To Deconstruct, or NOT.

“In my work, I am deconstructing the idea of …”
“This artist deconstructs popular conceptions about …”

I have to vent about the misuse of the verb: “Deconstruct.”  I hear people say this all the time, when they should be saying, “analyze,” “explore” or any number of other verbs. And yet, there is insistence on using this word “deconstruct.”  Perhaps this sounds fancier, has an air of sophistication?  Well, it doesn’t.  Very rarely is someone actually “deconstructing” something. If you are using this word in this way, odds are that you sound stupid.

Lets take a look at the origin of this word and what is really means. From WikiPedia:

“Deconstruction is the name given by French philosopher Jacques Derrida …

Deconstruction generally operates by conducting close textual readings with a view to demonstrating that the text is not a discrete whole, and that it on the contrary contains several irreconcilable, contradictory meanings. What is shown through this process, therefore, is that there is more than one interpretation of a text, that these interpretations are inextricably linked in and by the text itself, that the incompatibility of these interpretations is irreducible … J. Hillis Miller has described deconstruction in the following terms: ‘Deconstruction is not a dismantling of the structure of a text, but a demonstration that it has already dismantled itself. Its apparently-solid ground is no rock, but thin air.’"

In short, the word refers to a specific technique. This may be a form of analysis, but it does not mean, “to analyze.” It is a hard term to define, and perhaps this difficulty lends itself to misuse. But if you are an artist or art critic, lets try to not use this word unless this REALLY is what we are talking about.

*Bonus: If anyone can “deconstruct” this post by showing how the words I have used undermine my intended message, you get 5 points.

also by Chris Jagers

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14 responses to “To Deconstruct, or NOT.”

  1. I thought it meant to ‘take apart’ or to break down a ‘whole’ something (like art, text, etc.) into its many rich and varied subsets of ‘meaning’. Your post reminds me of a brick or cinder block, (those examples aren’t really simple enough to illustrate the point I’m trying to make, but who cares?) With your writing, there just isn’t much to deconstruct. Pound it all down and the sum of the parts is no greater than the sadly lacking whole. Take heart, a good bit of art is like that. also.
    Your bonus points remind me of the coupons I often get in the mail that tell me in capital letters that I’ve won a boat or vacation to Disney Land/World or worse…San Antonio.

    You know what I like? I like the explicit instructions on the bag on microwave popcorn. There is no doubting which side is up.

  2. I thought deconstruct was examining the metaphysical texts or what has evolved into a metaphysical text or moreover a set of lawns to maintain.

  3. @Bruce

    You’re right … it does “sound” like “take apart.” That is an excellent example of the problem and probably THE most common misunderstanding of the concept.

  4. Seemingly something that persists takes on mythological value and becomes sacred for comparative reasons hence exigent fortitude.

  5. “Derrida’s primary material on deconstruction and his reluctance to elaborate his understanding of the term has meant that many secondary sources have attempted to give a more straightforward explanation than Derrida himself ever attempted.”
    Wikipedia,

    John D. Caputo says…”Whenever deconstruction finds a nutshell — a secure axiom or a pithy maxim — the very idea is to crack it open and disturb this tranquility. Indeed, that is a good rule of thumb in deconstruction. That is what deconstruction is all about, its very meaning and mission, if it has any. One might even say that cracking nutshells is what deconstruction is. In a nutshell. …Have we not run up against a paradox and an aporia [something impassable]?…the paralysis and impossibility of an aporia is just what impels deconstruction, what rouses it out of bed in the morning…” (Caputo 1997, p.32)

    Me personally, I get out of bed in the morning because I have to take a leak.

  6. Smash with a hammer = right
    Perhaps ‘you’ need to explain it in terms we all can understand. The first bit you wrote didn’t take. We all get irritated.

  7. Some language mavens say that usage creates meaning, so no matter what M. Derrida intended, to most people “deconstruct” now means ” to employ meaningless gibberish to expose meaningless gibberish.”

    “Begging the question” is a similar term, which in its most technically correct sense involves neither begging nor a question, so people use the term the way it sounds.

  8. M. Derrida didn’t like the term ‘deconstruct’ he thought it silly.

  9. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Wikipedia_is_not_a_dictionary

    Main Entry:
    de·con·struct Listen to the pronunciation of deconstruct
    Pronunciation:
    \ˌdē-kən-ˈstrəkt\
    Function:
    transitive verb
    Date:
    1973
    1 : to examine (as a work of literature) using the methods of deconstruction
    2 : to take apart or examine in order to reveal the basis or composition of often with the intention of exposing biases, flaws, or inconsistencies
    3 : to adapt or separate the elements of for use in an ironic or radically new way
    4 : destroy, demolish

    http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/deconstruct

  10. See Asshole’s first fake zen comment.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yLfkYO6sz6Q

  11. Deconstruct? I guess the 80′s never really went away. Can’t wait for de-evolution to make it back to the paperback/coffee shop intellectual circuit. At least the music is good!

  12. I had my first boyfriend in ’73 . Goodyear it was. I think Paul has come to my rescue!
    Funny. Intellectuals are almost always lacking, Theremin. But you know that already.
    Yours already,
    Bruce

  13. I’m as dim-whited as they come.
    So save your smart comment, Theremin.
    I hope Paul finds his element and his old friends in NY. I wish him the best of luck.
    (though , no one likes a hall monitor.)
    Go for it!, Paul.

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