Deconstructing Derrida’s ‘Deconstruction Theory’

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Philosophy is the natural inquiry into human knowledge and the existence of realities in order to give life meaning. In the study of human behavior where man is curious to know about his whereabouts, philosophy guides him to a path that leads to his fulfillment through spiritual knowledge, the systems of civilization, enlightenment through various questioning strategies, and observational means. Milton K. Munitz suggests that, “Philosophy is a quest for a view of the world and of man’s place in it, which is arrived at and supported in a critical and logical way.”

Jacques Derrida, a French intellectual, was known for offering his post-modernist views to the world. “Fields of knowledge always put a necessary limit on what can and cannot be said. Any discourse — medical, artistic, legal, or whatever — is defined by the methods and understandings it makes available to its practitioners, and as such prevents meanings from ever spinning off in an inappropriate direction,” he wrote.

The post-modern wit denies the idea of singular truth attached to its meaning. Looking through polarity, it distances itself and brings about complexity where fragmentation and discontinuity are studied to reach a more comprehensive understanding of a subject. There is no objective existence but only interpretive perspectivism. Jacques Derrida introduces us to a theoretical concept known as deconstruction.

Post-modernism emerged as a reactive force to the modernist philosophical theory where forms and concepts were boxed into institutions and power followed a linear structure. Deconstruction expands knowledge that was once suppressed due to oppressive systems. Derrida noticed that traditional philosophy was restrictive in nature and completely dominated by hierarchy. Therefore, he calls this a violent hierarchy. 

There are two terms that govern each other. The privileged term, independent in its meaning, is dependent and is in a position of authority only by suppressing the one which is in the continuity of gaining its own meaning. Deconstruction rigorously exhausts itself into analysis to find the literal meaning of the text as well as reading beyond the precise that seems to be neglected. It does not focus on reaching a totality to satisfy our curiosity but rather briefs us about contingency. Having gained popularity, the term deconstruction has come to be known for critically challenging traditional Western philosophy. 

Derrida was highly influenced by Saussure and he improved Saussure’s structuralism to be known as a post-structuralist. What creates a difference between Saussure and Derrida is their notion of speech and the written form. In his famous book, On Grammatology, Derrida provides the required attention to writing which was previously considered a derivative form of speech. Saussure was of the opinion that writing is an unnecessary addition to speech. Derrida in response claims that just as the spoken word is used with consciousness, the whole meaning cannot be explained; it is similar in relation to the written word as well. Natural Writing or Living Writing is terminology used by Derrida in which he explains that natural writing is where we erase a word to use an alternative and a more appropriate term to describe. The crossed-out word is still readable to the reader which remains significant as both the original word and the formed word are important in writing to decode. 

His Theory of Difference has two links, one is with writing and the other is with deconstruction. Writing is never unprejudiced, it does not give away the truth. While reading a newspaper we are aware of the facts that could be wrongly portrayed and therefore journalists are selective in their information. What structuralism and post-structuralism are concerned with is not the presentation of the news but how language weaves the writing. They try to analyze why the word has been used instead of various other options. It wants to reveal the hidden politics of using a particular word. As there is meaning hidden behind the usage of a word, there is an absence and gap too.  

Since the very beginning of civilization, thinkers like Plato, Rousseau, and Saussure have been under the impression that speech has always overpowered the written draft. Derrida however does not agree with the same and goes on to explain that the structure of writing and grammatology is more important than the meditative use of speech. 

Jacques Derrida’s scrupulous and attentive study to critique the structuralist theories and conventional Western philosophical knowledge led to the formation of contemporary discourse that came to be known as deconstruction. Deconstruction theory has given a fresh and intellectual way of reading literature and its overwhelming response has illustrated the course of literary studies by elevating it. 

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Pooja Singh

Pooja is an English Literature graduate from Sophia College, Autonomous, Mumbai University, India. She is currently pursuing her Master’s degree in English Studies and her area of interest lies in anthropology, disability studies, and women’s writing. She has participated in many conferences and has her poems published in a recent anthology titled Wine and Words.


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