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Reviewed by
Nicholas Royle. After Derrida. Manchester: Manchester UP, 1995. 174 pp.

Nicholas Royle’s After Derrida is a multifaceted delight: challenging, witty, provocative, profound, subtle. Not only does Royle have a wonderfully rich command of deconstruction’s interpretive and analytical nuances, but he repeatedly finds the most enlivening and original forms with which to demonstrate and manifest those nuances. The book is a cornucopia of information and insight, artfully laid out in a series of tightly arranged and widely literate performance pieces, numbered as chapters but which seem to be titled as hypotheses, combining the curiosity, tonality, and pyrotechnical deftness of musical études with tight classical structuration. I know of no other treatment of Derrida and deconstruction that is more appealing in its presentation and more dead-on in its assertions about the Derridian revolution, which is presented here with its full due, yet which is not exempt from critique. Royle focuses throughout After Derrida on the production of reader surprise at the recognition of “the experience of the impossible” as deconstruction, the unique surprise as one faces the “subversive other” as image, strategy, discourse. This uncanny other is repeatedly targeted by Royle with remarkable precision throughout the book, beginning so provocatively in the Alfred Gescheidt “phantasaphotograph” entitled “Father and Son,” a composite photograph of a man in a black suit and narrow black tie, smiling, bald, cigarette hanging from his mouth, a boy of six or seven sitting in his lap in open sport shirt and shorts, striped white socks and black oxford shoes, relaxing in (what we assume to be) dad’s protective lap and within his powerful arm; but wait—the [End Page 546] boy’s head is the father’s, bald, smiling, cigarette hanging from his mouth. . . . The photomontage, which appears on the book’s cover and in the first section, and which in an age of actual cloning is all the more disturbing in its critique of time, history, genealogy, subjectivity, and individuality, stands as a symbol of and emblem for the critical and unheimlich “ghost-book” of which it is here a memorable part, the image an impossible apparition that questions what it is that appears in the performance of the undecidability on which deconstruction rests.

Though Gescheidt’s is the only photograph, and in that sense the only actual visual image in the book, After Derrida is bursting with images of various textual sorts that hit their target as neatly as this one does (and perhaps, in the ambiguity of language, more impactfully). Royle, however, is more ambitious than to rest at a single level of discourse or analysis. Among the more provocative of After Derrida’s many-layered strategies is that of kaleidoscopically shaping each chapter, mock-Joyce-like, to demonstrate aspects of the manifest nature of deconstruction—each “theme” struck in the book represents a facet of deconstruction implemented. This strategy’s effect is a cumulative and an additive one, as it is, for example, in Ulysses, building a multilayered history in the reader as it progresses. It is very appropriate that Royle should imitate one of the signature strategies of modernism in his portrayal of deconstruction in action, disguised as an analytic treatment of the writing published under the name Derrida, since a central theme throughout the book is that of appropriation of language, text, authority from other texts and writings. At the same time, Royle engages in a meticulous archaeology of Derridian themes and motifs, surprising the reader with the acuteness of his insights and the economy of his presentation. Despite its brevity (but because of its self-control and spot-on choice of materials), After Derrida accomplishes a remarkable amount.

Indeed, Royle’s epigraph from Derrida, “there is a way of thinking about the truth which is not reassuring,” a statement itself full of inner reversals and strategic twists, could well be amended throughout the book with “but it can be provocative, energetic, and stimulating in its suspension of assurance.” Royle, after Derrida after Nietzsche, spars with a nihilistic non-reassurance through an interrogation in which nothing (including Royle’s book) is exempt from the ineluctable gaze of the deconstructive eye, persistently reopening a vital...