Deconstruction & Therapy
33 Staten, Wittgenstein and Derrida, 3 My emphasis.
34 In Hipparchia’s Choice, Le Doeuff criticizes both the idea that the authority to determine a text’s meaning lies entirely with the author, and the idea that it lies entirely with the reader, who unmasks the philosophical ‘unthought.’ See M ichele Le Doeuff, Hipparchia’s Choice: an Essay Concerning Women,
99 a normalising voice - whereas in Derrida’s work there is only one axis, the deconstructive one, all else should be dismissed as ‘traps’ for the ‘unwary reader. ’ 35
In The Philosophical Imaginary, Michele Le Dceuff remarks that when texts make passing comments that go against the general movement of their ideas, more is often entailed than a small inconsistency. The effect of this rhetorical gesture can be to down play the full implications of the text’s argument.36 This often happens when there is a discrepancy between what the text can justifiably argue and the fantasy of possessing a general authority. 37 Wittgenstein and Derrida’s different brands of deconstruction may limit each other, Staten suggests, only in so far as deconstruction, in general, is recognised as the position they both adopt and the necessary alternative to metaphysics. Indeed in Wittgenstein and Derrida, Staten does not consider in any seriousness whether Wittgenstein’s work might contain a critique of the generalising aspects of deconstruction. 38
In summary, while I think Staten is right to point out that there is a certain normalising strain in some of Wittgenstein’s remarks, I believe that to reduce Wittgenstein’s appeals to everyday life to a normalising axis is to miss the specificity of Wittgenstein’s form of thought. Although Staten’s aim in posing the two axes is to acknowledge the heterogeneity of Wittgenstein’s later thought, I believe that he does so in a way that ultimately misses the originality of Wittgenstein’s account of the ordinary.
Glendinning on Wittgenstein as a ‘deconstructionist’
Before turning to Stone’s reading of Wittgenstein as a critic of deconstruction, I want to discuss an even stronger assertion of the allegiance between Wittgenstein’s Investigations and deconstruction, made by Simon Glendinning in his book On Being
With Others. Like Staten, Glendinning takes Wittgenstein to be practicing a form of
35 But if neither the author nor the reader is entirely responsible (as Derrida in fact insists), must all thought of responsibility be abandoned? As we will later see, a third way to conceive of responsibility might be to give up the task of recreating the intention of the author or reader and focus on the textual effects of a given discourse.
36 See Michele Le Doeuff, ‘Preface: The Shameful face of Philosophy’ and ‘Pierre Roussel’s Chiasmas’ in The Philosophical Imaginary, trans. Colin Gordon (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1989). 37 According to Le Dceuff, philosophy’s attempt to claim a general authority is often easy to challenge when it is argued for explicitly. This is why the territorial claims of a system of thought are often asserted at the imaginary level of the text, through passing comments or vivid images which can avoid careful scrutiny from the reader.
3X However, this is not true of Staten’s insightful article ‘Wittgenstein and the intricate evasions of “is,”’ in the Wittgenstein and Literary Theory Special edition of New Literary History vol. 19 no. 2, (1988). Staten’s article discusses how a Wittgensteinian style of deconstruction poses a challenge to various generalizations implicit in Derrida’s work.
deconstruction in the Investigations, but unlike Staten, Glendinning does not postulate a second ‘normalising axis’ to Wittgenstein’s thought. Rather he argues that the central purpose of Wittgenstein’s later writing is deconstructive. Glendinning is able to make this much stronger claim for two reasons.
Firstly, Glendinning argues that differences in style and focus between the two authors are underwritten by much stronger similarities. According to Glendinning both Wittgenstein and Derrida aim to identify ‘the basic structural figure which characterises the tradition as such. ’ 39 Wittgenstein's technique is to show how philosophy in its most abstract and general form might emerge from everyday life and language and Derrida's technique is to identify, through his reading of the history of philosophy, an underlying discourse of metaphysics which underpins not only the philosophical genre of writing but Western culture. In this discourse or ‘white mythology’: ‘[a] noun is proper when it has but a single sense. Better, it is only in this case that it is properly a noun. Univocity is the essence, or . . . the telos of language. ’40 According to Derrida: ‘[ n]o philosophy, as such, has ever renounced this Aristotelian ideal. This ideal is philosophy. ’41 Glendinning calls the philosophical search for a pure and unequivocal meaning the ‘ideal of conceptual exactness,’ and he argues that, like Derrida, Wittgenstein treats this ideal as ‘the archon of philosophy.’4" Hence for Glendinning the central feature of deconstruction is not, as Staten sometimes suggests, an engagement with the historical text of philosophy per se, but rather the singular ideal that philosophy emblemises.
