The excursion into the preposterous sends us back with renewed pleasure to the actual.
- C.S. Lewis, Essays Presented to Charles Williams
I. DA BACKGROUNDER. Some years ago I had the mischance of tuning in to a radio station, to one of those pretentious “Arts and Culture” programs on the CBC, Canada's Fabianist broadcaster. It was covering an interview with an artist influenced (read deceived) by the deconstructionist movement. The hour was late, the body weary, was in bed sleeping, ready to enter my own dreams, which are very deconstructionist-like in their imagery. Though I forced himself to stay awake to listen to what this person had to expound on his so-called "art". Why? Unknown. But I must confess that he is periodically mesmerized by the proponents of this movement, in their seriousness and insistence of the “truths” of this philosophical abomination that has stunted so many intellects in the last few decades.
II. DE MAN WAS A NAZI. The interviewee was discussing his "art" in relation to controversy that, in hindsight (assumingly), had sounded the death knell of deconstructionism. It had to do with the discovery of pro-Nazi articles written during the Second World War by Paul de Man (1919-1983), the academic who introduced deconstructionism to the United States, later being its one of its most famous champions after his emigration to America (the articles were published in 1987). One article in particular, entitled The Jews and Contemporary Literature, described how Jews were a contamination to the field of letters, as “polluted and harmful”. It was inspired, of course, by de Man’s sympathy to Nazism, previously unknown to his groveling minions. One would figure that the discovery these articles would have signaled the end of deconstruction’s popularity and influence, at least in the US. Not so. Deconstructionism, a gnostic heresy particular to egomaniacal latte-sipping pseudo-intellectuals, still today thrives in the university system.
III. DA BUFFOON. An elaborate discussion will not here be submitted of the extravaganza that resulted therefrom as it has been already documented. Rather, the focus will be on, firstly, the buffoon who was appropriated air time on the radio in particular and, secondly, the nihilistic precepts of deconstructionism in general as it relates to art. The "artist" in question (name not remembered), judging by the tonality of his voice, was obviously confounded by the debacle. One might have figured that de Man’s Nazi past coupled with the self-referencing meaninglessness of deconstructionism itself would have made him re-evaluate his own ideas on the purpose of art. Not so. Though dismayed, this wannabe-Dali spoke of how his "art" attempted to represent the tragedy. TH2 cannot remember what form of art employed, nor does he wish to remember. Nonetheless this "artist" seemed unfettered, disinclined to relegate deconstructionism to where it belongs - in that gigantic garbage bin with all other failed and transient philosophies that have hoodwinked and stolen so many minds over the last two-hundred years. For the very first principle of deconstructionism itself not only disallows absolutely the translation of texts (i.e. of the word which re-presents) - including the fact that it attempts to demonstrate the meaninglessness and incommunicability of ideas to others through grammar by using that very grammar itself ! - but also the physical representation of realities which is part and parcel to art and the artist. Deconstruction cannot and does not permit art. It only makes for a solipsistic graffiti, a "creation" without a referent, without correspondence with the "other". It engenders a kind of "art for art’s sake" in extremis.
IV. DA LIMITS. This obtrusive fact was evidently of no interest to the artist under review. He kept on talking as if his art really represented the controversy surrounding the de Man affair. Why? Because he cannot escape, no matter how hard he tries, that borderline, that circumscribed aspect, that quantitative finitude, which the artist must presuppose to effectuate his job. The frame which delimits the painting, the curves and lines drawn on a piece of paper which denote the human figure or the landscape, the carving of a piece of granite into a segmented and particularized shape by the sculptor - all of these limit, a word which the deconstructionist despises. Once again there is that ancient and incontrovertible principle, affirmed by realist philosophers, that deconstructionists cannot avoid: matter is the condition of limitation. Thus, to pretendedly avoid this, the deconstructionist avers that the signifier (whether it be grammatical sign or a work of art) is self-referencing. When the writer writes or when the artist renders, he is not referring to that which is outside the self and the world. Nothing is signified but the self.
