What are the advantages and disadvantages of the deconstruction approach?

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kodwyer1 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Deconstruction is one of many methods for reading and interpreting literature. It is a theory developed by the philosopher Jacques Derrida.

The advantage of deconstruction is that the reader is encouraged to question traditional assumptions and prejudices. For example, there are many assumptions regarding binary oppositions. Many of our thoughts and opinions are fixed in these binary oppositions, such as man/woman, white/black, west/east, good/evil, etc. In these binary oppositions, the first in the pair, man, white, etc., is considered to be the norm and therefore superior, while the second, woman, black, etc., is considered deviant and inferior. We tend to think that these oppositions are definite and fixed, whereas in reality they are often blurred and are in fact artificial. The power of ideology is that it puts forward ideas as natural and factual, but deconstruction helps us to see that they are not natural at all.

A disadvantage of deconstruction might be the argument that it makes truth or knowledge impossible because everything can be deconstructed. So, truth and knowledge are only relative and often subjective. For example, a literary text will have a different meaning to each individual reader; it will have no absolute or fixed meaning. However, it is debatable whether this is a disadvantage or not.

Lynn Ramsson eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Deconstruction as a philosophy and a literary theory offers readers a way to engage with writing that is two-sided; deconstructivists deny that language has fixed and permanent meaning, which can either mean that language is freed up to mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people or, that language is actually tied to the voice of the privileged and authoritative, whose interpretations are the loudest and the most visible, thanks to the position of the interpreter.

The advantage of deconstruction is the freedom it provides a reader. Literature is "text," which means that the words on the page are merely words until a reader or a critic places meaning on the words, and in theory, anyone can be empowered by engaging with language and giving it meaning of his or her own. The disadvantage of deconstruction can also be found in this same exact freedom. Without any fixed meaning, language can cease to mean much of anything, as interpreters of text could argue that anything on a page can means anything else at all. This approach to engaging with literature does mean that literature is vulnerable to being ascribed meaning that becomes popular and widely accepted not because it is true and rational, but because the voice of the interpreter is simply the loudest of all other voices.