And now back to Derrida – William H. Gass on M.H. Abrams and deconstructionism (and nostalgia):
'Abrams says, in his collection of essays Doing Things with Texts (1989): For Derrida…it is a matter of all-or-nothing; there is no intermediate position on which a determinate interpretation can rest, for if no meanings are absolutely certain and stable, then all meanings are unstable and undecidable.'
'Jacques Derrida: “In any text, the inescapable absence of a transcendental signified extends the…play of signification to infinity.” Boy, is that designed to buffalo. Paul de Man is cagey but after all he has reason to be: “We no longer take for granted that a literary text can be reduced to a finite meaning or set of meanings, but see the act of reading as an endless process in which truth and falsehood are inextricably intertwined.” If what he meant here was that, like Borges’s Pierre Menard, each age would be reading certain passages in their own way, then a smiling assent might be in order; but de Man does not mean anything so remarkably sensible.
Miller is a little clearer than usual. He denies that “any work has a fixed, identifiable meaning…. Any reading can be shown to be a misreading on evidence drawn from the text itself.” I wonder how he knows that. Has he examined the books in the library and found it to be so? How weary these words “no,” “all,” and “any” must be, trapped in such endless and inescapable paragraphs.'
Read the essay here.
I understand the hatred that Derrida can evoke in some readers very well, but the idea that there are no certain and stable meanings, that there is not one right reading of a text, rings true to me.
Needless to say, there are many readings of a text that are not right, and we can prove this, based on the source.
But to believe that there is just one right reading is to believe that there is an ideal reader. To me the belief in the ideal reader comes close to the belief in a God.
Forgive me for jumping to conclusions, but the realization that there are no stable and certain meanings doesn’t make us all derridaists, it may make us more sensitive to Dadaism.
Of course I could also say: “If there are no stable meanings I will turn myself into a sensualist.”