V. DA KING OF DECONSTRUCTIONISM. Let us read what the "creator" of deconstructionism, Jacques Derrida (1930-2004), had to say about art:
If... one were to broach lessons on art or aesthetics by a question of this type (“What is art?” “What is the origin of art or of works of art?” “What is the meaning of art?” “What does art mean?” etc.), the form of the question would already provide an answer. Art would be predetermined or precomprehended in it. A conceptual opposition which has traditionally served to comprehend art would already, always, be at work there... In order to think art in general, one thus accredits a series of oppositions (meaning / form, inside / outside, content / container, signified / signifier, represented / representer, etc.) which, precisely, structure the traditional interpretation of art. One makes of art in general an object in which one claims to distinguish an inner meaning, the invariant... through which... one would try to see or restore the true, full, originary meaning... When a philosopher repeats this question without transforming it, without destroying it in its form,... its ontological interrogative structure, he has already subjected the whole space to the discursive arts, to voice and the logos.Here we come to the kernel kernel of the issue, which is not so much artistic as metaphysical in aspect. Notice Derrida’s configuration of questions in parenthesis: “What is...”, or his utilization of the words “predetermined” and “precomprehended”. Derrida wrote in the context of being, of the ontological, of that which structures, orders and thus limits. These, he said, must be destroyed, annihilated. A philosophical digression is needed challenge this contention.
Da new Jacques Derrida doll
VI. DA METAPHYSIC. What M. Derrida wished to obliterate is the traditional metaphysical notion that says that all of our knowledge presupposes an ontological provision, that all intelligibility we have of ourselves and the universe we live in is rooted in being. Grammatically speaking, what is meant by the being of the thing? Is the thing we see in the world just crude matter? Do we say “it is what it is” and nothing else? That there is no intrinsic principle that resides “behind” or transcends reality? That effectively we live in an unstructured, random and chaotic world? If being is taken in this acceptation then, when we say “being”, it can only, in a grammatical sense, be a noun. Basic grammar tells us that a noun is a substantive, it refers to a person, place or thing, and that is all. Taken in this sense, the being of the thing is solid, static and immovable. When we speak or write our knowledge of a thing in a grammatical form, i.e. when we employ symbols sequenced in the form of a language which sets up a relation with an-other (and hence order and limits), being cannot be expressed in a substantive sense because this would make the physical existence of the thing equal to our symbolical representation of it. As common sense tells us, the sign, whether it be symbolical or graphical, is universal, it denotes the many with the one. If our symbolic representation of reality was no different from that reality itself it would necessarily follow that man is not really distinct from the world, that understanding (the mind) is not really distinct from the thing understood (the world). But an art form cannot be without matter. But this is immaterial to deconstructionists, and it is also the spectacular error of all aprioristic philosophies.
VII. DA GRAMMATICA. It therefore follows that being must involve some action and hence, grammatically speaking once again, being can only be communicated by way of a verb participle. A verb is an operational word, it relays the actualization of a doing of some-thing. The participle fuses the noun and verb, as it were, so as to make it kinetic, to ascribe functionality to it. The participle does not mean that the thing (noun) or action (verb) exist in dissociation to each other. Rather, the very definition of participle means a participation or involvement of the action as be-longing to the thing. Now when we say that being is a participle, a doing of a thing, we mean a cutting down and through the external-physical properties of the thing to the very actuality of its doing. Not a doing as meant by material transformation or physical movement. For this is the great oversight of modern philosophy which thinks that being is becoming. Instead, we mean a being in actuality, a that which acts. And when the excavation is completed we arrive at being as being. We say that “things are”, “it is”, “to be”. The formula being=is is disclosed to us and we have arrived at the mystery of existence, we halt and ponder the mystery of the logos. St. Thomas: "since being properly signifies that something actually is... a thing is, in consequence, said simply to have being... and this is precisely each thing's substantial being. Hence by its substantial being, everything is said to have being simply." Therefore, when looking for that first principle we must consider being as being which establishes order in the world. A principle is that upon which the ordering of things is governed or directed. Order implies a before and an after, anteriority and posteriority, above and below, and so forth. To negate this is to say that there is no structure and thus order in the world - and this is what the deconstructionist wishes to effect in grammar (or "art") and to believe in actuality.
