Notes on Derrida

I’ve been reading Derrida for a forthcoming publication, so I’m just thinking out loud here. I invite other readers to join with me. Nothing I’m writing here attempts to engage the published scholarship on these topics.

Comments on Writing and Difference:

For being an atheist, he writes a lot about God.

His engagement with negative theology is needed and valid within the context of his argument in Writing and Difference. But it’s defective because he relies too much on Meister Eckhart (perhaps exclusively?), who was a thirteenth/fourteenth century Dominican monk. Eckhart was a German Catholic. His Catholic identity pressured him to pull back from the strongest expression of negative theology, which sounds heretical to Catholic ears. Derrida should have relied on Russian or Greek sources, but I don’t know what was available to him in French or German translation in the late 50s/early 60s. If he had, I think that would have led to a much more productive discussion of negative theology in Writing and Difference.

He’s a great close reader. He seems most interested in deconstructing the works that are most interesting and valuable to him. He doesn’t call it “deconstruction” in WD, though the word may appear there once. He uses the word deconstitution.

Since the chapters of WD are brought together from previously published articles, I’d like to list these chapters, along with his chapters in Of Grammatology and in Speech and Phenomena, all of which were published in 1967, in the order in which they were originally written, and then read them in that order, not in the book chapter order. I’d also like to list the pre-reading needed for each chapter. Order of publication in English doesn’t at all mirror order of publication in French.

Rock and Romanticism: Post-Punk, Goth, and Metal as Dark Romanticisms

Cover Image, Rock and Romanticism: Post-Punk, Goth, and Metal as Dark Romanticisms
Cover photo: Taylor Fickes

Rock and Romanticism: scholarship with a soundtrack. Yes, I have two anthologies with the main title Rock and Romanticism. The first was published early February 2018 by Lexington Books, and was focused on Blake and Wordsworth and, very generally, the genre of classic rock.

This second book is Rock and Romanticism: Post-Punk, Goth, and Metal as Dark Romanticisms (Palgrave Macmillan, forthcoming late May 2018) and is focused just where the title implies: on the gothic or “dark Romanticism” as it is sometimes called and on its musical counterparts in rock. The first book states a thesis about the relationship between rock and roll and Romanticism. This book restates that thesis and then extends it to different genres of music and literature.

This page provides chapter descriptions and a lot more. If you liked the first book, you’ll like this one too: those interested in one really need to get both. If you’re drawn to this project, please consider requesting that your libraries order it. A more formal description of the project follows.

Because I’ve recently published two edited anthologies with the same top title, I’ve created this video explaining the origin of these books and the differences between the two:

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The edited anthology Rock and Romanticism: Post-Punk, Goth, and Metal as Dark Romanticisms (Palgrave Macmillan, 2018) is now available for preorder on the publisher’s website and will ship in late May 2018. I’m providing information here for potential readers, reviewers, and college and university librarians who may be interested in this book. If you wish to review this anthology for your publication, please contact James Rovira at jamesrovira@gmail.com with your name, credentials, and the name of the publication for which you wish to review this work.

But I’d like to provide a bit of personal history before I get into details about the book: my introduction to English Romanticism (my first way in to the vast labyrinth that is “Romanticism”) occurred in two stages. First, through the song “William Blake” on the Daniel Amos album Vox Humana (1984). That song made me run to the local B. Dalton Booksellers (remember those?) to pick up a copy of The Viking Portable William Blake.

I read it through the first time, cover to cover, in a befuddled haze, but I loved it. Daniel Amos, “William Blake,” Vox Humana:

Next, when my undergraduate English Romantics professor at Rollins College, Dr. Roy Starling, wanted to explain to his students what the publication of Lyrical Ballads meant to the 1790s, he compared it to this moment in rock history, the moment when Bob Dylan the folk singer plugged in and went electric:

And that was how I first understood Romanticism as a literary phenomenon. Thank you, Dr. Starling. In both cases, my way in to Romanticism was rock music from the 1960s to the 1980s.

