Derrida denied deconstruction was of any importanceAs I’ve mentioned previously, the last time I saw Jacques Derrida, who is credited with coining the term “deconstruction,” being interviewed he was quite adamant that “deconstruction” was not a concept of any importance, not even a theory, not even a word that he used anymore. ( See "Critical Thinking Skills" and "Family Values") Nonetheless, the word has taken on a life of its own and, while it may have gone out of fashion, it is still with us and showing no signs of disappearing from the language. (See footnotes.)
Postmodernist deconstructionist smuggeryIf you have ever tried to confront a postmodernist deconstructionist by pointing out that his work was contradictory, illogical, duplicitous, nonsensical and hypocritical, you would likely find him responding with glee, “Exactly!”—as if he were personally responsible for your recent intellectual epiphany. Given the deconstructionist stance that language is guaranteed to fail and is ultimately meaningless, you might wonder why Derrida seemed so happy with the tens of books (meaningless books, obviously) he had published. Why write at all? If you asked your postmodernist deconstructionist friend that question, the conversation would inevitably lead to a tangential monologue about a recent grant application winning hundreds of thousands of dollars, an upcoming publication in a prestigious journal, a conference in Hawaii, and high expectations of promotion.
"Ways of talking" in The Big Picture: On the Origins of Life, Meaning and the Universe ItselfSo how can we confront deconstruction? How can we address the malaise of postmodernist deconstructionist smuggery? Recently I found an answer in an unusual source, The Big Picture: On the Origins of Life, Meaning, and the Universe Itself, by a physicist named Sean Carroll. The answer lies in an expression that Carroll uses quite frequently: “ways of talking.” However, before we get there we need to have a better grasp of what deconstruction is/was.
Deconstruction begins with "Structure, Sign and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences"Whenever I taught deconstruction (no, I didn’t only teach the stuff I admired), I would focus on the definition that Derrida provided when he was being cross-examined after his seminal conference paper “Structure, Sign and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences” at Johns Hopkins University in 1966. (Excuse all of my ellipses which follow but I find they are necessary if you want to pick out what Derrida is saying from the obfuscating verbiage. I’ll put the full quote in a footnote, so you’ll know I’m not fudging.) Derrida said, “[. . . .] déconstruction [. . . . .] is simply a question of being alert to the implications, to the historical sedimentation of the language which we use [ . . . .].”*
Deconstruction is a very old, and not very complicated, idea
Deconstructionist ways of talking about language create meaninglessness
"Ways of talking" is a profound conceptCarroll’s description of that “innocuous sounding but secretly profound idea that there are many ways of talking about the world, each of which captures a different aspect of the underlying whole” helps us to understand how deconstructionist claims about the meaninglessness of language can be convincing even as we hold onto the strong conviction that we do manage to understand the meaning of language on a daily basis.
The "way of talking" can determine meaning or meaninglessness
Deconstructionists' "way of talking" about language makes it meaningless