[Milton-L] PS reply to Kim Maxwell

James Rovira jamesrovira at gmail.com
Sat Jul 12 08:30:52 EDT 2008

To my knowledge, Derrida doesn't dismiss authorial intent or any of
the other means by which textual meaning can be grounded, centered, or
established.  Without these, a deconstruction is not possible -- there
has to be something apparently stable in the text before the text can
be deconstructed.  He's also aware that he can't talk about
deconstruction without depending upon the means by which textual
meaning can be grounded, centered, or established, and in debates over
his own writing often made reference to his own authorial intent,
accusing people at times of deliberately misunderstanding him.

He wanted people to understand him before they deconstructed him, and
attempted to do the same with the texts he deconstructed.  His
beginning point, so far as I can tell, is that these means of
stabilizing texts (origin, intent, referent, etc.) are absent from the
text itself, so that a text is always susceptible to being
deconstructed.  He also includes a political element in his thinking
in that the regular means of stabilizing texts often support hegemonic
structures and serve oppressive purposes.

If Derrida did dismiss authorial intent and other means of stabilizing
textual meaning, deconstruction in his hands would just be a critic
making up things to say about the text without regard for the text at

While this happens quite often in scholarship using deconstruction, I
don't think Derrida is completely to blame for that and I don't think
he advocated it himself.  He certainly didn't practice it (well, any
more than anyone else -- we all get things wrong sometimes -- but he
does seem to demonstrate a serious attempt to understand the text he
deconstructs before deconstructing that understanding), otherwise we
wouldn't be talking about him.

There does seem to be some changes in his position over time, too --
some differences between the early and late Derrida.  The early
Derrida is more susceptible to claims that he dismissed authorial
intent and other means of stabilizing textual meaning, but even then I
don't think he did.

Jim R

On Sat, Jul 12, 2008 at 8:04 AM, Alice Crawford Berghof
<aberghof at uci.edu> wrote:
> Regarding authorial intention and de Man, I find this useful.  Would love to
> hear what others have to say.
> Alice
> "Rather than dismissing authorial intent, de Man insists on incorporating
> hermeneutics, or the search for referential significance, into formal
> analysis, despite the interference that the formal surface of the text
> presents to hermeneutic epistemological understanding."
> Encyclopedia of Postmodernism
> Entry by Bernadette Meyler

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