Understanding Deconstructionism and Postmodernism
What is Deconstruction and Postmodernism
Postmodernism refers to a set of strategic, rhetorical and critical practices which as various concepts which include the simulacrum, trace, repetition, hyper-reality and the difference that destabilizes other notions.
The concepts that are destabilized include identity, epistemic certainty, historical progress, presence and univocity of the meaning.
In 1979, postmodernism was entered into the philosophical lexicon. The postmodern condition was published in 1979, and Jean Francois Lyotard wrote it. On his view, Jean described postmodernism as an illicit aestheticizing of public discourse and knowledge
Postmodernism introduces aesthetic subversion and playfulness into politics and science, and this makes Jean resist it that it is modernity moving toward completion and yet it should be towards self-transformation
Deconstruction bases on the idea that texts usually have oppositional relationships. In this kind of the relationship, one part is entirely different from the other, and one part is generally dominant over the other part
Jacques Derrida founded this theory in 1930-2004. Jacques studied philosophy in Paris, and he was born in Algeria
Jacques Derrida introduced his work of philosophy in three books which were published in 1967. These books included: Speech of Phenomena, Writing and Difference and also Of Grammatology.
Derrida used ‘Deconstruction” in his work to describe his philosophy. In his philosophy, Derridean deconstruction is nuanced and complex. Deconstruction became a basis of some theories. For instance, gender theory uses deconstruction in its base
The fundamental concepts in deconstruction are examining the relationships between opposing ideas or words, highlighting present injustices and it attempts to overturn these relationships
In the area of prejudices, Derrida presents some expectations to the rule of reversing the authority structures. The work of deconstruction, therefore, is to examine these differences and criticize those relationships. Deconstructive criticism involves exploring the relationship between the text and its meaning
A significant concept of deconstruction is “difference.”
Derrida’s explanation of the principle of difference is illustrated below:
“This principle compels us not only not to privilege one substance-here the phonic, so-called temporal, substance-while excluding another- for example, the graphic, so-called spatial, substance-but even to consider every process of signification as a formal play of difference. That is of traces.”
Here, Derrida highlighted a frequent topic in postmodern work. It involves the man’s tendency to privilege one trait/ person/ position to the exclusion or detriment of another
He also dealt with language in his passage.
The primary goal of deconstruction is the examination of binary oppositions this, the relationship between two parts in which these two parts have opposite meaning and also examining contrast in their meanings
Deconstruction also has a biblical viewpoint
Here, the scripture presents various binary oppositions that must be deconstructed with consequence. Deconstruction influences the thinking of the society. It can be seen in the acceptance of homosexuality and same-sex marriages in the churches
Some of the leaders in churches are ambiguous about homosexual behavior if it is sinful or not
For example, a former pastor Brian Mclaren who was also a public theologian (self-proclaimed, agreed to his son to marry a person of same-sex and he performed a commitment ceremony for his son. Brian explained his action as follows:
“I was a good kid; I believed what I’d been told. And as a pastor, I started having gay people come out to me and what became clearer and clearer to me is that their experience was not explained by the theology I inherited… And that it would be unjust to continue to uphold what I had been taught. Maybe I could say it like this: My call to love God and love my neighbor was in conflict with what I’d been taught the Bible required me to say and do.”
McLaren has then published a lot of work about homosexuality. He explains that “I think both straight and gay folks have two decent options- celibacy and fidelity in the context of a committed relationship. (I’d call it marriage, but others would rather not call it that for gay folks.) I’d make sure to welcome gay folks in our home so our kids can get to know them as family friends.
I’d tell them how some people tease and make fun of gay people, and I’d urge them always o stand up for people who are teased… because God loves everyone and wants everyone to be safe and respected.”
Here, McLaren does not identify himself as a postmodernist, but it is seen that his argument fits within a post-modern view. He has constructed a new meaning for love in his view of what is unjust and unjust. It shows the deconstruction of the biblical definition of what is evil and what is right and exchange of truth for a lie. When there is deconstruction in a biblical interpretation, the original or rather the plain meaning of the scripture is lost easily
What is post-structuralism?
Post structuralism definition: It involves resisting or questioning the methods of building knowledge that is language, religion, and science using tradition literary notions
It includes the narrative and the author
It refers to the fiction that makes readers interpret a text chronologically and a single manner whereby the experience of the readers are not reflected
The text in postmodernism may not usually adhere to the notions which are traditional of the narrative
An example is the work of William S. Burrough, Naked Lunch. In this narrative, the writer explores the structure of the traditional narrative, and he also critiques the modern things.
The modern things William S. Burroughs critiques include modern medicine, modern law enforcement and modern government in his work
Other narrative authors include authors such as John Fowles. In his narrative, John Fowles speaks to the readers of his story, The French Lieutenant’s Woman, directly. Grand narratives are also resisted. An example of this is questioning the belief of many that the human race will improve through science. Metaphysics is also examined.
Postmodern knowledge building is situated, local, and slippery and it is also self-critical. Self-critical in postmodern knowledge means that it questions itself and also questions its role
Post structural critics the even look in the contradiction between themselves in post-structural work since it is self-critical
It is the absolute authority displaced in a text. The reader interprets the text of the author and develops a meaning. Ronald Barthes who is the author of “The Death of The Author” argues about the idea of the singular authorship in which this idea is a recent phenomenon.
