What are binary oppositions and how are they important to deconstruction


In much of Western thought, including structuralism , distinguishing between presence and absence, viewed as polar opposites, is a fundamental element of thought in many cultures. In addition, according to post-structuralist criticisms, presence occupies a position of dominance in Western thought over absence , because absence is traditionally seen as what you get when you take away presence. Had absence been dominant, presence might have most naturally been seen as what you get when you take away an absence.

For example, we give superiority to life rather than death. This might imply that readers might unconsciously take side with one concept of binary opposition, and Derrida traces this reaction as a cultural phenomenon.

An example of a binary opposition is the male-female dichotomy. A post-structuralist view is that male can be seen, according to traditional Western thought, as dominant over female because male is the presence of a phallus, while the vagina is an absence or loss.

John Searle has suggested that the concept of binary oppositions—as taught and practiced by postmodernists and poststructuralist—is specious and lacking in rigor. Post-structural criticism of binary oppositions is not simply the reversal of the opposition, but its deconstruction , which is described as apolitical—that is, not intrinsically favoring one arm of a binary opposition over the other. Deconstruction is the "event" or "moment" at which a binary opposition is thought to contradict itself, and undermine its own authority.

Deconstruction assumes that all binary oppositions need to be analyzed and criticized in all their manifestations; the function of both logical and axiological oppositions must be studied in all discourses that provide meaning and values.

But deconstruction does not only expose how oppositions work and how meaning and values are produced in a nihilistic or cynic position, "thereby preventing any means of intervening in the field effectively". To be effective, and simply as its mode of practice, deconstruction creates new notions or concepts, not to synthesize the terms in opposition but to mark their difference, undecidability, and eternal interplay.

Logocentrism is an idea related to binary opposition that suggests certain audiences will favour one part of a binary opposition pair over the other. This favouritism is often most strongly influenced by a readers' cultural background.

The strong patriarchal themes in 'The Women and the Pot', an Amharic folktale, would be one such example of logocentrism. This tells the story of two women who are upset at their diminished role in society, and who consequently go to their King for help. He effectively conveys the message that women cannot be relied upon to take on a greater role in society, which becomes the moral of the tale. The hidden a priori binary opposition is 'Man over Woman'. Binary opposition is deeply embedded within literature as language, and paired opposites, rely upon a relation with adjoining words inside a paradigmatic chain.

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. The concise Oxford Dictionary of literary terms, viewed 8 March , http: Media Studies Volume 2: Content, Audiences and Production.

Journal of Language and Literature. In his recent work, Derrida often insists that the condition of the possibility of mourning, giving, forgiving, and hospitality, to cite some of his most famous examples, is at once also the condition of their impossibility see section 7. In his explorations of these "possible-impossible" aporias, it becomes undecidable whether genuine giving, for example, is either a possible or an impossible ideal. Derrida's later philosophy is also united by his analysis of a similar type of undecidability that is involved in the concept of the decision itself.

In this respect, Derrida regularly suggests that a decision cannot be wise, or posed even more provocatively, that the instant of the decision must actually be mad DPJ 26, GD Drawing on Kierkegaard, Derrida tells us that a decision requires an undecidable leap beyond all prior preparations for that decision GD 77 , and according to him, this applies to all decisions and not just those regarding the conversion to religious faith that preoccupies Kierkegaard.

To pose the problem in inverse fashion, it might be suggested that for Derrida, all decisions are a faith and a tenuous faith at that, since were faith and the decision not tenuous, they would cease to be a faith or a decision at all cf.

This description of the decision as a moment of madness that must move beyond rationality and calculative reasoning may seem paradoxical, but it might nevertheless be agreed that a decision requires a 'leap of faith' beyond the sum total of the facts.

A theory of the subject is incapable of accounting for the slightest decision PF , because, as he rhetorically asks, "would we not be justified in seeing here the unfolding of an egological immanence, the autonomic and automatic deployment of predicates or possibilities proper to a subject, without the tearing rupture that should occur in every decision we call free?

