Wednesday, February 8, 2012

(1) Not a Book

“This (therefore) will not have been a book.”*

Some of the most enigmatic sentiments that we can find in a book (let alone its introductory sentence): (1) for it to proclaim its otherness to itself; (2) for the book to begin with a conclusion; (3) for it to begin by referencing itself. But then again, there is a sort of perfection here, in this line, if not every line, for this essay is a meditation on prefacing, and the preface.

This sentence, like the preface itself, is exemplary of how a reader interacts with a preface. The preface frames the book. It is usually written by author after the book has been completed, and is read by the reader before he reads the book.

It, in a sense, begins by representing the book. It prefigures several aspects of what you-the-reader are going to see. In this statement is the compressed essence of the rest of the essay.

In order to make this argument, a thinker would have to construct a definition of the book which was something other than what Derrida is claiming his own work as. I have a copy right next to me. It's shaped like a book. If I referred to it as a book, people would certainly know what I was talking about. Even if there was great distance between me and the book. So what's the issue here? Why is Derrida self-excluding his own work from book-hood?

Well, what have we so far is:

1. Self-reference
2. Conclusion at the end
3. Negation
4. Self-exclusion

And that is just the first sentence! Derrida goes on to deny that this (now ambiguous) thing on my desk is a collection of three essays (despite appearances). No, Derrida prefers the term assemblage and thrusts upon us another nerve wracking instance of self-reference: that this is a meditation (my term) on presentation, or perhaps more to the point, presenting.

So the quality we are dealing with here is verbal in nature, and we should be paying special attention to the treatment of nouns in Derrida's essay; particularly the nominalization of verbs or action words.


*Barbara Johnson translation

Monday, February 6, 2012

The Wager

As an undergraduate student at UB, I took a critical theory class that focused on Derrida. From that point onward I was enthralled by the man's work, slightly peevish at the scope and brilliance of its achievement. I've gone back to the text on numerous occasions and back again to figure out what sort of logic was at work here. Was it really a game, and if so, what were the stakes? Could I win this game if in fact I was playing by its maker's rules? Did it matter if I did or not?

What my professor called a language of secrecy, I saw as a poetics of deception. A game which hides its own rules, a game, perhaps, in which meta-gaming was the only possible avenue to win. Perhaps part of the game is convincing you that there is a game to be played. It would be an anomoly for sure seeing how the logical opposite of this supposition is far more rampant in our culture. But is it truly honesty to say that Derrida's work is a game and play? Especially when it comes from the mouth of the man himself.

So, what I wanted to do is perform an intolerably close reading on Dissemination for as long as I can possibly stand.

But here's the hook. I'm going to be playing my own game. My game is master Derrida's game (to my own satisfaction but-) using Derrida's definition of mastery (which is dubious and impossible). I must master ALL the threads in the quilt, to win the game.

This ensures that even if I lose I will be lauded for my gumption and gravitas and each snagging of a thread will be lauded as a battle won for me, and if I win... well I won. Also, the journey will be worth it, because despite the fact I may seem an impossible underdog in this battle. To be honest I think I've already mastered this game and such arrogance should not go untested. Do I have a right to make a claim of mastery of Derrida's game?

This I don't know. I think I know, and at some point, am surely to be proven wrong. But one loss does not ensure I lose this game. For even if I pull out a majority of the threads, and can synthesize them into a conceptual network, I will (as I -think- I will show) have delineated the rules of the game, which in essence is to master the game (but is it to win?)

I will begin playing within the next couple of days, starting with the first essay in Dissemination, “Outwork”.