Thursday, January 25, 2007

Deconstruction Cut and Paste

Sorry I don't have all the info to give credit

Jacques Derrida (July 15, 1930 – October 8, 2004) was an Algerian-born French philosopher, known as the founder of deconstruction. His voluminous work had a profound impact upon continental philosophy and literary theory.

In contemporary philosophy and social sciences, the term deconstruction denotes a process by which the texts and languages of (particularly) Western philosophy appear to shift and complicate in meaning when read in light of the assumptions they suggest about and absences they reveal within themselves. Jacques Derrida coined the term in the 1960s, and found that he could talk more readily about what deconstruction was not than about what it was, most especially in reply to questions posed by others about it.
Subjects relevant to deconstruction include the philosophy of meaning in Western thought, and the ways that meaning is constructed by Western writers, texts, and readers and understood by readers. Though Derrida himself denied deconstruction was a method or school of philosophy, or indeed anything outside of reading the text itself, the term has been used by others to describe Derrida's particular methods of textual criticism, which involved discovering, recognizing, and understanding the underlying—and unspoken and implicit—assumptions, ideas, and frameworks that form the basis for thought and belief, for example, in complicating the ordinary division made between nature and culture.

Derrida lays many of his presuppositions out in a hard but very important essay called Structure, Sign and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences. You can tell what it is going to be like from the title! The argument goes as follows:

1. Western thought and language have always had a fixed centre in absolute truth. This places limits on what it is possible to think or believe. It provides a foundation for being (ie what we are), and for knowing (ie how we think). Absolute truth provides certainties.
2. However Derrida’s underlying assumption is that there is no God in the equation to guarantee such absolutes, and hence ideas about certainty are now ruptured. He concludes that any idea of a fixed centre was only a structure of power imposed on us by our past or by institutions of society, and does not in reality exist at all.
3. Hence for Derrida there is no ultimate reality, no God outside the system to which everyone and everything relates. Instead the only relationships that we can know are within the system of the world which Derrida calls discourses. For him ultimate reality is only a series of these discourses.
4. Because there is no fixed centre, there should no longer be any limits on what it is possible to think or believe. We should literally be able to think anything. We can be playful and flexible about the way we think, when we realize that “truth” and “falsehood” are simply wrong distinctions to make. Indeed they are just a destructive and harmful manifestation of that power structure.
5. Therefore we must stop considering everything in life, culture and thought in relation to absolute truth. To not do so is, for Derrida, oppressive and immoral.
6. Derrida says that history is traditionally thought to be determined by Being. In other words God guarantees history There was a beginning and there is an end to which we are working. Most human optimism for Derrida springs from this fact. The whole of science for example is based on the fact that true things are there to be discovered and worked towards.
7. However this idea of history is what stops people thinking radical new thoughts because the assumptions we pick up from history are oppressive. But the fact that people can and do think radical new thoughts is seen to deny this oppressive version of history, and, of course, any absolute Being behind history.
8. Derrida’s ideal of play or flexibility therefore completely denies the possibility of absolutes or of God.
Emergent writers criticize our emphasis on the verbal and written as a product of Enlightenment modernism. Yet postmodern approaches to language are clearly more dangerous. Deconstructionism, its predominant literary theory, seeks to sever the link between words and the things they signify, so that defining words is seen as an exercise in power rather than submission to reality. While no Emergent writers would endorse this theory in full, their usage often reflects its influence. Gross oversimplifications, subtle redefinitions of common terms, and elegant vagaries are maddeningly common. For example, they regularly dismiss their critics for “labeling” or “in-grouping and out-grouping,” but are somehow unaware of their own dependence on caricatures of other Christians for nearly every argument. Captive to the preeminent postmodern virtue of tolerance, stark value judgments are concealed behind seemingly charitable phrases like “I’m just not interested in … or I don’t have time for a Christianity like that…”. Unwary readers are often simultaneously inspired and confused, sensing that something is off but unable to put their finger on it. The problem is a low view of language, and a low view of language leads to a low view of our speaking God.

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