Postmodernism

Start Your Free Trial

Download Postmodernism Study Guide

Subscribe Now

Themes

(Literary Movements for Students)

Deconstruction
This is the term created by Derrida that defines the basic premise of Postmodernism. It does not mean destruction, but rather it is a critique of the criteria of certainty, identity, and truth.

Derrida says that all communication is characterized by uncertainty because there is no definitive link between the signifier (a word) and the signified (the object to which the word refers). Once a text is written it ceases to have a meaning until a reader reads it. Derrida says that there is nothing but the text and that it is not possible to construe a meaning for a text using a reference to anything outside the text. The text has many internal meanings that are in conflict with themselves (called reflexivity or self-referential) and as a result there is no solid and guaranteed meaning to a text. The text is also controlled by what is not in it (referents outside the text are not a part of its meaning). The consequence of this position is that there can be no final meaning for any text, for as Derrida himself says, “texts are not to be read according to [any method] which would seek out a finished signified beneath a textual surface. Reading is transformational.”

He comments on issues of identity in Western civilization that derive from the reliance on binary oppositions. These are sets that establish a hierarchy that privileges the first over the second. He calls them “violent hierarchies,” and states that they give precedence (called centering) to the central term (the first) and they marginalize the remaining term. In a set “up/down” the implication is that “up” is more preferable and is better than “down.” In more significant ways the “centering” in the man/woman set establishes the first as the most important and marginalizes the second. This result has important ramifications in social constructs.

The last of these three concepts that he addresses is the nature of truth. Because he doubts the ability of language to convey any absolute meaning, there results an impossibility of language to establish a “transcendental universal” or a universal truth. It is this notion that is often misunderstood as a statement of his rejection of a God. Rather it is a statement that simple languages are incapable of identifying God linguistically.

Disintegration
One of the main outgrowths of Postmodernism is the disintegration of concepts that used to be taken for granted and assumed to be stable. These include the nature of language, the idea of knowledge, and the notion of a universal truth. The application of deconstruction to the understanding of language...

(The entire section is 833 words.)