Deconstruction & Therapy
18 Staten, Wittgenstein and Derrida, 75 19 Staten, Wittgenstein and Derrida, 75.
20 Wittgenstein, Investigation, §664. 21 Staten, Wittgenstein and Derrida, 76-77. 22 Staten, Wittgenstein and Derrida, 76. 23 Staten, Wittgenstein and Derrida, 75. 24 Staten, Wittgenstein and Derrida, 18. 23 Staten, Wittgenstein and Derrida, 18.
97 general rule of contingency, Staten believes that such a rule can unproblematically be extracted from the remarks and examples that make up his later writing.
But what of the ‘systematic turning’ between Wittgenstein and Derrida? In what sense are their vocabularies distinctive or even unassimilable? In the introduction to Wittgenstein and Derrida, Staten acknowledges that there are stylistic differences between the two authors. He cites Derrida’s careful reading of texts from the history of philosophy and Wittgenstein’s scorn for much of academic tradition. According to Staten, deconstruction ‘makes sense only in relation to philosophy, to what, following Derrida, I will call “the text of philosophy,” treating the claim of philosophical works since Plato as “one great discourse” to be read and interpreted. ’ 26 This, he admits, raises problems for a comparative account of Wittgenstein and Derrida for Wittgenstein refuses to draw on the technical language of philosophy or to read its texts in close detail. 27 The disadvantage of this, according to Staten is that Wittgenstein can only address the problems of philosophy in their most general and abstract form. ‘Whereas Wittgenstein's style of deconstruction erases from its surface its relation to, and dependence upon the parent language,’ Derrida traces this dependence in great detail and outlines his own ‘deviations’ against its ‘background. ’ 28 For Derrida,‘the new threads’ of deconstructive thought, ‘must be twisted into the old ones with the tightness appropriate to philosophical textuality. ’29 He ties Wittgenstein’s aversion to academia to the moments in the Investigations where Wittgenstein tries to escape the tradition of philosophy by appealing to ordinary language; an escape that is impossible from Derrida’s point of view. The danger of Wittgenstein’s work, according to Staten, is that in its false hope of final escape from the history of philosophy it falls prey to a form of ‘historical amnesia’ and ends up perpetuating the metaphysics it is trying to critique. 30 Staten’s suggestion is that Derrida’s emphasis on the way that deconstruction is linked to the history of philosophy could be taken as an antidote to those parts of the Investigations where Wittgenstein calls for complete liberation from metaphysics. Notice that Staten treats these discrepancies as part of the ‘normalising axis’ of
26 Staten, Wittgenstein and Derrida, 2. Staten is quoting Jacques Derrida, ‘The Supplement of Copula: Philosophy before Linguistics,’ Margins o f Philosophy, trans. Alan Bass (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982), 177.
27 There are some notable exceptions. For example, he draws on the work of Arthur Schopenhauer in his early writing, and he begins the Investigations with a detailed discussion of Augustine’s recollection of learning language in his Confessions.
2X Staten Wittgenstein and Derrida, 3. 27 Staten, Wittgenstein and Derrida, 2. 30 Staten, Wittgenstein and Derrida, 2.
Wittgenstein’s thought - an axis that he believes can be countered by Wittgenstein’s deconstructive ‘axis,’ with some extra help from Derrida.
On the other hand, Staten suggests, Derrida is at risk of perpetuating metaphysics for quite the opposite reason, for his own writing sometimes so closely resembles the language of metaphysics that it is difficult to distinguish the two. According to Staten: ‘Deconstruction, in order to remain deconstruction, must be recursively applied to itself. This is difficult, perhaps impossible, to do unless we have alternative ways of going about it... So it is essential that Derrida and Wittgenstein not be too close together. A mesmerising style, like a Medusa’s head, will turn us to stone if we stare at it too long. ’ 31 For this reason Staten argues that Wittgenstein’s attention to the details of ordinary language can provide an important counterpoint to Derrida’s detailed utilisation of the language of metaphysics. Staten concludes that ‘we can use Wittgenstein’s language to remind ourselves of how much there is to be suspicious of in the metaphysical tendencies of Derrida’s style. ’ 32 But then he adds: ‘ Not that Derrida ever succumbs to these tendencies, but there are many traps in his style for the unwary reader. ,33
Staten says that his book does not attempt to assimilate Wittgenstein and Derrida, but is an effort to allow their two related perspectives to co-exist and interact, so that ultimately no single deconstructive practice comes to dominate. But then Staten adds an after thought that goes against the general flow of his comments: it is the ‘unwary reader’ (rather than Derrida himself) who falls prey to the metaphysical ‘traps’ inherent in Derrida’s writing style. 34 What should we make of Staten’s assertion that Derrida is protected by a kind of authorial infallibility, so that responsibility for the metaphysical tendencies of deconstruction lies entirely with the foolish reader? This seems an odd remark given Derrida’s insistence that a text’s meaning is determined neither by its author’s intentions nor its reader’s intentions. Nevertheless in the context of Staten’s book, his remark functions to re-establish the authority of Derridian deconstruction. For as Staten tells us there are two axes in Wittgenstein’s work - a deconstructive voice and
31 Staten, Wittgenstein and Derrida, 27.