CCTP-748: Seminar Discussion: Week 6

Reading Derrida for the first time (or any time) can be very challenging because of the back-story in philosophy and cultural debate that he takes for granted, against which his strategies and arguments are a possible new move in the game.

I've reworked my own seminar notes to help provide one path through the inherited problems and the consequences of working through them with Derrida.

--MI



Lily Hughes

Derrida at the Little Bighorn

It is often joked in the Academy that Americans don’t get Derrida. Whether or not there exists any evidence to support this is irrelevant, it is, after all, only a joke. But I like the idea of opening with a joke; it seems fitting for a presentation on Derrida. Needless to say, Derrida’s work is dense, but it is also light, that is to say, his work is playful—and this playfulness must be acknowledged. To ignore the humour in his writing would be a very serious crime, for Derrida’s theory is only in part based on what he ‘says.’ To fully comprehend Derrida we must also interpret what he ‘does.’

Derrida belongs in the school of post-structuralist thought. In fact, Derrida is very much a founder of this school, along with Foucault and Barthes, who we have already encountered, and Jaques Lacan, who we have not (although he was a psychoanalyst at heart). The difference between structuralism (and semiotics) and post-structuralism is that where structuralism believes in a base, a fixed structure at the core (or centre) of meaning, post-structuralism rejects this idea and instead argues that meaning is always moving, never fixed. Post-structuralism, one might say, knows it is turtles all the way down…

Once meaning has been established as process, that is as temporal as well as spatial, Saussure’s concept of signifier/signified = sign falls apart. Saussure’s model has an end result, but if meaning is always in flux an end cannot be reached. Instead, post-structuralists argue that signifiers produce more signifiers. Chasing meaning through a dictionary is, as Derrida points out, an eternal task. This new equation is what Derrida labels difference, meaning both to defer and to differ. We know already from Saussure that meaning is to differ—to say what something is is to know what it is not. Derrida makes the addition that meaning is also deferred. I return to the dictionary example, if you look up a word you find a meaning, but the meaning defers you to another set of words, for which you must find the meaning and so on. For Derrida the meaning is never fully present, only the application of a word to a temporal and spatial context provides a temporary stop to the endless play of signifiers. In other ‘words’, meaning can only exists as a construct of discourse. However, even the positioning of meaning in discourse proves insufficient, for ‘traces’ (meaning from external temporal conditions) will follow a reader and infiltrate their interpretation of a text.

The task, however, was not to “cover” Derrida, but to find a thread of interest. This leads me, quite enthusiastically, to Greg Ulmer. In 1989, Greg Ulmer—an American, no less—produced a book entitled, Teletheory: Grammatology in the Age of Video. It is quite fascinating and brings me back to my original point, that Derrida’s style is as important as his argument. Deconstruction is not merely a process of ‘neutralizing binaries’, that is to say, revealing binaries as hierarchical will always prove insufficient. For the hierarchy must also be overthrown, and Derrida demonstrates this process in his comical jumble of words, which dismantle the conflicting relationship of speech to script, proving speech is as much supplement to writing as writing is to speech—despite what Rousseau, Levi-Strauss, and even Plato might ‘say.’

I return to Ulmer. Ulmer’s thesis deconstructs the assumption that knowledge can only be defined in Language (whether in speech or in writing). This, Ulmer argues, is absurd, since knowledge is a process, much like meaning, the process of obtaining knowledge shifts as the context of learning is altered. For Ulmer, this means that in the “Age of Video” (now the age of internet), the products of knowledge should not be constricted to written text. Just as Derrida deconstructs the binary of speech/writing, Ulmer attacks the binary of writing/image.

This, I argue, is where Derrida belongs—on the frontlines of challenging critique, at the precipice of the Academy’s collapsing frontier. He is not a tool for the revisionists, but for the visionaries, who aim, like Derrida, “to make the not seen accessible to sight.”

This, of course, brings me to the brilliance of Sassy Gay Friend…


Questions:

Why is deconstruction so integral to the field of cultural/media theory?

In a contemporary context, does Derrida help us deconstruct image better than text?

Does Derrida provide an (ironic) beginning for postmodernism?

