Deconstruction and Postmodernism

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In this weeks readings, deconstruction and postmodernism are presented as philosophical or intellectual positions and strategies that different thinkers utilize to express their understanding of the social world. Postmodernism is a movement in architecture, art, and criticism that emerged in the late 20th century as opposition to modernity (Taylor & Winquist, 1998). As opposed to the modernism movement which placed emphasis on strict universal principles, the postmodernism approach focuses on personal preferences. The movement takes a radical stance with regard to modern assumptions about identity, culture, history and even language (Taylor & Winquist, 1998). The movement promotes the notion of pluralism, which asserts that any single fact has more than one truth and that people have numerous ways of knowing. Postmodernism is opposed to sovereign, autonomous individual, and instead promotes diversity, collage, and collective experience. The famous theorists associated with this movement include Fredric Jameson and Jean-Francois Lyotard. Fredric Jameson described postmodernism as a cultural ideology of the late capitalism. Jameson had a pessimistic view of postmodernism, pointing out that the culture was characterized with the prediction of nostalgia, paraphrasing, replacement of pastiche with satirical parody and excess focus on the perpetual present (Palmer, 2016).

Deconstruction is closely associated with postmodernism and has in the recent past formed the basis of many postmodern ideas. Norris (1998) points out that for many people, deconstruction is viewed as a philosophical sub-branch of a wider cultural phenomenon that falls under the postmodernism movement. Popularized by Jacques Derrida, the philosophical movement that is deconstruction is based on the idea that there is always an oppositional relationship in any text in such a way that certain parts are dominant and different from others. Deconstruction is involved with critical analysis of the relationship between meaning and text (Nomis, p.52). This philosophical theory of criticism seeks to identify the underlying contradictions in a text by critically analyzing and uncovering deeper meaning. Coming about partly as a reaction against structuralism, deconstructionism holds that any written work contains multiple and contradicting meanings (Derrida, 1982). Deconstructionism encourages people to be suspicious of stipulative definitions and claims that concepts and words have a specific meaning. A reader who is aligned with the deconstructive school of literary criticism views all natural categories within the text as being opposed to each other and treats all the claims with suspicion (Culler 2014, p.85).

Baumann (1992) discusses the sociological responses to postmodernity. He points out that postmodernity ideas over the recent past tend to focus more on intellectual phenomena, with a little amount of focus being directed towards arts and cultural forms and precepts (p.26). Baumann is quite critical about postmodernity, arguing that the current concept of postmodernity rarely divulges into the fundamental preconceptions of contemporary consciousness (Baumann 1992, p26). Baumann points out that the postmodernity movement has imposed on itself a limit which in turn is of great significance to the future of sociology. The article further discusses the postmodernity paradigm in relation to art, culture and worldview. Baumann reports that contemporary art is characterized by defiance of order, a contradiction to the modern period of art which was characterized by known and dominant schools and styles. He points out that one common future that characterizes contemporary art is the artistic form of pastiche which seeks to allude, invoke or emulate past styles, devices, techniques or moods. According to Baumann, embracing of pastiche has led to the loss of originality since issues such as eclecticism, borrowing and plagiarism do not receive as much condemnation as they used to in the modern period of art (Baumann 1992, p.28).

Vahabzadeh (2009, p. 454) points out the schools of deconstruction and radical phenomenology have had a great impact on social and human sciences. He points that the deconstruction school of thought as put forward by Derrida focuses on two interrelated issues namely exposing the logocentrism operative and the critique of metaphysical parallelism. Vahabzadeh argues that deconstruction as a school has made two main contributions to sociology. The first contribution is in respect to the absence of a central signifier and the second contribution relates to the construction of the conceptual framework called the society. According to Vahabzadeh, the subject matter of the society does not come from the sociological practices and related ideas and that the society is just but a product of sociological gaze (Vahabzadeh 2009, p. 454).

