Saturday, October 09, 2004

Deconstruct This!

First, the news:
Deconstructionism Founder Derrida Dies

Sat Oct 9, 7:01 PM ET

By ELAINE GANLEY, Associated Press Writer

PARIS - World-renowned thinker Jacques Derrida, a charismatic philosopher who founded the school known as deconstructionism, has died, the French president's office said Saturday. He was 74....

Deconstructionists like Derrida explored the means of liberating the written word from the structures of language, opening limitless textual interpretations. Not limited to language, Derrida's philosophy of deconstructionism was then applied to western values....
Then, the underlying "text":
...What most characterizes deconstruction is its notion of textuality, a view of language as it exists not only in books, but in speech, in history, and in culture. For the deconstructionist, language is everything. The world itself is "text." Language directs humanity and creates human reality. (A reality that cannot be named or described is illusory, at best.) Yet, upon close examination, words seem to have no connection with reality or with concepts or ideas.

Related to textuality, the notion of intertext refers to the broader cultural background, the context that saturates the text with innumerable and nonverbal conventions, concepts, figurations, and codes. Given the silent and hidden links of a text to its cultural and social intertext, the text's content and meaning are, essentially, indeterminate. Texts, therefore, are unreadable, and the practice of interpretation may be defined as misreading.

Derrida's deconstructions of Western thinkers from Plato to Martin Heidegger attack what he calls "logocentrism," the human habit of assigning truth to logos -- to spoken language, the voice of reason, the word of God. Derrida finds that logocentrism generates and depends upon a framework of two-term oppositions that are basic to Western thinking, such as being/nonbeing, thing/word, essence/appearance, presence/absence, reality/image, truth/lie, male/female. In the logocentric epistemological system the first term of each pair is the stronger (TRUTH/lie, MALE/female).

Derrida is critical of these hierarchical polarities, and seeks to take language apart by reversing their order and displacing, and thus transforming, each of the terms -- perhaps by putting them in slightly different positions within a word group, or by pursuing their etymology to extreme lengths, or by substituting words in other languages that look and sound alike. Extending the work of Derrida, feminist critics have deconstructed the "phallocentric" pair male/female. Feminists in general see phallocentrism as fundamental to the larger "social text" of Western logocentric society, which, aided by language, has given women secondary sexual, economic, and social roles.

Deconstruction has been regularly attacked as childish philosophical skepticism and linguistic nihilism....
Precisely. Derrida's philosophy -- if you can call it that -- is as dead (intellectually) as Derrida. What is, or was, deconstruction? If the preceding explanation seems opaque, that's because deconstruction is essentially meaningless. It's merely an arbitrary, open-ended method of attacking any philosophy, ideology, science, writing, or fact of life that runs counter to one's prejudices. It's on a par with conspiracy theories and junk science. It's juvenile psychobabble. Deconstruction should go the way of Derrida.