lhexa ([personal profile] lhexa) wrote2011-01-12 02:47 am

Mastery of a text

From a conversation with Rax.

Also: I acquired Barthes' A Lover's Discourse and have read portions of it. I dislike it. It is not a book about love, but rather a book about infatuation. I could go on at much greater length, but if you would find such a criticism overly harsh, then I will skip such exposition.

I would argue there are portions that are about infatuation, but I'm happy to hear critique of it --- I don't think it's perfect, just that it's been useful to me. I'm sorry it hasn't been useful to you!

Eh, on second thought, I don't want to go to greater length. The one thing I did say can stand as a summary for most of what the longer critique would contain.

On the other hand, this situation did provide the opportunity to clarify why I have such strong reactions toward books, most books in fact. Emerson says in Self-Reliance, "Who has more obedience than I masters me." This seems like just a bit of self-indulgent contradiction until you realize that the mastery he speaks of is not the mastery of a slave, child or wife, but the mastery of a text. The texts I master are the ones to which I show the most obedience: I become willing to follow their fancies and self-indulgences, accept their descriptions, and think in their terms, and one criterion for mastering a text would be to understand it (obey it) even more than the original author. So the fact that there are some writers, like Heidegger and D&G, who leave me with a feeling of revulsion, indicates that were I to show them such obedience they would abuse it. (I do not claim they abuse all their readers.) Similarly, when I come across writers toward whom I feel disdainful (like Barthes or Derrida), it indicates that I could offer them such submission, but they would not do anything worthwhile with it, they would neglect it. I do not claim that this is the only way or picture of reading, but it is one that explains the strength of my responses.

I really, really, really like your metaphor, and I think it's entirely reasonable that different people would find what Barthes has to do with that obedience either useful or not. Thank you.

Going a little bit further: after accusing Derrida elsewhere on your journal of feigning mastery of a text, I started to wonder what counts as true mastery. Extending the idea above, I think that disobedience of a text is only possible from a standpoint of mastery, because you can't disobey what you aren't in a position to obey. So what I see at play in Derrida is not only a feigned mastery but a feigned disobedience, as though he only learned enough from Austin to make a point of spurning him.

If I had critiqued Barthes it would have ended up similarly. There are times when the full articulation of an aversive response counts as a good criticism, but this was not one of them.