Recently, one of my professors laid claim that deconstruction is part of the canon. While this might appear to be undeniably true, I wish for us to rethink the conditions of its possibilities. Anybody who knows me will understand that everything is always up for questioning and analysis. Even the ideas that I privilege and believe are true deserves to be questioned (in fact, this is how I got into theory and philosophy). I do not put any ideas on the pedestal. As long as the arguments and ideas has passed through rigorous analysis and considerations, I will have great respect for them, even if they are against my views (Fred Moten, Alain Badiou, Gilles Deleuze and Jacques Lacan are all very good examples). Neither will I ever be “politically correct” and become silenced by it. Only those who knows will understand why I am mentioning this in the first paragraph (it is a response to certain individuals). I wrote this post in 2 hours. So forgive my writing.
If we assume that deconstruction consists of a reproducible method, then I certainly think it is part of the canon—that is, deconstructive methodology suggests its canonical status because its reproducibility is accepted as part of mainstream history. However, if deconstruction is what Derrida refer as the lack of any methods, but is a destruktion and analysis, a “de-building” (to take apart and put back together); then we must spend the necessary time on defining “deconstruction”—an impossible task that requires some serious contemplation. Today, I would like to rethink whether or not deconstruction is part of the “canon”. But before we do such thing, I wish for us to quickly understand the word “canon” under the context of “genre”.
To say that deconstruction is part of the canon is to say that it belongs to the canon. The “canon” consists of a set of epistemological parameters or knowledge which helps us define what texts belongs to it and are deemed “canonical”. That is, canonicity stems from categorizations of texts that had been accepted as part of a certain history. Now, a precaution we must take: it is easy for us to think of the canon as some social construction created by hegemonic structures which takes us into politics. Let us for now, think of the bare bones of the canon as a concept that is similar to the concept of genre.
What appears in my mind when I think of the word “canon” is the epistemological structure of “genre”—that is, I am thinking about Derrida’s “Laws of Genre”, where he points out how individual texts participates in genre instead of belonging to it. Derrida begins his difficult essay with a rather simple sentence: “genres are not to be mixed”. He continues and says, “I do not mix genres…as soon as the word ‘genre’ is sound, as soon as it is heard, as soon as one attempts to conceive it, a limit is drawn.”. This limit that Derrida speaks, is the way which genre functions as a conceptual limit when we read any texts. In other words, the concept of genre consists of a certain set of parameters and categorizations which sets itself up as the norm where texts participates within it. Derrida writes, “As soon as genre announces itself, one must respect a norm, one must not cross a line of demarcation, one must not risk impurity, anomaly, or monstrosity.” (my italics). In this passage, Derrida is alluding to a certain form of logocentrism and metaphysics of presence where the privileging of the norm established by the concept of genre and canonical knowledge is haunted by an “impurity”: the law of genre.
What then, is the “law” of genre which governs its epistemology? This law should not be thought simply as the knowledge which governs what texts belongs to the genre or canon. Rather, this impurity of law is what Derrida refer as the “law of the law”: temporality (time). I am not going to put too much effort into explaining temporal consciousness, for I have already done so many times else where and here. I will simply summarize that: the future changes how the past is perceived—something which I will return to next post when I talk about deconstruction and psychoanalysis. Without going through other unnecessary concepts such as iterability (repetition), I will say that the future contaminates our epistemology (knowledge) of genre and canon. Norms that are defined by genre and canon are constantly challenged by future time, the future becoming of time as we age and acquire new experiences; and as new knowledge unfolds through contingency and improvisation.
Before we move onto the question of deconstruction, let us consider the relationship between canon / genre, and its epistemology which are in relevance to our time. A similar question can be found in Derrida’s essay, “What is Relevant Translation?”. It is not surprising that epistemological (knowledge) structures changes over long periods of time. What was once considered as the norm in the 18th century is no longer the case from its future (i.e. today). I will talk more about this in my next post because this is where the problem between epistemology and temporality lies. Nevertheless, language too, functions similarly. The way we use words are different to the way people used it in the past. A word that might be offensive today, might not be the case in the past. The cultural significance of certain words also changes through time. For example, what we might consider as X today might be considered as Y back in the day, etc. What is defined as sexist today might not be the case 400 years ago, etc.
The point I wish to make is: what allows for a text to be relevant to the epistemological structures of genre and canon when its concepts changes over time? This question is difficult to answer because it depends on how each individual categorizes the concepts of genre and canon and the ways they allow the text they read to participate within such concepts. This is why, some people might think that X book belongs to Y genre, and someone else might say X is actually a Z genre and not Y. This is also why, instead of having literature and texts belonging to genres and canonical structures, it is literature which participates within certain epistemological frameworks of genre and canon within our time. This participation of the text depends on the ways which it engages the reader’s knowledge of genre and canon. Yet at the same time, the concept of genre / canon morphs over time, changing how we interpret literature and the way it fits into genre / canon categorizations. Genre and canon which are “not to be mixed”, are at last, mixed through the impure contamination of a radical future which challenges its episteme (i.e. established knowledge). This is the first problem.
The second problem is the question on deconstruction. In John D. Caputo’s introduction to deconstruction, a book called Deconstruction in a Nutshell, he points out how deconstruction is the nutshell. This claim shouldn’t be that surprising because I often point out how deconstruction is interpretation. Deconstruction is the nutshell because it is interpretation. Or as I mentioned at the beginning: deconstruction is a “de-building” (from Peggy Kamuf): where we take apart a text and put it back together. Is this not what we do when we read literature and decide what genre it participates in, or whether it belongs to the canon? Also, is this not what I am doing right now with terms like “canon” and “genre”?
This goes against the grain of many contemporary scholars, including say, my supervisor who thinks that deconstruction consists of a method, and that Derrideans such as Spivak, Bennington, or de Man, are pretending that deconstruction is without method. The mainstream definition of deconstruction is something as follows (to put it simply): deconstruction is an attempt to make close readings of a text by looking at its “binaries” and discover that the author is actually not saying what they think they are saying.
What I wish to add onto this overly simplified interpretation of “deconstruction” (basically, an interpretation of interpretation) is that it largely ignores some of its ontological and phenomenological implications. Interpretation also consists of the problem of intentionality that is challenged by time and the question of existence as a human being. I won’t have time to go over these problems today. What I wish to highlight is the contradiction between “deconstruction” and “canon”.
A paradoxical gesture. To call deconstruction (interpretation) as something which participates within the canon, we are saying that the act of interpretation is participating in the concept of genre and canon. But if this is the case, then shouldn’t all texts be part of the canon, since they all require interpretation? This would depend on how one categorizes the text through their own episteme (knowledge). There are other problems to this, such as the idea that only certain ways of interpreting a text would allow it to participate into certain canon / genres. On the other hand, by claiming deconstruction as canonical, we are also saying that the act of interpreting “deconstruction” or any text, is participating in the production of the concept of canon which gets challenged by future time.
For now, this is one of the only ways which I can accept deconstruction as being part of the canon. I certainly think that I have only scratched the surface where I might change my mind in the “future to come” (pun intended). But I got other things to do. I will leave my somewhat inconclusive conclusion for you to ruminate about.
Until next time,