HENRY P. MILLS
First published in The Crucible (UNC-CH), Winter, 1993.
This literary essay considers Deconstruction and what might be termed as the "deconstructive mindset" that is bred out of the over-generalization of the literary theory's conclusions about language. In particular, the essay looks to contextualize Deconstruction in its relationship to metaphysics, modern science, scripture, and above all, Christianity. It seeks to show that a "failure" of language is not one of Truth, especially as it is understood by Christians. In the end, the argument defines Christianity as a "practice" that requires discipline and a "decision" that is open to a greater possibility than that which Deconstruction is.
What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow
Out of this stony rubbish? Son of Man,
You cannot say, or guess, for you know only
A heap of broken images...
T.S. Eliot, "The Waste Land" (ll. 19-22)
WITHIN MANY English departments around the country today, radical claims about the nature of language have entered into discussions about literary texts. Bred out of the modern critical theory of Deconstruction, these discussions question if the true "meaning" of language can ever be determined. As a mode of literary analysis, Deconstruction essentially asserts that meaning within texts is at best indeterminate and arbitrary, as the language in which they are written is said to "fail," to be "self-contradictory."
In many corners, this type of thinking has developed into a more general trend which, in light of the theory's conclusions about language, further disclaims that any notion of absolute authority exists or ever did. Thus, in the present post-structuralist, post-modern world of literary criticism, this trend becomes manifest as an attitude--a "mindset," if you will--that maintains that all knowledge, or any sense of "Truth," is relative too. This suggestion stands directly against the heritage of Christianity, as well as other religious traditions that are scripturally inspired.
Because the precepts underlying this modern "scholastic" attitude have their "foundations" in Deconstruction, this essay will term the mental posture embracing these larger claims about knowledge and truth as the "deconstructive mindset," for it is important to recognize that such skepticism is willfully adopted and maintained. At least in democratic societies, no one forces an individual to choose how he or she views the world.
One danger of Deconstruction, however, or any other highly theoretical system of inquiry that is not self-critical, is that of too quickly accepting the products of its analyses without questioning the assumptions involved. Those espousing the deconstructive mindset are no exception, as the very "center" of deconstructive reasoning operates on the presupposition that there is no "center" or "ultimate signification." Instead, only a fluctuation and suspension of "disseminated" meaning are said to exist in all things, in any discussion of knowledge that we might have.
Thus rooted in such "logic," the deconstructive mindset closes off the possibility that anything exists outside of or beyond itself, and this "eclipse" eventually reaches its end in an act of generalization. To put it more concretely, because language is said to "subvert" its own meaning, to be arbitrary, and because humanity records and expresses knowledge via language, "Truth" likewise is said to be subverted, to be arbitrary itself.
In response to these assertions, this essay will explore some of the ways in which the deconstructive mindset, as well as its conclusions, "fails" itself to see beyond its own self-affirming arguments, to question of itself. Moreover, it will attempt to suggest the existence of other possibilities about knowledge, language, and human reality that should be considered alongside this that Deconstruction suggests.
To begin, the essay will take a brief look at the underlying premises and terminology of Deconstruction. Then it will move on to the actual statements of two leading deconstructionists, J. Hillis Miller and Jacques Derrida. Having set the tenor of the thinking behind Deconstruction, the exploration will then open up into a larger, broader philosophical discussion of the implications of such thought. Specifically, the essay will look to see how the conclusions of the literary theory-made-ethos stand in light of Walker Percy's understanding of modern science, C.S. Lewis' notion of the "New Man," Eric Voegelin's conception of "Second Reality," and finally the Apostle Paul's vision of human knowledge.
At the base of the argument of Deconstruction is the notion that there is an inevitable slippage or "interplay of signification" within and between linguistic "signs." A linguistic "sign" can be defined as any written or oral utterance that we use to communicate an idea; that is, the "sign" is the actual vehicle (i.e., language) we use to express ideas or thoughts to others. Furthermore, as such a mediator between our thoughts and the actual referent of our thoughts, the sign is understood to be composed of two parts, the "signifier" and the "signified."
