Différance in Signifying Robinson Crusoe

Defoe, Tournier, Coetzee and Deconstructive Re-visions of a Myth

by Haiyan Ren (Author)
©2014 Thesis 194 Pages


Deconstructive rewritings are re-visions. This monograph engages Robinson Crusoe in tandem with two of its re-visions, Michel Tournier’s Friday and J. M. Coetzee’s Foe, from the perspective of the Enlightenment ideology. Basing the argument upon the assumption that Robinson Crusoe is a myth of the Enlightenment ideology representing the master narrative of the Enlightenment discourse, the book examines how the major ideological themes of the Enlightenment master narrative as manifested through the myth of Robinson Crusoe are rearticulated in Friday and Foe. It dismantles how these two re-visions, through deconstructive freeplay, question and more importantly deconstruct the basic premises and principles, or the concepts that enjoy the full presence of an absolute signified in the myth of Robinson Crusoe. Thus these re-visions not only transform the logocentric repressive structure in Defoe’s text into open-ended and dialogic discourses, they also partly constitute a chain of différance in signifying the myth of Robinson Crusoe. The author desires to generate large-scale understandings from small-scale insights through this research.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the Author
  • About the Book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgements
  • Abbreviations
  • Introduction
  • Re-vision and Deconstructive Freeplay
  • Michel Tournier and Friday
  • J. M. Coetzee and Foe
  • Friday and Foe as Re-visions of a Modern Myth
  • 1 Robinson Crusoe: A Problematic Myth of the Enlightenment
  • 1.1 Understanding the Myth of Robinson Crusoe in the Context of the Enlightenment
  • 1.2 Robinson Crusoe: A Rational Colonialist
  • 1.2.1 A Creature of Rationality
  • 1.2.2 Instrumental Rationality and Colonialism
  • 1.2.3 The Civilized Versus the Savage: The Center of the Myth
  • 1.3 Robinson Crusoe’s Subjectivity: Romanticized Solitude and a Capitalist Utopia
  • 1.3.1 Robinson Crusoe’s Sojourn: Romanticized Solitude
  • 1.3.2 Robinson Crusoe: A Capitalist Utopia
  • 2 De(Re)-Mystifying the Subject: A World without Others Re-visioned
  • 2.1 Perversion: Robinson’s Reproduction in a World without Others
  • 2.1.1 A World without Others: Robinson’s Predicament
  • 2.1.2 Robinson’s Problematic Reproduction
  • 2.2 Metamorphosis: Tournier’s Solution to Robinson’s Dilemma
  • 2.2.1 Friday: From a Slave to a Spiritual Guide
  • 2.2.2 From without Others to Elemental Others
  • 3 From Defoe to Foe: Representation and Power in the Colonialist Context
  • 3.1 Susan Barton versus Friday: Feminism Interrogated
  • 3.1.1 Susan Barton as a Supplement
  • 3.1.2 Feminist Perspective Introduced
  • 3.1.3 Feminism Interrogated
  • 3.2 Representation: Dispute and Compromise within Colonialist Discourse
  • 3.2.1 Quest for Truth in Representation
  • 3.2.2 Friday’s Writing Lesson: Language and Power
  • 3.3 An Open Ending: The Invitation for Further Freeplay
  • Conclusion
  • Bibliography
  • Index


The completion of every book incurs a number of debts of gratitude, which are hardly truly repaid. I would like to acknowledge my debts and my inability to honor every one of them.

This book grows out of my Ph.D. dissertation, finished during my stay at the English Department of Nanjing University. I’d like to express the deepest appreciation to Professor Wang Shouren, my advisor, for his valuable advice and insightful comments.

My heartfelt thanks goes to Professor Marshall Brown at the University of Washington, Professor Jun Liu at the California State University – Los Angeles, and Professor Xiao Minghan at Hunan Normal University, for expressing their interest in my project and for reading through or part of the draft.

A special debt is owed to Monsieur Gérard Delbeque who helped me with the French translation of Michel Tournier’s novel. To Mr. Xiang Wenbo, Ms. Ma Xiaorong, Mr. Huang Tao, Ms. Joyce Tan, and Professor Dan Hansong, my sincere thanks for unfailing confidence and friendship. Indeed, they are always ready to offer their help whenever possible.

Last but not least, I would like to thank Ren Jiayi, Ren Chuwei and Mo Ziming for their absolutely unreserved love and support. It is they who made my plodding through a mountain of paperwork less wearisome and more rewarding.

← 7 | 8 → ← 8 | 9 →


DPDoubling the Point: Essays and Interviews
MIThe Mirror of Ideas
RCRobinson Crusoe
SSStranger Shores: Literary Essays 1986–1999
VVendredi ou les limbes du Pacifique
WSThe Wind Spirit: An Autobiography

← 9 | 10 → ← 10 | 11 →


In the introduction to the 1999 World’s Classic edition of Robinson Crusoe published by Oxford University Press, John Maxwell Coetzee writes:

Robinson Crusoe was Defoe’s first attempt at a long prose fiction. It is not his best book: Moll Flanders is more consistent in its execution; Roxana, though uneven, rises to greater heights. Robinson Crusoe suffers as a result of hasty composition and lack of revision. Its moral is confused. The last quarter of the book, as well as Crusoe’s early adventures, could have been carried off by any capable writer […]. Nevertheless, the core of Robinson Crusoe—Crusoe alone on the island—is Defoe at his best […]. Defoe is a great writer, one of the purest writers we have. (SS 20)

Coetzee’s mixed response is typical of the criticism on Robinson Crusoe, which points to the unique paradox of its unforgivable demerits and its enchanting effects. For centuries, the image of a single man surviving alone on a desert island has remained an inspiration to writers, so much so that even a subgenre in literature emerged: the Robinsonade. This word was first coined in 1731 by a German writer Johann Gottfried Schnabel, in the preface to Die Insel Felsenburg. Since then, it is used to refer to novels with a subject similar to that of Robinson Crusoe.