In other words, if a decision is envisaged as simply following from certain character attributes, then it would not genuinely be a decision. Derrida is hence once more insisting upon the necessity of a leap beyond calculative reasoning, and beyond the resources of some self-contained subject reflecting upon the matter at hand. A decision must invoke that which is outside of the subject's control.

If a decision is an example of a concept that is simultaneously impossible within its own internal logic and yet nevertheless necessary, then not only is our reticence to decide rendered philosophically cogent, but it is perhaps even privileged.

Moreover, in his early essay "Violence and Metaphysics", Derrida also suggests that a successful deconstructive reading is conditional upon the suspension of choice: The problem of undecidability is also evident in more recent texts including The Gift of Death.

In this text, Derrida seems to support the sacrificing of a certain notion of ethics and universality for a conception of radical singularity not unlike that evinced by the "hyper-ethical" sacrifice that Abraham makes of his son upon Mt Moriah, according to both the Judaic and Christian religions alike GD To represent Derrida's position more precisely, true responsibility consists in oscillating between the demands of that which is wholly other in Abraham's case, God, but also any particular other and the more general demands of a community see Section 6.

Responsibility is enduring this trial of the undecidable decision, where attending to the call of a particular other will inevitably demand an estrangement from the "other others" and their communal needs. Whatever decision one may take, according to Derrida, it can never be wholly justified GD Of course, Derrida's emphasis upon the undecidability inherent in all decision-making does not want to convey inactivity or a quietism of despair, and he has insisted that the madness of the decision also demands urgency and precipitation DPJ Nevertheless, what is undergone is described as the "trial of undecidability" LI and what is involved in enduring this trial would seem to be a relatively anguished being.

In an interview with Richard Beardsworth, Derrida characterises the problem of undecidability as follows: Otherwise, there is no responsibility. In this sense not only must the person taking the decision not know everything This suggestion that the decision cannot anticipate the future is undoubtedly somewhat counter-intuitive, but Derrida's rejection of anticipation is not only a rejection of the traditional idea of deciding on the basis of weighing-up and internally representing certain options.

By suggesting that anticipation is not possible, he means to make the more general point that no matter how we may anticipate any decision must always rupture those anticipatory frameworks. A decision must be fundamentally different from any prior preparations for it. As Derrida suggests in Politics of Friendship , the decision must "surprise the very subjectivity of the subject" PF 68 , and it is in making this leap away from calculative reasoning that Derrida argues that responsibility consists PF Perhaps the most obvious aspect of Derrida's later philosophy is his advocation of the tout autre , the wholly other, and The Gift of Death will be our main focus in explaining what this exaltation of the wholly other might mean.

Any attempt to sum up this short but difficult text would have to involve the recognition of a certain incommensurability between the particular and the universal, and the dual demands placed upon anybody intending to behave responsibly. For Derrida, the paradox of responsible behaviour means that there is always a question of being responsible before a singular other eg. Derrida insists that this type of aporia, or problem, is too often ignored by the "knights of responsibility" who presume that accountability and responsibility in all aspects of life - whether that be guilt before the human law, or even before the divine will of God - is quite easily established GD These are the same people who insist that concrete ethical guidelines should be provided by any philosopher worth his or her 'salt' GD 67 and who ignore the difficulties involved in a notion like responsibility, which demands something importantly different from merely behaving dutifully GD In places, Derrida even verges on suggesting that this more common notion of responsibility, which insists that one should behave according to a general principle that is capable of being rationally validated and justified in the public realm GD 60 , should be replaced with something closer to an Abrahamian individuality where the demands of a singular other eg.

God are importantly distinct from the ethical demands of our society GD 61, Derrida equivocates regarding just how far he wants to endorse such a conception of responsibility, and also on the entire issue of whether Abraham's willingness to murder is an act of faith, or simply an unforgivable transgression. As he says, "Abraham is at the same time, the most moral and the most immoral, the most responsible and the most irresponsible" GD This equivocation is, of course, a defining trait of deconstruction, which has been variously pilloried and praised for this refusal to propound anything that the tradition could deem to be a thesis.

Nevertheless, it is relatively clear that in The Gift of Death , Derrida intends to free us from the common assumption that responsibility is to be associated with behaviour that accords with general principles capable of justification in the public realm ie. In opposition to such an account, he emphasises the "radical singularity" of the demands placed upon Abraham by God GD 60, 68, 79 and those that might be placed on us by our own loved ones.

