Donconstruction/The Secret Sharer Essay, Research Paper
Deconstruction is a post-structural school of philosophy and literary criticism that was developed by French philosopher Jacques Derrida. Although he is credited with its origins, he seems to have borrowed heavily from German philosophers, Friedrich Neitzsche and Martin Heidegger, who ? radically questioned the validity of basic philosophical concepts? and Chinese philosopher, Lao Tse who embraced the harmony of opposites. In one of his short texts Tse wrote:
Therefore having and not having arise together.
Difficult and easy complement each other.
Long and short contrast each other.
High and low rest upon each other.
Voices and sound harmonize each other.
Front and back follow one another.
Therefore the sage goes about doing nothing,
The ten thousand things rise and fall without cease,
Creating, yet not possessing,
Working, yet not taking credit.
Work is done, then forgotten.
Therefore it lasts forever.
- Tao Te Ching (Feng trans.)
Many consider deconstruction as destruction of a text, but it is actually an in depth analysis or undoing of a piece of literature. R.V. Young, in his offering At War With the Word says, ?The typical procedure of deconstruction is to grasp a loose thread in the textual weave of a discourse and to proceed with the unraveling?. This ?loose thread? may be a word or phrase, in which the critic finds significant meaning in relation to the text, whether logically, ontologically, referentially, hierarchically, semantically or etymologically. The ultimate objective of deconstruction is to criticize the tradition of Western philosophy with all its perceived superlatives and hierarchical oppositions.
Derrida believes that Western society tends to think in terms of opposites such as black/white, masculine/feminine, speech/writing with the first term being privileged over the other. Though Derrida recognizes these differences, his objective is not to reverse the hierarchy of the oppositions, but rather to show that they can be studied in terms of presence, absence and differences. In other words, texts do not say ?A and not B?, but rather ?A and not A?.
Deconstructionists lash out at the idea that literature is a privileged language preserved for those ?New Critics? who can explicate it and find a unified meaning in the text. As is the case with other post-structural theories, deconstruction rejects the belief that there is a central meaning that exists in a text.
They maintain that careful analysis and unraveling of words, phrases, and clauses will lead to a broader and more universal understanding of a text without the hierarchical and oppositional biases that ?New Criticism is infested with.
Those who practice other critical perspectives as diverse as feminist, reader response and new historicism, take aspects of deconstruction, assimilating it into their theories. For example, feminists who wage against the oppressive patriarchal, phallocentric use of language, welcome the dismantling of hierarchical male/female oppositions. New Historicists, like deconstructionists believe that there is nothing outside the text. Among their processes for studying literature, they utilize the study and history of words just as deconstructionists do. As for reader response criticism, participants can search for meaning outside the usual parameters found in the more formalist perspectives.
Those who oppose the theory are not shy in expressing their viewpoints. In At War With the Word, R.V. Young says that those critical of deconstruction believe that the theory subverts objective standards of literary explication and evaluation; that it blurs the distinction between criticism and imaginative literature, and deprecates the author and authorial intent. Further they believe that deconstructionists engage in a self-indulgent, irresponsible style of writing that undercuts the scholarly and educational aims of academic discourse. In short they seem to think deconstruction is way too fun.
Deconstruction lends itself to many works of literature, especially to those that are obscure in their style and subject matter. In Joseph Conrad?s ?The Secret Sharer?, finding a unified meaning for the story of a supposedly intelligent captain aiding and abetting a confessed murderer without any reasonable basis is a difficult task. However, utilizing deconstruction, one can pull from the story a thread that can be followed and explored for possible interpretation.
Author and essayist, J. Hillis Miller follows several threads in his reading, including the meaning of the title, and the idea of doubling that takes place throughout the story. He looks at the word ?share? and traces its etymology (the verifiable sources of the formation and development of a word). By doing this, he finds that it is related in meaning to the word ?sheared?, which means to cut and divide, but that ?to share? also means to have something in common with someone else. He then explains how combining the two title words ?secret? and ?sharer? can have different meanings, including: one who shares a secret, and one who in secret, shares himself and his thoughts. Although this sounds like the sort of word- game playfulness that deconstructionists are criticized for, it is important in the development of the story. Is the murderer, Leggatt one who simply shares a secret with the narrator, or has the narrator been forced to become a participant in a secret that cannot be revealed to anyone else? Depending on which option is accepted by the reader, an argument can be made in favor of the captain?s (narrator) decision to assist Leggatt, or against it.
In regards to the notion of doubling, Miller gives multiple examples of its use throughout the story. He shows that Conrad uses the word itself many times in relation to the captain and Leggatt, as well as in the descriptive settings. He believes Conrad has deliberately used the word ?double? so many times that it has become haunting and ?uncanny? in its relation to the story. The captain has this strange ?double? that it seems no one else can see but him, who shares his background, moral values and feelings of not belonging. The captain?s actions in hiding Leggatt are more understandable when one considers that he feels Leggatt is an extension of himself; that their sharing of the secret gives him a sense of belonging that he does not have as the ?new man? on his ship. After all, one would be hard pressed to turn ?himself? in to the law.
Deconstruction works well for ?The Secret Sharer? because there are so many loose threads in the story, that unraveling one, or two or twenty is not unreasonable. As J. Hillis Miller said, ?Deconstruction is not a dismantling of the structure of a text, but a demonstration that it has already dismantled itself?.
A downside of deconstruction is that in its determination not a have a centralized meaning it can ignore questions in a story that require answers for many readers. For example in ?The Secret Sharer?, a deconstruction reading may not look at individual characters, plot development or theme, instead focusing on certain words and phrases. This can be disconcerting at times.
All in all, deconstruction can be a useful tool, along with the many other critical perspectives for studying texts and finding a meaning that makes sense.