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Valar Qringaomis

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Thursday, September 25, 2014

Deconstruction

"Deconstruction made its first inroads in the United States through departments of literary criticism, which sought new strategies for interpreting literary texts. As a result, deconstruction became associated and sometimes confused with other trends, including reader response theory, which argues that a text's meaning is produced through the reader's process of encountering it.

In Europe, on the other hand, deconstruction was understood as a response to structuralism; it is therefore sometimes referred to as a "poststructuralist" approach. Structuralism argued that individual thought was shaped by linguistic structures. It therefore denied or at least severely deemphasized the relative autonomy of subjects in determining cultural meanings; indeed, it seemed virtually to dissolve the subject into the larger forces of culture. Deconstruction attacked the assumption that these structures of meaning were stable, universal, or ahistorical. However, it did not challenge structuralism's views about the cultural construction of human subjects. Social theories that attempt to reduce human thought and action to cultural structures are sometimes called "antihumanist." Ironically, then, deconstruction suffered the curious fate of being an antihumanist theory that nevertheless was often understood in the United States as making the radically subjectivist claim that texts mean whatever a person wants them to mean. The misunderstandings that deconstruction has engendered are partly due to the obscurity of expression that often distinguishes the work of its adherents...

Critical legal scholars were originally attracted to deconstruction for three reasons. First, because deconstruction claimed that meanings were inherently unstable, it seemed to buttress the thesis that legal decisionmaking was indeterminate. This, in turn, appeared to support the familiar CLS emphasis on the political character of legal decisionmaking. (Dalton, 1984; Frug 1984). Second, because deconstruction discovered instability and indeterminacy everywhere, it seemed to support the notion that social structures were contingent and social meanings malleable and fluid. This supported CLS claims that legal ideology rested on claims of the "false necessity" of social and legal structures that seemed reasonable in theory but were oppressive in practice. (Peller 1985). Third, because deconstruction seemed to show that all texts undermined their own logic and had multiple meanings that conflicted with each other, deconstruction could be used for the purpose of "trashing"-- that is, showing that particular legal doctrines or legal arguments were fundamentally incoherent...

Like critical legal scholars, feminists also found deconstruction useful as a method of ideological critique, directed in this case at patriarchal thought and institutions. Feminists could use deconstructive arguments to expose and critique the suppression and marginalization of things associated with women and femininity. Moreover, the iterability and instability of social meanings seemed to undermine any potentially pessimistic suggestions in radical feminism that patriarchy was a unconquerable monolith, or that patriarchy's control of social construction had been so successful that women's very desires and identities were nothing more than the products of male power and privilege. Because social meanings are iterable, they are fluid and unstable, and always present possibilities of interpretive variance and play. Thus, the deconstructive theory of meaning seemed to suggest potential avenues of resistance to patriarchy, and seemed to allow if not guarantee the possibility of feminist critique.

Unfortunately, deconstruction tends to destabilize not only patriarchy, but also femininity and feminine identity. Deconstructive arguments that "women's perspectives," "women's interests," or "femininity" have been suppressed or marginalized in existing culture beg two important questions: The first is whether there can be such relatively stable and determinate entities; the second is whether they do not already form nested oppositions with what they are claimed to oppose. Thus, feminists employing deconstructive critiques have been faced with two important yet potentially conflicting goals: to identify and honor the feminine that has been suppressed or marginalized, and to recognize the instability and contested nature of the identity so honored (Cornell 1991)."

--- Deconstruction / Jack M. Balkin
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