Derrida’s Theory of Deconstruction: Plurality of Significance

French philosopher Jacques Derrida shows that text can be read as saying something quite different from what it appears to be saying, and that it may read as carrying a plurality of significance or as saying many different things which are fundamentally at variance with, contradictory to and subversive of what may be seen by criticism as a single, stable ‘meaning’. Thus, a text may ‘betray’ itself. A deconstructive criticism of a text revels that there is nothing except the text. In of Grammatology, Derrida makes the now well-known axial proposition that this is so (his key words are 'il n’y a rien hors due texte’, or alternatively, iln’y a pas de hors-texte’). That is, one can not evaluate criticism or construe a meaning for a text by reference to anything external to it.


Derrida carries his logic still further to suggest that the language of any discourse is at variance with itself and, by so being is capable of being read as yet language. Derrida’s work focused on language. He contended that the traditional, or metaphysical, way of reading makes a number of false assumptions about the nature of texts. A traditional reader believes that language is capable of expressing ideas without changing them, that in the hierarchy of language writing is secondary to speech, and that the author of a text is the source of its meaning. Derrida's deconstructive style of reading subverted these assumptions and challenged the idea that a text has an unchanging, unified meaning.


Jacques Derrida
The internal stage of Derrida’s deconstructive theory is the contention that both speech and writing are signifying processes which lack ‘presence’. Derrida destabilizes and displaces the traditional ‘hierarchy’ (he calls it a ‘violent hierarchy’) of speech over writing to suggest that speech can only ever be subject to the same instabilities as writing; that speech and writing are forms of one science of language, grammatology. This is not a reversal of the priority, since Plato, of speech over writing but a displacement which produces a state of ‘indeterminacy’.Drawing on psychoanalysis and linguistics, Derrida questioned this traditional approach to texts and the assumption that speech is a clear and direct method of communication. As a result, he insisted, the author’s intentions in speaking cannot be unconditionally accepted. Derrida’s approach multiplied the number of legitimate interpretations of a text. Derrida did not negate meaning, but he showed that there were many possible meanings that depended on the reader and the reader’s context as much as on the author.




The inherent, subversive self-contradictory and self-betraying elements in a text ‘include’ what is not in the text, what is outside the text, what is not said. But despite the presence of what is absent, Derrida’s dictum that 'iln’y a pas de hors-texte’ must be seen as a sine qua non of deconstruction. The elements referred to above would ‘include’ assumptions and propositions. 

 Comparative Study:  
1. Ferdinand de Saussure's insistence on arbitrariness of verbal signs.
2. Observations of Harold Bloom, J. Hillis Miller, Paul de Man, and Geoffrey Hartman.
3. Why controversial?


Ref: "Deconstruction." Britannica Student Library. Encyclopædia Britannica. Chicago: Encyclopædia Britannica, 2013.