Bite Size Theory: The Ethics of Deconstruction

“Democracy is a fragile, agnostic, doxic form of political life, where fragility is the price to be paid for the refusal of all forms of immanentism. Democracy is the politics of difficulty, opacity, and dirty hands, of the fact that the social is not a complete, transparent oeuvre, that political action is always taken on an open, undecidable terrain.”

Simon Critchley, 1992, The Ethics of Deconstruction: Derrida and Levinas, Blackwell.

Bite Size Theory: Derrida/Searle

“It is no small statement to affirm that the richness of this controversy makes ostensible not the insurmountable divergence of the continental and analytic traditions, but rather the wealth and diversity of the discussions of intentionality in the twentieth century”.

Raoul Moati, 2014, Derrida/Searle: Deconstruction and Ordinary Language, Columbia University Press.

Deconstruction specialists

This made me laugh (should I get out more?): Rachel Bowlby in LRB, ending a discussion of J. Hillis Miller’s evolving ideas about the uses of literary reading:

“Out for a walk last week with a head full of Miller’s theoretical realities, I suddenly thought that I’d just seen the word ‘deconstruction’ on the side of a parked grey van. Assuming I must have misread this (misreading does happen), I went back, curious to see what it was that I’d managed to twist. I hadn’t misread it. The van was marked ‘Deconstruction specialists’. The company’s name was Protech. Based in Bexhill. There were fax and phone numbers – a proper landline. Below, in two neat blue columns, a list of the services offered. Concrete Cutting. Concrete Bursting. Concrete Crunching. Structural Works. Temporary Support. Partial Demolition. A whole history of literary theory, if that’s the way you want to look at it”.

Compacted doctrines

One reason to have a blog, of course, silly to pretend otherwise, is shameless self-promotion. Or, to put it another, slightly more edifying way, to try to ensure that the things one has to say are made accessible and available in new ways. Like other Universities, the OU has an online repository for research publications – it’s great, it’s called ORO, Open Research Online. But they can be a bit sniffy about including publications that do not meet strict criteria of what counts as research. I have spent a lot of time over the last few years writing Dictionary and Encyclopedia entries, and these don’t get on ORO. 

It’s an interesting experience, being forced to write short, concise, didactic summaries on  topics like deconstruction, or fair trade, or foundationalism. I have mentioned before that I wrote a bunch of entries for the latest edition of The Dictionary of Human Geography. One reason this was an interesting experience is because it brings home how things you write are likely to be read in fundamentally different ways from how you might have intended. This is, of course, true of any writing, but the thing about the pieces I did for the Dictionary, I now realise, is that I wrote them as a group, just because I was working on them all at the same time, even though they were on seemingly disparate topics. But I wasn’t necessarily writing the entries for ‘adjacent’ topics. So in my head, at least, there is a riff running across these pieces that reflects something I was thinking about back then (I wrote my entries at the end of 2005, but they weren’t published ’til 2009). Of course, this is emphatically not how these entries will be read, because of the nature of the book they are published in – nobody reads one of these multi-author Dictionaries by tracking the contributions of particular authors (do they?). My entries contain strong links to related entries which I didn’t write, of course, and which might well not align exactly with the ‘line’ I thought I was trying to express on a particular issue. 

This is all a long-winded way of saying that here they are, all in a line, for anyone inclined to read them like that – these are the pre-published versions I initially submitted. There is a little entry on the Cultural Turn, then longer ones on Essentialism, Foundationalism and Deconstruction which sort of play off each other I think – the first two of these were really difficult to write, not so much because they are difficult topics, more because I realised how poorly defined they generally are in geography, serving really as terms of abuse. And these two are my favourites. Another cluster links Culture, Ideology, Media, and Rhetoric (I would really have quite liked to have been offered the Discourse and Representation entries too, just to nail home the point). Democracy and Theory are a bit more free-standing, I suppose, but still kind of overlapping with these.

I’m going to post these as downloads on the ‘Things to Read’ page too, and will add some other ‘occasional’ pieces as and when I have the time.