VIII. DA ETYMOLOGY. Now when Derrida posited “What is art?” he is also submitting a proposition, an apprehension or conceptualization of some-thing. What follows from such a question is a judgement, which results in the affirmation of negation of the initial apprehension “What is art?” The “is” in the question means that the answer can be only resolvable within being. The basic form of all propositions is as follows: SUBJECT is PREDICATE. The subject (that which is perceived, given a signified meaning), is joined to the predicate (the formal definition of a specific way in which the thing is known to act) by the copula is. In other words, the verb is unifies the subject with the predicate, pronouncing their identity. This is not merely a conjoining or juxtaposition of grammar itself. The words we write and speak, including the graphical imagery we render, do not encounter reality like a concatenating veneer, like sheet of wallpaper on a wall. Grammar is actually interconnected with, and goes through to, the real. We could in effect say that the is is in the world but not of the world, pointing behind reality, to that which transcends it. The operation is transitive, not destructive. We do not say “What is artness?” Conversely, we utilize hard, real-world and exacting phraseology and say “What is art?” We do not say “Nietzsche is deadness”. We say “Nietzsche is dead”. Recall: the prefix de in means “from”, “down” or “away” from some-thing, used by deconstructionists in a way inclined to destroy and entrap all within the mental self (meant in the context in which TH2 is speaking). The solution, rather, would be to consider the prefix trans, meaning to go through or across the thing or the real world itself (again, matter is the condition of limitation), so as to change and be directed to the origin, to the first principle, and to dwell in the aura of the logos. Grammar hits and entrenches into reality head-on, so to speak. If not, all of our judgements would be groundless, subjective.
Da abominable deconstructionist architectureIX. DA PROPOSITIONS. To M. Derrida, however, this was a fiction. The very submission of the proposition “What is art?” contains the germ of the disease. Grammar itself is inherently flawed. The is in the proposition, and the ordering that results therefrom, places a limit, it restricts and thus hinders what he thought to be art. He considered art to therefore be “predetermined or precomprehended”, meant in a necessitarian context. Perhaps this is because Derrida refused to highlight that there can only be three types of propositions. They are: the self-evident, the postulate, and the demonstration. The self-evident proposition asserts that “things are” or “it is” or “to be” without antecedent knowledge, the truth of the existence of some thing, in itself and as a distinct ontological unit from man, is apprehended with certitude as soon as the proposition is understood. The alternatives are as follows: one says that the proposition is a postulate, a hindcast of what things could have been (past) or a prediction of what they may be (future). Yet this type of proposition is unproven, it remains an idea in the mind, uncorroborated by reality. This then leads to the next proposition: the demonstration. A demonstration, however, always refers to that which is behind itself for validation, continuing backwards ad infinitum unless an initial, objective principle is affirmed as self-evident. If not, again, all judgements would be baseless. It therefore follows that the question “What is art?” is not (as a proposition which assumes that the answer is only answerable within the context of being and order, limit and logos) in any way inimical to art.
X. DA EVIL PURPOSE. Irrespective of the abovementioned, the deconstructionist continues with his textual and artistic diarrhea. For the rallying call of this band of deluded gnostics is this: "The horizon of absolute knowledge is the effacement of writing in the logos". Logos is the chief word that the deconstructionist abhors.
