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Deconstruction

Writing and Difference, Of Grammatology, Margins, Dissemination

derrida history structuralism metaphors

was not so much a movement as a practice of reading, a learned habit of scepticism. It was chiefly associated with the work of the French philosopher Jacques Derrida (notably Writing and Difference, 1967; Of Grammatology, 1967; Margins, 1972; Dissemination, 1972), which in turn was a critical revision of many of the propositions of Structuralism. The architectural metaphors are not accidental. Structuralism sought to reveal the invisible articulation of literary and other buildings; Deconstruction questioned the building process. It was at first often spelled de-construction, which underlined the neologism (not demolition or destruction), and signalled its most active meaning: ‘the unmaking of a construct’ (Derrida). ‘However negative it may sound,’ Paul de Man commented, ‘deconstruction implies the possibility of rebuilding.’ In theory Deconstruction might be applied to any kind of cultural object, but Derrida was most interested in the major movements of Western philosophy, which he saw as regularly blind to their own metaphors and strategies. They converted a need for origins, for example, into what they saw as the indispensable presence of those origins; they dreamed of immediacies of experience and meaning which no culture has ever known. Derrida sought to understand rather than simply to deny such needs and dreams, but thought it important to see how strongly and ubiquitously they are at work, even in unsuspected areas. Exported to America and elsewhere, Deconstruction became more literary, a matter of unravelling old conspiracies of agreed interpretation, an assault on supposed academic common sense. It came to seem unhistorical because it insisted on the textuality of all history; its defenders would say it was revising the idea of history rather than abandoning history itself. See also New Criticism.

[back] Decline and Fall - a novel by Evelyn Waugh, published in 1928

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