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Stephen Ross 11 Octob 2002 er Derrida's"Structure, in Changing Subjects RolandBarthes "Deathof the Author" andin Jacques of Sign, andPlay in the Discourse the HumanSciences" Derrid4 in "Structure,Sign, Both RolandBarthes,in "Deathofthe Author," andJacques conceming makeexplicit statements andPlay in the Discourseof the HumanSciences," to "subjects"(i.e., individuals) that would be anathema thosewho believethat certainwriters are geniuses.It is this afiefact,this particular, subjecf-theAuthor (or engineer)-alongwith its However,Derrida,by prestige,that BarthesandDerridaarunost interested disassembling. in and natureofboth ClaudeL6vi-Shaussand drawing attentionto the leadership exceptional to as FriedrichNietzsche,andby characterizing deconstruction a critical approach language to choice,implicifly suggests which not only providesmore choices the writer, but which enables that he still believesin the writer asernpowered.It is likely that Derridawould preferthat 'tis" and text communicate readers humanists to that havevastly both overestimated overemphasized live in the contol and creativity of singleindividuals. But given that many of his readers
De,rrida may haveto be ascarefirl asBarthesis cultureswhich celebrate believein geniuses, and when discussing innovationto avoid unintentionallyreinforcingreaders'prejudices. The Norton Antholoey ofTheory andCriticism states that structuralism "sharesin the widespread ongoingmodemantihumanism decenters individual, porhaying the self and that the of asa constuct and a consequence impersonal syst€rrs. Individuals [accordingto stucfiralist critics] neitheroriginatenor control the conventions mentallife, or oftheir socialexistence, mothertongue"(20). And because individualsarebetterunderstood acteduponthanaswilful as preferthe term "subject,"which connotes initiators,structuralists and to obedience subjugation, "person,"which connotes activewill (20). Both Barthes, stucfuralist, Derrida,a an and a deconstructionist, the word "subject"ratherthan"person"in their texts,andboth critics use
agree that individualshavelimited controloverlanguage. theyboth because is and Thoughboth Barthes Derridabelievethat everyone a subject, in they of the share interestin abolishing importance the Author/engineer, attend, particular, an more, requires (i.e.,the writer). ThoughBarthes arguingthatthereader is to the writing-subject by hopes makethis argument first to Barthes thanthe writer normallyreceives, not less,attention is for the reverence the Author is/was. Barthes how demonstrating inappropriate humanist his (1468)that"[an Author's]person, life, view of his predecessors" by disgusted the "pathetic of (1466)deserue claimsthatthis conception the closeattention.Barthes his tastes, passions" his of was"killed" by the discoveries linguistics writer asgeniusis now known to be misleading--it Author--thescriptor--eliminates, (1467). His replacement the concept an autonomous for of (1468), he/she only "imitats . .'.-lgestures" can ideasareoriginal,because noneof his/trer because in he/she, muchasthe text, is a "space which a varietyof [influencesf. .Jolend as andbecause of the andclash"(1468), "prestige the individual"(1466). be Derrida,too, derides ideaof an engineer the "who couldsupposedly the absolute it'out of nothing"' (965). In fact, construct and origin of his own discourse wouldsupposedly givenisolatedexamples from his text, Derridaqualifiesa morelimited role for the arguably, the is circumscribing traditionalrole of the writer writer thanBarthes does. Barthes dramatically thoughnearly scriptor, sothat"his poweris [only] to mix writings"(1468).But Barthes' powerless, ilranges--that he still hassomeinfluenceon whena thoughtbeginsor ends. is, still it Derrida'swriter is described merely"follow[ing] . .)'traces' wherever leads"(970). He/she as
g]" of becomes'almost agent "surrender[in (97013i-t.]dto the agency by ldcompletely passive
': - '..'/
(970),but, at times,this adventure is signifiers. Derridadescribes activity asan "adventure" this characterized that it seems it is the signifiersthat adventure, so that with the writer merely providingtransport.
