Non-classical Paradigm of Interpretation

Cette fin s'entamant dans l'origine: l'écriture

Jacques Derrida

There are many ways of defining «non-classical», many ways of comparing «classical» with «non-classical». But this paper is not concerned with such terminological matters. I shall try, instead, to describe the specific characteristics of non-classical paradigm of reading and compare it with the classical (or scientific) philosophy. Of course, there would be many objections to any attempt to equate the two terms, «classical» and «scientific»; but I am going to bypass this discussion, too. I take the classical philosophy as the form of European metaphysics, which aims to gain the clearness of definitions, accuracy of argumentation, completeness of philosophical systems, hierarchy of philosophical knowledge, and to be rooted in historical understanding of the evolution of thought. That is why I believe that classical philosophy is close to scientific principles. Science seems to provide the ideal scheme of such clearness of definitions, hierarchy of knowledge, and historical principles of progress. So, «classical philosophy» is not the synonymous with «Ancient philosophy», but is itself the paradigm of European metaphysics.

By «non-classical» philosophy I mean the tradition of structural and post-structural philosophy, which escapes (not rejects) the systematic character of philosophy. The main distinctive principle of non-classical philosophy is this escaping from metaphysics, therefore the thinking with oppositions: good and evil, truth and lie, complete and coming-to-be. There are no such oppositions in non-classical philosophy; accordingly, all forms of philosophy are acceptable. So, I agree with S.L. Kropotov 1, who hypothesizes that non-classical philosophy began with Friedrich Nietzsche, that is, with his avoiding of the oppositions: «Jenseits von gut und Böse». That is why non-classical philosophy in my mind is still part of classical one: not the rejection of the classical, but the widening of borders of classical tradition.

I seek to analyze the non-classical reading parading, because the sphere of text reading, I think, is where the main difference between classical and non-classical philosophy is shown. Of course, reading is the universal method of working with text; but reading is not only a physical act, but the process of understanding as well as mastering the text and critics. I share with Roland Barthes the opinion that the text is formed by the reader rather than by the author 2. I attempt, in what follows, to show how classical philosophy is succeeded by non-classical philosophical part, and also, how classical positions of philosophy are re-comprehended by non-classical ones.

Non-classical philosophy was formed not only as the opposition to classical philosophy, but as the constructive reflection on it, that is, an attempt to solve the problems posed by the previous epoch. In the end, non-classical philosophy became not so much an overcoming of classical thinking traditions, as continuation of it 3.

The rejection of scientific ideology (Weltanschauung) became the main distinctive principle of non-classical philosophy. According to classical thinking mode of thinking (especially the modern mode) 4 philosophical knowledge should be built according to the principles of science (like categorical apparatus, experiment, prognostication, aspiration for answering the global question of being, truth, human, God, sense of life and so on). Seen from the classical viewpoint, philosophy should be the hierarchic and historic system (the knowledge should be comprehended in a historically evolutionary way). This principle that «the history of philosophy is one form of philosophy» was established by G.W.F. Hegel in «Lectures on the History of Philosophy». According to this view, the aims of history as well as history of philosophy were the «immersion» in the sphere of investigated text. It means to try to reconstruct (recreate) not only the traditions of culture and epoch, to which writer belongs, but to reconstruct the mode of author's thinking, the model of relation between the writer and world (the text). Investigation into, and reconstruction of, languages became the method of such «immersion». According to von Humbolt, the «spirit of nation» as well as the unique ideology of nation, the source of traditions and culture, are stamped in the language of each nation. The joining-together of the temporal and cultural and linguistic spheres of text is the cardinal principle of this «immersion». Therefore it is understandable that the classical (scientific) philosophy demands that the reader and commentator of the texts know the original language, to begin with, and also the historical basis of the text. Classical principles of reading are: 1) to know other texts of the same author and to compare the given text with other works of the author; 2) to know the history of ideas and terms used by the author; 3) to know the subsequent developments of the author's ideas and to appreciate the significance of the given text in history of thought. For example, when investigating Aristotle's text, one has to know the Ancient Greek language, other works of Aristotle as well as the pre-Aristotelian philosophical tradition from which Aristotle emerged, and the Aristotelian influence on medieval philosophy along with the impact of his thought on European metaphysics as a whole.

