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Below are the 16 most recent journal entries recorded in theory book club's LiveJournal:

Monday, July 23rd, 2007
1:29 am
Is anybody up for a discussion? It's been a year since I last tried to revive this. Maybe we can try again.

Suggestions? I'm interested in urban studies, so unless you want to go there, post your own suggestions!

If not, I'll post some essays/books which we can discuss.
Tuesday, May 23rd, 2006
2:53 am
up and at 'em
Yes we've neglected this. And no, it hasn't disappeared yet. So how about we begin again? Maybe we can pick another book, or maybe just an essay, to make it friendlier.

What do you say, dear members?
Saturday, July 16th, 2005
4:05 pm
Is everyone okay with the first chapter (or two) of Jameson's Postmodernism?

If so, then consider this post as the go signal, too.
Tuesday, July 12th, 2005
8:51 pm
So everyone seems to agree that we can tackle Jameson next, though perhaps someone could make a poll whether we should read Postmodernism or The Political Unconscious.

Also, why don't we all consider what anonymid suggested? Instead of the whole book, we could take on an excerpt, and those who wish to read more and post more would still be very welcome. Just to lessen the load and encourage more posts.
Monday, July 11th, 2005
5:55 pm
Next book?
Would you guys want us to move on to the next book? I suppose we can always go back to Derrida's, but to get this group going again, perhaps we can discuss the next book.

--do we stick to Jameson's text, since he was the second choice before? Or,
--do we start another poll?
Monday, May 23rd, 2005
12:59 pm
‘Force and Signification’
In this essay, Derrida reads Jean Rousset’s Forme et Signification and does it to reveal the folly of structuralist analysis, critiquing the emphasis on form. Often, Derrida is quite forceful in his critique “the structuralist consciousness is a catastrophic consciousness” (4). His harshest criticism at the beginning of his essay is the ahistoricity of structuralism, and indicts all literary criticism as being non-creative. “Form fascinates when one no longer has the force to understand force from within itself. That is to create.” (3)

While he takes up many different paths in this essay, I’m most interested in his concept of reading and writing. He argues that meaning does not precede writing and that “meaning is neither before nor after the act [of writing]” (12). It is the work (as in force and activity) which comes between writing and reading which makes a work (as in text) irreducible. Reading, thus, is no longer a passive activity of absorbing the form on the page, but rather a matter of using force, both in the sense of violence but also simply an activity.

What Derrida is arguing for here is the general switch seen in poststructuralist accounts of reading, where the focus moves away from the structuralist/referential analysis, to an emphasis on the enunciative moment and performative action of reading. Reading is a creative act for Derrida, not a non-creative (critical) analysis, and since reading is creative it can be considered a form of writing; ie. we as readers ‘write’ the text/novel/etc we are engaged in reading. All of this is dependent on the force of signification, where the play of meaning can overflow signification (13).

This is the reason why a work can never be summarized and is never present, nor has a space of space means presence (15). It is because a work is always in play, never total but always in continual motion, force, in the process of being written, as it were. This line of thought is parallel to Roland Barthes’ argument in ‘From Work to Text’ and ‘The Death of the Author.’

The structuralist analysis of a work is thus missing something, because the individual work disappears when focussing on the structure (17). Derrida later quotes Leibniz’s ridiculing of medieval geomancers because any fool can draw a line between various points and create a formula for it. This is clearly parallel to bad structuralist analysis, where useless structures are detected in works, but the force of the work is completely missed (21-22). Structuralism presupposes that the book/work has a theological simultaneity, ie. that we as readers can keep, and should keep, all of the book’s contents present in our mind when reading it and especially when analysing it (28). Derrida points out not just the impossible nature of this, but also the useless notion of it, since meaning is the indefinite referral of signifier to signifier (29).

Note here the word ‘indefinite,’ which precisely precludes the notion of the work as whole, total and complete. Again he returns to the act of reading a creative process which never stops and the individual work as containing infinite meanings. This is something which he later resumes to in the essay ‘Dissemination’ and other works. This concept of a given text holding endless meanings is one of the more controversial of his statements and one many people have reacted against since it sounds like the ultimate argument for textual nihilism: ‘there is nothing in the text at all’ to paraphrase his ‘there is no outside text.’ However, this is far from Derrida’s point; instead he wishes to point out that meaning is not controllable by the work as such, but is instead as dependent on the reader’s performative act.

