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Critical Discussion Does Deconstruction Make Any Difference? Poststructuralism and the Defense of Poetry in Modern Criticism, by Michael Fischer; ix & 368 pp. Bloomington : Indiana University Press, 1985, $20.00. Discussed by Alfred Louch THIS BOOK OFFERS, among its odier virtues, a Cook's Tour of postmodern criticism— a phrase that betrays, I suppose, a craving to be up-to-date: in die future before it happens. I found it on the whole a depressing trip, not so much because of the quality of steersmanship — though diat too takes die reader dirough stretches of arid academic prose — but because of the specimens one passes on the way. The man at the helm seemed at times unsure whether he was leading the reader through a rogue's gallery or a madhouse. Nonetheless, ifyour sightings of Derrida, Paul de Man, Harold Bloom, and Geoffrey Hartman have struck you as unreliable landmarks to any conceivable terrain, Fischer's book will help you. He at least is not a rogue, nor is he mad. You will be safe with him on this tour of deconstructionism even though you may wonder at die end whether he has praised or buried it. I wdl turn to the issue of diagnostic equivocation by and by. But first an impression of a few of his specimens. The diird chapter, on Derrida, Stanley Fish, andJ. Hillis Miller, is a good place to stop and marvel. I can never read Fish without being reminded of a student I had die misfortune to teach in the late sixties — a deconstructionist before his time. I walked into class the first day and took the one empty chair at the head of die table. This boy immediately pointed out that what I said could carry no weight, because I was sitting in the instructor's chair, thereby abusing discussion with audiority. It was ofno avail to observe that it was the only 325 326Philosophy and Literature vacant seat, or to change places with him, for later on, after I had reminded diis youdi what Mill said in a passage under discussion, he responded : "That's not fair. You know more about Mill than we do." That is how Fish sounds, truculently and aggressively condemning rational argument because it is a form oftruculence and aggression. Any gloss ofa text, according to Fish, must be allowed, for to dismiss it as false or logically absurd would merely be a power play. Fish's laissezfaire policy in criticism is a widely endorsed plank in the platform of deconstruction. There is no one right way to read a text, therefore there is no way — short of coercion — to exclude any particular venture at interpretation. Are deconstructionists, dien, instances of diat sadly familiar type, academics who got stuck in the sixties? It turns out mat Fish and Derrida, in dieir different ways, find die anti-audioritarian posture hard to maintain. Fish wonders how to comport himselfbefore the less than eager student and die bored journal reader and asks: if I am not speaking the truth what am I doing? His answer, alas, is the epitome of self-infatuation: he entertains. (Well, perhaps he is stuck in the sixties.) Fischer agrees, calling him an "engaging" writer. I suppose I can only say, de gustibus. But I note also that even while praising Fish's alleged stylistic perkiness he asks, radier pointedly, why fewer and fewer students study literature. Derrida wants us to laugh too, for the interpretation of texts is a sideshow unconstrained by logic or fact. But he was noticeably peeved, as Fischer reminds us, by John Searle's alleged misunderstandings of his work in Glyph. Searle, I suppose, either took interpretation too seriously, or failed to applaud Derrida's performance loudly enough. It is worthy of note, as Fischer duly notes, that Derrida's reply to Searle is marked by insulting invective, a tactic, I would have thought, ofdiose who mean to impose their views on omers by force, certainly not those who would allow endless interpretations to bloom. Searle's problem, certainly, was that he took Derrida seriously — and that, he should have realized, is wrong in principle. Criticism is fancy, to be answered in kind, but not...


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pp. 325-333
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