What is aporia?
The concept of aporia in Derrida's writings, and that of subsequent deconstructivists, is fairly complex. Effectively, Derrida is saying that aporia is a situation where the very elements that make a thing possible are simultaneously the same ones that make the thing impossible. There are, according to Derrida, a number of social concepts and situations that are sustained only by the internal tension wherein nobody actually acknowledges that they do not make sense at all. Incidences of aporia leave us in a sort of Schroedinger's Box situation wherein a concept can only exist if we do not examine it too closely from any angle. As soon as it is deconstructed, it becomes impossible.
Hospitality, for example, is logically impossible because in order to be hospitable, one must own the property and means to use for hosting, which thus puts the host in a position of power over his guests. If he is not in some way controlling his guests, this suggests that the guests are abusing his hospitality by invading his space and taking his food, but if he is controlling them, then how can he be truly hospitable? Because we must exert some kind of control in order to be hospitable, we cannot invite anyone, unconditionally, into our homes; yet to be truly hospitable, conceptually, we should relinquish all claims to what we have so that we can give it to others. Yet, if we relinquish control, we relinquish the boundaries needed for hospitality to be hospitality, rather than simply people coming in off the street and taking our food by force...etc, etc. The issue is paradoxical. The concept of hospitality, when examined too closely, is a logical fallacy.
Having established what aporia means using various abstract examples, Derrida can then go on to deconstruct literary texts and indicate elements within them where the same paradoxes appear: areas where, if properly examined and interrogated, ideas in the text are logically impossible or contradictory.
In relation to Jaques Derrida, father of deconstruction, aporia is the technical term applied to logical or rhetorical perplexities, impassable difficulties, logical paradoxes, and puzzlements. When understood in relation to deconstruction of literature, aporia demarcates a point where a text exhibits deconstruction characteristics: the text dismantles itself, deconstructs itself, or undermines its own rhetorical foundations. In other words, it is a place in a text where the binary oppositions and the difference underlying meaning cause the text to deconstruct its unity and establish a perplexity or paradox by saying what isn't overtly authored in the text. For example, it might be said that Austen's novels establish aporias of paradox when servants are mentioned in passing thus revealing in the text a divided community of others while overtly addressing unification of the community. The paradoxical aporia [i.e., perplexity, puzzlement] of otherness and unity deconstructs the text as the unity of community--and of text--is dismantled through the presence of otherwise invisible servants. Aporia is a term from Greek philosophy that Derrida appropriated for use in deconstruction, which is a critical theory applied to various studies such as philosophy, art, and literature.
Aporias are paradoxes or puzzles. Derrida focused on four areas of paradox: gifts, hospitality, forgiving, and mourning. We will concentrate on the gift as an example of an aporia.
Derrida defined a genuine gift as outside of the nexus of exchange and transaction. If you give someone a birthday gift, for example, with the expectation of reciprocity on your own birthday, Derrida would not call your gift a true gift. Even receiving a thank you for a gift is a form of reciprocity that negates the meaning of the word gift. A gift must be something for which nothing can be given in exchange. To genuinely be given a gift, the person who receives the gift can't even know the gift has a giver. Yet a gift presupposes both a giver and receiver. A gift therefore becomes a logical impossibility.
Aporia is most often applied to literary texts to point to spots where the logic of a text contradicts itself.
Aporia is a Greek term denoting a logical contradiction. It is principally found in Greek philosophy, but it also plays a role in post-structuralist philosophy, as in the writings of Derrida and Irigaray. The term is used by Derrida to refer to what he often calls the “blind spots” of any metaphysical argument.