Deconstruction For Beginners

Deconstruction For Beginners

by Jim Powell, Joe Lee

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Deconstruction is so labyrinthine that it has become the monster that murdered philosophy. When Jacques Derrida, the father of deconstruction, uses buzzwords such as “phallogocentrism” and “transcendental signified,” humanities students and aspiring philosophers may get weak in the knees.
Following the success of his For Beginners title

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Deconstruction is so labyrinthine that it has become the monster that murdered philosophy. When Jacques Derrida, the father of deconstruction, uses buzzwords such as “phallogocentrism” and “transcendental signified,” humanities students and aspiring philosophers may get weak in the knees.
Following the success of his For Beginners title Derrida, Jim Powell’s Deconstruction is an irreverent romp through deconstructive domains. Though Powell offers lucid explanations of the most important deconstructive ideas and texts, he also dives into lesser-known works. One of these, The Right to Look, finds Derrida offering his thoughts on a photo-novella consisting of images of women making love with each other. Powell then goes on to explore how deconstruction has escaped Derrida, especially in the realm of architecture. Then, based on Derrida’s assertion that deconstruction happens differently in different cultures, Powell examines how – through Buddhism and Taoism – deconstruction took place in ancient India, Japan, and China.

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For Beginners
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For Beginners
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For Beginners LLC

Copyright © 2007 Jim Powell
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-939994-03-5


Coyote: Well, I thought you had kicked the bucket!

Twain: Actually, rumors of my death are greatly exaggerated. And who might you be?

Coyote: My name is Coyote, and I have been thinking of, ummm, going back to school, you know, to pursue an.... ummm.... education, and I was wondering if you would, ummm, care to advise me on this issue.

Twain: I would rather get tarred and feathered and run outta town on a rail than t' get more schoolin', cause there's lots a fellow just can't get from books. But if you're dead set on book learnin' I must tell you that our universities have been taken over by deconstructors and that you'll be up to your eyeballs in textbooks with titles such as:

• Screw Your Gender; • The Revenge of the Margins;• Splitting the Difference: Point of View in the Inverted Female Body: • Kicking the Perpendiculars Outa Right Anglos; • Teledildonics: The Queerying of Virtual Lesbianism; • Wrestling with the Canon: Annals of Sodomy and Female Authority; and • Expansions of Naught in the Intertextual Apocalypse of the Absent Body!

Coyote: For real, dude?!

Twain: I ain't being economical with the truth.

Coyote: Then, tell me, how did all this come about?

Twain: Well, starting in the 60's the Algerian-born philosopher Jacques Derrida, father of deconstruction, published a series of revolutionary books. Many suspected that these works killed philosophy outright, and in cold blood at that. Derrida's fingerprints were all over the crime scene. For this scholarly act Cambridge University awarded the murderer an Honorary Degree in Philosophy, although many at Cambridge opposed his being offered the award and felt that instead he should be dubbed Commanding Officer of Obfuscation, Prime Minister of Mystification, Emir of Evasion and Furher of Fraud!!!!

Coyote: Well, why did he get the degree?

Twain: He's got a knack for writing books that mystify almost everyone who attempts to read them and for standing sober, mind you, in front of a sober audience, and carrying on and on about putting transcendental signifieds under erasure and disemboweling the cock-eyed metaphysics of presence, why just as if he were talking about nothing!

Coyote: Transcendental signifieds? Metaphysics of presence?

Twain: That Derrida spits out so many ten-dollar words you'd swear that he's getting paid for them. Any professional lecturer knows better than to use the word "metropolis," when he can get the same money for "city."

But Derrida struts on stage, usually after a lengthy introduction made up of half a hog's share of two-bit words. He faces his audience; his face as inscrutable as the Sphinx. Not knowing quite what to expect, the audience fidgets and squirms and farts and squiggles. Suddenly, the Sphinx smiles, opens its mouth, and then the fountains of its eloquence spurt forth: Its tongue gets as busy as a one-legged — man at an ass-kicking contest, raining down the thirteen parts of speech for forty days and forty nights, burying its audience under such a desultory deluge of linguistic debris that not a particle of sense survives undamaged above the tossing waves of dislocated grammar and discombobulated pronunciation.

