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Dr Alistair Brown | Associate lecturer in English Literature; researching video games and literature

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Through exploring the psychopathology of Capgras syndrome, in which a patient mistakes a loved one for an imposter, The Echo Maker offers a sustained meditation on the ways in which we project our own problems onto other people. As a reflection on the mysteries of consciousness, the novel offers some interesting if not especially new insights into the fuzzy boundaries between scientific and literary interpretations of the mind. Read more

A Critical Tapeworm

Friday, May 12, 2006

I posted a few days ago in praise of Barbara Everett's delicate criticism of Philip Larkin. Now to the opposite end of the spectrum, with some gloriously self-contradictory postmodernist literary theory, that made me throw down the book when I read it. This is Steven Shaviro:
Language is one of these mechanisms of reproduction. Its purpose is not to indicate or communicate any particular content, but merely to perpetuate and replicate itself...language, like a virus or like capital, is in itself entirely vacuous: its supposed content is only a contingent means (the host cell or the particular commodity form) that it parasitically appropriates for the end of self-valorization and self-proliferation. Apart from the medium, there's no other message.
Perhaps I am misinterpreting or misrepresenting Shaviro here, in which case both of our arguments are actually winners. My inability to comprehend this passage endorses Shaviro's thesis that language is meaningless except as a self-perpetuating system. And my argument that his language is obfuscatory and, where it communicates at all, it undermines itself demonstrates its purposeless nature nowhere better than in the reflections of his literary theory.

But if language really does not communicate any particular content, what is the point of his writing and my reading him (or indeed, you reading this blog) at all? The answer is for the glimpses of those moments that capture in glorious and repellent detail the absurdities, inflected with psychoanalytic symbolism, that abound in readings of the body that are such a popular topic in English studies at the moment:
My "innards" are really a hole going straight through my body; their contents - shit and tapeworm - remain forever outside of and apart from me, even as they exist at my very centre. The tapeworm is more "me" than I am myself.
So far as I know, I don't have one of these egocentric parasites within me. Does this mean I have been thoroughly deconstructed...

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Posted by Alistair at 9:22 am


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