chapter  6
16 Pages

Deconstruction

In Chapter 3 I distinguished between what I have described as the ‘surrational’ and the ‘serious’ versions of deconstruction in terms of the fact that the latter asks questions at the point where the former provides answers. While both theoretical approaches maintain that binary oppositions have a fundamental role in both Western thought and in Western oppression and while they both insist, therefore, on the political importance of deconstruction, ‘serious’ deconstruction has an account of why this theoretical form is supposed to be so central. Since my analysis of the more popular, surrational, preoccupation with binary oppositions centred on the absence of argument on this point it is clear that it does not straightforwardly extend to the more serious kinds of deconstruction. If, then, I want to persist in advocating a return to the general approach of liberation theory —in which dualisms are not thought to be constitutive of either Western thought or of oppression but are said, rather, to be established as a misuse of concepts in situations of domination-these more respectable arguments for deconstruction will have to be met. And if I wish to go further, as I do, and maintain that even this more intellectually credible deconstruction has elements which function as a projection-a simultaneous reference to and avoidance-of the basic ideas of liberation theory then I must show, not only that the arguments fail, but also that they are the result of political and psychological forces their advocates have failed to comprehend. In pursuing the latter theme the kind of projection involved in the better versions of deconstruction must be distinguished from that in its poorer counterpart. Not only is the character of the thinking quite different but so, too, are the practical/ political stakes. In both cases, it is true, these practical stakes involve an inability to confront issues concerning power where it counts at the same time as there is an identification with being ‘truly’ radical. However, the more popular kind of deconstruction, I have tried to show, evolved as a means of a new strata taking

power in universities. (This is E.P. Thompson’s ‘lumpen intelligentsia’—see the epigraph to Chapter 5.) It is this strata’s grasping for the power previously denied to it, together with the political necessity of presenting itself as radical, which has meant that its theoretical productions are unable to meet the requirements of reason. The relatively intellectually respectable deconstruction is, by way of contrast, the work of a more traditional intellectual elite for whom this kind of ‘take over’ of public institutions is not necessary. The more limited contradiction it involves, between appearing to be very radical at the same time as doing very little, is not such as to generate anything like the same amount of intellectual confusion.1 On the contrary, it is a contradiction which can be made intellectually coherent by means of a very conservative understanding of what the possibilities are with respect to undermining power. Nevertheless, even this intellectually more legitimate deconstruction can be shown to indirectly refer to, and at the same time divert attention away from, the more basic ideas of liberation theory.2 The difference remains, though, that whereas one projection is such as to depend on intellectual confusion and a closing off of important questions, the other has its own internal coherence and a measure of argument to support it.