At first, it seems to the audience that these soliloquies possess a certain inexplicable charm—a freshness and breeziness that conveys an exhilarating sense of emancipation from all sorts of moral conundrums, cares and responsibilities. This almost makes his audiences feel as if the years they had labored toiling and slaving to be properly understood had been a colossal waste of time!

Yet, soon enough, this same audience begins to learn that deconstruction is a dangerous weapon and a deadly weapon—and a weapon with only one fault: You can't hit anything square with it.

Coyote: Well, why not?

Twain: 'Cause it don't shoot straight. If you were to aim it at a deuce of spades nailed to an oak, you'd likely end up hitting a mule standing thirty yards off to the right. So if Derrida should start out talking about a Transcendental Signified or some other highfalutin philosophical fancy, he'll shoot holes through every other notion within range before he hits the very varmint he's aiming at. This, in fact, is the actual method by which he kills his audiences!

Coyote: Kills his audiences??!!

Twain: That's right! His audiences don't die right off, of course. But soon after he starts talking, they begin to sicken and suffer so that they WISH they was dead. And HOW they suffer! They suffer, and suffer and suffer!!! He goes on hour after hour as if he will never stop, till their eyes turn dreary, their eyelids start drooping down to their chins, and their heads start nodding down to their knees. Yet he stands there babbling with the absolute confidence of Adam, knowing that what he speaks no other man hath spoken before.

And just when you think the poor souls in his audience can't look any sicker or sorrier, well, they turn green and yellow and keel over like corpses. Of course that Sphinx pays no heed, but merely stands there pontificating while contemplating this growing sea of stiffs. After a stretch of time so long that most of the corpses have begun to stink, the Sphinx smiles with the tranquil satisfaction of one who has just relieved his mind of a considerable load.

Now, most listeners, of course, are not killed off. If they possess enough horse sense, they soon start questioning themselves as to what state of things he's talking about, and end up questioning whether he's talking about any state of things at all. They get up and high-tail it outta there before the lecture turns fatal. But those poor souls who lack this deep sagacity, those unfortunate souls who remain, those heedless souls who suspect there must exist some kernel of profundity hidden deep in that verbal deluge, why they begin to be swept along in that torrent of verbosity, that hypnotizing current that rolls along in its sweeping and incessant rippling rhythms like the wide, ever-rolling and rogue Mississippi, and they slowly succumb to the hypnotic sound of that mighty current, which is like the suction of a whirlpool sucking the spirit out of a swimmer's strokes, and eventually they are swept into the very Center of that irresistibly chaotic verbal deluge— and they drown!!!

Coyote: Drown!!??!!

Twain: Yet, all is not lost. Though they have been drowned in intellect, they experience a species of magical rebirth. They rise from the dead and live again! The moment they leave that auditorium they are reborn as high-priests and priestesses of deconstruction. Their corpses spring back to life. They fan out in an infinite chain to form a great and holy Mystical Body—a great babbling brotherhood of deconstructionists who form a veritable "island" of deconstructionism with surging rivers of language as deadly as Derrida's.

Coyote: Hmmmm. Well, do you have to know that deconstructionist language to get chicks?!

Twain: Chicks, Schmicks! Let me tell you something: The universities of this here land were at one time magnificent centers of intellectual debate, where some made lean matters fat and others made fat matters lean, where sharp debaters ripped apart conclusions, hypotheses and arguments of their opponents as savagely as vultures tearing apart a piece of rotting meat tossed into the air. But when deconstruction arrived, the clashings of warring theories, ideas, notions and schools once thundering through the halls yielded slowly to the dogmatic drone of the following chant, which now echoes from every classroom:

Now, 'X' stands for "race," "gender," "sexual preference," "class," etc. And the implication is that all our ideas about these things are so full of hog slop that they can be readily discombobulated, dismembered, disemboweled and deconstructed—and of course the world will be a better place because of this!!!