From this weeks readings, it quite clear that both postmodernism and constructivism are movements that emerged after and to a greater extent as a response to modernism. Both movements approach advocates for identification of deeper meaning in texts, work of art and even architecture. However, deconstruction shares a close relationship with a unique tradition of thought about different issues in the philosophy of science as well as epistemology. As such, it emerges as a departure from both postmodernity and modernity (Olson, 1997). Modernists advocate for a certain set of principles and often see time as being frozen. Modernists often emphasize the importance of the members of the society sticking to certain rules and principles. Contrary to this, postmodernists advocate for movement away from certain traditions in response to the changes in time and conditions in the society. Postmodernists aim at deconstructing the traditional authority of power and control. They advocate for a less hierarchical approach in which authority and control are more diffused.

A Dolls House by Henrik Ibsen can be interpreted from a postmodernist perspective with respect to how the main character, Nora, defies the traditions of that time with regard to the role of women in the society. For over the 130 years since the play was first performed, it has been subject to numerous interpretations from different perspectives including the realist perspective, feminist perspective, Freudian perspective, Poststructuralist perspective, to name but a few (Hooti & Torkamaneh, 2011). The play reflects Ibsens postmodernist ideologies that he shared with a number of authors during the 19th century. The plays focus is on the emotional, social and spiritual barriers that the Norwegian society of the 19th century placed on women and how Nora went out of her way to overcoming these restrictions. In her struggle against the social, spiritual and emotional barriers, Nora has to identify these barriers for herself and in the process discovers the artificial environment that the society has created around many women, including her.

The play portrays Nora as a direct opposite of a typical woman in the 19th-century Norwegian society. In this society, women were expected to come second to men and remain submissive to their husbands. They are forced to see the world from mens perspective instead of their own gaze. However, Nora Helmer emerges as a true representation of a postmodern woman who is not only adventurous but also revolutionary. Instead of continuing to see the world from a males perspective, she seeks to control her own environment (Hooti & Torkamaneh, 2011). This evident from the onset of the play when she ensures that the Christmas tree she has brought into the house stays hidden from her husband and children until when she would beautify it with lights. She seeks to control the Christmas experience for her family by ensuring that the product she presents to the family is sanctioned by her and only her. Her attempts to manipulate the environment to fit her liking becomes more evident as the text progresses (Norris, 2003).

Despite promising her husband that she wouldnt dream of doing anything you disapproved of (p.101), she goes ahead to do the opposite going against his wishes that she should not eat sweets, applying for a loan without his consent, flirting with Dr. Rank and even manipulating her husband into helping Mrs. Linde. Nora is able to fit into the role of a typical 18oos woman for the most part of the play, but once she is able to create her own perspective of the world by breaking the bubble created around her by her husband, she seeks to educate herself and walks out on her family (Norris, 2003). She informs Torvald, her husband, that she no longer knows how to be his wife and that she no longer have a clue of who she is. Her decision to leave her family in a quest to find her own identity goes against the norms expected of women in the 1800s society, a reflection of the departure from modern ideologies to postmodern ideologies (Hooti & Torkamaneh, 2011).

References

Bauman, Z. (1992). Sociological responses to postmodernity. In Intimations of postmodernity (1st ed.). New York: Willey

Culler, J. (2014). On Deconstruction: Theory and Criticism after Structuralism. New York: 080145591X, 9780801455919.

Derrida, J. (1982). The ends of me in Margins of philosophy.

Hooti, N., & Torkamaneh, P. (2011). Henrik Ibsens A Dolls House: A Postmodernist Study. TPLS, 1(9). http://dx.doi.org/10.4304/tpls.1.9.1103-1110

Norris, C. (1998). Deconstruction, postmodernism and philosophy of science: Some Epistemocritical bearings. Cultural Values, 2(1), 18-50. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/14797589809359286

Norris, C. (2003). Deconstruction, theory and practice (3rd ed.). London: Methuen.

Olson, S. (1997). Constructing a Debate: Postmodern and Deconstructivist Architecture. Projects.vassar.edu. Retrieved from http://projects.vassar.edu/lucretia/web/Olson.html

Taylor, V., & Winquist, C. (1998). Postmodernism. London: Routledge.

Vahabzadeh, P. (2009). Ultimate referentiality: Radical phenomenology and the new interpretative sociology. Philosophy & Social Criticism, 35(4), 447-465. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0191453708102095

 

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