Ethics, with its dependence upon generality, must be continually sacrificed as an inevitable aspect of the human condition and its aporetic demand to decide GD As Derrida points out, in writing about one particular cause rather than another, in pursuing one profession over another, in spending time with one's family rather than at work, one inevitably ignores the "other others" GD 69 , and this is a condition of any and every existence.

For Derrida, it seems that the Buddhist desire to have attachment to nobody and equal compassion for everybody is an unattainable ideal. He does, in fact, suggest that a universal community that excludes no one is a contradiction in terms.

According to him, this is because: And I can never justify this sacrifice; I must always hold my peace about it What binds me to this one or that one, remains finally unjustifiable" GD Derrida hence implies that responsibility to any particular individual is only possible by being irresponsible to the "other others", that is, to the other people and possibilities that haunt any and every existence.

This brings us to a term that Derrida has resuscitated from its association with Walter Benjamin and the Judaic tradition more generally. That term is the messianic and it relies upon a distinction with messianism.

According to Derrida, the term messianism refers predominantly to the religions of the Messiahs - ie. These religions proffer a Messiah of known characteristics, and often one who is expected to arrive at a particular time or place. The Messiah is inscribed in their respective religious texts and in an oral tradition that dictates that only if the other conforms to such and such a description is that person actually the Messiah.

The most obvious of numerous necessary characteristics for the Messiah, it seems, is that they must invariably be male. Sexuality might seem to be a strange prerequisite to tether to that which is beyond this world, wholly other, but it is only one of many. Now, Derrida is not simplistically disparaging religion and the messianisms they propound. In an important respect, the messianic depends upon the various messianisms and Derrida admits that he cannot say which is the more originary.

The messianism of Abraham in his singular responsibility before God, for Derrida, reveals the messianic structure of existence more generally, in that we all share a similar relationship to alterity even if we have not named and circumscribed that experience according to the template provided by a particular religion. However, Derrida's call to the wholly other, his invocation for the wholly other "to come", is not a call for a fixed or identifiable other of known characteristics, as is arguably the case in the average religious experience.

His wholly other is indeterminable and can never actually arrive. Derrida more than once recounts a story of Maurice Blanchot's where the Messiah was actually at the gates to a city, disguised in rags. After some time, the Messiah was finally recognised by a beggar, but the beggar could think of nothing more relevant to ask than: Even when the Messiah is 'there', he or she must still be yet to come, and this brings us back to the distinction between the messianic and the various historical messianisms.

The messianic structure of existence is open to the coming of an entirely ungraspable and unknown other, but the concrete, historical messianisms are open to the coming of a specific other of known characteristics. The messianic refers predominantly to a structure of our existence that involves waiting - waiting even in activity — and a ceaseless openness towards a future that can never be circumscribed by the horizons of significance that we inevitably bring to bear upon that possible future.

In other words, Derrida is not referring to a future that will one day become present or a particular conception of the saviour who will arrive , but to an openness towards an unknown futurity that is necessarily involved in what we take to be 'presence' and hence also renders it 'impossible'. A deconstruction that entertained any type of grand prophetic narrative, like a Marxist story about the movement of history toward a pre-determined future which, once attained, would make notions like history and progress obsolete, would be yet another vestige of logocentrism and susceptible to deconstruction SM.

Precisely in order to avoid the problems that such messianisms engender - eg. Derrida has recently become more and more preoccupied with what has come to be termed "possible-impossible aporias" - aporia was originally a Greek term meaning puzzle, but it has come to mean something more like an impasse or paradox. In particular, Derrida has described the paradoxes that afflict notions like giving, hospitality, forgiving and mourning. He argues that the condition of their possibility is also, and at once, the condition of their impossibility.