What follows deconstruction?



Zachary Allard


Stephen Colbert is a bricoleur. More precisely, the character anchoring his show The Colbert Report is a bricoleur. The premise of The Colbert Report seems simple at first glance. Colbert pretends to be a right-wing demagogue in the manner of Bill O’Reilley to create political comedy and criticism. However, the character that has emerged over the last five years uses remarkably sophisticated means to generate criticism (and laughter). Colbert plays a character whose ideas he is not espousing. Often, he will have segments praising the actions of the misguided, xenophobic, or simply amoral. On some level, this is simple satire. He pushes the ideas of an ideology further to illustrate their absurdity. However, his work is far more complex than mere satire. Colbert vacillates between absolute satire and absurdity to a more direct criticism that is not merely criticizing its object but also continuing to criticize its own polemic. It is a truly masterful use of signs, language, ideology, and deconstruction.

This complex ability of Colbert’s character to slip into and out of various ideologies and discourse to construct something entirely fluid is extremely Derridan. Derrida writes in “Structure, Sign, and Play,” “The absence of the transcendental signified extends the domain and the play of signification infinitely.” Colbert (the writer/creator as far as we can know that) takes advantage of this reality to create a character whose mercurial beliefs/intentions/arguments do the work he wants them to. Derrida writes later in that same essay about systems of thought saying, “conserving all these old concepts within the domain of empirical discovery while here and there denouncing their limits, treating them as tools which can still be used. No longer is any truth value attributed to them; there is a readiness to abandon them, if necessary should other instruments appear more useful.” Without a doubt, this is precisely the technique that Colbert uses to drive his critique/comedy. He slides in and out of ideas and ideology to show their absurdity/ineffectiveness/limits/etc. It is a truly impressive feat.

This makes Colbert a definitive bricoleur and The Colbert Report definitive bricolage. Klages defines the bricoluer as, “somebody who doesn’t care about the purity or stability of the system s/he uses, but rather uses what’s there to get a particular job done.” Colbert uses whatever systems of thought or ideology are there to reveal the absurdity/false binaries in the world around him. He avoids the trap of creating a new system, a new center that would be equally fallacious and continues to deconstruct instead. Colbert not only learned the lessons of Derrida, he embodies them in his work. He is a deconstructionist comedian.




Satire and sincerity



Complex deconstruction of this woman and her book




Brittany Coombs

My deepest interaction with Derrida came in a class last term entitled “Remix Culture,” in which we read Derrida and Levi-Strauss simultaneously and analyzed their concept of the bricoleur in the context of disc jockeyism. A bricoleur, I remember, is good at solving a wide range of problems using only his limited tools – which are finite, the product of accumulation, and not given to help in a specific situation. He works with signs and uses odds and ends to make a new whole, in the process turning the signified into the signifying, and vice versa. Levi-Strauss says that bricolage – the stuff created by bricoleurs – is mythical thought, and that although we don’t definitively know this thought's use or meaning, we can understand it thanks to the universal abstract concepts to which it harkens. My class decided that a bricoleur is a mythical thinker is a remixer, since all three people combine how we concretely perceive things we with how we abstractly imagine them in order to present us with new images. Whenever Prof. Osborne gave us a new remix assignment, he instructed us to begin the creative process by selecting our "albums" -- which tool set we, like the DJ, wanted to use in deconsutrcting and decentralizing the system of music (or text or whatever) proper. Both Levi-Strauss and Derrida would probably classify Danger Mouse as a bricoleur because of his Grey Album.


