Deconstruction is a philosophical movement and theory of literary criticism that questions traditional assumptions about certainty, identity, and truth; asserts that words can only refer to other words; and attempts to demonstrate how statements about any text subvert their own meanings: “In deconstruction, the critic claims there is no meaning to be found in the actual text, but only in the various, often mutually irreconcilable, ‘virtual texts’ constructed by readers in their search for meaning” (Rebecca Goldstein).
According to Derrida deconstruction generally operates by conducting textual readings with a view to demonstrate that the text is not a discrete whole, instead containing several irreconcilable, contradictory meanings. This process ostensibly shows that any text has more than one interpretation; that the text itself links these interpretations inextricably; that the incompatibility of these interpretations is irreducible; and thus that interpretative reading cannot go beyond a certain point.
Jacques Derrida (1930), the French Philosopher and forefather of deconstruction, describes the term in this way: “A deconstructive reading must always aims at certain relationship by the writer between what he commands and what he does not command.”
J. Hillis Miller has described deconstruction this way: “Deconstruction is not a dismantling of the structure of a text, but a demonstration that it has already dismantled itself. Its apparently-solid ground is no rock, but thin air.”
In the book The Critical Difference (1981), Barbara Johnson clarifies the term: “Deconstruction is not synonymous with “destruction”, however. It is in fact much closer to the original meaning of the word ‘analysis’ itself, which etymologically means “to undo” — a virtual synonym for “to de-construct.” … If anything is destroyed in a deconstructive reading, it is not the text, but the claim to unequivocal domination of one mode of signifying over another. A deconstructive reading is a reading which analyses the specificity of a text’s critical difference from itself.”
Deconstruction owes much to the theories of the French philosopher Jacques Derrida. With his book of Grammatology he began a new critical movement. Deconstruction, so far, has been the moat influential feature of post- structuralism because it defines a new kind of reading practice which is a key application of post- structuralism.
Derrida shows that deconstruction involves the close reading of texts in order to demonstrate that any given text has contradictory meanings. Deconstruction defines text as something whose meaning is known only through difference. Derrida shows that text can be read as saying something quite different from what it appears to be saying, and that it may be read as carrying a plurality of significance or as saying many different things which are fundamentally at variance with contradictory to and subversive of what may be seen by criticism as a single, stable meaning. Thus a text may betray itself.
Derrida carries his logic still further to suggest that the language of any discourse is at variance with itself and by so being is capable of being read as yet another language. `
Derrida displaces the traditional “hierarchy” of speech over writing to suggest that speech can only ever be subject to the same instability as writing; that speech and writing are forms of one science of language, grammatology.
Derrida criticized the entire tradition of Western philosophy’s search to discover the essential structure of knowledge and reality, ultimately confronting the limits of human thought. As an extension of his theory of logocentrism, Derrida posited that all texts are based on hierarchical dualisms (e.g., being/nonbeing, reality/appearance, male/female), where the first element is regarded as stronger and thus essentially true and that all systems of thought have an assumed center, or Archimedean point, upon which they are based. In a deconstructionist reading, this unconscious and unarticulated point is revealed, and in this revelation the binary structure upon which the text rests is imploded. Thus what appears stable and logical is revealed to be illogical and paradoxical, and interpretation is by its very nature misinterpretation.
To a deconstructionist, meaning includes what is left out of the text or ignored or silenced by it. Because deconstruction is an attack on the very existence of theories and conceptual systems, its exposition by Derrida and others purposely resists logical definitions and explanations, opting instead for alinear presentations based on extensive wordplay and puns. Deconstructionists tend to concentrate on close readings of particular texts, focusing on how these texts refer to other texts. Certain scholars have severely criticized this movement on this basic point. (Columbia Encyclopedia)
Deconstruction, according to Peter Barry is divided into three parts- verbal, textual and linguistic.
01. The verbal stage is very similar to that of more conventional forms of close reading. It involves looking in the text for paradoxes and contradictions, at what might be called the purely verbal level.
02. In textual stage a critic looks for shifts or breaks in the continuity of the poem. These shifts reveal instabilities of attitude, and hence the lack of a fixed and unified position.
03. The linguistic stage involves looking for moments in the poem when the adequacy of language itself as a medium of communication. There is implicit or explicit reference to the unreliability or untrustworthiness of language.
In the concluding part we can say that Deconstruction is a school of philosophy that originated in France in the late 1960s, has had an enormous impact on Anglo-American criticism. Largely the creation of its chief proponent Jacques Derrida, deconstruction upends the Western metaphysical tradition. It represents a complex response to a variety of theoretical and philosophical movements of the 20th century, most notably Husserlian phenomenology, Saussurean and French structuralism, and Freudian and Lacanian psychoanalysis.
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