Deconstruction Assumptions

In deconstruction, the basic structuralist principle of difference is located ontologically as well as semiotically: at the very point of beingness of every thing there is difference - or "différance" - because only through différance is one thing not another thing instead. Différance comes before being. Similarly, a trace comes before the presence of a thing (because anything which is is itself by virtue of not being something else: by differing; and that which it differs from remains as a trace, that whose absence is necessary for it to be). So too writing precedes speech - a system of differences precedes any location of meaning in articulation.

Deconstruction, as do other post-structural theories, declines the structuralist assumption that structural principles are essences - that there are universal structural principles of language which exist 'before' the incidence of language. (The emphasis on the concrete, historical and contingent in opposition to the eternalities of essence reveals one of deconstruction's filiations with existentialism.) All 'principles' of existence (i.e., of experience) are historically situated and are structured by the interplay of individual experience and institutional force, through the language, symbols, environment, exclusions and oppositions of the moment (and of the previous moments through which this one is constructed). Structures are historical, temporary, contingent, operating through differentiation and displacement.

There is no outside of the text; everything that we can know is text, that is, is constructed of signs in relationship. This claim does not mean that there is nothing outside of language: the claim refers to the realm of human knowledge, not to the realm of concrete existence (elusive as that might be). Deconstruction does not deny the existence of an independent, physical world. All texts are constituted by difference from other texts (therefore similarity to them). Any text includes that which it excludes, and exists in its differences from / filiations with other texts. Opposites are already united; they cannot be opposites otherwise. Nor can they be a unity, and be themselves. They are the alternating imprint of one another. There is no nihilism without logocentrism, no logocentrism without nihilism, no presence without absence, no absence without presence, and so forth. Inherent in language itself is difference and deferral; it is impossible for language to be identical with its referents. A word or any other sign can only mobilize the play of the fields of signs from which it is distinguished, and from which it is of necessity removed. Inherent in language also is the contest between grammar and rhetoric. Grammar is the syntagmatic protocol, meaning as created by placement; rhetoric is the intertextual system of signs which makes what the grammar means, mean something else (irony and metaphor are principal examples). Grammatical and rhetorical meaning cannot be identical, and one may well not be able to assign a priority of 'meaning'.

In a sense, deconstruction is profoundly historical: it sees temporality as intrinsic to meaning, in that meaning can only be structured against that which is before it, which is structured against that which is before that. Meaning is that which differs, and which defers. The claim is not that there is no meaning -- that is a misunderstanding of deconstruction: the claim is that what we take to be meaning is a shifting field of relations in which there is no stable point, in which dynamic opposing meanings may be present simultaneously, in which the meaning is textually modulated in a interweaving play of texts. Meaning circulates, it is always meaning by difference, by being other. The meaning-through-difference creates/draws on 'traces' or 'filiations', themselves in some senses historical. Deconstruction is also historical insofar and it functions etymologically, turning to the root, often metaphorical, meanings of words for an understanding of how they function within the web of differentiation which spans the chasm of the non-human over which we constantly live.

As deconstruction works on (in both senses of 'works on') the web of differentiation which spans the chasm of the non-human over which we constantly live, it is intrinsically and deeply human and humane. It is affirmative of the multiplicity, the paradoxes, the richness and vibrancy, of our life as signifying beings. If it seems to deny affirmation, it is because it knows that affirmation is always, intimately and compellingly, itself, only in the presence of and by virtue of negation. To fully live we must embrace our deaths.

If deconstruction seems to oppose Humanism, it is because Humanism operates by substituting the concept 'man' for the concept 'God' (or 'order', 'nature', 'Truth', 'logos', etc.) and so placing 'man' as the unproblematic ground of meaningfulness for human life. It should be clear, however, that 'man' is then a

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