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Of Grammatology

Of Grammatology is an over-wordy, overcomplicated attempt to use words in order to explain that using words is an unstable business.  If Derrida could write this simply, it would – of course – defeat his own case.  Outlined below are the recognisable key stages within the ‘method’ of desconstruction as outlined in Of Grammatology. Firstly however Deconstruction needs a text to deconstruct, just as a virus needs a body to infect.  Given a text to play with, a deconstructionist will invariably make the following moves:


1.  Recognise binary opposites


Derrida argues that Western thinking rests on ‘binary opposites’, ideas such as black/white, male/female, good/evil and so on.  In all such dualisms, one word is privileged, the other is underprivileged.  In his most famous work, Of Grammatology, Derrida recognises that speech and writing form one such dualism.  Living speech is regarded as primary, and is privileged over and above the secondary, less dynamic, more ambiguous partner, writing.


2.  Invert binary opposites


Having recognised the dualisms upon which language rests, Derrida’s next move is to invert them.  The underprivileged partner is promoted, the privileged demoted.  For instance, from a marginalised perspective, ‘good’ might be regarded as ‘evil’, and vice versa.  (‘Why do you call good evil and evil good’) The supposedly clear meaning of a text is then called into question.


3.  Perpetually inversion the inversions


These binaries are not simply inverted and left.  The moment an inversion has occurred, there is a new hierarchy to be inverted.  The constant search for the marginalised elements of a text ensure that the meaning of a text cannot settle into a once-for-all concrete rendering.  Meaning is in flux, and any claim to interpret a text is a claim to power that begs to be deconstructed.


These methodological points are merely pointers toward the spirit of deconstruction.  Over recent decades, Derrida himself has employed a variety of ‘buzz words’ that signify various elements of the deconstructionist strategy.  Logocentrism highlights the (supposed) Western  obsession with the belief that words are stable vehicles to convey concrete meaning.  Differance highlights the constant ‘deferal’ of ultimate meaning, and the constant possibility of a ‘different’ rendering of a word.  Khora highlights the fact that on the margins of any interpretation, is the yawning chasm of infinite possibility of otherness.


If one’s belief about a text ultimate betrays one’s belief about God, Derrida’s God is one with the will to devastate but not rebuild.  The theology of Deconstructionism can welcome a historical Jesus who de-constructs (like that of J.D.Crossan) but not one who also re-constructs.


Offered to the Postgraduate Seminar,

Trinity College, Bristol.

January, 2002