Working with Deconstruction
Write a single spaced essay in which you concisely explain the basic premises of Deconstructionist criticism and apply one or more Deconstructionist interpretive strategies to explain how Phyllis Wheatley's poem, "On Being Brought from Africa to America," deconstructs, using terms found in Tyson on pages 241-276 and in the short chapter by Selden (public folder). Email the essay to me either as an attached MS-Word file (recommended for bad spellers!) or in the body of the email, itself.
To successfully complete the assignment, make sure your essay's two parts answer, in some fashion, the following questions:
Part One: Summarize Tyson's discussion of Deconstruction's theory and method, including Derrida's main terms of art and the ways Deconstruction uses them to interpret literature. Do not merely list the terms of art used by the theory. Illustrate or define them with a phrase so that I can discern how well you understand them. Use literary examples when you can--they will improve your memory of the theory and method. How does the Deconstructionist critic treat the evidence in the work? What are the goals motivating the Deconstructionist critic's interpretation of the text? What constitutes a successful interpretation?
Part Two: How would a Deconstructive reading interpret Wheatley's poem? First, set up the Deconstructionist's target by doing a brief New Critical or Structuralist reading of the poem. If you are more comfortable starting as a New Critic, read the text for its "tensions" between enduring concepts, and look for the ways the poem tries to resolve those tensions in a theme which articulates a timeless, transcendent truth about human existence. Then Deconstruct those tensions and that truth. If you are more comfortable starting as a Structuralist, determine the main binary oppositions in Wheatley's poem, which are the privileged terms, and what might be the poem's underlying mythic rule that is expressed in those binaries and their assignment of privilege? Then deconstruct those binaries (or demonstrate that they deconstruct themselves) and discuss the consequence for the structuring mythic rule upon which the poem depends. What non-obvious insight does those principles help us to see in the text?
You do not have to write a completely developed Deconstruction of the poem's meaning(s) in order to finish this assignment. In fact, according to hard-core Deconstructionist theory, if you attempt to do so, you will die before you finish! Don't bother with a formal introduction or conclusion, and if it helps, you can use section headers (i.e., "Part One" and "Part Two") to eliminate the need to write paragraph transition. As a matter of good critical practice, you should provide your paper with a proper title based on your application of Deconstructionist theory (and perhaps, orthography), and a Works Cited section, but once you have explained how Deconstructionist criticism works on the first level of analysis and have showed how it might be applied in the case of this text, you are done. You need not explore further the consequences of that application or develop all the available evidence; only the most relevant details need be mentioned.
Click here for the text of Wheatley's poem and some important contextual information which will help you understand the ideologies which are driving it. Please see this email exchange before you write your WW Deconstruction paper! The author, Peter Krause, raises the question of how Deconstruction handles the possibility that a text is satiric, i.e., that it intends to mean other than what it at first seems to mean. We can handle this, too, but it's crucial to know how to do it. An excerpt from a TLS review (2012) on a recent critical study of Wheatley's work
Click here for the criteria I will use when evaluating the paper.