deconstruction


deconstruction

Method of philosophical and literary analysis, derived mainly from the work of Jacques Derrida, that questions the fundamental conceptual distinctions, or “oppositions,” in Western philosophy through a close examination of the language and logic of philosophical and literary texts. Such oppositions are characteristically “binary” and “hierarchical,” involving a pair of terms in which one member of the pair is assumed to be primary or fundamental, the other secondary or derivative; examples include nature/culture, speech/writing, and mind/body. To “deconstruct” an opposition is to explore the tensions and contradictions between the hierarchical ordering assumed in the text and other aspects of the text's meaning, especially its figurative or performative aspects. The deconstruction “displaces” the opposition by showing that neither term is primary; the opposition is a product, or “construction,” of the text rather than something given independently of it. The speech/writing opposition, according to which speech is “present” to the speaker or author and writing “absent,” is a manifestation of what Derrida calls the “logocentrism” of Western culture—i.e., the general assumption that there is a realm of “truth” existing prior to and independent of its representation by linguistic signs. In polemical discussions about intellectual trends of the late 20th century, deconstruction was sometimes used pejoratively to suggest nihilism and frivolous skepticism. In popular usage the term has come to mean a critical dismantling of tradition and traditional modes of thought. See also postmodernism; poststructuralism.

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