Non-classical philosophy does not reject these principles (although the prefix «non» can entail this rejection), but put the same question in another perspective. And this aspiration for re-comprehension of history from un-scientific positions was criticized by classical philosophers for their destruction of scientific values. But here, it is more correct to say «simulation» rather than destruction. J. Baudrillard's notion, «simulation,» is understood by classical philosophers as synonymous with in-complete, therefore un-scientific and un-true term. But the very fact that classical philosophers attempt to criticize non-classical paradigm of reading a text from the scientific positions shows that their approach is tactless; tactless because, first of all, the sphere of science and that of knowledge are not the identical, which means there is a sphere of un-scientific knowledge. This is the sphere of religious, mystical knowledge, the acquisition of which entails neither conscious mental activities nor cognitive work. Science is a method of acquiring knowledge, but not the only one. This is to suggest that knowledge is not necessarily rational or, put more specifically, scientific; knowledge and science are not identical terms. Therefore, those who criticize non-classical philosophy, on the assumption that the incomplete and the unsystematic are the same as the unscientific, unworthy of knowledge, lack proper foundations. Secondly, as non-classical philosophy postulate a position outside the scientific sphere, all arguments coming from critics working within the scientific position, who thereby depreciate anti-scientific values from that point of view, are off the point.

Non-classical philosophy escape from the opposition of scientific and un-scientific, postulate the main principles of reading that are neither scientific nor un-scientific. Non-classical philosophy does not share the classical (scientific) positions; therefore, it does not enter into an argument with it. There is no resistance from non-classical philosophy as such, because it rejects none of the classical principles; it only escapes oppositional structure of scientific vs. un-scientific, real vs. profane, proper philosophy vs. mere philosophizing, etc. That is why it is so difficult for criticis working within classical paradigm to recognize the merits of non-classical philosophers.

Non-classical philosophy, whilst acknowledging the scientific nature of philosophy, re-establishes its philosophical position against such background. Consequently, non-classical tradition defines philosophy as the form of out-of-scientific (neither scientific nor un-scientific) thinking. In this way, the philosophical teleologism of classical epoch, for instance, which sought to answer the global questions of truth, human being, God, etc., becomes invalid. Non-classical philosophy refuses to answer this question, whilst acknowledging that there is no one simple answer to such questions; moreover, it is considered baseless to raise those questions. As time goes by, the meaning of such global questions along with the way they are treated always changes. There are a lot of answers and a lot of opinions. To such crisis of increasingly numerous philosophical systems, doctrines and ideas about truth, human being, God, one can respond by acknowledging that everyone of them is correct, insofar as every position is unique in its own right. The fact that there are so many different philosophies, so many different people, is the evidence of such crisis. So, philosophy as the form of universal truths creation, according to M. Foucault, dies. To this I can add: classical philosophy dies; and yet, philosophy as a form of dialectic thinking will go on. And non-classical philosophy seeking after another kind of reading is an attempt to withdraw from that crisis.

First of all, non-classic philosophy re-evaluates the classical philosophy's relations with science. Such scientific orientation was the form of adaptation and mimicry. Science and the idea of «ratio» were the authoritative discourse for studies in the Age of Enlightenment. Knowledge was perceived as rational, as scientific; and therefore, every sphere of human activities, which pretended to be based on knowledge, had to be scientifically-oriented. This tendency was reflected in rational theology, rational psychology and rational cosmology, which, when put all together, form Christian Wolf's philosophical system. Ration and science served as a criterion of veritable of knowledge. Since then, philosophy had to become a science, too.

In order to prove scientifically that philosophy has cognitive values, philosophy had to create a row of global questions, set up a methodology, and invent special terms, building the hierarchy of philosophical knowledge. To prove the validity of philosophy, it had to put on a mask of science. This classical tradition (V. Fedotova calls this period as the epoch of modern) create a new form of philosophy, whose aspiration lies in the clearness of definitions, accuracy of argumentation, completeness of philosophical systems; as such, it was constituted on the basis of the oppositions between clear vs. vague, argument vs. metaphor, science vs. poetry. Preference was given to the first term of these oppositions.

