Derrida & Pedagogy; Writing in the Humanities & Social Sciences; Fall 2011

What   is an introduction? What is its rhetorical movement? Simply, it is   introducing the ideas—presenting the ideas. I cannot even avoid using the   word “present” in the first line. It is paradoxical because something so   large as “issue of education” cannot really, in an absolute sense, be. Or be   present (as some singular object). It is simply my nature to give this idea a   ‘proper’ name which tries to signify some thing. However, it is the case that   this notion does not essentially exist. It is at all times being re-defined   and never static. In fact, that is my purpose—to actively try to   re-articulate the notion of teaching. One could imagine a tertiary   column—perhaps infinite columns/dialogues beyond this one. Their absence is a   visual representation of Derrida’s notion of the trace. My paper is haunted   by what is not there—these words provide the movement of what is there. My   introduction is simply where my thoughts have been manifested, at present.To   state “my aim” is to introduce myself as the authority behind my words—it is   to give my signature in hopes to frame the interpetation. Do not let this   mislead. In all interpretation, differance (the ‘spacing and temporization’   of meaning) runs in all ways; so, even though I aim, I cannot ever hold   firmly to a notion. There is no essence to this adoption of a goal. Perhaps   it is comparable to Immanuel Kant’s theory of art—an art object has no   purpose, only the appearance of purpose, i.e. purposiveness. So the reader   must—as I am the reader as well—engage in the play of mental representations   and affirm the constant play of meaning.


The issue of education seems to be present in all facets of the college system. Not just in the classroom itself,   but also when creating lesson plans, grading papers, and reading assigned   materials—even in administrative discussions, interpretation is confronted.   The more the idea of education is unpacked, the more it seems to be enmeshed   with both students and teachers, and the two roles can only be distinguished   with considerable difficulty. Both participate in the act of interpretation   and communication—a communicative dance that is grossly simplified when   conceived as a mere act of transmission. It would seem that at the heart of   this complex system of communication is the dissemination and interpretation   of meaning that is shared with another (or an Other). Few people have   discussed this issue in more radical and novel terms than the French thinker   Jacques Derrida, who once stated that “the question of teaching runs through   all my work and all my politico-institutional engagements, whether they   concern schools, the university, or the media” (Derrida, 2000, p.16).

It is my aim to research possible ways   that his Deconstructive ideas could impact teachers’ relationships with   teaching—in regards to themselves, the material, and to students. If   Deconstruction is a notion of a text’s inherent instability, then what impact   would this have on a teacher? The broader question being: ‘what is the   responsibility of a teacher?’ Eventually, I conclude that Deconstructive   ideas overlap with liberal education, however their implications have not   been seriously implemented as of yet.

I believe that by adopting an   open-minded, moderately non-authoritative approach not only to interpretation   but also to teaching, a teacher and student can participate responsibly in   interpretation. If a teacher becomes too authoritative, or the material is   presented as being ‘essential’ in some way, there will be incalculable   violence done to the whole act of meaning. In short, a balance must be struck   between formalizing an idea and leaving the idea open to interpretation—this   is also the struggle of my paper. In fact, Deconstruction seems to exceed any   type of method; perhaps it can only be appreciated as an attitude towards   meaning. To engage in this research paper is to engage in the discussion of   interpretation, and it is also an example of how a student’s paper might look in such a class—as you can see,   ‘philosophy’ permeates all aspects of learning, with all of its biases and   benefits.  Herein follows a brief   introduction to Derrida’s philosophy.

Deconstruction   cannot be closely approximated by any word, or collections of words. What   Derrida hopes to point towards with his notion of Deconstruction is precisely   that-which-cannot-be-conceptualized. To call it an “event” is an attempt to   signify some large, complex process that defies fragmentation—this is a   double-bind. Language is that-which-fragments, that-which-disects,   that-which-defers meaning. Yet all I can do is attempt to discuss that-which-is-irreducible.   The reader must affirm the paradox.“Phenomenological   view.” What a fantastically deceptive notion. Phenomenology hoped to finally   achieve the certainty that Descartes had first dreamed about. Their project   was to ‘bracket off’ whatever could be doubted and just describe how   phenomenon is experienced in consciousness. But this cannot hold—the   ‘exteriority’ is forever corrupting the ‘interiority.’ And we cannot claim to   express in absolute terms even our own subjectivity because at all times the   play of meaning is undermining it. Derrida claims in Speech and Phenomena that the voice, used to describe our   subjectivity, “results from the fact that the phenomological ‘body’ of the   signifier seems to be effaced at the very moment it is produced” (20-21). The   moment we articulate, we space the meaning—it rolls throughout the web of   reference, never static.

There   is no “manageable compass.” So I have no duty, correct? If I cannot ever have   a fixed point to rely upon, how can I be blamed for being false? Is there an   ethic in relativism? Is ‘relativism’ as a term too packed with meaning, so   that it already is contradicting itself, begging itself to be shot down?

This   is deceptive. “Method” implies much, in fact, its meaning is always in excess   of itself. Is this simply my method of interpreting data? Of collecting? How   can I account for the bias between this opposition? To collect data is to   look for specific criteria. As objective as I’d like it to be, it cannot be   ultimately objective in its transmission from phenomena, my record of it,   then my writing of it, and finally your understanding of it. There is   potential bias of interpreting throughout. A critical mistake would be to   take this explanation of method as the enclosure of all method. If I had but   one thing, it is a method—and it permeates the entire paper.