XI. DA END OF DA WOR(L)D. The author of an excellent book which exposed the fallaciousness of the deconstructionist movement, also gives an excellent portrait of the fundaments involved with this philosophic contagion which has overrun not only university departments, but also political agendas, the mass media and, sadly, even architecture. He writes that deconstructionism is:
An end-of-the-wor(l)d theory. The parenthesis in wor(l)d is meant to accomplish several things. It implies not only that word and world are reversible terms but that the relation of one to the other is... upside down. The word doesn’t reflect or represent the world; the word contains the world, and not the other way around... The writer, the reader and the larger community are blotted out at one stroke, and all that’s left is a succession of misleading signs, a parade of words beyond the power of humanity to control them. It is a paradox in keeping with the paradoxical sound of its name that deconstruction declares ‘logocentrism’ the enemy. For deconstruction itself is centered on the relentless study of the logos - the Greek term for word, speech, discourse, and thought, but also, in The Gospel According to St. John, the word made flesh, the engendering word, reason incarnate, the rational principle presumed to exist in the universe." (TH2 italics)XII. DA HEIDEGGER INFLUENCE. Getting back to the de Man affair that so intrigued the aforementioned "artist", there is one important factor that should not be disregarded. Although one can trace the deconstructionist movement back to the mental emanationism of Kant, and perhaps even further back to the “mental qualities” of Ockham, we still find a more immediate influence on these latter day gnostics in the writings of the German philosopher Martin Heidegger (1889-1976). There is no question of the direct association between Heidegger’s philosophy and Derrida’s deconstructionism. More than any other thinker in the last century (including Wittgenstein's Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus) Heidegger had fought so hard against the logos in language. In his book Being and Time, the reader is constantly stifled by his constant word fusions via the use of hyphenation, of his almost incomprehensible grammar that has incited many of his critics to correctly ascribe his work as the circumlocutions of a gnostic. A gnostic he certainly was, but with an added feature. It can be said that Heidegger, by attempting to reconstruct a new language of being, by squeezing and pulling sequences of words, by straining and placing the sentence into that incessant state of Germanic tension (echoes of Luther are here), and by attempting to dissect and disassemble the logos as it were, thought, as do the deconstructionists, that the barrier or the limit could be decimated, that reason, speech, and the Word could somehow be torn asunder, deconstructed. Read the words of the calamity as inaugurated by Heidegger: "After the primordial phenomena of Being-in-the-world has been shattered, the isolated subject is all that remains, and this becomes the basis on which it gets joined with ‘a world’." Hence the ground is made fertile for the deconstructionist perversion. There arises the seeming possibility of the meaninglessness of language. In his updated commentary of Heidegger’s thought, a popular (and very arrogant) literary critic made an accurate observation that is of pertinence here:
In the final analysis, the Logos proclaimed by Heidegger, the Word through which Being is, is like a valedictory twin of the Logos which speaks dawn in the Johannine Gospel. It was, as for so many master spirits and makers in our age of the “afterword”, not new gods who were waiting at the crossroads, but the old God in all his unacceptable durance. Heidegger wrestled against that meeting. The vehemence of that bout is the measure of his stature. And of his defeat, as a thinker, as a human person.
Da Nazi philosopher Martin Heidegger
(aka "the quiet Luther" by TH2)
XIII. DA GNOSTIC EFFLUENT. These points are brought into the discussion because deconstructionism, though a mere game of linguistic free association, has its roots in the writings of questionable characters with dubious intentions. The evidence is plain that Heidegger was a Nazi, and there is a concordance between his philosophy and Nazi ideology. Thus it was really no surprise to learn that de Man, the viscount of deconstructionism in the United States, was swayed by Nazism. What is pathetic, however, is the attitude of the "artist" interviewed on the radio. One would assume that, in the recognition of de Man’s past, but also in the realization that deconstructionism is a subspecies of Heidegger’s gnostic ontologism in close association to Nazi ideology, that he would admit to the sinister aspects of deconstructionism. I heard no indication of this, just overly flamboyant dialogue laced with an egotism beyond gauging. Like all of de Man’s advocates, his “criticism” was evasive, packed with irrelevant and petty excuses. What is comical, but more so tragic, is that Derrida himself, a Jewish academic, seemed not to be too concerned with the Nazism involved. He quoted and referenced Heidegger as if he was some sort of intellectual messiah. Moreover, this also applies to the whole post-modernist current itself of which Heidegger has left his indelible imprint. All dissociate man from his action, the word from the deed, the idea from the actuality, the mind from the world. Semiotics, structuralism, Lacanism, Gadamerism, Foucaultism, Habermasism - all of this gnostic effluent screams across the sky in popularity like a shooting star and soonafter evaporates like a shallow pond in a desert. The consequence: inexperienced and impressionable minds are deceived by their mentors and will live to repeat their errors. It's hard not to laugh at the pomposity and imbecility, but really we should weep.
