nikki moore

reading un-adorned?

In Uncategorized on February 1, 2009 at 3:04 pm

“the mania for foundations”

politically, psychologically, it is not only compelling but isn’t it simply ‘good rigor’ to search for antecedents?  we live out this mania in every sphere, asking what lead up to the current gaza conflict?  what was behind my last slip of the tongue? etc, etc. etc…

is it to all of this back peddling that Derrida writes, ‘there is nothing outside the text?’

many modes of critical reading have taken this route: close reading, new criticism, they all boil down to the acknowledgement of nothing beyond the page.  no history, no biography.  just the words as you see them there, which of course has with nothing ‘just’ (as in mere) about it as the apparent restriction, the requirement to only see what is seen opens up everything for the reader.  metaphor, puns, word choices all take on a weight formerly lost in the baggage of history. Adorno knew this as well as anyone else.  In his lectures on Kant, beginning to clarify his own methodology, he writes:

“When Kant says that we are drive by our nature to g further and further in order to arrive at some sort of primary and absolute knowledge, it is legitimate for us to cast doubt on this supposed natural disposition.  Or, to put it less anthropologically, since that is not how Kant meant it to be understood, he believes that the compulsion lies in the matter itself.  I should like at least to invite you to consider whether it is not an illusion that if our knowledge is to be secure everything that is known has to be traced back to some ultimate truth or to some primary certitude.  That raises the question whether we are not faced here with what I have elsewhere called the ‘mania for foundations’ (Fundierungswahn).  This is the idea that no piece of knowledge can be understood simply within the framework in which it happens to be located.  I can only be satisfied with it once I have pursued it back to infinity, to the point where nothing further can happen, and nothing can deprive me of this piece of knowledge.  You should be quite clear in your minds that this principle – which is indeed a principle accepted in the entire tradition of Western philosophy – actually implies that there is a match between the knowing mind and the objects of possible knowledge that allows us to reduce every object of cognition to such an absolute.  Only if I start from this metaphysical premise of an ultimate, conclusive identity between the object of cognition and the cognitive faculty can I legitimately require everything I know to be able to demonstrate its credentials in terms of its own founding principles.”  (Adorno, Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, Stanford: 1995.  pp. 52-53)

While deconstructive readings, close readings, as Adorno is here offering and inviting his students/readers to, (though not using that coded terminology, have been criticized as anti-political, or agency leeching… Adorno opens up something almost ethical (though i cringe from the word and its implications, i can’t think of a better…) in asking us to read the text in front of us.  To weigh what is happening in the right here and now of a reading.  Slipping this method of reading into other contexts is both fruitful and dangerous: it would allow us to read a combat scene as the violence it is, without precursor, without justifications of vengeance, right of defense or otherwise.  It would evaluate each moment on its own terms, nothing outside the present tense, present text…

I don’t know if that is what Derrida was getting at.  But by this methodology, what he was getting at is outside of my readable space and I am left with the weight of my own response to his written words.

I’ve outlined the fruit. I imagine you can see the danger, and it is important to remember, to consider, that Adorno knew his audience.  Speaking to a group of well read students, surely he knew for them that history could never be erased even if it could be momentarily bracketed.  We could suggest that this close reading should, might, be coupled with what Judith Butler calls a ‘politics of mourning’ that allows for not only memory but critical commentary on (especially) topics under erasure in order to ensure that history’s most heinous mistakes are not repeated in ignorance.  While this may first sound like the reintroduction of all that lies outside the lines we are inscribing, Butler’s call is an even more rigorous call to read the present.  All of the present – both that which can be easily seen, read and counted, and all that which falls below the readable speakable lines of every present tense/text.

read this way, it isn’t only reading.  or perhaps it is, but reading more fully, more responsibly, responsively, than i had formerly understood it…

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