Comparative Literature | Topics in World Crit. & Theory II: Derrida's Chinese Dream
C504 | 28282 | Prof. K. Tsai


MW 11:15 AM – 12:30 PM

This course introduces Derrida’s philosophy of deconstruction and
examines the relationship between speech and writing in particular,
focusing on works such as Dissemination and Of Grammatology. The
crucial essays on Plato’s pharmakon will receive closer scrutiny in
the second part of the course, which attempts to complicate Derrida’s
readings by locating the relevant Platonic dialogues— Phaedrus,
Timaeus, etc.— in the historical context of 5th and 4th c. Greece
which saw a transition from orality to literacy that profoundly
altered Athenian society. If post-modernist discourses about
speech and writing have unwittingly enfolded this ancient problematic,
they also at times reiterate the orientalist view of the Chinese
script as an ideographic writing system— an alternative to Western
logocentricism. The third part of the course will examine the
genealogy of Western fantasies about the Chinese language, from
Athanasius Kircher’s 17th c. China illustrata to “The Chinese Written
Character as a Medium for Poetry” by Ernest Fenellosa and Ezra Pound.
A brief foray into cognitive science and linguistic theories about
writing will conclude our investigation.