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204Philosophy and Literature largely escapes the critiques of deconstructionism. ThL· Sartre is not "logocentric "; he is "subversive of logic." AU weU and good. But the author seems blissfully unaware of the dUemma she has created. The Sartre who was famous, who had something pointed, important, and intelligible to say to people struggling with their lives—that Sartre was (we are told) a kind of poseur—a propagandist with no ultimate insight into the human condition. The other Sartre—the real one, standing in the wings—was an unbelievably prolix transcriber of convoluted investigations leading nowhere. The process ofreflecting on our reading ofSartre, the author teUs us, "can never end" (p. 202). But now we have to wonder, given such a choice, why we should begin. University of North TexasPete A. Y. Gunter Derrida, by Christopher Norris; 271 pp. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1987, $25.00 cloth, $8.95 paper. This is one of the last tides commissioned for the Modern Masters series, and it shares with the best of its predecessors the virtues of a good epitome: accuracy and concision. By proceeding topically rather than within a biographical or chronological framework (which would be suspect for other reasons in Derrida's case), Norris manages to discuss a really surprising number of Derrida 's writings through about 1984, in a way which is usuaUy comprehensible and seldom superficial. Norris does include a chronology, but he records the public events and contexts of Derrida's career rather than a personal itinerary; in addition Derrida features an exemplary bibliography. The initial wave of Anglo-American response to Derrida was produced by Uterary critics, with the result, notoriously, that the phüosophical aspect of his project was misunderstood or neglected. There has followed a further wave of explicidy phüosophical studies of deconstruction (by Henry Staten, Irene Harvey, and Rodolphe Gasché, among others), on the very lip of which Norris rode in TL· Deconstructive Turn (1983) and TL· Contest of Faculties (1985). In Derrida his praiseworthy aim is to view his subject whole, or anyway as someone whose writing concerns a single thing, Uterature/phUosophy. Three large flaws, though, render this book dispensable for those who, beyond being informed about Derrida's work, want to think about it. First, Norris is wholly uncritical of Derrida, and in this respect faüs the standard set by the best Modern Masters volumes. His is one more tide now added to the Ust of pubhcations—many too many of them—by people who seem to have expended aU their inteUigencejust in reading Derrida, as ifnothing Reviews205 were left to do afterwards but defend the oracle against blasphemers. Yet much of the power of Derrida's thought is a function of some extremely narrow and arbitrary assumptions which he makes about phUosophy and literature. By default of the true believers, opportunities for shrewd comment have been left to an even unworthier group, the rabid antideconstructors. Derrida is a great phüosopher whose views are mosdy wrong: Norris leaves us still awaiting the person who wiU argue this (not uncommon) case. A second problem with Norris's new book carries over from his previous ones, which is relendess waffling as to the critical reach of deconstruction. Sometimes Derrida is presented as having pretty much already succeeded in unraveling the fabric of Western thought, while at other times Norris shifts, jarringly, to a rhetoric of modesty, in which Derrida is described as someone who is only raising questions, casting doubts, and initiating readings. Anthony Appiah's review of TL· Deconstructive Turn remains the best diagnosis of what aus Norris in the matter of deconstruction (Diacritics, Spring 1986). The third shortcoming ofDerrida has to do with Norris's extraordinary claim that he hopes especiaUy to address analytic phUosophers in it. Here he faüs completely, partly I think because he does not know much about analytic phUosophy, as witness his amateurish discussions of Frege, Wittgenstein, Quine, Davidson, etc., in earlier writings. At any rate Norris seems to think that if he insists often enough that Derrida is not just playing "literary" games, analytic phUosophers wül eventuaUy be won over. A real confrontation between deconstructive and analytic thought would be significant...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 204-205
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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