The "signifier" is what might be described as the sound-image or word that we use to represent a concept in the abstract. This abstract concept is in turn the "signified," existing either inside our minds (i.e., a mental representation of a "bird") or in the tangible world (i.e., an actual "bird" in a tree). Thus, any linguistic utterance, whether verbal (sound) or graphic (image), is split between that which is the conveyor (the sound-image/signifier) and that which is conveyed (the concept/signified). This split is what is so important to Deconstruction, as it opens up the opportunity for impurities of meaning to infiltrate, as well as for "misreadings" to occur.
Next, because of its dual-natured structure, the sign is said always to have other "traces" of hidden meaning, traces which, even though not fully present, are built into the very mechanics of the sign. As Spivak, translator of Derrida's Of Grammatology, suggests, "the structure of the sign is determined by the trace or track of that other which is forever absent. This other is of course never to be found in its full meaning." Put in other terms, the signs of language are said to have meaning only when considered in relationship to other signs, which through their very absence are said to be present. For instance, the sign "bird" is said to derive meaning by existing in distinction against other signs such as "third," and "heard," which offer contrast to it. The meaning of one word thus is said to be contingent upon that of other words by a process of difference and division. This notion of "difference" is fundamental to Deconstruction, for it allows for the "free play" of the sign.
To illustrate this connection between one sign and other signs further, Spivak continues with the example that "even such empirical events as answering a child's question or consulting the dictionary proclaim [that] one sign leads to another and so on indefinitely." Consequently, the sign is said to be in a "crisis." Because these traces are understood to exist within and amidst a network of other endless chains of signification, no "origin," or LOGOS, is said to exist, only a never ending circular pattern leading from one signifier to another. Deconstruction thus is an attempt to reveal the trace-structure of language, a questioning of the origin of meaning via the hidden "trace."
But as Derrida suggests, "a meditation upon the trace should undoubtedly teach us that there is no origin," because the trace is fundamentally illusive as an absent presence, paradoxical though that may sound. For by the very fact that the trace is said to be absent, it is said to be present. In other words, the meaning of any given sign is said to be simultaneously both "here" and "there," because one cannot have a "here" without a "there."
Thus, not only does the sign contain a place of "difference" between its two parts, the signifier and the signified, but also there is a necessary "difference" between itself and other signs as well. These points of difference both "inside" and "outside" of the sign thus serve as a domain in which uncertain meaning can find its niche, a domain in which the "free play" of indeterminacy can reign triumphant. In deconstructive thinking, then, neither a true one-to-one relationship between the sign's two parts or between a given sign and the other contexts in which it appears is admissible as a possibility.
To have a more concrete, though none less radical, example of the extension of this thought, one need only consider the theory's "erasure" of dichotomous terms. Deconstruction makes the suggestion that no absolute dichotomy exists between such "structuralist" oppositions as Right/Wrong, Good/Evil, or Truth/Falsity. Following the same argument of "difference," the identity of one term is said to be dependent upon the "exclusion" of the other. This very exclusion, however, in the thinking of deconstructionists, is what connects the two, since neither could be said to exist without its antonym for contrast.
One term of the binary opposition thus is said to have within it traces of the other term opposing it. The symbiotic relationship "between" the two antonyms consequently is said to force an implosion that overturns any notion of hierarchy between them, for when properly exposed, neither can be "privileged" over the other. Instead, they are mutually interdependent.
In short sum, then, whether discussed through the means of the "difference" between signifier and signified or the symbiotic nature of language and its "traces," Deconstruction seeks to overthrow the notion that language--or any text for that matter--is self-contained, or self-supporting. As Derrida admits of his grammatology, its "fundamental condition" is the "undoing" of "logocentrism," logocentrism being the notion that language has an ultimate authority resting in itself as connected to a transcendent signified, or ultimate origin.
Because of the inherent fluctuations of meaning that it maintains to be present within all of language, Deconstruction subsequently understands all linguistic signs to be arbitrary (i.e., word meaning can never be absolute). Meaning in language to the deconstructionist, therefore, is more of an absence than a presence. This notion of the arbitrary nature of language, in a nutshell, is the underlying premise of all deconstructive analysis.
Thus, we must ask when approaching Deconstruction as a methodology, what is it about its work that it is important to keep in mind? Foremost, one must remember that it is by a decision to focus in on the supposed indeterminacy and imperfection of the linguistic sign that the deconstructionist earns his trade. This choice to have a narrow focus has interesting implications, however, for what it reveals about him.