Although non-classical philosophy escape from such oppositions, when overcoming the metaphysics, it still retains the dialectic principle of thinking. Rejection of the scientific basis of philosophy is a tendency visible in the aspirations of some philosophers of the 20th century who adopt different forms of writing: fiction, poetry, and literary criticism. Albert Camus, for instance, expressed such idea, namely that the philosopher of the 20th century has to write novels. There is an obvious aspiration to the non-rational sphere of creation.

However, these principles do not negotiate with philosophical experiences in the past; non-classical philosophy, being more concrete in its approaches, does not aspire to answer the global questions, which gives rise to endless debates and which seeks after only one answer. The aim of this concrete non-classical philosophy is to read the texts in a broad sense of the word, «reading». According to Jacques Derrida, there is nothing outside the text and every human activity can be perceived as a form of writing; and in this regard, every product of human work can be interpreted as the text 5.

It is necessary to examine the peculiarities of non-classical mode of reading philosophy. Classical philosophy investigated the historical and scientific aspects of texts, i.e. concrete cultural context, which determines the structure and evolution of written texts. It is necessary to know the original language in which a given text is written not so much in order to understand the sense of the text, as to analyze the cultural context. And it is necessary to know the native history and language (Saussurian langage) of the author. Although non-classical philosophy inherits this principle, it does not treat the text as an self-identical entity, which classical philosophy does insistently. Self-identity is the scantiness of a text defined by the frames of national language, culture and epoch. Classical philosophy insists on this principle, which is why it demands that the reader carry out all the duties I listed earlier.

For a non-classical reader, the text can be read, whether it remains self-identical or not. Therefore one can read the text out of the epochal or cultural context, as well as out of—that is, against—the author's position. This principle was formulated by G. Bataille in the course of his reading of Hegel; his point is, namely that we can read Hegel's works not only out of German cultural context, but out of Hegel himself 6. Non-classical philosophy does not reject the classical principles, but take off (Aufheben) the burden of austerity, totality of them.

Non-classical philosophy is premised upon the principle that the text is determined by the given cultural context of the reader, not by that of the author. When reading a text, a non-classical reader accentuates the very process of reading, which depends on the reader's native language, culture and the epoch in which he is present, but not on the self-identity of the text, treated by classical philosophy as the immutable, total and stable code of information, rigidly determined by the culture and epoch in which it was written. Seen from the non-classical point of view, reading should not submit itself to this code; on the contrary, this code can be determined by the reader. Therefore non-classical philosophy resists the monosemantic (i.e. self-identical) treatment of the text as well as the complete cognitive mastery over it. Seen from the classical point of view, the reader is one who understands all the senses created by the author; consequently, the sense of the text is limited and static. A non-classic reader understands a text as a dynamic system, which itself develops in the course of reading. The main principle of non-classical reading is proposed by Barthes (also by Umberto Eco), who argues that the text is formed by the reader rather than by the author. There are no limits and completeness of the text, because it is created by the process of reading, which is as endless as the present itself. At the same time, non-classical philosophy inherited the principle of cultural determinism from classical philosophy. It acknowledges that the reader's interests are determined by his mother tongue and present culture. Senses of a text are formed by the reader's language, culture and epoch, not by the author's. To this extent, the writer, as well as the reader, is subject to cultural determinism.

Classical philosophy is premised upon the principle that thinking precedes writing (ècriture). J. Derrida sees this postulate as the basis of the Platonic tradition of European metaphysics. The primacy of thinking over writing determined the principles of classical reading. If thinking precedes writing, and writing is a process of encoding thoughts through a textual production, then, reading reverts that process. According to classical philosophy, reading is a process of decoding the thought put into the text by the author. Text becomes therefore known as the code of thoughts. Reading is the analysis of codified thoughts of the author. Therefore, in order to read and encode the text, the classical reader has to know the original language, culture and mentality of the writer. He tries to «immerse» himself into the writer's culture and to reconstruct the author's way of thinking. So, original language is treated by the classical philosophy as the key to this de-coding process.

