[epistemic status: do I look like I know anything about Derrida?]
So Jacques Derrida liked binaries.
Actually, that’s not true.
Jacques Derrida didn’t like binaries much, but he saw them everywhere. In art, in society, in structures of oppression, in words themselves, binaries loomed large in our hero’s benighted view. Each word was only given meaning by its opposite, by what it was not. It was defined by the Other.
And once you saw them, you couldn’t unsee them; and they were everywhere, like a particularly unimaginative wallpaper pattern repeating over and over and over again in increasingly unsubtle ways; as though some kind of tormented artist lackadaisically or perhaps despairingly had replicated the same shape, looped upon itself time and time again without end or variation-
And in these binaries, Derrida realized, there were often hierarchies- one idea placed above another, in some kind of bizarre society-wide nonconsensual 24/7 BDSM scene. (So not really like a BDSM scene at all, but it’s the thought that counts.)
Male above female, colonizer over colonized, abled over disabled, strong over weak: this was the way of the world.
In hindsight, it seems pretty obvious. What Derrida called binaries, picture books called opposites. Big/small. Smart/stupid. Male/female. There couldn’t be maleness without femaleness, bigness without smallness, smartness without stupidness.
And even the youngest child knows that it is better to be big than to be small, better to be smart than stupid, and better to be-
-well, let’s leave it at that for now.
But Derrida’s central conceit, his true innovation, was his invention of Deconstruction. (The press is still out on whether the name was conceived purely for alliterative purposes.) But Derrida’s Deconstruction was not a particularly unpleasant Magic: the Gathering card; nor was it an errant mage’s spell.
Instead it was a mysterious answer, a moving target that Derrida never wanted to define, because trying to describe it would define it too clearly. And then someone else would have to come up with something to oppose Deconstruction, and so it wouldn’t be the mystical ~Mysterious Engine of History~ anymore.
But let’s try to define Deconstruction anyway, because a hypothetical future!Eliezer Yudkowsky would be rolling in his cryonics pod if I didn’t address this.
Deconstruction is a process that happens when society’s binaries get fucked up with their internal contradiction shit. It’s a thing that happens in society. The ways it happens vary according to what the internal contradictions are- if you have a monarchy, then maybe your peasants decide to take power; if you have uranium mining colony maybe your subjects acquire nuclear weapons; I don’t know. And this sort of thing happens with all the binaries.
Maybe this sounds familiar to you. It certainly sounds familiar to me- it sounds like Hegel again. Fuck you, Hegel! I thought we were done thinking about you and your ~””Unity of the Unity of the Difference””~ schtick back when Prussia fell to ashes (and eventually Nazis).
But no, Derrida was very clear about one thing: Deconstruction is not Hegel’s mechanism of history, because the internal contradictions are never resolved. Instead, they remain in the new created thing to fuck it up all over again.
At first blush, Derrida’s theory seems to fit well with Godel’s Incompleteness Theorem, which is a point in its favor indeed. And it also doesn’t hypothesize an end state, which makes the theory stronger than Hegel’s World Spirit thing; it’s an antiprediction of a sort.
But it also… doesn’t ever have an end state. There’s never a point where we get to sit our asses down and go, “Welp, I don’t have to worry now, my binaries have contradicted themselves, the third term has been created, and everything is okay.” There will always be strife, there will always be contradictions to fuck things up, and language will always be inherently violent in some form.
I think that Derrida was okay with this. I think that he probably saw some desirable aspects of this situation. He doesn’t describe it pessimistically, I suppose, would be the main thing.
But here’s the thing.
I don’t like violence, and I don’t like strife. And, what’s more, I don’t think that language necessarily violent, nor do I think that it must be. (I’ll elaborate more on this later, since I understand this is a large issue in the postmodernist paradigm.)
And, sometime in the distant future, I want my children’s children’s children’s children’s………. children to look up at the stars from their towers of onyx and stone; and I want them to be able to rest. I want them to be able to use language as it suits them, to manipulate gender norms and gender roles to their personal desires; and I want them to be, yes, in flux, in movement; but not in strife.
If Deconstruction is rushing rapids, I am not the silence of dead things but a softly rippling spring over still rocks. If Deconstruction is the cacophony society makes as its institutions contradict themselves and its categories begin to no longer make sense, I am the peace that falls henceforth. If Deconstruction is the beginning of the end of gender, then I am the solidity of courtly dresses and genderqueer dress suits. I am silence, I am music, I am the vibrancy of colors in all their interrelated binary meaning.
I am what comes afterwards.
So I suppose that you could call me a reconstructionist.