Perhaps   the strongest—most disruptive—point to note is that this word “Method” has a   strong contextual meaning within this ‘Research Paper.’ It implies that I am   following strict rules of objectivity. I am at least trying to. However,   throughout all of this discourse is dissemination—my words seek purity,   clarity; perhaps they seek this by ‘hiding’ behind the IMRaD format. But all   interpretations are cutting through this, including my own when I walk away   and return. My signature, indeed, lies.

Herein   lies biographical information. By setting myself up as a piece of evidence—an   interpretable bit of data—I have attempted to put my position of authority   under ‘erasure,’ i.e. open up the field to the play of meaning beyond my own.   Yet I remain the author. I am “inadequate, yet necessary.” I am the author(ity).

I   am fascinated with this comment: “Embracing the tension between   ‘formalization’ and ‘deconstruction.’” A tension implies that both are   present in some way and that they are conflicting. Are they indeed opposites?   Certainly, deconstruction is formless; it spaces and de-structures forms. But   deconstruction is not a presence of any kind. It is the event of absence   inhabiting all that we make present. In fact, what is an “opposition?” If the   two seemingly opposing ideas are indeed not what they seem, then there was no   real opposition to begin with. In fact, the term “opposition” implies that   there could be its opposite: harmony. But text is always disrupted—this is   the pain of reading Deconstructive theory. It is attempting to do what it   says cannot be—absolute meaning. Yet we talk and write, and text and meaning   play. That is our world, always ahead of itself.


Deconstruction is not so much a   method, as it is an event that occurs when we interpret text. Derrida defines   his project in Of Grammatology: “to   make enigmatic what one thinks one understands by the words proximity,   immediacy, presence, the proper—through the irreducible notion of the trace”   (as cited in Kamuf 42). The trace can be best understood via différance. This is the sine qua non of Jacques Derrida’s   theory. It is the “play of differences with language but also the relation of   speech to language, the detour through which I must pass in order to   speak…the becoming-space of time or the becoming time of space   (temporization)” (66-67). The trace is simply all of the meaning that is   absent, yet within the dynamic referential web of a given word.

Derrida believes, from a   phenomenological view, that every time we communicate or interpret, the   signified content is composed of a fluctuating network of what it is not (difference) and an explanation by   relation to other words (deferment).  And, importantly, this cannot used to   create a method so much as a realization of what is always at work.   Differance is the moniker we give “the ‘active,’ moving discord of different   forces, and of differences of forces” (Differance   70).

In Signature   Event Context, Derrida explains that Deconstruction is best considered as   “a work…on conceptual systems.   Deconstruction does not consist in passing from one concept to another, but   in overturning and displacing a conceptual order, as well the non-conceptual   order with which the conceptual order is articulated” (108). It is not a   simple act of flipping an opposition, but a process of re-evaluation along   with awareness of the provisional nature of language. This will become the   basis for Derrida’s notion of responsibility—which is in turn what is   requested of teachers of any institution.

Christopher Norris (2000) elucidates   it particularly well:

“Deconstruction is a dismantling of a   concept of ‘structure’ that serves to immobilize the play of meaning” (5). So   while we are forced through language to simplify, we must realize that there   is always an unqualified reduction taking place. A Deconstructive attitude   would be one that affirms the play of meaning, and, as we will see, this   defies any kind of “manageable compass,” even in regards to pedagogy (11). I   am to investigate how teachers might enact Deconstructive attitudes, and also   if perhaps they already possess such notions in their teaching approach.



To create this paper, I relied on two   main avenues of research: written and verbal language.  In order to understand how Deconstruction   could affect pedagogy, I first needed to acquire an understanding of   Derrida’s work. I relied on several of his most popular articles and essays.   By engaging with his text without the mediation of a secondary analysis, I was   able interpret it most critically. By familiarizing myself with his style,   vocabulary, and ideas, I became better suited to discuss it with professors,   and engage responsibly with secondary analyses.

I also read critics’ interpretations   of Derrida. This entered me into the conversation in general of   Deconstruction, while also refining my understanding of the event of   Deconstruction. In addition, I read some critics applying the idea to   pedagogy, seeing how they experience its effects and possible significance.   This helped me to better articulate questions for professors.

Lastly, I conducted several interviews   with professors from different discourses at North Dakota State University,   particularly within the Liberal Arts. Dr. Krishnan is a Vice President as   well as a Graduate Literature professor. Dr. Homan is head of the Honors   Program and teacher of seminar-style classes. Dr. Cooley and Dr. Wargo are   philosophy professors who fall under the analytic and continental   persuasions, respectively. This helped to give me a relatively large sample   size in order to get both their personal views of Deconstruction, as well as   their personal views of education.

It is also important to note myself as   a source of data—as well as this paper. I am a philosophy and English   double-major writing this paper for—not a literature, nor theory, nor   philosophy class—but an upper-level writing course. I have attempted to   understand and enact an open-ended approach to both the ideas and the paper.   My own ideas written here (and marginally) are examples of how a   student—singularly, me—could attempt to write a Deconstructive paper, i.e.   ever-aware of instability.

My method of analysis was a dynamic   process. I attempted to formalize Derrida’s ideas as best I could in my mind,   hoping to have some fixed point from which to compare my other data. However,   Derrida’s ideas defy formalization—he is trying to signify the   non-conceptual. With this aporia confronted, I set out to analyze data   embracing the tension between ‘formalization’ and ‘deconstruction.’ In fact,   that very tension inspired the double-column format of this paper. I seek to   simplify, for practicality’s sake, the ideas of teachers and theorists, while   relying on my conception of Deconstruction to critique pedagogy. The second   column serves to further expand and tease out the differences and biases   inherent in my text.

