Sunday, July 24, 2011

De Man, Jameson, and Derrida

Let us look at Paul de Man, who Jameson will engage in Postmodernism as well as a bit in his discussion of Irony in Archaeologies of the Future (although I feel like I never understand Jameson’s point—except perhaps in Archaeologies). De Man takes a kind of “tragic” view of the relationship between what we will call ‘fiction’ and the ‘world.’ Jameson, in one of the more lucid passages from Postmodernism, critiques De Man’s use of these rather antiquated categories in such an age of post-modern discourse. James writes, “If narrative theory today has accomplished anything substantial, it is to have powerfully displaced the old category of the ‘fictive’. For the moment, however, it is enough to signal the operative presence in DeMan’s texts of older categories like ‘fiction’ or ‘irony’ which the Derridan text does not seem particularly to respect or acknowledge” (226). Jameson doesn’t really offer any justification for this, but just claims that it is so. In my opinion, at least De Man is charitable enough to offer such distinctions and evaluations rather than to move through texts without any attempt at argument (which is, I believe, the kind of thing Jameson constantly engages in and the very thing that frustrates the living hell out of me).

What’s interesting to me is the contrast between Derrida and De Man comes up as a sort of ‘implied’ reading of Derrida that Jameson does not really develop much. Perhaps he develops it more in Postmodernism, but I honestly just stopped reading. De Man himself has already admitted in an interview that he does not pretend to come at problems in such a “philosophical manner” as Derrida. It’s a relief to read De Man’s humble words:

The difference is that Derrida’s text is so brilliant, so incisive, so strong that whatever happens in Derrida, it happens between him and his own text. He doesn’t need Rousseau, he doesn’t need anybody else; I do need them very badly because I never had an idea of my own, it was always through a text, through the critical examination of a text. . . I am a philologist and not a philosopher” (“An Interview” 118).

And so, I believe, Jameson creates these false problems and false distinctions. Although, to his credit, part of Jameson’s purpose seems to refute the position that De Man and Derrida are similiarly engaging in deconstruction. I do admit that when Jameson was writing Postmodernism, such assumption in American Criticism were rampant. So to say it is a “false problem” is a bit presumptuous of me, as Jameson wrote Postmodernism when I was 3.

 It is important that we recognize that De Man was a contemporary of Jameson at Yale.  As Lindsay Water writes, De Man created “a situation that allowed for the training under the cooperative tutelage of de Man, Hartman, Bloom, Miller, Derrida, Jameson, and Felman of a number of doctoral students” (liii).  But De Man doesn’t seem to want to engage in philosophical problems. Jameson (I suppose) rightly criticizes him for verbal techniques in his text that try and restore a sense of immanence of reading bypassing the intrusion of history, but one can easily point to Jameson’s own rhetoric as trying to side-step actually making an argument or an evaluation. Jameson has a tendency to use eulogistic (to use Burke’s appropriation of Bentham’s terminology) terminology to refer to other’s readings only to mark them as insufficient. There’s a kind of bad faith going on Jameson where he looks favorably upon someone’s position only to pretend to take a position transcending the works he mentions. Whereas De Man relinquishes the authoritative voice he adopts in his own writing in an interview to praise Derrida, Jameson will offer the praise, but takes a bird’s eye view without, to my mind, justifying it. Jameson asserts without arguing—his is an implicit critique of the texts he works with, or, if you prefer (to use a Jamesonian rhetorical device) an appropriation of figures and texts to serve his own agenda. I find that I am closer to De Man in the authority I give a text over me as an interpreter: I like the text to hold sway over my thoughts and over what I am able to do with it. I think Derrida’s most successful deconstructions operate in this way. 

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