How I Explain Derrida… or quit bagging on poststructuralism

Well, I’ve done it now. I actually volunteered on a science blog to “explain” Derrida! (I’m sure they aren’t as excited about this as I am.) I brazenly pointed out that it isn’t so easy a thing to do as it is for Dawkins and Dennett to explain (so brilliantly) their neo-Darwinian biology and all its new tools of thought. Why? Because D & D use the same language for thinking that the general public in England and North America does: the exact same kind of rationalist-empiricist systems of exploratory assumptions that have belonged to the British and American educational system and the English language itself for the past couple of centuries.

Poststructuralism requires learning different languages for thought, from the ground up. Think of it as a non-Euclidean geometry, okay? Think of it as a bold, thought-experimental, “over-simplified idealism,” such as Dennett lauds in science, okay? (My own explanatory schema is over-simplified, that is; not the originals.) The point is, theorizing in every field has its own techniques and its own evidences. It took me decades to become fluent in the languages of structuralism and phenomenology that underpin poststructuralist theory. So how in the world can I explain this foreign “language” in clear and simple terms? That’s just not how we learn languages! But this system of thought yeilds brilliant results in dealing with all kinds of human meaning-systems.

Well, I try to explain what’s behind “deconstruction” in the very best ways I can think of, but I realize that I am asking an awful lot of my readers. For one thing, that they genuinely care about the idea of a liberal arts education! And by the way, science is fundamentally a rigorous way of knowing about the physical structure of the natural world. But it is also a human meaning-system. A lot of “reality” is very complex, in just this way. That’s why different aspects of reality are fruitfully explored by different disciplinary methods yeilding very different formalizations. Okay now, the Derrida stuff is contained in Section 4 under Pages on the right. I’m just going to send you over there. (If #4 intrigues, read Section 3 too.) If nobody goes over there and reads and comments, I guess I’ll have to flood my front page with it. Remember, please, that I am giving a very simplified version of a enormously sophisticated way of analyzing language. It is not the common linguistic approach taken in our own Chomskian U.S. (Have you read that amazing New Yorker article on Chomsky and the Amazonian tribe yet?)

By the way, polite and thoughtful conversation (however saucy!) such as you’ll see over at Rob Knop’s above-referenced science blog is welcome. Anything like “the Jerry Springer Show on science blogs” that I lamented about in an earlier post will be graciously deleted. (Wonderfully, I’ve never gotten anything of that kind here.)