Category Archives: Uncategorized

Derrida and Postmodernism

We’ve read a few things this year that have referred to poststructuralism as the taking apart of large texts to decenter them, and undermine the structures on which they are based. What’s really interesting about Derreida’s essay is that it develops this theory of nothing having a center from a close (I guess one might call it “poststructuralist”) reading of Levi-Strauss, a classic “structuralist”. The underlying concept in The Savage Mind, Derrida shows, is “the abandonment of all reference to a center, to a subject, to a privileged reference, to an origin, or to an absolute archia” (286). What’s strange, and fascinating about Derrida’s criticism is that, instead of working to refute past philosophies–Derrida rejects this when he writes”there is no sense in doing without the concepts of metaphysics in order to shake metaphysics” (280)–he seems to work inside the work of past philosophers.

With that said, I thought the Bennet and Royle essay was a bit confusing and contradictory. In their conclusion, Decentering, they claim that postmoderism “challenges the ethnocentric (the authorit of one enthnic ‘identity or culture–such as Europe or ‘the West’ or Islam or Hinduism). It challenges the phallocentrec (everything that privileges the symbolic power and significance of the phallus)” (256). I wonder how much postmodernism works to “challenge the phallocentric”, and not, as Butler seemed to do, to reject the entire idea of phallocentrism. I was confused by their description of Bollywood music as “a potent mix of classical and folk music from the Indian subcontinent with the so-called ‘Western’ rhythms and sounds of soul, jazz, rock’n’roll, pop, disco, 1970s blaxpoitation funk, trip hop, techno, ambient and house music” (254). It seemed to me like they were stepping outside of postmodernism to define this music. All of the other genres were written off as self-containing, but this Bollywood music somehow steps out of genre by including so many others.

With that said, I wonder if there is anything that can be said to be postmodern art; Bennet and Royle seemed to have trouble defining exactly what that is…

Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction

I read this text earlier in the semester for another class, so it was interesting for me to go back and read it a second time having read a lot of literary criticism in between.  I found Benjamin’s text to be much more philosophical than most of the other pieces we’ve read this semester. He talks a lot about the “essence” of an original piece of art (including a piece of literature) and how that unique aura is not  reproducible, especially in the age of mechanical reproduction. Without the original, he seems to be arguing that some amount of tradition gets lost and the text’s actual essence is lost; the translation becomes nothing more than a superficial copy of the words on the page without a reproduction of the text’s core meaning. We’ve talked a lot about beginnings and endings in this class and how the beginning/ending of any given text is irrelevant (according to certain theories), and it seems like Benjamin’s arguments fall in a similar area. Once a text is “emancipated…from its parasitical dependence on ritual” (however negative that phrase sounds), it seems to me that Benjamin believes the translation loses some necessary element. Making art available for the masses (the clear purpose of mechanical reproduction), to him, destroys some of the originality that art could once potentially maintain but is now unobtainable.

The root of homophobia

In the reading, the bit that really caught my attention was in the Bennett and Royle essay entitled “Queer”.   They quote Leo Bersani in saying “Unlike racism, homophobia is entirely a response to an internal possibility”.   While it makes sense that the two are different in that way, I wonder the extent to which homophobia is similar to other forms of prejudice in that it merely preys on some element of difference to set one group of people above another.   I was also left with the question of whether, if what Bersani says is true, a heterosexual person can better understand the view of a homosexual person as opposed to one being able to understand the view of someone of a different race.   If we inherently understand that it is possible for us to be gay, does that both fuel fear and understanding?   And what does this say about how we read?   Discussing methods of queer reading, how much of an effect does sexuality have on the way we perceive a text and the meaning we attribute to it?

(Unofficial) Subjects of Sex/Gender/Desire

While I found much of what Butler had to say fascinating, I was struck by the form of her essay. It seemed to me that, while much of the essay was analysis and reflection on the current state of discourse as it related to feminism, the most overtly political statement was not made at the end, after Butler had made all of her main points. She argues that “An open coalition, then, will affirm identities that are alternately instituted and relinquished according to the purposes at hand; it will be an open assemblage that permits of multiple convergences and divergences without obedience to a normative definitional closure” (16). This strong statement that looks to the future for its affirmation comes before her discussion of sex or a gender as not an act, but as an effect. I wonder how this order affects her overall statement, why the political coalition must be established even before she makes her own most original points.

Repression and Power in Sexuality

These readings have brought up many questions for me. I have a lot of little ones leading to a few big ones, but in general, I’d say take you pick, and we’ll see where the conversation leads us.


First, I’d like to examine sex as “intercourse”:

Foucault examines the relationship between sex and power/oppression, saying that now (which is to say, in the mid twentieth century) people were beginning to talk about sex in the context of rising up from oppression, as if it were a political cause.

I’m wondering to what extent we may have moved past this. To what extent is our perspective about sex and sexuality and our willingness to talk about it rebellious? To what extent do we still carry Victorian taboos? Since our generation is (for the most part) the children of the sexual revolution, are we still being rebellious when we have an open attitude about sex? Can sex be seen in an economic/political sense at all or, as Foucault suggests, must we look more to the “felicity” which is a part of its character? Do you suscribe to the “repressive hypothesis” in examining the history of sex, and, to what extent?

All of this is leading me to what I see as the big question: How do our changing attitudes about sex affect the way we read and write? What insight can it give us for literary interpretation? How might literature (or should literature) use what we know about sex to change common perspective?

Secondly, what about sex as “gender”?

Those of you who are men and reading this, to what extent do you notice gender stereotypes in which the woman is subordinate to the man in literature?  To those of you who are women, same question. What disparity, if any, do you anticipate?

