Tuesday, April 19, 2022

What Is "Deconstruction?"


(Sterling State Park, Lake Erie, Monroe)

In my recent book I "deconstruct" progressive Christianity. To understand this, one must know what "deconstruction" is. In popular culture it is synonymous with "destruction," with its antonym being "construction." If that's all "deconstruction" means, then its unnecessary, except perhaps as it is used to impress others with one's intelligence.

Here's from my book, chapter 15.

"What is “deconstruction?” It does not mean “to destroy.” Please pay attention to this. Postmodern scholar Mark C. Taylor writes: 

“The guiding insight of deconstruction is that every structure—be it literary, psychological, social, economic, political or religious—that organizes our experience is constituted and maintained through acts of exclusion.” (Quoted in "Derrida: The Excluded Favorite," by Emily Eakin.) 

What deconstruction is, is this. You unravel an event, or a text, to expose what is not there, yet presences itself as required for what is there. Deconstruction is about finding what is excluded, what is absent. Because what is there is only fully understood by what is not there. For example, the letter a is not b, but cannot be understood apart from the excluded b. 

James Faulconer writes, "I take that to be the general meaning of the word deconstruction as Derrida has used it: not just using our words and concepts against themselves, but showing what has been left out or overlooked… Deconstruction is used to show that a work does not adequately address something, not that it should have."...

Deconstruction points to marginalized ideas. Christopher Norris, in his biography Derrida, writes, “To 'deconstruct' a piece of writing is therefore to operate a kind of strategic reversal, seizing on precisely those unregarded details (casual metaphors, footnotes, incidental turns of argument) which are always, and necessarily, passed over by interpreters of a more orthodox persuasion. For it is here, in the margins of the text - the 'margins', that is, as defined by a powerful normative consensus - that deconstruction discovers those same unsettling forces at work.”

(Piippo, Deconstructing Progressive Christianity, pp. 219 - 221)

For those who appreciate expertise, here are explanations of deconstruction in Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. If you don't understand these, then you don't understand what deconstruction is.

Definitions of Deconstruction – mostly upon Jacques Derrida’s death (2004)

“Mr. Derrida's name is most closely associated with the often cited but rarely understood term "deconstruction." Initially formulated to define a strategy for interpreting sophisticated written and visual works, deconstruction has entered everyday language. When responsibly understood, the implications of deconstruction are quite different from the misleading cliches often used to describe a process of dismantling or taking things apart. The guiding insight of deconstruction is that every structure -- be it literary, psychological, social, economic, political or religious -- that organizes our experience is constituted and maintained through acts of exclusion. In the process of creating something, something else inevitably gets left out. These exclusive structures can become repressive -- and that repression comes with consequences. In a manner reminiscent of Freud, Mr. Derrida insists that what is repressed does not disappear but always returns to unsettle every construction, no matter how secure it seems.”

Mark C. Taylor, “What Derrida Really Meant,” NYT Op-Ed, p. 26, Oct 14, 2004.

“[H]e was known as father of deconstruction, method of inquiry that asserts that all writing is full of confusion and contradiction, that author's intent could not overcome inherent contradictions of language itself, robbing texts of truthfulness, absolute meaning and permanence.”

Jonathan Kandell, “Jacques Derrida, Abstruse Theorist, dies in Paris at 74.”

NYT-Arts, October 10, 2004, p.1.

Derrida himself (qtd. [selectively] in Kandell):

“[In a] 1993 paper he presented at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, in New York, [Derrida] began: ‘Needless to say, one more time, deconstruction, if there is such a thing, takes place as the experience of the impossible.’


“[T]o Dinitia Smith, a Times reporter, in a 1998 interview. ‘Deconstruction requires work. If deconstruction is so obscure, why are the audiences in my lectures in the thousands? They feel they understand enough to understand more.’ / Asked later in the same interview to at least define deconstruction, Mr. Derrida said: ‘It is impossible to respond. I can only do something which will leave me unsatisfied.’"

“Derrida partly provided the thrill of sheer nerve: daring to write something that wouldn't just modify interpretations but challenge the entire philosophical and literary enterprise. His was an imperial ambition, one inherited from Nietzsche and Heidegger: don't reinterpret. Uninterpret. Show not just that some formulations are mistaken, but that all are. And that, moreover, they have to be. Show how all of Western thought is based on a type of ignorance or incompleteness, that everyone

who claimed to get the point was missing the point.” Edward Rothstein, “The Man who Showed us How to Take the World Apart,”

NYT-Arts, Oct 11, 2004, p.1.

“Deconstruction, Mr. Derrida's primary legacy, was no exception. Originally a method of rigorous textual analysis intended to show that no piece of writing is exactly what it seems, but rather laden with ambiguities and contradictions, deconstruction found ready acolytes across the humanities and beyond -- including many determined to deconstruct not just text but the political system and society at large. Today, the term has become a more or less meaningless artifact of popular culture, more likely to turn up in a description of an untailored suit in the pages of Vogue than in a graduate seminar on James Joyce.”

Emily Eakin, “The Theory of Everything, RIP”, NYT Week in Review, p. 12.