Bringing this back to our man Derrida, however, I’d like to return to a point that was broached briefly but somewhat contentiously during class a few weeks ago. I forget how or why the conversation veered this way, but the subject of “Ebonics” was brought up; and Zac’s voice, I remember, was the dominant voice on the topic. He expressed a distaste for the vernacular because it encourages improper grammar and syntactically poor English. I'm interested to explore, though, how Derrida would have felt about it. (Totally not trying to call out Zac here – just Derrida’s discussion of play and language seems apropos for the topic.) I’ll state plainly that I think Derrida – wherever he is, in Plato’s Heaven enjoying Heaveness, I hope – would probably be a big fan of Ebonics.

external image jordan_spizikes.jpgWhat do we know about Derrida's core beliefs? We know he disliked structure and order and linearity – he liked to “play.” We know he wanted to devise a way to undermine the “center” of systems, or the glue that is paradoxically both an element within the system and element beyond the system. We know he believed all structure is created – that no structure is an automatic, pre-existing, natural truth, and that he considered Western philosophy so historically blind to this fact he used the word “rupture” to describe the moment it realized it. And we know that, as expressed in Of Grammatology, he believed the existence of different cultural writing systems (and thereby speaking systems, I’ll extrapolate) is natural and awesome, and to denounce an extracultural system for being different is to denounce its humanity with ethnocentric bias. I say all this to say that Derrida would probably stand up for Ebonics, as it manages to distinguish one American subculture – creatively, subversively, playfully – within the dense stew of other American subcultures. Grammar is structure and rules. It’s the central element that’s both a part of and greater than the system of any language. But while it’s impressive when people follow rules, it must be remembered that rules are only broken from the perspective of the system that constructed them. I’m sure there are plenty of theorists (and classmates) who would fight me on this, but grammar is necessary in language simply because rules simplify everything, and communication is the most vital element of human social existence. And yes, I'm aware this last point flies in the face of Derrida's anti-logocentric principles. But grammar is still a center, and centers, by both Derrida’s definition and common sense, limit the movement of the pieces around them. Ebonics, for all its criticism, loosens formal English's center and allows for play – and we can probably agree with Derrida that play, while not always optimal or appropriate in certain circumstances, is pretty fun. ... To the left is the Spiz'ike, a new shoe by Nike that pays homage to Spike Lee but intentionally "plays" with his name. Are the brains at Nike remixers, mythmakers and bricoleurs?



Ariel Leath


President Obama made a speech on January 12, 2011, filled with heartfelt, powerful rhetoric. The speech was made shortly after six people were killed in a shooting at a “Congress on your Corner” demonstration held by Congresswoman Giffords. Giffords was also shot, falsely proclaimed deceased in the breaking news of that afternoon.
Speeches made about tragedies such as the Arizona shootings do not beg to be deconstructed. They are meant as recognition, a bandage over a national wound, a springboard from which the public can begin to cope. As with other such speeches (Reagan’s Challenger Disaster speech as an example), there is a specific dialogue used in Obama’s speech. Words are chosen carefully and thoughtfully as to respect each victim and his or her family to the highest degree. The words used in these speeches can help define a president’s term – the eloquence presented to the public can prove his loyalty and servitude to God and his country.
Though there is not much in the way of “discourse” when speeches on tragedies are made, the realities that surround these speeches make them prime candidates for using verbiage that casts broad assumptions about the speaker, the audience, the victims, and the country as a whole.
Murder, the reason for this particular speech, has received such a myriad contexts and connotations in modern English – through video games, movies, and increased real life violence – that it is easy to attach a particular verbiage to each particular instance. This murder, an assassination attempt that ended in six others dead, is a national tragedy because there was a member of the government involved, it happened in an otherwise peaceful setting, there was no warning, and all killed were innocent. Though the word “murder” was never uttered in the speech (an interesting point in itself), the word is still present. This may be a bit of a stretch, but it seems to be the center of the speech – the base from which all tone and connotation grows.
Death and tragedy are not inherently “American.” American people die and lose loved ones daily, and this fact is so buried in reality it does not need mention. When death reaches the level of a nationally recognized event, speeches are required as to inform the public about how to feel; how they are supposed to feel based on the sadness portrayed by the most trusted authority figure – the President. This view of death is a socially contradictory – that death, murder even, goes wholly unnoticed, until it crosses a line of timeliness, shock, proximity, or newsworthiness. At that point it becomes “American,” like hotdogs and baseball – only much more grave. How Reagan glorified the astronauts, how Obama honored those shot to death in Arizona, their words and reasonings have become cultural constructs that appear in these tragic times.
The speeches, they are methods of proving why death can be American, why these victims are inherently heroes.

