Example research essay topic: Using Deconstructive Analysis To Examine Literature – 1,533 words

Within many English departments around the country
today, radical claims about the nature of language
have entered into discussions about literary
texts. Bred out of the modern critical theory of
Deconstruction, these discussions question if the
true “meaning” of language can ever be determined.
As a mode of literary analysis, Deconstruction
essentially asserts that meaning within texts is
at best indeterminate and arbitrary, as the
language in which they are written is said to
“fail,” to be “self-contradictory.” In many
corners, this type of thinking has developed into
a more general trend which, in light of the
theory’s conclusions about language, further
disclaims that any notion of absolute authority
exists or ever did. Thus, in the present
post-structuralist, post-modern world of literary
criticism, this trend becomes manifest as an
attitude–a “mindset,” if you will–that maintains
that all knowledge, or any sense of “Truth,” is
relative too. This suggestion stands directly
against the heritage of Christianity, as well as
other religious traditions that are scripturally
inspired. Because the precepts underlying this
modern “scholastic” attitude have their
“foundations” in Deconstruction, this essay will
term the mental posture embracing these larger
claims about knowledge and truth as the
“deconstructive mindset,” for it is important to
recognize that such skepticism is willfully
adopted and maintained. At least in democratic
societies, no one forces an individual to choose
how he or she views the world.

One danger of
Deconstruction, however, or any other highly
theoretical system of inquiry that is not
self-critical, is that of too quickly accepting
the products of its analyses without questioning
the assumptions involved. Those espousing the
deconstructive mindset are no exception, as the
very “center” of deconstructive reasoning operates
on the presupposition that there is no “center” or
“ultimate signification.” Instead, only a
fluctuation and suspension of “disseminated”
meaning are said to exist in all things, in any
discussion of knowledge that we might have. Thus
rooted in such “logic,” the deconstructive mindset
closes off the possibility that anything exists
outside of or beyond itself, and this “eclipse”
eventually reaches its end in an act of
generalization. To put it more concretely, because
language is said to “subvert” its own meaning, to
be arbitrary, and because humanity records and
expresses knowledge via language, “Truth” likewise
is said to be subverted, to be arbitrary itself.
In response to these assertions, this essay will
explore some of the ways in which the
deconstructive mindset, as well as its
conclusions, “fails” itself to see beyond its own
self-affirming arguments, to question of itself.
Moreover, it will attempt to suggest the existence
of other possibilities about knowledge, language,
and human reality that should be considered
alongside this that Deconstruction suggests. To
begin, the essay will take a brief look at the
underlying premises and terminology of
Deconstruction. Then it will move on to the actual
statements of two leading deconstructionists, J.
Hillis Miller and Jacques Derrida.

Having set the
tenor of the thinking behind Deconstruction, the
exploration will then open up into a larger,
broader philosophical discussion of the
implications of such thought. Specifically, the
essay will look to see how the conclusions of the
literary theory-made-ethos stand in light of
Walker Percy’s understanding of modern science,
C.S. Lewis’ notion of the “New Man,” Eric
Voegelin’s conception of “Second Reality,” and
finally the Apostle Paul’s vision of human
knowledge. The “Free Play” of the Sign At the base
of the argument of Deconstruction is the notion
that there is an inevitable slippage or “interplay
of signification” within and between linguistic
“signs.”[2] A linguistic “sign” can be defined as
any written or oral utterance that we use to
communicate an idea; that is, the “sign” is the
actual vehicle (i.e., language) we use to express
ideas or thoughts to others. Furthermore, as such
a mediator between our thoughts and the actual
referent of our thoughts, the sign is understood
to be composed of two parts, the “signifier” and
the “signified.” The “signifier” is what might be
described as the sound-image or word that we use
to represent a concept in the abstract. This
abstract concept is in turn the “signified,”
existing either inside our minds (i.e., a mental
representation of a “bird”) or in the tangible
world (i.e., an actual “bird” in a tree).