In “The Death of The Author,” Ronald Barthes clearly explains that the author’s death shatters notions which are Modernist concerning knowledge building.
Barthes states that if the author dies, the Modernist idea of the authority (singular narrative) is overturned that is, the text in the narrative becomes plural, and there is a collaborative process between the audience and the author in the interpretation of the texts
An example is an illustration below:
“…a text is made of multiple writings, drawn from the many cultures and entering into mutual relations of the dialogue… but there is one place where this multiplicity is focused, and that place is the reader.” Ronald Barthes also encourages and empowers the reader in his work. It is shown in the illustration below:
“Classical criticism has never paid any attention to the reader…the writer is the only person in literature. It is necessary to overthrow the myth; the birth of the reader must be at the cost of the death of the author.”
There are typical questions in post-structuralism which include the following:
- How the language is questioned or thrown into free play.
Example of this is how Burroughs plays with language in his narrative, Naked Lunch, and also how Anthony Burgess I his narrative, A Clock Work Orange, plays with language that is, Russian vs. English.
- How work contradicts or undermines accepted truths
- How work moves outside the conventions established by its genre or how it fulfills it
- How work deals with separation between the work, reader, and writer or how it lacks this separation
- What ideology the text promotes
- What the text leaves out and if it could have been included in the text might have undermined the goal of that work
- How the story would change if the point of view of the text was changed. It includes if it changed from one character to another or change of multiple roles. Also, if the point of view changes that is, whose story would not be told and questions such as who might have been left out by the author and why the characters are not omitted in the tale
Read also: Themes and literary devices in a clockwork orange.
Examples theorists basing on post-structuralism include:
“Friedrich Nietzsche-“On Truth and Lies in an Extra-Moral Sense,” 1873; the Gay Science, 1882; Thus Spoke Zarathustra, A Book for All and None, 1885”
“Immanuel Kant-“An Answer to the Question: What is Enlightenment?” 1784 (as a baseline to understand what Nietzsche was resisting)”
“Jacques Derrida-“Structure Sign and Play in the Discourse of Human Science,” 1966; Of Grammatology, 1967; “Signature Event Context,”1972”
“Jean-Francois Lyotard – The Postmodern Condition, 1979”
“Michele Foucault – The Foucault Reader, 1984”
“Stephen Toulmin – Cosmopolis, 1990”
“Ihab Hassan – The Dismemberment of Orpheus, 1998; From Postmodernism to Postmodernity: The Local/Global Context, 2001.”
“Paul Cilliers – Complexity and Postmodernity, 1998”
“Martin Heidegger – Basic Writings, 1993”
“Ronald Barthes – “The Death of the Author,” 1967”
“Deleuze and Guattari –“Rhizome,” 1976”
Examples of postmodern literature include the following:
“William S. Burroughs- Naked Lunch, 1959”
“Lynne Tillman – Haunted Houses, 1987”
“David Wojnarowicz – The Waterfront Journals, 1996”
“Paul Auster – City of Glass (volume one of the New York City Trilogy), 1985 (as a graphic novel published by Neon Lit, a division of Avon Books, 1994)”
“Angela Carter – Burning Your Boats, stories from 1962-1993(first published as a collection in 1995)”
“Kathy Acker – Blood and Guts in High School, 1978”
Postmodernism vs modernism
The different forms of post-structuralism are shown as a split between modernism and postmodernism. It is also known as juxtaposition which is a literary technique for developing contrasts and comparisons
The following shows the difference between postmodernism (a space of discourse and free play) and modernism (enlightenment of ideas)
In this, Ihab Hassan shows these differences in his work, The Dismemberment of Orpheus, 1998 and he clearly explains the following contrasts:
- An example in modernism is symbolism /romanticism while in postmodernism it is Dadaism / Paraphysics
- An instance in modernism is purpose while in postmodernism it is play
- An example in modernism is designed while in postmodernism it is chance
- An example in modernism is hierarchy while in postmodernism it is anarchy
- An instance in modernism is mastery/logos while in postmodernism it is silence/ exhaustion
- An example in modernism is art object/logos/finished work while in postmodernism it is antithesis/ performance/ process
- An instance in modernism is centering while in postmodernism it is an absence
- An example in modernism is genre /boundary/ semantics while in postmodernism it is intertext
- An instance in modernism is transcendence while in postmodernism it is immanence
- An example in modernism is determinacy while in postmodernism it is inter determinacy
- An example in modernism is God the father while in postmodernism it is The Holy Ghost
- An instance in modernism is cause/origin while in postmodernism it is trace/ difference-difference
- An example in modernism is paranoia while in postmodernism it is schizophrenia
- An example in modernism is phallic/ genital while in postmodernism it is androgynous/ polymorphous
- An example in modernism is Grande Histoire/ narrative while in postmodernism it is petite Histoire/ anti-narrative
- An instance in modernism is signified while in postmodernism it is a signifier
- An example in modernism is depth/ root while in postmodernism it is a surface/rhizome
- An instance in modernism is metaphor while in postmodernism it is metonymy
- An example in modernism is form (closed, conjunctive) while in postmodernism it is anti-form (open, disjunctive)
- An instance in modernism is semantics while in postmodernism it is rhetoric.
With this article you are now equipped with all that you need to know about postmodernism and deconstructionism.