Monday, January 21, 2008

Decomposition 1

[This post is part of the "Working Week" series.]

In his forgotten little handbook, Herbert Grierson insists that good composition is characterized by "coherence and the right distribution of emphasis as determined by the purpose you have in view" (1944:135). But who are "you"? Grierson clearly assumes that the writer, operating somewhere well outside the text (somewhere beyond the page on which the words have been gathered) is in control of his (always his) expression. He would no doubt install the reader in the same space. But why, then, do these two subjects (of the same merciful lord) need a text? Couldn't "you" and "I" just talk to each other? Can't we all just get along? No, let us assume that the only "you" to speak of is the reader. Texts often crumble in our hands when we pick them up. If "composition" denotes how a text is "put together", "decomposition" might denote how they "come apart". If construction is about how a text is built up, how it is assembled out of words, sentences, and paragraphs, deconstruction is about how a text breaks down, how it collapses (Derrida 1967; see Cuddon 1991: 222-225). Decompsition is about activating the incoherence of the text, its excesses of emphasis, the indeterminacy of its always multiple points of view. A new text may then grow out of such compost.

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