Assignment Paper : EC-203
Topic : Deconstruction and Derrida
O Student’s Name : Gandhi Pooja S.
Roll No : 09
· URL : gandhipooja151011.blogspot.com
Semester : 2
O Batch : 2010-11
Dr. Dilip Barad,
Department of English
v What is Deconstruction?
Deconstruction, as applied in the criticism of literature, designates a theory and practice of reading which questions and claims to “subvert” or “undermine”, the assumption that the system of language provides grounds that are adequate to establish the boundaries, the coherence or unity, and the determinate meaning of a literary text. Typically, a deconstructive reading sets out to show the conflicting forces within the text to dissipate the seeming definiteness of its structure and meaning into indefinite array of incompatibility and undecidable possibilities.
Derrida presented his basic views in the three books in 1967, since entitled,
‘Grammatology’, ‘writing and difference’, and ‘speech and phenomena’.
Derrida’s reiterated claim is that not only all western philosophies and theories of the language, but all western use of language, hence all western culture, are ‘logo centric’, that is they are centered or grounded on a ‘logos’ or as started in a phase, he adopts from Heidegger, they rely on ‘metaphysics of presence’. They are logo centric, according to Derrida, in part because they are ‘phonocentric’ that is they grant, implicitly or explicitly, logical ‘priority’ or ‘privilege’, to speech over writing as the model for analyzing all discourse.
Derrida’s view is that we can never, in any instance of speech or writing, have a demonstrably fixed and decidable meaning in an utterance on text, but asserts that these are merely effects and lack a ground that would justify certainly in interpretation.
Derrida was the most influential philosopher in 70s and 80s of last century. His philosophy is the further extension of structuralism and is better called as ‘post- structuralism’. He carries this structuralist movement to its logical extreme and his reasoning is original and startling. We have seen in this movement that as in New Criticism, the attention was shifted from the writer to the work of literary text; consequently textual analysis becomes more important than extra textual information. Further the author disappeared and only the text remained. This is what we called the stylistic and structuralist position.
The meaning as it emerges from the text alone counted. In this process the importance of the reader and his understanding increased, and the Reader Response or Reception. Theory came into being. Derrida gives the same process a further and final push according to which what matters is the reading and not the writing of the text. At times one feels, through not quite justifiably, that in Derrida even the text disappears and what is left behind is an individual’s reader response to it. Now the reader rules the supreme, and the validity of his reading cannot be challenged. However, the stricter of each reading has to be coherent and convincing.
v Decentering the centre:
Derrida deconstructs the metaphysics of presence. That is to say that according to Derrida there is no presence or truth apart from language. He seeks to prove that the structure of the structure does not indicate a presence above its free play of signs. This presence was earlier supposed to be the centre of the structure which was paradoxically through to be within, and outside this structure, it was truth and within, it was intelligibility.
But Derrida contends that, ‘the centre could not be through in the form of a being presence’ and that in any given text, there is only a free play of an infinite number of sign substitutions. A word is explained by another word which is only a word not an existence. Thus a text is all words which are just words, not indicative of any presence beyond them. In the words of John Sturrock,
“The resort to language or sign entails, we know the loss of all uniqueness and immediate. The sign is not the thing in itself.”
It is utteractive or repeatable. A sign which was uttered only once would be not sign. It is the types of which each utterance is token.
There is no a textual origin of a text. The author’s plan of a book is a text. His realization is no truth, where, the text where summary is third text. A text kindles a text and text seeks to present or explain. There is no reality other than texuality. The texuality is the free play of signifies. There is no signified that is not itself a signifier.
In the words of John Sturrock, Derrida seeks to undermine “a prevailing and generally unconscious ‘idealism’, which asserts that language does not create meanings but reveals them, thereby implying that meaning, pre- exists their expression.” This for Derrida is nonsense. For his there can be no meaning which is not formulated, we cannot reach outside language.
The concept of Supplementarity follows from Decentrring the centre. A literary text is a work of language and language as such according to Derrida, is like time, ever in a state of Flux. Just as time has no emergence of man, and will disappear along with man.
Derrida quotes and approves Levi-Strauss who writes:
“Whatever may have been the moment and the circumstances of its appearance in the scale of animal life, language could only have been in one full swoop. Things could not have set about signifying progressively but rather of biology and psychology a crossing over came about from a stage where nothing had a meaning to another where everything possessed.”
But language being a flux is not ever the same. It is always gaining in new elements and loosing the older ones. “The totality of the myths of a people”, Derrida quotes Levi- Strauss again,
“Is of the order of the discourse. Provided that these people do not become physically or morally extinct, this totality is never extinct. Such a criticism would therefore be equivalent to reproaching a linguist with writing the grammar of a language without having recorded the totality of the words which have been uttered since that language came into existence and without knowing the verbal exchanges which will take place as long as the language continues to exist.”
Totalisation is thus useless and impossible. The language paradoxically comes into being as a quest of imaginary truth apart from language and continues to realize the lack of truth in the words that it employs. The free play of signifies, “a field of infinite substitutions in the closure of a finite ‘ensemble’ permitted by the lack.”
