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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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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...

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