Because he deals with the "failure" of specific segments of language, the deconstructive critic must probe his mental scalpel into an isolated area of a text. But in this very process, he inevitably brackets off any larger existing context. In effect, he thus "decontextualizes" and "over-particularizes" the given sign (or set of signs) whose indeterminacy he wishes to expose. This in turn amounts to a "privileging" itself of certain word segments over the larger structure of the text of which they are a part. Such an action contradicts the deconstructive notion of the "symbiotic" relation of language, that any one term cannot be understood without the larger environment in which it exists.
As an example of this over-particularization, Terry Eagleton reveals in his discussion of Deconstruction that "Derrida's own typical habit of reading is to seize on some apparently peripheral fragment in the work-a footnote, a recurrent minor term or image, a casual allusion-and work it tenaciously through to the point where it threatens to dismantle the oppositions which govern the text as a whole."
Through such a process of textual dissection as Derrida's, though, the deconstructionist is required to separate the "parts" from the "whole" if he is to complete his quest for the weak link or "trace" which forces the sign to fluctuate in an "aporia" of indeterminate meaning. This aporia or impasse to meaning, once revealed, will subvert the text so as to deconstruct it, the end goal of this mode of literary criticism.
However, in overall effect, this quest must be understood to be none other than an act of dismemberment, a dissecting that can only occur if the subject of study is no longer supporting the larger bracket of life or "wholeness" of the text. Consequently, the resultant perspective can be understood not to be holistic and "gestaltic," but attenuated and reduced to the particular. Sometimes this is done even to the extent that the sum of the parts does not even equal as much as a whole, let alone greater than it. This, of course, is how Deconstruction characterizes the sign too.
Bearing this willful narrowing of focus in mind on behalf of the deconstructionist, and having a rudimentary understanding of his terminology, let us turn now to the direct words of J. Hillis Miller for his perceptions of the role of the deconstructive critic. Miller, along with Paul de Man at Yale, was a leading figure to promote Deconstruction in the Anglo-American Academy:
Deconstruction as a mode of interpretation works by a careful and circumspect entering of each textual labyrinth. The critic feels his way from figure to figure, from concept to concept, from mythical motif to mythical motif...[and] seeks to find, by this process of retracing, the element in the system studied which is alogical, the thread in the text in question which will unravel it all, or the loose stone which will pull down the whole building. The deconstruction, rather, annihilates the ground on which the building stands by showing that the text has already annihilated that ground, knowingly or unknowingly. Deconstruction is not a dismantling of the structure of a text but a demonstration that it has already dismantled itself.
It is interesting to note the language that Miller uses to characterize the nature of his trade--that of unravelling threads, loosening stones, and demonstrating the "annihilated" grounds of the textual "building." All seem to imply the degree to which the deconstructive critic, or at least Miller, finds delight in his nihilistic pursuits. Moreover, it is from a position as "surveyor" of chaos that the deconstructionist stands free of the wreckage on the "outside" of the self-dismantling text, positively sure of his findings.
Despite its fetish for "stony rubbish" and dismembered parts, what might be called the deconstructive fallacy occurs at those times when the literary theory is generalized to larger contexts on the basis of its conclusion's about the nature of language; that is, when its alternative "logic" is inappropriately applied to "texts" which are not solely based in grammar. Metaphysics, being concerned with the ultimate nature of reality, what is outside and beyond the everyday "physics" of our experience, is such a "text." Religion, as an attempt to define the basis of objective reality and apply it to human existence, falls within this realm.
The problem behind the deconstructive fallacy lies in the circularity of human arguments, what has been called before the "hermenuetic circle." Put roughly, this principle holds that we are trapped within our own discourse, that what is beyond language can never be brought to fall because of how it is (mis)represented in our discussion of it. For as Deconstruction suggests, all discussions are based on limitations that are built inherently into the sign systems of all human articulation.
