adequate political code to translate or incorporate the radical implications of deconstruction has given many the impression that deconstruction is opposed to politics, or is at best apolitical. But this impression only prevails because all of our political codes and terminologies still remain fundamentally metaphysical, regardless of whether they originate from the right or the left.
In The Revolution of the Word, Colin McCabe employed your notions of deconstruction and dissemination to show how James Joyce recognized and revealed the inner workings of language as a refusal of identity, as a process of "differance" irreducible to all of our logocentric concepts and codes. In Ulysses this process of "differance" is epitomized by Bloom, the vagrant or nomad who obviates and subverts the available codes of identity—religious, political or national. And yet, McCabe argues, the Joycean refutation of all dogmatic or totalizing forms of identity is itself a political stance—an anti-totalitarian or anarchic stance.This is the politics of exodus, of the emigré. As such, it can of course serve as a political ferment or anxiety, a subversion of fixed assumptions and a privileging of disorder.
But does the politics of the emigré necessarily imply inaction and non-commitment?Not at all. But the difficulty is to gesture in opposite directions at the same time: on the one hand to preserve a distance and suspicion with regard to the official political codes governing reality; on the other, to intervene here and now in a practical and engagé manner whenever the necessity arises. This position of dual allegiance, in which I personally find myself, is one of perpetual uneasiness. I try where I can to act politically while recognizing that such action remains incommensurate with my intellectual project of deconstruction.
Could one describe the political equivalent of deconstruction as a disposition, as opposed to a position, of responsible anarchy?If I had to describe my political disposition I would probably employ a formula of that kind while stressing, of course, the interminable obligation to work out and to deconstruct these two
terms—"responsible" and "anarchy." If taken as assured certainties in themselves, such terms can also become reified and unthinking dogmas. But I also try to reevaluate the indispensable notion of "responsibility."
I would now like to turn to another theme in your work: the deconstructive role of the "feminine." If the logocentric domination of Western culture also expresses itself as a "phallogocentrism," is there a sense in which the modern movement to liberate women represents a deconstructive gesture? Is this something which Nietzsche curiously rccognized when he spoke of "truth becoming woman"; or Joyce when he celebrated the "woman's reason" of Molly Bloom in Ulysses and Anna Livia Plurabelle in Finnegan's Wake? Is the contemporary liberation of woman's reason and truth not an unveiling of the hitherto repressed resources of a non-logocentric topos?While I would hesitate to use such terms as "liberation" or "unveiling," I think there can be little doubt that we are presently witnessing a radical mutation of our understanding of sexual difference. The discourses of Nietzsche, Joyce and the women's movement which you have identified epitomize a profound and unprecedented transformation of the man-woman relationship. The deconstruction of phallogocentrism is carried by this transformation, as are also the rise of psychoanalysis and the modernist movement in literature. But we cannot objectify or thematize this mutation even though it is bringing about such a radical change in our understanding of the world that a return to the former logocentric philosophies of mastery, possession, totalization or certitude may soon be unthinkable. The philosophical and literary discoveries of the "feminine" which you mention—and even the political and legal recognition of the status of women—are all symptoms of a deeper mutation in our search for meaning which dcconstruction attempts to register.
Do you think then that this mutation can be seen and evaluated in terms of an historical progress towards the "good," towards a "better" society?This mutation is certainly experienced as "better" in so far as it is what is desired by those who practically dispose of the greatest
"force" in society. One could describe the transformation effected by the feminine as "good" without positing it as an a priori goal or telos. I hesitate to speak of "liberation" in this context, because I don't believe that women are "liberated," any more than men are. They are, of course, no longer "enslaved" in many of the old socio-political respects, but even in the new situation woman will not ultimately be any freer than man. One needs another language, besides that of political liberation, to characterize the enormous deconstructive import of the feminine as an uprooting of our phallogocentric culture. I prefer to speak of this mutation of the feminine as a "movement" rather than as an historical or political "progress." I always hesitate to talk of historical progress.
What is the relationship between deconstruction and your use of poetic language, particularly in Glas? Do you consider Glas to be a work of philosophy or of poetry?It is neither philosophy nor poetry. It is in fact a reciprocal contamination of the one by the other, from which neither can emerge intact. This notion of contamination is, however, inadequate, for it is not simply a question of rendering both philosophy and poetry impure. One is trying to reach an additional or alternative dimension beyond philosophy and literature. In my project, philosophy and literature are two poles of an opposition and one cannot isolate one from the other or privilege one over the other. I consider that the limits of philosophy are also those of literature. In Glas, consequently, I try to compose a writing which would traverse, as rigorously as possible, both the philosophical and literary elements without being definable as either. Hence in Glas one finds classical philosophical analysis being juxtaposed with quasi-literary passages, each challenging, perverting and exposing the impurities and contradictions in their neighbor; and at some point the philosophical and literary trajectories cross each other and give rise to something else, some other site.
Is there not a sense in which philosophy for you is a form of literature? You have, for example, described metaphysics as a "white mythology," that is, a sort of palimpsest of metaphors (eidos, telos, ousia) and myths (of return, homecoming, transcendence towards the light, etc.), which are covered over and forgotten as soon as philosophical "concepts" are(123)
construed as pure and univocal abstractions, as totalizing universals devoid of myth and metaphor.I have always tried to expose the way in which philosophy is literary, not so much because it is metaphor but because it is catachresis. The term metaphor generally implies a relation to an original "property" of meaning, a "proper" sense to which it indirectly or equivocally refers, whereas catachresis is a violent production of meaning, an abuse which refers to no anterior or proper norm. The founding concepts of metaphysics—logos, eidos, theoria, etc.—are instances of catachresis rather than metaphors as I attempted to demonstrate in "White Mythology" (Marges de la philosophie). In a work such as Glas, or other recent ones like it, I am trying to produce new forms of catachresis, another kind of writing, a violent writing which stakes out the faults (failles) and deviations of language; so that the text produces a language of its own, in itself, which while continuing to work through tradition emerges at a given moment as a monster, a monstrous mutation without tradition or normative precedent.