In sum, I collected my data as   objectively as I could, i.e. in a formal manner. Then I attempted to comment   on pedagogy with the information I obtained from texts and teachers. Finally,   I critique myself as a text via the second column. Hopefully, the reader   begins to understand that one’s method is never as stable as one would like,   and that there is always more than can be said. Accordingly, what can be said   is never that which is static. Like all papers, this one is a result of   differance.

I   was present. The teachers interviewed were present. Their words were   processed and interpreted by me. I wrote them down. I reviewed them,   utilizing my memory. From there I wrote them down, picking what seemed   ‘relevant’ to me. Now I read them again. Now you read them. At this moment   now, the words’ meanings are being spaced in different ways. To believe that   I could convey what was said is idealistic. But to believe that this is more   pure than if you had been there yourself is equally idealistic. Even in their   voices, the mind’s grapple with text permeates all interpretation.‘In   essence.’ Esse is the Latin infinitive meaning “to be.” The essence of   something is that-which-is. Derrida’s fascination with Western’s metaphysical   privilege of presence is particularly relevant here. There is no meaning   really there—there is only a process of interpretation. Ther e is no ‘is.’   The idea that what ‘is’ (such as a voice) is more accurate than a text is a   bias. The absence of conscious meaning is forever displacing any kind of   ‘is.’ If anything, interpretation is similar to Aquinas’ conception of   truth—it is an act. The act just never ends.

Analyzing   Deconstruction in a given context seems to be another double-bind. We cannot   ever relive or re-summon a historical context; we cannot make it present. But   there is always a context disrupting meaning. So to study something as if it   is in a context seems to be an appropriate structure of analysis, so long as   we consider the context itself provisional. There is always a context, and   there is always a nothingness (or an absence of conscious meaning) that out   of which there emerges an idea. I have ignored so much to articulate what I   have thus far. That is a context. A ceaseless, fluctuating web of nihilation,   which is the place out of which we can communicate.

“Deconstruction   is always happening.” What an amazing statement. He is speaking—making   present—an idea that is non-conceptual. In fact, he is saying this absence is   always present! He is forced to communicate in the vehicle of language, even   if it is to communicate that it is an unreliable vehicle.

From this point on in the interview, Dr.   Krishnan took the role of ‘lecturer.’ As the student, I wondered how these   roles were actually meaningful. Why should I listen? How can Dr. Krishnan say   he is ‘right’ about Deconstruction, and what would happen if I just said,   “You are wrong.” How can pure relativists defend themselves? Or is this idea   of right and wrong remaining in the paradigm of “logic.” I have to assume   that truths are present in order for them to be truths, correct? We are   getting closer to Derrida’s important critique of ‘presence.’ All of Western   metaphysics, he claimed, privileged ‘presence.’ In fact, the study of   metaphysics is the ‘study of being.’ We ARE always in the discourse of   presence. It IS just one of Derrida’s projects to make absence   known…paradoxically as an absent potential present, communicated in presence.

Is   Deconstruction sophistry? If it does not believe in the use of logic per   se—or at least in the reliability of language to offer a cohesive logical   unity—then how does it persuade the reader? Through rhetorical flourishes?   One might note the seemingly more rhetorical nature of this column… What are   its effects? Am I appealing to reason? Am I appealing to emotion? What is the   psychological effect of paradox? Apparently—and I use this word   ironically—paradox is always within language. That which we speak is that   which we cannot express.

“The   Other.” Derrida shares this notion of ‘ultimate alteriority.’ Respecting the   Other is indeed a double-bind. You must attempt to acknowledge their radical   uniqueness, while at the same time maintaining your own uniqueness. One might   compare a Buddhist idea of ethics (Kenneth Inada): “epistemic nullity.” It   requires having no preconceived notions when entering into a dialogue with   someone. Sound idealistic? Doesn’t the method of eliminating preconceived   notions operate as a preconceived notion? More relevantly, how can Dr.   Sullivan account for the singularity of another while still maintaining the   rigor and form of his discourse as he knows it?

The   classic argument against relativism as put forward by Aristotle: if all is   relative, then all I have to do to refute relativism is say that it is   wrong…then it is. This seems to be problematic when investigated further. Can   you really use the ‘logic’ of no-logic to contradict something? Can there   truly be contradiction in a non-logical paradigm. I think relativists are   indeed proposing an entire new paradigm, one that is always ‘at work’ and ‘at   play.’ Statements in a relativistic paradigm might have different conceptions   of meaning. That is all that can be studied—the differences of meanings and   the spacing and temporization of meaning.

To hold philosophy subordinate to science is   to treat ideas like they are holistic bits of data with some essential core.   This is violence.


My interview with Dr. Homan took place   on two separate days: October 14 and November 11. Dr. Homan is a   French/Medieval Literature expert who is in charge of the Honor’s Program. He   leads seminar-style classes.  Also, he   is an advocate and avid reader of Derrida.

When asked about the notion of ‘free   play’ and grading, he expressed that there seemed to be something ‘violent’   about grading, and concluded that: “perhaps the highest compliment a teacher   could give is ‘you’re working on it.’” Any idea that there is “some absolute   standard would have to be thrown out the window.” He personally doesn’t   prescribe to a “deconstructive method” per se, but seems to encourage an   openness in his seminar classes and encourages kids to “explore ideas,”   rather than necessarily uncover some definite thesis/point.