By contrast, non-classical (especially poststructuralism) philosophy is premised upon the principle that writing (ècriture) is not submitted to thinking (or, likewise, to logos and truth) 7. Writing is the universal form of human activities, and thinking itself (taken as an act of creating truth and objectivity) can be treated as a form of writing, too. If, as Derrida says, writing is more primary than thinking, reading is not the process of deciphering encrypted thoughts, but, itself, paradoxically, a form of writing, too. When reading a text, the non-classical reader creates another text, which is an treatment of the first one. The reader is always a writer, too. This idea is very close to that of Barthes, who maintains that a text is formed by the reader rather than by the author. Every reader is an author, too. That is why non-classical philosophy does not aspire to answer the global question of thinking, but is devoted to reading and treating the texts. Non-classical philosophy treats the philosophy as the method of reading, not as the method of explaining the world, which classical philosophy insisted on doing.

The strategy of «immersion,» promoted by classical philosophy, is always constrained by the idea of concrete epoch, the idea that text is a product of concrete cultures, determined by specific cultures and epoches. That is why this «immersion» never will be excellent. Every attempt to fully appreciate a historical event remains very subjective, because the historian himself belongs to a concrete culture and epoch. Therefore, all the conclusions drawn by a specific historian will be determined by his present culture and ideology. All research activities are conducted in the present tense. Therefore, the present values affect the reconstruction of the past. On the question of how to treat history, I agree with Augustin Aurelius, who wrote: «Quod autem nunc liquet et claret, nec futura sunt nec praeterita, nec proprie dicitur: tempora sunt tria, praeteritum, praesens et futurum, sed fortasse proprie diceretur: tempora sunt tria, praesens de praeteritis, praesens de praesentibus, praesens de futuris8 — «It is clear, that there are neither future nor the past, and it is incorrect to speak about three tenses of the past, present and future. It is correct to speak about present of the past, present of the present and present of the future». We can not know and experience the real events in the past, let alone the events in the future; what we can experience and appreciate is only the present model of the past and the future, created by the present culture. We can only speak about our present conception (Kant's ‘repraesentatio’) of the past and the future, but not about real events in the past and future. Our outlook (Weltanschauung) belongs to the present, and therefore the models of the past and the future, created by this outlook, also belong to the present. Our treatment of the past can change because it can change our present conditions. That is why the process of reading and treating a given text is as endless as the present itself.

So, if the strategy of «immersion» seems successful (if we can show how the philosophers of the past manage to follow it), it is, in my mind, only an illusion, arising from the present conditions of our consciousness. In any case, we can not insist that our knowledge of the past is identical with the past as it was; but, we can see that such knowledge is identical with our present conceptions of the past. By reconstructing the past, we create (in the present tense) our conceptions of the past; in other words, we create the present reality, not the past. When reading a text, according to classical paradigm, we try to reconstruct a model of the author's thinking; we try to understand how the man of the past might have thought. But really, we reproduce the matrix of scientific consciousness, which has already created the image of the past. The classical reader rests more upon the prepared scientific model than on his present culture and mentality. Against this, I see reading as a process of disclosing the sensual sheets and levels. Therefore, in my opinion, I think that classical reader do not really read a text; it is because he has already (before reading) established a stable model of the author's mentality in his mind, created by science. He knows a lot about the culture and ideology of the author, and his reading is determined by this knowledge. Even before setting out to read a text, he knows what he can find in the text. When reading, he rests not on the text, but on the science of history, which created a special reading paradigm, which I termed the strategy of «immersion».

But I acknowledge that this strategy of «immersion» is created by our present historical science, too. Therefore, it is impossible for us to maintain the objective significance of these principles. Classical philosophy holds on to a set of objective values of science, but really, science is a product of modern European culture and it is not universally applicable to all human individuals and times. The term, «objectivity» as well as the term, «truth» are the products of concrete culture and time. There is no only one truth for all the people and times, because there are different terms of truth in different cultures. This term (like many others) was formed by our culture. Truth is only that which is supposedly true, i.e. that which we take as true.

