Body and Story: The Ethics and Practice of Theoretical Conflict

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JHU Press, 2006 - Literary Criticism - 288 pages

In Body and Story, Richard Terdiman explores the tension between what might seem to be two fundamentally different ways of understanding the world: as physical reality and as representation in language. In demonstrating the complicated relationship between these two modes of being, he also presents a new bold approach to the problem of conflicts between irreconcilable but equally compelling theoretical ideas.

Enlightenment rationalism is most often understood as maintaining that words can meaningfully refer to and grasp things in the material world, while Postmodernism famously argues that nothing exists outside of language. Terdiman challenges this clean distinction, finding the early seeds of Postmodern doubt in the Enlightenment, and demonstrating the stubborn resistance of material reality—particularly that of the body—to language even today. Building on readings of works by 18th-century encyclopedist Denis Diderot and contemporary philosopher-icon Jacques Derrida, Terdiman argues that despite their genuine and profound opposition, a constant negotiation or mutual interrogation has always been taking place between these two world-views, even as the balance at times shifts to one side or the other. In analyzing these shifts he proposes a new model for understanding how seemingly unabridgeable theories legitimately coexist in our intellectual conception of the world, and he suggests a new ethics for managing this coexistence.

 

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Contents

Introduction Difference in Theory
1
The Nun Who Never Was
19
On the Matter of Bodies
39
The Body and the Text
69
Materiality Language and Money
84
The Enlightenment Discovers Postmodernism
113
The Epistemology of Difference
130
Materiality Resistance and Time
167
InConclusion An Ethics of Theory
195
Works Cited
239
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Page v - ... meaning to these terms, it is necessary for the sociologist to formulate pure ideal types of the corresponding forms of action which in each case involve the highest possible degree of logical integration by virtue of their complete adequacy on the level of meaning. But precisely because this is true, it is probably seldom if ever that a real phenomenon can be found which corresponds exactly to one of these ideally constructed pure types.

About the author (2006)

Richard Terdiman is a professor of literature and the history of consciousness at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

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