“Was not their mistake once more bred of the life of slavery that they had been living?—a life which was always looking upon everything, except mankind, animate and inanimate—‘nature,’ as people used to call it—as one thing, and mankind as another, it was natural to people thinking in this way, that they should try to make ‘nature’ their slave, since they thought ‘nature’ was something outside them” — William Morris

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Derrida part quoi?

This post over at Levi's talks about something close to my heart so I thought I'd repost my comment here.

I’m writing about this very passage right now. As a lit crit guy you would expect me to have a militancy about the supposed universality of Derrida’s claim. But actually, respect to Adam, as a lit crit guy I always read this passage as much LESS than that.

Remember how D loves to cleave close to the text he’s analyzing–why he appeals to lit crit close readers in the first place. I (and apparently Spivak, who offers a very different translation of the sentence in question) always thought (ie BEFORE converting to OOO) that D was ONLY saying, “Given the kind of closed system textuality that Rousseau prescribes, there is NO OUTSIDE-TEXT.”

That is, *Rousseau can’t go around making claims about nature, not because there is nothing out there, but because the way he models thinking, he sets textuality up as a black hole.

It’s PRECISELY the kind of generalization about reality that D’s fans (and critics) think he’s making that is at issue. This kind of sweeping statement is what becomes a black hole.

When I’m feeling charitable towards D I imagine he thinks that by imploding this sort of generalization he is leaving non-textual objects intact.

In fact then, D is claiming that texts are OBJECTS. They can only have *vicarious relations with non-texts.

Which is why I argue in EwN that there are coral reefs and bunnies, but NO NATURE.

(Then I am accused of being a nihilist by the eco beautiful souls, and receive threats of having bacon fat poured over my head, literally. Wash rinse repeat.)

When I formulated this interpretation

1) 9.9 out of 10 Derrideans thought exactly what Levi is arguing they thought.
2) I was writing a Deleuzian diss. on food and for sure held that food was REAL.

Addendum: notice the rather rigorous difference between my argument and what some have claimed on Levi's blog, that D is OOO avant la lettre. Nothing could be further from the truth.

D ABSTAINED from ontology for the simple reason that he thought it tainted by the generalization-disease I note above. Unfortunately this defaults to various forms of antirealism, as noted by Levi.

For me, Derrida's is a sin of OMISSION.


captain furious said...

I was thinking about what you said of your work's reception by some above and thought I'd share the fact that at my university The Ecological Thought was housed in the Science library. I found it there cozily immured between a book called Seeing Nature and one called The Unity of Nature.

Thought this was pretty amusing.

On an entirely different not I'm really enjoying the book so far. Stuff is clicking on every page for me that in very provocative yet crystal clear ways. Reading it alongside some Darwin stuff and constantly going back to Levinas (who I too once fell for wholeheartedly).

I also find myself working on thinking through the difference between what you call the "mesh" and De Landa's "meshwork." Both have critical relevance to stuff I'm working on at the moment.

Timothy Morton said...

That's funny about the library, or maybe not so funny. I doubt they'd do the reverse--eg not put Dennett in the philosophy section...?

Maybe the point is, since the word ecology is in the title, it must be scientific/scientistic...

Thank you for your kind words. They are much appreciated.

captain furious said...

I actually inquired at the science library as to why the book was placed there and was told it was the "Ecology" in the title that did it.

I'm not sure it's funny either, but I am sure Dennett would never end up in the science library which is funny as he has said many times he really wants scientists to understand and respect his work.