On a different note – Strauss’s concept of a bricoleur strikes me as the qualification – the minimum threshold above which those who become famous in pop culture are held. The ability to make something out of pieces, to arrange fragments that, upon first glance, have little to do with one another… these people are in the act of creating something unique – a true feat.
An example: The Books, “Smells Like Content”

The Books are a two-man band that create content by arranging samples from old video and audio cassette tapes that are then applied to their own musical tracks. They seek out the inherent contradictory meanings in words and phrases and exploit them to the fullest to create sometimes humorous, always beautiful, thought-provoking music. They are worth exploring, no matter your music taste.
You can see in the video above that the band seeks to expose language as nothing more than text- to spell the words by syllable or as homophones to show the viewer that, although one can follow the spoken lyrics, viewing the different-meaning words as they are sung creates a new confusion, a new way to interpret the song.
Another example, this time a funny one: "Group Autogenics I"

the Books ~ Group Autogenics from Anonymous Art on Vimeo.



Erin Coleman

To be honest, deconstruction has never been my favorite theory. Derrida made a cameo appearances in a few literature classes I took in college, but until this week, I had no direct experience with his writing. It was every bit as challenging as I expected. Despite the need for several re-readings and consultations of Wikipedia, I found On Grammatology the most interesting and personally relevant of the readings. Explorations of language and linguistics have been at the heart of many of our previous discussions, and I felt (relatively) more comfortable reading this essay because of its allusions to theorists we have studied in previous weeks, most notably Saussure. Still, I remain stumped by much of Derrida’s terminology.
Saussure and McLuhan have been my favorite theorists so far in this course. Much of my fascination with Derrida’s essay on linguistics stems from his direct and indirect dealings with each of these thinkers. Derrida devotes the majority of the essay to a deconstruction of Saussure’s binary opposition of writing and speech. He asserts that Saussure “does not recognise in the latter [writing] more than a narrow and derivative function.” Unlike Saussure, Derrida exalts writing and speech equally. He insists that the development of language occurs through the interplay of the two, rather than the dominance of one (speech) over another (writing). However, while Derrida deconstructs the opposition of writing and speech, Saussure focuses more on the differences between language and speech. Does this substitution change our reading of Saussure? Does Derrida accurately represent Saussure’s views? According to Derrida, the common linguistic opposition of the scientific concept of the spoken word to the vulgar concept of writing is inherently flawed. He brings up the concept of arche-writing as a form of language not derived from speech, in order to undermine the supremacy of the spoken word. This concept remains a bit hazy for me. What would be some examples of arche-writing? Is this a concept that has been subsequently adopted by linguists?
In addition, while McLuhan does not make an appearance in Derrida’s writing, I found myself thinking again about his ideas of East and West, not only because Derrida loves binary oppositions so much, but also because the concept of these large cultural blocs are intimately tied to orality and literacy. Interestingly enough, according to McLuhan, the West exalts writing and literacy over the oral, and thus “primitive” cultures of the East. While his writing is not primarily linguistic like that of Saussure and Derrida, the juxtaposition of McLuhan’s views on writing and speech with these theorists intrigued me. Finally, another concept that I found particularly confusing was Derrida’s concept of the trace. Does anyone have a good explanation for this?





Siyang Wu

This week, Derrida’s theory is really a challenge for me. To understand his post-structuralism means you have to get the background knowledge of his predecessors, like Hussert, Heidegger.

An interesting story that describes the relationship between structuralism and post-structuralism is that: a talent boy built a tower with blocks. Along with the development of his work, the tower become a remarkable wonder. The boy knew well about the basic rule to keep stability of the tower, all the weight directs towards to a same center, that is the center block of the tower. One day, another boy came by, who might be just annoyed about the tower which interfering him from enjoying the sight of horizon, stripped that center block. Immediately, the tower collapsed and nothing left.

There are many architects building millions of towers in human history, and there are more than one destructors measuring the world with deconstructive view points. They strip the key blocks and bring the world back to the delightful chaos. Derrida was the first who striped the center block.

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“In the static structuralism, the center of the system is connected and referred by all the other elements in the system. It holds the whole structure together, limiting the play of the elements in the system. This system is ultimately fixed, have no play at all, it is stable and become fully present”.


