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April 12, 2008

The physical in Cixious and Kristeva

In reading Helene Cixous and Julia Kristeva, although I am extremely welcoming of a woman finally getting a forum and bringing the important role of women into the Rhetorical Tradition, I see a bit of a tension in their attempts to empower women (and perhaps I am simply interpreting their words in the incorrect or unconventional way). It is clear that they are calling for women’s liberation through text. They state that “writing has been run by a libidinal and cultural – hence political, typically masculine – economy? (1235). This, they argue, must change.

It seems, however, that Cixoius and Kristeva focus so much on the body that it appears to me that they are essentializing that which they wish not to be essentialized by men. I understand that they are trying to show that the body can give woman her “being? and “access to her native strength? (1236). I agree. They are in fact trying to celebrate the strength of that which has been assumed submissive. However, I feel as if this attention to the body, to the physical, comes at the expense of celebrating that beyond it – the spiritual, the intellectual, and the possible. Again, I hedge my statement in the fact that I know that there is a certain “oneness? of all of them that Cixious and Kristeva appreciate (as do I). Still, it is as if I want them to do more to counter the “phallic? domination of discourse they so adamantly oppose than with referencing something else “bodily.? For instance, they state, “Her libido will produce far more radical effects of political and social change than some might like to think? (1237). I realize they use such phrases in some respects to twist the terminology that has been used against them, but in proclaiming that discourse is an escape and a liberation I want them to go beyond the physical references and pave the way for a woman’s “becoming? outside of the walls that have been rhetorically been built around her.

April 9, 2008

Derrida and Writing

Derrida’s larger project is anti-humanist in the sense that he does not want origins or “fixed presence? of structure or a genesis of subjects. In order for Derrida to conduct his project, which essentially does away with a stable subject, he had to privilege writing. Put differently, to undo the inheritance of Platonic “truth-seeking? (or words as representative of an essence) and an accessible ontological presence, Derrida first had to attack speech as a superior vessel of intended meaning and authentic truth by privileging writing. Furthermore, to push the ontological difference further, which Heidegger posed, Derrida had to look at a representational form of language already premised upon the absence of a subject before he could move to other forms of communication. Although Derrida concedes that no stable referent or presence is possible in oral communication, theorizing absence through writing illustrates a more accessible means through which to establish an ontological modification of presence—since the subject generating the “mark? is inherently removed in writing. Derrida notes, “This structural possibility of being weaned from the referent or from the signified (hence from communication and from its context) seems to make every mark, including those which are oral, a grapheme in general … cut off from its putative ‘production’ or origin. And I shall even extend this law to all ‘experience’ in general as it is conceded that there is no experience consisting of pure presence but only of chains of differential marks? (1482).

In other words, Derrida posits writing as a productive example for his project of the “continuous modification of presence? or a rupture in presence, which, for him, is fundamentally exposing the quest for stability as a mistake and the indeterminate play of differences as desirable. Moreover, Derrida sees a misguided effort in the desire to posit the intentionality of a subject because it can only produce teleological readings/understanding. Derrida is careful to assert that there is nothing “outside? the mark; rather, he states that every mark can break with any given context “engendering an infinity of new contexts in a manner which is absolutely illimitable … this does not imply that the mark is valid outside of a context, but on the contrary that there are only contexts without any center or absolute anchorage? (1483). In my reading, Derrida does not assume that one needs a transcendent signifier (center), rather, the duplication of the mark or “iterability? of the mark is not an “anomaly?; it is what allows the mark to have anything close to a function “called ‘normal’? (1483-84). In sum, Derrida poses the question: “What would a mark be that could not be cited?? In Derrida’s world, one must think of the interplay of differential marks as intrinsic to language—for this Derrida chooses the word “différance.? He states “this deferral must be capable of being carried to certain absoluteness of absence if the structure of writing … is to constitute itself? (1479).

Writing serves as the ideal site for Derrida to work out his project because for him ecriture “axiomatically? (if I can use that word w/ D.) is a representation that can more easily be posited as removed or “absent? from the “presence? of the speaker/subject. This move is necessary for Derrida to assert that writing is not just a convenient substitute for the original; rather, it represents the true nature of language, which cannot be totalized. Thus, Derrida can push the ontological difference further than Heidegger who posits, “language is the house of Being.? His project is at its core metaphysical in the sense that he wants to attack philosophical ontology that has origins and seeks to restore presence, which ultimately denies language and privileges the subject.

