- Derrida in the World: Space and Post-Deconstructive Textual Analysis
“It is therefore the game of the world that must be first thought; before attempting to understand all the forms of play in the world.”—Of Grammatology
In the wake of deconstruction, critics have sought some way to reconcile poststructural textual analytics with a concern for political and cultural issues. The broad dissemination of Jean-François Lyotard’s notion of the “local” has come to embody this urge to move away from the abstract metaphysics critiqued by deconstruction for the sake of immersion in the “world.” Thus a discourse of “location” within the world has emerged as an answer to this perceived failure of deconstructive textual analysis. Typical is Susan Bordo’s departure from deconstruction:
In theory, deconstructionist postmodernism stands against the ideal of disembodied knowledge and declares that ideal to be a mystification and an impossibility.... The question remains, however, how the human knower is to negotiate this infinitely perspectival, destabilized world. Deconstructionism answers with constant vigilant suspicion of all determinate readings of culture and a partner aesthetic of ceaseless textual play as an alternative ideal. Here is where deconstruction may slip into its own fantasy of escape from human locatedness—by supposing that the critic can become wholly protean by adopting endlessly shifting, seemingly inexhaustible vantage points, none of which are “owned” by either the critic or the author of a text under examination.(142)
As a result, Bordo argues, deconstruction claims to be the view from everywhere and nowhere, thus failing to recognize its own “locatedness” within the world. In other words, deconstruction’s abstract textual theory must give way to a concern for “location” if we are to analyze cultural and social issues.
Critical “location” has been an especially important and problematic issue in postmodern feminism, where the emphasis on such positioning is coupled with the need to critique mainstream culture. The local, according to Lyotard, is to be a counterforce to the broad narratives that deconstruction has unraveled. Yet, critics find almost immediately that the local has no pragmatic, critical value without such broader narratives. In considering how, for example, one might analyze local instances of gender politics, we are immediately confronted by the metaphysical assumptions implicit within terms such as “man” and “woman,” and forced to construct a larger theoretical apparatus to organize them. Nancy Fraser and Linda Nicholson describe the problem this way: “Suppose... that one defined that object [of social criticism] as the subordination of women to and by men. Then, we submit, it would be apparent that many of the [metanarrative] genres rejected by postmodernists are necessary for social criticism. For a phenomenon as pervasive and multifaceted as male dominance simply cannot be adequately grasped with the meager critical resources to which they would limit us” (26). Thus, although critics may recognize location as a crucial element of the modeling of social space, when they turn to actual critical praxis and analyze texts for their representation of gender, they find it difficult to operate using the model without accepting some traditional metalanguage. Critics have thus gone to the extreme of claiming that, although master narratives are to be avoided, critics in certain circumstances might be granted a theoretical waiver: “Formulating wrongs, on the other hand, can make use of theory. Victims might turn to existing theories or even themselves theorize when striving to phrase the wrongs signaled by their feelings and so on” (Schatzki 49). Critics fall back upon rather conventional critical models precisely because “local” criticism seems to provide no alternative method for analyzing particular textual features and conflicts in relation to this “locatedness.”
In order to recover a sense of how texts reflect and engage with the location from which they are analyzed, we need to return to deconstruction through the thematics of location. Critics who debate the use and nature of the local have generally assumed that deconstruction and the world are naturally opposed.1 Certainly, the use to which deconstruction was put in its heyday—as a tool for a type of close reading, a hyper-New Criticism—supports this opposition. I will offer a more sophisticated model of deconstruction’s engagement with the...