Entre/view & Resisting Definition:

Deconstruction is a term French, post, neo and/or anti-structuralist philosopher, Jacque Derrida, coined in Of Grammatology. Applying Martin Heiddegger’s concept of Destruktion (destruction) to textual reading, Derrida believed that all references--metaphors, derivations, reductions or extensions--used to interpret a text are themselves texts; “there’s nothing outside the text.” By this, he suggests (never commits to meaning) that there is no truly objective, discourse-free reference from which interpretation can begin. Thus, deconstruction is “an effort to understand” a text through its relationships to various contexts.

But don’t be misled.

Deconstruction is not an analysis.
Deconstruction is not a critique.
Deconstruction is not a method.
Deconstruction is not a theory.

Instead, deconstruction might be closer to a game with its “unenclosable, not wholly formalizable ensemble of rules for reading, interpretation and writing” (Derrida, 7) or perhaps, a performance as Derrida mysteriously infers in his letter to a Japanese friend in 1983: “[d]econstruction takes place, it is an event” (Derrida, 30). Yet it only gains momentary, albeit assymptotic meaning, one might argue in practice, when it is applied con/textually. Then again, perhaps not.

Such an application might be discernible in Limited, Inc., wherein Derrida de-structures/displaces/re-contextualizes his argument, most notably in Signature Event Context (SEC). Here, the reader (aka misguided interloper) is introduced to another palimpsestual layer of (non)deconstruction, aptly and playfully placed at the end of SEC:

"Deconstruction cannot be restricted or immediately pass to a neutralization: it must, through a double gesture, a double science, a double writing--put into practice a reversal of the classical opposition and a general displacement of the system. It is on that condition alone that deconstruction will provide the means of intervening in the field of oppositions it criticizes and that is also a field of nondiscursive forces. Every concept, moreover, belongs to a systematic chain and constitutes in itself a system of predicates. There is no concept that is metaphysical in itself. There is a labor--metaphysical or not--performed on conceptual systems. Deconstruction does not consist in moving from one concept to another, but in reversing and displacing a conceptual order as well as the nonconceptual order with which it is articulated" (Derrida, 21).

Here deconstruction resembles simultaneity, the slash (/) itself devoid of ontological sedimentation, and even a red herring. Or better yet, is deconstruction the McGuffin.

Each attempt to affix a definition, a meaning, defies its signification.

While deconstruction involves a “certain attention to structures” and tries to “understand how an ‘ensemble’ was constituted,” (Derrida, 32) it is both (or neither) a structuralist and an anti-structuralist gesture tied up with the “structural problematic” generated by the tension entre what Derrida refers to as genesis--“the essential mode of creation or movement,” such as sensory notions, tacit knowledge--and structure--“systems, or complexes, static configurations,” such as binary oppositions (Derrida, 34). Both are part of the act of description, and yet difficult to reconcile, which creates the ensuing structural problematic, propelling deconstruction forward into an endless “debate that makes new reductions and explications indefinitely necessary.” (Derrida, 35). A task even Sisyphus would renounce.

But let’s be serious, and not needlessly tarry in the “pleasure of the threshold (limen)” (Derrida, 39).

(Non)Practical Application:

Limited, Inc can be seen as two “statements” or playful illustrations/performances/applications of deconstruction.

SEC begins with a question: does the word or signifier “communication” communicate a determinate content, an identifiable meaning or a describable value? He then proceeds, almost phenomenologically, to maddeningly deconstruct, break apart, and ultimately reverse and reconstruct the act of questioning itself:

"However, even to articulate and to propose this question I have had to anticipate the meaning of the word communication: I have been constrained to predetermine communication as a vehicle, a means of transport or transitional medium of a meaning, and moreover a unified meaning. If communication possessed several meanings and if this plurality should prove to be irreducible, it would not be justifiable to define communication a priori as the transmission of meaning" (Derrida, 1).
Derrida continues on in this vein of archaeological, ontological digging until he finds an example that showcases a nonsemantic modality of communication--a movement, a tremor, or a transmission--which he claims possess neither conceptual content, nor semiotic operations or even linguistic exchange.