OK, so this last bit went beyond ‘Force and Signification’ and into more general Derridian concerns on reading.

X-posted to my own journal.

Current Mood: productive
Wednesday, May 18th, 2005
8:59 pm
Writing & Difference 278-280
Yet more on the first few pages of SS&P -

JD is setting up a lot of competing terms here, focusing on the center that lies within the structure and outside the structure, and the thinking of "the unthinkable itself" - making another distinction between the logical impossibility of the unorganized structure and what we're powerless to conceive during the history of the concept of structure.  What he seems to be calling attention to is the way structurality projects a reassuring image of its operation:  the center is what permits the play of elements, and because we confuse coherence for logical integrity, we are unable to critique the process. 

That's why I decided to parse his take on structurality, because JD's distinction between structure and structurality emphasizes a distinction between instances of language and the function of structure.  So in the first full paragraph on 279, when JD points out the contradictory nature of the center as that which sets the limit, structurality itself cannot be signified, or envisioned as an element. 

The center becomes a contradiction:  it permits and prevents play.  And it is, according to JD, "contradictorily coherent."  The force that binds the disparate elements of the structure with the content outside of it is "the force of desire."  The easiest place to locate an idea of this desire is in Freud.  Desire is what seeks fulfillment - what the center permits - and what is repressed - what the center prevents. The center permits/fulfills and prevents/represses. 

"The concept of centered structure is in fact the concept of a play based on a fundamental ground, a play constituted on the basis of a fundamental immobility and a reassuring certitude, which is itself beyond the reach of play."

Play w/ a fundamental immobility = play "penned" as seen against infinite deferral.  But is reassuring certitude a too-shallow understanding of our reaction to/control of language?  It seems to just start the what-do-we-create vs. how-we-are-created consideration of language. 

"...anxiety is a certain mode of being implicated in the game, of being caught by the game, of being as it were at stake in the game from the outset." 

The double-play "of being" in each phrase makes me think I have to go back to Heidegger a little bit.  Triple-play?  You are being implicated/caught/at stake in the game; "being" is implicated/caught/at stake; and/or "a certain mode of being" etc. 
6:38 pm
Hegel, Bataille, foolishness
As soon as I figure out (even just vaguely) what the hell is going on in "From Restricted to General Economy: A Hegelianism without Reserve" (that's essay nine in W&D)--on which I (in retrospect, foolishly) agreed to write a short paper for a class I'm finishing up--I'll post something; I promise.

In the meantime, if anyone else has glanced at the essay and has anything, however speculative, to offer, that would be cool.

Saturday, May 14th, 2005
4:24 pm
"Writing and Difference" p. 278
"Structure, Sign and Play" p. 278

"Nevertheless, up to the event which I wish to mark out and define, structure - or rather the structurality of structure - although it has always been at work, has always been neutralized or reduced, and this by a process of giving it a center or of referring it to a point of presence, a fixed origin."  

I reckon there are two ways of reading this sentence:  "Up to the "event," structure - as in the requirement of language, not what manifests itself when language actually appears - although it has a) always been at work & b) always been neutralized and reduced, and that reduction was the result of referring it back to a point of presence or origin."  


"Up to the 'event,' structure (or what is required of language before language may appear) had always been neutralized and reduced because it is always referred back to an origin, or a presence - even though structure was always there within language, [this presence was credited with conferring meaning]."

They're both pretty similar.  One's more of a sentence.  Obviously the presence/origin idea is a major thread of inquiry for this essay, but I want to consider the "structurality of structure" for a minute to see what he's saying here.  If we see structure as a property of language (a system of signs), then we see structure appearing where (and only where?) language appears, or vice versa - one way of putting it might be more correct than the other.  "Structurality" on the other hand seems to be the structure w/o signifying marks, the formal possibility (and I use that word b/c I'm not really keen on introducing terms such as "ghostly" or "skeletal" at this point) of language, the field to which language adheres.  The field is without value; this becomes important in the sentence following where JD introduces "play" as if structurality was productive - either of meaning (what I would consider a stable structure) or noise (what I would consider a basic instability).  

Whether meaning, noise, or meaningful noise, the presence/origin "neutralizes" the danger, or any instability.  It provides a sort of aura, a sense that identification of value is possible - is that created by the signs or the structurality?  Regardless this aura gets projected beyond the structure and assumes this image of the origin, a force behind meaning.  

