Binary Oppositions: Good or Bad?
Until he was recently deconstructed by his own death (10/8/2004), Jaques Derrida worked assiduously for the deconstruction of binary oppositions.
What are are binary oppositions, and how are they to be deconstructed? According to the entry on deconstruction in Wikipedia:
"One typical procedure of deconstruction is its critique of binary oppositions. A central deconstructive argument holds that, in all the classic dualities of Western thought, one term is privileged or 'central' over the other . . . . Examples include: . . . presence over absence, . . . fullness over emptiness, meaning over meaninglessness, . . . life over death."
I could quibble about the strange construction "to be 'central' over" -- or I could edit it out, thereby deconstructing it and thus privileging "privilege over." But I understand what's meant here, so let it pass. Reading further:
"Derrida argues in Of Grammatology . . . that, in each such case, the first term is classically conceived as original, authentic, and superior, while the second is thought of as secondary, derivative, or even 'parasitic.'"
Okay, got it.
"These binary oppositions, and others of their form, he argues, must be deconstructed."
Why? The Wikipedia article doesn't immediately say why, but skimming further ahead, we find the implication that deconstruction will reveal "the true richness and complexity of the world."
Shouldn't this say "the true richness and complexity of the text"? Either way, who would oppose such a thing? Let's do it! So, how's it done?
"This deconstruction is effected in stages. First, Derrida suggests, the opposition must be inverted, and the second, traditionally subordinate term must be privileged."
Are these really two distinct steps? Doesn't inversion implicitly privilege the formerly subordinate term? Anyway, it sounds pretty easy, so let's invert the binary oppositions already cited: absence over presence, emptiness over fullness, meaninglessness over meaning, and death over life. Or nonbeing over being?
If everything has gone according to plan, then presence, fullness, meaning, and life should all be "secondary, derivative, or even 'parasitic'" with respect to absence, emptiness, meaninglessness, and death . . .
Hmmm . . . this doesn't quite seem to be happening. What about with nonbeing over being? Is there any way in which being could derive from nonbeing? Not according to the principle ex nihilo nihil fit (i.e., from nothing comes nothing). Except . . . if there were utterly nothing, absolutely total nonbeing, then this principle itself would not exist to prevent nonbeing from giving rise to being. In which case: ex nihilo res fit. From nothing comes something.
Hey, I think that I'm getting the hang of this deconstruction stuff. Let's see the score:
Being over Nonbeing: Bad
Nonbeing over being: Good
Conclusion: The second binary opposition of these two binary oppositions is the good binary opposition, but the first binary opposition of these two binary oppositions is the bad binary opposition.
"[T]he next project of deconstruction would be to develop concepts which fall under neither one term of these oppositions nor the other."
What?! Still more to do? Not me -- I've done enough. Let ex nihilo take care of this next project . . . .