Television as a Deep Metaphor in Deconstruction

By Gozzi, Raymond, Jr. | et Cetera, Summer 2001 | Go to article overview

Television as a Deep Metaphor in Deconstruction


Gozzi, Raymond, Jr., et Cetera


Deconstruction was one of academe's biggest hits of the 1980s. It caused torpid professors all over the academy to sit up and take notice. It generated apologetics and explications in vast quantities. Its superstar spokesperson, Algerian-born philosopher Jacques Derrida, dazzled the academic world with his erudite but often puzzling essays.

Central to much deconstructive rhetoric was a trope I have called the oxymetaphor. This is a combination of an oxymoron, (which links two contradictory ideas), and a metaphor, (which applies ideas from one domain to another). For example: one of Derrida's axioms is that

These statements link opposing ideas - they are oxymorons. Yet they are meant to illuminate a larger process of reading and interpretation; they apply the oxymorons metaphorically to the larger cognitive domain of knowledge itself. Thus they are oxymetaphors.

These and other oxymetaphors alternately entranced and infuriated readers. Critics found themselves impaled on one or another pole of the oxymetaphor's contradictions, unable to rationally fight their way out of the resulting labyrinth. The propositional process was undermined and subverted (a favorite word of deconstructionists) by the refusal of oxymetaphors to fit neatly into a reasonable proposition.

Deconstructionists gleefully propounded oxymetaphors through the 1980s and 1990s, although the momentum of deconstruction had slowed. Where did these oxymetaphors come from? What gave them their fascination? What made them plausible, at least to some?

My theme here is that deconstruction often operated from a hidden, deep metaphor. This deep metaphor is television. In this article I will expand upon a remark by Mark Poster, that deconstruction may be "defined as TV viewing applied to books" (1990, p.65).

Television is used as an unstated deep metaphor to generate many of deconstruction's most influential oxymetaphors.

Many of the discoveries of deconstructionists about "texts" bear a striking resemblance to the everyday facts of television. The infinite play of signification is a pretty good description of any segment of the "flow" of daily television, particularly if one is channel surfing, where random and contradictory signs succeed one another in bewildering profusion.

The indeterminacy of meaning, and the endless displacement of meanings, is actually sought for by writers of mass media dramas. These shows must appeal to large audiences, with differing political opinions, personal tastes, etc. The mass-market dramas cannot get too didactic, and must allow alternative interpretations to be drawn, to keep from alienating sectors of its audience. Being obvious or "preachy" is a major sin for mass media writers. …

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