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Deconstruction

Deconstruction is a major part of Post-structuralism. It comes as a logical questioning of certain claims of Structuralism. Deconstruction (French: déconstruction) is a form of philosophical and literary analysis derived principally from Jacques Derrida’s 1967 work Of Grammatology. In the 1980s it designated more loosely a range of theoretical enterprises in diverse areas of the humanities and social sciences, including—in addition to philosophy and literature—law, anthropology, historiography, linguistics, sociolinguistics, psychoanalysis, political theory, feminism, and gay and lesbian studies. Deconstruction should be seen as a reading strategy, a strategy that slows down the reading process instead of allowing the mind to mistake signs for meaning.

A central premise of deconstruction is that all of Western literature and philosophy implicitly relies on a metaphysics of presence, where intrinsic meaning is accessible by virtue of pure presence. Deconstruction denies the possibility of a pure presence and thus of essential or intrinsic and stable meaning — and thus a relinquishment of the notions of absolute truth, unmediated access to “reality” and consequently of conceptual hierarchy. “From the moment that there is meaning there are nothing but signs.”

Due to this impossibility of pure presence and consequently of intrinsic meaning, any given concept is constituted in reciprocal determination, in terms of its oppositions, e.g. perception/reason, speech/writing, mind/body, interior/exterior, marginal/central, sensible/intelligible, intuition/signification, nature/culture. Further, Derrida contends that “in a classical philosophical opposition we are not dealing with the peaceful coexistence of a vis-a-vis, but rather with a violent hierarchy. One of the two terms governs the other (axiologically, logically, etc.), or has the upper hand”: signified over signifier; intelligible over sensible; speech over writing; activity over passivity, etc. The first task of deconstruction, starting with philosophy and afterward revealing it operating in literary texts, juridical texts, etc, would be to overturn these oppositions.

Derrida questions Structuralism’s dependence on the structure to generate meaning as a structure must have a center and this can be outside the structure as God is believed to be at the center of the universe even though he is outside it. Deconstruction tries to decenter the text and never looks for its final meaning which will always be postponed. Derrida points out that there are aporias or blind spots through which meaning slips out. Traditional philosophy does not take heed of these puzzling aporias which are ignored by those who believe in the possibility of absolute meaning.

“Différance” is a French term coined by Jacques Derrida, deliberately homophonous with the word “différence”. Différance plays on the fact that the French word différer means both “to defer” and “to differ.”

The “a” of différance is a deliberate misspelling of différence, though the two are pronounced identically. This highlights the fact that its written form is not heard, and serves to further subvert the traditional privileging of speech over writing (see archi-writing), as well as the distinction between the sensible and the intelligible.

This is only a hint of what Deconstruction is. I hope to be able to teach you in class and then we will take up some major issues involved in Deconstruction like Play, Center, Logocentricism, binary oppositions, etc.

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