Responding to the multifarious forces of desire and motivations as a way to interpret Defoe’s text, the rewritings of the Robinson Crusoe story take on an impressive scope of diversity. Some of them are part of the endeavor to problematize the original text so as to deconstruct what Jacques Derrida terms the violent hierarchy in Robinson Crusoe. Rewritings in this nature are re-visions. ← 11 | 12 →

Re-vision and Deconstructive Freeplay

Re-vision as a concept is best explained in Adrienne Rich’s essay “When We Dead Awaken: Writing as Re-vision.” In this feminist essay that has much resonance of Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own, Rich briefs her personal life experience as a woman who writes in a male dominated society to illustrate the awakening of a woman’s consciousness of standing as the equal of man. Crucial to the awakening, as Rich asserts, is re-vision, which is “the act of looking back, of seeing with fresh eyes, of entering an old text from a new critical direction” (Rich 90). Rich’s usage of the term is based upon the belief that history helps the reader of a text gain a vantage point in reflection and hindsight endows one with the ability to view previous works from a new perspective. This is an active examination or reading because the reader must enter into a previous text equipped with critical thinking so as to provide an interactive and intertextual reading that in effect, re-writes the “old text.” Used in the feminist context, re-vision is regarded as a means to understand and critique patriarchal assumptions and thus “an act of survival” (90) that marks a rupture with the tradition established by male writers. “We need to know the writing of the past,” Rich explains, “and know it differently than we have ever known it; not to pass on a tradition but to break its hold over us” (91). With all these connotations, re-vision as a critical idiom has gone beyond the feminist context and is now used in discussions of different kinds of rewriting. The term refers to an act of retelling a story for reasons of subverting certain truths and values in the old text.

Re-vision is now synonymous with deconstruction in the broad sense. More than forty years ago, Derrida initiated deconstruction in his 1966 essay “Structure, Sign and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences.” After all these years of what Derrida calls “mis” (mis-understanding and mis-interpretation), the power of deconstruction as a philosophical project and a strategy to critique and re-creation is so much better appreciated and grasped today. ← 12 | 13 →

The historical and political seriousness of deconstruction, as exemplified by Derrida’s writings, lies in how it reveals the “structurality of structure” as a way to critique the “history of the concept of structure” (Derrida, Writing 351–352, 351). To be more specific, Derridean deconstruction perceives the history of Western science and philosophy as a sequence of structures similarly structured. Elements within a structure evolve around a center which is a repressive organizing principle consisting of a binary opposition that arbitrarily privileges one and excludes the other. The history of Western science and philosophy can be seen, says Derrida, as the process in which one center substitutes for another metaphorically. The privileged side of the binary opposition supposedly has full presence or is a transcendental signified which, in the contradictory logic of classic thought, is both “within the structure and outside it” (Derrida, Writing 352, emphasis in the original). The center allows a certain kind of freeplay of the structure as long as such freeplay does not cause any permutation of the center. This kind of freeplay, restricted by the center, is not deconstructive freeplay. Deconstructive freeplay begins with the realization that “The center is not the center” (Derrida, Writing 352), which is to say that the traditional belief that the transcendental signified is both within the structure and outside of it is a contradiction. Thus, the coherence of the structure is only contradictorily coherent. Besides, politically speaking, those who experience the repressive power of the structure also defy and rebel against the center. In this sense, the center is not the center. On this basis, deconstructive freeplay is the kind of freeplay of elements in a structure so as to cause the permutation and transformation of the center into something else.


ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2014 (June)
Enlightenment ideology master narrative freeplay
Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2014. 194 pp.

Biographical notes

Haiyan Ren (Author)

Ren Haiyan is Assistant Professor of English and American Literature at Hunan Normal University, China. Her fields of interest are (the) 18th century English novel, (the) modern and postmodern American and English novel, and contemporary critical theories.


Title: Différance in Signifying Robinson Crusoe
book preview page numper 1
book preview page numper 2
book preview page numper 3
book preview page numper 4
book preview page numper 5
book preview page numper 6
book preview page numper 7
book preview page numper 8
book preview page numper 9
book preview page numper 10
book preview page numper 11
book preview page numper 12
book preview page numper 13
book preview page numper 14
book preview page numper 15
book preview page numper 16
book preview page numper 17
book preview page numper 18
book preview page numper 19
book preview page numper 20
book preview page numper 21
book preview page numper 22
book preview page numper 23
book preview page numper 24
book preview page numper 25
book preview page numper 26
book preview page numper 27
book preview page numper 28
book preview page numper 29
book preview page numper 30
book preview page numper 31
book preview page numper 32
book preview page numper 33
book preview page numper 34
book preview page numper 35
book preview page numper 36
book preview page numper 37
book preview page numper 38
book preview page numper 39
195 pages