The purpose of deconstruction is to disturb in order to discover. The deconstruction of a text allows you to learn to read beyond the content at a glance of the text and reveal new meanings and truths. Likewise, deconstruction carries both intellectual and political implications. It is common for the deconstruction of a text to be assigned to students in the areas of literature, literary theory, film, communications, or postmodern thought.
Whenever deconstruction encounters a nutshell (a sure axiom or short motto), the basic idea is to open it up and disturb this tranquility. - John D. Caputo.
Step 1. Look up the assumptions
For example, in an article whose title is "How to deconstruct a text", the assumption is likely to be that it is possible to deconstruct a text and that this process can be described systematically so that it can be applied in a similar way to all texts. However, it could be the case that neither of these assumptions is correct. Therefore, you should pay attention to the author's assumptions that in themselves make the interpretation of the meanings discussed in the text more biased.
Step 2. Look for the tension between the spirit and the words of the text
Very rarely does a text succeed in its entirety in conveying the spirit of the writer, while the intended meaning of the words in the text is always ambiguous. For example, the spirit of the title "How to deconstruct a text" connotes utility, although deconstruction is a concept that can be difficult to grasp despite this optimism. In addition, how-to articles have a bad reputation for being poor, incomplete, or misleading, and for being a unique solution that can rarely be adequately adapted to even a single context. There may be a direct contradiction and tension between the author's intention and what the text ultimately expresses, and this disconnect can lead to misinterpretations or literal interpretations of the meaning, which are automatically assumed to be false. It is inevitable that, in any text, there are such divisions between the spirit of the text and the text itself. However, the disclosure of these separations empowers the reader and prevents them from falling into the trap of the text literally deteriorating to an almost eternal misinterpretation. In the same way, the text itself constitutes an attempt to "write" reality and this inevitably carries a certain tension.
Step 3. Be aware of the dynamic and static elements of meaning
To approach the meanings of the text, one way is to understand that meanings are dynamically constructed in our minds, that is, they are constantly subjected to revisions, extensions, refutations, qualifications or summaries in our minds. On the other hand, a physical text is static in nature even when the author wants to recreate the dynamic elements of a thought pattern. A sentence or paragraph, as projects for the construction of meaning, must end at some point, while thought patterns have the potential to continue to develop or modify meanings infinitely. A text builds a reality, an author and even a reader that inevitably turn out to be fraudulent because, in many ways, they are dead compared to what they point to. In short, people are alive and texts are dead, but a text also creates the illusion of life, although something is always lost during this process. Deconstruction is what tries to fill these spaces, making it clear how the reader's interpretation and the author's manipulations make the text come to life.
Step 4. Consider the ways in which text becomes irrelevant
Imagine that an alien comes to Earth. Even though his speech and appearance are the same as ours, he would be the subject of great scrutiny and learning by himself just for being an alien. Determining the ways in which a text becomes irrelevant causes it to become a foreign object and thus to be scrutinized in an intensified way. You must disturb the text in order to discover it. You should not take the context of the text for granted but, instead, look for the limits of meaning that are already incorporated into the text and the point at which it becomes strange to us. This will allow you to discover something new about him.
Step 5. Take into account the individual elements of the text
This is often the first step in deconstruction. However, it can also be misleading, since it implies that the meaning of the text constitutes the sum of all its separate parts and not something more than this sum. For example, consider the way a text uses words of different types, such as nouns, verbs, adverbs, etc. If a text describes the world by means of a verb, the world it constructs is of a different type (existential) from that of an author who uses more nouns (an essentialist or positivist world) or adjectives (a relativistic world). Similarly, if a text uses verbs such as "appear", "seem" or "reflect", the reality it creates has a different feel than a text that uses verbs such as "to be", "to create", "to prove", etc. Each word constitutes a hypothesis about the world in a deconstruction project instead of being the verification of a fact. Likewise, each word reflects something about the author and even about the reader to the same extent that it reflects something about the "outside world." The goal of deconstruction is for these hypotheses to become visible.