More of da abominable deconstructionist architectureXIV. DA DA DA. Deconstructionism is in many of its aspects akin to the Dada movement that originated in Switzerland during World War I (ironically, both Joyce and Lenin were in Zurich in 1917). Thus the term Derridadaism has recently been used to characterize M. Derrida’s various cerebral concoctions. If we recall, the dadaists, like the deconstructionists, randomly selected words and ideas in their creations of poetry and prose. No borders designated, no limits imposed, just play and purposelessness. The unspoken first principle for art and literary composition is that there are no such things as limits. All is permitted. And if you have the misfortune to peruse a deconstructionst text, you will find broken off sentences, strange symbols and signs, crossed out words, discontinuation in elucidation, purposefully strange spatial presentations of text and images, and other manifestations of esoterica so as to make it appear that the writer has broken through and extended beyond the limit and the logos. This, in truth, is a wretched descent into illogic and sophistry as just the tangible reality of the piece of paper that the deconstructionist writes on has already delimited his discourse. The existence of the Logos is indisputable and unassailable. Again: matter is the condition of limitation. Focusing only upon the sign entrapped within the mind is just a form of escape from reality. One must, instead, approach reality head on and go through it, look behind it so as to know.
XV. DA CONCLUSION. This so-called philosophy - deconstructionism, this seditious excursion from common sense and right reason, should continually be castigated as to what is in its essence: gnostic nihilism.
DA NOTES / REFERENCES
1. This article (translated into English) is given in D. Lehman, The Signs of the Times, Deconstruction and the Fall of Paul de Man (New York: Poseiden Press, 1992), pp. 277-278 (Appendix).
2. See R. Kimball, Tenured Radicals, How Politics has Corrupted our Higher Education (New York: Harper & Row Publishers, 1990), pp. 96-115.
3. Cf. J. Derrida, The Truth in Painting (The University of Chicago Press, 1987, first published in 1978) where the translators G. Bennington and I. McLeod write that the translator is put into an “uncomfortable position”, but considering deconstructionism itself, the task is still a “saintly one”[!]. Also: “translation is in fact the death of translation. Yet Derrida’s work calls for translation” (pp. xiii-xiv). They point the gun at their own heads. Why even translate the work when the very philosophy they concede to discounts translation?
4. Ibid., pp. 21-22.
5. Sum. theol., i, q. 5, art. 1, ad. 1.
6. J. Derrida, Of Grammatology, trans. G.C. Spivak (The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1976), p. 26. Originally published in 1967.
7. Lehman, op. cit., pp. 41-42.
8. G. Steiner, Heidegger (The University of Chicago Press, 1989), revised edition, pp. 5, 10, 152.
9. M. Heidegger, Being and Time, trans. J. Macquarie and E. Robinson (New York: Harper & Row Pubishers Incorporated, 1976 ), pt. I, div. I, ch. VI, p. 250. First published in 1926.
10. Steiner, op. cit., pp. xxxv.
11. See H. Ott, Martin Heidegger, A Political Life, trans. A. Blunden (London: Fontana Press, 1994, first published in 1988), pp. 133-260; V. Farias, Heidegger and Nazism, trans. P. Burell and G.R. Ricci (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1989, first published in 1987), passim; W.E. Hughes, “The People Versus Martin Heidegger”, First Things, December 1993, no. 38, pp. 34-38; Steiner, op. cit., pp. 116-126; and R. Safranaski, Martin Heidegger, Between Good and Evil, trans. E. Osers (London: Cambridge University Press, 1998), passim.
12. See "Heidegger and the Question" In: Of Spirit, trans. G. Bennington and R. Bowlby (The University of Chicago Press, 1989, first published in 1987), passim. Here we have at first glance what would expected to be a disapprobation by Derrida of Heidegger and his Nazism. Contrariwise: the text is replete with the typical gnostic circumlocution of the deconstructionist - forced abstruseness, pointless digressions, inexplicable phraseology.