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This review is taken from PN Review 44, Volume 11 Number 6, July - August 1985.

DECONSTRUCTIVE DIPLOMACY Christopher Norris, The Deconstructive Turn (Methuen) £4.95 pb.

Philosophers may mean what they say but, as the Mad Hatter reminded Alice, this is not at all the same thing as saying what they mean. In a deconstructionist perspective, philosophers, no less than ordinary mortals once they start to speak or write, are inevitably caught up in a play of rhetoric that turns their meaning into contradiction, shatters the mirror of truth into fragments. It is impossible to say just what one means: language takes over, and indeed, the very notion of a meaning prior to utterance may be a product of language, a retrospective fiction.

Christopher Norris claims that his collection of essays represents, in a sense, 'the revenge of literary theory on that old tradition of philosophical disdain or condescension stretching back at least to Plato's Republic'. Deconstruction, for Norris, has a philosophic rigour of its own: and its reading strategies, which have been most widely deployed in literary criticism, can be turned against philosophical texts - even those which most actively resist deconstruction - and reveal their aporiae, their blind-spots of contradiction. Philosophy like literature, can be seen to be ineluctably implicated in rhetoric; the distinction between the two disciplines, and the traditional privileging of philosophy as a means of truth, can thus be challenged.

Both Anglo-American linguistic philosophy and French deconstruction, despite their manifest differences, are linked, Norris suggests, by the premise that - as Frege puts it - 'meaning determines reference': linguistic structures shape the reality to which they ...


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