John Cage
John Zorn
J-S Bach


Deconstruction: Between Method and Singularity

[1] In many of his texts and interviews, Derrida rejects those who try to define deconstruction. Unrelenting, he calls into question the question 'What is deconstruction?' This question seeks the invariable being or essence of deconstruction; it seeks a clear and unequivocal meaning, an exact definition. However, does something like the deconstruction exists? Rather, says Derrida, there are many forms of deconstruction. Deconstructions. It is not possible to generate a fixed meaning that would remain constant when applied to various contexts (cf. Oger, p.38). This implies that deconstruction is not a method, system or theory in the traditional sense. Such concepts generally refer to a set of rules and methods that can continually be repeated and consistently applied. Derrida emphasizes that deconstruction is not a method because the strategy of deconstruction cannot simply be repeated, that is to say, independent of the (con)text that it addresses. 'To present deconstruction as if it were a method, a system or a settled body of ideas would be to falsify its nature and lay oneself open to charges of reductive misunderstanding' (Norris, 1982, p.1).

[2] Deconstruction does not develop a new philosophical or scientific framework after it rejects metaphysical traditions as inadequate. This is why one cannot and should not speak of deconstructivism, since this could indicate a movement that has a common method as founding element. Many authors who are deterred by the destabilizing, disorganizing, and mind-broadening nature of deconstruction try to normalize, regulate or appropriate this kind of writing. They attempt to turn deconstruction into a manageable method having a closed set of rules that are invariably applied to a variety of texts (cf. Oger, p.54). Deconstruction is resistant to a mere set of general rules that can be applied.
In addition, the strategy of deconstruction does not lead to a new theory that would set 'everything straight'. Deconstruction does not elucidate texts in the traditional sense of attempting to grasp a unified content or theme. It is not a theory that defines meaning in order to determine how to find it.
Deconstruction is not a model for analysis either. Analysis means reduction. To analyze means to dissect compound, confusing, or obscure concepts and ideas to their simple and clear elements. The object of analysis is to completely unravel and resolve. However, the elements that are exposed by deconstruction are not singular; they can, in turn, be disassembled. Endlessly. Deconstruction has no end because the elements remain obscure, multiple, and complex; a complete unraveling is impossible by definition. In deconstruction heterogeneity, ambiguity, plurality, complexity, and multivocality are respected.

[3] A systematic and complete exposition of the strategy of deconstruction is impossible. It goes against deconstruction. It disobeys deconstruction. Nevertheless, there is a certain coherence to Derrida's texts and (non)concepts. Notions such as 'trace', 'dissemination', and 'différance' stand in a certain relation to each other and dynamically harbor a communality that enable a different perspective on texts. Derrida admits that deconstruction produces some methodological consequences because there are some general rules that may be discerned from deconstruction and utilized in concrete situations. Deconstruction is a strategy which has been reiterated and recognized in various fields in the course of time; therefore, it may be called a method in this most general sense.

[4] It would be senseless to object to methods or theories on the basis of a principle. After all, thought processes can never fully escape methods and theories. But why then is Derrida so reluctant to label deconstruction as a method or theory? His criticism concentrates on the lack of attention in traditional methodologies for what is idiomatic or unrepeatable. In their quest for general rules and patterns, they fail to render account of the singular and the unique (the other). Derrida insists on an open mind for what is specific and irreplaceable in texts. He wants to respect diversity and plurality, rather than to submit to a fixed norm. In his endeavor to establish a relationship with a singular work, Derrida employs means whose nature is just as singular as the work that is under investigation.
At the same time, this (implicitly) calls such concepts as repeatability and regularity into question. Still, Derrida indeed acknowledges the importance of repeatability since an absolutely new word or concept could not be understood if it could not be repeated. Without what Derrida calls iterability, a meaningful world could never be expressed. This opens a 'double bind': the mere singularity (which precedes language) still needs to be invoked by language. By capturing something in language, one fails to appreciate its singular nature. However, it is the only means by which one can relate to the singular. Derrida calls this an original violence in language: the singularity is always already adopted into a generalized network. Incidentally, Derrida does not interpret this negatively precisely because a generalizing set of meanings may give access to the singular. The logical-discursive bases of meanings and our linguistic order are not devoid of ambiguities and indeterminations in which the singular presents itself.

[5] How is the singular expressed in Derrida's texts? Can it be expressed? Does not the singular always escape any expression, any (re)presentation? Perhaps it is better to speak of 'traces' of the singular. Derrida can at  best draw our attention to certain traces of the singular, of what escapes generalities, conceptualizations, theories, frameworks, etc. How? One example. Provisionally. Exploring. Derrida does not hold on to conceptual master-words for very long. His vocabulary is always on the move. 'Différance', 'supplement', 'dissemination', 'parergon', 'pharmakon', 'hymen'; they do not remain consistently important in subsequent texts. Most of these terms are not conceived by Derrida himself; they are inextricably connected to the texts that he re-reads. He grafts his texts onto the text that he is studying and departs from words in that text. In this sense, Derrida's readings are exemplary, radically empirical and individual to the extent that they are beyond any possible development of theory. While the case is at once absolutely specific, it is also absolutely general in its significance because only one case such as this creates all that Derrida needs. In a certain sense, each of the terms can be substituted by the other, but never exactly; each substitution is also a displacement and carries a different metaphoric charge.