Such limitations in human articulation, however, exist precisely because language is a "process" toward both the known and the unknown and not an "end" in itself as a self-contained vessel. Language, instead, can be understood to be a "means" simultaneously toward both possibility and impossibility, the reader being left with the choice as to whether he will be open or closed to the possibilities that are being expressed through it. Needless to say, the deconstructionist tends to emphasize impossibility, essentially because he is an "unbeliever" who has lost any sense of the mystery of language. His only beliefs rest directly upon himself in the form of his "logic" as based in Deconstruction, and his indecision is of his own choosing.
Jacques Derrida, who is probably the most well-known name associated with Deconstruction, addresses this interest concerning language in relation to Metaphysics early on in the introduction of his thinking on this side of the Atlantic. In an essay presentation of 1966 that was his American debut, "Structure, Sign, and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences," he writes,
There is no sense in doing without the concepts of the metaphysical in order to attack metaphysics. We have no language--no syntax and no lexicon--which is alien to this history; we cannot utter a single destructive proposition which has not already slipped into the form, the logic, and the implicit postulations of precisely what it seeks to contest.
Derrida's realization is that to attack the metaphysical through language is not tenable, for in the very act of attempting to invalidate one metaphysical notion, another is erected, that of the "SIGN." Alluding to "the metaphysics of presence" in language when it is attacked by "the help of the sign," he continues with the statement:
the moment anyone wishes this to show...that there is no transcendental or privileged signified and that the domain or the interplay of signification has, henceforth, no limit, he ought to extend this refusal to the concept and the word "sign" itself--which is precisely what cannot be done. For the signification "sign" has always been comprehended and determined, in its sense, as sign-of, signifier referring to a signified, signifier different from its signified. If one erases the radical difference between signifier and signified, it is the word signifier itself which ought to be abandoned as a metaphysical concept.
Thus, Derrida's point is that we must ultimately remember too that the terminology we use--sign, signifier, and signified--is itself susceptible to slippage; that is to say, one can not invest too much meaning in any attempt to overturn metaphysics without recognizing that the very language used to do so fails also, thereby controverting the whole equation.
One of the forces from which we can "trace" elements present in both Miller's and Derrida's thinking is the general movement the humanities have made toward more "scientific" contributions to society, and as the argument goes, more "accurate" and "valuable" ones. These changes have been brought about as a result of the twentieth century's emphasis on technological progress. Although it can be argued that Deconstruction is actually an "anti-science" because it denies the assertion that anything can ever be seen in a clear, definitive light, there are certain similarities between it and science that are not readily annihilated. In particular, this involves their employment of the scientific method.
As a methodology, the tracing and analysis of the "sign" is none other than the application of a scientific mode of inquiry. Despite its anti-scientific conclusions, Deconstruction's methods, nonetheless, remain scientific. As Miller has already revealed, the deconstructive critic "feels his way from figure to figure, from concept to concept,..." in a careful, circumspect manner while "retracing" the text. Before looking for other parallels between Deconstruction and science, let us, however, consider the nature of science further.
Science and the scientific method are foremost about the gathering and analysis of data, from which conclusions and general "principles" are inferred. One necessary condition of science, therefore, is that only what is empirical be dealt with, for it is this which can be measured. Working inside the parameters of this criterion, the scientific method thus is able to produce data that is objective and that can be rationally analyzed. This data, once computed, then can be generalized for other purposes.
This leads us to a very important point and "secret" about science that Walker Percy offers in his essay "The Delta Factor." Criticizing the overly abstracted "theoretical mindset," he reveals that science is actually quite limited in its perceptions as a product of its categorical methodology. The "secret" that he offers the reader is this,
Science can not utter a single word about an individual molecule, thing, or creature in so far as it is an individual but only in so far as it is like other individuals. [Consequently,] the layman thinks only science can utter the true word about anything, individuals included. But the layman is an individual. So science can not say a single word to him about him except as he resembles others. It comes to pass then that the denizen of a scientific-technological society finds himself in the strangest of predicaments: he lives in a cocoon of dead silence, in which no one can speak to him nor can he reply.
In its attempts to label, organize, and systematize, science reduces. This reduction, consequently, creates a kind of tunnel vision, a theoretical vacuum where immeasurable variables (spirituality) are not considered. They are incongruent with science's need for quantifiable data and cannot be encompassed by the empirical quotient of the scientific method.
