A few words for Axel Vander: John Banville and the pursuit of deconstruction

Brewster, Scott (2016) A few words for Axel Vander: John Banville and the pursuit of deconstruction. Irish Studies Review, 24 (3). pp. 311-326. ISSN 0967-0882

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Abstract

To read is to understand, to question, to know, to forget, to erase,
to deface, to repeat – that is to say, the endless prosopopoeia by
which the dead are made to have a face and a voice which tells
the allegory of their demise and allows us to apostrophize them
in our turn. No degree of knowledge can ever stop this madness,
for it is the madness of words.1
When Paul de Man’s wartime journalism in Belgium for the collaborationist paper Le Soir was unearthed in 1987, four years after his death, deconstruction was placed on trial within and beyond the academy. The scandal revolved around legacy, survival and forgetting, and raised questions about how one might speak, or come after, such an event. In the immediate aftermath, Jacques Derrida reflected that the affair had bequeathed “the gift of an ordeal, the summons to a work of reading, historical interpretation, ethico-political reflection, an interminable analysis”.2 For Derrida, those who read after de Man are left with a ceaseless labour of judgement, a reckoning with the past that remains a matter of the present and of the future. Derrida sees de Man’s life and thought as shaped by two separate but entangled temporalities that unsettle notions of ‘before’ and ‘after’: one was a traumatic “prehistoric prelude” in occupied Belgium, the other a “posthistoric afterlife, lighter, less serious” in America. The “war” that de Man endured within himself was lived at “the crossroads of these two incompatible and disjunctive temporalities”. The accused is dead, in ashes, with “neither the grounds, nor the means, still less the choice or the desire to respond”, leaving us, alone, “to carry his memory and his name in us”.3 Those who are left behind must live at this crossroads too, reluctant to discount the mature body of work but unable to forget the youthful ‘error’ of the collaborationist articles. This responsibility to the future is a matter of judging, remembering and reckoning with these temporalities.

Keywords:Deconstruction, NotOAChecked
Subjects:Q Linguistics, Classics and related subjects > Q320 English Literature
Q Linguistics, Classics and related subjects > Q322 English Literature by author
P Mass Communications and Documentation > P500 Journalism
Divisions:College of Arts > School of English & Journalism > School of English & Journalism (English)
ID Code:23170
Deposited On:22 May 2016 10:35

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