Let me state from the beginning what this post is communicating and what it is not communicating. On one hand, it is going to present my understanding of “deconstruction” as it is associated with Jacques Derrida. This does invite people to challenge my interpretation of Derrida and limited dialog regarding the implications of Derrida’s approach. On the other hand, it is not a forum for chasing the “demonic Parisian” back into his philosophical hole. In other words, I don’t care if you like Derrida or hate him (I myself am influenced more by Gadamer than Derrida), that isn’t the subject being addressed. The subject being addressed is simple: What is deconstruction?
I hope that is clear.
OK, now let me see if I have this deconstruction thing understood and I’d would greatly appreciate any insight into where I am wrong. Deconstruction, in the words of Derrida, is partially “to not naturalize what isn’t natural–to not assume that what is conditioned by history, institutions, or society is natural.” This does not mean Derrida doesn’t believe in meaning or truth. It does mean that we must not assume perspective equates to universal. We cannot assume that any human understanding is somehow transcendental. We are contextualized beings and we understand/express things contextually.
This can be understood in positive or negative terminology.
James K.A. Smith presents it positively saying that deconstruction is “a deeply affirmative mode of critique attentive to the way in which texts, structures and institutions marginalize and exclude ‘the other’, with a view to reconstructing and reconstituting institutions and practices to be more just”. (Jacques Derrida, Live Theory, 12).
As I have read Derrida this view of him that Smith presents has become more evident. It is not an appeal to some sort of moral relativism or the assertion that everything is essentially what the readers wants it to be since meaning falls apart in the end. Rather, it is an allowing of the unnatural side of things deemed natural to expose themselves by reading a text with both eyes open to possible prejudices inherit within.
As regards a negative analysis one Jack Reynolds says the following:
Deconstruction is parasitic in that rather than espousing yet another grand narrative, or theory about the nature of the world in which we partake, it restricts itself to distorting already existing narratives, and to revealing the dualistic hierarchies they conceal. While Derrida’s claims to being someone who speaks solely in the margins of philosophy can be contested, it is important to take these claims into account. Deconstruction is, somewhat infamously, the philosophy that says nothing. (See full article here)
He understands it to exist only within other attempts at metanarrative (therefore, it cannot be a metanarrative itself, since deconstruction cannot exist as some sort of free floating approach to the world). It is for Derrida the natural exposure of the internal contradictions and false assumptions buried within communicative acts (or “writing” as he calls them). Again, we must balance the act of seeing deconstruction as, yes, a slap in our epistemological face but also not pure relativism. Derrida expected to be understood. Derrida had an opinion. Derrida saw some form of right and wrong. But he knew that his views and those of others are not bullet proof and that language and communication have limits that is pressed expose inconsistencies. We must realize though that communication is still possible even as it deconstructs itself. It is just not perfect.