How far do we want to go w/ the representation of structurality?  Can we distil it to a sign?  Doesn't that reiterate the process? 
3:08 am
Well, we haven't yet come to a consensus about whether we should discuss Writing and Difference for three weeks or four, but I suppose the best way to handle that is simply to see how the course of the discussion goes, as well as the pace of our reading (I'm sure I'm not the only one who has a lot of other reading projects going on in addition to this). We should do at least three weeks, but maybe after that, we'll take a vote and decide whether or not to continue for one more.

Anyway, consider this post the green light on the Derrida discussion. Happy reading, and don't be shy about posting.
Thursday, May 12th, 2005
8:16 pm
Possibly a silly question and/or something that's already been discussed...
Assuming none of us are trying to read it in the original French, is Alan Bass' 1978 translation of Writing and Difference the generally accepted English version? It might be a good idea to make sure we're all reading the same thing.
Wednesday, May 11th, 2005
5:39 pm
Derrida it is
Well, it appears that Derrida's Writing and Difference is going to be our first selection, so we might as well start formalizing things. For one thing, we have to decide is how long to spend on each book; my sense is either three or four weeks. If we do three weeks per book, we can cover four books over the summer; if we do four weeks per book, we can cover three. So let me know what sounds like a good idea to you. Another option, of course, is that we can take each book as it goes, and decide collectively when we feel ready to move on to the next book. (Personally, though, I prefer sticking to a rough schedule.)

Also--and this we don't need to decide right away--I think it would be sensible, looking down the road, to make The Political Unconscious our second book, since it got so much overwhelming support in the "preliminaries," as it were. We can, of course, put it up to another vote when the time comes, if people prefer.

Now, I'm still finishing up work for the semester, as I'm sure others are, too, but let's say that, starting this weekend, you can begin posting about Writing and Difference. In the meantime, you can find yourself a copy, if you haven't already, and start reading. (Since we're reading theoretical/philosophical texts and not dramatic/narrative ones, "spoiling the plot" isn't an issue, so you can just post as you go; there's no need to neatly separate our reading of the text from our discussion of it.)
Thursday, May 5th, 2005
1:40 am
Poll #488066 First Theory Book Club Selection

What should we read first?

Derrida's Writing and Difference
Jameson's The Political Unconscious
Wednesday, May 4th, 2005
9:47 pm
are we ready for a vote?
Okay, so based on the discussion in this post, it seems fair enough, I hope, for me to declare Derrida's Writing and Difference and Jameson's The Political Unconscious the two finalists for our first selection. Perhaps someone with a paid account would like to make a simple poll for this, just to make tabulating the votes a little easier . . .

Also, we should probably agree on some guidelines, protocol, timeframe, etc.--as in, how long should we spend per book? Does a book a month sound appropriate? Should we let people read the book first and then start discussion at a designated date, or would it be okay for folks to just begin posting whenever they like? Personally, since we're dealing with theoretical/philosophical texts here rather than ficitonal/dramatic ones, the latter option seems preferable to me. It's not like "spoiling the plot" is an issue, and besides, I kind of like the idea of posting and commenting throughout the reading process--seems to me like it would be a useful way to go about reading and discussing dense, difficult texts like these.

Anyway, please offer your feedback on these logistical matters; someone with a paid account will, I hope, volunteer to put up an "official" poll, and we'll go from there . . .
Tuesday, April 26th, 2005
9:35 pm
nominations for first selection
This will be the official post for suggestions for our first selection (which we probably won't get around to for a few weeks, so we have some time to decide on this).

Make as many suggestions as you like. If possible, provide a rationale for your picks, and comment on other members' suggestions. Eventually we'll vote on this.
9:16 pm
introductory post
Okay, a couple things to start off. First, I'd like to have a co-mod, preferably someone who has some experience running and/or participating in book club -style LJ communities (I've never done either, myself)--someone who has a sense of what works and what doesn't (in terms of choosing books, making a schedule, running a good discussion, etc.). You may volunteer yourself or nominate someone else.

* Also, feel free to promote the community whenever/wherever you feel comfortable doing so. A large group would be great, although a small group of active, serious, engaged readers would also be fine, as far as I'm concerned.

* We'll probably wait a few weeks before formally getting started, since I imagine many/most of us are busy enough as it is with end-of-the-semester schoolwork.

* In the meantime, though, you can start making suggestions for possible selections. (I'll make a separate post for this.)

You may comment on this post with any suggestions/questions/ideas regarding how this community will work. Let's hope this actually goes somewhere!
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