Sunday, August 23, 2009

Aimless Reading: The D's, Part 21.1 (Jacques Derrida)


of Grammatology
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Derrida, Jacques
of Grammatology


It appears I purchased this at Rust Belt Books for ten dollars. I am not sure if I have actually read it. I feel like I have read of Grammatology before. I feel like I know its contents by heart. But have I actually read the book?

The first time I didn't read of Grammatology, I had just finished my undergraduate study. My friend, J., who was in graduate school, and called himself a marxist-feminist (he's now a libertarian), told me all about Derrida. I would walk from my end of E. 4th St. in the East Village over to his end of West 4th St. in the West Village, and we would sit in his apartment talking about poetry and philosophy and so forth and sometimes we'd go wandering around the then-mostly-empty reaches of lower Manhattan now known as Tribeca, Battery Park City, etc. The area was still in transition then and I am pretty sure did not have a name.

J. would tell me all about Derrida and Althusser and Kristeva Benjamin and so forth and I would ask a lot of questions. J. liked to discourse at length on various subjects and he was very good at pointing out interesting things along the way: signs on street posts, piles of garbage, an alley full of wooden window shutters flung open, a statue that leaned in one direction and upon which he would attempt to describe the theory of motion the sculptor had in mind as he leaned it in that direction. He was great fun to talk to and full of life and occasionally he'd lend me a book. But I don't think I ever read of Grammatology.

The second time I didn't read of Grammatology was in the year or two prior to graduate school, when I thought I might like to go to graduate school but felt that I hadn't quite read enough theory to participate in the conversations taking place. I read an introduction to poststructuralism and an introduction to postmodernism and an introduction to deconstruction and an introduction to Foucault and an introduction to semiotics and a few other introductions along the way until I felt like I could at least sound like I had read of Grammatology.

The third time I did not read of Grammatology was when I was in graduate school. Some form of deconstructive practice grounded pretty much every reading made by every professor. I particularly liked the methods of Rodolphe Gasché, himself an important thinker on Derrida, who would routinely spend six weeks on fifty pages of Hegel or Derrida or Patocka or whoever we happened to be reading. It was "close reading" taken to its logical extreme: literally reading the text aloud, sentence by sentence, sometimes word by word, occasionally looking up from the text to make a modest comment upon it, then back to reading. It was a way of looking at the work that revealed both what it said and how it worked.

But I never read of Grammatology.

I am now no longer in school, and haven't much time to concentrate on reading books like of Grammatology, which require hours of quiet, undisturbed contemplation to enjoy. But something about it lingers, that feeling of having read it, perhaps several times, a million times even, like I am always reading it, almost breathing it every minute of every day.

from of Grammatology

Perhaps patient mediation and painstaking investigation on and around what is still provisionally called writing, far from falling short of a science of writing or of hastily dismissing it by some obscurantist reaction, letting it rather develop its positivity as far as possible, as the wanderings of a way of thinking that is faithful and attentive to the ineluctable world of the future which proclaims itself at present, beyond the closure of knowledge. The future can only be anticipated in the form of an absolute danger. It is that which breaks absolutely with constituted normality and can only be proclaimed, presented, as a sort of monstrosity. For that future world and for that within it which will have put into question the values of sign, word, and writing, for that which guides our future anterior, there is as yet no exergue.

2 comments:

tyrone said...

As an unreconstructed deconstructionist I love Of Grammatology though the other books of this period have probably had more direct influence on critical thinking...

Michael Kelleher, Buffalo, NY said...

T -- I am going to spend the entire day trying to wrap my head around the phrase "unreconstructed deconstructionist."