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About this book

Deconstructions: A User's Guide is a new and unusual kind of book. At once a reference work and a series of inventive essays opening up new directions for deconstruction, it is intended as an authoritative and indispensable guide. With a helpful introduction and specially commissioned essays by leading figures in the field, Deconstructions offers lucid and compelling accounts of deconstruction in relation to a wide range of topics and discourses. Subjects range from the obvious (feminism, technology, postcolonialism) to the less so (drugs, film, weaving). Backed up by an unusually detailed index, this User's Guide demonstrates the innumerable and altering contexts in which deconstructive thinking and practice are at work, both within and beyond the academy, both within and beyond what is called 'the West'.

Table of Contents

1. What is Deconstruction?

I love your dictionary. It is the most wonderful single-volume dictionary of the English language. I am even willing to give serious consideration to the thought, expressed by you on the front cover, that it is ‘The authority on english today’. Chambers Dictionary has long had a special place in my heart. I picked up a copy of the 1993 edition more or less the day it was published. I should have written to you at the time. For it was that edition which contained, for the first time, an entry for the word ‘deconstruction’. Now with the latest edition (1998) I see that the entry is unchanged and I just have to write to you about it. I can no longer contain myself. You define it as follows:
deconstruction n. a method of critical analysis applied esp to literary texts, which, questioning the ability of language to represent reality adequately, asserts that no text can have a fixed and stable meaning, and that readers must eradicate all philosophical or other assumptions when approaching a text.
Nicholas Royle

2. Deconstruction and Cultural Studies: Arguments for a Deconstructive Cultural Studies

Derrida’s copious teaching notes, published these days almost as is, remind us that teaching is no more than a ‘who wins loses’ style game against its own destined errancy.1 A teacher will say, everyone knows this. I am not sure. Aristotle’s class notes, Hegel’s class notes, Saussure’s class notes seem to have frozen into orthodoxies of various kinds. ‘Culture’ is learned without teachers, even as it is taught by parents and elders, of both genders, in different ways. ‘Cultural Studies’ is a terrible misnomer, now that it has been around long enough for people to have forgotten that it was originally a study of the politics of those who claim dominant culture. ‘Civilizational competence’ is learned by those ambitious to enter the discourse of the masters, even if to destabilize it. The institutionalization of Cultural Studies has something like a relationship with the missed crossings between errant tendencies. This essay runs after them, necessarily in vain.
Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak

3. Deconstruction and Drugs: A Philosophical/Literary Cocktail

Short-circuiting the exasperating detour of communication, or more generally suspending the pro-active expenditure of the will’s energy as it works to fuel its own consciousness, is the mark of an urge to a junkie-like descent into a silence which few people at some point in their lives wouldn’t admit to craving — if not at some point every day. But drugs and their effects are always a matter of the mix, the concoction or recipe, the purity and the impurities, as well as of the ‘set and setting’, as Leary and his coterie never tired of saying; and with street drugs, there is also the matter of all the unknown ingredients, the precipitates of amateur chemistry, or whatever was to hand to give bulk to the stuff as it changed hands on its way to market. It is such contingencies as these which determine whether drugs intoxicate, narcotize, energize, silence, make a person withdrawn and dreamy, talk their head off, suffer genital retraction or an inconsolable erection or just go plain crazy.
David Boothroyd

4. Deconstruction and Ethics

Deconstruction cannot propose an ethics. If the concept — all the concepts — of ethics come to us, as they do, as they cannot fail to, from the tradition it has become commonplace to call ‘Western metaphysics’, and if, as Derrida announces from the start, deconstruction aims to deconstruct ‘the greatest totality’,1 the interrelated network of concepts bequeathed to us by and as that metaphysics, then ‘ethics’ cannot fail to be a theme and an object of deconstruction, to be deconstructed, rather than a subject of its admiration or affirmation. Ethics is metaphysical through and through and can therefore never simply be assumed or affirmed in deconstruction. The demand or desire for a ‘deconstructive ethics’ is in this sense doomed to be disappointed.
Geoffrey Bennington

5. Deconstruction and Feminism

Feminism. Again? There is now talk that feminism is yesterday’s news, an item to be consigned to suitcases belonging to the historically inclined and the academically obsessed. Politics has moved on, passions have faded, feminism is history. Irrelevant rather than irreverent as far as new generations of women are concerned, feminism, some say, is marked as the rebel whose causes will be left behind, back in the twentieth century.
Diane Elam

6. Deconstruction and Fiction

‘Now, for the poet, he nothing affirms, and therefore never lieth.’ This is how Philip Sidney, writing in his Defence of Poetry in the late sixteenth century, carves out a space for fiction, a space in which the accusation of telling lies (which Plato, for instance, had accused poets of doing) simply does not make any sense. This distinction between two primary modes of discourse, fictional and nonfictional, has often been made since Sidney’s day, and it operates strongly in much thinking about language use in our own time.
Derek Attridge

7. Deconstruction and Film

So then. ‘Deconstruction and Film’. Not much to go on here.
Robert Smith

8. Deconstruction and Hermeneutics

Of the contentious debates that deconstruction has touched off, the one concerning its relation to hermeneutics has drawn special attention. As Pöggeler has noted, one can already create a small library from the pertinent writings about this subject (Pöggeler, 1994, p. 481). In any event, what distinguishes the debate is a seemingly uncompromising confrontation with no end in sight. Derrida’s critique of hermeneutics’ postulation of a master sense, a sole and true meaning of texts, has triggered the verdict by hermeneutic philosophers, including Gadamer, that deconstruction celebrates the end of the philosophies of meaning in a Nietzschean feast of, and free play on, words. However, it is worth remarking that Derrida only rarely, and merely in passing, takes on the various positions in the institutionalized discipline of hermeneutics. Certainly, at times, Derrida’s statements about hermeneutics read like a critique of Ricoeur’s hermeneutic philosophy. But, except for Derrida’s response to Gadamer’s intervention during their meeting in Paris in 1981, references to Gadamer’s philosophical hermeneutics are absent from his examination of hermeneutics. Still, what about the occasional presence of the name of Schleiermacher in Derrida’s writings? Does it not at least suggest a concerted and focused debate with the historical forms of the art of interpretation, and the hermeneutic tradition?
Rodolphe Gasché

