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Reviews393 On Literary Theory and Philosophy: A Cross-Disciplinary Encounter, edited by Richard Freadman and Lloyd Reinhardt ; xi & 281 pp. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1991, $45.00. What ground, if any, has been gained in the relations between analytic philosophy and deconstruction, or between humanist and poststructuralist literary theory, since the encounter between Derrida and Searle fifteen years ago? Has there been a shift, as some believe, "from confrontation to convergence" (p. 6), or must we accept the more common view that the two sides are simply talking different languages? This valuable collection of essays sets itself the rarely attempted task of grappling directly with such questions, first by setting up a series of"exchanges" between literary theorists and philosophers of what we can roughly call the two traditions, strategically focusing on well-known areas of contention: namely, the self, ethics, language, and interpretation. These provide often vigorous (if mostly inconclusive) engagements over such contested matters as the truthclaims of deconstruction and the alleged "textuality" of all philosophical language . In my experience, even avowedly pluralist departments of literature or philosophy all too often avoid confrontations of the sort we get here. (How much intellectual evasion goes by the name of pluralist "tolerance"?) Then follows a series of individual essays, including Christopher Norris on Derrida and Alexander Nehamas on Nietzsche, which reflect in illuminating ways on the exchanges. What emerges clearly from the collection is that the larger conversation about these issues has moved on since Searle took on Derrida in 1977. As Ian Saunders righdy points out here, "classic deconstruction now has something of a period flavour," not because its basic contentions were ever directly refuted by argument , but because its limited repertoire of moves has, even for many former adherents, ceased to be "interesting" (p. 45). On this reading, the final aporia of deconstruction isn't the so-called reflexive problem of its own perspectivalism —which is nicely illustrated by Richard Freadman and Seamus Miller in their analysis of the "familiar kind of having-it-both-ways" formalism of Gayatri Spivak (p. 37), whereby some texts seem to be treated as "textual" and others as mysteriously referential. After all, as Christopher Norris points out, Derrida has always insisted on having it both ways, claiming that language rests "on a series of unstable oppositions (concept/metaphor, literal/figural, constative/performative , reason/rhetoric, etc.) whose structural economy is nonetheless prerequisite to any discourse, his own included . . ." (pp. 208). In other words, Derrida always had himselfcovered logically. But what he couldn't cover forever was realization that the pointing out of this supposed instability of any discourse was bound to become repetitious and predictable—as one or two pieces here unwittingly remind us. 394Philosophy and Literature Although Norris protests about it, deconstruction is now most "interesting" in its appropriated forms, for instance as Richard Rorty uses it, to point up the metaphysical pretensions of "Philosophy"; or as BarbaraJohnson uses it, when she teaches her students to ask ofany cultural text: "What does the construction of the bottom line leave out? . . . What does it consider unimportant?" (cited p. 45); or as Spivak uses it, to read the unconscious ideological elements in The Prelude. As is clear in these examples, the most interesting question now seems to be: What is the use, the value, the political, educational, or ethical pay-off, for such a technique of reading in our cultural situation? Significandy, this new pragmatist emphasis is one that crosses the disciplinary divide proposed by this collection. We see it also in the humanist work of Freadman and Miller when they concede the disciplinary "gains" of Spivak's feminist reading but find themselves disturbed by the countervailing critical and ethical "losses" involved (p. 24). The pragmatic reckoning here involves a spirit of openness to the claims of other discourses characteristic of both the best humanist and the best postdeconstructive criticism at the moment: as the one becomes more self-reflexive and philosophical, the other is drawn to questions of human and literary value. Perhaps these are the most telling signs of a new movement towards "convergence." Australian National UniversityDavid Parker Philosophical Hermeneutics and Literary Theory, by Joel Weinsheimer; 173 pp. New Haven: Yale...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 393-394
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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