An Appraisal to Derrida

In this section I will take up a few major objections raised against Derrida’s Deconstruction by his contemporaries, and afterwards will make an appraisal of deconstruction.

1. Criticism

There have been a series of criticisms leveled at Derrida’s work both by those antipathetic to his project, and others, who, while remaining committed to some of its procedures, are still critical towards it. Clearly I cannot do justice to the variety and sophistication of these objections here, so I will only take up a few.


The first is developed by theorists interested in developing radical political practices, whether these be class, race, or even sex-oriented, for example, Edward Said, Mark Poster, Michael Ryan, Spivak, Cixous, Irigaray. Their claim is that while Derrida’s playful interrogation of philosophical texts may have relevance and importance in challenging certain intellectual and academic practices, it remains elitist and unrelated to power struggles that function – on a more everyday level. Said and Ryan, for example, both claim that Derrida’s work is limited by the absence of a social, economic or political understanding of the more ’real’, ’pressing’ or necessary struggles, those waged outside of texts.[1]

Some literary critics hold that while deconstructive reading claims to be radically new, in actuality it is simply another version of New Criticism’s traditional methodology of close reading, cloaked in a theoretical vocabulary and reapplied to a series of texts in order to yield “new” readings.’ These opponents say that deconstructive readers of literary texts hunt for self-canceling binary oppositions in the same way the New Critics hunted for themes and ironies. In addition, according to this line of reasoning, the end results of both approaches are parallel: a New Critical reading totalizes the text by offering an all-inclusive meaning or interpretation, while a deconstructive reading totalizes it in exactly the opposite way-simply denying meaning or interpretation by showing how oppositions in the text cancel themselves out.

In many of his texts and interviews, Derrida rejects those who try to define deconstruction. Unrelenting, he calls into question the question ‘What is deconstruction?’ This question seeks the invariable being or essence of deconstruction; it seeks a clear and unequivocal meaning, an exact definition. However, does something like the deconstruction exists? Rather, says Derrida, there are many forms of deconstruction. Deconstructions. It is not possible to generate a fixed meaning that would remain constant when applied to various contexts.[2] This implies that deconstruction is not a method, system or theory in the traditional sense. Such concepts generally refer to a set of rules and methods that can continually be repeated and consistently applied. Derrida emphasizes that deconstruction is not a method because the strategy of deconstruction cannot simply be repeated, that is to say, independent of the (con)text that it addresses. “To present deconstruction as if it were a method, a system or a settled body of ideas would be to falsify its nature and lay oneself open to charges of reductive misunderstanding.”[3]


Deconstruction does not develop a new philosophical or scientific framework after it rejects metaphysical traditions as inadequate. This is why one cannot and should not speak of deconstructivism, since this could indicate a movement that has a common method as founding element. Many authors who are deterred by the destabilizing, disorganizing, and mind-broadening nature of deconstruction try to normalize, regulate or appropriate this kind of writing. They attempt to turn deconstruction into a manageable method having a closed set of rules that are invariably applied to a variety of texts. Deconstruction is resistant to a mere set of general rules that can be applied.[4] In addition, the strategy of deconstruction does not lead to a new theory that would set ‘everything straight’. Deconstruction does not elucidate texts in the traditional sense of attempting to grasp a unified content or theme. It is not a theory that defines meaning in order to determine how to find it.


Deconstruction is not a model for analysis either. Analysis means reduction. To analyze means to dissect compound, confusing, or obscure concepts and ideas to their simple and clear elements. The object of analysis is to completely unravel and resolve. However, the elements that are exposed by deconstruction are not singular; they can, in turn, be disassembled. Endlessly, Deconstruction has no end because the elements remain obscure, multiple, and complex; a complete unraveling is impossible by definition. In deconstruction heterogeneity, ambiguity, plurality, complexity, and multivocality are respected.


