In university English Departments in the 1980’s when I was writing Language As Disclosure, “theory” was the order of the day. Deconstruction was that theory, and Jacques Derrida (Irvine, Paris), who had introduced and developed it, was Principal Theorist. I was a Ph.D. student in Critical Theory at the University of Arizona, reading major works of Western thinkers from the ancients to the postmoderns—including the works of Martin Heidegger. Derrida had been a student of Heidegger’s. Indeed, his “Deconstruction” was his appropriation of Heidegger’s Destruktion—the task Heidegger had set for himself, to rethink the history of ontology (Being and Time 44).
Even before I had read the works of Derrida I had become accustomed to the literary climate that issued from Deconstruction. I had developed an antipathy to the “program” (as I considered it) of searching out a literary text’s sources and instances of power, effect, in order to “stamp them out”—a process called “demystification.” It was part of the general reification and/or psychologizing of “knowledge” underway at that time (and since) as science-technology settled over (dimmed down or snuffed out) our historical sense of it.
This was an exciting period in university literary studies. Perhaps there had never been more intense, rigorous intellectual activity than during this moment at the pinnacle of the postmodern movement when literary works were reapproached, reexamined, and reappropriated or dismembered or dissolved under the acid edge of the ruthless scrutiny of the new theoretical apparatus. Derrida defined the objective (to deconstruct the Western philosophical tradition); demonstrated the procedure (by way of his own lectures, articles, books); rallied (awakened, aroused, inspired) the willing, the capable; and set the pace.
At the heart of the postmodern project lay the deconstruction of language itself. Derrida’s “différance” presented the dilemma: language differs in kind, he said, and in time from whatever it might “say.” Indeed, it was a postmodern mantra: language is a system of signifiers signifying merely other signifiers; language tropes other language, is cut off ineluctably from the world of things it intends to “say.”
I watched the “best and brightest” academic intellectuals set about the tedious, towering task of achieving not what they intended but what has since transpired: the undermining of English Departments, the concomitant unraveling of Humanities programs, and—more serious and pervasive—the levelling or dissolving of the purpose of the university itself and the meaning of knowledge.
Language for Heidegger, meanwhile, operates inevitably at the core of realities, for better or worse. It is language itself that opens—dis-closes—the world, wrests it from chaotic disorder.
My dissertation, Language As Disclosure—which argues that Derrida’s strongest concepts were dependent on Heidegger’s original notions even as they sought to displace them, that Derrida was mistaken about Heidegger’s thought and had led current Western thinking astray—was not accepted for publication, though it received a little flurry of attention at the time.
Today I am offering the book Language As Disclosure again, again at a moment when Heidegger’s standing is at issue after publication of his Black Notebooks. I have revised the book a little and wish to make it available to the idle Heidegger reader.
The burden of my book is not argumentative, not even “theoretical,” but “disclosive.” I.e., it presents Heideggerian readings on the nature of language as I show it “working” in works of five American modernist authors. I contend that these authors were “seeing” what Heidegger was “seeing,” and it is that rich insight into the more-than-ever-essential working of language that I hope to “disclose.”
Continue reading After Nietzsche: Heidegger.