Jurgen Habermas asserts in On Leveling the Distinction Between Philosophy and Literature[i] that philosophy and literary criticism function as “mediators between expert cultures and the everyday world”[ii] and that, in response to Derrida’s deconstructionism, the leveling of the distinction between specialized forms of discourse does a disservice to both. Habermas argues that each specialized discourse operates under different concepts of validity that are not necessarily mutually compatible. The language games and the validity claims of certain disciplines, say science and poetics, are exclusive from each other; while we can perform a Freudian, psychoanalytic read of Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens or seek to find an answer w/r/t M-theory in the labyrinths of Borges or the dream-like wanderings of Kafka, ultimately what we are doing is reading the works out of their context thereby rendering them floating signifiers. While I agree that relegating the “problem-solving” skills of philosophers only to metaphysics is a waste, unvetted deconstructionist reads are also cherry picking from that skill set while leaving behind one of the basic principles of critical reasoning: context.
Habermas wrote”[t]he rebellious labor of deconstruction aims indeed at dismantling smuggled-in basic conceptual hierarchies, at overthrowing foundational relationships and conceptual relations of domination.”[iii][iv] This is a noble pursuit and reason enough to utilize the basic principles of deconstructionism. “The totalizing critique of reason gets caught in a performative contradiction since subject centered reason can be convicted of being authoritarian in nature only by having recourse to its own tools.”[v] One need not look to the mysticism of Heidegger or the silence of Wittgenstein to answer the problem of reason finding its own functional limits; one can merely accept that its contradictions are inherent its particular language game[vi]. The performative contradictions are what inspire Derrida’s attempt to create a metadiscourse through deconstructionism (and Adorno through negative dialectics), which effectively expands “the sovereignty of the rhetoric over the realm of the logical”[vii]. The distinction between the two being that logic is “a system of rules to which only certain types of discourse are subjected in an exclusive manner – those bound to argumentation,” and rhetoric being “concerned with the qualities of texts in general.”[viii] The two are not in opposition at all, but instead deal with two different disciplines each with their own set validity claims.
Habermas goes on to speak of “poetic speech,” a particular subset of rhetoric, as “[t]he space of fiction that is opened up when the linguistic forms of expression become reflexive [which] results from the suspending of illocutionary binding forces that make mutual understanding possible.”[ix] This is world-disclosure where understanding is achieved not by the context of coordinating action and consequences relevant to action, but by understanding the statement is directed at the medium itself and can only understood as such. This is language for the sake of language, the words or messages existing for their aesthetic value. The ambiguity of these poetic messages helps convey the human experience in those opaque outlying areas where reason fails us. However, it is unclear how this differs from metaphysics aside from the convention of particular validity claims between the two.
The idealizations present in the critique of metaphysics have the same illocutionary binding force as the fictional or the poetic. Given the limits of reason and the pragmatic faith required to function in the world, philosophy was constituted of a series of constructs that all worked to obey the highly specialized language game – reason. The only way it can continue to function is the intentional ignorance of the internal inconsistencies of the closed system. It is under this rubric that Rorty speaks of language “which can receive no gloss, requires no interpretation, cannot be distanced, cannot be sneered at by later generations. It is the hope for a vocabulary which is intrinsically and self-evidently final.”[x] This sounds like the endeavor of every discourse, but more specifically, it seems to have a yearning for the metaphysical, for the Platonic Ideal.
The dismantling of the traditional paradigm of philosophy and the salvaging of its useful parts allows for us to take different tools and gain a greater understanding to discourses in other disciplines. This in turn opens the doors of philosophy to interpretation through other disciplines as well. Nietzsche, Emerson, Foucault and Baudrillard should not only be subject to the validity claims of reason, but also to the manifold interpretations presented by deconstructing their works.[xi] The constraints of language are interdisciplinary; the inability to communicate between specialized modes of discourse is limited by the reader committing a deontological stop more than an idiomatic incompatibility. Philosophy and art are not “held together by the functional matrix of ordinary language”[xii] as much as by the fact that they both function to help solidify the bonds of intersubjective agreement w/r/t those places where the logic of language games and reason fail us.
[i] Continental Aesthetics, Blackwell Publishers
[ii] pp. 317
[iii] pp. 308
[iv] This is more than unearthing enthymemes; it is about learning to see what our culture hides in plain sight. For example, the continued subjugation and domination of marginalized groups in the US such as women, children, and the poor, and, contrary to its representation on tv crime dramas, the US Justice system being more about protecting wealth and property (which translates to power), then it is about justice or defending those that cannot defend themselves.
[v] pp. 307
[vi] And by extension the sometimes incoherence that arises from this systematic problem. This does limit discourse, but as long as public policy is not being formed by or around these limits in rational discourse, then there should not be a huge problem. However, this might be an area where utilization of deconstructionism’s tools might shed some light on what can otherwise be crepuscular.
[vii] pp. 308
[viii] pp 309
[ix] pp. 316
[x] Rorty, Consequences of Pragmatism, pp. 93
[xi] To which these interpretations are then subject to the validity claims of the disciplines from which they arise. If interpretation itself is purported to be a philosophical treatise or lays truth claims it philosophy, then it is subject to philosophy’s validity claims. The author defines what set of rules he or she is beholden to by what sets of claims he or she makes.
[xii] Continental Aesthetics, pp.317