While Dr. Homan seems to appreciate   the “opening up of language,” he does still see the necessity of a teacher to   have some formal standard of which to determine grades with. Similarly, he   understood how teachers “could feel threatened or upset to hear that what   they teach is essentially meaningless—that is in essence.”

Dr. Homan seems very concerned with   the “singularity of the Other…and we must both [teacher and student] actively   seek to confront the impossibility of meaning subject to undecidability.” In

this way, Dr. Homan agrees with Derrida,   even noting “there’s a certain anxiety even when you write down these words.   How will you interpret it?”

Similarly, Dr. Wargo, who actually   teaches Derrida’s work in his Contemporary Philosophy class, said on November   8: “it’s a teacher’s job, in my opinion, to formalize an idea. It’s up to a   student to take it from there.” A teacher cannot teach Deconstruction without   deconstructing it, he noted. So as a philosophical idea, it can be analyzed   and contextualized in the history of thought, but adopting it as a method   seems problematic. “It’s a young man’s game, to me. As a professor gets older   and receives tenure, he tends to get caught in the ‘facticity’ of his career.   Less receptive to change.” And Deconstruction is that: an awareness of   constant change in meaning and reference.

Dr. Wargo stated that for him, the   responsibility of a teacher is to get a student to understand material that   is lectured upon, and then to critically explore the ideas in their papers.   “Instilling intellectual virtues” was his main goal, and the cultivation of   that from a teacher’s standpoint might involve favoring “authenticity over a   typographically perfect paper.” He said, “The moment that you write a paper   because that’s the way I told you to write it, I have failed.” Citing   Levinas, Dr. Wargo mentioned the importance of treating students like the   unique “Other” that they are.

My interview with Dr. Krishnan took   place on Friday, October 21. He is a Vice President/Dean at NDSU and also   teaches graduate level literature classes. He is a strong advocate of Derrida   and various other post-modern theorists.

He stated immediately that   “deconstructing is happening all the time…everyone is always doing it.”   Accordingly, everything is “deconstructable.” Within his classes, Dr.   Krishnan focuses on how the “signification process works within literature.”   He emphasizes how there “is no speaking in a vacuum. It is impossible to   escape from the textuality of any discourse.” For Dr. Krishnan’s teaching, he   explains how texts are believed to act in accordance with a certain logic. It   is the “methodology of deconstruction that makes present the decentered   nature of a logic due to the instability of language.” He explores how “texts   are implodable.” A literature classroom appears to be a very appropriate   place for these ideas since, as he said, the students are encouraged to   disrupt the (already disrupted) text.

When asked about pedagogy as it   relates to Deconstruction, Dr. Krishnan was a little less articulate. He did   not at first like my research idea—but after discussing differance, he agreed   that it must have some implications for teaching. When further considering   teaching, Dr. Krishnan concluded that “pedagogy is an imposition of form. We   must always ask how one understands language within this ‘free play.’ It is a   never-ending task, but one of the utmost importance.” We can see an   interesting tension between theory and practice within his literature   courses.

My interview with Dr. Dale Sullivan   took place on November 8. Formally the Chair of the English Department, he   now focuses on teaching graduate-level rhetoric courses and doing research   related to the history of rhetoric. Dr. Sullivan is not particularly familiar   with Derrida’s theories, claiming “no one was able to really explain it to   me… Something about language being unstable and contradictory….”

Surprisingly, Dr. Sullivan possesses a   quite similar approach to teaching. Citing the ancient Sophist tradition of   the disoi logoi, he encourages students   “to argue for one side, then argue for the other. I have been considering   having kids run a kind of critique of their own work much like your project.”   However, although Dr. Sullivan sees the merit this kind of practice because   it “moderates dogmatism and encourages a rigorous engagement with the text,”   he disagrees with some of Deconstruction: “I believe in truth, even if it is   simply a subjective recognition of it. I can’t go all the way with the   post-moderns, although they’ve greatly helped to open up discourse in the   liberal arts.” It has “destabilized hegemony knowledge.”

For him, the responsibility of a   teacher is to “fully recognize the ethical agency in the Other [i.e.   students].” In order to help remove any barriers to communication, he makes   it mandatory that students visit with him during office hours for a   one-on-one talk. Overall, he said that he “lectures to introduce formal   ideas, and in order for students to participate in a discourse—even if it is   to deconstruct, I suppose—they have to learn the language.”

Lastly, my interview with Dr. Cooley   took place on November 2. Dr. Cooley is the head of the Philosophy Department   and teaches several “Capstone” classes for graduating Seniors. In contrast to   Dr. Wargo, Cooley is an analytic philosopher and accordingly does not intellectually   agree with most post-modern thought.

Dr. Cooley said in regards to   post-moderns (including Derrida), “I have absolutely no reason to believe   what they say. They have no criterion of truth.” He thinks it is ironic that   people, such as Derrida, who do not believe in ‘absolute truth,’ continue to   argue as if they are ‘right.’ He continues, “What they don’t understand is   that they are trying to legitimize themselves with precisely what they are   detracting: logic.”

In regards to teaching, Dr. Cooley   thinks his responsibility is to foster the ability to logically analyze in   his students. He wants “all students to be able to think for themselves, so   that they can be ethical, responsible citizens.” As far as grading goes, it   is important that students adhere to “general rules of logic. They have to be   able to make a coherent, logically cohesive argument in order to persuade   people in philosophy.” The lack of clarity in Derrida is one of Dr. Cooley’s   biggest criticisms. In general, analytic philosophers, like Dr. Cooley, think   that philosophy should serve as an extension, or supplement, to science. And   insofar as it helps science, it is good.