As Said says better than I can possibly articulate: “Derrida wants us to see—if not to understand—that so long as we believe that language is mainly a representation of something else, we cannot see what language does; so long as we are expecting to understand language in terms of some primitive essence to which it is a functional addition, then we cannot see that any use of language means not only representation but, paradoxically, the end or permanent deferring of representation and the beginning of something else, which he calls writing. So long as we do not see that writing, more accurately and materially than speaking, signifies language being used not simply as a substitute for something better than itself but as an activity all its own, we cannot recognize that ‘something better’ is a fundamental illusion. In short, we will remain in the grip of ‘metaphysics’? (Edward Said, “The Problems of Textuality? 689-90).

Kim TP

April 4, 2008

Rhetoric and Foucault as Philosopher

I admit; I am not as well versed in the history of rhetorical criticism as I should be. That said, I wonder if critical rhetoric would be at all possible without Foucault’s (vis-à-vis Nietzsche’s, Heidegger’s) de-centering of the privileged subject position. In other words, insofar as rhetoric (so-construed as a “tradition?) is beholden to the “subject? who seeks knowledge that s/he can then persuade an audience of, or “man? as something that remains constant: for rhetoric to become more “critical? rhetorical criticism needed a theoretical postulate from which to launch an examination of the rhetorical subject as non-fixed. Or, in order to join on firm ground the “postmodern? debate, rhetoric had to build a more “critical? discipline, which adopted an idea of the subject that was not an immutable given. Having done this, rhetoric could posit itself as possessing a “subject? who was familiar with shifting social structures and instability. Put differently, rhetoric as an independent discipline in the mid-twentieth century was not developing a body of theory that was clearly anti-humanist and was therefore reliant upon philosophy to generate the theoretical tools to become more “critical.? In this sense, the logical place for rhetoric to look for critical tools was philosophy. In so doing, rhetoric had to adopt thinkers, such as Foucault, that were clearly anti-rhetoric, so to speak. Barbara Biesecker notes in her essay “Michel Foucault and the Question of Rhetoric?: “Given that Foucault’s work appears to have undermined the liberal view of self-determination as the basis and condition of the possibility for freedom, and seems to have flagrantly dismissed the deeply entrenched view of our discipline that the existing social order—its relations of exploitation, domination, and oppression—can be transcended through symbolic intervention and collective recognition and resistance, why have we welcomed him into the house that Aristotle built??

This brings me to a tricky acknowledgement: I’m not sure how seamlessly rhetoric has taken up Foucault. In other words, I see Foucault as having an explicit place in philosophical debates and a convenient place in rhetoric. I do think a critical turn in rhetoric was necessary in order to address issues of power, gender, race, etc., but I wonder about the rigor with which rhetoricians have justified their use of Foucault’s theory, which is clearly philosophical. Let me clarify with an example: in Foucault’s essay “Nietzsche, Genealogy, History,? Foucault is validating and extending Nietzsche’s view that the problem with a history which seeks origins is that it relies on faith in metaphysics and offers up a “suprahistorical perspective [which] metaphysics can bend … to its own purpose? (360). Furthermore, Foucault notes “historical sense can evade metaphysics and become a privileged instrument of genealogy if it refuses the certainty of absolutes.? In this sense, Foucault is concerned with an argument against the primacy of metaphysics, its postulate of a stable human, and the totalizing forms of history. In what we have read to date, I see the clearest affinity to rhetoric in Foucault’s “the Archeology of Knowledge,? but even here, as Liz noted, he is arguing with Saussure. I guess what I am getting at is fundamentally this: in order to make sense of Foucault in relation to the Rhetorical project, rhetoric needs to more carefully craft a sense of itself in relation to philosophy, particularly postmodern philosophers such as Foucault, Derrida, etc. Has rhetoric carefully woven a disciplinary self that can justify the co-optation of philosophy for its critical ends? Or, does one need to let rhetoric and philosophy co-exist as related projects with indentifiably similar projects? I have trouble with this.

Kim TP