On Wandering pt. I

30 December 2005 at 3:08 pm Leave a comment

I love discovering the meanings of words that are hidden in etymologies.  This is essentially the deconstructive impulse, as I learned it from Derrida translator John Leavey way back in grad school:  identify the metaphor underlying a word and then undermine it or turn it against itself. . . . This is where deconstruction gets its bad reputation:  critics like to say that deconstructionists are “nihilists” because they deny any possibility of meaning, but it’s more that they point out the inherent difficulty of making meaning with language–they identify how slippery language can be:  our intended meanings get away from us.  Bill Clinton and his definition of “is”:  a quintessential moment of populist deconstruction!!

I’ve always thought that there needs to be a new school of philosophy (if there isn’t one already!) called “Reconstructionism.”  It would involve the creative work that is done after a word has been “deconstructed.”   I’ve always thought that the work of Gregory Ulmer, my dissertation director, is essentially a form of “reconstructionism.”  The best example comes from his mock-generic textbook titled Text Book:  An Introduction to Literary Language (2nd edition), in which he quotes from Lakoff and Johnson’s Metaphorical Concepts on “argument is war” and invites us in the commentary afterward to think of argument in terms of dance.  So then the question becomes this:  how does changing the metaphor underlying the concept “reconstruct” the concept itself?  This is basically what Ulmer does in his groundbreaking book Applied Grammatology:  he shows how Derrida has deconstructed the metaphorical concept “seeing is understanding” and reconstructed it as “smelling is understanding.”  This simple shift in metaphorical concepts explains the epistemological shift that deconstruction ushers in.

I started this blog intending to comment on the etymology of “erratus” which means “to wander,” but I’ve managed to “do what I said. . . ” So because there is much more to be said about this concept/metaphor/etymology, I will return to it in part 2. . . .


Entry filed under: metaphorical concepts, words.

On Leisure On Wandering pt. II

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