FRINGES, MARGINS, DIAPHRAGMS: THE UNIVERSITY AND TEXTUAL REASON AFTER DERRIDA
Critics have repeatedly pointed out that Jacques Derridas "increasing concern with the political and institutional bearings of deconstructive theory" has constantly run alongside, even broken, new paths for fairly recent paradigm shifts in cultural theory. Moreover, I would argue myself, not only has Derridas work brought to the fore a conspicuous interest in social and political issues from the outset; it has also set up, step by step, a whole theoretical apparatus to intervene critically in the articulation of the Habermasian "public sphere." In effect, as Derrida and scores of his commentators have maintained, poststructuralism can hardly be defined asand thereby confined, limited to"a textualist position which fixes an insuperable gulf between language and reality." As a matter of fact, a symptomatic "doublebind" approach to the very problematic of confinement, of the finis, border, and margin decisively modulates his whole project. Accordingly, it is "the logic of the margin," Derrida insists, that requires that we actually reconsider the very definitionagain, definitionof textuality. He reads, as is well known, the philosophical tradition as a "determined text inscribed in a general text, in the representation of its own margin." This compels us, the critic goes on, "not only to reckon with the entire logic of the margin, but also to take an entirely other reckoning: which is doubtless to recall that beyond the philosophical text there is not a blank, virgin, empty margin, but another text, a weave of differences of forces without any present center of reference (everything"history," "politics," "economics," "sexuality," etc.said not to be written in books: the wornout expression with which we appear not to have finished stepping backward, in the most regressive argumentations and in the most apparently unforeseeable places); and also to recall that the written text of philosophy (this time in its books) overflows and cracks its meaning." The passage clearly indicates, I think, that far from being cut off from each other, reading, textuality, its "margin," as well as various social structures, compose a unique model of interpretive and political intervention, since textuality stampsdescribesliterary and institutional formations alike. Its "enlarged" dynamic concept spins off throughout Derridas work. Accordingly, distinct types of critical engagement such as a commentary on a Platonic dialogue or a public lecture on atomic warfare might both work their way through textuality and discourse; they both cross back and forth the latters borders, engaging by the same token various locations, instances, and structures, producing discourse and therefore leading to a (sociopolitical) "prise de position."
In this essay I want to reassess the ethical and political productivity of such a readinginformed, textual, and "marginal" model by focusing on Derridas inquiry into a core institution: the University. I am interested here in how Derrida positions himself through a survey of the "position," or the "site" of the University, at which the alreadyinvoked "logic of the margin" unfolds. Discerning the Universitys locus, it seems to me, is a key moment in Derridas larger "peratology," in his ("gay") "science" of the limit, "diaphragm," "tympanum," and other tropes of the peras ("limit" in Ancient Greek) and their discursive/institutional implications. In light of these tropes recurrence in Derridas thought, I wonder, how does the Derridian critique lay bare its ("deconstructive") "expertise" as it rearticulates the textual space of universitas? As a philosopher, an expertus versed in the economy of the peras, limes, and Grenze, Derrida sees the University as the philosophical object par excellence. It is because the University offers an ideal opportunity "to examin[e] the relevance of the limit" that it becomes a theme Derrida has repeatedly tackled over the last years. As he asks in one of his seminal texts on the topic, "how can we not [italics mine] speak of the university?" It is our responsibility, he claims, to carry out this inquiry. It is our duty indeed, I would contend, to keep speaking of the University, when so much nowadays is at stake in the struggle to achieve and effectively wield "the power to speak from institutional locations," to give a voice to the oftentimes "voiceless" or silenced University. It is our job to think the University and its limits especially today, when one witnesses a tendency to (re)police these limits, to write the University off from the "social text" in an effort to blot out the critical discourse the academy produces. Along these lines, the Derridian reading of the academic margins seems to me still actual, whether one talks about research or teaching, western universities or ThirdWorld academic institutions. As recent interventions in cultural politics have shown, poststructuralism as a form of "marginal politics" keeps carrying considerable "oppositional" potential. More specifically, Derridas theory of academic liminality enables us to engage the existing, at times ramrodstiff, borders between the University and the rest of society. In this regard, Carol A. Stabiles conclusion is here perhaps worth quoting: "Despite postmodernist assertions to the contrary, the boundaries that separate and divide are neither as pliant nor as permeable as many imagine. As the walls continue to rise between campuses and communities, we need to acknowledge these fortifications, and develop strategies for challenging them." Whether Derrida qualifies or not as "postmodern"he has not concealed his dislike for the term "postmodernism"this is another, admittedly controversial matter. But his refiguration of academic "marginality"his coming to terms with Stabiles parting wallscontinues to provide, I contend, possibilities for this much needed strategy. And, in allowing for such provisions, Derrida once again uncovers the profound ethos of his analysis of textual and intertextual practices.
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