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Steven Fuller A FRENCH SCIENCE (WITH ENGLISH SUBTITLES) It is of no news to anyone with even a passing interest in the theoretical wranglings of literary critics that deconstruction is on the defensive. This is of special interest to an historian and philosopher of science such as myself because (with the notable exception of Frank Lentricchia's revisionist history of contemporary critical trends) ] most of the recent salvos launched against deconstruction have been supplied by analytic philosophy.2 Indeed, some analytic philosophers have felt bold enough to enter the fray themselves. And as with other Anglo-American incursions into theoretical debates of continental origin, whatever is lost in subtlety and sheer ingenuity is made up for in clarity and commonsense. If there is one theme common to adi analytically inspired attacks on deconstruction, it is that critical method ought to be a systematic articulation of the intuitions of the average reflective reader. To be a literary critic is not to achieve esoteric insight into the uncommunicative nature of texts; rather, it is to become more fully aware of the many ways in which texts do communicate. While such advice may be reassuring, it is certainly not very "philosophical" in the sense of "deeply problematic" that deconstructionists would claim for the nature of texts. And the deconstructionists are right — so I believe. At least, I will try to show that the case for deconstruction, in all its radicalness, can be made with something of the clarity desired by analytic philosophers. A contentious critic might wonder, at this point, why the deconstructionists were not clear in the first place (thereby rendering this article superfluous). The reason, contrary to what certain "friends of deconstruction" in the analytic tradition would have us believe, is that there are few precedents in the recent history of philosophy for claims made by deconstructionists.3 It would indeed be faint praise to find, as Hacking and Rorty have maintained, that the theses of Barthes, Foucault, and Derrida were anticipated in the limpid prose style of a Quine, a Goodman, or a Kuhn.4 Why is the latter set of writers so clear, while the former set is so obscure? Our contentious critic might conclude diat clarity of style reflects a clarity of thought, and likewise for obscurity of style. In any case, both friends 2 Philosophy and Literature and foes of deconstruction tend to agree diat whatever is of value in the French texts may be derived with less effort by reading the American ones. The friends want to place deconstruction among several strains oftwentieth-century thought that would dissolve classical philosophy into a critical history of ideas, while the foes (more ingenuously perhaps) want to resume the business of practical criticism as usual and its attendant function (à la F. R. Leavis) of preserving Western Culture. Since the analytic devil can (and will) cite deconstructionist scripture for his own purposes, it is not clear that explicating Derrida will settle matters, especially since deconstruction gives an ironic twist to the search for what an author "had in mind" when he composed a particular text. It is, however, interesting to note that when one analytic philosopher recently presented a paradigm of literary criticism that allegedly compensated for the excesses of deconstruction, he resorted to Kantian talk about the intentions of the author being a "regulative ideal" toward which all responsible practical criticism aspires.5 This paradigm claims to owe to deconstruction the idea that, once an author is separated from his text, die reader becomes unable to verify any hypotheses about what the author meant by what he wrote. However, the evidence surrounding the text's composition (as well as the text itself) may be reconstructed so as to suggest a model of the audioes intentions. In that case, the explanatory adequacy of such a model would be relative to the evidence and methods available to the critic. And so, while the text certainly had a real audior who possessed a set of determinate intentions at the time ofwriting, mere is no reason to think that the most plausible model of the currendy available evidence picks out those intentions. What we have here is the first of two species of...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 1-14
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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