Deconstructionist Terms and Methods

        Unless you can be a New Critic or a Structuralist, you cannot be a Deconstructionist.  Deconstructionist methods were designed to demonstrate the flaws in New Critical or Structuralist assertions that texts had stable, determinate meanings that were grounded outside language in some ideologically "pure" aesthetic or scientific method.  New Critics and Structuralists attacked Deconstructionists as nihilistic word-gamers and culture destroyers, but Deconstructionists claimed their opponents were unconsciously in the service of ideological "projects" which their methodologies conspired to keep secret.  For Deconstructionists, the gradual erosion of New Critical and Structuralist orthodoxy in literary criticism was inevitable, caused by language's inherent instability, and the slippage of the signifier under the signified from which it emerges into infinite new ranges of significance.  Most of Deconstruction's initial methods and terms of art were invented by Jacques Derrida.  Later but important Deconstructionists are Roland Barthes, Paul De Man, J. Hillis Miller, Geoffrey Hartman, Harold Bloom, Stanley Fish, Jonathan Culler, Barbara Johnson, Hélène Cixous, Sarah Kofman, and Nancy K. Miller.

What makes structuring rules or tensions deconstruct--

chain of signifiers (252) play of signifiers (252) implication/inference
deferral of meaning (252-3) self-referentiality (253) "différance" (253)
trace of the signifieds (253) bricolage (253) words under erasure (253)
ideologically mediated experience (253-4) language as "ground of being" (255-7) language as "ground of identity" (257-8)
 discourses of meaning "undecidability of the text" (259) "dissemination" (scattering) of meaning (256)

What makes structuring rules or tensions appear stable (AKA "ideological projects" hidden in the text [258-9])--

grounding concepts (256) foundationalism (Fish) ideas considered "out of play" (256) logocentric thinking (256)
a word-centered world world as "infinite text" (256-7) instability of the self in language (257-8) invention of the self in language  (258)

How to deconstruct a binary opposition or to demonstrate that a work "deconstructs itself"--

1)  Gather your data: find the basic binary oppositions (Struct.) or organizing tensions (NC).

2)  Analyze your data: extend the binaries or tensions to their associated corollaries in the cultural code and in the associated data from the work, itself; determine what ideological assumptions "ground" the terms' presumed opposition and their presumed assignment of privileged or unprivileged status.

3)  Look for what is missing or ambiguous or ironic or paradoxical about your data: detect the excluded middle terms, the overlapping of the terms, or the possibilities for reversal of privileged/unprivileged status in the terms.

4)  Explain the patterns in your data: explain the exclusion, overlap, or reversal of privilege as the result of the insufficiency of the cultural values expressed in the rule governing the code, not infrequently related to race, class, gender, sexual orientation, or other "natural" determiners of status.

Click here to test your ability to demonstrate the deconstruction of Raman Selden's sample binary oppositions from the Structuralism essay.