In this section, I will attempt to reveal the shared logic upon which these aporias rely. The aporia that surrounds the gift revolves around the paradoxical thought that a genuine gift cannot actually be understood to be a gift. In his text, Given Time , Derrida suggests that the notion of the gift contains an implicit demand that the genuine gift must reside outside of the oppositional demands of giving and taking, and beyond any mere self-interest or calculative reasoning GT According to him, however, a gift is also something that cannot appear as such GD 29 , as it is destroyed by anything that proposes equivalence or recompense, as well as by anything that even proposes to know of, or acknowledge it.

This may sound counter-intuitive, but even a simple 'thank-you' for instance, which both acknowledges the presence of a gift and also proposes some form of equivalence with that gift, can be seen to annul the gift cf.

By politely responding with a 'thank-you', there is often, and perhaps even always, a presumption that because of this acknowledgement one is no longer indebted to the other who has given, and that nothing more can be expected of an individual who has so responded. Significantly, the gift is hence drawn into the cycle of giving and taking, where a good deed must be accompanied by a suitably just response. As the gift is associated with a command to respond, it becomes an imposition for the receiver, and it even becomes an opportunity to take for the 'giver', who might give just to receive the acknowledgement from the other that they have in fact given.

There are undoubtedly many other examples of how the 'gift' can be deployed, and not necessarily deliberately, to gain advantage. Of course, it might be objected that even if it is psychologically difficult to give without also receiving and in a manner that is tantamount to taking this does not in-itself constitute a refutation of the logic of genuine giving. According to Derrida, however, his discussion does not amount merely to an empirical or psychological claim about the difficulty of transcending an immature and egocentric conception of giving.

On the contrary, he wants to problematise the very possibility of a giving that can be unequivocally disassociated from receiving and taking. The important point is that, for Derrida, a genuine gift requires an anonymity of the giver, such that there is no accrued benefit in giving.

The giver cannot even recognise that they are giving, for that would be to reabsorb their gift to the other person as some kind of testimony to the worth of the self - ie. This is an extreme example, but Derrida claims that such a predicament afflicts all giving in more or less obvious ways.

For him, the logic of a genuine gift actually requires that self and other be radically disparate, and have no obligations or claims upon each other of any kind. He argues that a genuine gift must involve neither an apprehension of a good deed done, nor the recognition by the other party that they have received, and this seems to render the actuality of any gift an impossibility.

Significantly, however, according to Derrida, the existential force of this demand for an absolute altruism can never be assuaged, and yet equally clearly it can also never be fulfilled, and this ensures that the condition of the possibility of the gift is inextricably associated with its impossibility. For Derrida, there is no solution to this type of problem, and no hint of a dialectic that might unify the apparent incommensurability in which possibility implies impossibility and vice versa.

At the same time, however, he does not intend simply to vacillate in hyperbolic and self-referential paradoxes. There is a sense in which deconstruction actually seeks genuine giving, hospitality, forgiving and mourning, even where it acknowledges that these concepts are forever elusive and can never actually be fulfilled.

It is also worth considering the aporia that Derrida associates with hospitality. If we contemplate giving up everything that we seek to possess and call our own, then most of us can empathise with just how difficult enacting any absolute hospitality would be.

Despite this, however, Derrida insists that the whole idea of hospitality depends upon such an altruistic concept and is inconceivable without it OCF In fact, he argues that it is this internal tension that keeps the concept alive. As Derrida makes explicit, there is a more existential example of this tension, in that the notion of hospitality requires one to be the 'master' of the house, country or nation and hence controlling.

His point is relatively simple here; to be hospitable, it is first necessary that one must have the power to host. Hospitality hence makes claims to property ownership and it also partakes in the desire to establish a form of self-identity.

Secondly, there is the further point that in order to be hospitable, the host must also have some kind of control over the people who are being hosted. This is because if the guests take over a house through force, then the host is no longer being hospitable towards them precisely because they are no longer in control of the situation.

This means, for Derrida, that any attempt to behave hospitably is also always partly betrothed to the keeping of guests under control, to the closing of boundaries, to nationalism, and even to the exclusion of particular groups or ethnicities OH OH , GD Whether one invokes the current international preoccupation with border control, or simply the ubiquitous suburban fence and alarm system, it seems that hospitality always posits some kind of limit upon where the other can trespass, and hence has a tendency to be rather inhospitable.

