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Philosophy, Theory and the ‘Contest of Faculties’: Saving Deconstruction from the Pragmatists

  • Christopher Norris

Abstract

Literary critics interpret texts. By and large they get on without worrying too much about the inexplicit theories or principles that underwrite their practice. Some of them very actively resist the idea that such theories can be found, or that bringing them to light could serve any useful purpose. At its most obscurantist this attitude takes the Leavisian form of a downright refusal to engage in such discussion. Elsewhere distinctions are drawn between ‘theory’ and ‘principle’, the latter conceived as a realm of tacit values and assumptions beyond reach of further analysis. At a more philosophical level, the issue is joined by those in the ‘hermeneutic’ camp who argue that each and every act of understanding is embedded in a context of cultural meanings and presuppositions which can never be exhausted by rational explanation.l From this point of view there is simply no appeal to a higher ‘theoretical’ order of knowledge independent of cultural conditioning. To interpret a text is to enter, willingly or not, into the ‘hermeneutic circle’ which constitutes the basis of all understanding. Theory is deluded if it thinks to get a hold upon texts from some ideal vantage-point of pure disinterested knowledge.

Keywords

Literary Critic Literary Theory Pragmatist Argument Hermeneutic Circle Cultural Consensus 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 1.
    See especially Hans-Georg Gadamer, Truth and Method, trans. and ed. Garrett Barden and John Cumming (London, 1975).Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    See Jürgen Habermas, Theory and Practice, trans. John Viertel (London, 1974).Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    See Habermas, Communication and the Evolution of Society, trans. Thomas McCarthy (London, 1979).Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    See the essays collected in Richard Rorty, Consequences of Pragmatism (Minneapolis, Minn., 1982).Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Rorty, Consequences of Pragmatism, p. 72.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Ibid., p. 74.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Ibid., p. xx.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Ibid., p. 73.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Ibid., p. 78.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Terry Eagleton, Literary Theory: An Introduction (Oxford, 1983) p. vii.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Rorty, Consequences of Pragmatism, p. 87.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    Ibid., p. 89.Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    Paul de Man, ‘The Resistance to Theory’, in Barbara Johnson (ed.), The Pedagogical Imperative (Yale French Studies 63, 19821 pp. 3–20.Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    Rorty, Consequences of PraAmatism, p. 112.Google Scholar
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    Paul de Man, ‘The Resistance to Theory’, p. 11.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., p. 11.Google Scholar
  17. 17.
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  18. 18.
    See Paul de Man, ‘Phenomenality and Materiality in Kant’, in Hermeneutics: Questions and Prospects, ed. Gary Shapiro and Alan Sica (Amherst, Mass., 1984) pp. 121–44.Google Scholar
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    De Man, ‘The Resistance to Theory’. p. 11.Google Scholar
  20. 20.
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  21. 21.
    T. S. Eliot, ‘The Metaphysical Poets’, in Selected Essays (London, 1964) pp. 241–50, p. 247.Google Scholar
  22. 22.
    See T. S. Eliot, The Use of Poetry and the Use of Criticism (London, 1946) p. 156.Google Scholar
  23. 23.
    See T. S. Eliot, ‘The Perfect Critic’, in The Sacred Wood (London, 1928) pp. 1–16.Google Scholar
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    Jean-Francois Lyotard, The Post-Mo dern Condition: A Report on Knowledge, trans. Geoff Bennington and Brian Massumi (Minneapolis, Minn., 1983).Google Scholar
  28. 28.
    Ibid., p. 64.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., p. 65.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Rajnath 1989

Authors and Affiliations

  • Christopher Norris

There are no affiliations available

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