Some attributes of 'literature' in the deconstructive view

      1.that literature is an institution, brought into being by legal, social and political processes;
      2.that literature is that which at the same time speaks the heart of the individual and which shows how the
        individual is made possible only by otherness, exteriority, institution, law, structures and meanings outside
      3.that literature is both (simultaneously) a singular, unrepeatable event and a generalizable experience, and
        demonstrates the tension/ antithesis between these -- as something which is original is also of necessity not
        original, or it could not have been thought.

      It is possible that texts which 'confess' the highly mediated nature of our experience, texts which themselves
    throw the reader into the realm of complex, contested, symbolized, intertextual, interactive mediated experience,
    texts which therefore move closer than usual to deconstructing themselves, are in a sense closer to reality (that is,
    the truth of our real experience) than any other texts. This kind of text conforms to the kind of text known as
    'literature' -- most clearly, to modernist literature, but to all texts which participate in one or more of the ironic, the
    playful, the explicitly intertextual, the explicitly symbolizing -- from Renaissance love poetry to Milton to Swift to
    Fielding to Tennyson to Ondaatje.

    Reading these texts in the deconstructive mode is, however, not a matter of 'decoding the message'; it is a matter of
    entering into the thoughtful play of contradiction, multiple reference, and the ceaseless questioning of conclusions
    and responses. The less a text deconstructs itself, the more we can and must deconstruct it, that is, show the
    structures of thought and assumption which ground it and the exclusions which make its meaning possible. If, as
    Roman Jakobson suggests, a mark of literature is that it draws attention to its textuality, its constructedness, then
    literature may be said to be inherently closer to 'reality' than other forms of writing or discourse are, just when it
    seems to be furthest away, as our 'reality' is symbolic, signified, constructed.

      The particular strategy of deconstructive reading is based on fissures in what we take to be the common-sense
    experience of texts and reality, and on reversals, oppositions and exclusions that are lying in wait in, or implicit
    in, signification and textuality. Take, for example, the sorts of conflict Jonathan Culler suggests in On
    Deconstruction that the critic is on the lookout for:

      1.the asymetrical opposition or value-laden hierarchy (e.g. host and parasite, logocentrism and nihilism) in
        which one term is promoted at the expense of the other. The second term can be shown to constitute or signal
        the condition for the first, and the hierarchy up-turned (this is not a simple reversal, as the reversal is then in
        the condition of reversibility, and so forth).
      2.points of condensation, where a single term brings together different lines of argument or sets of values (and
        hostilities to hosts hosting the Host).
      3.The text will be examined for ways in which it suggests a difference from itself, interpretations which
        undermine the apparently primary interpretation.
      4.figures of self-reference, when a text applies to something else a description, figure or image which can be
        read as a self-description, an image of its own operations. This opens up an examination of the stability and
        cogency of the text itself. An example of self-reference is in the vines and parasites in place of the erased (,
        i.e. under erasure) antique and learned imagery of Shelley's "Epipsychidion" in Miller's "The Critic as Host,"
        the natural images themselves an image for and replacement for (every image of is also a replacement for) the
        tracing of writing, which is itself the writing that constitutes the poem; the images of the poem themselves
        attempt to naturalize what cannot be naturalized, writing itself, in a recuperation in which the act of
        naturalizing reveals itself as an ancient strategy of meaning, so the imagery is an image of itself.
      5.conflicting readings of a texts can be see as reenactments of conflicts within a text, so that readings can be
        read as partializing moves simplifying the complex interplay of potential meaning within the text.
      6.Attention to the marginal, and that which supplements -- as with hierarchized oppositions, the margin in fact
        encompasses or enables the rest, so that a marginalized figure, idea, etc. can be re-read as the 'center', or
        controlling element; similarly the supplement re-centers and re-orients that which it supplements, as the fact
        of supplementing reveals the inadequacy, the partiality/incompleteness of the supplemented item.

      The deconstructive activity is ceaseless. It can never be resolved in a dialectic (that is, there is no synthesis), 1)
    but is always reaching back to a pattern of operations, antitheses, displacements and so forth, each 'behind', or
    'before', or logically, ontologically, referentially, hierarchically, temporally or semantically or etymologically,
    etc, 'prior to' the other, and 2) alternating between the poles of antitheses or opposite.

       Like the form of mathematics called topography, deconstruction studies surfaces, as there are no depths,
    however firmly we may think we see them: there are only twists, (con)figurations, (re)visions.

Barbara Johnson on Derrida and deconstructive reading

from "On Writing" in Lentricchia and McLaughlin, eds, Critical Terms for Literary Study:

    Just as Freud rendered dreams and slips of the tongue readable rather than dismissing them as mere nonsense or
    error, so Derrida sees signifying force in the gaps, margins, figures, echoes, digressions, discontinuities,
    contradictions, and ambiguities of a text. When one writes, one writes more than (or less than, or other than) one
    thinks. The reader's task is to read what is written rather than simply attempt to intuit what might have been meant.

    The possibility of reading materiality, silence, space, and conflict within texts has opened up extremely productive
    ways of studying the politics of language. If each text is seen as presenting a major claim that attempts to dominate,
    erase, or distort various "other" claims (whose traces nevertheless remain detectable to a reader who goes against
    the grain of the dominant claim), then "reading" is its extended sense is deeply involved in questions of authority
    and power. One field of conflict and domination in discourse that has been fruitfully studied in this sense is the
    field of sexual politics. Alice Jardine, in Gynesis (1985), points out that since logocentric logic has been coded as
    'male' the "other" logics of spacing, ambiguity, figuration, and indirection are often coded as "female," and that a
    critique of logocentrism can enable a critique pf "phallocentrism" as well....

    The writings of Western male authorities have often encoded the silence, denigration, or idealization not only of
    women but also of other "others." Edward Said, in Orientalism (1978), analyzed the discursive fields of
    scholarship, art, and politics in which the "Oriental" is projected as the "other" of the European. By reading
    against the grain of the writer's intentions, he shows how European men of reason and benevolenced could
    inscribe a rationale for oppression and exploitation within their very discourse of Enlightenment.

by Professor John Lye 
Last updated: November 3. 1997