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Deconstructing Derrida


Deconstructing Derrida

by Kenneth Lyen

I am a philosophical rookie. My mind’s a philosophical virgin, waiting to be educated about the ways of the world.

I should have started with the ancient Greeks, but I thought I’d skip the old stuff and get straight into the meat of philosophy. Wrong move. I had a brief skirmish with Descartes but abandoned him when I discovered his error. Next I flirted with Immanuel Kant, but I found him not very seductive.

Then I got waylaid by Jacques Derrida who died on 8 October 2004. I went to see a documentary film about him entitled "Derrida" hoping to learn everything about deconstructionism. I came out of the cinema more confused than ever. But I learnt that he was very good at evading questions.

I then turned to the online dictionary which defines deconstruction as: "A philosophical movement and theory of literary criticism that questions traditional assumptions about certainty, identity, and truth; asserts that words can only refer to other words; and attempts to demonstrate how statements about any text subvert their own meanings. In deconstruction, the critic claims there is no meaning to be found in the actual text, but only in the various, often mutually irreconcilable, ‘virtual texts’ constructed by readers in their search for meaning."

In other words, deconstruction is a bit like that computer game where you try to apprehend an object, but the moment you get too close, the object slips away, and no matter how hard you try, you will never catch it. When you apply deconstruction techniques, you coat words with slippery meaning, so that you can never nail it down.

I bought a cartoon book entitled "Introducing Derrida." It explained that Derrida would challenge concepts of life and death, such that they should not be regarded as polar opposites, but rather as an in-between state better known as a zombie.

This has suddenly become extremely relevant, now that Derrida is alleged to have died. We can now put into practice the teaching of this great master. We can try to deconstruct the meaning of his death. What do we really mean by the phrase "Derrida is dead"? This question was posed by Rod Liddle in the Spectator.

To say "Jacques Derrida is dead" is not quite as simple as that. "As there is no straightforward, one-to-one relationship between the signifier (‘dead’) and the thing signified (the termination or otherwise of the actual person, M. Derrida), we cannot be entirely sure what has happened."

Rod Liddle goes on to say that "We are faced instead with an endless multiplicity of truths, a string of infinite possibilities." And among the possibilities is that our perception of Jacques Derrida’s death is not what it seems to be, but "merely a refraction of a refraction of reality."

Therefore, in truth, we cannot say with any certainty of meaning, that Jacques Derrida is really dead.

Very deep stuff indeed!

But I am committing a cardinal sin. I am joining the hordes of barbarians who are hurling critical spears at poor Derrida, without having read a single word written by him. Shame!

Gee, I feel like a novice philosopher who bestrides the narrow word like a colossal idiot!