Deconstruction and the Postcolonial: At the Limits of Theory


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Through his intimate reading of the canonical texts of the Continental philosophical tradition phenomenology and critical theory , and postcolonial thought Chowdhury illuminates pertinent issues in Continental thought, and postcolonial theory. More Options Prices excl. Add to Cart.

Deconstruction and the postcolonial : at the limits of theory

View PDF Flyer. Contents About. Pages: i—ix. Pages: 1— A number of genealogical lines of influence are being drawn, connecting the work of the three figures most associated with the emergence of postcolonial theoryHomi Bhabha, Edward Said, and Gayatri Spivakto an earlier generation of predominantly postructuralist French theorists.


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Within this emerging narrative of intellectual influences, the importance of the thought of Jacques Derrida and the status of deconstruction have been acknowledged, but not adequately accounted for. InDeconstruction and the Postcolonial, Michael Syrotinski reconsiders the underlying conceptual tensions and theoretical stakes of what he terms a "deconstructive postcolonialism" and argues that postcolonial studies stands to gain ground in terms of its political forcefulness and philosophical rigour by turningback to, and notaway from, deconstruction.

Additional Product Features Dewey Edition. Deconstruction in Algeria Derrida 'himself' 2. Hybridity Revisited 3. Defetishizing Africa 5. Reprendre: Mudimbe's Deconstructions 6. Finally, Derrida argues that it is not enough to expose and deconstruct the way oppositions work and then stop there in a nihilistic or cynical position, "thereby preventing any means of intervening in the field effectively".

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This explains why Derrida always proposes new terms in his deconstruction, not as a free play but as a pure necessity of analysis, to better mark the intervals. Derrida called undecidables—that is, unities of simulacrum—"false" verbal properties nominal or semantic that can no longer be included within philosophical binary opposition, but which, however, inhabit philosophical oppositions—resisting and organizing it—without ever constituting a third term, without ever leaving room for a solution in the form of Hegelian dialectics e.

Derrida's theories on deconstruction were themselves influenced by the work of linguists such as Ferdinand de Saussure whose writings on semiotics also became a cornerstone of structuralist theory in the midth century and literary theorists such as Roland Barthes whose works were an investigation of the logical ends of structuralist thought.

However, Derrida resisted attempts to label his work as " post-structuralist ". Nietzsche's project began with Orpheus, the man underground. This foil to Platonic light was deliberately and self-consciously lauded in Daybreak , when Nietzsche announces, albeit retrospectively, "In this work you will discover a subterranean man at work", and then goes on to map the project of unreason: "All things that live long are gradually so saturated with reason that their origin in unreason thereby becomes improbable.

Does not almost every precise history of an origination impress our feelings as paradoxical and wantonly offensive? Does the good historian not, at bottom, constantly contradict? Nietzsche's point in Daybreak is that standing at the end of modern history, modern thinkers know too much to be deceived by the illusion of reason any more.

Deconstruction Theory

Reason, logic, philosophy and science are no longer solely sufficient as the royal roads to truth. And so Nietzsche decides to throw it in our faces, and uncover the truth of Plato, that he—unlike Orpheus—just happened to discover his true love in the light instead of in the dark. This being merely one historical event amongst many, Nietzsche proposes that we revisualize the history of the West as the history of a series of political moves, that is, a manifestation of the will to power, that at bottom have no greater or lesser claim to truth in any noumenal absolute sense.

By calling our attention to the fact that he has assumed the role of Orpheus, the man underground, in dialectical opposition to Plato, Nietzsche hopes to sensitize us to the political and cultural context, and the political influences that impact authorship. For example, the political influences that led one author to choose philosophy over poetry or at least portray himself as having made such a choice , and another to make a different choice.

The problem with Nietzsche, as Derrida sees it, is that he did not go far enough. That he missed the fact that this will to power is itself but a manifestation of the operation of writing. Therefore Derrida wishes to help us step beyond Nietzsche's penultimate revaluation of all western values, to the ultimate, which is the final appreciation of "the role of writing in the production of knowledge". Derrida approaches all texts as constructed around elemental oppositions which all discourse has to articulate if it intends to make any sense whatsoever.

