations acknowledge and accentuate their difference and define their irreducibility, I do not believe that today there is any question in choosing -- in the first place because here we are in a region (let's say, provisionally, a region of historicity) where the category of choice seems particularly trivial; and in the second, because we must first try to conceive of this common ground, and the différance of this irreducible difference. Here there is sort of a question, call it historical, of which we are only glimpsing today the conception, the formation, the gestation, the labor. I employ these words, I admit, with a glance toward the business of childbearing -- but also with a glance toward those who, in a company from which I do not exclude myself, turn their eyes away in the face of the as yet unnameable which is proclaiming itself and which can do so, as is necessary whenever a birth is in the offing, only under the species of the non-species, in the formless, mute, infant, and terrifying form of monstrosity."

Yyyyikes! We read this last part in class and a cluster of us chanted in a weirdly satisfying whisper:

...what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

I wouldn't have made that particular connection to Yeats if I hadn't just started reading Didion's Slouching Toward Bethlehem. Sure, "The Second Coming" is an oft quoted poem, but to pull it out of Derrida was fun. At some point a reader starts to find she's read so much that all the connections begin to make sense. I used to know when an allusion was being made, or some language borrowed from somewhere, and was even able to track down the source sometimes. But that does not give the same satisfaction as being able to hold multiple texts in one's head at once and get positively giddy about all the possibilities of interaction between them.

Besides my first in-class experience of the literature student groupthink phenomenon (we are after all, an "interpretive community"), and what struck me as the beginnings of my finally having read some significant (but still minuscule) portion of all the things I want to read, I know the first time I'd ever read the paragraph, alone, I was smiling like an idiot and not knowing why. Whatever connections I didn't make on my first solo read, I was at least moved in some way, which seems like a funny thing to be when you're reading about structuralism.

1 comment:

  1. But Yeats's idea is entirely the kind of monster that Derrida is trying to think around. In Yeats's poem the "rough beast" is the consequence of a tilting of balances, the elimination of the positive has called for the negative. Yeats's "rough beast" is truly "monstrous" in the classic sense of monster--as a symptom of something gone wrong in the natural order. Yeats's monster is the revenge of history's natural order.

    Derrida's monster is first, a monster only within the point of view of those (seemingly including Derrida) who must turn away, and secondly, paired with an infant, which is another extreme form of emotional reaction--sentimentality rather than terror.

    I am so baffled by this passage. Please explain it to me!


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