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September 04, 2008

Deconstruction

Deconstruction

The notion of deconstruction originates with the thought of Jaques Derrida. Derrida argued that language is unstable , that meaning is therefore able to shift. Meaning is never quite the same depending upon the context in which a text is consumed. All media texts are constructed, put together by individuals or usually teams of people who have a range of messages and values embedded within a given text.  Deconstruction is a method of analysing the text and all its component elements. The term is a confusing one and some people mix it up with straightforward analysis. The BBC report here does exactly this in relation to the work of John Ellis which is a straightforward critique not a deconstruction in Jaques Derrida's terms. As far as film is concerned Susan Hayward (1996) notes Deconstructive film does what the term implies: it deconstructs and makes visible through that deconstruction the codes and conventions of dominant cinema… (p 63)

As a critical method deconstruction aims: "to draw out...a critical reading which fastens on, and skillfully unpicks, the elements of metaphor and other figurative devices at work in the texts of philosophy." (Christopher Norris Deconstruction Theory and Practice p 18-19) Thus language is always present in any discourse and film and media uses visual and aural metaphors to embellish and reinforce a preferred meaning / reading amongst its audiences. Media studies thus encourages a critical practice which identifies this media based languages at work.

An important element of Derrida's work was the identification within texts of binary oppositions. This is where ther are precise opposites the ones and zeros of computer code for example. Within media this could mean the generation of sterotypical figures who are 'goodies' or 'baddies'. In film or TV a range of conventions may empasise this differences through visual metaphors. Baddies in black hats goodies in white ones in the stereotypical Western genre.Of course there are usually a range of subtleties in a character in real life which are not brought out in a media text precisely to ensure a strong prefrred reading is given.

Of course creative people can play with these conventions. For example look at the latest Batman film. When the hostages were on the boats trying to escape and were able to blow each other up in order to escsape a huge Afro-American whose presence is  magnified by the camerawork frightens an intimidated and seemingly tiny prison governor to take the detonator to the bomb on the other ship from the governor. The huge and threatening prisoner then chucks it out of a porthole in defiance of the sterotyping to the relief of the audience. At play are a range of visual metaphors which can be identiified as being present but it is the sterotyping through the commonly understood metaphors which creates meaning within the audience which is then changed by the strategy of the text. . The underlying meaning of course is that all Americans will pull together when the pressure is on and there is a greater external threat.

Perhaps a reasonable working definition of deconstruction is that meaning is always negotiated between texts and their audiences. Meaning then becomes a shifting ground in which the parameters of meaning change in relation to a variety of circumstances including the individual positioning of people as well as their social and cultural positioning in the world.

Nevertheless it is the text which sets the agenda for the discussion and the agenda inevitably comes from the author in conjunction with the other aspects of publishing / media institution (see preferred reading / meaning). Throughout, this complex interplay of experience which is freefloating and contingent. This is happens in real life who one meets is contingent and there are no set outcomes, meaning is continually in play. 

Models based on networking which emphasises the contingency of the flaneurial lifestyle seem more relevant. Abercrombie, Hill and Turner in the Penguin Dictionary of Sociology note the method is associated with decentering of meaning away from authorial intent. The method itself could bring about a reversal of the overt and official meanings of a text in favour of a subversive reading. Critics argue that the ‘method’ is subjective (meaning is in the eye of the beholder) and arbitrary and many point out that society isn’t a text.


Webliography

Wikipedia entry on Deconstruction

Yale Law School on Deconstruction (PDF)

BBC News on the Death of Derrida

Reviewing Sociology Review of Deconstruction and the Visual Arts



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