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“Deconstructionism, every elements play in an synchronic space, influence each other.”
“All signs have infinite play, or infinite ranges of meanings.

In Derrida’s opinion, “center was a construct, rather than something that was simply true or there”, and thus broke the illusion that “the center is replaceable and special”. I think deconstructionism breaks the linear structure system, reflected in the movie field, it renders the pervasiveness of nonlinear narrative structure. Open system structure assists the separate scenes in a movie to gain attention and reinforce the communication and reference among different elements.

Quentin Tarantino, who is evaluated as Jacques Derrida in movie field, is really good at utilizing nonlinear structure. His masterpieces, such as Pulp Fiction, Inglorious Basterds, and Kill Bill(vol. 1 & vol.2) are all in open system structure. Take Pulp Fiction for instance, Vincent who is a hit-man in one episode acts as a protector in the other episode, Jules, who shoot a person fiercely turns to be a savior of soul in the latter story. The sharp contrast brought into the movie by multi-dimension narrative and ring-like structure, tells audience that every participator in a story has his/ her own standpoint, and their activities reflect different meanings in different time and space.




Joshua Weaver


To concede, this is my first time being acquainted with Derrida. And, while not necessarily trying to give Lily’s spectacular joke at the top any credence, I truly had a hard time digesting the concepts. One of the concepts that piqued my interest was the concept of internal oppositions and contradictions in text. And, while text in this case denotes any such object that contains a meaning, a message, etc., I automatically defaulted to language -- our arguably most ostensible and tangible object of meaning -- to grasp aspects of his concept. In “Structure, Sign, Play”, we’re exposed to Levi-Strauss’ nature-versus-culture dynamic, a dynamic in which the idea of incest-prohibition does not steadfastly fit. This seemed to be the first of many “this-or-that” dichotomies that reared their heads throughout the reading.

In today’s Western culture, it seems that we are constantly inundated with these cultural binaries that, if it weren’t for the fact of being amid academia, would largely dictate every day unbeknownst to us. One of the biggest arguments that has come up in our reading as of late is whether or not language has a bona fide purpose in the development of semiotics, particularly in the cultural realm. And, while it poses itself as an arduous task to figure out if language precipitates and dictates meaning, culture and society, or if said facets precipitate and dictate language, language undoubtedly has an integral part in the dynamic.

Language, in particular, its use outside of immediate faculties, e.g., in news and other media, such as billboards, movies, TV, etc., helps keep our culture within a preferable and non-contentious semiotics arena, wherein we develop a narrative of our being, our society and our culture. For instance, some of us may, indeed, take up the sport of “bricolage” and others may “play”, taking on the dominant, hegemonic semiotic construction, the “this-or-that” dichotomy inherent in language (e.g., this word/object gains meaning from ostensibly not being that word/object.) is what allows the hegemonic status quo to continue its reign.

Here’s a little treat from recent history. The visual is as good as the verbal; and, although, the binaries are very evident in the speech (us-versus-them, the enemy, triumph, etc.), the visual connotes similar.






Stephanie Stroud

Understanding Derrida's deconstruction theory sends my mind spinning, almost in a sort of dance -- move from the center to the periphery, and take your partner (binary opposite) and spin her 'round, clap your hands to the beat (pay attention!)… are we having fun yet? For the record, I did have some fun reading Derrida's theory.

I agree with Derrida that "we have no language -- no syntax and no lexicon -- which is foreign to [the history of sign structures]" (CT,p.85), therefore, we must dance around within the slippery framework of signs. I feel like the notion of universal signifiers being centered outside the sign structure is at odds with Derrida's statement above. If something at "the center" has its center outside, it must not be a sign at all, but rather something viscerally learned. Anything that is truly a sign (not viscerally learned), can exist at various "center points" (since the "center" is in the eye of the beholder), but always within the structure of signs.