any linguistic utterance, whether verbal (sound)
or graphic (image), is split between that which is
the conveyor (the sound-image/signifier) and that
which is conveyed (the concept/signified).[3] This
split is what is so important to Deconstruction,
as it opens up the opportunity for impurities of
meaning to infiltrate, as well as for
“misreadings” to occur. Next, because of its
dual-natured structure, the sign is said always to
have other “traces” of hidden meaning, traces
which, even though not fully present, are built
into the very mechanics of the sign. As Spivak,
translator of Derrida’s Of Grammatology, suggests,
“the structure of the sign is determined by the
trace or track of that other which is forever
absent. This other is of course never to be found
in its full meaning.”[4] Put in other terms, the
signs of language are said to have meaning only
when considered in relationship to other signs,
which through their very absence are said to be
present. For instance, the sign “bird” is said to
derive meaning by existing in distinction against
other signs such as “third,” and “heard,” which
offer contrast to it. The meaning of one word thus
is said to be contingent upon that of other words
by a process of difference and division.

notion of “difference” is fundamental to
Deconstruction, for it allows for the “free play”
of the sign. To illustrate this connection between
one sign and other signs further, Spivak continues
with the example that “even such empirical events
as answering a child’s question or consulting the
dictionary proclaim [that] one sign leads to
another and so on indefinitely.”[5] Consequently,
the sign is said to be in a “crisis.” Because
these traces are understood to exist within and
amidst a network of other endless chains of
signification, no “origin,” or LOGOS, is said to
exist, only a never ending circular pattern
leading from one signifier to another.
Deconstruction thus is an attempt to reveal the
trace-structure of language, a questioning of the
origin of meaning via the hidden “trace.” But as
Derrida suggests, “a meditation upon the trace
should undoubtedly teach us that there is no
origin,” because the trace is fundamentally
illusive as an absent presence, paradoxical though
that may sound.[6] For by the very fact that the
trace is said to be absent, it is said to be
present. In other words, the meaning of any given
sign is said to be simultaneously both “here” and
“there,” because one cannot have a “here” without
a “there.” Thus, not only does the sign contain a
place of “difference” between its two parts, the
signifier and the signified, but also there is a
necessary “difference” between itself and other
signs as well. These points of difference both
“inside” and “outside” of the sign thus serve as a
domain in which uncertain meaning can find its
niche, a domain in which the “free play” of
indeterminacy can reign triumphant. In
deconstructive thinking, then, neither a true
one-to-one relationship between the sign’s two
parts or between a given sign and the other
contexts in which it appears is admissible as a
possibility. To have a more concrete, though none
less radical, example of the extension of this
thought, one need only consider the theory’s
“erasure” of dichotomous terms.

makes the suggestion that no absolute dichotomy
exists between such “structuralist” oppositions as
Right/Wrong, Good/Evil, or Truth/Falsity.
Following the same argument of “difference,” the
identity of one term is said to be dependent upon
the “exclusion” of the other. This very exclusion,
however, in the thinking of deconstructionists, is
what connects the two, since neither could be said
to exist without its antonym for contrast.[7] One
term of the binary opposition thus is said to have
within it traces of the other term opposing it.
The symbiotic relationship “between” the two
antonyms consequently is said to force an
implosion that overturns any notion of hierarchy
between them, for when properly exposed, neither
can be “privileged” over the other. Instead, they
are mutually interdependent.[8] In short sum,
then, whether discussed through the means of the
“difference” between signifier and signified or
the symbiotic nature of language and its “traces,”
Deconstruction seeks to overthrow the notion that
language–or any text for that matter–is
self-contained, or self-supporting. As Derrida
admits of his grammatology, its “fundamental
condition” is the “undoing” of “logocentrism,”
logocentrism being the notion that language has an
ultimate authority resting in itself as connected
to a transcendent signified, or ultimate
origin.[9] Because of the inherent fluctuations of
meaning that it maintains to be present within all
of language, Deconstruction subsequently
understands all linguistic signs to be arbitrary
(i.e., word meaning can never be absolute).
Meaning in language to the deconstructionist,
therefore, is more of an absence than a
presence.[10] This notion of the arbitrary nature
of language, in a nutshell, is the underlying
premise of all deconstructive analysis..

Research essay sample on Using Deconstructive Analysis To Examine Literature