Pure science alone creates a void in which the individual event or person is lost in the interest of generality. Consequently, science is hermeneutically flawed, with a set of premises like any other system of inquiry, whether philosophical, social, economical, political, or other. As a systematized, calculating methodology, science thus has inherent limitations that are bred out of its assumptions about what is real and what not, or in the terminology of this essay, what is truth and what is not.
As Percy suggests, therefore, time and time again we must strive to see things other than how the lens of science alone has taught us, for from such a perspective, we might actually miss what is there. This caveat is especially relevant if one is thinking only materially or linguistically, or according to any other formula which we might impose on the "Person-Event-Thing" before us. For through the imposition of our own ideology on that which is before us, we ourselves thereby decontextualize the "subject," which we render as "object" through our own bracketing. And through this narrowing, we close off possibility in the interest of categorization.
Thus we have it that the "positivism" of the deconstructive mindset operates out of a similar scientific foundation, one toward which Percy's ideas might very well be relevant too. The deconstructionist's positivism, however, is one that is quite the reverse of that associated with the Age of Reason, out of which modern science dawned and evolved. Instead of an optimism celebrating the possibility of curing the ills of humanity, it is one of "deformed" pessimism in its triumph over the asserted meaninglessness of the LOGOS.
Through the imposition of its own "ideology" upon its "object" of analysis, Deconstruction, as a force both similar to and yet different from science, reduces the text to its own "exclusionary" criteria. Consequently, it might be said that those who embrace the deconstructive mindset have come to place their "faith" in themselves. For instance, whereas Eliot mourns what he sees occurring in the modern age in his "Waste Land," the reasoning of the post-modern deconstructionist can only render "What the Thunder Said" as at best meaningless, as an arbitrary suggestion by Eliot for humanity.
In light of the above discussion on Deconstruction and its similarity to modern science, we must turn to see how deconstructive thinking bears in relation to Christianity. Christianity, or any religion for that matter, must be understood as not being a theoretical treatise that is meant to be studied and critiqued, as a document in a scientific vacuum, because the Christian faith precisely is an "activity." Grounded in the decision to place "faith" in Jesus Christ, Christians express their belief through action. Consequently, Christianity can be said to be praxis rather than theoria, a practice which operates at the individual level and not the general, as science would have it. Thus, contrary to science as Percy reveals it, Christianity has everything to do with the individual.
Not requiring elaborate training or a sophisticated knowledge base, Christianity begins in one's own front yard as an individual event, and it works on the premise that all are equal and deserving of attention, irrespective of race, class, gender, or education. Love thy neighbor as thyself is its presupposition.
Moreover, rather than being something to be deconstructed, Christianity is itself a process of "construction" to be enacted, both in one's relationship to God and with others. Like science, therefore, it too is an act of "progress," an activity of spiritual concern with Christ as MODEL. But this progress can only be attained by continually measuring the difference between our actions and the holiness He outlined for us. To assume the criteria by which He charges us to live, therefore, requires a committed decision. This commitment, however, quite possibly can result in the transfiguration of the individual as unmatched by any other means.
C. S. Lewis' revealing testimonial which describes his rise from atheism to Christianity, Mere Christianity, affirms the possibility of this transfiguration. In the section entitled the "New Men," he makes the provocative parallel between Christ and evolution, describing Him as the new "mutation" to which we all, men and women alike, are to evolve. He puts it forward this way.
Just as several million years ago during the brawny height of the dinosaurs, no one would have thought that "little, naked, unarmoured animals" with better brains were to appear and "master the whole planet," so it is, he suggests, that Christ's appearance and testimony on earth was a similar revolutionary step of progress as the first instance of "the new man" to come. In Lewis' understanding, the appearance of Christ was none other than a radical "Next Step" in the scheme of the world. Consequently, if we follow Lewis' lead, we can understand that the dialectic Christ creates is one well deserving our attention for the significance, or the possibilities, it bears for all the human family, as well as our own personal "evolution." The very substance of faith in Him, therefore, is that the good news that He speaks signifies, however imperfectly in this world, a greater possibility and purpose for our lives.
