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i n t r o d u c t i o n Experimenting Simon Morgan Wortham and Gary Hall For several decades, the work of Samuel Weber has influenced writers and thinkers across a range of subjects and disciplines in the arts and humanities —including literary, critical and cultural theory, cultural, media and communication studies, new media and technology, psychoanalysis, and continental philosophy. Within such fields, Weber’s ‘‘remarkable’’ and ‘‘inaugural’’ texts have been especially important to the deconstructive tradition , as Jacques Derrida once confirmed.1 That Weber has proved so influential to so many for so long—longer than almost any other figure of comparable stature currently at work within this tradition—owes partly to the singular position he holds in relation to the domains of literary theory and Continental philosophy. Paul de Man wrote of Weber that he was ‘‘probably the only person in his generation’’ who was ‘‘equally at home with and directly informed about contemporary literary theory and its antecedents in Germany, France and the US.’’2 Taught by Adorno, Szondi, and de Man, Weber played an important role in the process of translation and publication that saw deconstruction come to prominence in the United States—he translated Derrida’s ‘‘Signature Event Context’’ (1977) and Limited Inc. (1988), for instance—while moving deftly between French, German, and Anglo-American literary and philosophical traditions and languages in order to pursue a practice of reading in which the PAGE 1 1 ................. 16645$ INTR 10-10-07 15:00:36 PS 2 Introduction very question of translation frequently takes center stage. But the continuing interest and significance of Weber’s work is no doubt also due in large part to his ability to reactivate and transform the legacy of literary and philosophical enquiry bequeathed to us by figures such as Kant, Nietzsche, Benjamin, Heidegger, de Man, and Derrida, not least by exposing the deconstructive tradition to contemporary questions in the arenas of media, technology, politics, and culture. In fact, it is hard to think of anyone who, by articulating a ‘‘deconstructive practice’’ in this way, has been able to elucidate the dramatic and profound relevance of deconstruction to these particular fields quite so precisely. And yet, rather like Derrida, Weber always seeks to develop rather than simply follow or apply those whom he reads and studies, his penetrating analyses thus serving to transform and at times dislocate the intellectual project, program, or disposition of the text in question, whether it be that of Kant, Marx, Kierkegaard, Freud, Lacan, Heidegger, Benjamin, Tocqueville, Agamben (as in the case of the two new essays by Weber published here for the first time), or, indeed, Derrida himself. In this sense, Weber’s work is always experimental. Writing of Bachelard ’s notion of the new scientific spirit as a very specific kind of experimentation in his introduction to Institution and Interpretation (1987/2001), Weber defines ‘‘modern’’ experimentalism as a situation in which ‘‘cognitive objects are . . . to be identified not by reference to an intrinsic quality, their form, but rather by their capacity to be deformed and transformed.’’3 Thus, the deformative and transformative force of the ‘‘object’’ of ‘‘cognition ’’ arises, for Weber, not simply from the object itself, but from a curious and complicated encounter which is not reducible to the conventional structure of subject and object: an event that, for him, cannot be thought in simple terms of presence, identity, representation, or selfcontainment . What this means, as far as arriving at an understanding of Weber’s own work is concerned, is that, like the Kierkegaardian ‘‘experiment ’’ of which he has written on a number of occasions,4 it is not possible to stabilize or systematize Weber’s experimental encounters with a series of critical ‘‘objects’’ by reference to a general conceptual framework —psychoanalysis, perhaps, in the case of Return to Freud (1978) and The Legend of Freud (1982/2000), or deconstruction in that of Institution and Interpretation and Mass Mediauras (1996)—of the kind that maintains a purely static recognizability from a fixed perspective over time. Instead, very much like the Kierkegaardian experiment or, indeed, the ‘‘modern,’’ ‘‘scientific’’ spirit of experimentation, Weber’s writing is always—and already —on the move. PAGE 2 ................. 16645$ INTR 10-10-07 15:00:37 PS 3 Introduction In Weber’s own readings of a number of seminal texts ranging across several centuries (and taking in the writing of, among others, Sterne, Balzac , Baudelaire, Hoffman, Kafka, Saussure, Artaud...


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