The super abundance of the signifier its supplementary character, is thus the result of a finitude, that id to say, the result of a lack which must be supplemented. The process of Supplementarity has no end. Because positive and concrete definition is impossible for any term, every term necessarily requires a supplement or supplements, something or some things which help it exist and be understand. Yet at the same time, the object which the supplement is supplementing is supplements itself. Extend this web in all directions and the relationship between bricolage play and the supplementary begins to make sense.
The same applied to any literature text. We look for the truth of the text which on fact is only language and create in our quest another text through our criticism to supplement the lack of the original text reading is reactivating the expressivity of the text with the help of its indicative signs. But in the words of John Sturrock-
“the meaning that are read into it may or may not be coincide with the meanings which the author believes he or she has invested it with A reasonable view is that a large number of these meaning will coincide depending on how far separable author and reader are in time, space and culture; but that a large number of other meaning will not coincide. For language have powers of generating meanings irrespective of the wishes of those of who use it.”
Of course, the discussion here barely begins to scratch the surface of the implications made by Derrida, for within not even a full fourteen pages of text, has established the foundation of one of the most significant revolutions in the history of thought.
Of course, saying that Derrida demonstrated how the history of thought contradicted itself and in so doing imploded the foundation of western philosophy. Yet, there is scant little chance to denying the Derrida himself holds some special place in this development: if not as its father then at least as its catalyst.
The concept of centered structure is in fact the concept of a play based on a fundamental ground, a play constituted on the basis of fundamental immobility and a reassuring certitude, which itself is beyond the reach of play. Successively, and in a regulated fashion, the center receives different forms of names. The history of metaphysics, like the history of the West, is the history of these metaphors and metonymies. Its matrix if you will pardon me for demonstrating so little and for being so elliptical in order to come more quickly to my principal theme – is the determination of being as presence in all senses of this word. It could be shown that all the names related to fundamentals, to principles, or to the center have always designated an invariable presence-eidos, arche, telos, energeia, ousia, alethesia, transcendentality, consciousness, God, man, and so forth.
Henceforth, it was necessary to begin thinking that there was no center, that the center could not be thought in the form of a present- being, that the center had no natural site, that it was not a fixed locus but a function, a sort of nonlocus in which an infinite number of sign-substitution came into play.
Nietzchean critique of metaphysics, the critique of the concepts of being and truth, for which were substituted the concepts of play, interpretation, and sign; the Freudian critique of self-presence, that is, the critique of consciousness, of the subject, of self-identity and of self-proximity or self-possession; and more radically, the Heideggeren destruction of metaphysics, of onto-theology, of the determination of being as presence.
The bricoleur, says Levi- Strauss is someone who uses ‘the means at hand’, that is, the instruments he finds at his disposition around him, those which are already there, which had not been especially conceived with an eye to the operation for which they are to be used and to which one tries by trial and error of adapt them, not hesitation to change them whenever it appear necessary or, to try several of them at once, even if their form and their origin are heterogonous and so forth.
If one calls bricolage the necessity of borrowing one’s concepts from the text of a heritage which is more or less coherent or ruined, it must be said that every discourse is bricoleur. The engineer, whom Levi-Strauss opposes to the bricoleur, should be the one of construct the totality of his language, syntax, and lexicon. In this sense the engineer is a myth. A subject who supposedly would be the about origin of his own discourse and supposedly would construct it ‘out of nothing’ out of whole cloth, would be the creator of the verb, the verb itself. The notion of the engineer who supposedly breaks with all forms of ‘bricolage’ is mythopetic; the odds are that the engineer is a myth produced by the bricoleur.
In the system of symbols constitute by all cosmologies, ‘mana’ would simply be a zero symbolic value, that is to say, a sign marking the necessity of a symbolic context ‘supplementary’ to that with which the signifies is already loaded, but which can take on any value required, provided only that this value still remains part of the available reserve and is not, as phonologies put it, a group-term.
Derrida added that play is always playing of absence and presence, but if it is to be thought radically, play must be conceived of before the alternative of presence and absence. Being must be conceived as presence or absence on the basis of the possibility of play and not the play of repetition and the repetition of the play, one no less perceives in his work a sort of ethic of presence, an ethic of nostalgia for origins, and ethic of archaic and natural innocence, of a purity of presence and self-presence in speech-an ethic, nostalgia and even remorse, which he often presents in speech when he moves toward the archaic societies which are exemplary societies in his eyes.
In absolute chance, affirmation also surrenders itself to genetic indetermination to the ‘seminal’ adventure of the trace.
“Derrida emphasizes that to deconstruct is not to destroy; that his task is to ‘dismantle the metaphysical and rhetorical structures’ operative in a text ‘not in order to reject or discard them, but to reconstitute them in another way.’-that he puts into question the ‘search for the signified not annual it, but to understand it within a system to which such a reading is blind.’
- M.H. Abram