To accept the teachings of Christ, though, one must concomitantly accept the "burden of the cross," which is not an easy task. The assumption of this responsibility requires a leap of faith and an act of self-sacrifice that are much more readily deferred than pursued. Human nature does not lend itself easily to a denial of one's own interest in favor of others,' to the subordination of the self to a larger reality than our own. Consequently, the way of Christ is one of discipline, requiring patience, work, and, above all, the faith that, contrary to our inclinations or perceptions, there is a greater possibility extant for ourselves than what we can readily gather in our own impossibility, or imperfection.
One of the ways in which such a challenge to the pride of self-sufficiency is "a-voided," however, is through the disavowal of there even being the necessity to consider the radical "decision" to follow Christ, in other words a "voiding" of the threat. Eric Voegelin addresses such a process of obfuscation in his essay "The Eclipse of Reality." Here, he explains that man(-kind) oftentimes shrinks or "contracts" himself into a "deformed" being out of touch with true humanity and the world. And in so doing, the contracted self views reality with a jaundiced perception, despite the complications that are thereby forged from such a perspective. Voegelin explains that,
...the man who suffers from the disease of contraction, however, is not inclined to leave the prison of his selfhood, in order to remove the frictions. He rather will put his imagination to further work and surround the imaginary self with an imaginary reality apt to confirm the self in its pretense of reality; he will create a Second Reality,...in order to screen the First Reality of common experience from his view. The frictions consequently, far from being removed, will grow into a general conflict between the world of his imagination and the real world.
The process which Voegelin outlines is that of neurotic distortion, the manner by which the individual's mind actively works to construe reality in the interest of confirming its own more fragile, egocentric "pretense of reality." This "pretense" might well be considered man's (or woman's) inclination to configure life with only oneself in mind. And for our purposes, it is possible to consider the "friction" that threatens this as that caused by the call of Christ.
Through the defense mechanisms of "repression" and "denial," though, the frictions are surrounded and displaced by the projected "imaginary reality," which serves to distance or buffer the self from true reality and true humanity. "Reality projected," Voegelin writes, "obscures or eclipses First Reality." To Voegelin, "First Reality" is true objective reality, of which the contracted individual is just a part.
Subsequent to this eclipsing of tension, the created "Second Reality" comes to permeate the individual's entire perceptions of the world, and all must be subordinated to it in order to maintain confirmation of the underlying premise that "I am self-sufficient." This eclipse can become so extreme that, to Voegelin, the individual who has committed the act of "deforming" his humanity will come to deny even that he has ever "experienced the reality of common experience." He will instead insist that he is nothing but his shrunken self, which he will then use in an act of projective generalization as a "model for himself as well as for everybody else."
Thus, these phenomena whereby First Reality is replaced with a contorted Second Reality are the basis for the argument Voegelin continues with in his essay that analyzes the ways in which many of the world's more extremist thinkers (e.g., Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche) may have actually engaged in such a process of First Reality distortion in the fabrication of their thinking. In the end, Voegelin attributes this kind of distortion to an underlying spiritual malaise and attenuation on behalf of those whom he critiques.
Despite our human limitations as Voegelin describes them, what is important, however, is not that all men and women eclipse First Reality to some degree or another in human frailty. Rather, what is important is whether or not one does it to the extent that he or she is no longer open to the process of possibility and impossibility that is beyond the reality of the self-limited self. In many ways, this is a simple question of humility, the chief virtue of Christianity.
Thus, to return to this essay's topic, we might ask in light of Voegelin's ideas, in what ways has the deconstructionist done similarly in his or her quest to point out the indeterminate nature of language and the (scientific) generalization from there to the impossibility of Truth?
To say that "there is no absolute Truth" is in and of itself to be illogical, for contrary to its own reasoning, the statement is an absolute itself. This example, of course, serves to demonstrate that language is an imperfect mechanism for the expression of ideas, even if these ideas are those brought about by the kind of demolitional subterfuge that is characteristic of modern deconstructionists.
However, despite the limitations inherent to language as a human construct, we must ask: By what authority, given the suggestions Deconstruction makes about the "illusion" of authority, can the literary theorist make judgements about what is ultimately possible and what not? Might the generalization, contrary to the critic's self-perception, be more a reflection of his own deformed impressions of First Reality, as Voegelin suggests? Language as a "vehicle" of thought and knowledge, like all human creations, will always be limited in its capacity to describe or explain. One's inability, however, to fully realize what is beyond the self does not delimit what is.