As Glendinning points out, his reading of Wittgenstein differs from G. P. Baker and P. M. S. Hacker’s proposal that Wittgenstein’s targets are the various manifestations of the ‘Augustinian picture’ of language.43 According to Baker and Hacker this picture is first described by Saint Augustine at the start of the Investigations: ‘the individual words of a language are names of objects and sentences are combinations of names. ’44 Put this way, Baker and Hacker’s account sounds similar to Glendinning’s, however Baker and Hacker argue that this simple version of the ‘Augustinian picture’ gives rise to an expansive ‘Urbild,’ which effects ‘vast ranges of philosophical thought in a multitude of different and frequently unrecognised ways. ’45 If Baker and Hacker turn out to be correct in their suggestion that Wittgenstein has no single definition of
39 Glendinning, On Being with Others, 85. 4(1 Derrida, Margins of Philosophy, 1982, 247 41 Derrida, Margins of Philosophy, 1982, 247 42 Glendinning, On Being with Others, 89.
43 G. P. Baker and P. M. S. Hacker, Analytic Commentary on the Philosophical Investigations: Wittgenstein: Meaning and Understanding, vol. 1. (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1983), 33. 44 Baker and Hacker, Analytic Commentary, 33.
101 philosophy as its target, then Glendinning’s close comparison of Wittgenstein and Derrida would look less plausible. As Glendinning admits: ‘When philosophy is conceived as a “family of accounts” that can grow out of this sprawling “Urbild” we certainly do not wish to say of any particular ideal of traditional philosophy, as Derrida does, “this ideal is philosophy. ’” 46
According to Glendinning, both Wittgenstein and Derrida show that the ‘ideal of conceptual exactness’ is not only prevalent in language - it is quite normal. To help make his point he draws on Staten’s insistence that for Wittgenstein it is precisely because we tend to ‘obey the rule blindly,’ that is the rule seems natural to us, and we miss the actual ‘play’ of language.47 According to Staten, ‘ normality is the necessary background against which it would be possible to think the essence.’4S Glendinning concludes that the ‘automatism’ of normal language use, our tendency to speak mechanically, without thinking, ‘connects us all - ‘philosophers’ or not - to the dream of our language that is the desire for ideal conceptual exactness. ’49
Glendinning’s reading differs from Staten’s, however, in an important regard. For while Staten emphasises the misleading dimension of ordinary language and interprets Wittgenstein’s appeal of ordinary criteria as re-instantiation of the ‘metaphysics of presence,’ Glendinning recognises the duel function of ordinary language in Wittgenstein’s work - both the source of the ‘ideal of conceptual exactness’ and the resource that might unsettle this ideal. 50 When Wittgenstein appeals to ordinary criteria, Glendinning argues, he is not reinstating an ‘irreducible ontological base’; rather he demonstrates that although our ordinary practices require ‘no deeper explanation’ 51 they also cannot ‘stop up all the cracks. ’ 52 Hence Wittgenstein’s account of ordinary language shows that the ‘automatism’ of language is without foundation and that ‘something like “a new decision”. . . is always called for on each occasion of the employment of a concept-word. ’ 53 The ‘new decision’ need not be made consciously, however, it can be as simple as ‘opening one’s mouth to speak or putting the pen to
46 Glendinning, On Being with Others, 87. Glendinning’s emphasis.
47 Wittgenstein, Investigations, §219.
48 Staten, Wittgenstein and Derrida, 79. Staten’s emphasis.
44 Glendinning, On Being with Others, 88. Glendinning is referring to Staten’s account of the
‘automatism’ of language. Staten, Wittgenstein and Derrida, 79.
50 Although Glendinning does not remark on this, his account of the function of the ordinary in
Wittgenstein’s work closely relates to Cavell’s point, that for Wittgenstein the ordinary is both the source of illusion, and the material for our redemption. Cavell, however stresses the distinctiveness of
Wittgenstein’s insistence that the ordinary has this dual function. 51 Wittgenstein, Investigations, §209.
