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What is Deconstruction?



Okay, this part is gonna be pretty serious. Deconstruction is not "destruction." Rather, deconstruction is more like taking something apart to see how it works. The phrase was coined by French philosopher Jacques Derrida. Actually, the idea of deconstruction is looking at the traditional notion of language being a set of signs(words) that signify, or lead to, the signified, or the ultimate meaning and realizing that the signifiers never lead you directly to a concrete end definition. So what does this mean to the average Joe on the street? Well, nothing much really except that the language that he uses means nothing. In a sense. It means something to him, because that's how he communicates, but let's say that A.J. (average Joe) is American. Let me introduce you to another person. We'll call her A.P. (another person, get it?). A.P. is from Nepal. She has never heard English and has no idea what A.J. is saying when he tries to talk to her, and A.J. can't understand a thing that A.P. says when she tries to explain that she doesn't understand a thing that he is saying. You see how this works? Now, lets put this into the context of literature. Derrida believes that the idea of a text having a specific meaning is as ridiculous as two human beings from opposite sides of the world being able to understand each other. In other words, the text means nothing but what it is made of. Hold on, I'll try not to lose you here (or get lost myself). The words that make up the text mean different things to different people. Here's an example: the word read. How do you see that word? As reed or as red?

Of course this is an extremely simplified view of Deconstruction, but when you get right down to it, it's pretty easy to understand when you put it into perspective. Think about it like this: we all make assumptions based on what we've been taught or what we've experienced.(1) However, we can never know everything. So if we look at something from our own limited perception, how can we determine how someone else perceives the same thing when perhaps they are more experienced or less educated? Here's another example: we tend to look at things in oppositions assuming that one word or concept has privelege over the other. Think about it, we see things as light/dark, strong/weak, masculine/feminine. Automatically we assume that light is better than dark. Derrida believes that to some, dark is preferred to light, while to others, both words have an equality, meaning light is light, and dark is dark with both meanings being independent of each other. Look at it this way, light can mean energy to one person, and it can mean lacking in weight to another.

You want to try something? Click here. Now click here. Obviously, what you just saw is what you're reading right now, but done in different fonts. The words are the same as I typed them, but in both, the meaning is lost. Also, the letters in the sym.htm page do not represent actual words in the language to which they belong. The following link in this section represents a chain of signifiers. What I'm doing is presenting a set of definitions following the original word believe. (2) Type "believe" in the dictionary field, then look up whatever words you feel like you need to from that definition in order to get the true definition. Come back here when you are finished.

Okay, now that you're back, did you notice that "believe" leads to other words such as "faith," "true," "real," etc. If you took the same route that I did, you found that there are contradictions, looping definitions, and things that don't even relate to the original word at all. This is what Derrida is talking about when he says, "The center is not the center." (3)



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