In my mind, historical science arose only from a tradition, itself created by the present culture, of simulating an «immersion» into the past. Historical science teaches how to create the authentic model of the past suited to (and on the basis of) our present mentality, how to understand the culture of the past from the modern cultural point of view, and how to describe the past mentality on the basis of present mentality. Historical science teaches how to create an illusory model of the past, which can satisfy our present consciousness. Therefore, the activity of a historian is not that of reconstructing the past ideology, but that of making an authentic model of the past, reproducing the present ideology of historical science.

To read a text, taking it as a self-identical entity, is to reinforce the modern scientific matrix of objective historical reality. Non-classical philosophy creates a different way of comprehending history. Therefore, it can situate a text outside its domain of self-identity as well as outside its ideological matrix. When non-classical philosophy rejects the universal importance of scientific thinking, what it rejects is only the scientific treatment of philosophy. Conceptions of the forms of the past belongs to the present culture and epoch of the reader rather than to the author. Therefore, even the classical reader belongs to his present condition; and in this sense, his strategy of «immersion» is only an illusion. He believes in this illusion and names this illusion an objective reality of history. According to J. Derrida, history is a secondary derivative (dèriver l’historicitè) of writing 9.

In this regard, I can make sense of Barthes's thesis about author's death, namely that there is no only one sense of the text created by the author and his cultural mentality. There is no only one treatment of the text. Barthes uses the image of the author inclusively: it contains culture, epoche, and mentality of writer—all at once. The author symbolises the self-identity of the text: it is the power that, by giving self-identity to the text, ensures its integrity. So, to read a text from the classical points of view is to attempt to read it from the author's point of view by assuming his mental position. By contrast, Barthes postulated (dèclarè) the non-authorial basis of a text: it means that there is no such power which gives self-identity and gathers a text into one. Therefore, we can read a text without considering its self-identity, and likewise, without considering its authorial power.

Non-classical principles of reading are more independent of the matrix of objectivity than the classical ones are. The non-classical reader agrees that all processes of reading are very subjective; consequently, such a reading does not pretend to carry an objective significance. Likewise, non-classical reading is more independent of the illusions of objectivity than the classical one is. It acknowledges that all the readers create their own texts out of a given text, and that there is, therefore, no only one reality (like scientific reality) and only one strategy of reading. Every reading is equally reasonable; and every single reader is free to choose how to read and how to interpret a text.

Non-classical philosophy, according to J. Derrida, interprets a text as a totality of human products, and all human activities as forms of writing. In non-classical philosophy, there are no borderlines between the text, reading and the treatment of the text, because the process of reading depends on, and is determined by, the present. Changing the present culture and mentality of the reader entails changing the course of reading and treatment. There are no limits and completeness of the text, because the text is created by a process of reading.

Non-classical philosophy considers objectivity as a product of concrete culture. Therefore, there is no objectivity as such. There are many kinds f objectivity created by different cultures and epochs. But this consideration does not reject scientific thinking and or destroy science as the form of writing, but take it as one of the forms of writing.

  • [1] Kropotov, Sergey. Economy of Text in Non-classical Philosophy of Art: Nietzsche, Bataille, Foucault, Derrida. Ekaterinburg, 1999
  • [2] Barthes, Roland. Critique et verite. Paris, 1966
  • [3] Eco, Umberto. Remarks on the Margins of «The Name of the Rose» // Eco U. The Name of the Rose. Sankt-Peterburg, 1999. - p. 636
  • [4] On the distinction between «Classical» and «Modern» see in Fedotova V.G. Modernization of «Another» Europe. Moscow, 1997
  • [5] Derrida, Jacques. De la grammatologle. Paris: Éditions de Seuil, 1967. - p. 228
  • [6] See: Derrida, Jacques. De l’economie restreinte a l’economie generale: Un hegelianisme sans reserve. In Derrida, Jacques. L’Ecriture et la difference. Paris: Éditions de Seuil, 1967. - p. 369
  • [7] Derrida, Jacques. De la grammatologie. Moscow: Ad Marginem, 2000. - p. 135
  • [8] Sanctus Aurelius Augustinus, Augustini Confessionum Liber Undecimus. XI, Caput XX
  • [9] Derrida, Jacques. De la grammatologie. Moscow: Ad Marginem, 2000. - p. 151

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