9. Deconstruction and Love

The conjunction of deconstruction and love will seem an unexpected one to some. It is not an association authorized by the widely circulated image of deconstruction as an essentially negative operation, as if the term were really a synonym of ‘destruction’ and the additionaI syllable simply superfluous. This persistent reduction has come about only after many repetitions, performed most often so as to give someone a pretext for denunciation. Deconstruction has had bad press almost since it first appeared in Derrida’s writings. Things got quickly worse when others began to pick up the term, perhaps because this could be taken as a signal that something larger was afoot and would have to be dealt with more severely. Thus it is that, after several decades of such severity, one cannot approach an essay on deconstruction and love without anticipating a resistance fed by the rumour that deconstruction is essentially destructive and even that it destroys everything we, as members of civilized societies, ought to work to preserve from destruction, which is to say, everything we love, as well as everything we are told we ought to love. Beginning with love itself. At its core, this resistance would be working to protect love itself from destruction. And what could be more natural than that? The nature of this resistance would thus be that of the tautology assumed between acts of loving and acts of preserving or protecting from destruction. As such, it is likely to be activated by very powerful forces indeed.
Peggy Kamuf

10. Deconstruction and a Poem

A poem comes by fate or by chance. lt ‘befalls’ the one who receives it, like a benediction, that is, like words that confer a blessing or that invoke a blessing. Benediction means, literally, speaking well, usually of some person, not of some thing. A benediction invokes what comes from the other or is the coming of the other, subjective and objective genitive at once. The ‘other’ in question here is that wholly other about which Derrida writes, tautologically, in The Gift of Death: ‘tout autre est tout autre’. This means, among other possibilities, ‘every other is wholly other’ (see Derrida, 1992a, pp. 79–108; Derrida, 1995a, pp. 82–115). We usually think of the ‘other’ as just somewhat different, for example someone from a different culture. For Derrida the other in question in a poem’s benediction is entirely different, ‘wholly other’. The consequences of accepting such a notion are not trivial. Something wholly other is frighteningly alien, unassimilable. Nevertheless, Derrida argues that a poem comes from such a wholly other and speaks for it. Just what that might mean this essay will try to show.
J. Hillis Miller

11. Deconstruction and the Postcolonial

‘I do not believe that anyone can detect by reading, if I do not myself declare it, that I am a “French Algerian”’ (Derrida, 1998, p. 46). True, for when I wrote White Mythologies, I knew that you had been born in Algeria, in the very year that had witnessed the celebrations of the centenary of the French invasion. (Something for Algerians to celebrate indeed.) You had once guardedly spoken of your childhood memories, your ‘nostalgeria’, far more briefly though than Cixous had recalled her ‘Algeriance’ (Derrida, 1985; Cixous, 1998). That was, however, my only lead, apart from when I had first seen you in 1979 and understood immediately that you were no ‘français de souche’. What a relief. No blockhead, at least. All the same, even before that moment I already knew that something serious was going on. It was as plain as punch even if I found it impossible then to identify where it was coming from. What was certain was that it was somewhere else, and that it was producing a strong effect of disorientation (for which read ‘disoccidentation’).
Robert J. C. Young

12. Deconstruction and Psychoanalysis

Addressing a group of psychoanalysts in 1981, Jacques Derrida characterized himself as a ‘foreign body’ in the institution of psychoanalysis (Derrida, 1991, pp. 202–3).1 A foreign body infiltrates the body of its host but can be neither rejected nor assimilated; its effects may be beneficent, like the bacteria that aid digestion, or baneful, like the virus that destroys the vital functions. As a foreign body in the corpus of psychoanalysis, deconstruction performs the role that Derrida, in ‘Plato’s Pharmacy’, attributes to the pharmakon — both poison and remedy — that heals what it harms, revitalizes what it violates. For deconstruction, by its own admission, is parasitic on the works of Freud and other thinkers, and yet it seems to reinvigorate the works it vampirizes.
Maud Ellmann

13. Deconstruction and Technology

In 1950 the English mathematician Alan Turing, one of the inventors of the computer, proposed a thought experiment that has since become crucial in debates about ‘machine intelligence’ (Turing, 1950). In his ‘imitation game’ Turing proposed that three players, each in separate rooms, be allowed to communicate by writing. Two of the players, a man and a woman, are questioned by the third, a judge. The man’s task is to convince the judge that he is in fact a she. He wins if the judge either cannot decide or decides wrongly about the gender of the other player.1 Turing then proposed that the place of the man be taken by an ‘intelligent’ machine. The game remains the same, but the role of the judge is now to decide which of the players is human. Turing proposed the imitation game as a pragmatic way to deal with the question ‘can machines think?’ It has long been known as the Turing test.2
Timothy Clark

14. Deconstruction and Weaving

‘Weaving’ names an art, skill or technology, practised from antiquity and to be found globally, the operation of which consists of the interlacing of threads to produce a fabric or textile.
Caroline Rooney

15. Et Cetera …

And in the beginning, there is the and.
Jacques Derrida
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