52 Glendinning, On Being with Others, 100.
53 Glendinning, On Being with Others, 100. See Wittgenstein’s Investigations §186 and Derrida’s Limited
paper. ’ 54 It is only because ‘my action (leap) exceeds the calculable’ that it ‘can open the space in which such considerations are possible. ’ 55 On this basis, Glendinning concludes Wittgenstein’s approach, like Derrida’s, ‘aims to show that the condition of possibility for conceptual identity is at the same time the condition of impossibility of the rigorous unity required by the idea of conceptual exactness. ’ 56
Glendinning makes a stronger claim than Staten when he argues that Wittgenstein’s appeal to the ordinary is part of the deconstructive movement. However, the importance of Glendinning’s reading is that he recognises the duel function that everyday language plays in Wittgenstein’s work - both the source of delusion and the resource for transfiguration. Later in this chapter I will return to Glendinning’s reading of Wittgenstein, but for the moment I will turn to Stone’s reading of Wittgenstein as a critic of deconstruction.
Stone: Wittgenstein’s therapeutic critique of Deconstruction
In his article ‘Wittgenstein on Deconstruction’ Martin Stone challenges the allegiance of Wittgenstein and Derrida's project and ultimately draws on the Investigations to question the appeal of deconstruction. 57 According to Stone, Wittgenstein shows that by attempting to critique metaphysics, deconstruction perpetuates the ‘idol’ that it hopes to destroy. 58 The basis of Stone’s argument is that Wittgenstein’s therapeutic practice is intended to make any point of view on language as a whole, including a deconstructive point of view, unattractive.
To understand the extent of the disagreement that Stone finds between Wittgenstein and Derrida we must first look at the points he believes that they share in common. According to Stone, they ‘both take metaphysical philosophy as their primary target’ and locate in metaphysics the ‘suspect notion of the mental self presence of meanings. ’ 59 They are both critical of the way metaphysics ‘bracket's off’ the mind from language
34 Glendinning, On Being with Others, 102.
55 Glendinning, On Being with Others, 102.
56 Glendinning, On Being with Others, 79. Glendinning’s emphasis.
37 Martin Stone, ‘Wittgenstein on Deconstruction,’ The New Wittgenstein, (London: Routledge, 2000).
Stone mentions both Glendinning and Staten’s work in his characterization of the deconstructive reading of Wittgenstein.
38 Ludwig Wittgenstein, ‘Big typescript sections 86-93’ in Philosophical Occasionsl912-1951, ed. J.
Klagge and A. Nordmann (Indianapolis, Hackett, 1993), §88. The full quote is: ‘All that philosophy can do is to destroy idols. And that means not creating a new one - for instance as in “absence of an idol.’” 59 Stone, ‘Wittgenstein on Deconstruction,’ 84.
103 and the world in order to identify an ideal and exact concept of meaning.60 Stone also acknowledges that some of the comments in the Investigations have a deconstructive feel because they draw attention to the way that the meaning of a word is open to interpretation.
As we have seen, both Stone and Glendinning draw from Wittgenstein’s collected remarks two general theses that are explicitly stated by Derrida. Firstly, that the single target of deconstruction is the idealisation of conceptual purity, and that it is this ideal, rather than any other, that dominates the history of western thought. Secondly, that our capacity to communicate and understand each other rests on the more general claim that misunderstandings or new interpretations are a necessary possibility of all texts.
The deconstructive ‘thesis,’ as Stone characterises it, is most clearly put forth by Staten. According to Staten, ‘Wittgenstein shows over and over that any sign (or formula or mental picture) taken in isolation can be interpreted, that it contains no essence within it that dictates how we must necessarily understand it. ’61 For example, as Wittgenstein points out, an arrow could always be taken to point in the direction of the shaft and not the head.62 There is nothing about the sign in itself that guarantees that it must be read in one way and not the other and there is no rule or set of instructions for interpreting the sign that possesses the rigidity of a set of rails.63 Our capacity to follow rules has no deeper foundation than the iteration of custom and hence there is always a certain structural anonymity to every sign, an openness regarding its future applications.
Stone characterises deconstruction as a form of ‘interpretivism’ which he believes is not particular to Derrida, but can also be found in Kripke’s reading of Wittgenstein.64 But he emphasises that ‘interpretivism’ should not be mistaken for the explicit sceptical claim that a text has ‘no decidable meaning,’ rather it is the thesis that it is ‘always possible that it has not decidable meaning. ’ 65 Stone focuses on the word ‘interpretation’ rather than ‘terms that find gainful employment only in deconstructive philosophy’ such as ‘differanee,' ‘arche-writing,’ or ‘iterablity’ because Wittgenstein also discusses interpretation in detail and because, most importantly to Stone, the word ‘interpretation’ is not just a technical term but also has an everyday function. In Stone’s words: ‘while a neologism like “differance” has its uselessness outside of philosophy graphically
60 Stone, ‘Wittgenstein on Deconstruction,’ 84. Stone characterizes both Derrida and W ittgenstein’s target as Platonism.