Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Words and Meanings

Mary over at The Mote in the Light is having an interesting discussion with an OB/GYN at Red State Moron over the use of the word "moron." In the course of the discussion, Derrida was named and, as is usually the case, dismissed, provoking me to post this:

Not to give anyone a headache, but Derrida is appropriate here. The word "moron" bears all the meanings imputed to it here and on Mary's blog or none of you would know what the others were talking about. To say that "moron" doesn't mean "retarded" or that it doesn't refer back to obsolete psycho-medical concepts is demonstrably inaccurate as a description of the word's impact on at least some people. These attempts to define (that is, draw a line around, limit) the meaning of "moron" are proscriptive and imperative, or maybe aspirational, but not descriptive; they assert a power to control the word. Neither the speaker nor anyone else can restrict a word's meanings (รก la Humpty Dumpty in "Through the Looking Glass"), but acts of power can decree some hearers' understandings to be out of bounds, illegitimate, or not worth taking into consideration. The Derridean position would ask the user of the word "moron" to take responsibility for all the meanings it bears or may bear for others (as, I believe, The Red State Moron seems willing to do) rather than to shield himself behind rules of interpretation and intent from responsibility for what the word may do.

1 comment:

mary said...

You know Derrida only gives me a headache from the guilt of not having read what I need to read to understand his concepts. :-) Thank you for explaining something about the uneasiness I feel around provocative words that only provoke certain listeners, and not others. Now, can you suggest an "Idiots Guide to Derrida" (there, I purposely used that other word. Isn't it interesting how it came around. Life is strange that way...)?

Or is it like so much else in life: one should not try to find a beginner's guide to Derrida; one should either study him completely or not at all?