Step 6. Look for words with double meaning and word games
Read the text slowly and methodically. You should not assume that just by reading the text with the naked eye you will be able to infer the meaning. Instead, you should go deeper into each word or phrase, circling all the words whose meanings could be different or that constitute a play on words or a joke. If a sentence has double meaning, reread it and try to hold both meanings in your mind at the same time. You can use a dictionary as a guide as you unravel the various meanings of a text. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Does this word have any other definitions besides the standard or assumed definition? For example, the word "reveal" can mean "to discover something unknown or secret" but also "to make visible the images printed on photographic film". Therefore, the sentence "My father revealed the photos" could mean that the father went through the process of developing a photographic film to obtain the photos themselves or revealed a series of photos that were previously hidden. As you read, try to keep both meanings of the word "reveal" in mind.
- Does this word have an etymological relationship with any other word in the text? For example, the words "inspiration" and "conspiracy" are related to the Latin root word "spirae", which means "breath." Does this story help you find another meaning in these words?
- Does the word have a sound similar to another word or phrase that has nothing to do with it? For example, the word "Russian" has no etymological relationship with the word "rose". However, a reader could start from the fact that they have a similar sound and establish a surprising connection between them, which could give additional meaning to the text.
- Is the word used in a different way elsewhere in the text? What relationship could they have? For example, in one chapter, the word "cute" could be used to describe a person and, in another, the proper noun "Linda" could be used to refer to a person. How are the words "cute" and "cute" alike? What is the difference between them?
Step 7. Look for explanations or definitions that have been overlooked
The deconstruction process requires that the reader does not agree to stick with the general and common meaning of a text, which is also known as the "privileged" meaning. Consider whether a word, phrase, or text may have another explanation that many readers miss. Could there be any alternative or minority perspectives that have not been paid attention to? As you read, try to bring out these unconventional ideas and possibilities. Ask yourself the following questions:
- What are the strange or unconventional elements of the text? Does the text omit any tradition? Traditions could be literary (for example, if the text uses unconventional structure) or political (for example, if the text takes on a feminist perspective).
- If the text were narrated from the perspective of another character, how would it differ? This is a good question to ask yourself in cases where the narrator is a straight, white male and some of the supporting characters are minorities. What if the text had been narrated from the perspective of a woman, a person of color, or someone who is not heterosexual?
- What ideology does the text support? Does it seem to repress some other ideology? For example, it could be the case that the text shows eager support for Western imperialism. Is there anything the text omits so that your imperialist stance can be stronger?
- How does the text relate to truths of universal appearance? Deconstruction is not affiliated with the idea that life and language can only be explained by a single truth. Does the text also avoid affiliating with these false truths? For example, the idea that "everyone should follow his conscience" is a generally accepted truth. You might come across a text whose argument is that people's consciences have weak points and that morality should be found elsewhere.
- What are the hierarchies of the text? Who has the power? Does the text override these hierarchies in any way? Could your own reading override these hierarchies?
- Is there a word the author could have chosen, but didn't? Can you discern any gaps or cracks in the text?
Step 8. Challenge the author's authority
Don't succumb to the temptation of thinking that the author of a given text is the only expert on its meaning. Tell yourself that your own readings, ideas, interpretations and even misinterpretations have as much meaning as the author's own interpretation of his work. Reading is a creative act, not a passive one, and you should never assume that there is a single authoritative explanation for the meaning of a text.
Step 9. Accept ambiguity, humor, and contradictions
Deconstruction avoids sticking to the idea that language creates meaning through a direct formula. Instead, the language can become strange, comical, disturbing and paradoxical. You should keep in mind that deconstruction has nothing to do with finding a unique and true meaning for a literary work. In fact, you might come to the conclusion that a text has two opposite meanings at the same time, which does not mean that the text is wrong or that you misinterpreted it. Instead, think that the text presents multiple truths. When deconstructing text, you should be open to jokes, playful puns, disturbing ideas, and paradoxes.
