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…

6 responses to “Derrida and Postmodernism

  1. As spotofbother pointed out, Derrida attempts to work with the ideas of past philosophers. As a result, I had a ard time distinguishing between structuralism and poststructuralism. I think that the difference is that Derrida focuses on the idea that there is no center to a close. I think that that means that there without events there are no structures, but I’m not exactly sure.

    As far as the Bennet and Royal essay goes, it made the idea behind postsructuralism clearer to me. I think that its interesting to reject traditional structures because it seemingly gives individuals greater autonomy over how they are defined. If I remember correctly, one of the readers for The Golden Notebook was a “pomosexual writer.” Now, that term makes more sense to me. She simply chooses not to define her sexuality by means of traditional structures of sexuality.

  2. I think Derrida’s closing remarks, regarding the two possible modes of interpreting interpretation, provide a nice distinction between structuralism and poststructuralism. Derrida works through past philosophers because, to him, there is no getting beyond the interpretation, the structure, the sign, the play, etc. to a higher reality. His work revolves around exposing centers that must exist outside the center (e.g. we are made in God’s image, abide by His laws, even though He is intangible and exists outside the very laws through which He subsists), showing tension in the structurality of thought rather than resolution since resolution would just breed new centers. To Derrida, the philosopher’s search no longer resides in holy concepts (God, Man, Nature, Truth, what have you), but in the play of their creation and destruction.

  3. As with many of the pieces we’ve read this semester, I like the way B&R describe the new form of temporality that gets created by post-modernism. Post-modernism “challenges us to see the present in the past, the future in the present, the present in a kind of no-time;” post-modernism causes the squeezing and condensation of the present into an unrecognizable, useless period of time (248). So, I am left to wonder: how/where do we actually live? Secondly, they say that post-modernism forces us to think about what “will have been done” (256). Thinking about this in terms of language, there does not exist (at least to my knowledge) a “tense” that accurately depicts the recent phenomenon of the post-modern. I’m speaking primarily from my (narrow) experience with French, but I think it’s the same in other languages. There is the future tense (will be done) and the interior past (has/have been done), but no single tense accurately describes something that “will have been done,” as if it’s an interior future, or a future that exists in the constant present.

  4. I think the B & R chapter on postmodernism is really helpful. Like sfbull5, I was struck by this notion of what “will have been done”, and I’m not sure what to make of it or how to really understand what it means for “the unpresentable”. Confusion aside, I really appreciate the structure of the B&R–the way it breaks the chapter down by “postmodern vocabulary”. My favorite description of postmodernism is under the heading “Dissemination”: “Dissemination involves a sense of scattering (as in a scattering of seeds or ‘semes’), a scattering of origins and ends, of identity, centre and presence. Postmodern fragmentation is without origins, it is dissemination without any assurance of a centre or destination” (251). I think I like this because so much of what we read employs fragmentation as a structure. This particular sentence also reminds me (a little bit) of the Ansaldua essay on the Mestiza…scattering of seeds, scattering of origins & identity…but I don’t quite know what to make of the claim that “postmodern fragmentation is without origins…”.

  5. I also really enjoyed the structure of the Bennett and Royle essay. I felt like breaking down the idea into simpler terms made it easier for me to understand, but like spotofbother, the Bollywood example just confused me. I thought I had somewhat of a handle on the concept, but that just threw me for a loop. I too would like an example of art that could be defined as postmodern, if in fact there is any.

  6. mercurylanes

    Post-structuralism isn’t so much about the lack of a center altogether as it is about a center that’s constantly shifting position. I think what B&R are getting at with the Bollywood example, goofy as it is, is that it’s a genre that captures and elaborate, shifting and intersecting chain of musical influences while still remaining specifically “Bollywood”.

    Collage (in all art forms) is often described as a postmodern technique.