Words Under Erasure,
Word/s Slashed, and Words (Parenthesized)
Deconstructionist rhetorical practices often are lampooned because of the lengths to which the critics go in order to defamiliarize language's "trace" meanings. They employ parentheses, the virgule (/), and the single or double strikethrough ("under erasure") as typographical means to use a word or phrase to discuss its non-standard meanings which are in play with the standard meanings. One process which produces the need for such typographical shenanigans is called, by followers of psychoanalytic postructuralist Jaques Lacan, "the slippage of the signified under the signifier," a process which occurs productively as natural languages age and humans mature, and destructively as humans experience neurotic and psychotic breakdowns in which language's signifier-signified chains lose their apparent anchoring points. In short, words lose any stable meaning and communication becomes increasingly difficult.
The Middle English words "trouše,"
"trewe," and "love" are words which became unstable in the fourteenth and
fifteenth centuries, as social practice led to their failure to support reliable
communication about two or more states of relationship they might be used to
describe. In A Crisis of Truth, Richard Firth Green has described
the destruction of trouše by its splitting
into two different words, "truth" and "troth," in the period between Chaucer's
and Shakespeare's lifetimes. "Truth" hold's trouše's
sense of verifiable fact, displacing the word "soth" which previously
communicated an unambiguous claim of "truth." "Troth" (as in "to
plight one's troth") holds trouše's sense
of a promise or oath that something will be the case. When a Chaucerian
character tells another, "Have here my trouše,"
the offer is ambiguous unless grounded by context. Had Green wanted to
play the Deconstructionist critic, he might have discussed this problem by
placing the unstable term "under erasure" as
Similarly, "trewe" could mean
either "loyal" or "accurate," but usually context indicated which was meant by
juxtaposing "trewe" with a person if the former was meant and with an inanimate
noun if the latter were meant. In a discussion of the instability of trewe,
one might refer to its ambiguous status as
could be political as well as erotic, and the love of a lord for the lord's
vassal would be expressed by the same signifier as the love of a lover for
her/his Beloved. If the lord and vassal also were erotically attached, the
term becomes unstable and might be referred to as love, a
signifier which simultaneously asserts and negates whichever signifier one might
attempt to associate with it.
Think of the
horizontal line not as a cancellation but more like a seam that’s opening and,
through which, additional meaning is disseminated by the signifier. In the
love does not indicate the lack of
love, but rather "more than mere 'love' understood as a trace meaning."
This would allow "political alliance" and "mutual admiration" and "long-time
loyalty" and "pseudo-kinship" to emerge from behind the trace "love."
We have become familiar with the use of the virgule for the ambiguous singular pronoun reference caused by a phrase like "each pilot will pack his/her own parachute." A Deconstructionist might use the virgule to illustrate a contradictory instance of privilege as in the "white/black" status of Sam, the piano player in Casablanca. The parenthesis similarly allows a Deconstructionist to visually communicate the instability of an undecidable text by talking about Robert Frost's "(M)ending Wall" as a poem about simultaneously liking (Mending) and disliking (Ending) walls' constructions of difference in the landscapes of nature and of human social relations. Yet another title might be "(Me)nding Wall" to emphasize the narrator's divided stance and projection of his own ambivalence upon his neighbor. See Tyson's full Deconstructive reading of "Mending Wall" on pages 260-65. That is perhaps your best preparation for the "Working with Deconstruction" paper.
A word to the wise student--this practice raises hackles if not accompanied by a very persuasive argument that makes sense of the typographical tom-foolery, and one would do well to ask whether the intended audience for the paper had any particular aversion to Deconstructionist orthography. Note that Green's book (above) never ever uses the tactic. He is arguing not that texts have no determinate meaning, but rather that their meanings may be intentionally constructed to contain instabilities with duplicitous language. That is, he accomplishes some Deconstructionist aims while avoiding the most anathematic (to Medievalists) claims. Pick your battles.