Deconstruction is a literary movement invented by Jacques Derrida, a Jew, naturally. What is deconstruction? No one really knows, but think they know. They think it means “to take apart,” “to unpack” (an idea). It doesn’t mean that. This is what I “think” it means. Deconstruction is a journey; never arriving and always departing; a sitting on suitcases, all packed and ready to leave for the next departure lounge.
In contrast to deconstruction, I’m reminded of the Christian theologian and philosopher, Jonathan Edwards (quoted in R.C. Sproul’s “Sitting on suitcases): “No person who seeks to go on a pilgrimage to a glorious and exotic place will take up permanent residence at an inn along the way.” The person Edwards describes is like a sojourner who gets stuck along the way because he loses sight of his glorious destiny. The deconstructionist, however, doesn’t believe he is stuck in a rut, not only because there is, for him, no such thing as destiny or glory, but also because there is nothing to stick to. Here is Derrida’s definition of deconsruction:
“Here or there I have used the word deconstruction which has nothing to do with destruction. That is to say, it is simply a question of…being alert to the implications, to the historical sedimentations of the language which we use – and that is not destruction” (Derrida 1972: 271′ my italics).
What does Derrida mean by “historical sedimentations.” The meaning of a word can be studied in two ways:
1. What the word means now (called “synchrony” in linguistics; Greek syn “together” + chronos “time”),
2. What the word meant in the past – the history, the etymology (called “diachrony” in linguistics; Greek dia “through” + chronos “time”). “Nice” is a nice example. Here are its layers of “historical sedimentations” from an etymological dictionary.
“late 13c., “foolish, stupid, senseless,” from Old French nice “silly, foolish,” from Latin nescius “ignorant,” lit. “not-knowing,” from ne- “not” (see un-) + stem of scire “to know.” “The sense development has been extraordinary, even for an adj.” [Weekley] — from “timid” (pre-1300); to “fussy, fastidious” (late 14c.); to “dainty, delicate” (c.1400); to “precise, careful” (1500s, preserved in such terms as a nice distinction and nice and early); to “agreeable, delightful” (1769); to “kind, thoughtful” (1830). In 16c.-17c. it is often difficult to determine exactly what is meant when a writer uses this word. By 1926, it was pronounced “too great a favorite with the ladies, who have charmed out of it all its individuality and converted it into a mere diffuser of vague and mild agreeableness.” [Fowler].
“Deconstruction appeals to history, to the historical sedimentations of language. In language use, speakers/writers try and find common (univocal) meanings to the words they use. OnedeRRingjews like DeRRida think otherwise. He says:
“if language is not inherently determined by a set of univocal meanings, then language use, given an unlimited number of contexts over an indefinite period of time, becomes an unrestricted interaction of signifiers, the Nietzschean affirmation of free play without nostalgia for a “center” or for “origins”. (Derrida 1981a: 278-93. Writing and Difference. Trans. Alan Bass. London: Routledge, Kegan & Paul).
According to deconstruction, language has no locatable centre nor retrievable origin, where there is no necessary connection between meaning (the signified) and words (signifiers). Well that’s at best silly, at worst, words fail me. Deconstruction plays with language only to prey on language. So then “where can deconstruction lead us, if anywhere?” asks Merrill 1984:126. (Merrill, F. 1984 Deconstruction Meets a Mathematician: a-semiotic Enquiry. American Journal of Semiotics 2(4): 125-152).
Deconstruction leads us to the via rupta? Via rupta means a way cut through the forest, or broken by a plow, wheel, travel or other means. “Route” and “rut” are derivations of via rupta. And that’s deconstruction: a ripping apart of “syntractic joints and semantic flesh” (Barbara Johnson) en route to the glorious mystery of nowhere. Nice.