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Published by: Basheer Alraie on Nov 04, 2010
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Deconstruction is a term in contemporary philosophy and social sciences, denoting a process by which the texts and languages of Western philosophy (in particular) appear to shift and complicate in meaning when read in light of the assumptions and absences they reveal within themselves. Jacques Derrida coined the term in the 1960s, and found that he could talk more readily about what deconstruction was not than about what it was, most especially in response to questions posed by others about it. Subjects relevant to deconstruction include the philosophy of meaning in Western thought, and the ways that meaning is constructed by Western writers, texts, and readers and understood by readers. Though Derrida himself denied deconstruction was a method or school of philosophy, or indeed anything outside of reading the text itself, the term has been used by others to describe Derrida's particular methods of textual criticism, which involved discovering, recognizing, and understanding the underlying—and unspoken and implicit—assumptions, ideas, and frameworks that form the basis for thought and belief, for example, in complicating the ordinary division made between nature and culture. Derrida's deconstruction was drawn mainly from the work of Heidegger and his notion of destruktion but also from Levinas and his ideas upon the Other.

What Deconstruction Is Not
It is easier to explain what deconstruction is not than what it is. According to Derrida, deconstruction is not an analysis, nor a critique, a method, an act, or an operation (Derrida, 1985, p. 3). Further, deconstruction is not, properly speaking, a synonym for "destruction". Rather, according to Barbara Johnson (1981), it is a specific kind of analytical "reading": Deconstruction is in fact much closer to the original meaning of the word 'analysis' itself, which etymologically means "to undo" — a virtual synonym for "to de-construct." ... If anything is destroyed in a deconstructive reading, it is not the text, but the claim to unequivocal domination of one mode of signifying over another. A deconstructive reading is a reading which analyzes the specificity of a text's critical difference from itself. Some detractors claim deconstruction amounts to little more than nihilism. Its proponents deny this; It is not the abandonment of all meaning, but attempts to demonstrate that Western thought has not satisfied its quest for a "transcendental signifier" that will give meaning to all other signs. According to Derrida, "Deconstruction


in each such case. authentic. one term is privileged or "central" over the other." These binary oppositions.is not an enclosure in nothingness. but an openness to the other" Logocentrism and the Critique of Binary Oppositions Logocentrism is a neologism coined by Jacques Derrida. derivative. and superior. while the second is thought of as secondary. one of the phallogocentrisms of modernism is the distinction between speech (logos) and writing. Text and Deconstruction According to deconstructive readers. through which all discourse and meaning are derived. in all the classic dualities of Western thought. including literature. The privileged. including in particular the founding texts by such philosophers as Plato. he argues. Deconstruction's central concern is a radical critique of the Enlightenment project and of metaphysics. Rousseau. Deconstruction identifies in the Western philosophical tradition a "logocentrism" or "metaphysics of presence" (sometimes known as phallogocentrism) which holds that speech-thought (the logos) is a privileged. A central deconstructive argument holds that. Examples include: • • • • • • • speech over writing presence over absence identity over difference fullness over emptiness meaning over meaninglessness mastery over submission life over death Derrida argues in Of Grammatology (translated by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak and published in English in 1976) that. or even "parasitic. and Husserl. with writing historically being thought of as derivative to logos. which refers to the perceived tendency of Western thought to locate the center of any text or discourse within the logos. As 2 . One typical form of deconstructive reading is the critique of binary oppositions. This logocentrism is the primary target of deconstruction. or the criticism of dichotomous thought. the first term is classically conceived as original. central term is the one most associated with the phallus and the logos. ideal. and self-present entity. or "violent hierarchies". must be deconstructed. but also other sorts of texts. and others of their form.

