7.4. Relativity of Meaning

Deconstruction is the most modern term in the construction foursome. The term is derived from the world of linguistics and originally had to do with textual interpretation. However, according to Christopher NORRIS (1982/ 1991), ‘to present ‘deconstruction’ as if it were a method, a system or a settled body of ideas would be to falsify its nature and lay oneself open to charges of reductive misunderstanding’.

The French philosopher Jacques Derrida (1930 – 2004) coined the term ‘deconstruction’ when he pointed to the systematic incoherence within a text. The argument focused on the instability in any text (or viewpoint) which uses contrastive or structural features to manifest itself. The criticism (of ‘post structuralism’) comes down – in a quadralectic view – to an acknowledgement that the ‘objectivity’ of the ‘Third Quadrant’ (as derived from dualistic thinking) is highly arbitrary. The (newly discovered) dynamic component inhibits, or at least greatly delimits, its function as a stable and authoritative reference point. Consequently, a ‘thing’ (anything) has to be placed between brackets. Deconstruction is, in a nutshell, the art of bracketing. Nothing is what it seems.

Derrida and his followers further realized that the (dynamic) ‘thing’ in the ‘Third Quadrant’ could not stand on its own. The process of a reversal of polarities should be included as a stage within the ‘Fourth Quadrant’: ‘the movements of deconstruction do not destroy structures from the outside. They are not possible and effective, nor can they accurate aim, except by inhabiting those structures.’ (Jacques Derrida in: Edmund Husserl’s ‘Origin of Geometry’: An Introduction; 1962/1978; p. 24/39).

A system (or structure) can be seen as a ‘Third Quadrant’ construct, built around a central idea that holds the whole thing in place (as a ‘Second Quadrant’ reconstruction). This pivotal idea – like the idea of binary opposites – can be flawed or even an illusion (as seen in a ‘Fourth Quadrant’ deconstruction), but can still be used as a workable option. Derrida and Levi-Strauss employed the term ‘bricolage’ to describe the process in which the unstable ingredients of a system are used ‘as if’ they were stable. A ‘bricoleur’ is somebody who doesn’t care about the purity of a system, but is more interested in its usefulness. The ‘bits and pieces’ in a communication invite an observer to play rather than to worry about their coherence.

Deconstruction seeks to undo both a given order of priorities and the very system of conceptual opposition that makes that order possible (NORRIS, 1982/1991; p. 31). Communication becomes, in this process, a game with certain accepted rules and subjective players. James S. HANS – in his book ‘The Play of the World’ (1981) – placed the capability of ‘play’ in the centre of attention. This term (introduced by Derrida) points to a ‘shaking of the system’ by attacking certain assumptions, which are based on a valuation by means of unstable oppositional binaries.

James Hans followed the French philosophers Gilles DELEUZE and Felix GUATTARI (1972; 1980 – both books are not recommended as light reading – in their ‘production’ approach (as a variant of ‘construction’). Play is, in their view, a triple phenomenon in which production, consumption, and enregisterment are part of the same process. Their socially inspired vision, riddled with an ‘extraordinary profusion of new notions and surprise concepts’ (like rhizomes, (thousand) plateaus, desiring machines and planes of consistency) will not be followed here, but the ‘play’ aspect – as a Fourth Quadrant characteristic – is worth noticing.

The loathsome term ‘post structuralism’ is sometimes used with respect to Derrida’s ‘structuralism from a phenomenological perspective’ (or, as we would say now: a view from the Fourth Quadrant towards a structure in the Third Quadrant). Indeed, those views do exist, and they might be ‘modern’ or even ‘post-modern’. These temporal (and linear) classifications do not enhance a better understanding if they are used in lower division thinking. Their meaning becomes, on the other hand, comprehensible if they are placed in a quadralectic setting.

Communication is primary about a shift in a division environment. All other (secondary) features, like demarcation, structural setting and perspective only make sense after that primal condition has been fulfilled. Every ‘-ism’ is, at best, a point of view, but it does not reach to the heart of the matter. There is no reason to regard ‘post structuralism’ (in a post-modern setting) as the pinnacle of human understanding at present. It would be better to see this cerebral ability to take a distance from certain views in philosophy (and linguistics) as the result of a wider (division) frame of mind.

Higher division thinking makes it possible to determine positions in a communication more accurately.

The term ‘deconstruction’, used in a Derridean sense, does not have a satisfactory sound. The neologism, as a composition of destruction and construction, has a ring of oppositional thinking, which is the very state of mind it will surpass. The negative meaning of the phenomenological critique (as ‘destruction’) was already noted by Martin Heidegger in his lecture courses on the ‘Basic Problems of Phenomenology’ (WS 1919-1920) (KISIEL, 1993; p. 61).

The nature of phenomenology has probably more to do with the ‘seeing of seeing’. ‘Phenomenology aims to think ‘the matters themselves’, and even more emphatically, to encounter them in their originality’ (p. 177). This latter typification is more sympathetic (then the idea of destruction), and probably more to the point. Deconstruction is supposed to lead to wider horizons. And Paul de Man’s comment that ‘no other word states so economically the impossibility to evaluate positively or negatively the inescapable evaluation it implies’ might hold, for the moment (de MAN, 1979; Preface, X).

The exceptio – as the fourth stage in the handling of a relic – indicates the delivery of the relic at its designated place of worshiping. It seems like an end station in a development, but that is not the right view. The putting into place is rather a beginning. The interaction between the relic and the worshiper has now found its right setting, after the previous stages of preparation, and can take off in earnest. Attention is impossible if we have not found a position (to let things happen) and create a distance (to measure the shift in a division). The exceptio is crucial, because it is here that the knowledge of the unknown becomes accessible.


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