Sunday, February 6, 2011

Bricolage?

Derrida finds, commenting on G[erard] Genette's adaptation of Levi-Strauss's conception of bricoleur: "If one calls bricolage the necessity of borrowing one's concept from the text of a heritage which is more or less coherent or ruined, it must be said that every discourse is bricoleur" ("Structure, Sign, and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences," in Writing and Difference, trans. Alan Bass. London: Routledge, pp 278-294).


Derrida has Levi-Strauss claim that the bricoleur is someone "who uses 'the means at hand,' that is, the instruments and materials he finds at his disposition around him, those which are already there, which had not been especially conceived with an eye to the operation for which they are to be used and to which one tries by trial and error to adapt them, not hesitating to change them whenever it appears necessary, or to try several of them at once, even if their form and their origin are heterogenous -- and so forth."

But if I recall correctly, Levi-Strauss, said not just that the bricoleur simply uses the means at hand, but rather that the "rule of his game always consists in restricting himself to what he has at hand." It's not just "one's concept" (whatever that may be), but all the concepts. This is rather different from what Derrida and Genette intimate! And it means that only the person who refuses to reflect on whether the materials or the tools are already extant or whether they need to be designed or obtained is a bricoleur. The bricoleur is the kind of researcher or thinker who is not looking for something that would go beyond the data collected and the concepts inherited from a tradition that is "more or less coherent or ruined."

I believe this means that not every kind of dicourse amounts to bricolage—at least not according to Levi-Strauss. This stronger thesis would need some more argument which, of course, is not forthcoming in this article by Derrida.

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