Deconstruct Me

Last night, driving home from an errand, I came to a startling realization.  To explain I must reminisce.

I took a class in college which would definitely rank as one of my least favorite classes ever, maybe even top honors in that category.  It wasn’t the professor; he was clever, engaging and sneaky in a way I enjoyed.  He threw out lures to his students, sometimes valid and sometimes feints.  I was too shy and lacking confidence to pounce; however, I loved watching the reactions when one of my classmates was brilliantly correct or impetuously wrong.  Most of the time my guesses confirmed what I had suspected—I can get it, I just get it slower than everyone else.  I didn’t dislike the class because of fellow classmates either.  We were all relative beginners in our discipline; this was a course required early in our degree plans.  I respected most of my fellow scholars and easily ignored the rest.  It wasn’t even the content.  Though I didn’t enjoy everything, I could recognize the quality and purpose in the selection.  No, what I truly despised was my professor’s preferred method of study, deconstruction.

From Wikipedia:

Deconstruction is the name which was given by French philosopher Jacques Derrida to an approach (whether in philosophy, literary analysis, or in other fields) which rigorously pursues the meaning of a text to the point of undoing the oppositions on which it is apparently founded, and to the point of showing that those foundations are irreducibly complex, unstable or impossible.

Deconstruction generally attempts to demonstrate that any text is not a discrete whole but contains several irreconcilable and contradictory meanings; that any text therefore has more than one interpretation; that the text itself links these interpretations inextricably; that the incompatibility of these interpretations is irreducible; and thus that an interpretative reading cannot go beyond a certain point. Derrida refers to this point as an aporia in the text, and terms deconstructive reading “aporetic.” J. Hillis Miller has described deconstruction this way: “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.”[1]

For me, this meant that the literature we read was to be dissected like a frog in biology.  I was so disturbed by the process and so appalled at the exhibit I could no longer interact with the text as before.  The story’s validity, its worth, its shared life with the reader, they were all gone.  It had become nothing more than a bloody mass of verbal cells sliced and skewered to the page.

Can you tell I get a little distressed just reading about it?  So why does it upset me?  English majors and others analyze and critique things daily, even hourly.  I do it as I try to comprehend my children’s  aversion to passing their classes.  I do it when I read a new, difficult book or even the Bible.  So why does this method bother me?

Derrida states that deconstruction is not an analysis in the traditional sense.[28] This is because the possibility of analysis is predicated on the possibility of breaking up the text being analyzed into elemental component parts. Derrida argues that there are no self-sufficient units of meaning in a text. This is because individual words or sentences in a text can only be properly understood in terms of how they fit into the larger structure of the text and language itself.

So . . . either English majors are spinning their wheels using circular, ineffective methods, or we should all adopt deconstruction and point out the negative, worthlessness of all literary.  I can’t do that.

Finally, to my original realization, I understood why this bothered me so deeply (at least in part).  I like the mystique of literature.  I believe in the power of words.  I don’t want to understand everything about it.  I want to experience it, join my inner self with it, and create a new understanding.  I did not like this class because deconstruction felt more like a personal attack that denied me, my indefinable soul.   If we destroyed (that’s what it felt like to me) the work and thus the instinctive connections readers made to the work, aren’t we denying the reader as well.

I admit to preferring happy endings.  I also acknowledge the irony in this very post of critically analyzing my responses.  I called a friend last night and discussed my revelation.  I explained it this way, “I like being a mystery.”   I like to surprise people, and I like being amazed.  There have been people in my life that I have had an instant, overwhelming response to—I really want to know that person!  I wanted to find out about them, become friends with them, and observe them with a smile (similar to how I feel proudly watching my children).  I feel the same way about literature, even the works I dislike.  I will analyze to help my understanding, but I will still respect its unique merit.

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About Yousei Hime

This is the journal of a poetic rabbit. Within the warren you'll find poetry, short stories, essays, art, book and movie reviews, and other odds and ends. If you happen to meet the fey princess, be courteous. This rabbit did and was forever changed.
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10 Responses to Deconstruct Me

  1. Meredith says:

    I quite like deconstruction as a tool with which to understand a poem, play or whatever that I already like. If I don’t already like the piece, then deconstruction makes it truly horrible. It’s like seeing someone you think is cute nude, as opposed to seeing someone you don’t think is cute nude!

