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Body and Story

The Ethics and Practice of Theoretical Conflict

Richard Terdiman

Publication Year: 2005

In Body and Story, Richard Terdiman explores the tension between what might seem to be two fundamentally different ways of understanding the world: as physical reality and as representation in language. In demonstrating the complicated relationship between these two modes of being, he also presents a new bold approach to the problem of conflicts between irreconcilable but equally compelling theoretical ideas. Enlightenment rationalism is most often understood as maintaining that words can meaningfully refer to and grasp things in the material world, while Postmodernism famously argues that nothing exists outside of language. Terdiman challenges this clean distinction, finding the early seeds of Postmodern doubt in the Enlightenment, and demonstrating the stubborn resistance of material reality—particularly that of the body—to language even today. Building on readings of works by 18th-century encyclopedist Denis Diderot and contemporary philosopher-icon Jacques Derrida, Terdiman argues that despite their genuine and profound opposition, a constant negotiation or mutual interrogation has always been taking place between these two world-views, even as the balance at times shifts to one side or the other. In analyzing these shifts he proposes a new model for understanding how seemingly unabridgeable theories legitimately coexist in our intellectual conception of the world, and he suggests a new ethics for managing this coexistence.

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press


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p. v

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pp. vii-xiii

There are many theories, and they differ. Often they just pass by each other silently; they leave one another quietly alone. But not always. Body and Story tries to illuminate what happens when they clash. Like any conflict, the collision between theories can be dramatic and...

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Introduction. Difference in Theory

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pp. 1-15

The world doesn’t wait for theories in order to happen. That’s why theory is a problem. The Owl of Minerva—Hegel’s evocative icon for thinking’s endeavor to comprehend the world—is flying as fast as it can.1 But the philosophical bird is always belated and behind. This is because thought regards and reacts to an...

PART I: The Consequentiality of Bodies

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1 The Nun Who Never Was

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pp. 19-38

Fictions and bodies. A simple conjunction appears without effort to link these two terms. But their relation has seemed uncommonly difficult to Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment imagination. Dual ontologies resonate here, the mutually determining and simultaneously incommensurable modes in which language and materiality exist...

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2 On the Matter of Bodies

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pp. 39-68

Language is compliant; things are resistant. The distinction is fundamental to Diderot’s reflection on the status of Suzanne Simonin’s mode of existence in La religieuse. Language can project entities with such facility, words are so labile, that they produce effects in a mode and at a velocity that can leave us...

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3 The Body and the Text

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pp. 69-83

What do fictions do? Is a text its own world? How does it connect with the realm of material consequences and practical activity in which we live outside of novels? In chapter 2 I argued that Diderot’s novels could be viewed as an instrument through which he was reconnoitering these puzzles. This chapter brings...

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4 Materiality, Language, and Money

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pp. 84-109

Language’s seeming exemption from material constraints would not be so unsettling if we didn’t have our bodies to be concerned about. Without them we could blithely give ourselves over to play with the immateriality of texts. But, whatever may be our romance with such a liberation from corporeality in the...

PART II: The Conflict of Theories

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5 The Enlightenment Discovers Postmodernism

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pp. 113-129

Our story so far: in the Enlightenment stories were changing. They played with shucking off bodies, but the game ended in a labyrinth. The truth-status of narrative, the pragmatics of language, the density and the self-evidence of materiality, all began to seem more and more problematic. These fundamental...

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6 The Epistemology of Difference

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pp. 130-166

Our questions are about us. Why else would we ask them, and how else could we make sense of the answers? The reason to go back to the distant period of the Lumi

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7 Materiality, Resistance, and Time

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pp. 167-193

Reality happens without waiting for our theories—that was how I began this book. Thought always runs behind. But some theoretical paradigm—Poststructuralist models among them—can’t well capture this hysteresis. For them the ‘‘world’’ can’t ‘‘run behind’’ understanding because the world is no different...

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In-Conclusion. An Ethics of Theory

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pp. 195-237

So Diderot and Derrida disagree about the relationship between language and the ‘‘real world.’’ Then it would appear important to ask which of their models— the Enlightenment-dialectical or the Postmodernist-deconstructionist—is right. Could they both be right? But this would seem problematic, since the two...

Works Cited

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pp. 239-253


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pp. 255-265

E-ISBN-13: 9780801891694
E-ISBN-10: 0801891698
Print-ISBN-13: 9780801885433
Print-ISBN-10: 0801885434

Page Count: 288
Publication Year: 2005

OCLC Number: 794701421
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Body and Story

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