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Associated with the French writer Jacques Derrida, deconstruction appears alongside several neologisms he initially created to read, yet reach beyond, the Platonic auspices of western metaphysics. Key among those auspices are oppositions that distinguish between appearance and reality, matter and form, temporal manifestation and essential principle. As well, metaphysical writing privileges logical arguments (logocentrism), formulating them as the center and marginalizing all other aspects of the text. So, the real, formal, and essential is assumed to be apodictic; logic within language faithfully represents, names, or classifies what is already there.
But what precisely is deconstruction? Although this question is not unproblematic in context, one might say that deconstruction has to do with opening up given linguistic arrangements to the mostly silent, background suppositions and aporias that enable their particular patterns of deferral. Its opening gambit, ”guardrail,” is to read a classic text closely (never abandoning it or rejecting it out of hand), surveying especially what it eclipses, ignores, rejects, expels, dismisses, marginalizes, renders supplemental, excludes, and eliminates. Deconstruction pores over these delegitimated elements of a text to make room for alternate interpretations that open up a reading to what is completely unforeseeable from the vantage of its meaning horizons. Through such openings, deconstruction seeks to reorganize a given language use by realigning conventional oppositions, creating space for unexpected linguistic possibilities and being.
From here, the waters get muddy for those in search of singular definitions that expect one to decide definitively about deconstruction. The very question ”what is . . . ?” poses a unique problem: while it appears to open discussion, the is commits respondents to the existence of the very thing placed in question. Yet, as Derrida repeatedly indicates, deconstruction is not a finite being (a presence) that can be defined universally, once and for all. Indeed, formulating an essential, fixed definition of deconstruction would replicate the very ”metaphysics of presence” that he challenges. Instead, a different approach to language is required, and one that immediately faces a definitional intricacy: the word ”deconstruction” cannot be defined once and for all, with any fixed unity, because any meaning or feature attributed to it is always, in its turn, deconstructable (see Derrida 1988: 4).
Several further things may be said about deconstructive analysis. Each such analysis is subject to further deconstruction – the process is unending and without final decision. There is never a point at which deconstruction ends, for every emergent meaning horizon is traced through deconstructible grammars. Moreover, attempts at deconstruction do not approximate a sustained method, methodology, procedure, or unified strategy. Rather, their emergence is as diverse as the contexts in which they are located, and in each case a close familiarity with the analyzed text is required. Its contingent path is, however, never determined or predictable.
- Derrida, J. (1988) Letter to a Japanese friend. In: Wood, D. & Bernasconi, R. (eds.), Derrida and Difference. Northwestern University Press. Evanston, IL, pp.1-5.
- Derrida, J. (1976) Of Grammatology. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, MD.