translator’s preface by larry bowlden

21 07 2008

It is interesting to me that the author of the Prefaces would prefer to call my contribution/critique a Translator’s Preface; perhaps even the author realizes that his work stands in need of a translation or explanation. Unfortunately, I cannot supply it.

Since I am of the opinion that meaning requires a context (that it presupposes a background), I should not be surprised that (for the most part) the meaning of these prefaces eludes me. For even if there is meaning there (which I often doubt), I have not read Derrida (or other deconstructionists), and thus haven’t the context to illumine the meaning. I must admit that each new reading makes the text more interesting, more suggestive, but at this point the prefaces continue to exhibit the character of an inside joke, and I’m not at all sure I want to be on the inside.

I am happy to be reminded (again) that philosophy is at least in part performance, persuasion, art. Just as it is important to remind social scientists that value-free stances are not possible and that the pretense of such a stance only serves to mask (and thus make more dangerous) the underlying values, so philosophers need to be reminded that (contrary to Plato) there is no telling of the truth simpliciter, no language-free or paradigm-free or performance-free discourse. I agree with Heideggar that (by the very nature of the case) all revealing conceals, and conceals just because it reveals as it does. Still, Royer and Lyotard fail to convince me that one cannot use language in some ways where performance is less a feature than in others; I cling to my (perhaps naive) belief that there are uses of language in which the attempt to speak the truth, to describe, to disclose, takes precedence over art or performance. (I admit, however, that I sometimes think that philosophers are suspicious of Nietzsche precisely because he is such a wonderful writer, such a weaver of words; it must be the case that some, even many, philosophers believe that philosophers are in general bad writers for a reason, namely, that speaking the truth requires not-art.) Still, we must be reminded that all speaking/writing is (in part) an attempt to convince, and that all disclosing (unconcealing) conceals, lest we give in again to the grave error that we are getting closer and closer to THE TRUTH.

I also applaud the at least implied claim in the Prefaces that the Russell/Carnap/early Wittgenstein attempt to reduce all meaning to the meaning of the word, and then build from these atomic word units back to a sentence, the paragraph, the whole, is a misguided attempt (for natural language is not a calculus, semantics is not syntax, and this is not a weakness but a strength of natural language). Still, I cannot agree that the text is self-referential (as Derrida seems to), that there is no reference at all (aside from text). I find myself applauding Foucault‘s rejection:

Today Derrida is the most decisive representative of a (classical) system in its final glory; the reduction of discursive practices to textual traces; the elision of the events that are produced there in order to retain nothing but marks for a reading; the invention of voices behind texts in order not to have to analyze the modes of implication of the subject of discourse; assigning the spoken and the unspoken in the text to an originary place in order not to have to reinstate the discursive practices in the field of transformations where they are effectuated … It is an historically sufficiently determined little pedagogy which manifests itself most visibly. A pedagogy that tells the pupil that there is nothing outside the text, but that within it, in its interstices, in its white spaces and unspokennesses, the reserve of the origin reigns; it is not at all necessary to search elsewhere, for exactly here, to be sure not in the words, but in the words as erasures, in their grill, “the meaning of being’ speaks itself. A pedagogy that conversely gives to the voice of the teacher that unlimited sovereignty which permits them to read the text indefinitely.

Finally, both Royer and Lyotard applaud themselves for making no claims. If this were true there would be even less reason to read them than there is. Fortunately, both do make claims, some of which are interesting reminders (others, when intelligible, which are neither interesting nor true).

With some reluctance (not unmixed with pride in the fertility of this young man’s mind), I release the reader to the text, with a final suggestion that it really cries out for a contemporary rock background.

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