While there is an “essential” difference between man and woman in a physical sense, do you believe there are certain non-physical qualities (character traits, etc.) that actually are much more representative of one gender than another. If this is the case, is literature simply presenting characters who represent the real world? Should authors strive to upset preconceived gender notions? Is that approach a more realistic reflection? To what extent is realistic reflection desirable? Where does authorial intent come into play, when the same work can be read as oppressing women pointing to the folly of a society which subjugates women?

Which brings me to my main question: How does our knowledge of gender roles affect the way we read and right? How might literature be a means of change? Should it be?


Finally, can we ever reach a point of understanding where questions of sex and gender are moot?

Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza

Before I actually read Anzaldua’s piece From Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza, I read sfbull5’s post questioning the essay’s relevance to our class. So when I started reading the essay, I went into it wondering what it has to do with literary interpretation, and looking for answers to that question.

I can’t really say I found an answer, but I did come up with a number of questions in the process. First of all, what if we apply literature to the idea of the new mestiza? Anzaldua says that “the future will belong to the mestiza”, and speaks of a “new story” that she will create: “…yet I am cultured because I am participating in the creation of yet another culture, a new story to explain the world and our participation in it, a new value system with images and symbols that connect us to each other and to the planet” (2214). This notion of the future belonging to the mestiza makes me think of current literature/art/media as a type of mestiza in itself. In today’s world, almost every form of expression is globalized, shared and exchanged by way of the internet. Ideas and culture blend together and bounce back and forth from one corner of the world to another, essentially creating a new, inclusive and ever-changing breed of art and expression. So rather than asking how the essay applies to literary interpretation, what if we apply literature to the idea of the mestiza?

What are your thoughts on the essay itself as literature? The segment we read mixes Spanish and English, and is organized into sections with bilingual headings and various quotes. What are the effects of this unusual format, which is unlike anything we’ve read so far?

Lastly, reading Borderlands/La Frontera made me consider Junot Diaz’s presentation and how timely our assignment was. I haven’t read The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, but the portion Diaz read to us included a similar seamless interchanging of English and Spanish. I do not know for sure, but I imagine Diaz’s novel addresses similar issues to ones we see in this essay: belonging and yet not belonging to several cultures…confusion and ambiguity, flexibilty and ambivalence. Anyone who has read the novel have any insight?

Relevance of Anzaldua’s article?

I thought Anzaldua’s article on the Frontier and the new “Mestiza” was interesting and presented some new ideas, but I didn’t exactly see the relevance to this course or to the other texts we’ve read. It seemed appropriate for a Sociology class or something, but I didn’t find a lot about English or literary interpretation. I guess her ideas about changing “the way we perceive reality, the way we see ourselves, and the ways we behave” — in other words, the “new mestiza” that she proposes — are slightly related to interpretation of texts, and the notions of immigration do in some sense relate to the “otherness” and “orientalism” that we’ve been reading about recently, but do you guys see any other ways in which this article is relevant to this course/to other texts?

Going back to Said after the Election

I found this a while ago, but with everything said and done in the aftermath of this crazy election, maybe this is passage will come across as funny rather than just plain scary. This is a passage of an article written by Andy McCarthy, contributing editor of the Nation Review, exposing Obama’s ties to “Rashid Khalidi – former mouthpiece for master terrorist Yasser Arafat” or, according to the liberal-leaning Wikipedia, “an American historian of the Middle East, the Edward Said Professor of Modern Arab Studies at Columbia University, and director of the Middle East Institute of Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs.” Here’s a passage from McCarthy’s piece:

“At the time Khalidi, a PLO adviser turned University of Chicago professor, was headed east to Columbia. There he would take over the University’s Middle East-studies program (which he has since maintained as a bubbling cauldron of anti-Semitism) and assume the professorship endowed in honor of Edward Sayyid, another notorious terror apologist.”

I wonder if McCarthy has ever read Said, or if he just uses the power of imagination (albeit an racist imagination) to construct the objective narrative of men with frightening, non-anglo names.

Racial difference, The colony, and Orientalism

That the Orient is a social construction, something completely man-made is really interesting to me, although not necessarily new. For me, what I’ve been thinking about lately is what Said references at the end when he cites Raymond Williams–that by recognizing that certain things are socially constructed, hopefully people can progress in the “unlearning” of “the inherent dominative mode” (28). I realize that we were only able to read the Intro from Orientalism, and that perhaps Said addresses this in the rest of his text, but how do y’all think we can “unlearn” the modes in which we were taught? I think it’s a good starting point to know that what we’ve been taught as objective is actually socially constructed, but what I struggle with personally is moving beyond this–how does one move past simple awareness and begin to see things from a new perspective if he/she has seen a certain subject from a specific view point for so long? How does one throw off the colonization of language?

Also, I’m not quite sure how to connect this thought with the previous thought, but I think the idea of intersectionality is really interesting–that one cannot talk about ethnicity without addressing gender and sexuality is something I find to be very true. What do y’all think of this and how do you think intersectionality affects how we read? Do people ever rank the importance/relevance of ethnicity, gender, sexuality, class, religion, ability or other examples of diversity when they are reading? How does our (mis)understanding of one of these aspects of identity affect how we understand a person as an individual? How does it affect our understanding of a group of people?


Said’s idea of Occidental culture setting up Oriental culture as a foil, a sort of other with which to affirm Occidental identity reminded me of a Chinua Achebe essay on Heart of Darkness called An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, which makes a similar claim about Western images of Africa as the inferior “other” for comparison. The article is at: