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Deconstructionism

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Brief Overview

Deconstruction This is a difficult word and concept that almost defies description because it embodies the notion that there is no single Truth or interpretation. A blindingly simple description is that it can be a way of criticizing not only both literary and philosophical texts but other things as well, for example, art and architecture. The following presents very simple concepts for a basic understanding, but I would suggest that to have a deeper understanding a person would have to read a variety of sources from different disciplines and perspectives.

Jacques Derrida (1930-2004) is said to be the founder of “deconstruction”. An article in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy says his work was an attempt to “…..re-conceive the difference that divides self-reflection (or self-consciousness)….. and that even more than the re-conception of difference, and perhaps more importantly, deconstruction works towards preventing the worst violence. It attempts to render justice. Indeed, deconstruction is relentless in this pursuit since justice is impossible to achieve.”

Fuchs and Ward characterize deconstructionism as “…one of the most influential intellectual movements in the humanities and social sciences during the 1970s and 1980s.” As noted, the term defies easy and shared definition. They argue that there are two kinds and meanings of ‘deconstruction’ and ‘deconstructionism’. They state that there is a radical deconstruction which “is a skepticist and anti-realist form of critiquing the activity of interpretation in literary, textual and semiotic analysis.” A moderate form of deconstruction is “…the common and widespread practice of weakening the claim’s of ones opponents and competitors by disturbing the social and cognitive networks that surround and strengthen those claims.

Deconstructionism emerged from a fusion of Heidigger’s and Nietzsche’s critiques of Western metaphysics, poststructuralist metaphysics, philosophy of science, and literary criticism. The basic tenets of these four skeptical trends are…..there is no transcendental Subject that could give history its unified meaning…..; the meaning of signs comes from other signs, not reality; science does not provide a rational foundation for culture, but is a subculture among subcultures; and there is no such thing as ‘literal or true meaning’. Together these leitmotifs form a skepticist anti-philosophy that expresses a loss of faith in Truth, Reason, and Progress.”

Deconstruction is often applied to the problems of meaning and interpretation of texts, but can and has been applied to popular culture, music, politics, architecture and art.

Fuchs, Stephan and Steven Ward. What is deconstruction, and where and when does it take place? Making facts in science, building cases in law. American Sociological Review, Vol. 59: 3, June 1994.

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. <http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/derrida/>

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