What then of the question of language as reference? Can language as mutation or violence or monstrosity refer to anything other than itself?There have been several misinterpretations of what I and other deconstructionists are trying to do. It is totally false to suggest that deconstruction is a suspension of reference. Deconstruction is always deeply concerned with the "other" of language. I never cease to be surprised by critics who see my work as a declaration that there is nothing beyond language, that we are imprisoned in language; it is, in fact, saying the exact opposite. The critique of logocentrism is above all else the search for the "other" and the "other of language." Every week I receive critical commentaries and studies on deconstruction which operate on the assumption that what they call "post-structuralism" amounts to saying that there is nothing beyond language, that we are submerged in words—and other stupidities of that sort. Certainly, deconstruction tries to show that the question of reference is much more complex and problematic than traditional theories supposed. It even asks whether our term "reference" is entirely adequate for designating the "other." The other, which is beyond language and which summons language, is perhaps not a "referent" in the normal sense
which linguists have attached to this term. But to distance oneself thus from the habitual structure of reference, to challenge or complicate our common assumptions about it, does not amount to saying that there is nothing beyond language.
This could also be seen as a reply to those critics who maintain that deconstruction is a strategy of nihilism, an orgy of non-sense, a relapse into the free play of the arbitrary.I regret that I have been misinterpreted in this way, particularly in the United States, but also in France. People who wish to avoid questioning and discussion present deconstruction as a sort of gratuitous chess game with a combination of signs (combinatoire de signifiants), closed up in language as in a cave. This misinterpretation is not just a simplification; it is symptomatic of certain political and institutional interests—interests which must also be deconstructed in their turn. I totally refuse the label of nihilism which has been ascribed to me and my American colleagues. Deconstruction is not an enclosure in nothingness, but an openness towards the other.
Can deconstruction serve as a method of literary criticism which might contribute something positive to our appreciation of literature?I am not sure that deconstruction can function as a literary method as such. I am wary of the idea of methods of reading. The laws of reading are determined by the particular text that is being read. This does not mean that we should simply abandon ourselves to the text, or represent and repeat it in a purely passive manner. It means that we must remain faithful, even if it implies a certain violence, to the injunctions of the text. These injunctions will differ from one text to the next so that one cannot prescribe one general method of reading. In this sense deconstruction is not a method. Nor do I feel that the principle function of deconstruction is to contribute something to literature. It does, of course, contribute to our epistemological appreciation of texts by exposing the philosophical and theoretical presuppositions that are at work in every critical methodology, be it Formalism, New Criticism, Socialist Realism or a historical critique. Deconstruction asks why we read a literary text in this particular manner rather than another. It shows, for example, that New Criticism is not the way of reading texts,
however enshrined it may be in certain university institutions, but only one way among others. Thus deconstruction can also serve to question the presumption of certain university and cultural institutions to act as the sole or privileged guardians and transmitters of meaning. In short, deconstruction not only teaches us to read literature more thoroughly by attending to it as language, as the production of meaning through differance and dissemination, through a complex play of signifying traces; it also enables us to interrogate the covert philosophical and political presuppositions of institutionalized critical methods which generally govern our reading of a text. There is in deconstruction something which challenges every teaching institution. It is not a question of calling for the destruction of such institutions, but rather of making us aware of what we are in fact doing when we subscribe to this or that institutional way of reading literature. Nor must we forget that deconstruction is itself a form of literature, a literary text to be read like other texts, an interpretation open to several other interpretations. Accordingly, one can say that deconstruction is at once extremely modest and extremely ambitious. It is ambitious in that puts itself on a par with literary texts, and modest in that it admits that it is only one textual interpretation among others, written in a language which has no centralizing power of mastery or domination, no privileged meta-language over and abovc the language of literature.
And what would you say to those critics who accuse you of annihilating the very idea of the human subject in your determination to dispense with all centralizing agencies of meaning, all "centrisms"?They need not worry. I have never said that the subject should be dispensed with. Only that it should be deconstructed. To deconstruct the subject does not mean to deny its existence. There are subjects, "operations" or "effects" (effets) of subjectivity. This is an incontrovertible fact. To acknowledge this does not mean, however, that the subject is what it says it is. The subject is not some meta-linguistic substance or identity, some pure cogito of self-presence; it is always inscribed in language. My work does not, therefore, destroy the subject; it simply tries to resituate it.
But can deconstruction, as the disclosure of language as differance, contribute to the pleasure of reading, to our(126)
appreciation of the living texture of a literary text? Or is it only an intellectual strategy of detection, of exposing our presuppositions and disabusing us of our habitual illusions about reading?Deconstruction gives pleasure in that it gives desire. To deconstruct a text is to disclose how it functions as desire, as a search for presence and fulfilment which is interminably deferred. One cannot read without opening oneself to the desire of language, to the search for that which remains absent and other than oneself. Without a certain love of the text, no reading would be possible. In every reading there is a corps-à-corps between reader and text, an incorporation of the reader's desire into the desire of the text. Here is pleasure, the very opposite of that arid intellectualism of which deconstruction has so often been accused.