Of all the theories outlined in this guide, Deconstruction poses the most problems for the uninitiated reader. The translations from the French are, again, difficult and the ideas difficult to grasp. We will therefore provide a detailed analysis of the basic theories and carry out a new reading of one of the key essays of Deconstructive thought. Deconstruction is a post-structuralist Theory, based largely but not exclusively on the writings of the Paris-based Jacques Derrida. It is in the first instance a philosophical Theory and a Theory directed towards the (re-) reading of philosophical writings. Its impact on literature, mediated in North America largely through the influences of theorists at Yale University, is based in part on the fact that deconstruction sees all writing as a complex historical, cultural process rooted in the relations of texts to each other and in the institutions and conventions of writing, in part on the sophistication and intensity of its sense that human knowledge is not as controllable or as cogent as Western thought would have it and that language operates in subtle and often contradictory ways, so that certainty will always elude us.


It is necessary to understand Deconstructive ideas on the nature of reality. Reality as we understand it is constructed of certain deep structural principles or organizations which may be configured differently on the level of experienced life, as we both operate and interpret them differently. Language, for instance, is composed of basic resources (langue) from which individual instances of its use are drawn (parole); cultures are formed through basic relations of economic production (the Marxist conception of the 'base'), but these may appear differently as cultures (economies, in the economic and more general sense) configure their ideas and arrangements (the 'superstructure'). The idea is that there are basic structures which are operationalised according to certain transformative rules in relation to the particulars of specific situations.

There is no unmediated knowledge of 'reality': knowledge is symbolic; what we 'know' are signs; signs gain their meaning from their distinction from other signs. Therefore there is no knowledge of 'reality', but only of symbolized, constructed experience. Our 'knowing of our experience' is itself then mediated knowing, which is the only thing knowing can be. There is no 'pure' knowledge of reality except, as the early theorist of semiotics Charles Sanders Pierce suggests, at an instantaneous and inarticulable level: one can, Pierce says, experience, but not know, reality-in-itself. This is not to say that this experience of the real is not real; it is: we live in a real world. But we live particularly in our codification, our system of signs. If we cannot translate any experience into symbolic form then we cannot 'know' it in a way that is useful to us; if we do know, then our knowledge is only knowledge through our codes and our signifying systems - that is, mediated knowledge. (As when we might experience an earthquake without immediately knowing what it is, and so for a moment experience only something like disoriented panic).

All texts are mediated (are only the process of mediation), in many ways: they are mediated by language, they are mediated by cultural systems, including ideologies and symbols, they are mediated by the conventions of genres, they are mediated by the world of intertextuality which is textuality's only true home, they are mediated by the structure of ideas and practices which we call reading (there is no 'pure reading', there is only reading according to some tradition, for some purpose). Texts are mediated in their construction, in their communication, and in their reception. Texts cannot, by definition, simply transfer an author's ideas. Our mediated knowledge works as all signs systems work, not by identification but by differences and through codes.

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