n Journal of Literary Studies - That "incredible unanimal / mankind" : Jacques Derrida, E.E. Cummings and a grasshopper

Volume 20, Issue 3_4
  • ISSN : 0256-4718



Jacques Derrida does not take account of recent discoveries about communication within the animal kingdom. This philosopher shifts the entire debate on whether animals respond, or not, into a complex deconstructive zone. He ignores the fact that animals communicate - including Koko the gorilla and the ants - and this goes together with a couple of uncomfortable complications in his work when it comes to a zoological identity. These complications involve deconstruction on the whole, and in particular Derrida's long recent essay "The Animal That Therefore I Am (More to Follow)"; this article focuses on this essay. One important complication which the article discusses briefly and in some detail is that Derrida unnecessarily undermines the potential of language to describe animals. Deconstruction remains "scriptive" when it should be "descriptive"; that is, when it should un-write to the greatest possible degree in order to write (comprehensively and reciprocally into the actuality of) an animal. The article shows, for instance, that Derrida's manner of describing an echidna disappoints. It obscures the descriptive labours of language such as stripping and organising itself outwardly, in the direction of this remarkable creature. That is, it fails to write in such a manner that the actuality of the creature influences and resonates within the writing. And a describing zoological identity has flourished prior to deconstruction, in the most (inter)active and open-ended sense in modernist poetry, for example in E.E. Cummings's grasshopper poem. This article reads this poem, focusing on the full and active describing qualities within it. For instance, it shows how the iconistic centre and a framing of the significant shortcomings of language combine to set the grasshopper free (to let it go, or abandon it in the positive sense) <I>through</I> language; a cross-stitching occurs in which language is also free, finally, to render an adequate and dynamic description of an actual animal. With these arguments and this comparison in hand, the article comes to a provisional conclusion that perhaps deconstruction, despite its important illuminations, ultimately does not render a satisfactory zoological semiosis, while the past has already provided us with clarifying and exciting salient points of this ongoing and imperative manner of making signs.

Jacques Derrida hou nie tred met onlangse bevindings oor kommunikasie in die diereryk nie. Hierdie filosoof verskuif die hele debat oor die moontlikheid dat die diere kan antwoord in 'n komplekse dekonstruktiewe sone in. Maar hy ignoreer die feit dat die diere kommunikeer - insluitende Koko die gorilla en die miere - en dit hang saam met 'n aantal ongemaklike verwikkelings in sy werk oor ons soölogiese identiteit. Hierdie verwikkelings raak die dekonstruksie in die geheel en veral Derrida se onlangse lang essay "The Animal That Therefore I Am (More to Follow)" - waarop hierdie artikel fokus. Een van die belangrike verwikkelings wat so ontstaan en wat kortliks in besonderhede hier bespreek word, is dat Derrida die potensiaal van die taal om die diere te beskryf onnodig in die skadu stel. Die dekonstruksie is "skrywend", nie "ont-skrywend" (lees ook: beskrywend) nie - en hoewel mens dalk sou reken dat dit daarom meer dinamies en interaktief inspraak sou maak in die diereryk en die ekosisteem in, is dit ongelukkig nie die geval nie. Die artikel toon byvoorbeeld hoe sy hantering van die beskrywing van 'n echidna teleurstel: Derrida forseer hier 'n "skrywing" (self-refleksie) af op 'n beskrywing. In teenstelling hiermee betoog die artikel verder dat 'n beskrywende soölogiese identiteit reeds voor die dekonstruksie gefloreer het in die mees (inter)- aktiewe en oop-eindigende sin, in die modernistiese poësie, byvoorbeeld in E.E. Cummings se sprinkaangedig. Hierdie gedig word gelees met die oog op die ontskrywende/ beskrywende kwaliteit daarvan. Met hierdie betoog en die vergelyking tussen Derrida en Cummings in pag, kom die artikel tot die voorlopige slotsom dat die dekonstruksie, ten spyte van die belangrike insigte wat dit openbaar, op die ou end dalk nie 'n bevredigende soölogiese semiose daarstel nie; terwyl daar in die verlede reeds voorbeelde was van insiggewende en opwindende hoogtepunte van hierdie voortgaande en lewensbelangrike manier waarop die mens tekens voortbring.

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