He concludes (as he begins) this “dry discussion” in double-negative fashion by portending that “writing, communication, if we retain the word, is not the means of transference of meaning, the exchange or intentions and meanings, discourse and the communication of consciousness...but rather the increasingly powerful historical expansion of general writing, of which the system of speech, consciousness, meaning, presence, truth, etc, [is] only an effect, and should be analyzed as such. It is the exposure of this effect that I have called elsewhere logocentrism.” (Derrida, 20).

Tucked away tellingly in footnote 9 from the Afterword, Derrida admits that “deconstruction (as he has always practiced it) begins with deconstructing logocentrism” (Derrida, 156). By proceeding in this ‘style’, Derrida seeks to propose an entirely “different ‘logic’ and a ‘new articulation’ between concept and metaphor (effect), which is to say between philosophy, science and logic on the one hand, and rhetoric on the other” (Derrida, 156), and thereby disrupt the fear and dogmatism that motivates the various self-installed ideologues of communication to denounce the absence of rules and confusion at “the slightest difficulty, the slightest complication, and slightest transformation of rules” (Derrida, 157).

Yet the year Derrida died the legacy of confusion persisted. Every newspaper in the world attempted “to communicate,” to ascribe proximal meaning to this “Rube Goldberg of Philosophers,” as Christopher Orlet of the American Spectator put it, and to crystallize/reduce his practice of deconstruction to an aggregate of meaning paradoxes, overlooking his preferred metaphysical transcendence of logocentrism. However, the iterative propagation of misfires unconsciously catalyzed the Babelian performance of interpretation, to which he might have given a wry smile and a passing wink.

Articulating Disambiguation in the Sciences:

In Muddling Through: Pursuing Science and Truths in the 21st Century, Mike Fortun and Herbert Bernstein apply the “deconstructive theory” for the purpose of excoriating paradoxes inherent in scientific inquiry.

The authors observe that PET scan technology is a site for an “articulation within an articulation.” The picture generated from the scan presents a mode of communication that is simultaneously a transmission of data and the meaning that transmission possesses. When “these articulated images and their articulated meanings are assembled within the public or legal spheres of power” (Fortun, 63) and used to confer legitimacy for differing purposes, a paradox emergences between transparency and mediation.

Transparency, they argue is often “accorded an ideal status, against which the qualities of mediation are then defined, making mediation a negative term” (Fortun, 64).

By interrogating the PET scan through the double lens of Derridian differance, such easy hierarchal binaries are displaced. Unlike the semiologist, de Saussure, who believed that the sign is a discrete unit of meaning, composed of the arbitrary, but transparent relationship between the signifier, and the signified, and that knowledge emerges out of the chain of signifiers, Derrida used the intentionally misspelled differance to imply that language is not only a structured system of signs, and that meanings of individual signs are produced by the difference between that sign and another, but more importantly, that meaning--this web of signification--however, symbiotic, even non-hierarchical, the relationship is, must always be “deferred,” postponed through the ceaseless chain of signifiers. Knowledge is thus never total and complete, except within contingent contexts.

Whereas Derrida is convinced that the sign and signifier are irrevocably severed, the American pragmatist, Charles Sanders Pierce, theorized that by adding a “third” level of articulation, the interpretant, to the sign and signifier system, the two would be reconnected--contextualized through the act of interpretation into a meaningful reality. Isabel Stern calls this third level the category of mediation: “[t]hirdness is the factor of final causation which manifests itself as a ‘gentle force’ bringing together in a certain measure all that which without it must remain an arbitrary and unmediated opposition” (Fortun, 68).

Taken together, Fortun and Bernstein, envision such a “linked up, and spreading disseminating structure” comprised of “densely quilted network of First, Seconds and Thirds,” (Fortun, 68) to resemble a Peircean triad, which relies on the interpreter for sense-making. Thus, reality is recast as realitty to denote that it is “neither discovered or constructed, [but instead...] pursued and performed” (Fortun, 32). Realitty rests entre the /.

As the author’s conclude in Chapter 4: “[r]ealitty is between a community and its practices, between trained practitioners and their thought-style, between disciplined experimenters and the instruments, which they invented... realitty is a kludge job” (Fortun, 70).

Deconstruction, too, is a kludge job, and when pursued to its end, it might resolve in a /.

Related Terms:


Derrida, Jacques. Limited, Inc.
Fortun, Mike and Herbert Bernstein. Muddling Through: Pursuing Science and Truths in the 21st Century.
Orlet, Christopher. “Derrida’s Bluff.”