What is post-structuralism? Examine Derrida’s theory of ‘deconstruction’

Introduction

        Post structuralism is based on a member of basic assumptions/positions. These include: 1) putting all phenomena under one explanation, 2) there is a transcendental reality which overarches all other reality. Post structuralism is also critical of the concept of man as portrayed and developed by Enlightenment thought. The Enlightenment view that the individual is separate and whole and that the mind is the area where values evolve on the other hand the poststructuralists felt that the individual was embedded in social interaction. Such symbolic

beings are referred to by the word “subject”. We can then say that the subjects are intertwined with society and culture and occupy some place within them, and sociologically based sites. Further subjects are the actors in everyday reality. In fact it is the subjects that make up society and the activities therein, include work and entertainment. We could add here that the subjects meaning and values are embedded in the identities of groups and the activities which lead them to having an identity.

            Thus these approaches that we are discussing have often been dubbed “anti-humanist” because post-structuralism is against the divine or transcendental wholeness as was the humanist theories view. However, ‘antihumanist’ is a misnomer and is actually another way of looking at human beings one that is essentially not against individual persons. Further we find that while structuralism presents reality as relations between binary oppositions post-structuralism’s vision of reality is a fragmented one. Social process and cultural relations are not viewed as neat oppositions – on the other hand social and cultural processes are seen in bits and pieces and the

nature of reality is not seen as being amenable to total understanding of a whole process. Parts of social process can be focused upon and analysed. Poststructuralists are completely opposed to grand narratives and Meta theory feeling these are equivalent to a fiction and not really apprehending reality. Thus post-structural theories are themselves looking at the specific. Further

the physical self (the body) is studied in the context of time and history, and brought out of the closet so to speak. Similarly it is the details of discourse and cultural actions that are now looked into. Further the role of language in building social and cultural reality is also evident in the work of the poststructuralists (Godelier, 1972). Thus the fact that society and the individual are “linguistically bound” with each other and the relationship between the two is complex. This stand clearly negates the earlier assumptions of social scientists that language was easy to comprehend and use and that there were no ambiguities regarding language – use. This the post-structural theories negate as an erroneous assumption. In fact “reality’’ itself is constructed within the social matrix and continues to reproduce itself over time.

Derrida and Deconstruction

This brief note on structuralism is important for our understanding of the process of “deconstruction” initiated by Derrida. The basics of this structuralism are: 􀀀 positing of a centre of power or influence which begins and ends all social processes. This could be ‘mind’ or ‘self’ or even ‘God’. All structures are composed of binary pairs or oppositions one of which is more important than the other and often signified thus: +/- . These could be good/evil, god/man and so on.

Thus post structuralism began with Derrida’s critique of structuralism or rather this ‘deconstruction’ of language society and culture. The structuralists felt that man was chained to structures which controlled him. In contrast, however, Derrida feels that language can be reduced to writing which does not control the subjects. According to him all institutions and structures are

nothing but writing and incapable of controlling the individual. The structuralists saw order and stability in language, hence in all structures; the poststructuralists on the other hand saw language as essentially changing and quite unstable. This means that the language structure being itself in flux cannot create structures that constrain, restrain, or punish people, because language itself is disorderly, and the underlying laws of language cannot be ‘discovered’. This is what is the process of deconstruction which as the term suggests is a sort of conceptual dissection of the concept or process being studied. Derrida who coined the term deconstruction felt that logo centrism has dominated the Western countries. This way of perceiving has meant that writing has always been suppressed historically speaking. This has also meant that the freedom to analyse and think is taken away in a logocentric system. Derrida wants to dismantle this type of approach as it sets writing free from repression. Under these circumstances what takes place in the art form of traditional theatre is a representation of real life. Such a representation is extremely important, in fact a controlled theological theatre.

The Theological Theatre

Derrida contrasts ‘theatre of cruelty’ as against traditional theatre which has representational logic and renders traditional theatre as theological. Derrida writes: the stage is theological for as long as its structure, following the entirety of tradition comports the following elements: an author creator who, absent and from afar, is armed with a text and keeps watch over, assembles, regulates the time or the meaning of representation …. He lets representation represent him through representatives, directors or actors ….. who represent the thought of the “creator”. Finally the theological stage comports a passive, seated public, a public of spectators, of consumers, of enjoyers. (Derrida, 1978, Writing and Difference : p:235).

Derrida’s chosen alternative stage is one which will not be controlled by texts and authors but fall short of disorder/anarchy. Thus Derrida wants a fundamental change in traditional theatre/life which would mean a great change from the dominance of the writer (God?) on the stage (theatre) or in societal process as well leading closer towards freedom of the individual. Derrida feels thus that traditional theatre needs to be deconstructed. In this mode of suggestion is included a critique of society itself, which is, as mentioned earlier ‘logocentric.’ Derrida feels that in theatre it is the writer who puts together the script, and that this influence is so strong that it is akin to a dictatorship. Similarly in social processes the intellectual ideas and formulations are controlled by the intellectual authorities which create discourse.

Further we may add that post structuralists believe in the process of decentering because when these is no specific authoritarian pressure on society it becomes open ended and available for ‘play and difference’. This process is ongoing reflexive and open (Derrida, 1978 :297). Thus the present alone exists and it is the arena where social activity takes place. Thus we should try to find solutions by harking to the past. The future itself cannot be precisely predicted. However, there is no precise solution that Derrida provides except that in the end there is only writing, acting and play with difference. At this point in our presentation it would be instructive to look briefly at an example of post structural ideas and ideology in the case of Michel Foucault one of the major poststructuralists. One critical difference between Foucault and the structuralists is that while linguistics is the main influence for the former, it did not occur exclusively as the domain of ideas that have to be adopted or modified into a poststructuralist schema. That is post structural thinkers use a variety of ideas and influence and are not reduced to examining the relations between binary terms. This variety of sources in presenting an argument is what puts Foucault into the group of the poststructuralists.

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