Thursday, May 30, 2002

I've got to the section on deconstruction in the Heart of Darkness book, and I found this passage, wherein Jonathan Culler describes a deconstructionist position on Chomsky:

. . . Derrida and his post-structuralist followers reject the very notion of linguistic competence introduced by Noam Chomsky, a structural linguist. The idea that there is a competent reading, Culler explains, "gives a priveleged status to a particular set of rules of reading, . . . granting pre-eminence to certain conventions and excluding from the realm of language all the truly creative and productive violations of those rules." (204)

I found this interesting in regard to the common assertion that deconstruction opposes logocentrism on the grounds that logocentrism is a manifestation of Western imperialism. Certainly Chomsky himself couldn't be accused of being an imperialist running dog.

While doing some mild research about this question, I came upon an interesting article by Richard Harter about Chomsky and deconstruction. The author gives a lucid synopsis of Chomsky's main thesis, then gives a somewhat tongue-in-cheek assessment of the aim of deconstruction, which he finds roughly to be that "a lot of categories and thinking about categories [are] only loosely connected with objective reality and [have] a lot to do with social structure and other dubious sources." He then says his essential point is that "Chomsky and the deconstructionists are concerned with different issues. Chomsky is concerned with an empirical question, Derrida with a philosophic one."

I'm not sure if I buy Harter's final point, that they are interested in different things. Certainly Culler implies that deconstruction takes issue with privileging one form of reading, and calling a kind of reading "competent" certainly sets it up as a target for deconstruction. I have a copy of Culler's Structuralist Poetics (from whence the above quote about Chomsky); I ought to crack it open and read more about his take on the matter.

I have two thoughts on the matter:

  • The extent to which deconstruction can be applied to practically anything is both interesting and somewhat frustrating. It also seems to be a hallmark of many varieties of theories (eg, feminism, marxism, psychoanalytic theory).

  • Linking logocentrism to "right-wing reactionary phallocentric eurocentric dead white male science worshipping" (Harter's description) always strikes me as somewhat ad hominem. I can't see Chomsky fitting into that particular button-hole, at least, though I suppose a deconstructionist could argue that that's part of the insidious nature of unconscious bias.

In my travels I also found a glossary of literary terms.

I was surprised to learn that AKMA is a relatively recent entry in the blogging circle, and I've been trudging dutifully through his archives; at this point I'm at late February, in amongst the thread on authenticity. It's good stuff, I like him and his circle. To be honest, though, I can't really stand the business rhetoric of RageBoy and his pals. I'm old-school, too--I was on the EGR mailing list back in '94 or so, and it still seemed self-aggrandizing back then. On the other hand, I haven't really given it a look since I unsubscribed before the rise and fall of the information economy, and his "Cluetrain" cohorts have been having intelligent conversations with AKMA, apparently.

AMKA's comment about difficult language (see the first response at the above link) would have been pretty relevant to the K5 discussion on postmodern blah blah blah that I was reading yesterday. Rusty made some similar points, likening pomo theorists to technical specialists, but overall the discussion seemed to get bogged down in Sokal-style misunderstanding. I was interested to learn that Rusty is well-informed about pomo and literary theory, though, and I was impressed by his classic deconstructionist reversal skills.

I've been reading Heart of Darkness: A Case Study in Contemporary Criticism (St. Martin's Press, 1989). It is very refreshingly rooted in the actual text of Heart of Darkness, in contrast to much of the theory that I've read which seems to exist in a rarified vacuum. The book seems ideally suited for a criticism class; it consists of Conrad's text followed by critical essays from five schools of criticism (feminist, psychoanalytic, deconstructionist, reader-response, and "new historical"). At this point I'm in the midst of the reader-response section, and it's raised issues that seem very relevant to textual meaning (and, by extension, blogs).

(Oops, forgot to post this earlier. There was more to say but I'll let it stand as is.)