 Perhaps the largest bias of a paper is   the “Results” section. Yes, it is the objective content, insofar as this data   can be objectified. At all times, it is my interpretation of Derrida, my   interpretation of differance. But this is not even the most important point,   for the readers’ interpretation (and I become the reader the moment I cease   writing) is also an entirely unique and never-ceasing movement of   understanding.The   “Other” is an attempt to account for a wholly foreign existence beyond   myself. It is similar to differance; it is   that-other-which-we-cannot-objectify. We can only affirm their singularity in   our personal, subjective apprehension. How can I command you to respect the   “Other” while still respecting your “Otherness?” Of course, I cannot. There   is ‘violence’ done when we treat an “Other” like ourselves—just like we treat   a book like it has knowable, essential content. We do not account for the   multiplicity of meaning. This disrupts my paper at all times.

Is   it possible to receive a heritage and NOT re-interpret it? Filter it?   Transform it? In a sense, the answer is an adamant “no.” The heritage is   always being displaced by the person understanding it, communicating it. This   is because there is no “center” to the text to begin with. Perhaps more   accurately, Derrida’s response to teachers is about self-consciousness and   self-reference, i.e. to let the students (and yourself) know that your   interpretation is a wholly unique and transformative take. And to expect a   student to re-iterate precisely what you have said is destined to fail.

So   there is a bias towards the “Other” that is prescribed even by post-moderns,   even by Derrida. The bias that they “are individuals who are capable of both   repetition and memory, etc” (18/17). Why is this bias acceptable? Perhaps, in   some sense, it is not. Can one prescribe an ethic from a viewpoint like   Deconstruction without contradicting themselves? Perhaps Derrida is simply   doing a necessary simplification. Also, one could argue that to think a   person capable is not to know what they will do, but simply to give them the   chance, the liberty, to do what they will. Questions are left open in regards   to the treatment of the uneducated, disabled, or unstable people—are we to   grant them liberties as well?

Derrida   knows that his vision of a university is ‘ideal.’ Any ‘vision’ that someone   could have is necessarily ‘ideal.’ It is the internal perception of an idea,   and although it is based off of some reality, it cannot ever have a complete   one-to-one match up with external phenomena. This is because of differance in   language. And Derrida believes language—the text—is inescapable. This is   Derrida’s aporia: to communicate that which is incommunicable.

Egea-Kuehne   wants to abolish any kind of opposition between philosophy and ‘philosophy of   teaching.’ How can we collapse oppositions? Does not a new opposition appear?   Or a new, third term simply becomes present? Can the human mind, ultimately,   escape oppositional thinking? I suppose one might say the question itself   assumes an opposition (e.g. ‘oppositional thinking’/‘non-oppositional   thinking). My answer would be that we cannot escape it, which is why   deconstructive attitudes towards text is so important—it allows us to   continually (although always too late, in a sense) re-articulate ourselves in   order to avoid radicalism.

Aliya   Weise. Making a method out of Deconstruction. Doesn’t every critical theory   bear with it the desire to create some system? Can a theory exist without a   system? It seems Deconstruction attempted to be the first—I would approximate   it as a ‘de-systematizing system.’ By reading Derrida, by following certain   habits of thought (can this suffice as a definition of ‘system’?), we can see   how unsystematic we are. This certainly seems like a paradox. And, if   anything, I hoped this column would draw out paradoxes, even if it is to my   own embarrassment. Paradox is the tension by which we continue to   re-articulate because we see our present theory is insufficient. And since it   continually arises, then it is a sign that this system is effective. Weise’s   own system is imperfect, and he realizes that it is necessarily so because   perfection is an impossibility with words. What other critical theory can   fold in on itself and remain intact like Deconstruction? Is it an honor or a   disgrace?


Derrida seems to apply most of his own   ideas about responsibility to pedagogy—in a lot of ways, they seem to be   overlapping issues. First, responsibility is always situated towards the   Other.  The Other is the “radical   alterity” of anyone who is not oneself. Like the trace, it is “marked by   irreducibility” (73). To communicate with someone else is a double-bind   because we are obliged to treat them in regards to their radical uniqueness,   while at the same time communicating in a language that is always   over-simplifying.

Derrida inherits his idea of the Other   from Emmanuel Levinas. He spent much of his philosophy focusing on the   relationship with other people. Bettina Bergo describes his philosophical   focus on the Other as, “That encounter [which] evinces a particular feature:   the other impacts me unlike any worldly object or force.” And while we can   relate to them insofar as they are like us, this intersubjectivity remains   indeterminate. This Derrida stresses; we cannot ever know the other as an   absolute, essential other. But an ethic emerges through “the non-reciprocal   relation of responsibility.” Embracing the indeterminacy, we can attempt to   communicate with them while acknowledging their irreducible uniqueness. This   means having no assumed knowledge or trying to coerce someone into an   intellectual position.

Derrida stresses the teacher’s   responsibility to ‘the Other.’ The teacher, like the philosopher (these two   terms seem to conflate), has “to select, filter, interpret, and therefore   transform, to not leave intact” the heritage of knowledge they are dealing with   (2001/16). This is Derrida’s prescription to teachers—and it is a double   bind.  They must preserve the heritage   of information, and “at the same time, one must question it, reinterpret,   critique, displace it.” In order to acknowledge the sovereignty of the   extreme alterity of existence, i.e. the Other, we must allow for them the   right to interpret things without the pressure, or enclosure, of the   teacher’s authority.