This is so because identity is viewed in non-essentialist terms as a construct, and because constructs only produce meaning through the interplay of difference inside a "system of distinct signs". This approach to text is influenced by the semiology of Ferdinand de Saussure. Saussure is considered one of the fathers of structuralism when he explained that terms get their meaning in reciprocal determination with other terms inside language:.


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  8. In language there are only differences. Even more important: a difference generally implies positive terms between which the difference is set up; but in language there are only differences without positive terms. Whether we take the signified or the signifier, language has neither ideas nor sounds that existed before the linguistic system, but only conceptual and phonic differences that have issued from the system.

    The idea or phonic substance that a sign contains is of less importance than the other signs that surround it. Saussure explicitly suggested that linguistics was only a branch of a more general semiology, a science of signs in general, human codes being only one part. Nevertheless, in the end, as Derrida pointed out, Saussure made linguistics "the regulatory model", and "for essential, and essentially metaphysical, reasons had to privilege speech, and everything that links the sign to phone".

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    Derrida's original use of the word "deconstruction" was a translation of Destruktion , a concept from the work of Martin Heidegger that Derrida sought to apply to textual reading. Heidegger's term referred to a process of exploring the categories and concepts that tradition has imposed on a word, and the history behind them. To this end, Derrida follows a long line of modern philosophers, who look backwards to Plato and his influence on the Western metaphysical tradition.

    However, like Nietzsche, Derrida is not satisfied merely with such a political interpretation of Plato, because of the particular dilemma modern humans find themselves in. His Platonic reflections are inseparably part of his critique of modernity, hence the attempt to be something beyond the modern, because of this Nietzschian sense that the modern has lost its way and become mired in nihilism.

    Understanding language, according to Derrida, requires an understanding of both viewpoints of linguistic analysis. The focus on diachrony has led to accusations against Derrida of engaging in the etymological fallacy. There is one statement by Derrida—in an essay on Rousseau in Of Grammatology —which has been of great interest to his opponents. The mistranslation is often used to suggest Derrida believes that nothing exists but words.

    Michel Foucault , for instance, famously misattributed to Derrida the very different phrase "Il n'y a rien en dehors du texte" for this purpose. For example, the word "house" derives its meaning more as a function of how it differs from "shed", "mansion", "hotel", "building", etc. Form of Content, that Louis Hjelmslev distinguished from Form of Expression than how the word "house" may be tied to a certain image of a traditional house i.

    The same can be said about verbs, in all the languages in the world: when should we stop saying "walk" and start saying "run"? The same happens, of course, with adjectives: when must we stop saying "yellow" and start saying "orange", or exchange "past" for "present"? Thus, complete meaning is always "differential" and postponed in language; there is never a moment when meaning is complete and total.

    A simple example would consist of looking up a given word in a dictionary, then proceeding to look up the words found in that word's definition, etc. Such a process would never end. Derrida describes the task of deconstruction as the identification of metaphysics of presence, or logocentrism in western philosophy. Metaphysics of presence is the desire for immediate access to meaning, the privileging of presence over absence. This means that there is an assumed bias in certain binary oppositions where one side is placed in a position over another, such as good over bad, speech over the written word, male over female.

    Derrida writes, "Without a doubt, Aristotle thinks of time on the basis of ousia as parousia, on the basis of the now, the point, etc. And yet an entire reading could be organized that would repeat in Aristotle's text both this limitation and its opposite". This argument is largely based on the earlier work of Heidegger, who, in Being and Time , claimed that the theoretical attitude of pure presence is parasitical upon a more originary involvement with the world in concepts such as ready-to-hand and being-with.

    In the deconstruction procedure, one of the main concerns of Derrida is to not collapse into Hegel's dialectic, where these oppositions would be reduced to contradictions in a dialectic that has the purpose of resolving it into a synthesis. This explains Derrida's concern to always distinguish his procedure from Hegel's, [17] : 43 since Hegelianism believes binary oppositions would produce a synthesis, while Derrida saw binary oppositions as incapable of collapsing into a synthesis free from the original contradiction.

