In a recent blog post, Stanley Fish provides a highly readable, concise, and understandable summary of deconstruction by way of previewing a new book on the history of deconstruction in American thought. The thrust is simple: Some Americans freaked about over French theory for no good reason. In response to concerns that deconstruction means an end of the world, Fish writes:
All we lose (if we have been persuaded by the deconstructive critique, that is) is a certain rationalist faith that there will someday be a final word, a last description that takes the accurate measure of everything. All that will have happened is that one account of what we know and how we know it — one epistemology — has been replaced by another, which means only that in the unlikely event you are asked “What’s your epistemology?” you’ll give a different answer than you would have given before. The world, and you, will go on pretty much in the same old way.
That last bit hits the nail on the head: despite all our mental-masturbation over deconstruction, the world goes on.
Except that it doesn’t for some people. Some folks, once they get deconstruction into their melon, don’t seem to be able get it out. The way they see, understand, and even operate in the world changes. Their day-to-day language is littered–literally, junked-up–with “signifiers,” “discourse,” and “subjectivity.” You can’t understand a damn thing they’re saying, because they keep moving about, careful never to take up a position for fear that it would commit them to an epistemology (didn’t I promise never to use that word? Damn). In these cases, there can be only two conclusions: (1) the person is way smarter than I am, and I’m just too dumb and slow to keep up; or (2) the person has gone off the deep-end. Depending on my mood, I’m often inclined to decide on option 2.
Which is sad, because, as Fish implies and Michael Berube better explains, there’s a lot to like and some excellent potential in postmodernism, deconstruction, and the rest of the French theory grab-bag. One of these days I’ll muse on what happened to my love of theory. But for today, I’ll appreciate Fish’s worthy attempt to explain why we all–and particularly the deconstructed mind-f@#%s–need to relax.