Along with this preservation of   heritage, a teacher must acknowledge students as wholly individual and   autonomous. The teacher must treat them like “individuals who are capable of   both repetition and memory… prepared to respond before, to respond of   and to respond to what they ha[ve]   heard, seen, read and known a first time” (18/1992). To impose any kind of   absolute form on them is to cheat them out of their intellectual sovereignty.   And like Levinas’ conception of the “Other,” we cannot assume that they are   identical to us and will learn and think like us.  However, Derrida acknowledges that there   are occasions “when an urgent and binary choice” is necessary when teaching   and communicating. In fact, he speaks of “duty to respond in a simple   [straightforward] fashion,” such as “in the case of Apartheid” (20/1112002).   Like all communication, we must simplify—that is what language does; it   simplifies phenomena.

Likewise, Derrida has an extremely   liberal and progressive view of universities in general.   His ideal university is “a place of   absolute independence in the questioning and in the quest for truth, in the   face of any power” (22/18). However, he realizes the ideality, stating “this   freedom, in fact, has never existed” (22/18). However, educators must   ceaselessly pursue the ideal although “the task is infinite” (23/[2000]18).   And although the results of this rigor for truth—by investigating any sort of   inherent bias—are “unanticipatable,” it is our task to “refine ever more   scrupulously” both his thought, and all theories (23/18).

Philip Higgs has attempted to   integrate Deconstruction and pedagogy. He claims, “educators should   deconstruct the ideological influences that imprison educational   discourse…[yet] affirm education, and attempt to determine what it can and   should do today in our society” (175).    His views are similar to those of Denise Egea-Kuehne, who believes   that any sort of opposition between philosophy and ‘philosophy of teaching’   “would be paralyzing” (21). Indeed, the liberal critical examination of any   text, or any idea, must be allowed at any place in academia. Higgs argues   that Derrida’s ideas are “a rejection of a theoretical approach to   responsibility…[we can] no longer rely on codes inherited from politics or   ethics” (173/packet).

Both of these sources seem to take a   political stance. Deconstruction should not be limited to a vacuum, such as   literary theory, but instead ought to be embraced as “a particular mode for   experiencing ideas—in terms of language, justice, the other and   responsibility” (175).  And it is   indeed a focus on the student as Other and treating them as the unique   singularity that they are. Egea-Kuehnes’ ideal ‘deconstructive classroom’   would be one that deconstructs an idea “to grasp it, understand it through   its fractures, its cracks…inconsistencies…not to destroy the preceding system   of thoughts, but to…uncover their assumptions” (19). He stresses the   importance of the impossible task of a teacher (i.e. preserving a heritage by   allowing it to change). Without this tension, there would not be any decision   and “therefore no responsibility to be taken, only a set of rules to follow”   (24).

Undergraduate English professor Aliya   Weise, from George Washington University, makes a fascinating study case. He   tells students that their grades will depend on “the revisions made in   response to their peers’ critiques…as their peers see their concerns   adequately addressed.”  Weise describes   his approach to teaching as “deconstructive,” and that the task of each   student is “to write for Others, not just me as the other.” He does this in   order to avoid any kind of ‘violence’ to learning that occurs when a student,   instead of engaging authentically with an idea, tries to fulfill the   arbitrary wishes of the teacher. He believes that by “placing [his] position   under erasure” he can avoid any kind of suffocating authority imposed upon   the students.

Weise realizes that he must,   ultimately, act as the “prime mover, or decider” in the classroom. He likes   to ‘de-center’ himself in the classroom by posting on a website for the class   in addition to the typical classroom interactions. He explains this does not   force kids to react to one specific question, but rather “ a trace   worth noting.” Truthfully, Weise wonders if he is “doing the students a   disservice” by not being a more traditional teacher. He concludes that his approach   “insists that I am open, always, to the possibility that I too might   fail…[but] the assumption that [we (i.e. teacher and students)] will master   any discourse is contrary to my pedagogy.” Indeed, in the classroom that   acknowledge multiplicity in meaning, there cannot ever, in a since, be   absolute mastery.


What   separates a ‘Discussion’ from all other areas of this research paper? Wasn’t   I discussing the entire time? As far as this column goes, I certainly was   engaged in nothing more than a discussion. That’s another bias of this   format—it attempts to situate the ‘analysis’ in the discussion section alone.   In fact, one might say this is the least analytical part of the IMRaD because   I have already filtered and chosen what to present and how. By the time I   reach the discussion section, I am merely making explicit what I hoped all   the data has already proven.This   overlap in liberal studies and Deconstruction, is it accidental? Is there   something in human nature that accommodates and reinforces liberal studies?   That might very well be what some liberal arts teachers say—that there is   something more humane about them. However, Deconstruction is not allowed a   therapeutic claim like that. Deconstruction states that this (i.e.   differance) is how the human mind works—here are our shortcomings. It does   not put an optimistic spin on the system, instead it forces the individual to   choose their attitude towards the ‘free play.’ Throughout Derrida’s work, I   can sense this Nietzschean ‘Yes’ to multiplicity.

What   if there was a collapse of distinction between philosophy and philosophy of   teaching? Wouldn’t the professors of Philosophy completely usurp any   discussion of it? Well, they too would be collapsed. But no Philosophy   Department? Certainly, there needs to be classes teaching the logic   consistency of arguments, as well as the history/genealogy of philosophical   and political arguments and theories. However, the tools to evaluate, and the   legitimacy to argue, must not be compartmentalized in one department. It was   permeate the entire curriculum.

