Sunday, February 1, 2009

Derrida's Delightful Difficulty -- and other reading . . .

For my Literary Theory group (a reading group of colleagues from my department), I read Derrida's essay, "Economimesis" over the past week in preparation for a visiting speaker's talk Friday afternoon -- very challenging and frustrating, but also exciting and rewarding. Derrida's interrogating Kant's pronouncements on the difference between art and craft, among other things, and that alone I found very interesting -- you can see a strong foundation here for eco-criticism in his comments that Kant is being unduly anthropocentric in delineating art as the province of humans alone -- an anthill cannot be art. Sadly, he never points out that women could also protest about the distinction between art and craft -- so much of "women's work" -- quilting, knitting, sewing, weaving -- could never be considered art, as defined by Kant, because of its use/exchange value. And of course there's the whole class/labour matter to protest, also not raised. Still, it was fascinating to again be engaged in that process of reading something so deliberately opaque, to have to fight materially with a text that resists rather than expedites easy interpretation.

Some very interesting connections here with Lewis Hyde's The Gift -- both are considering the economy of art and the artist's gifts.

I haven't got my copy with me, but one phrase that really stuck with me was a comment about the problem, in Kant's work, of "differentiation being effaced by opposition." I know this is entirely obvious, but to me it is such a cogent summary of what the post-structuralists work to resist -- it's what frustrates so many people who like the security of binary oppositions, but it so appeals to my relativism.

I love the kind of etymological work the poststructuralists do as well, exposing the roots of language and the power language exerts in surprising ways. The essay also contained some discussion of vomit that I'll have to look at again for connections with Kristeva's abject. Oh, for buckets of time!

Meanwhile, I've got another 100 or so pages to finish this evening to be ready for my class on Lawrence Hill's Some Great Thing. Luckily, I taught this just last year, but for a 1st-year class; this time it's for a 4th-year class and we're looking at how the urban is represented in Canadian fiction. Some Great Thing is an early novel of Hill's, not nearly as powerful as The Book of Negroes nor as well-developed as Any Known Blood (which features characters introduced in SGT). But it offers an interesting portrait of Winnipeg in the 1980s as an intersection for various social concerns, and so far, the reports I've got back from students are that they're enjoying reading it and can see some possible research projects emerging from it.