Derridone

As the oh-so-clever post title implies, I have at long last finished the Grammatology.  In coming weeks, I’ll troll through my annotations and offer some specific comments, questions, and ideas in response to choice bits, but for now just some initial afterglow smatterings:

  1. As the first major theory text I’ve read under my own direction–i.e., not for a seminar–I think I’ve done okay handling Derrida.  That is, without claiming any sort of expertise or mastery of nuance, I feel confident that I was able to follow Derrida through most of his text, only losing the gist on a few occasions.  Not that I could, you know, immediately write some well-assembled article in response to Grammatology, but I could probably hash out the salient details to someone interested.
  2. Speaking of the hashing out . . . Although, as stated, I think I have an adequate handle on the text, at times I sorely wished that I were reading it in seminar, if only to make sure that, yes, I was understanding it okay.  Not just that sort of hermeneutic validation, but also to play my own response ideas off someone, to see if they make sense in terms of someone else’s understanding of the Grammatology.
  3. Of course, the blogosphere is sort of like the biggest dang seminar ever.  So shut up, Mike.
  4. At one point, I figured it out: it took me about six minutes per page reading through the text.  Of course, this also accounts for underlining and annotating too, but let’s do the math:  six minutes per page at 316 pages comes out to . . . 31.6 hours or 1.316 days.   
  5. That’s ideal time, of course: in reality, since I started this back in June, it’s more like 50+ odd days.  Ah well.

Another thing I’ve been meaning to post on and haven’t yet made time to do so . . . again, not a full post yet but some vague sketchings before full post is written.

I’ve volunteered to teach a proposed standard 1020 syllabus in the fall for JP and EB; I like what JP has described about the syllabus so far and it gives me a break from the Text Book syllabus which faithful readers will know I’m growing weary of.  (Still like the book, but I need to go through it and find some new things to do with it. . .I’ll probably keep the “Discourse” assigment, but I’m rethinking the other two.  More on that later as well.)  The goal of my teaching the proposed syllabus is to be able to offer some feedback to JP/EB and to this fall’s 6010 students, so it looks like a happy circumstance for all involved.

In the meantime, though, I’ve got this idea floating about my little mind for a possible 1020 course in the future . . . but I need to do some more research and some more thinking before putting it together (not that research doesn’t involve thought. . .).  The bare bones of the idea is as follows:

  • I’ve been reading a collection of David Foster Wallace’s essays in the downtime between bits of Derrida.  One of the pieces compiled herein is 2001 review DFW wrote of a new usage dictionary of American English (available online here), and at one point in his review DFW introduces a quite lengthy and (to my eyes) theoretically sound critique of dictionaries being instruments of ideological power, as they dictate (literally) the official, approved uses of language.
  • Which, you know, I thought was a great point.  DFW goes on to outline two differing schools of thought about usage is approved/authorized, how language is fundamentally political and how authorized language is thus a complex epistemic patchwork intimately connected to questions of ideology and personal politics.
  • In turn, more thought.  Devoted readers will knowI’ve been toying with questions of rhetoric, metaphor, writing, and epistemology of late, and this DFW piece seemed to stitch all those pieces together (less so metaphor, true).  In particular, the thought that I had was this–a question really: How does the issue of approved/authorized/legitimized language change when we move to writing online?
  • I’m not the first to ask this question, I know, nor do I claim to be able to supply anything resembling an eloquent answer.  But one thing that I’ve always found fascinating about the Web is how quickly Web and Internet memes become self-reflexive and self-critical: the recent explosion of I Can Has Cheezburger (even popping up in Time a couple weeks back) is an interesting example.  And to a large extent, these memes and meanings are user-regulated, that is, linguistic authority becomes established through a consensual communal epistemic process rather thanbeing decreed accurate or correct by an authorized editor/editorial staff.  (Is this what folksonomy is about?  I need to do more reading. . .)
  • And too, the Web allows for the investigation of dictionaries of non-mainstream, “other” discourses.  While Wikipedia, Wiktionary, and The Free Dictionary are more or less still committed to the traditional goals of dictionary/encyclopedic practices (although again through community oversight rather than editorial control in the case of the wikis). the Web also has sites like the The Urban Dictionary, which–even though it may be more a humor site than an authoritative one–we might argue is an attempt to legitimate or authroize “other” discourses–here, obviously, the “urban” discourse.
  • So then, the goals of the (thus-far hypothetical) 1020 curse would be to look at the way language use is regulated between print and digital writing spaces.  In addition to those questions, we might look at the way our understanding of lexia are shaped by the names given them: do we think of an “Urban Dictionary” the same way we do a “Collegiate Dictionary?”
  • The course is sounding pretty stuffed already, but another concern would be to look at how words are linked to one another–the sort of Derridean move, right?  Every signifier is a signified and vice-versa.  And then, building from there, to ask how dictionaries either reinforce or undermine the system of language by looking at how they connect words and meanings to one another.
  • As it stands now, the writing project would be one that builds through the whole semester as students assemble their own dictionaries of personal usage.  The goal would be start with a few terms and maybe examine how students already understand the same word/image in multiple discourses (the mystorical move there) and then to keep adding terms and building links through the semester until students had assembled their dictionaries.  The assignments would be done in the wiki, and ideally I’d like to maybe have one part of the project just be focused on having students establish links between their entries and other students’ entries.  The final assignment then, might be to write a forward (DFW makes much use of a very close reading of the forward/preface/introduction of the dictionary in his essay) that explains the student’s own guidelines for inclusion and theories about language use and authorization.

Whew.  That was far more than I meant to write at present.  I find this idea exciting but I’m sort of stumped about how to develop it further.  Proposed readings, so far: the DFW essay, possibly the foreward DFW makes use of (if it’s still in print/current), and maybe the forewards from other dictionaries as well.  The project proposed above is heavily indebted to Rice’s “cool” projects and pedaglossary assignment from 6010 (which, in turn, seem inspired by Raymond Williams’ Keywords).

So, please, faithful readers, any advice, feedback, or resources you can provide would be greatly appreciated.  Let me know if you think this could work, or if I’m completely off my chump.  If you have a good article, essay, or book in mind that might fit neatly into this project, please please please let me know.  I’m really excited about this idea, but I think there’s one chunk missing that I can’t identify yet. . . .

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One Response to “Derridone”

  1. jeff Says:

    Your dictionary idea sounds a bit like the handbook projects I used to teach – finding a term in one’s area of study (major), exploring its multiple meanings, writing a handbook that uses those multiple meanings to change how the term is used (i.e., an education major uses “grade,” winds up using the word’s meanings from science and geography as well, writes a handbook that brings the meanings together). Raymond Williams’ Keywords meets Derridian puns/play. And initially, this was the basis for my handbook of cool assignment (and it is the basis for The Rhetoric of Cool book).

    And as you write “Every signifier is a signified and vice-versa.” You know your next Derrida should be Signeponge (see Textbook for the assignment they create from this book).


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