Is   Deconstruction a radicalized skepticism? Is skepticism better because it does   not make any sort of system or prescription (or much of a description) except   that we cannot be certain? I believe that one could trace Deconstruction   through phenomenology and through Kant’s idealism which was a response to   Hume’s skepticism. Like phenomenology, it seeks to describe how content is   perceived in the human mind. Differance is a phenomenological claim. In this   way, it offers more than skepticism, but in a negative way—i.e. it merely   describes our limitations. Derrida’s views on “responsibility” are always   towards the unknown “Other.” Because of that, I do not believe it over-steps   its bounds, and it offers more than basic skepticism.

Can   a professor teach Deconstruction? By teaching it, it means that it could be   tested and graded upon, and this implies that there would be some objective   standard from which to measure it. Certainly, a student could be tested on   any formulated idea in a classroom. However, if Deconstruction is formulated   and tested upon in such a way, then there is violence done because the   Deconstruction is being fragmented and compartmentalized into one are of   study—to the exclusion of everything else. A responsible way of teaching   Deconstruction, and testing on it, would be what this very paper seeks to   do—continually deconstruct, whether it is the idea, a theory, or any kind of   statement. By engaging consciously in the process of dissemination of   meaning, we can best exhibit our understanding of that which is inherently   non-conceptual.

Example   of Teacher’s comments:“I, as the authority, think you did a Good   job on the lateral thinking! Based on my criteria and judgment You   really thought outside (yet inside enough for me to appreciate) of the   box which I gave you.!”

I   discuss the differences between “academic agonism” and “Deconstruction.” An   opposition is set up. I eventually conclude that Deconstruction is against   oppositional thinking. I still stand by this statement. Deconstruction   displaces oppositional thinking as any kind of focal point for certainty. It   does this by exploiting oppositional thinking and showing how the movement of   meaning is always disruptive.

Is   Deconstruction simply this: A project to raise up the non-privileged in an   opposition? I believe that this is very close to what Derrida’s project   was—merely one project, one instance of reversing privileges, i.e. absence   over presence. There remain many, perhaps infinite, possibilities of such a   reversal. But the integrity of Deconstruction is that it does not stop—it   cannot let you ever stop—at a mere reversal because it states that it always   happens. All my paper has done was to bring up where pedagogic standards (as   seen in a few teachers) have inconsistencies. This column tries to account   for my own inconsistencies via the IMRaD. Your analysis is surely bringing   forth more inconsistencies. It never ends. It is an embrace of the “dissoi   logo,” but not as a separate and distinct realm, but as always-already   present, perhaps especially as an absence, in any text.

If   it can be “necessary at times to simplify an idea” (XX), then how can we know   when to do this? What’s the prescription? There cannot be a prescription per   se. This quote merely allows us to do what we always do every time we   speak—simplify phenomena. If we were not allowed to do so, then we would   never be able to speak. Again, speech and language are imperfect vehicles for   communication, but to even think this way presupposes what a language ought   to do. Imagine if all concepts and words could only be understood in   precisely the same way. There would be totalitarian authorities (because   there is only one right interpretation). Everything would simply be   analytical science, and we would be done when had exhausted our object of   study. Certainly, there is something humane and sympathetic within the   non-totalizing and liberal attitude of Deconstruction. This humanity disrupts   all ideologies and conformities, whether they be bound in space and time, or   bound in a paper with lines and columns.

Discussion:Deconstructive methods, such as   putting one’s authority as teacher under erasure, can greatly benefit the   student, as well as philosophy at large. While some argue that   Deconstruction, along with post-modernism, is baseless theoretical word-play   or has no merit whatsoever, I believe that it is evident through this data   that there is a great congruency between some Deconstructive notions and a   liberal education in regards to the “Other.” However, there is an urgent need   to collapse the distinction between “philosophy” and “philosophy of   teaching,” and lastly, the implications of this collapse must reach across   the curriculum.

Both a liberal education and   Deconstruction urge the appreciation of multiculturalism, which could be   considered a large “Other.” All of the teachers, whether they were advocates   or detractors of Derrida’s theories, had a concern for the students as   intellectual agents. All the professors also encouraged a reading of a wide-array   of cultural books. This appreciation for other cultures mirrors in many ways   Derrida’s appreciation of “the Other.”

The next issue with regards to the   “Other” is if the teacher treats each student like they are a wholly unique   “Other.” I believe, as is evident through my interviews, that most teachers   are concerned with treating students with respect towards their intellectual   sovereignty. However, each certainly has their own personal project towards   the student—even Weise is aware that this personal bias cannot be avoided.   Dr. Cooley is the most questionable because he seems concerned with the   students insofar as they conform to the traditional standard of logic. He   does not allow them to critique logic itself from a deconstructive viewpoint   in his classroom. So, I believe, that this is precisely the spot where a deconstructive   attitude would be most beneficial.

One of the most important ideas I have   gotten from my data is that it is important to collapse any sort of absolute   distinction between “philosophy” and “philosophy of teaching.” This is a   deconstructive move in itself, and by doing so, we can eliminate any kind of   total resistance by people like Dr. Cooley. While it is important to allow   teachers to continually re-articulate their own methods and theories, by   collapsing this distinction, we can force teachers to always re-articulate   themselves to the always unique needs of the “Others.” Because of Dr.   Cooley’s position as a philosophy professor—and an analytic one—he is far   more resistant to apply the rigor of Deconstruction, or entertain such ideas,   towards his practice of education.

