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What does deconstruct mean, specifically as it applies to writing?

Google’s definition:

• analyze (a text or a linguistic or conceptual system) by deconstruction, typically in order to expose its hidden internal assumptions and contradictions and subvert its apparent significance or unity.

• reduce (something) to its constituent parts in order to reinterpret it.

According to Mark T. Conard:

Deconstruction “can mean to take a theory or a concept and expose the political or philosophical baggage at its heart; it can also mean to (attempt to) show that language is only ever self-referential, that it has no reference to anything beyond itself.”

Why am I writing about deconstruction? Because, if my buddy Mark is correct, I and a few of my writer friends have been misusing the word. Now, it’s entirely possible, and I do like to know when I’m misusing a word so that I can stop. In this instance, though, I don’t believe I have.

In my article About Writing: Peripheral Elements in Writing, I claim to have deconstructed sensory perception, and it’s effect on emotional responses in people or fictional characters. My theory is that experiencing what I call peripheral thoughts is entirely possible, and the knowledge thereof can be used to our advantage. This may have been postulated prior to my reckoning, and maybe others have done it better, but this is my way and I can only ever do things my way.

Now, to meet the expectations of Mark’s definition, which does agree with Google’s definition, I would have had to take a theory (the theory of peripheral sensory perceptions as a device to add suspense by playing on emotions using uncertain sensory perception) and expose it’s philosophical baggage. Now, I’ll admit I’m more than a little out of my depth when it comes to philosophy. Often, I have to read Mark’s blog posts slowly, or repeatedly to fully grasp more than the topic on the surface. So if I’m mistaken, I’m open to discussing this further, and eager to hear from anyone who has input to offer in this matter. Especially you, Mark!

My theory, basically, is that writers can use peripheral sensory perception to pull readers into a grey area of uncertainty, adding suspense to any given story. The philosophical baggage at the heart of my theory is that peripheral sensory perception influences what we think we know, NOT what we actually know. That is key to understanding my theory because there is a huge difference between what we think we know, and what we know, even if we aren’t always emotionally aware of that difference. Using sensory perception, we ascertain the nature of all things tangible. We try (though we shouldn’t) to use peripheral sensory perception to do the same. Basing our knowledge on information we’ve received via the “grey area” is unreliable, but that is a basic human flaw. Our fictional characters should reflect as much.

All things considered, I believe I have used the term properly when I said my article is the result of deconstruction. Mark, what do you think?

Published in Random Rambling

Jess

Jessica West (West1Jess) is pursuing a state of self-induced psychosis (reading, writing, editing). She lives in Acadiana with three daughters still young enough to think she's cool and a husband who knows better but likes her anyway.

0 Comments for "Deconstruction: I don't think that word means what you think it means."

  • Mark T. Conard

    Jess, I’ll admit that I may have a narrow definition of “deconstruction.” I associate it with people like Derrida and the hordes of oh-so-presumptuous grad students he inspired. So it leaves a bad taste in my mouth because of those associations. On the other hand, some people do use it interchangeably with “analysis,” and that’s incorrect, as I state in my post. Whether common usage allows it to apply more broadly to analyses such as yours, I leave open as a possibility. Me, I wouldn’t use it like that, both because of the bad taste and because of my narrow definition; but I won’t say you’re incorrect in using it the way you did. (Ask a philosopher a question…)

    Reply
  • Jess West

    #TheMoreYouKnow

    Right or wrong, I feel as though I’ve gained a great deal more insight into the inner workings of my own mind. I’d really like to find some information on this subject, but I’m coming up empty. I’m not quite presumptuous enough to believe I’ve hit upon a new theory that’s not been explored, but I’m not completely sure where to even look for the topic of peripheral sensory perception and/or the topic of mankind’s reliance on fallible information gleaned from “the grey area” of perception. Is there a philosophical word, phrase or concept for the difference between what we think we know and what we actually know. I truly believe that the theory is significant.

    Reply
    • Mark T. Conard

      Yes! Regardless of what you call the analysis, what you’re doing is super cool!

      Reply
      • Jess West

        Thanks!

