Geoffrey H. Hartman: Deconstructionist Critic Dead at 86
Geoffrey H. Hartmann has passed away at 86 after a long life of deconstructionist work, some of which was self-deconstruction, as is obliquely alluded to in Margalit Fox's obituary, "Geoffrey H. Hartman, Scholar Who Saw Literary Criticism as Art, Dies at 86" (NYT, March 20, 2016):
Geoffrey H. Hartmann, as the family name was then spelled, was born in Frankfurt on Aug. 11, 1929. (In a curious augury for one whose life would center on signification, his middle initial stood for nothing.) His father left the family when Geoffrey was very young.We see, from his birth, a middle initial, "H.," which stood for nothing -- but why not spell it out "Aitch," or even better "Haitch" (with the initial "h" silent)? -- and the ultimate, meaningless "n" of "Hartmann," which had been hanging on there in a totally otiose manner, finally got lopped off, leaving the penultimate as ultimate. Yet, the deconstruction continues, for what the theory says of the text can also be said of the deconstructionist's mind, if I might borrow, alter, and 'misuse' some words from Ms. Fox by replacing "text" with "deconstructionist's mind":
In 1939, Geoffrey was among the Jewish children evacuated from Nazi Germany as part of a Kindertransport. He spent the war years in England, living with other evacuated children at Waddesdon Manor, the Buckinghamshire country estate of James de Rothschild, a scion of the banking family.
There, to stave off isolation, he read voraciously and lost himself in the verdant countryside -- an experience that would seed his lifelong passion for Wordsworth.
His mother managed to flee Germany for New York but could not send for Geoffrey, her only child, until after the war. Joining her there, he parted company with the final "n" of "Hartmann," stripping the name of its most conspicuous Teutonic trace.
Deconstruction maintains that any given 'deconstructionist's mind' is, below its surface, a roiling system of conflicting semantic signs. As such, the 'deconstructionist's mind' has no one empirical reading; 'the deconstructionist's mind' is, rather, a network of competing meanings -- a quicksilver state of affairs that a critical analysis of that 'deconstructionist's mind' must take into account.And that explains why nothing in deconstructionism ever gets finally settled. Death merely eighty-sixes the deconstructionist and brings that particular individual's mental processes to a stop. Deconstructionism, however, remains.
So, rest in peace, Professor Hartman. Your deconstruction goes on . . .
Labels: Literary Criticism