5.1 The Problem of Defining Deconstruction

5.0     Objectives
5.1      The Problem of Defining Deconstruction

           Self-Check Questions for 5.1
5.2     Background to Deconstruction

        5.2.1    Derrida and Heidegger
Self-Check Questions for 5.2.1
        5.2.2    Derrida and Ferdinand de Saussure
Self-Check Questions for 5.2.2
5.3     Difference

Self-Check Questions for 5.3
5.4     Structure, Sign and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences
Self-Check Questions for 5.4
5.5      The Yale School of Deconstruction
Self-Check Questions for 5.5
5.6      The Influence of Deconstruction
           Self-Check Questions for 5.6
5.7      An Attempt to Summarize
           Self-Check Questions for 5.7
5.8      Reading List
5.9      Glossary
5.10     Feedback of Learners on Unit 5

“What deconstruction is not? Everything of course! What is deconstruction? Nothing of course!”
Jacques Derrida
Letter to a Japanese Friend
    Jacques Derrida (1930-2004) whose name is associated with the term ‘deconstruction’ is one of the most renowned and prolific philosophers of the twentieth century. His writings are characteristically postmodern in the sense they seek to go beyond modernity. Derrida has written prolifically on various themes like translation, ethics, aesthetics, responsibility, death and mourning, politics of friendship, cosmopolitanism, Marxism, globalization, technology and terrorism. His dense and complex writings have had an enormous influence in psychology, literary theory, cultural studies, linguistics, feminism, sociology and anthropology.
    Though the term has become very popular in literary criticism and theory, its precise meaning is extremely problematic. In fact, Derrida himself in the famous "Letter to a Japanese Friend" (1983) pointed out that the term was a product of his wish, “to translate and adapt to my own ends the Heidggerian word Destruktion or Abbau. Each signified in this context an operation bearing on the structure or traditional architecture of the fundamental concepts of ontology or of Western metaphysics”. This operation on the traditional structures of western thought was not a negative one connoting destruction but, “rather than destroying, it was also necessary to understand how an "ensemble" was constituted and to reconstruct it to this end.” Derrida also reminds his Japanese friend that deconstruction is “neither an analysis nor a critique” and is not, “a method and cannot be transformed into one.” For Derrida, deconstruction is not something that you do, rather “Deconstruction takes place, it is an event that does not await the deliberation, consciousness, or organization of a subject, or even of modernity. It deconstructs itself.”  J. Hillis Miller in “Stevens' Rock and Criticism as Cure" (1976) notes, "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."
    This leads Derrida to question,” Can deconstruction become a methodology for reading and for interpretation? Can it thus be allowed to be reappropriated and domesticated by academic institutions?” In spite of Derrida’s disclaimers and caveats, there have been innumerable attempts to explain, simplify, define or ‘package’ deconstruction for the academic malls, a tendency that Derrida protested and criticized throughout his life. The present article does not try to simplify or package Derrida’s philosophy, but offers some starting points into more serious and rigorous examination of his works.