Deconstruction generally tries to demonstrate that any text is not a discrete whole but contains several irreconcilable and contradictory meanings; that any text therefore has more than one interpretation; that the text itself links these interpretations inextricably; that the incompatibility of these interpretations is irreducible; and thus that an interpretative reading cannot go beyond a certain point. Derrida refers to this point as an aporia in the text, and terms deconstructive reading "aporetic." J. Hillis Miller has described deconstruction this way: “Deconstruction is not a dismantling of the structure of a text, but a demonstration that it has already dismantled itself. Its apparently-solid ground is no rock, but thin air."
Sources of deconstructionDeconstruction emerged from the influence upon Derrida of several thinkers, including:
- Edmund Husserl. The greatest focus of Derrida's early work was on Husserl, from his dissertation (eventually published as The Problem of Genesis in Husserl's Philosophy), to his "Introduction" to Husserl's "Essay on the Origin of Geometry," to his first published paper, "'Genesis and Structure' and Phenomenology" (in Writing and Difference), and lastly to his important early work, Speech and Phenomena.
- Martin Heidegger. Heidegger's thought was a crucial influence on Derrida, and he conducted numerous readings of Heidegger, including the important early essay, "Ousia and Gramme: Note on a Note from Being and Time" (in Margins of Philosophy), to his study of Heidegger and Nazism entitled Of Spirit, to a series of papers entitled "Geschlecht."
- Sigmund Freud. Derrida has written extensively on Freud, beginning with the paper, "Freud and the Scene of Writing" (in Writing and Difference), and a long reading of Freud's Beyond the Pleasure Principle in his book, The Post Card. Jacques Lacan has also been read by Derrida, although the two writers to some extent avoided commenting on each others' work.
- Friedrich Nietzsche. Nietzsche's singular philosophical approach was an important forerunner of deconstruction, and Derrida devoted attention to his texts in Spurs: Nietzsche’s Styles and The Ear of the Other.
- Ferdinand de Saussure. Derrida's deconstruction in Of Grammatology of Saussure's structural linguistics was critical to his formulation of deconstruction, and his insertion of linguistic concerns into the heart of philosophy.
Habermas versus PostmodernistsHabermas offered some early criticisms in an essay, "Modernity versus Postmodernity" (1981), which has achieved wide recognition. In that essay, Habermas raises the issue of whether, in light of the failures of the twentieth century, we "should try to hold on to the intentions of the Enlightenment, feeble as they may be, or should we declare the entire project of modernity a lost cause?" Habermas refuses to give up on the possibility of a rational, "scientific" understanding of the life-world.
Habermas has several main criticisms of postmodernism.
- First, the postmodernists are equivocal about whether they are producing serious theory or literature.
- Second, Habermas feels that the postmodernists are animated by normative sentiments but the nature of those sentiments is concealed from the reader.
- Third, Habermas accuses postmodernism of being a totalizing perspective that fails "to differentiate phenomena and practices that occur within modern society".
- Lastly, Habermas asserts that postmodernists ignore that which Habermas finds absolutely central - namely, everyday life and its practices.
[At one point Habermas] “described Derrida’s method as being unable to provide a foundation for social critique.” [referring to Thomassen, L. “Introduction: Between Deconstruction and Rational Reconstruction” in ‘’The Derrida-Habermas Reader’’ ed. Thomassen L. The University of Chicago Press: Chicago Ill. Pp. 1-7. P.2].