Logology & Logocentrism

James Comas ComasJ at missouri.edu
Sun Oct 1 10:18:26 EST 2000

On 9/30/00 6:16 PM, Michael Calvin McGee at michael at mcgees.net posted the

> My problem with the argument, especially your present judgment that confl=
> logology and logocentrism is a mistake . . .
> We may have a misunderstanding here. By "conflation" I mean "read togethe=
> I do not mean "integrated."  I need some reasons as to what conceptual er=
> there could be in reading the KB corpus and the JD corpus together, perha=
> alternating between the two one book per week.

The possibility of a misunderstanding arising from different uses of
*conflation* occurred to me, also; so I'm glad  Michael mentioned it. I had
in mind the meaning that Michael gives as "integrated" (I would say "fused,=
even "con-fused"). It was in this sense that I stated, "The conflation of
'logology' and 'logocentrism' seems to me a conceptual error." I thought th=
two concepts were in danger of being fused within the larger discussion, in
part, because such a fusion appears to be a presupposition of the contrast
between Burke and Derrida that James Chesebro makes in the passage quoted b=
Mark Huglen. But I clearly misunderstood what Michael had in mind. And I
couldn't agree more with the intent behind his use of *conflate*: "reading
the KB corpus and the JD corpus together."

Michael takes issue with several of the points I made regarding Derrida's
definition of logocentrism. I don't have the constitution or time for
posting long messages. But I will address one of Michael's main objections,
and I will try to respond in a way that keeps Burke in the conversation.
Also, I hope to respond  in a way that takes advantage of a more general
suggestion I see in Michael's post, a suggestion that we compare Burke and
Derrida not merely at the level of concepts and theory but at the level of
motive, at the level of their respective rhetorics, especially the ways in
which they formulate the problems they want to address and, in doing so, th=
ways in which they forumlate historical contexts in which to  situate their
own writing. Finally, if we compare these two writers at the level of their
respective "rhetorics," might we not compare them, as well, at the level of
their respective "symbolics"?

Michael believes that I make too much out of Derrida's use of
"ethnocentrism" in his opening definition of logocentrism; more
specifically, he questions the appropriateness of my paraphrase of
logocentrism as "an epoch of ethnocentrism":
> JD writes from the perspective of a totalizing universal *history*.  He m=
> that logocentrism is a problem currently, and that it has been a problem =
> the invention of writing as a technology (see his essay on Plato's
> "pharmacon").  Logocentrism is only LIKE ethnocentrism -- an analogy is b=
> proposed here.  No *particular* "ethno" is in JD's mind, other than the
> totalized, universalized *history* of the human sciences.

I agree with what I believe is the main point of Michael's first two
statements, though I think it's important to elaborate, or refine the phras=
"from the perspective of a totalizing universal *history*." I would say tha=
Derrida is writing in resistance to "a totalizing universal *history*," mor=
immediately he is writing against Hegelianism without engaging in the facil=
dismissal of the force of Hegel's thought that one finds in Deleuze's
reading of Nietzsche (_Nietzsche et la philosophe_ 1962) and Foucault's
reading of Bataille ("Pr=E9face de la transgression" 1963):

> Misconstrued, treated lightly, Hegelianism only extends its historical
> domination, finally unfolding its immense enveloping resources without
> obstacle. Hegelian self-evidence sesems lighter than ever at the moment w=
> it finally bears down with its full weight. ("From Restrained to General
> Economy" 1967)

I think my refinement helps to emphasize Michael's observation that
"logocentrism is a problem currently." Yes; and this highlights a crucial
aspect of Derrida's modus operandi (at least from this period): the
treatment of current problems as symptoms of much larger historical
developments. What would be the parallels in Burke?

This leads to Michael's main objection and his counter-claim that Derrida
uses ethnocentrism only as an analogy in his definition of logocentrism.
First, I don't see anything in the passage I quoted indicating that Derrida
intended ethnocentrism only as an analogy. Here's the language, again:

> *logocentrism*: the metaphysics of phonetic writing (for example, of the
> alphabet) which was fundamentally--for enigmatic yet essential reasons th=
> are inaccessible to a simple historical relativism--nothing but the most
> original and powerful ethnocentrism, in the process of imposing itself up=
> the world, controlling in one and the same *order*:

To my mind, the phrase "nothing but the most original and powerful
ethnocentrism" indicates a relationship more profound than analogy. (At the
very least, what a curious analogy coming from the hand of an Algerian Jew
writing in Paris!) Also, the introduction of the idea of ethnocentrism,
early in _Of Grammatology_, clearly adumbrates the lengthy critique of
Levi-Strauss in Part II of the book, a critique that radicalizes
Levi-Strauss's long-standing concern with the ethnocentrism. If Michael
means to say that Derrida treats ethnocentrism as a symptom of logocentrism=
that claim could be argued; but given the language of Derrida's definition
and dominant role of ethnocentrism I don't see how one could argue that
Derrida uses ethnocentrism only as an analogy.

Michael's objection to my understanding of the relationship between
logocentrism and ethnocentrism was triggered (at least in part, I think) by
my parenthetical suggestion that Derrida's use of "ethnocentrism" indicates
a political dimension to Derrida's thinking from this period:

> You cannot re-make a JD into a J-JL no matter how hard you try to find a
> "politics" in deconstruction.

I agree with Michael's statement about re-making Derrida into Lyotard. But
Lyotard does not offer the only way of dealing with the political. Nor does
Spivak's and Michael Ryan's reading of deconstruction as a strategy of
revolution (although there is some truth to this, as evidenced by Derrida's
affiliation with _Tel Quel_ in the post-'68 period). I only mean to say
that, like any serious thinker, Derrida's thought does not ignore the
political dimension of human existence, a dimension that later (i.e., with
the formation of GREPH) would be referred to as *le politique* ("the
political") as distinguished from *la politique* ("politics"). Burke, I
think, occupies a similar position in his theory of rhetoric; though in RM
he is clearly interested, as well, in dealing with contemporary politics,
especially the emerging cold-war policy of the US and fascist tendencies in
post-war American culture.

As interesting as I find this discussion, I'm afraid I don't have enough
time to continue as an active participant. So I'll just be watching from th=
sidelines for a while.

J. Comas
Department of English
University of Missouri-Columbia
comasj at missouri.edu  |  http://web.missouri.edu/~engjnc/

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