On the other hand, as well as demanding some kind of mastery of house, country or nation, there is a sense in which the notion of hospitality demands a welcoming of whomever, or whatever, may be in need of that hospitality. It follows from this that unconditional hospitality, or we might say 'impossible' hospitality, hence involves a relinquishing of judgement and control in regard to who will receive that hospitality.

In other words, hospitality also requires non-mastery, and the abandoning of all claims to property, or ownership. If that is the case, however, the ongoing possibility of hospitality thereby becomes circumvented, as there is no longer the possibility of hosting anyone, as again, there is no ownership or control. Derrida discerns another aporia in regard to whether or not to forgive somebody who has caused us significant suffering or pain.

This particular paradox revolves around the premise that if one forgives something that is actually forgivable, then one simply engages in calculative reasoning and hence does not really forgive. Most commonly in interviews, but also in his recent text On Cosmopolitanism and Forgiveness , Derrida argues that according to its own internal logic, genuine forgiving must involve the impossible: This unconditional 'forgiveness' explicitly precludes the necessity of an apology or repentance by the guilty party, although Derrida acknowledges that this pure notion of forgiveness must always exist in tension with a more conditional forgiveness where apologies are actually demanded.

However, he argues that this conditional forgiveness amounts more to amnesty and reconciliation than to genuine forgiveness OCF The pattern of this discussion is undoubtedly beginning to become familiar. Derrida's discussions of forgiving are orientated around revealing a fundamental paradox that ensures that forgiving can never be finished or concluded - it must always be open, like a permanent rupture, or a wound that refuses to heal.

This forgiveness paradox depends, in one of its dual aspects, upon a radical disjunction between self and other. Derrida explicitly states that "genuine forgiveness must engage two singularities: As soon as a third party intervenes, one can again speak of amnesty, reconciliation, reparation, etc. Given that he also acknowledges that it is difficult to conceive of any such face-to-face encounter without a third party - as language itself must serve such a mediating function OCF 48 — forgiveness is caught in an aporia that ensures that its empirical actuality looks to be decidedly unlikely.

To recapitulate, the reason that Derrida's notion of forgiveness is caught in such an inextricable paradox is because absolute forgiveness requires a radically singular confrontation between self and other, while conditional forgiveness requires the breaching of categories such as self and other, either by a mediating party, or simply by the recognition of the ways in which we are always already intertwined with the other.

Indeed, Derrida explicitly argues that when we know anything of the other, or even understand their motivation in however minimal a way, this absolute forgiveness can no longer take place OCF Derrida can offer no resolution in regard to the impasse that obtains between these two notions between possible and impossible forgiving, between an amnesty where apologies are asked for and a more absolute forgiveness. He will only insist that an oscillation between both sides of the aporia is necessary for responsibility OCF Derrida's argument about mourning adheres to a similarly paradoxical logic to that which has been associated with him throughout this article.

He suggests that the so-called 'successful' mourning of the deceased other actually fails - or at least is an unfaithful fidelity — because the other person becomes a part of us, and in this interiorisation their genuine alterity is no longer respected. On the other hand, failure to mourn the other's death paradoxically appears to succeed, because the presence of the other person in their exteriority is prolonged MDM 6.

As Derrida suggests, there is a sense in which "an aborted interiorisation is at the same time a respect for the other as other" MDM Hence the possibility of an impossible bereavement, where the only possible way to mourn, is to be unable to do so. However, even though this is how he initially presents the problem, Derrida also problematises this "success fails, failure succeeds" formulation MDM In his essay "Fors: The Anglish Words of Nicolas Abraham and Maria Torok", Derrida again considers two models of the type of encroachment between self and other that is regularly associated with mourning.

Borrowing from post-Freudian theories of mourning, he posits although later undermines a difference between introjection, which is love for the other in me, and incorporation, which involves retaining the other as a pocket, or a foreign body within one's own body. For Freud, as well as for the psychologists Abraham and Torok whose work Derrida considers, successful mourning is primarily about the introjection of the other.

The preservation of a discrete and separate other person inside the self psychologically speaking , as is the case in incorporation, is considered to be where mourning ceases to be a 'normal' response and instead becomes pathological. Typically, Derrida reverses this hierarchy by highlighting that there is a sense in which the supposedly pathological condition of incorporation is actually more respectful of the other person's alterity.

