Sunday, March 29, 2009
What Happens When Your Name Becomes an Adjective?
Is there a price to be paid for being so incredibly bright that you become really famous and people start using your last name as an adjective, as in Freudian, Derridean or Foucauldian? Does a certain notion of what your writing practice is, in functioning as a descriptive, modify and limit the reception of your works to what readers expect to find? Foucault said the more famous he became the less widely he was read. Derrida frequently said of his critics that they hadn't read him. One can read Freud with Freud or Freud against Freud, but can one read for unFreudian moments in Freud? Cane one read / not read the writer / not writer? I have found moments in Derrida's works that strike me as being very unDerridean, either because they contradict his practice or turn it into a patois (this usually happens in interviews). For example, he regular questions a Heideggerian distinction between the human and technological, between physis and techne. But when questioned about his paradoxical critical practice bears on his political commitments, he responds: "If every project were a reassuring project, the logical or theoretical consequence of a knowledge that was guaranteed--euphoric, without paradox, without aporias, without contradiction, with no undecidability to be resolved--it would be a machine functioning without us, without responsibility, without decision, ultimately without ethics, law, or politics. There is no decision or responsibility without the trial of aporia and undecidability." Bad reading is mechanical, good reading is not. Are moments like these to be dismissed? Or may they be used to produce productively resistant (un)readings? In the case I cited above, there seems to be a potential danger in characterizing one's reading practice in stark binary terms, the danger of being unnecessarily dogmatic, of limiting resistance to one's work by charaterizing it in entirely negative terms; that is, the oppositions Derrida draws self-deconstruct: what Derrida describes as not being a machine could easily be described as a machine or program without resistance. Hence, you find your aporias, paradoxes, contradictions, and so on. Are unreading and nonreading the same thing? Is unreadability a quality one wants one's writings to have?