Moving beyond this sticky point for me, I'd like to bring up Lupe Fiasco, who I think is a great example of an artist who skillfully maneuvers within sign systems to criticize existing cultural structures. A self proclaimed rapper, Lupe Fiaso is one of hip hop's most prominent artists as well as critics. In other words, he fights the corrupt, degrading culture of Hip Hop by creating better music within Hip Hop -- He fights Hip Hop with Hip Hop. Here is an example of his lyrics -- and stance on the current Hip Hop culture -- taken from "Hurt Me Soul":

Now I ain't tryna be the greatest (the greatest)
I used to hate hip-hop... yup, because the women degraded,
But Too $hort made me laugh, like a hypocrite I played it,
A hypocrite I stated, though I only recited half,
Omittin the word "bitch," cursin I wouldn't say it,
Me and dog couldn't relate, til a bitch I dated,
Forgive my favorite word for hers and hers alike,
But I learnt it from a song I heard and sorta liked,
Yeah, for the icin, glamorized drug dealin was appealin,
But the block club kept it from in front of our buildin,
Gangsta rap-based filmings, became the buildin blocks,
For children with leakin ceilings catchin drippins with pots,
Coupled with compositions from Pac, Nas's "It Was Written",
In the mix with my realities and feelings,
Living conditions, religion, ignorant wisdom and artistic vision ,
I began to jot, tap the world and listen (uh), it drop...

While many of his songs exemplify deconstruction, I've attached the music video for "Dumb it Down". To summarize, the music video includes corrupt people within the Hip Hop culture ("poor champaign on the bitch") as well as equally corrupt people outside the Hip Hop culture ("uh oh, they're getting self esteem, Lu"), and the unanimous message that Lupe rejects "dumb [your music] down [to conform with the broken Hip Hop culture]".





Kenneth

When I first encountered Derridian Deconstruction I remember trudging through some really turgid stuff. A former professor recounted John Searle’s commentary on the stuff by pointing out: the low level of philosophical argumentation, the deliberate obscurantism of the prose, the wildly exaggerated claims, and the constant striving to give the appearance of profundity by making claims that seem paradoxical, but under analysis often turn out to be silly or trivial. Michel Foucault, a fellow pioneer of post-structuralism, is alleged to have referred to Derrida’s work as “obscurantisme terroriste.” Rorty also comments on Derrida’s lack of rigor in understanding, or at least conveying, major philosophical works but would rather “play” with the texts (Rorty, 147).
I won’t go so far as to echo all of that but there seems to be some deliberate obscurantism to Derrida’s ideas. I definitely concur that certain metaphysical projects at pinning down Geist are rather obsolescent and that institutional solidarity regarding “false binaries” present a ‘nature’ of things that is misleading, and disguise any diachroneity of signs.
Binaries tend to obfuscate abstract relationships that are: contradictory, as in mutually exclusive (dead, alive); antithetical (diametrically opposed); contrary (antagonistic); reverse, (direction and spatial positioning); or Opposite (symmetrically opposed in direction, character, or position). So yes, as long as binaries are conventionally established in this way, the structuralist logocentricsm is a joke. Maybe true binaries aren’t in the form of ‘this-that but ‘this-not this.’
So I guess we can apply this kind of stuff to culture all day and say Steven Colbert is using this binary, or wearing a tie, or making a metaphysical leap, but you don't have to be a deconstructionist to do that. Just like every one of us is a "certified cultural semiotician" every one of us is deconstructionist - thanks postmodernism. But then what? Or so what? Rorty's claims to a pragmatic "better" future for our children and grandchildren is as constructed (whether discursively or based on some metaphysics) a value as Steven Colbert's satirical character.
I like Rorty’s critique of Psychological nominalism here:
If all awareness is a linguistic affair, then we are never going to be aware of a word on the one hand and a thing-denuded-of-words on the other and see that the first is adequate to the second.
But the very notions of "sign" and "representation" and "language" convey the notion that we can do something like that. The notion of philosophy of language as the successor-subject to epistemology suggests that we have now found out how to study representation properly, and thus to do properly the job which Kant saw needed to he done.
I'm not sure if Derrida would say that language is a grounds for experience as well as part of the experience itself, and I note that suggests that Derrida and deconstruction is not attempting to dismantle truth and reality but many have come to the conclusion that it jeopardizes science beyond hegemonic practices "including the validity of empiricism, the possibility of meaningful knowledge, and even the idea that reality is in some way accessible to reason." so perhaps we can discuss why that is. So yea, I don't believe in a transcendental signified per se, but I do believe that certain kinds of language, like first-order predicate calculus, at least mirror noeme (like rules) in the Wittgensteinian/Rortian sense. Is Derrida only deconstructing language and not logic? I don't want to trudge through Derrida more than I have to, but many of his premises are in line with analytic philosophy, which seems to despise Derrida, and if Derrida isn't trying to dismantle empirical/positivist methods/philosophy of language, then why the beef? Maybe we can discuss some of the opposition to these ideas? Sokal Affair?




