hypothesized centre, substituting for another hypothesized centre, in the history of metaphysics. Deconstruction wants to clarify the instability upon which such a concept is grounded.
One can and indeed must work with ideas such as 'centre', 'man', 'truth', but must work with them knowing their instability; to do so is, in deconstructive terms, to place them "under erasure." To signify this graphically, use the strikethrough option on your computer's word processor.
Deconstructive reading can be applied to any text. It is a Theory of reading, not a Theory of literature. Derrida generally deconstructs philosophical writing, showing the metaphysical contradictions and the historicity of writing which lays claim to the absolute.
'Literature' is a form of writing clearly open to deconstructive reading, as it relies so heavily on the multiple meanings of words: on exclusions, on substitutions, on intertextuality, on filiations among meanings and signs, on the play of meaning, on repetition (hence significant difference). In Jakobson's phrasing, literature attends to (or, reading as literature attends to), the poetic function of the text. This, in (one guesses) a Derridean understanding would mean that the naive, thetic, transcendental reading of a text is com- plicated (folded-with) by a counter-reading which de- constructs the thetic impetus and claims.
The more 'metaphysical' or universal and 'meaningful' a text the more powerfully it can provoke deconstructive reading; similarly as 'reading as literature' implies a raising of meaning to the highest level of universality, 'reading as literature' also calls forth the potential for a strong counter-reading. As Derrida says, "the more it is written, the more it shakes up its own limits or lets them be thought."
Some attributes of 'literature' in the deconstructive view are:
1) That literature is an institution, brought into being by legal, social and political processes.
2) That literature is that which at the same time speaks the heart of the individual and which shows how the individual is made possible only by otherness, exteriority, institution, law, structures and meanings outside oneself.
3) That literature is both (simultaneously) a singular, unrepeatable event and a generalizable experience, and demonstrates the tension/ antithesis between these - as something which is original is also of necessity not original, or it could not have been thought.
4) It is possible that texts which 'confess' the highly mediated nature of our experience, texts which themselves throw the reader into the realm of complex, contested, symbolized, intertextual, interactive mediated experience, texts which therefore move closer than usual to deconstructing themselves, are in a sense closer to reality (that is, the truth of our real experience) than any other texts. This kind of text conforms to the kind of text known as 'literature' -- most clearly, to modernist literature, but to all texts which participate in one or more of the ironic, the playful, the explicitly intertextual, the explicitly symbolizing - from Renaissance love poetry to Milton to Swift to Fielding to Tennyson to Ondaatje.
Reading these texts in the deconstructive mode is, however, not a matter of 'decoding the message'; it is a matter of entering into the thoughtful play of contradiction, multiple references, and the ceaseless questioning of conclusions and responses. The less a text deconstructs itself, the more we can and must deconstruct it, that is, show the structures of thought and assumption which ground it and the exclusions which make its meaning possible. If, as Roman Jakobson suggests, a mark of literature is that it draws attention to its textuality, its constructed-ness, then literature may be said to be inherently closer to 'reality' than other forms of writing or discourse are, just when it seems to be furthest away, as our 'reality' is symbolic, signified, constructed.
The particular strategy of deconstructive reading is based on fissures in what we take to be the common- sense experience of texts and reality, and on reversals, oppositions and exclusions that are lying in wait
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