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Différance in Signifying Robinson Crusoe

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

Haiyan Ren

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.
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It is in the historical context of the Enlightenment ideology and colonial expansion that this book explores Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe as a cultural myth, a master narrative that presents a supposedly positive role model for dauntless courage and enterprising spirit. The hero of this myth, a rational, individualistic and productive subject supposedly exemplifying the progressive discourse of the Enlightenment, is one that lords over Friday, thus figuring a binarism of the West’s encounter with the Other, which is now deeply ingrained in the unconscious of the West.

The need for earnest and serious academic investigations of Defoe’s eighteenth century novel and its critical re-readings comes, first and foremost, from a perception of how its influence has penetrated into the cultural fabrics of today’s world. Robinson Crusoe finally becomes a myth in the twentieth century. The ideology it embodies becomes the Zeitgeist that defines the West and reaches beyond the West in terms of its influence. Daniel Defoe could not have foreseen that one day Robinson Crusoe would be elevated to a myth. Nor could he have predicted that one day Robinson Crusoe, a figment of his imagination, would reach “a pinnacle of celebrity” (Martin 1) by making its entrance into everyday parlance and becoming the equivalent to castaway and related situations. Furthermore, thanks to Robinson Crusoe’s constant reference to Friday as “my man Friday,” the phrase “man Friday” has been introduced into everyday English as well to designate a male personal assistant or servant, particularly...

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