The Yale Critics

The Yale School is the name given to an influential group of literary critics, theorists, and philosophers of literature who were influenced by Jacques Derrida’s philosophy of deconstruction. Many of the theorists were affiliated with Yale University in the late 1970s, although a number of the theorists — including Derrida himself — subsequently moved to or became affiliated with the University of California at Irvine.

Yale University Logo.gifAs a school of thought, the Yale School is more closely allied with the poststructuralist dimensions of deconstruction as opposed to its phenomenological dimensions. Additionally, the Yale School is more similar to the 1970s version of deconstruction that John D. Caputo has described as a “Nietzschean free play of signifiers” and not the 1990s version of deconstruction that was far more concerned with political and ethical questions.

During the period between the late 1960s and the early 1980s, Yale University was the home of a variety of thinkers that were indebted to deconstruction.The group included high-profile literary scholars such as Paul de Man, Geoffrey Hartman, J. Hillis Miller, and Harold Bloom. This group came to be known as the Yale School and was especially influential in literary criticism. The four critics listed above, along with Derrida, contributed to an influential anthology, Deconstruction and Criticism. However, Harold Bloom’s position was always somewhat different from that of the rest of the group, and that he later distanced himself from deconstruction. In his introduction to Deconstruction and Criticism, Hartman draws a distinction between Derrida, Miller, and de Man on the one hand, and himself and Bloom on the other. The former category he refers to as “boa-deconstructors” who pursue deconstruction to its utmost conclusions and who are more philosophically rigorous in their writings.

Hartman claims that both he and Bloom are “barely deconstructionists” and that they “even write against it on occasion”. Hartman claims that his writing style in particular is more reliant on the traditional role of pathos as a fundamental impetus for literary language. In contrast, deconstruction as advocated by Derrida seeks to reveal that the very notion of pathos is caught up in the rhetorical play which is endemic to language.

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