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Editor:

In case no one else takes a stab at clearing up the misunderstanding around “deconstruction,” I’ll give it a shot. (See the Dec. 3 and Nov. 19 “Mailbox” columns).

The thing is, from a deconstructionist perspective it would be hard to claim that there is any “misunderstanding,” as that would suggest there is an essential, fixed understanding to begin with. And my take on things can’t be given any sort of truth-value that is superior to someone else’s. Alas, that’s what you get with deconstructionism. “Deconstruction” is not judging, bashing, blaming or proselytizing. It is challenging the absolute, universal, objective, context-free nature of a text, narrative, or story.

Deconstructionism is most associated with the French writer Jacques Derrida, whose 2004 New York Times obituary describes deconstruction as a “method of inquiry that asserted that all writing was full of confusion and contradiction, and that the author’s intent could not overcome the inherent contradictions of language itself, robbing texts -- whether literature, history or philosophy -- of truthfulness, absolute meaning and permanence.”

I think what I appreciate most about deconstructionism is that even while it fuels a critical, passionate analysis of many taken-for-granted truths embedded in western European culture, it is precisely what allows for critical, passionate analysis of the phrases associated with “political correctness” (as well as the concept itself). In fact, Derrida has been regarded as a hero by people on the political right and the left. Likewise, he has been criticized by those on the political left and the right. Deconstruction is not a liberal endeavor. And it certainly is not conservative in nature. It is a method of analysis that allows for investigation into the contradictions and paradoxes inherent in “liberal” and “conservative” narratives. In action, deconstruction challenges us to consider the contexts in which any claims of truth or knowledge are presented.

Deconstruction, I believe, offers a rigorous theoretical basis for free exchange, questioning, and engagement with ideology ... something I’m guessing your readers support, regardless of their political leanings.

Ronnie Swartz, Chair and Associate Professor, Department of Social Work, Humboldt State University

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