    • Yousei Hime says:

      Thank you for your comment. I will admit that I like some aspects of deconstruction, just not the degree to which it was originally intended (at least the way I read it). I have to say, your comment brought a rush of disturbing images to mind. Had to shake my head to dislodge them before they took hold. I kept thinking, “Michelangelo’s David, Michelangelo’s David, Michelangelo’s David.” Seriously, thanks for reading it. I really just wanted to capture an understanding I had about myself, not knock a useful literary theory. Come back and read again sometime.

  2. The job of the artist is always to deepen the mystery.
    – Francis Bacon

    Just thought you might like this quote. It’s by a visual artist, not literary. But as far as I’m concerned, it still fits. I jumped out of the “English” world of my professor mother, and into the visual art world decades ago. Of course many of the art historians are deeply into deconstruction..

    in the college years
    my mind was deconstructed–
    I watch the moon rise

    This one is shortly to be posted on my blog! Thanks. Who would think three lines would affect me so much?

    And I am already loving your blog, BTW.

    • Yousei Hime says:

      Thank you for sharing. I love the quote! I believe poetry and the visual arts have strong bonds, close cousins maybe. Haiku especially feels close to visual art, being a verbal snapshot of a moment in time. Let’s write better and better pictures!

  3. heartshapedlies says:

    Probably the reason why I’ll never like Shakespeare. Because I was never given the chance to. Having it dissected and character sketches analysed and overanalysed before I can form an opinion myself has killed it. The thing I love about reading is the journey and how it subtly affects and moves me along the way. Literature in school somehow makes me more muddled up and annoyed by the need to know things and interpret things. It’s kind of why I’m planning to study Psychology next year and not English. I can’t really do English papers anyway. I go off tangent and waver from what’s asked all the time! :I

    • Yousei Hime says:

      🙂 I understand. For me, a little analysis goes a long way. Shakespeare is tough for anyone. Please don’t give up on him though. I admit I prefer to watch a good production, rather than read a play. In his defense, Shakespeare has some of the richest, cleverest, naughtiest language in writing. You might try watching a DVD, say Kenneth Brannagh’s Much Ado About Nothing, then reading your favorite bits to really enjoy the writing.

  4. Carmen says:

    Hear, hear, my friend.

    I firmly believe that literary criticism was invented to take the joy out of reading, and that deconstructionism may be the most joyless of all. I was sooooo happy when I finished grad school, so that I could quit analyzing literature and return to reading it. It took me a year before I could read for pleasure again. Isn’t that sad?

    • Yousei Hime says:

      I definitely had a similar experience; my analytical circuits were burned out. I didn’t stop reading; instead I completely immersed myself in utter fluff. Then one day I thought, “There has to be better stuff to read than this.” It took several years for those thoughts to spark the explication engine to life. I’m happy to say I joyfully engage in literary discussions whenever I have an opportunity. (I still read fluff to escape severe cases of reality overload.)

  5. owlren says:

    I find your response to deconstruction quite interesting. I’m in my second literary theory class as we speak, and so, am quite familiar with deconstruction. I have to say that I like it up to a point, as I think it can get a little ridiculous if we take it to the level of word by word. I find it more useful to take some of its principles and combine them with feminism, queer theory, postcolonial theory, and maybe a little Marxim, but that combination is just my personal theoretical position. I agree with you that ambiguity/mystery in texts is part of what makes them so interesting, but I do have quite a bit of fun trying to figure out what those ambiguities could possibly mean as well.

    • Yousei Hime says:

      Thank you so much for reading this post. I’m sure you are in a select and definitely prized minority. I still feel I missed part of the revelation I was trying to describe. Ironically, my negative reaction to the extreme deconstruction was almost down to a cellular level. I completely agree with you on the combined techniques method. Don’t we all do that everyday–use our proven methods, pull in other standards if need, and seek out new ones if necessary? I too love puzzles; that’s why my reaction to that class surprised me so much. I will confess I find the process appealing if is approached as, say mechanics, dismantling something to see how beautifully it was constructed and how wonderously it works. Thanks again. I look forward to reading your future work.

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