An Introduction to Deconstruction: Structure sign and play in the discourse of the human sciences

Lison Joseph Mob: 9946138576

The essay “Structure Sign and Play in the Discourse of the human Sciences” was a paper contributed to a conference held at Johns Hopkins University in 1966. Derrida has in this paper attacked the systematic, quasiscientific pretensions of the strict form of structuralism that is originated with Saussure’s concept of the structure of the language, and later represented by the cultural anthropologist, Levi-Strauss. Derrida’s paper attempts to subvert classical structuralism as well as traditional humanism and empiricism.

Deconstruction has its origin in Derrida’s assertion in this paper that language bears within itself the necessity of its own critique. Deconstructive criticism based on this assertion, attempts to show that no text has a determinate meaning, or the text itself subverts the possibility of determinate communication and the reader can have his meaning out of the text. This paper


may be considered the manifesto of post structuralism and of the indeterminacy of meaning and the idea of free play.

Structurality of structure Derrida’s essay begins with the word ‘perhaps’ which signifies that in deconstruction everything is provisional, you cannot make positive or definitive statements in these area of criticism but we will proceed as we can. This is another key to deconstruction even as you come to understand that nothing is stable that meaning is always contingent and ambiguous you continue to as if nothing is wrong.

Derrida introduces the idea that some event has occurred this event is some sort of rupture or break in the fundamental structure of western philosophy. This break is a moment where the whole way philosophy thought about itself shifted. That shift or rupture, was when it became possible to think about the structurality of structure .This is the moment became possible to think about the idea of structure itself and how every system whether language or philosophy itself had a structure .The moment when philosophers began to see their philosophical system, not as absolute truth, but as systems as constructs. The concept of centre


The concept of centre has been practiced in structuralism as well as in western thought, mainly to push the play of signs to the background .All western discourses and thinking tend to be centered on the author or other external factors without any freedom of interpretation.

A structure is made up of several components, it has a centre .It is the function of the centre to give direction, organization and balance. In Saussure’s theory of language this centre is assigned the function of controlling the endless differential play of internal relationships while it remaining out side that play.

The hypothetical centre of structure makes it problematic in the sense that it is supposed to control the structure and at the same time is not part of it. The absence of the transcendental signified expands the scope of the domain of interpretation or the play of signification endlessly.

All the structures depend on two aspects .they are the relationships of parts and the structure to be organized around a centre. A structure presupposes relationship of parts organized around a centre. It is the central principle that defines its essential nature; this principle is seen in the wholeness of the structure. A building is a building because of the joining of the together of its


constituent parts .But the parts taken separately does not give its wholeness. The wholeness of the building cannot be identified with any of its individual parts. So the centre of a structure is not specific and present in it. Play and presence Stability or fixity caused by centre is what Derrida calls presence something is fully present when it is stable and fixed, not provisional and mobile. Play is the disruption of presence. There can be two attitudes towards the idea of play. One is you can mourn for the loss of fixity of meaning or rejoice in multiplicity. Derrida says enjoying play is better. Bricolage Once you deconstruct a system by pointing out its inconsistencies, by showing there is play in the system, Derrida says we have two choices. One is that you can throw out the whole structure as no good. The other option is to keep using the structure and recognize that it is flawed. This means to stop attributing truth value to structure or system, but rather to see that system as system, as a construct, as something built around a central idea, even though the central idea is flawed or even an illusion. Derrida calls this method bricolage. The person who does it is a bricoleur. This is somebody who does not care about the purity or stability of the system he uses, but rather uses what is there to get a particular job done. In philosophical terms I want to talk about a belief


system, so I refer to God because it serves as an illustration of something that a lot of people believe in, I don’t assume that God refers to an actual being. Bricolage does not worry about the coherence of the words or ideas it uses.

Derrida in this essay attempts a definition of his concept of what a structure is. He uses the metaphor of the centre in his definition of a structure. He regards the passage from structuralism to post structuralism as a passage from centered to decentred or centre less structures. There are no fixed points or absolutes in the universe, everything is relative and the universe we live in is decentred. All we have is free play. In other words Derrida rejects the structuralist belief that texts have centers of meanings.


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