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Perelman and Olbrechst-Tyteca/Derida

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  • Category: Criticism

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The achievements of arriving at a conclusion by deliberation through the means of rational self-argumentation have meaning in so far as it refers to actual or possible experience of the individual. The task of such an argumentation was to lead oneself and the audience to understand the nature of the ideas presented and the concomitant possible conclusions by a process of self-intuition. The central goal of which is the attempt to reduce all facts and statements which are certain, either with the certainty of mathematics and tautology or as being statements of immediate sense experience which could not therefore be falsified (Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca, 1969).

In many ways, self-argumentation, provided that the thinker does not stray far afield the province of facts and impartial deduction, enables a further refinement to one’s arguments even before he threshes out his rhetoric in front an audience. It helps the speaker formulate his ideas, and force him to give serious thought not only to the validity of his arguments but also of the effect of his presentation to the audience (Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca, 1969).

I believe that the concentration on presentation, with regards to the fluidity of the argument, along with a deft and clear outline of the idea would result to an even better way to communicate to the audience not only his thoughts but the gravity of his sincerity and belief he has invested in it. This can be accomplished by an exercise of self-argumentation where the speaker hears his entire ideas out loud first-hand by himself as an audience prior to delivering his thesis on stage. Truly, with the resonance of his voice he may be able to know which ones should be discarded and those that need proper emphasis. And who better to criticize the rational thinker of his ideas than himself alone? In this sense, the speaker is then fully prepared to engage the audience not just by a ready-hand speech, edited and measured for validity, but also with a rehearsal of his own performance as well: as a subtle conveyance of truth and sincerity in his voice and a touch of eloquence of his belief whereby the audience may be captivated and swayed towards his own side effectively.

Grand narratives, meta-narratives, systems of beliefs, words and meaning form part of the discourse Derrida asserts as nebulous and unstable largely because of the varying contexts on which they are created and how they should be understood. The reader, for instance, scrutinizes each text in an ever-changing rubric of definition and source through an exhaustive intellectual activity that requires knowledge of the different subtexts and links to such subtexts. A quick perusal of the lexicography of a certain word in a dictionary would invariably result to going around in full circle with other words that mirror the source and vice-versa until the reader stops at a dead-end and therefore discover the incompleteness of the text.

The idea behind looking deeper into the text is to be able to identify the multiple ways in which it is situated in a binary opposition. How the text is interpreted depends upon its “other” meaning within itself.  These very oppositions are a result of a bigger historical and cultural narrative, that by considering those two alone vis-a-vis the text, their inherent instability is at once demonstrated and revealed.

Although Derrida upended most of our philosophical beliefs regarding the structural stability of texts ,what with his acute propensity for equivocation and obfuscation in order to escape interpretation, his work has laid a strong foundation for a more progressive treatment to extant systems appearing as texts. Most notably are his dissertations on literary works and philosophical treatise. These invite the reader to probe further on the varied aspects of literature. Moreover, he encourages that kind of restlessness in our attitude towards reading and appreciating a text, examined under the lens of the tenets of deconstruction (Ellis, 1988, p. 260; Owens, 1994, p. 284), in order that we may never be ill-content with whatever is given or written at first glance. It is perhaps because of Derrida and his works that philosophy and literary criticism, both at the same time, are given new life and direction so to speak. It moves the readers and the authors to exhilaration in engaging in rational activity which was once marked by boredom.


Ellis, J. M. (1988). What Does Deconstruction Contribute to Theory of Criticism? New Literary History, 19(2), 260.

Owens, C. (1994). Understanding and Approving of Derrida. PMLA, 109(2), 284.

Perelman, C. and Olbrechts-Tyteca, L. (1969). The new rhetoric: A treatise on argumentation. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press.

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