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Strategies of Deconstruction: Derrida and the Myth of the Voice.

Evans challenges a widely held, but far from unanimous, view that Derrida's early studies of Husserl and Saussure are carefully argued, scholarly critiques of those thinkers' positions. Evans is careful to point out that in criticizing Derrida's readings and interpretations he is not importing a standard to which Derrida owes no allegiance. Rather, he is applying Derrida's own standard, namely, that a reading must "recognize and respect" all the "instruments of traditional criticism," including the canons of faithful textual interpretation and logical argumentation, not in order to "protect" a text but to "open" a reading (p. xv, quoting Derrida).

Evans proceeds by following Derrida's analyses of Husserl and Saussure with great care and in great detail. The first and larger part of his book is devoted to Derrida's reading in Speech and Phenomena of the opening sections of the first of Husserl's Logical Investigations. The second part of the book is devoted to Derrida's critique of Saussure in the opening chapters of Of Grammatology. While Evans does not systematically devote space to Derrida's other early critical work on Husserl (Edmund Husserl's "The Origin of Geometry": An Introduction), themes touched upon therein are discussed by Evans in the course of his treatment of Speech and Phenomena. This is unsurprising because (1) Derrida's case against Husserl revolves around Husserl's purported logocentrism and phonocentrism, and this case rests upon the reading of the Logical Investigations; and (2) Derrida assumes that Husserl's earlier and later views are continuous (although, according to Evans, this view must be qualified in important ways), and Derrida consequently reads Husserl's early work from the perspective of later works such as "The Origin of Geometry." Indeed, many of the themes deconstructive of the Investigations are found explicitly, according to Derrida, in "The Origin of Geometry."

There is not sufficient room in a short review to recount Evans's detailed analyses of Derrida's misreading of important Husserlian distinctions and texts, and of Saussure's discussions of linguistic science. Let it suffice to say that Evans's task is a very difficult one. Not only must he recount the interpretations Derrida gives, but he must show where they have gone wrong and why. It is difficult to keep this tangled web of exposition, quotation, double quotation, and analysis from overwhelming a reader, but Evans does a very good job of maintaining the clarity and organization of his exposition throughout. Evans concludes on the basis of these detailed analyses and carefully framed arguments that "the texts we have examined fail to live up to their own [critical] standards" (p. 167).

Indeed, they fail so completely that Evans must consider the possibility--argued by some--that Derrida's "critique" is a parody or a satire and that his invocation of logical standards is ironic, a device by which to set up the parody which follows. While Evans recognizes that he cannot thoroughly disprove this suggestion, he nevertheless rejects it. Any attempt, he argues, to read Derrida's critical works as parody robs them of their deconstructive force. If they are parodies, they do not genuinely undercut the metaphysical tradition with its commitments to presence, logocentrism, and phonocentrism at all; consequently they fail to support the deconstructive position said to arise from these critiques. Moreover, if they are read as parodies, they are poor examples of the genre.

Finally, it is possible to argue that we should not be overly concerned about the accuracy of Derrida's readings; it is his own position, independent of the accuracy of his readings of Husserl and Saussure, that ultimately is of interest. Evans closes this door too. Since Derrida's philosophical positions are developed exclusively through the critique of others--that is, since Derrida provides no arguments for his positions independent of the deconstruction of the authors he reads--the strength of his own position varies proportionately to the strength of the reading he gives those authors. At the very least, Evans argues, even if Derrida is not required to be faithful to the Husserlian texts themselves, his position can be only so strong as the position he deconstructs is plausible. According to Evans, however, a figure who argues in the manner of "Derrida's Husserl" is thoroughly implausible (p. 174). Hence, Derrida's position cannot hold: "Setting up straw men and blowing them down--even in the name of parody and fiction--simply will not do the job" (p. 177). Derrida must--and in this I think Evans's arguments are successful--be held with all seriousness to the argumentative standards he sets for himself; as Evans has shown, Derrida cannot meet those standards.
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Author:Drummond, John J.
Publication:The Review of Metaphysics
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 1, 1993
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