Suz S.

I recently read a story on NPR titled “Morocco’s protests take a peaceful turn.” To start off, I find it interesting that headlines like these treat populace movements as the nation’s trajectory towards a betterment of self (i.e. Morocco's protests), as if the nation itself is both moved by and self-sufficiently moving towards the “right” outcome which, in United States media, has been coded to mean liberation, progress, openness, and all of the things associated with the West. Yet one article we read stated that “Derrida can say that sovereignty and democracy are inseparable from one another (the contradiction makes them heterogeneous to one another) because democracy even though it calls for universalization (giving reasons in an assembly) also requires force, freedom, a decision, sovereign power.”

NPR reporter Tom Gjelten said during an interview on Weekend Edition Sunday that Morocco’s demonstrations are taking a different approach. They’re decentralized demonstrations that are mostly peaceful and premeditated. There is an underlying sense of difference here, as though there is only violent or peaceful change, yet Gjelten goes on to say that change is unlikely as the opposition movement is disorganized and the fact that they are rejecting parliament, not a public enemy number one, as Egypt and Libya have done—which to me related back to a comment that Derrida made in Rogues, where he says that “[During the Cold War], “we” had an identifiable enemy, with a name, which allowed the number of the enemies to be limited. But here and now, today, the number of “enemies” is potentially unlimited.” The unlimited number of enemies is inherently problematic for understanding of self v. other; as states/borders become more diluted, yet this “one, named enemy” of a clearly-defined state has within itself the potentiality of revolution. A nebulous state cannot be revolutionized—it is not clearly defined enough to revolt against.

This is what a peaceful protest looks like.
This is what a peaceful protest looks like.

Gjelten says that there has been little reaction to these protests, that he’s seen policemen but they mostly appear to be sleeping on the job.” Derrida says that meaning does not originate in the intentional meaning of the speaking subject. The channel, the reputation of NPR conveys an “unbiased” view and the privileging of first-hand accounts allow for an understanding of the subject that is assumed through the presence of visual data, while the medium of interview allows Gjelten to take on the position as “expert.” What has happened in neighboring countries will both allow Morocco some face time in the media (even in the absence of any real change) as well as future projections of a new political era in Arab states both give significance to this event and rob it of any importance whatsoever.

Derrida says that “There is no there there.” The legitimacy of the assumptions of power and agents of change are based on beliefs that these things are natural, that wrongful power can and will be rescued by the people. What happens next is no concern—the event is predestined to be both action and memory. “I remember reading about the Libyan revolution on Twitter” is a way of structuring both the relation of Twitter to political revolutions and creating a sense of temporality for political revolutions to be “realized” through digital media. To the public, the revolution is the outcome not the process. It ceases to be newsworthy when and how the structures are reborn and the meaning of the “sign” of revolution itself changes in accord to how such things are played from “beginning” to “end.” Is there an “end” to a revolution? Is not everything that happens thereafter part of the revolution, dependent on it, constrained by it, and made to live through it? The text of the revolution reveals itself to have meaning according to the past revolutions and the living idea of revolutions as signs for meaning. Seeing these protests in a new light, their very essence is temporal: “The Revolution is dead; long live the Revolution.” The structures and signs that we take as meaning are centered on things that we cannot separate and have no way of stepping outside of to examine them.


Music and Bricolage: Amon Tobin



Mini documentary on the making of Amon Tobin's Foley Room album:



--MI