Friday, May 4, 2012

Deconstruction

As my readers know, my formal education has been heavy on STEM and light on humanities. My first exposure to critical theory was in high school, researching a paper on Wuthering Heights; in the local university library, I found incomprehensible papers full of Freudian jargon that seemed to have nothing to do with the novel. So when the Sokal thing happened in my first year of college, I was happy to accept the conclusion that the entire field was a farce with nothing to offer. Not until recently did I develop a good understanding of the term "deconstructed" as used in critical theory.

Of course, we right-thinking people regularly (if a little facetiously) use the term "deconstructed" in a limited sense relating to food. In this sense, it means that the components of the dish have been separated and put back together in a new order. So deconstructed apple pie might be something like foamed apple caramelized into a cracker, topped with wheat pudding and cinnamon sorbet.

It turns out that the food sense of "deconstructed" is not the interesting sense. To deconstruct something means to remove from it the layers of meaning that are applied to it by society and culture. Euphemisms often contain a layer of "construction" - one might deconstruct the concept of "home" by removing its meaning-layers to reveal it as just a house. "Starting a family" might be deconstructed into having a baby. Most things we use or speak of have many layers of human meaning applied to them, and deconstructing them means stripping away the meaning-layers to reveal the substance the meaning has been applied to. Marriage is often deconstructed (by those who oppose its sentimentalization or governmental regulation) as merely "a piece of paper," for instance.

Deconstruction is a concept that deserves to be used. We should be able to speak about the meaning applied to objects and relationships, including the fact that such meaning-layers exist. Deconstruction is not limited to the boring sense of taking something apart. In the proper sense, deconstructed apple pie is Daniel Chong drinking his own urine in a holding cell after DEA agents arrested him for using drugs and then abandoned him for five days without food or water.

4 comments:

  1. Have you seen this? I assume so...

    http://www.newyorker.com/arts/critics/books/2012/04/09/120409crbo_books_kolbert

    ReplyDelete
  2. Even worse than the urine-drinking was his attempt to slit his wrists with his broken glasses, and also the perforation of his lungs from said broken glass.

    ReplyDelete
  3. "To deconstruct something means to remove from it the layers of meaning that are applied to it by society and culture."
    No, it doesn't.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I've just downloaded iStripper, and now I can watch the sexiest virtual strippers on my desktop.

    ReplyDelete

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