Communication is possible not because the text has a transcendental signification. art. the author has an opinion. In this view. text is thought of not merely as linear writing derived from speech.). "There is nothing outside of the text" (Derrida. and psychology. marking. Lacan's account includes a psychoanalytic dimension. or storage. class. That is. In a sense. architecture. and any other disciplines that can be thought of as involving the act of marking. etc. any deconstruction has a text as its object and subject. text can be thought of as "dead". but because the brain tissue of the author contains similar "markings" as the brain tissue of the reader. to properly study a text a reader must understand how the work is related to her own personal concept of self. gender. science." this utterance constitutes an addition to the textual system.part of subverting the presumed dominance of logos over text. and is just another text commenting on the original. in the sense that once the markings are made. however. Therefore. while Foucault stresses the effects of power on the self. when an author says. philosophy. This accounts for deconstruction's broad cross-disciplinary scope. Deconstruction has been applied to literature. While different thinkers' views on the self (or the subject) vary. are unstable and fragmentary. but any form of depiction. According to Jacques Derrida. Thus. 3 . what an author says about his text doesn't revive it. it is often said to be constituted by discourse(s). along with the commentary of others. deconstruction is simply a way to read text (as broadly defined). an individual comprises conflicting tensions and knowledge claims (e. This selfperception plays a critical role in one's interpretation of meaning.g. The reader has an opinion. Derrida argued that the idea of a speech-writing dichotomy contains within it the idea of a very expansive view of textuality that subsumes both speech and writing. along with what the reader said was understood in and about the original text. In deconstruction. 1976. the markings remain in suspended animation and do not change in themselves. The Post-structuralist Theory Post-structural assumptions: • practices generally operate on some basic Post-structuralists hold that the concept of "self" as a singular and coherent entity is a fictional construct. "You have understood my work perfectly. These brain markings. at 158). mathematics. and not a resuscitation of the original dead text. profession. including the marking of the human brain by the process of cognition or by the senses. Instead.

readers.. even if these interpretations conflict with one another. meaning. which is heavily presumed upon in post-structuralism as in structualism) is constructed by an individual from a signifier. Every verbal signification lies at the confluence of countless semantic rivers. To step outside of literary theory. the reader replaces the author as the primary subject of inquiry. [Words] signify from the "world" and from the position of one who is looking. Without a central fixation on the author. usually involving the identity of the reader. It is particularly important to analyze how the meanings of a text shift in relation to certain variables. this position is generalizable to any situation where a subject perceives a sign. Instead. cultural norms. every individual reader creates a new and individual purpose. In his essay "Signification and Sense". no longer seems to be made of isolated elements lodged somehow in a Euclidean space. in Saussure's scheme. – Lévinas. Meaning (or the signified. • A post-structuralist critic must be able to utilize a variety of perspectives to create a multifaceted interpretation of a text....g. and explains the talk about the 'primacy of the signifier'. and existence for a given text. To seize by inventory all the contexts of language and all possible positions of interlocutors is a senseless task. Humanism of the Other. Nidra Poller Deconstruction 4 . to the contingency of their story.. These alternative sources are never authoritative.The meaning the author intended is secondary to the meaning that the reader perceives. • Destabilized Meaning In the post-structuralist approach to textual analysis. This displacement is often referred to as the "destabilizing" or "decentering" of the author. etc. a single meaning or one singular existence. though it has its greatest effect on the text itself. tr. that is. Signification and Sense.language refers to the position of the listener and the speaker. poststructuralists examine other sources for meaning (e. Emmanuel Lévinas remarked on this new field of semantic inquiry: . like language. This is why the signified is said to 'slide' under the signifier.). Experience. Post-structuralism rejects the idea of a literary text having a single purpose. other literature. and promise no consistency.

Such binary pairs could include male/female." A deconstructionist will view this as widely open: Since there is a "first death." there is the implication that there will be another. that incorporates the line "After the first death there is no other. Deconstructionists assert that this shows "discontinuity" in the line. speech/writing. which structure a given text. therefore.A major theory associated with Structuralism was binary opposition. often arranged in a hierarchy. by Fire. choosing rather to expose these relations and the dependancy of the dominant term on its apparently subservient counterpart. This discontinuity points out that the language has a "slipperiness" which makes precise interpretation impossible. A good example of this is a close reading of the Dylan Thomas poem. The only way to properly understand these meanings is to deconstruct the assumptions and knowledge systems which produce the illusion of singular meaning. This theory proposed that there are certain theoretical and conceptual opposites. rational/emotional. Post-structuralism rejects the notion of the essential quality of the dominant relation in the hierarchy. is equally in the hands of the reader and the author. 5 . of a Child in London". yet Thomas contradicts himself in the line by saying "there is no other". "A Refusal to Mourn the Death. Meaning.

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