A colleague of mine believes that we can only come to know and see the need for Christ once we have come through certain experiences (i.e., despair) that strip from us the pride of our own blindness. For often it is only through "crucifying" experiences that we are able to transcend the self-sustained, human blindness that fosters our alienation from God, by which we deny the recognition of our need for relationship with Him. To put it in other terms, one must recognize that he is lost before he can be open to being saved. This kind of alienation, again, is to what Walker Percy calls our attention. He adds, however, that our alienation has not only become augmented with the current times, but also that we are in fact "alienated from our own alienation" due to our misplaced "faith" in the modern scientific-technological age.
As for human blindness, let us consider here, for the sake of comparison in contrast to what Deconstruction suggests about knowledge, what Scripture has to say of human understanding. In 1 Corinthians 13: 2-13, it is written,
And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing....Love never ends, as for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For our knowledge is imperfect and our prophecy is imperfect; but when the perfect comes, the imperfect will pass away;...for now we see in a mirror dimly, but then, face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully even as I have been fully understood.
Here, human understanding is readily admitted as unable to encompass all. There is no suggestion that our knowledge (and hence language) is stable or anything else but "imperfect." Moreover, there is the recognition that we will always fail in both prophecy and understanding: yet too, there is mention of salvation for us, the way of LOVE. However, in contrast to Deconstruction, this path is one of the heart rather than the mind, and its way requires the recognition of Christ's supreme sacrificial love for us, and our duty to follow in a like manner toward others as established by His example.
We must be open, however, to critical thinking about our own thought if we are not to be closed to possibility. One might ask in light of our prior discussion about the appeal to the language of the Bible to illustrate a point. Does this biblical passage invalidate itself given that it is from a text which is imperfect, being expressed in human language? For instance, consider all the many different translations of the Bible, none of which can ever be called truly the "authoritative" one in light of Deconstruction theory, precisely because of the inevitable lapse of language and the error of human interpretation.
In response, one must remember that, in Christian belief, Scripture is written through divine revelation--Paul writes out of the Spirit, who works through him, as the apostle draws his words from the heart. Even if one does not accept this assumption, however, still he must respect that the passage acknowledges its own imperfection in its utterance. Thus, to complete our contrast of the two "Truths" discussed here, one bred of Deconstruction, the other of Scripture, one is an activity of illogicality, closing in upon itself, whereas the latter is an activity of potentiality, which does open up toward greater possibility.
The Christian TRUTH, then, can be understood to shine outwardly from within through the activity of the Spirit, as a TRUTH of the heart that is open. Thus, LOVE (agape) flows with a more definable current than that of language, and its "presence" is more noticeably manifest when it is expressed. Like music, it might therefore be considered the universal "language" of humanity, understood by all races and nationalities, irrespective of tongue or dialect. As such, Christ and His Love have the power to free fallen, deformed mankind so that we can open ourselves up to others and to a greater possibility than that which exists solely within ourselves.
In conclusion, we must question the deconstructionist's claim about the "absolute" failure of language and the pretense he or she thereby displays when generalizing to larger contexts about human existence. Meaning must be seen as elusive rather than contracted, as we are in our humanity. For instance, the reader of this essay may not have a "perfect" understanding of the full meaning and implications of it; perhaps also the deconstructionist may even successfully "deconstruct" parts of it: yet for all practical purposes, the reader still will be able to grasp the overall point of its argument-that the "failure" of language is not one of "Truth." And, as the essay has further sought to suggest, the "difference" between Christianity and Deconstruction as world views is significant.
Finally, in Christian terminology, then, the "failure" is rather that of mankind's "(in)decision" not to be open to the possibility that Jesus Christ signifies. But for those who do make the "decision," the resounding words of the ancient Hebraic Shema have more than enough meaning on which to found a life:
Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God the LORD is one:
and we will love the LORD our God with all our heart,
with all our soul, and with all our strength,
and we will love our neighbors as ourselves.
Datta. Dayadhvam. Damyata.
Shantih shantih shantih...
I would like to thank both Jonathan Alexander and William Ryder of LSU for their valuable time, thoughts, and suggestions toward this essay's creation.