Tailoring French Theory


In the words of Cusset, the goal of French Theory is,

“…to explore the political and intellectual geneology, and other effects, even for us and up to today, of a creative misunderstanding between French texts and American readers, a properly structural misunderstanding––in the sense that it does not refer simply to a misinterpretation, but to differences of internal organization between the French and American intellectual spheres.”

Without any kind of specificity, this is another way of saying about the knower and the known crafted together by a meditation that rides on instability populated by discursive and linguistic norms and forms that is derided as secondary in the analytical tradition. The autonomy of the knower as against the known is questionable, and derives significance only when its trajectory is mapped by a simultaneity put forth by the known.

The knower, if guided by the dictates of language, is guided more on lines of the Derridean deconstructionism, where there is nothing outside the text. This is also reflected in Rorty, where descriptions of the world are constructed by us, and where these very descriptions are categorized for us to fill up the content depicted by our perceptions. Obviously, it becomes quite naïve to embrace this one-sidedness of French theory in its totality, and the real acid test gets encountered in dealing with the socio-political implications. Political implications are far and between, or at times not there at all excepting feigning their presence/affectivity. This is since, in reading a text, what gets surfacial visibility is almost always against the background of repressed internal contradictions and oppositions within the text, that deconstruction purports to unearth, thus creating a visibility that has to maintain its status quo, by not asking the questions that it is supposed to ask in order to shake its self-identity. Thus politically, it is a fall-back on itself, a sort of ideology that refuses to die on the one hand, and spring up surprises under new vocabularies on the other. But, this apolitical, asocial shortcomings should not be taken to mean something entirely pejoratively, for, by invoking the logic of deconstruction, anything goes or everything is, furthering the directedness of critiques that are not singular, but harboring the vastness of multiplicities. Stanley Fish puts it brilliantly (I quote him at length) when he says,

Criticizing something because it is socially constructed (and thus making the political turn) is what Judith Butler and Joan Scott are in danger of doing when they explain that  deconstruction “is not strictly speaking a position, but rather a critical interrogation of the exclusionary operations by which ‘positions’ are established.” But those “exclusionary operations” could be held culpable only if they were out of the ordinary, if waiting around the next corner of analysis was a position that was genuinely inclusive.

Deconstruction per se, has no terminus, as it feeds itself upon a loop of signifiers in movement, unearthing depth with every question asked in a way that resembles nothing short of ad infinitum. It gets derogatory only because of this endless movement, wherein anything social or political that gets constructed is transient, or simply abhorred. So, to make any social/political and even philosophical-literary sense, the method of deconstruction has to undergo confinement, or freeze-framing, a being that has been fixed, and waiting to undergo a further becoming. To quote Cusset,

Deconstruction thus contains within itself a risk of the withdrawal from the political, a neutralization of the positions, or even an endless metatheoretical regression that can no longer be brought to a stop by any practical decision or effective political engagement. In order to use it as a basis for a program of subversion or a discourse of conflict, the American solution thus was to “detourn” or divert it, to fragment it, to split it off from itself in order to break out of this paralyzing epistemic balancing act.

Whatever fragmentation occurred, whatever split the theory underwent, or whatever was the diversion that was undertaken, the net result was the entry of French theory through the annals of literature departments only to explode on to the terrain of various disciplines by the sheer force and triumphant nature of the narrative. The narratives had relativism that garnered enough force to question the very veracity of other disciplines by intervening into the discourses of these diverse disciplines with the sole intention of giving them a re-reading. The narratives were machinic, in the sense of producing truths that hitherto had been the sole and isolated responsibility of individual disciplines. With the permeability on offer because of re-reading carried upon the discourses, truth started to undergo a shift in its position from pre-historical intuitive valuation to literary productions, thanks to the maneuvering attitude of narratives. The powers that be, invested in the narratives were a propellant force to dismantle (shake) the dominion of authoritative discourses on truth and create a level playing field with the provision of dragging the marginalia accounts of truth into the fold, thus giving rise to a certain form of democratic space. These democratic spaces invited cultural domains to participate in their own productions of truths, thus becoming more and more machinic resulting in such unprecedented theoretical productions (these obviously preceded truth productions), that were eventually heading towards each domain forgetting its own accumulation, and thereafter suffering from the disappearance of theory in the production of its effects.


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