A systematic and complete exposition of the strategy of deconstruction is impossible. It goes against deconstruction. It disobeys deconstruction. Nevertheless, there is a certain coherence to Derrida’s texts and (non)concepts. Notions such as ‘trace‘, ‘dissemination’, and ‘différance’ stand in a certain relation to each other and dynamically harbor a communality that enable a different perspective on texts. Derrida admits that deconstruction produces some methodological consequences because there are some general rules that may be discerned from deconstruction and utilized in concrete situations. Deconstruction is a strategy which has been reiterated and recognized in various fields in the course of time; therefore, it may be called a method in this most general sense.

2. Appraisal


The process of ‘deconstruction’ which investigates the fundamentals of Western thought, does not do so in the hope that it will be able to remove these paradoxes or these contradictions; nor does it claim to be able to escape the exigencies of this tradition and set up a system of its own. Rather it recognizes that it is forced to use the very concepts it sees as being unsustainable in terms of the claims made for them. In short, it, too, must (at least provisionally) sustain these claims.[5]


Understanding the nexus of the theory itself and its intellectual environment is crucial here. Many elements of the style and content of Derrida’s work contribute to its legitimation and merit consideration: (1) Derrida’s writing and argumentation styles meet the cultural requirements of the French intellectual milieu; (2) the originality of Derrida’s work, its explicit association with philosophical classics, and its contribution to intellectual debates fulfill certain academic requirements; (3) the application of deconstruction to classics and its transcendence of the philosophical tradition give it prestige and contribute to the theory’s potential for intellectual diffusion, as does the repetitive nature of the framework. Academic and Cultural Requirements[6]


Deconstruction is a mode of reading philosophical texts as texts, as modes of writing, rather than expressions of ideas. It is a reading that shows up the instability in the relation between what the philosophical text asserts, and how it asserts it. The unstable interaction between philosophy’s own self representations and its actual practices, is made clear. Deconstruction makes explicit a latent tension between what

theory aspires to achieve, and how it attempts to do so.[7]


The movements of deconstruction do not destroy structures from the outside. They are not possible and effective, nor can they take accurate aim, except by inhabiting those structures. Inhabiting them in a certain way, because one always inhabits, and all the more when one does not suspect it. Operating necessarily from the inside, borrowing all from the old structure… the enterprise of deconstruction always in a certain way falls prey to its own work.[8]


Deconstruction can not provide rules for avoiding metaphysics and if deconstruction maintains that we are in tension between the metaphysical and its doing, it can not predict a priori what the best judgment of the tension might be in a given case: although something like equivocally is affirmed as the ‘ground’ of any meaning whatsoever, Derrida nowhere suggests that more equivocally is necessarily better than less. What deconstruction can say more ‘positively’ about ethical, political and philosophical issues does, however, depend on a certain affirmation of the undecidable. The argument goes as follows: for a decision to be worthy of name, it must be more then the simple determinative subsumption of a case under a rule.


Derrida’s philosophical enterprise claims to deconstruct pervasive shibboleths as these occur in both academic work and in the language of everyday life. Everyday language is not neutral; it bears within it the presuppositions and cultural assumptions of a whole tradition. At the same time, the critical reworking of philosophical basis of the tradition in question results, perhaps unexpectedly, in a new emphasis on the individual autonomy and creativeness of the researcher/philosopher/reader. May be this anti-populist yet-Platonic element in Of Grammatology is Derrida’s most important contribution to the thought of the post-war era.[9]


Deconstruction does not operate from an empirically present outside of philosophy since that outside is only the outside of philosophy. Deconstruction does not proceed from a phenomenologically existing exteriority that would claim to represent the truth of philosophy, because that truth is only the truth of philosophy itself. In order to undermine the heritage to which concepts belong, all the inherited concepts have on the contrary, mobilized. They are all indispensable. Derrida says, “The movements of deconstruction do not destroy structures from the outside. They are not possible and effective, nor can they take accurate aim, except by inhibiting those structures. Inhabiting them in a certain way, because one always inhibits, and all the more when one does not suspect it. Operating necessarily from the inside, borrowing them structurally, that is to say without being able to isolate their elements and atoms.”[10]


