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Critical Discussions Deconstruction: Theory and Practice, by Christopher Norris; xiii & 157 pp. New York: Methuen, 1982, $7.95 paperbound. Discussed by Denis Donoghue Christopher NORRIS'S book is one of a series, edited by Terence Hawkes, called New Accents. The general plan is to respond to apparently new ways in the interpretation of cultural events and institutions. Terence Hawkes's preface to each volume, his statement of policy, undertakes that each book in the series "will seek to encourage rather than resist the process of change, to stretch rather than reinforce the boundaries that currently define literature and its academic study." Hawkes evidently assumes diat every change is so clearly a change for the better that its merit doesn't need to be demonstrated. The fact that die apparently new enjoys its novelty for a very short time, and then settles into the routine of discourse doesn't seem to bother him. He uses the word "new" as if he were confident of its potency, even under the strain of repetition. Given such a policy, Christopher Norris has done well to maintain a mind of his own. He is not infatuated with novelty, or dazzled by the signs it offers. As in an earlier book on William Empson, he gathers his perceptions around a particular figure — not a trope but a man, a writer, or at least a troper — and speaks his own mind by elucidating the writer in question, Empson, or— in the present book — Derrida. The problem with this device is that it is sometimes hard to know when Norris is speaking in his own voice, writing with his own typewriter, or miming his master. Hard, diat is, to know where paraphrase ends and commentary begins. In any event, Deconstruction:. Theory andPractice is a book about Derrida. Other philosophers and critics are seen as Derrida's pupils, acolytes, ephebes: they have all issued from his overcoat. Derrida himself has issued not from any one philosophical school but from dissatisfaction with all of them. Norris doesn't go back very far in accounting for Derrida's origin: perhaps he is embarrassed by 248 Denis Donoghue249 talk of origin in Derrida's company. He starts, in effect, with Phenomenology, and indicates some of the attitudes associated with Husserl, Heidegger, and Merleau-Ponty. He then introduces Structuralism as a rival attitude; but he doesn't go into much detail, beyond taking the early writings of Roland Barthes as typical of the Structuralist enterprise, its strengths and limitations. Derrida is then brought forward, related to Structuralism as to a worthy motive which has not gone far enough or seen the mote in its own eye. Structuralism, according to Derrida's sense of it, was a promising youngster, but doomed to be halted by nostalgic longings for security, the old certitude, the Father's authenticating word. Norris presents Derrida — he is still elucidating, not commenting — in crucial association with his major precursor Nietzsche, and, slightly aslant, his more occasional masters, Freud and Marx. Deconstruction itself he takes to be the leap of sceptical violence between Nietzsche and Derrida. Derrida's relation to Freud is aptly contrasted with Harold Bloom's, though the evidence supporting the contrast is not complete, since Bloom's book on Freud is not yet available. Derrida's relation to Marx can hardly be said to exist; it is a signal instance of deferment. Up to this point, it is characterized mostly by vacancy, though the fact that he has not yet written about Marx at any length or with any conviction presumably tells its own story. Norris has done the best he can with the question of Marx, surrounding Derrida's vacancy with considerations of Foucault and, briefly, Edward W. Said. But the pages on Marx are tentative; they have nothing of the boldness of those on Nietzsche. With Derrida in place, Norris turns to his American pupils, or a few of them. He finds them all at Yale, strangely; as if Deconstruction were fully represented by Geoffrey Hartman, J. Hillis Miller, and Paul de Man. If from two or three swallows we could deduce a summer, we might think of Deconstruction as harboring two modes or styles: Hartman and...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 248-252
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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