Step 10. Examine the text in a different order
While the usual way to read a text is cover to cover, this is linear thinking that could prevent other hidden meanings of the text from coming to light, such as surprising connections, double meanings, and puns. Therefore, you can consider skimming a text from back to front, skipping from chapter to chapter, and reading specific phrases or isolated sentences to disrupt the linear reading of the text. When you read text in a non-linear way, you can bring it to life in new and unexpected ways.
Step 11. Avoid sticking to the binary divisions of Western culture
According to deconstruction, language contains political statements, which conceal its own policies. This means that language that seems "straightforward" actually hides harmful and arbitrary power structures. One of the clearest ways in which these power dynamics develop in language is through a system of binary (or opposing) divisions in Western culture, from which problematic hierarchies emerge. Through deconstruction, some invisible problematic assumption of language and culture can be helped to become visible. Therefore, the deconstruction of a text implies learning to go beyond the simplistic system of binary divisions created by the culture and that the language could try to maintain. You can try to find the moments when an interpretation is not black and white, the close relationships between elements that would seem opposite, or the inferiority on the supposedly "higher" side of the binary system. These are some of the binary divisions that exist:
- men vs. women (or male vs. female)
- culture vs. nature
- soul or mind vs. body
- reason vs. emotion
- white people vs. People of color
- adults vs. kids
- "good" literature (like Shakespeare) vs. "bad" literature (such as romance novels)
Step 12. Deconstruct any text
If you have been assigned to deconstruct a text for school, the text for which you apply this method is likely to be literary, such as a poem, play, short story, or novel. However, keep in mind that you can deconstruct any text or speech act in this way, such as movies, commercials, political speeches, how-to articles, and billboards. See the world around you as a text with deep meaning, which you could decode just by taking the time to do so.
Step 13. Condense your observations until you get a statement
If deconstructing the text is part of an assignment, you may need to submit a written report of your findings, which can be a difficult task due to the clarity, organization, and decisiveness that are required in academic essays compared to confusion., ambiguity, paradox and disorder of a deconstructed text. However, it is still possible to make a cohesive argument from a deconstructed text. You can start organizing your thoughts using the following sentence structures:
- "The text seems to argue X, but my reading shows that the text also presents argument Y."
- "The text allows the reader to understand that the binary relationship between A and B is problematic in the following ways …".
- "The text forges a surprising connection between P and Q through puns and hidden jokes. This has great meaning because…".
- Set a goal for yourself to discover something that surprises you about the text. You've most likely gotten to this point by using deconstruction, so you can then go down that path in reverse.
- You must understand that all the axioms about the world decompose to obtain partial realities. For example, when looking at the rim of a mug in a horizontal plane across the top, it will appear to be a straight line. Then if you place the cup in another dimension, the straight line will turn into a circle. What is the correct version? Ultimately, this constitutes the problem or the restriction of knowledge. Language does not describe what is (that is, what is correct) but rather seeks to describe what is "more." The aspects of our thinking that are "more" or "less" are precisely those that prevent us from perceiving reality. What we see is "change", which appears and disappears, while "reality" (that is, everything that exists) does not change, nor does anything appear or disappear.
- Have a good dictionary handy. The deconstruction of texts usually involves understanding the etymology or origin of words and all their possible meanings. To do this, you will need to get beyond the superficial meanings and general explanations, so having a detailed and accurate dictionary on hand is essential. In the case of Spanish, your best option could be the Dictionary of the Spanish Language of the Royal Spanish Academy.
- The only danger in deconstruction is that you assume yourself that you know what this constitutes. Deconstruction attempts to go beyond the appearance or structure of a text, so it is more a clue to a possible destination than a complete description of it. Before you start deconstructing a text, you don't know what you will discover. In this sense, you go from a dark place to a place where there is light; but, conversely, in terms of the meaning of the text, you go from a place where there is light to a dark place. The best way to sum it up is with the phrase "we get to know something about what we don't know."
- The purpose of this article is to provide you with helpful comments and points. However, these only constitute one of the lenses on deconstruction. Your own goal should be to discover more of these lenses.