Japanese by Spring

by Ishmael Reed
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In chapter 34 on the top of page 132 of Japanese by Spring, there is a section where the author makes a joke about deconstructionists at the expense of others, but I don't quite understand it and was wondering if it could be further explained?

In Japanese by Spring, the newly-promoted Professor Puttbutt takes great delight in firing all the deconstructionists on campus. Those who admit the simple English meaning of the words "you're fired" are allowed to finish the semester. Those who claim that the words cannot have any reference to anything outside the text itself must leave immediately.

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In Japanese by Spring , Professor Benjamin Puttbutt is suddenly promoted to a position of power when the college at which he works is taken over by Japanese investors, and his Japanese language tutor becomes the new president. Puttbutt immediately begins to take revenge on all the faculty and administrators...

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In Japanese by Spring, Professor Benjamin Puttbutt is suddenly promoted to a position of power when the college at which he works is taken over by Japanese investors, and his Japanese language tutor becomes the new president. Puttbutt immediately begins to take revenge on all the faculty and administrators who have particularly bothered him over the years. He is particularly pleased to get rid of the literary theorists in the English department:

He had sent a letter to the campus deconstructionists, informing them of their termination. The letters said you’re fired. Those who believed that the words “you’re fired” meant exactly that could finish the semester. Those who felt that the words only referred to themselves would have to leave immediately.

Jokes are generally ruined by being explained, but perhaps it is fitting that a joke about deconstructionism should itself be deconstructed. Deconstructionists argue that any text has a myriad of contradictory meanings, and that words refer only to words, not to objects or concepts. There is, as Derrida put it, nothing outside the text. Puttbutt is not alone in finding this an irritating way to look at language, since most people believe that the whole purpose of language is to convey meaning. Puttbutt therefore sends every deconstructionist on campus the message "you're fired." The ones who respond as most people would, understanding that the letter conveys a message that their employment is terminated, are at least allowed to finish the semester. However, those who are such die-hard deconstructionists that they cannot admit that any arrangement of words has a meaning are forced to leave immediately.

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