The
Philosophy Hammer
Philosophy, Economics, Politics & Psychology Tested with a Hammer

23: Jacques Derrida:
Deconstruction

Summary by: Jeff McLaren

         Jacques Derrida (1930–2004) emphasized the multiplicity of language and the cultural construction of the “self.” He was interested in questions about the relation between the center and margins of culture, thought, and language. He is famous for developing the ideas of “Deconstruction.”
        
         Derrida’s principal theoretical objective was to challenge the Western philosophical belief in the clarity and rational distinctions that constitute conceptions of truth.
        
         According to Derrida, we can’t have ideas or categories that are pure and distinct from other ideas or categories. He argued that our accounts of reality depend on metaphors, and our binary oppositions can never be pure dichotomies. Every idea requires supplements, or otherness, to establish meaning. For example, it’s impossible to think of nature without culture or day without night. These ideas are never simply binary oppositions. Every idea or concept is already carried by the other, by a supplement that is part of the idea; the other is always in the self.
        
         Language shows this because no claim about reality or truth can simply stand alone; truth claims are always relational. Relational to each other and to the whole history of the language both denotatively and connotatively. For example 'prevent' used to mean: go before; now it means: to stop from happening – two very different meanings. Further consider that 'set' has 119 meanings according to one internet dictionary and 104 according to a second (this does not include derivative words)– how unsettling it must be to be so unset in setting the setting of set!
        
         Language is all we have access to. Everything we encounter in the world—material objects, as well as ideas—is always already embedded in language. There is no way to get outside of language to some deeper reality; in other words, 'there is nothing outside the text.'
        
         Questions
        
         1. What is at stake if you (yourself) are a social construct rather than a free autonomous individual?
        
         2. We often think in dichotomies but Derrida suggests that dichotomies cannot really exist and that every supposed dichotomy has its opposite (its supplement) already in it. Is this true in the following cases and if so what is at stake?
         1. Speech – Writing
         2. Soul – Body
         3. Intelligible – Sensible
         4. Literal – Metaphorical
         5. Natural – Cultural
         6. Masculine – Feminine
         7. Gay – Straight (Foucault)
         8. Sane – Insane (Foucault)
        
        
         3. If all literature is a social construction then all literature should become richer and more meaningful as language becomes older (with its longer history, does language become richer and more meaningful? Is Shakespeare today more profound, more nuanced, more complicated than when first written due to the richer historical content of the English language?
        
         4. Derrida seems to claim that there can never be a fully coherent, autonomous identity or idea that has full presence or meaning in and of itself. What is at stake if this is true? Could it be argued that there is no truth? – How would Derrida deal with the problem of claiming the truth of the statement: 'there is no truth'?
        
         5. If Derrida's famous quote, 'there is nothing outside the text' is true, what does that bode for our relationship to: God; each other or any association; our ideas and knowledge; and ourselves?
        
         6. What do you see as the consequences for your wel-being and that of your society of believing any of these ideas?
        


© 2008 - 2017, James Jeff McLaren