“Deconstructionism” is a dangerous political application that has taken root in universities as a serious method of discovery and recognition of textual art in performance. Deconstructionism is nasty because — like Peer Gynt’s endless onion without a core — the whole attempt to pull apart and redefine the whole of something falls apart in your hands the moment you try to apply Deconstructionism’s molehill to a mound of merits.
Here’s a more formal definition of Deconstructionism:
Deconstruction focuses on a text as such rather than as an expression of the author’s intention, stressing the limitlessness (or impossibility) of interpretation and rejecting the Western philosophical tradition of seeking certainty through reasoning by privileging certain types of interpretation and repressing others. It was effectively named and popularized by the French philosopher Jacques Derrida from the late 1960s and taken up particularly by U.S. literary critics.
When you pull apart something whole to discover the bits of which it is made — you have ruined all original intention and redefined the complete idea into disingenuous parts to be re-thought and re-puzzled together in a new way to provide a completely different intention. That is the definition, and purpose, of insanity.
Deconstructionism is the critic’s cudgel because nothing means anything, nothing amounts to anything and anything becomes the overriding definition of a notion that came from a highly specific core — and the critic can pick apart one cobbling for an entirely “other” whole cloth notion that can be just as justified as the first because the original is now rendered meaningless in rooting down to elements without association.
People love to try to demolish an argument by roughly deconstructing precise parts into kibble that they can then try to refute.
A perfect example of this misguided deconstructionism is in the comments stream for my — Michael Jackson Steals from Bob Fosse — article where I cleanly argue that Michael Jackson thefted his “moonwalk moves” from a particular section of Bob Fosse dancing on screen in a movie. When you look at Bob — and when you look at Michael — it is completely clear that Michael stole all that choreography, move for move, from Bob.
It has been fascinating to watch the Jackson lovers leap to his defense by changing my argument and saying it was Fosse who stole from old Black dancers; and it was actually Marcel Marceau who invented the Moonwalk; and since Michael credited Bob as an “influence,” there’s no “stealing” involved.
Instead of just comparing two performance bits — Fosse vs. Jackson — and confessing the direct theft of Fosse’s very specific choreography by Jackson, the Jackson defenders instead try to re-construct my argument by ignoring it, “deconstructing it” to their fallow liking, and then ripping me apart for arguing something I never said in the first place.
We see this sort of “Deconstructionism” all the time in our political worlds as well where one side will say one thing and the other side will demolish the real meaning and reshape the issue with their own intentions.
It is our job to require people to answer specific questions and to deal with the whole of something and not its various bits and nibblings. We must reject or accept things in the whole and in situ and not use a sledgehammer to break apart what we wish to deny or rejoice.
John Cardinal O’Connor said the Catholic faith was not a buffet from which you could pick and choose what to believe; you either choose the whole banquet, or you had nothing — and the same can be said for textual art and contextual arguments: Accept them as they are and evaluate them on their own merits without deciding to re-form the idea to fit your answer or analysis.