Rock and Romanticism: Post-Punk, Goth, and Metal as Dark Romanticisms explores the relationships among the musical genres of post-punk, goth, and metal and seventeenth- to nineteenth-century American and European Romanticisms in their literary, artistic, and musical expressions. It argues that these contemporary forms of music are not only influenced by but are an expression of Romanticism continuous with their seventeenth- through nineteenth-century influences. Figures such as Blake, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Byron, Keats, Mary Shelley, Percy Shelley, Friedrich, Schlegel, Beethoven, and Hoffman are brought alongside the musical and visual aesthetics of the Rolling Stones, the New Romantics, the Pretenders, Joy Division, Nick Cave, Tom Verlaine, emo, Eminem, My Dying Bride, and Norwegian black metal to explore the ways that Romanticism continues into the present in its many varying forms and expressions. Book details:

Rock and Romanticism: Post-Punk, Goth, and Metal as Dark Romanticisms ~ James Rovira, ed. ~ Hardcover ISBN 978-3-319-72687-8 ~eBook ISBN 978-3-319-72688-5 ~ DOI10.1007/978-3-319-72688-5 ~ pp. 330 ~ hardcover: $109.00 (£80.00); ebook: $84.99 (£63.99). This collection is part of the series Palgrave Studies in Music and Literature, P. Lumsden and M. Katz Montiel, editors.

Chapters are listed below. Many and profuse thanks M. Katz Montiel for being a great series editor (he made every chapter better), to Palgrave Macmillan’s editorial team, and to Dr. Mark McCutcheon (see the Nick Cave chapter description) for his work assembling these playlists. After the Preface and Introduction, songs are arranged in the order in which they appear in the chapter.

I’ve created iTunes playlists for each chapter that are linked within chapter descriptions. Also check out the iTunes Master Playlist for this anthology that combines all available songs (over 200) and the Spotify Master Playlist.

Preface and Introduction: “Theorizing Rock/Historicizing Romanticism” James Rovira. Check out his iTunes profile.