That chant is chanted in every tongue that Babel bequeathed to earth, and flavored with whisky, brandy, kava-kava, beer, cologne, sozodont, tobacco, garlic, onions, grasshoppers—everything that has a fragrance to it—through all the long list of things that are gorged or guzzled by the sons and daughters of Adam. I've never smelt any chant as often as I have smelt that one; never have smelt any chant that smelt so variegated as that one.

Thus you never could learn to know it by its smell, because every time you thought you had learned the smell of it, it would turn up with a worse smell.

On the whole Island of Deconstruction there is not one high priest professor who is able to cork that chant inside his or her belly and not let it out—and survive!

A typical student must listen to that chant, smell that chant, and chant that chant an average of eight-thousand-eight hundred-and-eighty-one—or sometimes eight-thousandeight-hundred-and eighty-two—times every single day! That chant is in every single book, and I have even heard that it existed prior to the original Word that God spoke, and furthermore, that it existed even before the Vedas!

Instruction in our universities is now based upon the manifold subtleties of this chant. This instruction of course is limited to the seven liberal arts—the trivium (chanting melody, chanting harmony, chanting meter) and, somewhat less, the quadrivium (hymen-pricking, leech craft, mystification and breast-fondling). Now, it is taught that the memorization and recitation of the chant develops the student's sense of meter and rhythm. But they say it must not be thought that by memorizing the seven words of this chant students are merely stuffing themselves full of empty knowledge! No! Certainly not! The chant produces an educating, refining and broadening of a student's whole personality! After all, they teach that ideal learning is only partially achieved if one does not have the chant as one's model. For the chant comprises the entire education in worldly wisdom and ethical principles and moral conduct.

Uma: According to Jacques Derrida, it is impossible to define the word "deconstruction." In fact, he has said that any sentence that takes the form "deconstruction is ... X" misses the point.

Twain: Well, if you were FORCED to define deconstruction, then what would you say?

Uma: Well, I suppose that if someone were holding a gun to my head, I would say that deconstruction is a way of reading a text.

Twain: How does it differ from the normal way of reading something?

Uma: Usually people read a text in order to learn what it means, right? Suppose you are driving and you see a sign that says 'STOP'. You read the stop sign, and probably stop your car.

Twain: OK.

Uma: But if you are fond of deconstruction, then you ask not WHAT the sign means, but HOW it means.

Twain: HOW the sign means?

Uma: Yes. The word "Stop" is ambiguous. Does it mean stop driving, stop reading the sign, or stop breathing? After all, you are doing all these things when you read the sign. And how do you know the sign is speaking to you rather than to Mr. Coyote or to someone else?

Twain: So, deconstruction is a way of reading that calls into question the "normal" meaning of a text?

Uma: Yes. That's why gay people, and ethnic minorities, and animal rights activists, and ecologists and others are fond of deconstruction. It allows them to question if it is really normal to be heterosexual, or white, or to hurt animals, or to cut down forests.

The problem is that people who are fond of deconstruction are often fond of using a lot of buzzwords that they never define. After all, according to Derrida, definitions are dangerous because they say WHAT something means rather than exploring HOW it means.

Twain: Well, what are some of these buzz words?

Uma: One of the most terrible is the term phallogocentrism!

Twain: Why, I've never heard of it! What is this phallogocentrism?

Uma: Well, if something were to stand erect, all by itself, depending on nothing else, asserting itself and seeming self-evident, it would be phallogocentric!

Twain: You mean like a stop sign, or a traffic cop who insists the stop sign means "Stop the car," rather than "Stop reading traffic signs"?

Uma: Yes! That cop thinks his interpretation of the sign is absolutely correct and that there can be no other reading of the sign! So, a phallogocentric attitude is what people who are fond of deconstruction like to deconstruct.

Coyote: I would assume that a phallogocentric attitude might assume MANY forms!

Uma: That's correct. Whenever a particular person, or group, or text or school of thought assumes that something is natural, normal or self-evident, then that can be a phallogocentric attitude.

Coyote: For instance, when people think that they are naturally superior to coyotes, and have the right to kill them?

