Poststructuralism

deconstruction

deconstruction, in linguistics, philosophy, and literary theory, the exposure and undermining of the metaphysical assumptions involved in systematic attempts to ground knowledge, especially in academic disciplines such as structuralism and semiotics. The term "deconstruction" was coined by French philosopher Jacques Derrida in the 1960s. In general, deconstruction is a philosophy of meaning, which deals with the ways that meaning is constructed by writers, texts, and readers.

Extending the philosophical excursions of Nietzsche and Heidegger, Derrida criticized the entire tradition of Western philosophy's search to discover the essential structure of knowledge and reality, ultimately confronting the limits of human thought. As an extension of his theory of logocentrism, Derrida posited that all texts are based on hierarchical dualisms (e.g., being/nonbeing, reality/appearance, male/female), where the first element is regarded as stronger and thus essentially true and that all systems of thought have an assumed center, or Archimedean point, upon which they are based. In a deconstructionist reading, this unconscious and unarticulated point is revealed, and in this revelation the binary structure upon which the text rests is imploded. Thus what appears stable and logical is revealed to be illogical and paradoxical, and interpretation is by its very nature misinterpretation.

To a deconstructionist, meaning includes what is left out of the text or ignored or silenced by it. Because deconstruction is an attack on the very existence of theories and conceptual systems, its exposition by Derrida and others purposely resists logical definitions and explanations, opting instead for alinear presentations based on extensive wordplay and puns. Deconstructionists tend to concentrate on close readings of particular texts, focusing on how these texts refer to other texts. Certain scholars have severely criticized this movement on this basic point.

Nevertheless, deconstruction, especially as articulated in Derrida's writings and as promoted by Paul de Man and others, has had a profound effect on many fields of knowledge in American universities, particularly during the 1970s and 80s. In addition to philosophy and literary theory, the techniques and ideas of deconstruction have been employed by scholars in history, sociology, educational theory, linguistics, art, and architecture. While the theory has lost much of its intellectual currency, the general acceptance and popularity of interdisciplinary scholarship in the 1980s and 90s are regarded by many as an outgrowth of deconstruction.

See J. Culler, On Deconstruction (1982); R. Gasche, The Tain of the Mirror: Derrida and the Philosophy of Reflection (1986); P. Kamuf, A Derrida Reader: Between the Blinds (1991).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2014, The Columbia University Press.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

Post-Structuralism: A Very Short Introduction
Catherine Belsey.
Oxford University Press, 2002
The Moral Theory of Poststructuralism
Todd May.
Pennsylvania State University Press, 1995
Mapping Poststructuralism's Borders: The Case for Poststructuralist Area Studies
Jackson, Peter A.
SOJOURN: Journal of Social Issues in Southeast Asia, Vol. 18, No. 1, April 2003
PEER-REVIEWED PERIODICAL
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
After Poststructuralism: Reading, Stories and Theory
Colin Davis.
Routledge, 2003
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 2 "Enlightenment/Poststructuralism"
Modern North American Criticism and Theory: A Critical Guide
Julian Wolfreys.
Edinburgh University Press, 2006
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 5 "The Encounter with Structuralism and the Invention of Poststructuralism"
Literary Theory: The Basics
Hans Bertens.
Routledge, 2001
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 5 "The Poststructuralist Revolution: Derrida, Deconstruction, and Postmodernism" and Chap. 6 "Poststructuralism Continued: Foucault, Lacan, and French Feminism"
Critical Theory Now
Philip Wexler.
Falmer Press, 1991
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 2 "Critical Theory, Gramsci and Cultural Studies: From Structuralism to Poststructuralism"
Marx and the Postmodernism Debates: An Agenda for Critical Theory
Lorraine Y. Landry.
Praeger Publishers, 2000
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 2 "Critical Theory, Poststructuralism, and Postmodernism"
The Emperor Redressed: Critiquing Critical Theory
Dwight Eddins.
University of Alabama Press, 1995
Librarian’s tip: "The End of the Poststructuralist Era" begins on p. 45
Contemporary Cultural Theory
Andrew Milner; Jeff Browitt.
Allen & Unwin, 2002 (3rd edition)
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 4 "Semiology: From Structuralism to Post-Structuralism"
History and Theory in Anthropology
Alan Barnard.
Cambridge University Press, 2000
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 9 "Poststructuralists, Feminists, and (Other) Mavericks"
Literary Darwinism: Evolution, Human Nature, and Literature
Joseph Carroll.
Routledge, 2004
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 2 "Biology and Poststructuralism"
Key Concepts in Literary Theory
Julian Wolfreys; Ruth Robbins; Kenneth Womack.
Edinburgh University Press, 2006
Librarian’s tip: "Poststructuralism" begins on p. 144
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