What is Deconstruction? What is Deconstruction?June 27, 2021
Jacques Derrida is one of the most controversial philosophers of the 20th century.
Its name was first identified with deconstruction, which is a complex, detailed approach to how we read and understand written texts. In order to understand Derrida’s thesis in his famous book “Gramatology”, that there is nothing outside the text (French original “il n’y a pas de hors-texte”, also translated as “there is no outer text”), Derrida’s article We need to take a closer look at the deconstructionist approach of the .
When we pick up a book, be it a philosophy book or a novel, we imagine that we are holding in our hands something that we can understand or interpret as a relatively self-contained whole. When it comes to philosophical texts, we assume that they are particularly systematic and logical. Imagine going to a bookstore and buying a copy of Grammatology. If you read the book, you’ll imagine that by the time you finish you’ll be able to grasp something about “grammatology” itself, Derrida’s main ideas on the subject, and what it has to say about the world. But according to Derrida, texts do not work that way.
Even the clearest and most understandable texts (of which Grammatology is not one) are enigmatic with what Derrida calls “aporias”. The word “Aporia” comes from ancient Greek and it means something like “contradiction”, “jigsaw” or “dead end”. According to Derrida, there are such gaps, holes and contradictions in all written texts; The deconstruction method is the way to read texts paying attention to these puzzles and dead ends. While exploring these contradictions in different texts, Derrida aims to expand our understanding of what texts are and what they do, and to show the complexity underlying even seemingly simple texts.
Deconstruction is a way of reading by revealing these hidden paradoxes and contradictions. But it’s not just about our reading of philosophy and literature; There are much broader versions of Derrida’s approach that open to discussion the relationships between language, thought, and even ethics. At this point, it will be useful to introduce an important technical term from Derrida’s jargon: “differance”. This may seem like a typographical error—and indeed, when the word differance first entered the French dictionary, Derrida’s mother said to him, “But Jacques, that’s not how you spell it!” It is rumored that he scoffed—but in reality the word differance is a word Derrida himself coined to indicate an interesting aspect of language. “Differance” (with “a” instead of “e”) plays with both the French “difference” (with “e”) meaning “to separate” and the French “deferrer” meaning “to put off”. To understand how this word works, it would be helpful to consider how decomposition and translation take place in practice.
Let’s start with the offset first. Imagine me saying “my friend…” and then adding “…he saw in the garden…” and after a pause I continued, “…the cat was black and white.” What I mean by the word “my friend…” here is not revealed until more information is given, it is postponed. If I just said “my friend” and didn’t add anything else then the word “friend” would have a different meaning. Everything that I add to what I have said, in other words, everything that gives more meaning to what I have said before, corrects what I have said before. Meaning in language is postponed.
But in the meantime, something else is happening. Derrida believes that the meaning of the word “friend” cannot be thought of as something standing in the relationship between my words and real things in the world. A word derives its meaning from its position in the entire system of language. So when I say “friend” it makes sense not only because there is a mysterious connection between the word and a true friend, but because the term is differentiated from, for example, “brother”, “wife” or “father”. Decomposition and translation, taken together, tell very interesting things about language in general. On the one hand, the meaning of anything we say is constantly shifted because it depends on what else we have to say, and its meaning depends on what else is said, and so on. And on the other hand, the meaning of any particular term we use depends on what we don’t mean. Therefore, the meaning is not enclosed within the text itself.
For Derrida, “differance” is an aspect of language that we become aware of through writing. Since ancient Greece, philosophers have been skeptical of written language. In Plato’s dialogue Phaedrus, Socrates tells a myth about the invention of writing and says that writing only makes “wisdom appear”, but not reality. When philosophers think about it, writing is seen simply as a pale reflection of the spoken word; Speech is considered the main means of communication. Derrida wants to reverse this; According to him, the written word shows us something about language that the spoken word cannot. derrida fel