  1. “Empathy for the Devil: The Origins of Mick Jagger’s Devil in John Milton’s London” (pp. 27-44) by Evan LaBuzetta, Ph.D., Cambridge University. Independent scholar, founder of Writling Language Consultants.
    • Chapter summary
      • Evan LaBuzetta’s “Empathy for the Devil: The Origins of Mick Jagger’s Devil in John Milton’s London” analyzes the political discourse and outlines the discursive practices that influenced John Milton in his development of the character of Satan in Paradise Lost. Milton’s Satan was reinterpreted by the Romantics and later appropriated by Mick Jagger in “Sympathy for the Devil.” According to LaBuzetta, the rise of personal interpretation of Scripture in an era of vicious conflict led various combatants in the English Civil Wars to identify their domestic opponents with Satan. In pamphlets, writers could insist on their opponents’ Satanic origins regardless of outward appearance—because Satan can transform himself into an “angel of light”—while at the same time positing their own demonization as a sign of the righteousness of their cause. Through the English Civil Wars, rebellion against civil authority came to be seen as different than rebellion against God, establishing a “paradox of individual authority” by the time of Milton’s writing. Once God is dethroned as a “self-justifying principle,” a writer like Shelley could thrill to the active, virile, self-confident aspects of Satan’s character and declare that Milton’s Satan is far preferable to Milton’s God. Milton anthropomorphized Satan, and later readers came to see him in personal, non-religious terms: as a heroic individual striving against a tyrannical, self-imposing force, one with whom readers or rock fans could empathize.
    • Music
    • Literature
    • Get the iTunes playlist
  2. “‘Bliss was it in that shirt to be alive’: Connecting Romanticism and New Romanticism Through Dress” (pp. 45-59) by Emily Bernhard Jackson, Lecturer, University of Exeter.
    • Chapter summary
      • Skipping ahead about ten years after the Stones expressed sympathy for the devil, Emily Bernhard-Jackson’s “The Semiotics of the Ruffled Shirt: Connecting Romanticism and New Romanticism” shifts focus from linguistic content to visual surfaces in her comparison of the New Romantics of the early 1980s to English Romantics such as Byron. Rejecting the assumption that the New Romantics were glib and apolitical, she asserts their carefully managed, glittering surfaces were acts of subversion within Thatcher’s England, and these rock stars’ androgyny and even specific fashion choices—such as the ruffled shirt—carefully and not just coincidentally parallel second generation English Romantics such as Byron. Fluidity of sexual identity served the purpose of resisting full industrialization during 1980s’ England in a way parallel to the poets’ resistance of incipient industrialism in Romantic England, making dandyism and glitter statements against the brutal grayness of the working-class employment described by Löwy and Sayre, a very observable “mechanized conquest of the environment” under industrialization.
    • Music
    • Literature
    • Get the iTunes playlist
  3. “‘Crying Like a Woman ‘Cause I’m Mad Like a Man’: Chrissie Hynde, Gender, and Romantic Irony” (pp. 61-82) by Sherry R. Truffin, Associate Professor of English, Campbell University.
  4. “A Northern ‘Ode on Melancholy’?—The Music of Joy Division” (pp. 83-100) by Caroline Langhorst, Ph.D Candidate, University of Mainz.
  5. “‘Little crimeworn histories’: Nick Cave and the Roots-Raves-Rehab Story of Rock Stardom” (pp. 101-120) by Mark McCutcheon, Professor of Literary Studies, Athabasca University. Check out his blog.
  6. “Postcards from Waterloo: Tom Verlaine’s Historical Constellations” (pp. 121-143) by Len von Morzé, Associate Professor of English, University of Massachusetts, Boston.
  7. “Manner, Mood, and Message: Bowie, Morrissey, and the Complex Legacy of Frankenstein” (pp. 145-161) by Samuel Lyndon Gladden, Associate Dean of the School of Human Sciences and Humanities and Professor of Literature, University of Houston, Clear Lake.
    • Chapter summary
      • Samuel Gladden shifts focus to monstrosity in “Manner, Mood, and Message: Bowie, Morrissey, and the Complex Legacy of Frankenstein.” He compares Bowie’s and Morrissey’s appropriations of the figure of Frankenstein’s Creature to explore their differing responses to isolation and loneliness. In Gladden’s account, Bowie focuses on the discardedness of the Creature as he adopts and discards personae just as Frankenstein abandoned his Creature. Bowie ultimately gathers up many of his previous personae in the song and video “Blackstar,” particularly his first personae, Major Tom, who allows Bowie to revisit the trope of being in an alien environment in anticipation of his own impending death. Morrissey, on the other hand, focuses his attention on the Frankensteinian themes of hybridity or bricolage in “November Spawned a Monster,” emphasizing that Morrissey adopted as his own the hybridity or bricolage associated with the Creature through a variety of personae with disabilities, all of them set within an “idealized past.” The disfigurements of the subject described by Löwy and Sayre, therefore, assume material form in Morrissey’s various personae.
    • Music
    • Literature
    • Get the iTunes playlist
  8. “Tales of the Female Lover: the Poetics of Desire in To Bring You My Love and Is This Desire?” (pp. 163-181) by Catherine Girodet, Ph.D. candidate Université Paul Valéry – Montpellier, and faculty, English Department, Universitie De Creteil.
  9. Emocosms: Mind-Forg’d Realities in Emo(tional) Rock Music” (pp. 183-197) by Eike Träger, Ph.D. candidate, University of Cologne, Köln, Germany.
  10. “‘I possess your soul, your mind, your heart, and your body’: External and Internal Gothic Hauntings in Eminem’s Relapse” (pp. 199-213) by Christopher Stampone, Ph.D., Southern Methodist University.
  11. “‘The Female Is Such Exquisite Hell’: The Romantic Agony of My Dying Bride” (pp. 215-233) by Matthew J. Heilman, Ph.D., Duquesne University.
  12. “Ashes Against the Grain: Black Metal and the Grim Rebirth of Romanticism” (pp. 235-257) by Julian Knox, Assistant Professor of English, Georgia College.

Bibliography (pp. 259-278)
Discography (pp. 279-284)
Index (pp. 285-302)

Cover photo: Taylor Fickes.

Errata: if you see any errors on this page or in the book, please email James Rovira.

