Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Nature of Desire

NOTE: A fragment of a post I never got around to finishing. And I never did make it to that Blanton museum exhibit.

This weekend I'm planning to visit the Blanton museum to see the exhibit on desire. Coincidentally (or not), one of the topics I wanted to address is this series of blogs on porn is the concept of desire in relation to human sexuality. Here are, roughly speaking, some of my thoughts.

In the tradition of all "good" Western philosophy, to define and thus understand a concept such as desire requires marking out its limits. Typically this means figuring out what it is not and standard practice is to place it in binary opposition to another word-concept. Such an understanding of how Western tradition tends to "ground" its concepts upon the shifting play of opposites in an unstable (metastable?) network of meaning comes out of the post-structural analysis of Jacques Derrida.

But another influential French post-structuralist, Michel Foucault, approaches meaning in a radically different way. While he concedes that word-concepts such as desire can only derive meaning through a context network, his methodology, if we can speak of such a thing, peers not into the play of opposites within a "text" but looks at how it is strutured through the apparati of discursive practices. His "methodology" consists of digging through the discursive history of a concept through careful archival work.

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