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The Ear of the Other: Otobiography, Transference, Translation, by Jacques Derrida, edited by Christie McDonald; xii & 190 pp. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1988, $8.95 paper. Discussed by E. Warwick Slinn IN his introduction to TL· Future of Literary TL·ory, Ralph Cohen claims that several essays in that volume "describe deconstructive theory in decline."1 While it might be replied that, for instance, Hillis Miller's essay, which Cohen extensively cites, actually characterizes the resistances to deconstruction rather than announcing its decline, Cohen's remark nevertheless provides a provocative context for discussing the re-edition of TL· Ear oftL· Other? This reissue of texts and discussions with Jacques Derrida, coming as it does towards the end of a decade, provides a focus for several of the issues related to "deconstructive theory" and an occasion for speculating about their continuing significance for literary study as we enter the nineties. Can students of literature now safely ignore books like this and forget about ears, grafts, limbs, difference, signatures, and other assorted erotica? Unfortunately, even now there are still signs that any answer to this question is bedeviled by perennial misrepresentations. Supposedly deconstruction removes language from the real world ofmen and women, obliterates all concern with human value, enters literary study into an endless proliferation of uncontrollable meanings and, ultimately, like some new form ofself-abuse, destroys the self. In short, deconstruction is read as destruction, where dismanding is synonymous with ruination. Philosophy and Literature, © 1990, 14: 379-386 380Philosophy and Literature Those who are familiar with Derrida's work have always realized that deconstruction is not destruction, that his dismandings are at the same time remandings, unweavings that are also weavings. But it is useful to hear Derrida in these roundtable conversations himself insisting that his textual analysis is affirmative: he does not subscribe to the model of deconstruction which would merely "dismande system"; the "deconstructive gesture" is "not negative, it is not destructive" (p. 85). And it is a salutary corrective to all those fears about a mechanistic denial of feeling to find Derrida affirming the personal level of his engagement: "the texts I want to read from the deconstructive point of view are texts I love, with that impulse of identification which is indispensable for reading" (p. 87). The "impulse of identification"—a simple phrase, yet it refutes so many misconceptions about dehumanized detachment in Derridean analysis. In the first section in TL· Ear oftL· Other, Derrida discusses Nietzsche's autobiography, Ecce Homo, relating the act of self-production to the larger structure of textuality. He unravels the paradox that an autobiography gains its authority as a text about the self not through an act of self-signing, but through the reading/hearing of an other. The author 's signature is entrusted to other: "Nietzsche's signature does not take place when he writes," but it will take place posthumously, "when the other comes to sign with him, to join with him in alliance and, in order to do so, to hear and understand him" (pp. 50-51). It is thus "the ear of the other which signs," and the ear of the other "which constitutes the autos of my autobiography" (p. 51). Here in brief is a focus for the deconstructive sense of the self as a written and (at once) writing other, where the self is constituted in and through the other, at once given personal and political existence through this double action. The ear is "an organ for perceiving difference" and as such it is the listening ear which signs the contract through which the self and its message are constituted, interpreted politically and textually . It is we, then, who honor the author's signature through the contract that is signaled by the differentiation of the ear, through the hearing ofdifference, through the reading which constitutes the identity of the self as a writing and written subject. Critical in this problematic of the self as text, and in the complicity ofthat problematic with the structure oftextuality in general, is Derrida's approach to the relationship between the biological and the biographical. Playing on the division of biology into "bio" and "logical," he indicates die written nature...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 379-386
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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