    There have been problems defining deconstruction.

    Phenomenology, Critical Theory, and Postcolonial Thought

    Derrida claimed that all of his essays were attempts to define what deconstruction is, [26] : 4 and that deconstruction is necessarily complicated and difficult to explain since it actively criticises the very language needed to explain it. Derrida has been more forthcoming with negative apophatic than with positive descriptions of deconstruction.

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    When asked by Toshihiko Izutsu some preliminary considerations on how to translate "deconstruction" in Japanese, in order to at least prevent using a Japanese term contrary to deconstruction's actual meaning, Derrida began his response by saying that such a question amounts to "what deconstruction is not, or rather ought not to be". Derrida states that deconstruction is not an analysis, a critique, or a method [26] : 3 in the traditional sense that philosophy understands these terms.

    In these negative descriptions of deconstruction, Derrida is seeking to "multiply the cautionary indicators and put aside all the traditional philosophical concepts". The relevance of the tradition of negative theology to Derrida's preference for negative descriptions of deconstruction is the notion that a positive description of deconstruction would over-determine the idea of deconstruction and would close off the openness that Derrida wishes to preserve for deconstruction.

    If Derrida were to positively define deconstruction—as, for example, a critique—then this would make the concept of critique immune to itself being deconstructed. Some new philosophy beyond deconstruction would then be required in order to encompass the notion of critique. Derrida states that "Deconstruction is not a method, and cannot be transformed into one". Derrida warns against considering deconstruction as a mechanical operation, when he states that "It is true that in certain circles university or cultural, especially in the United States the technical and methodological "metaphor" that seems necessarily attached to the very word 'deconstruction' has been able to seduce or lead astray".

    Derrida is careful to avoid this term [method] because it carries connotations of a procedural form of judgement. A thinker with a method has already decided how to proceed, is unable to give him or herself up to the matter of thought in hand, is a functionary of the criteria which structure his or her conceptual gestures. For Derrida [ Thus, to talk of a method in relation to deconstruction, especially regarding its ethico-political implications, would appear to go directly against the current of Derrida's philosophical adventure.


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    4. Beardsworth here explains that it would be irresponsible to undertake a deconstruction with a complete set of rules that need only be applied as a method to the object of deconstruction, because this understanding would reduce deconstruction to a thesis of the reader that the text is then made to fit. This would be an irresponsible act of reading, because it becomes a prejudicial procedure that only finds what it sets out to find.

      Derrida states that deconstruction is not a critique in the Kantian sense. For Derrida, it is not possible to escape the dogmatic baggage of the language we use in order to perform a pure critique in the Kantian sense. Language is dogmatic because it is inescapably metaphysical. Derrida argues that language is inescapably metaphysical because it is made up of signifiers that only refer to that which transcends them—the signified. For Derrida the concept of neutrality is suspect and dogmatism is therefore involved in everything to a certain degree.

      Deconstruction can challenge a particular dogmatism and hence desediment dogmatism in general, but it cannot escape all dogmatism all at once.

      Derrida states that deconstruction is not an analysis in the traditional sense. Derrida argues that there are no self-sufficient units of meaning in a text, because individual words or sentences in a text can only be properly understood in terms of how they fit into the larger structure of the text and language itself. Derrida states that his use of the word deconstruction first took place in a context in which " structuralism was dominant" and deconstruction's meaning is within this context.

      Deconstruction and the Postcolonial: At the Limits of Theory Deconstruction and the Postcolonial: At the Limits of Theory
      Deconstruction and the Postcolonial: At the Limits of Theory Deconstruction and the Postcolonial: At the Limits of Theory
      Deconstruction and the Postcolonial: At the Limits of Theory Deconstruction and the Postcolonial: At the Limits of Theory
      Deconstruction and the Postcolonial: At the Limits of Theory Deconstruction and the Postcolonial: At the Limits of Theory
      Deconstruction and the Postcolonial: At the Limits of Theory Deconstruction and the Postcolonial: At the Limits of Theory
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