Sunday, March 13, 2016


251. Deconstruction

Here I connect Derrida’s notion of ‘deconstruction’ with Bergson’s notion of ‘duration’, discussed in preceding items in this blog.

Derrida aimed at criticism of established intellectual categories, taking them apart and reconstructing or replacing them. Not just destruction but creative destruction.  In particular, he toppled binary opposites, such as presence/absence, differentiation/undifferentiatedness, and justice/injustice, showing how they can morph into each other. Desire for the presence of a distant ideal or love may upon approach turn into abhorrence and a wish for distance.  

Also, Derrida claimed that texts do not have one single, ‘true’ meaning or interpretation, presumably what the author ‘really meant’. Meaning is indeterminate. Derrida allows for alternative interpretations that may go on developing after the author has died.

His argument is incontrovertible, in my view. If one accepts that interpretation is assimilation into the cognitive frames of the reader/listener, and that this means that it is partly constructed, or contaminated, or hybridized, by those mental frames, then multiplicity of interpretation follows. Mental frames, constructed by different people in different circumstances, differ. I called this ‘cognitive distance’ in previous items of this blog.

This does not mean that any interpretation is as good as any other. It is not a case of ‘anything goes’. One needs to be prepared to give arguments for one’s interpretation, to be subjected to debate. That is the notion of truth as ‘warranted assertibility’ that I adopted in this blog.

Now, there seems to be a connection between Derrida’s deconstruction and Bergson’s duration. In both we find the process view of change, transformation, emergence. With Bergson the emphasis lies on the creative (connected with his ‘creative evolution’), while with Derrida the emphasis lies on the destruction, but I think the intention is the same.

An important part of my philosophical programme is, and has been for a long time, to clarify and further develop the workings of creative destruction. That is the aim of my ‘theory’ (if it can be called that) of the ‘cycle of invention’ presented earlier in this blog and summarized in the preceding item.

In that cycle there is a Derrida-like alternation of the opposites of unity and differentiation, and of maintenance and transformation of form.

However, while with Derrida deconstruction appears to be ongoing, without end or pause, here, while here is no end there is pause, alternation also of stability and change. Stability, with standardization, is needed for making judgements, including moral ones, and decisions, and taking action, achieving efficiency, and encountering obstacles and new opportunities that feed renewed change. That kind of pragmatics does not appear to be present in Derrida’s deconstruction. I will return to this point in a later item.

An issue, arising with both Bergson and Derrida, now is this: what remains of analysis, the break-up of a whole into simple, fundamental elements, which has been the ideal of much philosophy, crystallized in ‘analytic philosophy’?

Like abstraction, which is a different kind of reduction, we need analysis, in science and in reconstruction everywhere.

The gist of the thought of both Bergson and Derrida is, I think, that while the decomposition of analysis is fine, and indeed needed, one should recognize that the meaning of elements changes in decomposition and abstraction, in preparation of a novel composition where new meanings arise.

As Derrida noted, the quest for ultimate, pure simplicity and singularity of fundamental elements, delved in analysis, is metaphysical, as much as, and perhaps equivalent to, the quest for absolutes in abstraction.

While analysis is a grinding down, abstraction is a distillation, rarefication, losing the sediment of experience, the salt of the earth. In both analysis and abstraction there is loss of context, of the richness, the variety and variability, of life. In re-construction, elements again acquire the whole-some richness of specific individual conditions.

Losing context, brought into isolation, in analysis and abstraction, elements shrink their actual meaning, losing specificity, becoming a mere item in a repertoire of potential meanings. Subsequently, inserted anew in a different context, in novel composition, they regain a new, specific meaning, entangled with particulars of the new context. I will expand on this in the following item, in a discussion of the ‘hermeneutic circle’.