After all, incorporation means that one has not totally assimilated the other, as there is still a difference and a heterogeneity EO Derrida considers this introjection to be an infidelity to the other.

However, Derrida's account is not so simple as to unreservedly valorise the incorporation of the other person, even if he emphasises this paradigm in an effort to refute the canonical interpretation of successful mourning.

He also acknowledges that the more the self "keeps the foreign element inside itself, the more it excludes it" Fors xvii. If we refuse to engage with the dead other, we also exclude their foreignness from ourselves and hence prevent any transformative interaction with them. When fetishised in their externality in such a manner, the dead other really is lifeless and it is significant that Derrida describes the death of de Man in terms of the loss of exchange and of the transformational opportunities that he presented MDM xvi, cf WM.

Derrida's point hence seems to be that in mourning, the 'otherness of the other' person resists both the process of incorporation as well as the process of introjection.

The other can neither be preserved as a foreign entity, nor introjected fully within. Towards the end of Memoires: Jacques Derrida — Jacques Derrida was one of the most well known twentieth century philosophers. Deconstructive Strategy Derrida, like many other contemporary European theorists, is preoccupied with undermining the oppositional tendencies that have befallen much of the Western philosophical tradition. Key terms from the early work Derrida's terms change in every text that he writes.

Arche-writing In Of Grammatology and elsewhere, Derrida argues that signification, broadly conceived, always refers to other signs, and that one can never reach a sign that refers only to itself. Trace In this respect, it needs to be pointed out that all of deconstruction's reversals arche-writing included are partly captured by the edifice that they seek to overthrow. Supplement The logic of the supplement is also an important aspect of Of Grammatology. Undecidability In its first and most famous instantiation, undecidability is one of Derrida's most important attempts to trouble dualisms, or more accurately, to reveal how they are always already troubled.

Decision Derrida's later philosophy is also united by his analysis of a similar type of undecidability that is involved in the concept of the decision itself. Responsibility to the Other Perhaps the most obvious aspect of Derrida's later philosophy is his advocation of the tout autre , the wholly other, and The Gift of Death will be our main focus in explaining what this exaltation of the wholly other might mean.

Possible and Impossible Aporias Derrida has recently become more and more preoccupied with what has come to be termed "possible-impossible aporias" - aporia was originally a Greek term meaning puzzle, but it has come to mean something more like an impasse or paradox.

The Gift The aporia that surrounds the gift revolves around the paradoxical thought that a genuine gift cannot actually be understood to be a gift. Hospitality It is also worth considering the aporia that Derrida associates with hospitality.

Forgiveness Derrida discerns another aporia in regard to whether or not to forgive somebody who has caused us significant suffering or pain. References and Further Reading a.

Fifty Nine Periphrases , in Bennington, G. University of Chicago Press, Circ. On Cosmopolitanism and Forgiveness , London: Deconstruction and the Possibility of Justice , inc. University of Chicago Press, D. Routledge, , p The Ear of the Other: Otobiography, Transference, Translation , trans. Schocken Books, EO. An Introduction , trans. Johnson, in The Wolfman's Magic Word: A Cryptonomy , Abraham, N. University of Minnesota Press, Fors. The Gift of Death , trans. University of Chicago Press, GD.

Counterfeit Money , trans. University of Chicago Press, GT. Journal of the Theoretical Humanities , Vol. Jean-Luc Nancy , Paris: Northwestern University Press, edition LI. Margins of Philosophy , trans.

University of Chicago Press, M. Memoirs of the Blind: The Self-Portrait and Other Ruins , trans. University of Chicago Press, MB. Monolingualism of the Other or the Prosthesis of Origin , trans. Stanford University Press, MO. Of Grammatology , trans. Stanford University Press, OH. On the Name inc.

Stanford University Press, ON. A Note to a Footnote in Being and Time " trans. Casey in Phenomenology in Perspective , ed. Interviews, , ed. Kamuf et al, Stanford: Stanford University Press, P. Politics of Friendship , trans.