Lastly, the implications of this   collapse of distinction need to reach beyond just literature and philosophy   classes. Many of the liberal arts encourage unique interpretations of material   because the material itself is thought to be open-ended, particularly   literature. I think it is no mere accident that Derrida’s ideas first came to   fruition in American via Yale’s English Department. In large part, I think   there is a bit of intuitiveness with some of the basics of Deconstruction—it   is perhaps similar to skepticism, which fuels many conversations. This is not   to say that Deconstruction itself is essentially intuitive—it defies that   there is any such ultimate essence to be intuited. However, this non-stop   questioning that stems from it greatly resembles skepticism, which has been   around for as long as we have recorded history.

However, I believe that there is a   certain hesitancy for educators to adopt any sort of overtly Deconstructive   method. Dr. Cooley’s statement that “post-modernists lack any criterion of   truth. I have absolutely no reason to believe what they say,” seems to be a   popular sentiment for critics of Deconstruction. I would argue that Dr. Cooley   still openly invites students to discuss and disagree with any idea that he   states, but students “must have some reason. They must engage in a logical   discourse.” So it can be seen that Dr. Cooley honors the “Otherness” of his   students to the extent that they operate within the confines of his logical   schemata. How fair is this? I would say that teachers such as Dr. Cooley (an   analytic philosopher) fail to preserve the heritage of philosophy completely   because they believe its history serves no purpose except that which   practically aids science.

And this speaks to my larger point,   that simply allowing a non-totalizing attitude (Deconstructive) towards   literature is doing a disservice because it reinforces its legitimacy as   solely a literary tool. In fact, I believe that it is used most responsibly   across the curriculum, as this will encourage its use outside of the   curriculum. It should be used to expose any inconsistencies, any imbedded or   assumed biases, and any play of meaning, whether in the classroom or in the   politics of college.

When teachers subordinate a topic to   another (such as philosophy to science), they delimit a discourse that is   always beyond itself, by Derrida’s definition of language. So in what   classroom would a student be able to analyze the event of interpretation as   is seen throughout philosophy? Not in Dr. Cooley’s classroom, at least not   for any points towards a good grade. I think there has to be some balance   struck: a teacher must formalize ideas—you can’t deconstruct nothing—but must   also accept/expect a free interpretation beyond the discourse’s schemata.   However, there has to be a grade in a class, so it makes sense to test some   level of memorization (for how can you analyze that which you don’t   approximately know), but I believe there should be a large percentage of a   grade that accounts for a student’s ability for lateral thinking, as well as   his ability to show the general instability of ideologies.

To return back to the notion of   “balance,” I would like to consider Walter Ong’s notion of ‘academic   agonism,” i.e. “ritualized opposition” or “ceremonial combat” and   argumentation (as cited in Graff & Berkenstein 215). I believe it is   important to distinguish this from any sort of deconstructive conception of   dialogue. Agonism is seen as a negative habit of students, and even teachers,   of habitually adopting positions of opposition towards some aspect of   another’s work. Many people consider Deconstruction a similar baseless and   mean-spirited parody of meaning. However, Deconstruction absolutely cannot   advocate any type of method of dialogue—because it simply indicates that   which already happens. In fact, it works to disrupt any kind of habitual   opposition. This needs to be understood across the curriculum.

So, if one were to disregard a deconstructive   notion based on this misconception, they are doing violence to it. Like the   data stated, Deconstruction is not an adoption of a method, but a rigorous   attitude against adopting any sort of totalizing method. So, if people   habitually tear down some aspect of, let us say a book, they are doing   violence by creating and adhering to some kind of opposition, whether it be   structure/structureless, eloquence/profanity.

Dr. Krishnan stated: “Deconstruction   happens all the time. Every moment. Anytime somebody communicates or   conceptualizes anything.” As we can see, Deconstruction is not any kind of   prescriptive mode of behavior; if anything, it is an awareness, or an   attitude, of the limits of knowledge and language, due to the very fact that   all knowledge is language. Language permeates all levels of our epistemic   lives.

A Deconstructive attitude towards   teaching may be similar to what Dr. Sullivan calls the “dissoi logoi”—which   can be defined as a method of arguing both for and against a topic (think of   ‘disrupting logos’). However, such a method I would advocate would be to be   ever-aware of the “third man problem,” i.e. there is always another relation   to compensate for between any two terms. Dr. Sullivan has entertained the   idea of having students critique themselves in the margins (much like I am   doing) in an attempt to further refine their understanding. A Deconstructive   attitude would be a similar one that does not see an end to any kind of   refinement. A teacher would have students identify how any word or notion can   displace the centrality of any concept—whether it is directed towards “plot”   in literary analysis, or “parties” in politics.

It is important to note that Derrida says   “It can be necessary at times to simplify an idea” (XX). So such an approach   to teaching would not involve obfuscation immediately—instead it is seeing   how the play of language has already rendered meaning obscure. This attitude   would reinforce multiculturalism, or at least stifled prejudice because it   would always push a person to consider how complex and immediately ‘violent’   stereotypes are. So while we might begin by simplifying ideas, it is only in   order to see how ideas start simple in our minds but are always in excess of   themselves.

This paper, by its very nature, is   prohibited from any kind of tidy generalizations, but I believe the   importance of a non-totalizing approach towards teaching has been persuasively   reinforced. While it is evident through my data that a liberal education   already encourages multiculturalism and hospitality towards the “Other,”   philosophy needs to be liberalized from the Philosophy Department and allowed   to rigorously and continuously disrupt all discourses.


1 thought on “Derrida & Pedagogy; Writing in the Humanities & Social Sciences; Fall 2011”

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