The Terrible Terribleness That Exists Within A Terrible Criticism

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From "Structure, Sign, and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences" by Jaques Derrida in Keesey's Contexts for Criticism:

Quote 1: "Thus it has always been thought that the center, which is by definition unique, constituted that very thing within a structure which governs the structure, while escaping structurally" (354).

Quote 2: "The center is at the center of the totality, and yet, since the center does not belong to the totality (is not part of the totality), the totality has its center elsewhere" (354).

Ladies and gentleman, this is why we proof read our papers.  I am not implying that Derrida did not proof read this, however, any idiot could see the lack of variance in this man's vocabulary by these two quotes (that happen to appear two sentences apart).  How is a person supposed to to take him seriously when he writes sentences like this, especially in the beginning of his paper?  Honestly, I could not get over this fact while I was reading the entire article.  Almost nothing he said sunk in or made sense.  I would expect this kind of writing from a middle to early high school student, not a published critic.  I was disgusted to see the repetition he used because I think that he thought his work was clever.  These sentences have a similar effect as the definition of a word in the dictionary which uses itself to define it.  When a person looks this word up, they know nothing more than when they started.  I expect better out of an essay that is supposed to educate me.  I think that I could teach this man a thing or two.

Am I too harsh?  Do you agree with me?  What were you able to get out of this?

Click here to see what others had to say. 


Greta Carroll said:

Angela, I can see what you’re saying and I think many others (including myself) had trouble understanding Derrida’s article. However, I think you are being a little too harsh. He did repeat a lot of the same words over and over again, but maybe this is because he really wishes to stress these certain words and concepts by repeating them. By using them over and over again, he ensures that the reader does not miss them.

Furthermore, this constant repetition as Kent in an article we read earlier in this semester observed about “Ode on a Grecian Urn” serves to draw attention to these words and makes it seem almost like by repeating, one is trying to convince oneself of their meaning. If poststructuralists believe in the ambiguity of language and that language should mean what it does, while still drawing attention to its uncertainty (as Eagleton says they do), then isn’t Derrida simply being a poststructuralist? He’s stressing the meaning of these repeated words at the same time as he undermines them. He is giving us an example of poststructuralism in his essay as he seeks to explain it to us.

I agree with you, Greta. Derrida is trying to practice what he preaches. Furthermore, although the repetition of specific words and phrases can be somewhat confusing, I think the text might be even more confusing if he did not repeatedly use the same words over and over again. If he included an abundance of synonyms, his main points might be overlooked as the reader might not realize that synonym a = synonym b. By obstinately repeating the same words and phrases, Derrida does not allow the reader passively accept his theory. Instead, Derrida seems to be poking his readers repeatedly in the gut with these phrases, forcing them to confront the possible meanings of these terms and to deconstruct them, in a sense, to gain a fuller understanding of his text.

P.S. I just found a quote that supports what Greta & I have argued. Derrida says that the "disruption" or "rupture" results from "repetition in all senses of this word" (354). So, by repeating things in his essay, he is mimicking, even embracing, this disruption so that the reader has no choice but to realize its existence.

Angela Palumbo said:

My question for you two is a mere question about the imporance of using post-structuralism as opposed to say psychoanalysis. I'm not quite understanding why a person would create an argument to just tear it down. Why would anyone write a work just so that the power structures that he/she worked so hard to set up and the language that he/she worked so hard to establish could be torn down?

Greta Carroll said:

Ellen makes a great point. If Derrida had used different words it probably would have confused us even more. If he would have used different words, we would have wondered what he was talking about.

As for Angela’s question, first I don’t think that the author necessarily writes his/her work with the intention that a poststructuralist comes along and deconstructs it. But as for why anyone would want to deconstruct anything, the deconstructionist is not trying to devalue or undermine a text by pointing out the ambivalence of the work. He/she is instead trying to value the work all the more by recognizing the complexity inherent in the text.

To borrow Erica’s example from her blog about Snow White, she commented, “For instance, the relationship between Snow White and her step mother is one of a kind, young, innocent girl and an cruel, jealous, older, woman. Structuralists could further break this down into good versus evil. However, I think that the Poststructuralists would go further to examine all of the meaning of good and evil and how these apply to the structures of this comparison.” So as you can see, the poststructuralist doesn’t just say the author made the work too ambiguous, they address the multi-faceted and different things something could mean. Yes, Snow White is supposed to be good and yes, the wicked step-mother represents evil, but what is good, what is evil? Who decides what is good and evil? Do the two blend together sometimes, does the end justify the means? I think these are the sort of things a poststructuralist looks at.

To read the rest of Erica’s blog, click here:

Great explanation, Greta. As a side note to my last comment about Derrida's repetition, I should add that while he may repeat specific words in the essay we read, in another essay, he most likely would use different words to refer to similar concepts. Thus, he is further deconstructing his own argument. By switching terminology between essays, he does not allow his reader to assume the meaning of his words, but, rather, forces his reader to confront his terminology with an awareness of the mutability of language as they try to understand each individual term's connotation. In a sense he was trying to avoid creating the archetypal terms he so successfully deconstructs in other texts.

Angela Palumbo said:

That explanation helps some Greta. Thanks. I think that all I need is to listen to your presentation, Ellen, and Dr. Jerz's comments on post-structuralism and I'll be fine. I think that I may be on the verge of an "Aha moment." Great conversation you two! I really appreciate your help!

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