DERRIDA, JACQUES (1930 – 2004)
Algerian born French philosopher whose work has been extremely influential within literature and philosophy departments in Europe and America, giving rise to a philosophy and method of reading known as deconstruction. LITERARY CRITICISM & CRITICAL THEORY
Derrida was an enormously prolific writer, and first came to attention with a spate of publications in 1967 (Speech and Phenomena; Of Grammatology: Writing and Difference) and again in 1972 (Positions Dissemination; Margins of Philosophy). These early works established his fundamental concern with language, text and meaning, and displayed his distinctively playful literary style which continually draws attention to the rhetorical, figurative and metaphorical potential of language and the ever-present possibility of misapprehension and miscommunication Derrida’s self-consciously ‘different style as earned him praise and condemnation in equal measure: his work is often seen as blurring the boundaries between philosophical and literary discourse. His most vociferous critics have been analytic philosophers seeking to maintain the alleged purity of their discipline and its modes of expression. He is known for deriving the concept of “arche-writing”
Deconstruction is primarily directed against what Derrida has called the ‘metaphysics of presence’ or logo centrism; by this he means the dominant tradition of Western philosophy and the logic upon which it is founded – a logic which he consequently attempts to reveal as dependent upon certain founding metaphors, rhetorical gestures and self- fulfilling assumptions. His own emphasis is upon difference rather than identity, absence rather than presence, although he concedes that he is still working within the system of philosophy which he criticizes.
Much of Derrida’s work involves close reading of text by thinkers as diverse as Plato, Heidegger, Husserl, Nietzche, Austin, Marx, Rousseau, Saussure and Freud. In such reading he often picks out an apparently marginal comment or motif and makes it central to his account, showing a text’s internal tensions and contradiction, the moments when it undermines its own central messages. It is not that he deconstructed text; rather they deconstruct themselves, hence his claims that deconstruction defines definition and is not, strictly speaking, a ‘method’ at all.
While Structuralist criticism generally looks to identify and reinforce the binary oppositions underpinning a text, Derrida, as a poststructuralist, sets out to deconstruct binaries such as presence/absence, sensible/ intelligible, ideal/ real and speech/ writing. He reveals the dependence of one term upon the other (their fundamental inextricability) and also the hierarchical and asymmetrical nature of the binary (the fact that one term will be privileged, the other seen as derivative or secondary, as with white/black, man/woman). Poststructuralist feminist critic such as Helene Cixous and Judith Butler reveal Derrida’s influence in their interrogation of such binaries.
His recent work has been demonstrably political and ethical in its concerns, ranging from an examination of Marxist philosophy in Soecters of Marx (1993) to more personal works of Jewish theology, death, mourning, forgiveness and friendship; the former is perhaps in response to critics of deconstruction who have regarded it as worryingly apolitical in its refusal to privilege any form of knowledge and its tendency to treat all truth and knowledge claims as more or less textual construction. The latter more ethically minded works put him in dialogue with philosophical contemporaries such as De Man and Levinas.
BAKHTIN, MIKHAIL MIKHAYLOVICH (1895-1975)
Russian literary historian, critic and philosopher best known for his theories about language and the novel. Bakhtin’s output was remarkably dive-se, but critics have noticed his sustained interest in ‘dialogism’, the way in which meaning and artistic form always emerge in the social world, as part of a dialogue.
Bakhtin’s discussions of language stress that all utterances are socially situated. In his influential essay ‘Discourse in the Novel’ (in The-Discourse Imagination, 1981), he describes language as a rich dialogue of voice, each permeated with its own ideology and culture. In this dynamic account, the unity of national languages such as Russian is intersected by a multiplicity of other languages, such as dialects, jargon and generational differences. Bakhtin calls this diversity heteroglossia’, a term which signals the social conflict over values built into all speech. According to Bakhtin, the novel exploits this linguistics dynamism, replicating the social tensions between the elite and the popular within the apparent unity of a national language.
Interest in dialogism also shapes Bakhtin’s literary criticism. Problems of Dostoevsky’s Art (1929) praises Dostoevsky for inventing the ‘polyphonic novel’. Bakhtin uses this term not simply to indicate multiple voices in the novel, but also to characterize the relationship between the characters and the narrator. According to Bakhtin, what is distinctive about Dostoevsky’s fiction is that the characters are given voices in their own right and granted as much authority as the narrator. A further version of this dialogism is Bakhtin’s attention to popular rather than learned sources through his ideas on carnival/carnivalesque. Bakhtin’s theories are important because they offer a way of discussing the novel in social terms, as a space where differing views of the world collide and conflict. This emphasis on multiple voices has been picked up by theorist eagar to recover marginalized voice. Henry Louis Gates Jr. for instance, adopts a Bakhtinian approach to theorize a distinctive African- American vernacular tradition in The Signifying Monkey (1987).
BARTHES, ROLAND (1915-80)
Barthes studies French literature and classics at University in Paris, and after working as a schoolteacher and as a lecture in universities in Romania and Egypt, he returned to Paris to work at the Center National de Recherche Scientifique, and became chair of Literary Semiology at the College de France.
Mythologies, published in French in 1957, launched Bakhtins’ career as one of the most important cultural critics of the twentieth century. It is also one of the fundamental text of modern cultural studies. A series of short essays about such diverse topics as amateur wrestling, steak and chips, and literature and criticism, the book applies a Saussurean account of language and the linguistic sign to a series of reading of the objects that constituted French culture. The essays are incisive and witty explorations of cultural meaning that Barthes calls ‘myths’.
Throughout the 1960s Barthes continued to develop the new discipline of semiology. One of Barthes’ boldest theoretical arguments came in his famous 1968 essays ‘The Death of the Author’ in which he states that the literary critical institution has controlled the meanings of text by insisting on identifying the author as their primary explanation and guarantee.
Literary Theory Vs. Literary Criticism
Classical Literary Theory
Literary Theory from Renaissance to Victorian Age
Neo Classical Literary Theory
Bakhtin, Mikhail Mikhaylovich (1895-1975)
Barthes, Roland (1915-80)
Beauvoir, Simone De (1908-86)
Bloom, Harold (1930-)
Derrida, Jacques (1930-2004)
Fish, Stanley (1938-)
Foucault, Michel (1926-84)
Freud Sigmund (1856-1939)
Frye Herman Northrop (1912-91)
Kristeva, Julia (1941)
Lacan Jacques (1901-81)
Langue and parole
Leavis, Frank Raymond (1895-1978)
Marx, Karl (1818-83)
Said Edward William (1935-2003)
Saussure, Ferdinand De (1857-1913)
LITERARY CRITICISM & CRITICAL THEORY
RHETORIC & PROSODY