Zero Sum Thinking and Academic Writing

I recently came across social media discussion about difficult academic writing, and what struck me as I was reading the usual complaints was one particular instance of zero sum thinking about academic writing. It works like this:

Either. . . “I am too dumb to understand this writing,”

Or. . . “This writing is very bad.”

I think this zero sum thinking is the dominant on-off switch governing reading comprehension for too many of us: all writing should be written at the reader’s level, with that specific reader as the intended audience, so if a reader fails to comprehend, it’s either the author’s or the reader’s fault.

IMG_7701What amazes me is that this thinking doesn’t consider any middle ground. Maybe the work we’re reading is written above our reading comprehension, and we just need to educate ourselves to comprehend it? I constantly tell my students that no, they’re not dumb if they have a hard time understanding some of the reading the first time around. I tell them that doing the reading increases their ability to read even more difficult texts in the future as it teaches them different ways of thinking. I encourage them to do the hard work of understanding difficult texts because it increases their future reading comprehension.

That’s been my experience, anyway. I purchased Jacques Derrida’s Of Grammatology on November 23rd, 1996 at the Books-A-Million on International Drive in Orlando (I know because the receipt is still stuck in the book). The first time I read it through, I started writing a list of works discussed at some length in the back of the book, as you see in the image above, because I hadn’t read them yet. At one point I stopped reading Derrida, went back and read this list of works, and then revisited Derrida’s very dense text with a much higher reading comprehension. Was it still hard? Yes, but not incomprehensible. It was only incomprehensible when I hadn’t done the reading.

I think the zero sum thinking I just described proceeds from the idea that everything should be written for the same audience, and I think it plagues humanities scholarship particularly — very few people complain that scholarship in physics, chemistry, or medical science are written above their heads. I’m not sure why people think that professional discourse about the humanities has to be written at the ninth grade level to make it readable to a general audience, but I don’t think this is a fair expectation. When we limit writing this way, we limit the range of ideas we can express and the sophistication of our thought. AP style does not need to govern everything written.

I think that more humanities scholars should indeed be public intellectuals, and that they should write works accessible to a general audience (and learn AP style), but I don’t think they should be limited to doing only this kind of work. Specialized language is important and can perform a useful purpose. It allows us to advance our thinking more quickly, serving as a shorthand for a dense array of conceptual moves. It positions our approach within recognizable theoretical assumptions — people know where we’re coming from by our language. Difficulty also allows us to defamiliarize our writing to our readers. This use of difficulty originates in the early twentieth century and requires readers to do some work to understand what we’ve written. That way, they can approach our ideas on their own terms, with their own nuance and emphases, rather than allowing readers to use their pre-existing ideas only as fill-in for the author’s own, rather than as a bridge to new ideas.

So when others very commonly say, “It doesn’t have to be this hard to understand,” I think the validity of this complaint depends first upon the work the reader did to understand the text. I think there are two kinds of people who say this. First, people who have read the difficult text, worked through it, understood it, and then realized it didn’t need to be this hard. Most of us who read humanities scholarship have had the experience of doing this work to arrive at a very simple argument. The use of jargon in these cases was only a veneer of sophistication spread over conceptually thin thinking. But there are also people who say this, quote examples of overly difficult sentences, and just reveal that they’re reading on a level below the text’s. If you think the word “pastiche” is complex jargon, pick up a dictionary before you complain about the author.

This criticism is harder to address because it is sometimes true (I won’t say often — that’s lazy quantifying). I can say that I’ve worked through Derrida, understand him much better than I did when I first read him, and see why he needs to be so difficult as well as the benefit of doing this work. Part of the difficulty of his writing proceeds from his desire to get us to think differently: he writes in a way that defamiliarizes his readers with our usual reading practices so that we can think about reading differently. Robert Brandom, similarly, was very difficult for me on a first read, but doing the work to understand him was a rewarding experience.

I would say, then, that yes, they do need to be that hard. The difficulty serves a purpose, and it should be allowed to do so.

 

Active CFP: Women in Rock / Women in Romanticism

Apropos to International Women’s Day, see this CFP: Call for Papers: Women in Rock / Women in Romanticism

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