is a French philosopher, born in Algiers in 1930. He is perhaps best known
for developing the analytical technique of deconstruction.
- a close
and critical reading of a written text to uncover the ways of thinking
that constrain our impressions or conceptualisation of the world.
idea has been extended to other forms of text - for example, visual
art and architecture.
technique may often be (mis)used in a destructive manner. However, Derrida's
original aim was not to destroy, merely to point out hidden assumptions
and contradictions that shape a text.
himself is often viewed with deep suspicion, if not hatred, by many
academics. It seems that deconstruction has a nasty habit of biting
hard into people's pet ideas and theories.
this mean for us?
the idea that a text (or for us, a communication) has an unchanging, unified
meaning. He challenges the author's intentions, and shows there may be numerous
legitimate interpretations of a text. This is where the idea of "the author
is dead" arises: once the text is written, the author's input is finished.
(any meaning) is up for grabs, in other words.
is a poststructuralist theory, based largely but not exclusively on the
writings of the Paris-based Jacques Derrida. It is in the first instance
a philosophical theory and a theory directed towards the (re)reading of
philosophical writings. Its impact on literature, mediated in North America
largely through the influences of theorists at Yale University, is based
in part on the fact that deconstruction sees all writing as a complex
historical, cultural process rooted in the relations of texts to each
other and in the institutions and conventions of writing, in part on the
sophistication and intensity of its sense that human knowledge is not
as controllable or as cogent as Western thought would have it and that
language operates in subtle and often contradictory ways, so that certainty
will always elude us.
"Deconstruction, some assumptions", a page well worth reading by John
Lye at http://www.brocku.ca/english/courses/4F70/deconstruction.html
. This page states quite firmly (and Derrida himself seems to imply) that
"deconstruction is not a technique or a method, and hence that there is
no question of 'applying' it". I will now contradict this idea with the
next section which provides a methodology for deconstruction. Isn't postmodernism
From the page
. For one line examples of deconstruction, see this page.
a Binary Opposition
what a particular text or school of thought takes to be natural, normal,
self-evident, originary, immediately apparent, or worthy of pursuit
- Or, notice
those places where a text is most insistent that there is a firm and
fast distinction between two things.
how something represented as primary, complete & originary is derived,
composite, and/or an effect of something else.
show how something represented as completely different from something
else only exists by virtue of defining itself against that something
else. In other words, show how it depends on that thing.
show how something represented as normal is a special case.
of Derridean terms, from the page "Derrida and Deconstruction" at http://18.104.22.168/Arnason_DE/Derrida.html
. The page text states that these definitions are "oversimplified". Uh-oh.
The science of writing. Derrida proposes to move beyond traditional
models of writing that describe its history and evolution to develop
a theory of writing, to apply that theory and to move in the direction
of a new writing. The difficult in doing so is the result of the relationship
between writing and metaphysics.
metaphysics of presence: The assumption that the physical presence
of a speaker authenticates his speech. Speaking would then precede writing
(the sign of a sign), since the writer is not present at the reading
of his text to authenticate it. Spoken language is assumed to be directly
related to thought, writing a supplement to spoken language, standing
in for it. This is the result of phonocentrism the valorization of speech
"In the beginning was the word." Logocentrism is the belief that knowledge
is rooted in a primeval language (now lost) given by God to humans.
God (or some other transcendental signifier: the Idea, the Great Spirit,
the Self, etc;) acts a foundation for all our thought, language and
action. He is the truth whose manifestation is the world. He is the
foundation for the binaries by which we think: God/Man, spiritual/physical,
man/woman, good/evil. The first term of the binary is valorized, and
a chain of binaries constitutes a hierarchy.
Oppositions: The hierarchical relation of elements that results
from logocentrism. Derrida is interested more in the margins, the supplements,
than in the centre.
supplement: Derrida takes this term from Rousseau, who saw a supplement
as "an inessential extra added to something complete in itself." Derrida
argues that what is complete in itself cannot be added to, and so a
supplement can only occur where there is an originary lack. In any binary
set of terms, the second can be argued to exist in order to fill in
an originary lack in the first. This relationship, in which one term
secretly resides in another, Derrida calls invagination.
lack: Some absence in a thing that permits it to be supplemented.
chain: Derrida argues with Saussure's notion that signs are binary.
(signifier, signified) The signified, he says, is always a signifier
in another system. As a result, meaning cannot be in a sign, since it
is always dispersed, deferred and delayed. (dictionary analogy). In
terms of a text, then, all signifiers must be seen as defective. A signifier
always contains traces of other signifiers.
The indications of an absence that define a presence. (The present is
known as the present only through the evidence of a past that once was
a present.) The traces of other signifiers in any signifier means that
it must always be read under erasure.(sur rasure).
The decision to read a signifier or a text as if its meaning were clear,
with the understanding that this is only a strategy.
(Différance) A pun on difference and deference. Any signifier
(or chain of signification, ie. text) must infinitely defer its meaning
because of the nature of the sign (the signified is composed of signifiers).
At the same time, meaning must be kept under erasure because any text
is always out of phase with itself, doubled, in an argument with itself
that can be glimpsed through the aporias it generates.
an attempt to dismantle the binary oppositions which govern a text by
focussing on the aporias or impasses of meaning. A deconstructive reading
will identify the logocentric assumptions of a text and the binaries
and hierarchies it contains. It will demonstrate how a logocentric text
always undercuts its own assumptions, its own system of logic. It will
do this largely through an examination of the traces, supplements, and
invaginations in the text.
to the abovementioned URLs, try:
note / warning
The style of
Derrida's writing is difficult, to say the least, and not helped by the
way Derrida often uses various forms or wordplay and ambiguity to make his
points, not all of which carry well in translation. I'm almost suspicious
that this opaqueness is intentional and in fact is designed to encourage
multiple interpretations of his texts in the spirit of deconstruction itself.
Be careful out there... and don't take it too seriously.