Saturday, November 6, 2010

One more theory post

A colleague wrote me and asked what I thought of Guy Debord's semiotics, and I had to admit that I had never really read Debord, that the closest I came to him was reading Baudrillard. Debord is too Sixties-radical for me; he acted as if the dilemmas of semiosis could be solved through inversion or parody. What I value about Derrida and Foucault and Baudrillard is their sense of both celebrating instability and acknowledging limits; there is both euphoria and bitterness in their tone. It is not all-just deformation and--though I may be unfair to Debord here, as I said I have not really read him--this has always struck me as the agenda of his work.

I heard an interesting talk last week, where the speaker argued that our existing view of a certain text was limited because it had been anchored in what was essentially, though not locally, a New Critical reading which emphasized a binary approach to the work, when the interpretive possibilities it offered were much more variegated. Why this lasted, inferentially, was because it was good for the undergraduate classroom, it protected students form naive readings. But a reading that is there to protect from naive readings, if it becomes anchored and permanent, acquires the very naïveté it sought to dispel. This is why I go as high as two cheers for deconstruction, because if not for deconstruction who knows that these simplistic readings would not have endured forever. What is valuable in the undergraduate classroom in 1959 is not necessarily valuable in the graduate classroom over five decades later on, or in the very different undergraduate classroom of today for that matter. It is not just times change and people need to change with them but texts need to be read more thoroughly, more adequately. And deconstruction offered this, without, again, falling into simple deformation or parody--though many thought it did.

I would argue the age of deconstruction has most likely neared its end, and we need to think in new ways, but this thought made a very important contribution to the history thinking about literature, for, among others, the reasons outlined above.

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