By Elias Ayala (M.A.T. & Mdiv)
Deconstructionism is a hermeneutical methodology that seeks to deconstruct a text and reconstruct its meaning. On this view, it is argued that it is impossible to get at the original meaning of a text since the reader always brings to the text various factors that taint his ability to grasp the original intent of the author. In essence, on deconstructionism, meta-interpretations are impossible. One cannot know the one-to-one correspondent relationship between the writer and the reader such that the idea of the author which is captured in the words expressed in his writings is meaningfully conveyed to the reader. In the final analysis, “every reading of a text, is a misreading of the text”.
Deconstructionism evinces various hints of undergirding related philosophical perspectives. For instance, the deconstructionist perspective inherently adopts a form of conventionalism, in terms of which all meaning is understood to be relative to a particular cultural context and situation. Furthermore, one will also recognize hints of perspectivalism, in terms of which all truth is conditioned by one’s perspective. Referentialism is also detected within deconstructionism such that it is assumed that there is no perfect reference or one-to-one correspondence between words and the meaning they convey. All of these philosophical constructs lead to a form of linguistic limitation in terms of which language itself is inadequate for conveying truth since one cannot escape the limits of language itself.
As the father of deconstructionism, Jacques Derrida was greatly influenced by other philosophers who hinted at or touched upon similar concepts of limitation. For instance, within Derrida’s deconstructionism the student of philosophy will recognize the influence of folks like Immanuel Kant, Friedrich Nietzsche, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Edmund Husserl, Martin Heidegger, and William James. Especially evident within Derrida’s deconstructionism is Ludwig Wittgenstein, whose position postulated a form of linguistic agnosticism; a view which undermines the idea that language can convey the kind of truth which corresponds to reality. This is especially important when speaking of the existence of God; for Wittgenstein, language itself was inadequate to speak of God. Hence, at this particular juncture, one can see how such philosophy undermines biblical theism and authority.
If every reading of a text is a misreading, then it becomes impossible to know what God has revealed in scripture, since it is impossible for us to grasp the original intent of the biblical writers. When we read the Bible, we bring to it our various presuppositions, cultural background, and linguistic constructs that limit our ability to get at the original meaning. If this is in fact the case, then we could not even in principle, truly comprehend the Bible itself. But, is this in fact the case? It seems to me that Derrida’s deconstructionism falls in on itself since the position does not meet its own standard. Consider the simple fact that “if every reading is a misreading”, then this would also include the writings of Derrida himself. A reader of Derrida’s works can never attain the true meaning of Derrida’s words, hence, Derrida will write, only to be misinterpreted by his readers and have his works deconstructed by them, and reconstructed in accordance with their own biases and internal and external influences. Such a position would destroy all meaningful communication. For just as written words must be interpreted, likewise, spoken words must be interpreted as well. Thus, it seems then that if every reading is a misreading, then every hearing, is a mishearing, since spoken language must be “interpreted”.
In reality, words have meaning and we know this. To deny that words have meaning is self-referentially false since the words used to express the meaningless of language must themselves be meaningful. While we can readily admit that words can be misinterpreted due to our own biases, historical and cultural contexts and so forth, it does not follow therefore that it is impossible to rightly understand the words of another. Multiple interpretations of a sentence does not entail that all are equally valid, or, that it is impossible to have the right interpretation. Interestingly enough, if someone were to argue that an interpretation of a particular author was incorrect, wouldn’t this presuppose knowledge of what the author intended, so as to point out that my interpretation does not conform to the meaning of the author? Correct interpretation can be difficult, and most definitely requires various interpretive tools and hermeneutical methods to attain correct interpretation; but the difficulty of proper interpretation should not lead one to the dramatic conclusion that we cannot know what an author intended. Surely, the very writers who put forth such a philosophy in their books intend for their words to be understood by their readers.