However,if a writer's powersarevastlylimited compared the humanistconception to of them,thenno singleindividualwa:rants attention uponthem. Indeed, too the formerlylavished muchattention anyparticularwriter risks conveying impression it is exactlythe that to the (1466),ffid maybeevenhis genius which are his writer's "person, life, his tastes, passions" his of is conception an individualto be avoided worth noting. The subjectasgenius the fundamental a because a by thosewho favour analyzing text's complexityovera writer's consciousness, and geniusoriginates; of is as he/she construed the source his/hertext. Yet both Barthes that both acknowledge therehavebeen Derrida,who explicitly denythatwritersareoriginators, in very importantinnovations critical thoughtwhich haveleadto a moresophisticated abouttheir understanding language.Thereis nothingintrinsicallyproblematic of with has acknowledgement contributions. But sinceinnovation for so long beenassociated of and the effortsof geniuses, both Barthes Derridacancounton havingtheir qualifiedappreciation however, moresothanDerrida,carefullydealswith beingmisunderstood readers. Barthes, by with great individuals. innovationin his text so asto minimizeits association Barthes only tellsus thatit is "the text itself [which]plays"(1472),thatit is language not are which "'performs,'andnotfr. 1'him (1467), convinces thatindividuals less he us ,1" t'
importantthat we might heretoforeimagined. in Importantdevelopments the historyof thought, suchasthe moresophisticated understanding the writer asan integrated subject, ffie of acknowledged Barthes, he creditsthemto the work of a collective--linguists, exampleby but for -ratherthanto the effortsof oneman. He refersto the discoveries "recentresearch" (L469), of which conveys sense research a that naturallygivesrise to discoveries. this instance, also In he refersto the effortsof a specific researcher, within parenthesis ("(J.-P.Vernant)"),so but that its inclusionin the text seems optional. Barthes understands if he wantsto persuade that his readers "voice [should]losr . jtr origin" (1466),he is bestserved referringto groupsor that by
creditfor importantdiscoveries. collectives, whereinthe individualvoiceis lost,whenassigning he importantinnovations not only refersto the work of specific WhenDerridadescribes right and thernsothattheir leadership their decisions, individuals,but describes dramatizes and as Nietzsche "show[ing]. . . us theway," to or wrong,seem be worth noting. Derridadescribes orvery Theyareeitherprophets, to as andL6vi-strauss "[bringrng] lighl .:1freeplat''Q70). men--orrather,flawedheroes.Derrida prophet-like.They seem be unusual noteworthy and to in (he "oneno lessperceives Ldvi-strauss nostalgic acfuallysays, comes very closeto declaring for an his work a sortof ethicpresence, ethicof nostalgia origins"t970]). He alsodescribes tragicallyflawedherois a highly Romantic Nietzsche "seeking"(970). The ever-seeking, as (andhumanist)conception a man. Indeed, the arguably, only thing missingfrom this of of the characterizationis Romanticconception the heroasa manof genius. The reader, then,in Derrida'stext,come and however,^uy(:tnl in theblank.i; Both L6vi-Strauss Nietzsche, amongst othersaretrying to ideaof a person that stucturalists closeto resembling humanist the abolish. Derridaof reinforcinghumanist An argument be madethat it is absurd accuse to can he closelyto the thoughtof assumptions thereire gteatindividualssimplybecause attends that Both writersareattended because their work undermines to both Nietzsche L6vi-Strauss. and realization we should"passbeyondman and humanistconventions. It is Neitzsche's that is as humanism"(970)that Derridafindspraise-worthy.L6vi-strauss described showingthe final truth,but towardsanunderstanding the of w&y,b/nottowards someabsolute indeterminate natureof language.If L6vi-Strauss portrayed a prophet, is as then,his message, that therecanbe no final truth, is unlike anythingprophesied before. Moreover,if Barthes'text is deemed especially well-suitedfor minimizingdramatically different,evenopposite, understandings readers a writer's intended by of message, it is only fair to notethat Barthes then
so hasno problemconceptu alizingof an individualasa shaman long ashe is not also is by nor characterized a genius(1466). And neitherL6vi-Strauss Nietzsche credited Derrida as
/ t 1 ' l
for originating anything;,(terely for discovering aspectsof languagethat have always existed. i Yet in the passagewhere he acceptsthe conception of an individual as a shaman,Barthes
on emphasizes in "ordinaryculture""[t]he imageof literaturql .js tyrannicallycentered the that of thenchanging modernconceptions the writer asgenius author"(1466). If Barthes correct, is aroundthe works of requires extra-care he takesto avoidappearing centrearguments to the that which include anyonewriter. Derrida'slengthydiscussions in particular,L6vi-Strauss, of, possible quotations a effectof reinforcing reader's sizeable from his works,risk theunintended pre-existing beliefin "GreatMen." perhaps, this he Barthesavoidsconveying impression, because follows what he preaches: that is, his text is influenced a writer who focuses readers much ason writers. Whereas on as by and Derridamay haveus thinking of the writer asa man"whoseindividualconsciousness 'his" text suggests thesequalitiesmay indeedbe choice"(Norton 20) arerelevant, because that who shares relevantto him. Unlike Barthes, of with Derridathe conception writing asa performance, Derridadoesnot (andlikely doesnot intendto) convince that it is the language us in which "'performs,'andnot [thewriter]" (1467).Though thereareselect statements Derrida's has text which canbe quotedto help argue contrary, likely over-allimpression reader a the the it afterreadingthe text is that Derridais excitedaboutdeconstruction, because somehow not language, because makes writer moreconscious the waysof language than enables but it the of he hadbeenpreviously. Derridaprobablyintendsto encourage and of both a broaderawareness how language culturecontribute andcontrolindividualchoice,ffid how this discovery to actuallyexpands individual choice. Derridais sophisticated, his argument the co-existence seemingly for ffid of
paradoxical outcomes intelligible. But readers is might soonforgetthat Derrida,though anpoweringchoice,doesnot believein the singularlyempowered mind (the genius).Thebelief at in genius,in the powerof individualwill andcreativity,is so sfrong(in Westerncultures least) that readers may havetroublereading particulartext of Derrida'sin a way that doesnot this reinforcetheir prejudices. is who, unassisted, a source NeitherBarthes Derridabeliev nor ?nuta writer is a person so of original ideas. But, by attending closelyto specificwriters,aswell asto their texts,Derrida pre-existing haveof writers. If Derrida's may strengthen ratherthanweaken readers associations perhaps deconstruction takes, delightin individual choicetypifiesthe directiondeconstruction assumptions of owesits ongoingpopularityin partbecause canbe madeto fit with humanist it an empowered individual.
Derrida,Jacques. of "Structure,Sign,andPlay in the Discourse the HumanSciences." &g TextsandContemporaqv Trends. Ed. DanielRichter. Critical Tradition: Classic Boston: Bedford Books, 1989.959-971. Richter,David H., ed. The Critical Tradition: Classic Trends. Boston: TextsandContemporaqv Bedford Books, 1989. Roland,Barthes."The Deathof the Author." TheNortonAntholoeyof TheoryandCriticism. Ed. VincentB. Leitch. New York: W. W. NortonandCompany, 2001.1466-1470.