Why Deconstruct?

Once you deconstruct a system by pointing out its inconsistencies, by showing where there is play in the system, Derrida says you have two choices. One is that you can throw out the whole structure as no good. Usually then you try to build another structure with no inconsistencies, no play. But of course, according to Derrida, that is impossible - that's just like substituting one centre for another and not seeing that the centre (or transcendental signified) is just a concept, which has "play" like any other, and not a fixed and stable "truth." The other option, which is Levi-Strauss's choice, is to keep using the structure, but to recognize that it is flawed. In Derrida's terms, this means to stop attributing "truth value" to a structure or system, but rather to see that system as a system, as a construct, as something built around a central idea that holds the whole thing in place, even though that central idea (like the idea of binary opposites) is flawed or even an illusion.

Derrida and Levi-Strauss call this latter method "bricolage," and the person that does it a "bricoleur." This is somebody who doesn't care about the purity or stability of the system s/he uses, but rather uses what's there to get a particular job done. In philosophical terms, I might want to talk about a belief system, so I refer to "god" because it serves as a useful illustration of something that a lot of people believe in; I don't assume that "god" refers to an actual being, or even to a coherent system of beliefs that situate "god" at the centre and that then provide a stable code of interpretation or behaviour. You might also think of tinker toys. Even though I may not have a complete set, and some of the parts are broken or don't fit together any more, I don't throw the whole set out and buy a new one (or a set of building blocks); I keep playing with the tinker toys, and I can even incorporate things that aren't from the original tinker toy set (such as building blocks, or alphabet blocks, or soup cans) to make what I want to make. That is bricolage.

Bricolage does not worry about the coherence of the words or ideas it uses. For example, you are a bricoleur if you talk about penis envy or the Oedipus complex and you don't know anything about psychoanalysis; you use the terms without having to acknowledge that the whole system of thought that produced these terms and ideas, i.e. Freudian psychoanalysis, is valid and "true." In fact, you don't care if psychoanalysis is true or not (since at heart you don't really believe in "truth" as an absolute, but only as something that emerges from a coherent system as a kind of illusion) so long as the terms and ideas are useful to you. Derrida contrasts the bricoleur with the engineer. The engineer designs buildings which have to be stable and have little or no play; the engineer has to create stable systems or nothing at all. He talks about the engineer as the person who sees himself as the centre of his own discourse, the origin of his own language. This guy thinks s/he speaks language, s/he originates language, from her/his own unique existence. The liberal humanist is usually an engineer in this respect. Bricolage is mythopoetic, not rational; it's more like play than like system.

The idea of bricolage produces a new way to talk about, and think about, systems without falling into trap of building a new system out of the ruins of an old one (88b). It provides a way to think without establishing a new centre, a subject, a privileged reference, an origin. Derrida reads Levi-Strauss' discussion of myth in The Raw and the Cooked as a kind of bricolage on p. 89. On p. 91 Derrida starts talking about the idea of "totalization". Totalization is desire to have a system, a Theory, a philosophy, that explains everything. The Puritans thought they had totalizing system - God is at the centre, is the source and origin of everything, and reference to God explains everything that happens. Derrida says that totalization is impossible: no philosophy or system explains absolutely everything. (You might recall the old science fiction cliché "there are some things man was not meant to know"). There are two ways in which totalization is impossible: there might be too much to say, too many things to account for; or (Derrida's explanation) there might be too much play in the system - elements can't be fixed and measured and accounted for. Think again about the kindergarten class. Totalization would be taking attendance; you can't do it if there are a million kids, even if they're all sitting at their desks. You also can't do it if there are 14 kids all running around all over the place. When a system lacks a centre, play becomes infinite; when a system has a center, play is limited or eliminated. All systems fall on a continuum between the two. On p. 91a&b, Derrida talks about the idea of supplementarity of the centre. Do not worry about this part. Settle for understanding the basic ideas about centre and play.

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