Derrida says that Deconstruction does not constitute a new method of reading.[11] Although it works to free itself from classical historical categories, it does not takes it as history but rather considers it as a text. Deconstruction contributes to the movement to dislocate logocentrism, a movement always already begun,[12] even in such texts as De interpretatione or the Gospel of John. Nevertheless, deconstruction works toward the dislocation, liberation, de-familiarization of texts in an underground, marginal, oppositional way. Deconstruction and Of Grammatology is the science of writing that studies and celebrates deconstruction’s ways, take shape within, yet work against the historico-metaphysical epoch” of which the closure rather than the end is visible.[13]


This, however, does not constitute an abandonment of traditional philosophical problems and texts for literary ones. Derrida later write in The Post Card, literature has always appeared unacceptable to me, a scandal, the moral fault par excellence.”[14] Working within a given structure of a text, deconstruction carefully examines and then looks beyond that structure, designating the crevice through which the yet unnameable glimmer beyond the closure can be glimpsed.[15]


Deconstruction is thus neither the critical destruction of logocentrism, nor is it merely an attempt to ’correct’ it: both these alternatives are impossible. The ’end of metaphysics’ is simply another metaphysical concept. Deconstruction does not offer a depth to the superficiality of metaphysics, nor a metatheoretical understanding of its lacunae. Its aim is the more provisional one of exploring the limits of tolerance of these metaphysical systems, pressing them to a point of cracking.[16]


Summing Up


In sum, deconstruction does not destroy textual structures from the outside but takes account of those structures by inhabiting them and by borrowing all of their subversive resources, until deconstruction falls prey in turn to its own work.[17] In this sense, deconstruction works between structuralism and post-structuralism by establishing its critique of a text on the foundation supplied by and within that text itself. Deconstruction thus, quiet consistently, gives no grounds for any doctrinal ontology, epistemology or ethics. It is perhaps a method, a viewpoint to see the philosophical speculations. Though Derrida’s work seems on first hand, managed the exploit of being intensely philosophical, and yet impervious to any imaginable philosophical refutation. But it is also a mistake (made most notably by Rorty) to assume that Derrida is to be praised in so far as he is doing something non-philosophical (story telling, literary invention) and criticized to the extent that he can not help himself sometimes getting involved in philosophical argumentation (it claims to pass right through philosophy), and demands the most philosophical readings.


However the question remains Derrida’s Deconstruction had been aimed at demolishing all sort of “ism” yet has deconstruction turned out to be another “ism”? If the answer is yes, then the sole purpose of deconstruction is lost for once and for all.

[1] Elizabeth gross, Derrida and the limits of philosophy, Theses Eleven, p. 37

[2] Oger E., Jacques Derrida, Kampen, Kok Agora, 1995, p. 38

[3] Christopher Noris, Derrida, p. 1

[4] Oger E., Jacques Derrida, Kampen, Kok Agora, 1995, p. 5

[5] John Lechte, Fifty Key Contemporary Thinkers, p.107

[6] Michele Lamont, “How to Become a Dominant French Philosopher: The Case of Jacques Derrida”, The American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 93, No. 3 (Nov., 1987), p. 591

[7] Derrida and the limits of philosophy, Theses Eleven, p. 29

[8] Of Grammatology, p. 24

[9] John Lechte, Fifty Key Contemporary Thinkers, p.109

[10] Of Grammatology, p. 42

[11] Of Grammatology, p. lxxxix

[12] Of Grammatology, p.4

[13] Of Grammatology, p. 4

[14] Jacques Derrida, Margins of Philosophy, p. 209

[15] Of Grammatology, p. 14

[16] Derrida and the limits of philosophy, Theses Eleven, p. 31

[17] Of Grammatology, p. 24


One thought on “An Appraisal to Derrida

  1. I’ve been trying to come to grips with Derrida’s philosophies and their application to literary criticism. Your blog offers clear, but thorough discussion and explanation of his work. Thankyou. My brain has unclenched 🙂

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