“For him, the fact that moral values cannot be expressed as simple rules of conduct increased, rather than decreased, the importance of our ethical responsibilities.”
—From the UK Guardian obituary of Jacques Derrida
Derrida was an intellectual and philosopher whose popularization of the term deconstruction as a description of an approach to literary criticism remains very influential in American literary academia. To properly deconstruct a literary work you must break it into constituent elements of meaning, elements that may bear little resemblance to the meaning derived by looking at the work as a unified whole. Deconstructionism is based on the premise that much of human history, in trying to define reality, has led to various forms of domination—of nature, of people of color, of the poor, of homosexuals, etc.
Deconstructionism finds concrete experience more valid than abstract ideas and, therefore, rejects any attempts to produce an absolute truth or definitive history. In other words, the multiplicities and contingencies of human experience necessarily bring knowledge down to the local and specific level and challenge the tendency to centralize power through the claims of an ultimate truth that must be accepted or obeyed by all. George W. Bush, it is not difficult to infer, is no fan of deconstructionism.
In 1774, the English poet and hymn writer William Cowper wrote “God moves in a mysterious way his wonders to perform.” Cowper was a chronic melancholic who by today’s standards would probably be diagnosed as a depressive or bi-polar personality and prescribed a daily dose of Paxil or Prozac to calm the fluctuations of his tormented soul.
Cowper’s often misquoted poem further advises: “Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,/ But trust Him for His grace;/ Behind a frowning providence/ He hides a smiling face.”
Perhaps Cowper was a theological deconstructionist a couple of hundred years before Derrida formalized the term.
Why the hell are you so sad?
Life continually dishes up a bounty of wonders. Take for instance our recent trip to the marvelous Grocery Outlet in south Chico. There we were, the lovely I. Daphne St. Brie and self, gathering some bargain beverages and bananas, when we heard a little girl singing along with the refrain line to that Sheryl Crowe song that gets played on the radio every five minutes or so. You probably know the one; it’s got the words “If it makes you happy, it can’t be that bad” sung to a sweet sad melody, and this kid, who looked to be about 6 or 7 years old and had long, braided pigtails and big glasses, was singing the hell out of that line every time it came up in the song, and trust me it comes up quite a bit. Hearing it sung by a little girl made me happy for a second just for the unadulterated cuteness of the scene, till it got to the tag line I used as a subhead above, which the young singer skipped smoothly over before jumping right back in on the “If it makes you happy” part. Her Grandma hugged her, smiling with semi-embarrassed but very genuine pride as they proceeded toward the cheese counter.
Try to deconstruct that.