Applied Grammatology: Post(e)-Pedagogy from Jaques Derrida to Joseph Beuys (reviewed by Elle)
November 27, 2004
Book Review #4
Applied Grammatology: Post(e)-Pedagogy from Jaques Derrida to Joseph Beuys
By Gregory L. Ulmer
The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore and London, 1985.
Paul suggested that I read this book to better inform my understanding of composition studies in the current culture, as well as to further understand philosophy in education. I found this book to be both fascinating and dense at once. To help my understanding, I read the book Philosophy of Education by Nel Noddings concurrently, and this helped me a great deal. I used the second text for my fifth book review (also posted) and found this to be a great combination. While the books are quite different, the second text helped to form a foundation of knowledge that was quite applicable to the first text. So, if you are like me, and do not have a foundational knowledge of Derrida and his ideas of education, or the ideas of other philosophers (Dewey, Socrates, Plato, Rousseau, etc.), and you plan to read Applied Grammatology, than I would suggest reading both books, either at the same time (so that you can refer to different sections of each), or to start with Nel Noddings text and then move on to Ulmer’s. With that said, I will break down the primary ideas of Ulmer’s text in parts and chapters below. As I mentioned, the text is quite dense and presents a multitude of ideas and concepts, so I will share what I found to be the most influential and thought provoking.
Grammatology is defined, in this text, as a new organization of cultural studies. This text looks at grammatology as a new mode of writing, one that could bring the language and literature disciplines into a more responsive relationship with the current era of communication technology. Ulmer recognizes three theories/phases of writing:
• History of writing
• Theory of writing
• Application of both history and theory of writing (this would be considered grammatology).
Grammatology hopes to provide a theory for a mode of research that goes beyond the norm, which currently includes only the history of writing. During the 18th century (modernist) period it was realized that the science of writing occurred in literature, which caused theorists, philosophers, and educators alike to reconsider the manner in which writing was taught and considered. The metaphysical tradition is the primary obstacle of grammatology and Western metaphysics/thought leads to an instrumental and technist view of writing.
At this time, Derrida began to practice a mode of writing which is no longer subordinated to speech or thought- a writing no longer functioning as a representation of speech, in which the hierarchy of thought, speech and writing is collapsed. The evolution of writing is covered, with a discussion of the development and perfection of the alphabet by the Greeks, and in its earliest stages of development, writing was associated with drawing and the visual arts in general, never having more than a loose connection with speaking until phoneticization transformed it into a representation of the spoken word. (Isn’t that fascinating?!!)
The above covers the Grammatology section which introduces the reader to the history, evolution and development of Writing and the role which Grammatology plays and what it is. The continuation of this section (Part I) reviews writing as practiced by Derrida, meaning that it is more than simply deconstruction (which would be composition) and is also a mode of analysis. Derrida’s exploration of nondiscursive levels of images, puns, models and homophones is presented as an alternative mode of composition and is intended to be applicable to academic works, which creates invention. This invention differs from the typical analysis or criticism and relies heavily on images, which relates to current Western thought in that now (following Derrida’s theory of writing) thought is investigated at two levels, words and things. And so, grammatology is “not confined to books and articles, but is addressed more comprehensively to the needs of multichanneled performance- in the classroom and in video and film as well”, which Ulmer goes on to suggest may actually mean that when Derrida discusses Writing, he is actually discussing Scripting.
In this section, Derrida is further summarized and discussed in his relation to pedagogy and the implications of his ideas. Jacques Lacan, Joseph Beuys, and Sergei Eisenstein are also discussed and used as models of the application of grammatology in the classroom. Their role in historical grammatology (the scientific study of the history of writing) is also reviewed, but introduced as incomplete. The main idea of this section is that grammatology requires the introduction of the subject into the teaching, and each teacher must put their own stamp of authenticity on the curriculum, which would depend on the instructor/teacher’s areas of knowledge and expertise. “We must begin wherever we are and the thought of the trace which cannot take the scent into account, has already taught us that it was impossible to justify a point of departure absolutely. Wherever we are: in a text where we already believe ourselves to be” (162).
This section of the book is also focused on putting speech back in its place while looking at the current scene of writing, and identifying the pedagogical principles associated with applied grammatology, particularly in regards to the current state of electronic media-which is primarily considered as the television. Ulmer addresses Derrida’s essay on education in Politiques, further examining Derrida’s direct statements on education, in particular in regards to the idea that “deconstruction has always had a bearing in principle on the apparatus and the function of teaching in general.” Derrida believed that while deconstruction had a role in education, limiting education to deconstruction made the teacher’s job particularly easy and did not encourage the building of knowledge in the classroom. He also felt that it did not allow for the privacy of his teaching practice. Actually, I don’t really understand what Derrida is saying in this section and I did try to further my understanding of his idea of publicly vs. privacy in teaching practice, but I was not able to further my understanding. So I just included this for those of you who know everything about Derrida. I do, however, understand the relation this has to Derrida’s idea of the institution as a political body, and his idea that by deconstructing the institution (as a political body), we introduce heterogeneous forces that both deform and transform it, with the risk that such forces may be unreceivable.
The most interesting idea in this section of the book was, to me, the discussion of the debate between C.P. Snow and F.R. Leavis, which involved the distinction between knowing “the truth (discovered dialectically) and presenting this truth, once known, in a way that would convince or persuade others (rhetorically)” (160). This section discusses the break between philosophy and literature and the consequences of this rupture which broke into two styles- plain/scientific, and rhetorical/literary. Another interesting discussion-and the one that was most relevant to my own experiences and career-is the section addressing the challenge of presenting-in teaching-the “essentials of the humanities to a non-specialized and untrained public in a way that involves “real knowledge,” rather than mere spectacle of the same.”
Ulmer completes the text by reviewing Post(e)-Pedagogy in Seminar (looking at Jacques Lacan), Performance (using Joseph Beuys as an example), and Film (reviewing Sergei Eisenstein). Ultimately, Ulmer makes the argument that Derrida’s texts already reflect “an internalization of the electronic media.(303)” Ulmer believes that Derrida has made a deliberate choice to accept the new challenges, insights and the paradigm that electronic media presents in current teaching and pedagogy, particularly in Derrida’s understanding and negotiation of the transition between the print and media eras.
How I can use this text:
Overall, I am inclined to say that I need to read the book again before I can actively use the knowledge I gained from this book. At the very least, I need to read my pages and pages of notes from the text. I do think that I have a much clearer understanding of pedagogy in an electronic era, and I have a greater understanding of the philosophy of education, which is something I am lacking. I found quite a few interesting areas in the text that I would like to learn about further, particularly in regards to the section on Seminar and the discussion of Lacan, who sounds quite interesting. I also felt that the first part was of particular interest for me as it presented different views of writing and the use of deconstruction. At the very least, this text has provided an opportunity for me to reconsider my current teaching practices and pedagogy and my use of the electronic media in my teaching.