Thursday, August 27, 2015

How to Succeed in an English/Literature Class

This notion that the verbal text is constituted by concealment as much as revelation, that the concealment is itself a revelation and vice versa, brings Nietzsche and Freud together. Freud suggests further that where the subject is not in control of the text, where the text looks supersmooth or superclumsy, is where the reader should fix his gaze, so that he does not merely read but deciphers the text, and sees its play within the open textuality of thought, language, and so forth within which it has only a provisionally closed outline. He catches this notion thus: “There is often a passage in even the most thoroughly interpreted dream which has to be left obscure. . . . At that point there is a tangle of dream-thoughts which cannot be unravelled and which moreover adds nothing to our knowledge of the content of the dream.” Derrida’s “advance” on Freud here can be formulated thus: this tangle cannot be unravelled in terms of, and adds nothing to the contents of the dream-text within the limits set up by itself. If, however, we have nothing vested in the putative identity of the text or dream, that passage is where we can provisionally locate the text’s moment of transgressing the laws it apparently sets up for itself, and thus unravel—deconstruct—the very text. This illuminates the lines in Freud that follow the passage above: “This is the dream’s navel, the spot where it reaches down into the unknown. The dream-thoughts . . . cannot . . . have any definite endings: they are bound to branch out in every direction into the intricate network of our world of thought.”
– Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, “Translator’s Preface,” Of Grammatology by Jacques Derrida
Nothing to do with the broader philosophical implications or with Derrida's thought, neither of which interest me all that much, but just a handy method for producing a reading of damn near any text you come across in an English or Literature setting at university. Find the navel, and you've got your paper. It's pathetically mechanical, really.

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