Thursday, 23 June 2005

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A Very Unfunny Entry About My Intellectual Shortcomings, or The Five Year Rule So I've spent some time thinking about Derrida this weekend in order to generate an intelligent response to Matt over on Long Sunday, but I must admit to being severely out of my league. What amazes me is how thoroughly I've forgotten everything I ever learned about Derrida and deconstruction. I'm flipping through my copies of Writing and Difference, Glas, The Gift of Death, &c. and staring incomprehensibly at my incomprehensible notes. I'm reading over the essay I wrote for J. Hillis Miller on The Gift of Death--by which I mean I'm dumbly observing the words tumbling over the pages but not understanding them at all--and it dawns on me that I may've conned my way through the first couple of years of graduate school. I sincerely belive that Hillis' comments on this essay are the product of his genius, i.e. utterly unrelated to the reality of the essay he graded. Which is only to say, qua Matt, that the word "deconstruction" ought not only be banned from undergraduate classroom, but graduate seminars too. In other words, what happened to that eager incoming graduate student who, knowing he'd attend Derrida's seminar in the Spring, spent hours reading every book and article the Man had ever written? I remember sitting before the shelves of the Critical Theory Archive with contraband coffee and unbounded enthusiasm, reading with infinite patience primary and secondary materials whose full import I still can't comprehend. I remember neglecting my other classes--including, ironically, the Introduction to Critical Theory course that might've grounded my extra-curricular study--in order to read, say, Derrida's new essay in Critical Inquiry. But it's all gone. All of it. (Cynics among you will think I'm accusing Derrida of writing in a manner that condemns all but his broadest claims to the void. I may very well be. But I don't think it offensive to say that careful, continual study is required to read and remember difficult works.) Perhaps this all falls under the principles codified in The Five Year Rule, according to which Scott declines to speak about books he's read more than five years ago because he can seldom say anything intelligent about them. Countless times have fellow graduate students throppled by a novel they know Scott's read come to him for intelligent conversation only to have Scott stare blankly at them. "Jane Austen? The name rings a bell. A small one. In a church fourteen districts north. Of some place fourteen hundred miles east. Wait! Isn't she the sister in Middlemarch?"

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