Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Levin on Derrida

In this IPS thread on states of consciousness I took a tangent into Levin concerning Derrida:

I found a relevant passage in Levin's Sites of Vision (MIT Press, 1999), the chapter on Derrida and Foucault. The entire chapter up to this point was Derrida's refutation of the metaphor of light and vision, equating it with the metaphysics of presence. But when the metaphor extends to how blinding light diffuses any distinctive presencing Levin notes:

“Without disputing the heliocentrism and ocularcentrism of metaphysics, Derrida will argue, however, that, contrary to first appearances, the logic of this sun-and-light-centered discourse does not in fact entail, or necessitate, a metaphysics of presence—on the contrary, the more one thinks about the matter, the more one will be compelled to acknowledge that the logic of this metaphorics actually resists, and even subverts, the possibility of presence. Thus he asks us to reflect on the phenomenology actually implicit in the logic of this metaphorics: 'Presence disappearing in its own radiance, the hidden source of light, of truth, and of meaning, the erasure of the visage of Being—such must be the insistent return of that which subjects metaphysics to metaphor.' Here we can see Derrida's deconstructive strategy at work—that is, at play: he uses the metaphorics of light to deconstruct the metaphysics of presence, that very presence that the visual generation of metaphyics has been thought to support. If this is a Hegelian Aufhebung, it is a sublation with a mischievous, chiasmic twist.

“Derrida is not the first philosopher to remind us that metaphysics uses and depends on metaphors, but he is perhaps the first one to call attention to the subversive implications, using one of the favorite tropes to make his point: just as the sun, the source of light, hides itself, can become invisible and elude our efforts at mastering the power of its light, so all metaphors are ultimately going to be disruptive of and resistant to the impulse behind metaphysics—its drive to 'dominate' presence through intuition, concept and consciousness. And if all metaphors transgress the 'proper meaning' of words, establishing affinities that are never more than partially 'appropriate,' and, in general, introduce uncontrollable semantic play into the discursive field, then metaphors of light and vision will be doubly disruptive and resistant.

“For Derrida, then, metaphysics is indeed ocularcentric. And he contests this encoding of the discourse, just as he will contest all forms of domination—hence, all frames and margins, all centers and totalities. He also believes that metaphysics has been, and still is, written under the authoritarian spell of presence, and that this too must be questioned and contested. But what he shows is that the metaphorical code cannot be reduced—not even by metaphysics—to any essentially fixated ontology. Thus, the use of a vocabulary generated by light and vision, far from supporting a metaphysics of presence, will actually negate its very possibility” (416-18).

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