Uma: Yes, or when white people think that blacks are naturally rhythmic and sexually potent, or when people think that women are naturally nurturing, or when someone says that everyone knows that all Muslims are terrorists.

Coyote: Well, if you were to create a caricature of phallocentrism, what kind of character would you create?

Uma: Well, phallogocentrism is not only in the West, but also in Eastern thought. So, if I were to create a character, I think I would create an old Hindu holy man named Shrishri108matparamahansaparivrajakacharyaswamibaskaranandasaraswatishishyamina bhadurranashivalingananda. He would be the best representative of phallogocentrism!

Twain & Coyote: Shri WHAT????!!!!

Uma: Shrishri108matparamahansaparivrajakacharyaswamibaskaranandasaraswatishishyamina bhadurranashivalingananda!

Twain: You don't put an "Esq." after it?

Uma: No, that is not necessary.

Twain: Well, what does the 108 stand for?

Uma: The "108" stands for the number of words in his name, but in Sanskrit they run all words together. Everyone calls him Shri Shri Shiva Linga Anand a for short, and there are actually a lot of guys in India called that!

Twain: Well, what does the name mean?

Uma: It means The Glorious Glorious Bliss of God's Phallus—the most phallogocentric name in history!

Twain: Well how would a character like that act?

Uma: I would portray him sitting in full lotus posture, atop a thirty-seven-foot high anthill, a position he has occupied for ten thousand years in complete silence, when suddenly he dictates to his astonished devotees the following proclamation: Om Om Om Om Om Om Om Om Om Om Om Know! O Devout! That in the Ontological Obscurities of Eternity before Time, In darkness Unperceived of Distinctive Marks (Except for one hickey), Unattainable by Reasoning, Unknowable, Wholly Immersed (as it were) in Deep Sleep, in the Divine Self, Self-Existent, Indiscernible BUT!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Making All This!!!!!! Ether, Air, Fire, Water, Earth and their Combinations and!!! RECOMBINATIONS!!!! Desiring to Produce Beings of ALL Kinds from His OWN Body, Which Was in the Form of a PHALLUS—He Became a Golden Egg. Now, That Phallus that became an Egg. Was Equal in Brilliancy to One Million Suns! In that PHALLUS-Egg. He himself, the Self-Existent, was Born as Himself AND!!!!! Humming the Hymn of Himself Divided in TWO Creating ALL Beings FROM MERE SOUND!!!!!! 0!! Believers!!!!! Know! That His Power Was Beyond Reason!!!!!!!!! HE COULD PULL ENTIRE HIMALAYAS OF GALAXIES WITH THE NERVE-FORCE OF HIS HARD ON!!!!!!!!!!!!!


Formerly Discernible Only Through the Subtle Inner Organ, that PHALLUS-Egg (of which the current forms of man and woman are but Cheap Imitations & Copies) IS NOW DISCERNIBLE BY ALL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Shri Shri Shiva Lingo Ananda Announces!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Brood Upon Your Third Eye During Sexual Union BUT!!!!!!! WithOUT Orgasm to Discern the Golden PHALLUS-Egg of Yore

Twain: Well I'll be washed, starched and ironed if that isn't one of the most inspiring speeches ever given in the entire history of the galaxies! Tell me though, what is so phallogocentric about this guy The Glorious Glorious Bliss of God's Phallus?


Excerpted from DECONSTRUCTION FOR BEGINNERS by JIM POWELL, JOE LEE. Copyright © 2007 Jim Powell. Excerpted by permission of For Beginners LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Meet the Author

Jim Powell lives in Santa Barbara, California where he enjoys surfing, writing, playing piano and painting.  His other books include Mandalas: The Dynamics of Vedic Symbolism, Energy and Eros, The Tao of Symbols, Eastern Philosophy For Beginners, Derrida For Beginners, and Postmodernism For Beginners. Jim has a Master’s Degree in Religious Studies with an emphasis on Sanskrit and Indology. His thesis was on Vedic mythology. He also holds a Master’s Degree in English Literature.

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