        Oh, and for the record, I think you should totally run an #AskAPhilosopher group on Twitter.

        Reply
        • Mark T. Conard

          How does that work? I just throw up the hashtag and invite people to ask question?

          Reply
      • Jess West

        Pretty much. I’d send out a few feelers to folks who you know would be interested. Maybe find a good time when said parties will be available to check in with the discussion, that’s also convenient for you, of course. It might be slow to start up, but if it’s done consistently, say every Thursday at 9pm Central time for two hours, for example, then I’m sure more people will make it a point to carve out time for the discussion. Or you could just throw up the hash tag and see what happens. 🙂

        There are also sites that allow you to register a specific hash tag and open a separate chat window where you can moderate, that way you can cut out the spammy stuff that doesn’t necessarily belong in your discussions of philosophy.

        This one looks promising: https://www.livetweetapp.com/en/

        Reply
  • Woelf Dietrich

    Ooh interesting question. I agree with both Mark’s and the standard definition. A less formal word and more commonly used online is when you “unpack” something to understand what each piece that makes the whole mean.

    From a writer’s perspective, I think, we investigate reactions or emotions, what triggers said emotions, and how do we recreate that emotions in order to write effective, believable prose. Is that what you mean?

    Reply
    • Woelf Dietrich

      Ah, I should have read the comments first. “Unpack” may be seen as analysis. I remember from law school we did a chapter on deconstruction. I forgot the theory and the name of the legal philosopher (I suppose I could google it), but what it entails is looking for the why of something, the real why, not the perceived why. Or something like that. I suddenly feel really slow.

      Reply
      • Jess West

        I’m fine with calling it analysis.

        Reply
    • Jess West

      For the sake of simplicity, let’s call what I’ve done an analysis. I think Mark would agree with me on that word, indeed I believe that’s the very one he used himself. My analysis of emotions and thoughts triggered by sensory perception breaks apart those two things into two separate levels, if you will.

      First, we have sensory perception. You hear the sound of a child squealing, see that child playing, and know (that’s the thought triggered) that all is well, putting you at ease (that’s the emotion triggered).

      On the other hand, we have what I’m calling (I’ve yet to find information on possible origins of this theory, prior to my thoughts on the matter) peripheral (or periphery) sensory perception. My theory further asserts that the thoughts and emotions that are triggered by senses that are, essentially, unreliable are in themselves unreliable. For example:

      You’re in the kitchen cutting vegetables, and your children are playing in the next room. You hear a loud thud, and silence. You get a deep, gut feeling that something is horribly wrong. You run into the room to find that all is, in fact, well. The thud you heard was your child’s feet hitting the wall.

      This is what I mean by peripheral sensory perception (the sound you heard that you were unable to positively identify but thought you could nonetheless) and the unreliable information that such perception relays.

      In my theory, and I’m calling it mine until I can figure out if someone else has covered this topic, I believe mankind’s reliance on peripheral sensory perception is a basic flaw. As it pertains to writing, I believe that this flaw should be demonstrated in fictional characters. Further, I believe that this flaw can be used to heighten suspense in stories.

      Or maybe I’ve finally gone off the deep end. 😉 What do you think?

      Reply
      • Woelf Dietrich

        I understand now. But why flaw? Because the outcome is not what you thought? You hearing the sound and your reaction is tied to your personality, i.e., your love for your children and knowledge of what can happen to them. There is logic to that and the gut feel you got was a byproduct of that process. So the reasoning, logical part is not flawed, just the outcome.

        Wouldn’t the same apply to a character’s motivation? For instance, a victim of rape might jump at a sound in the house, and her immediate response might be that someone’s trying to get in again, but it turns out to be just her cat trying to catch a moth. Am I still on the right track?

        Reply
      • Jess West

        Absolutely. The reason I say it’s a flaw is because we rely on information that is not definite. There is a lot to be said for human intuition, and all I’m saying is that it is not 100% infallible. Call it a superpower, if you’d like. I’m certainly not against that, but the theory at the heart of it holds water, yeah?

        Motivation and personality definitely play a big part in how a character will react in any given situation, but my article addresses sensory perception specifically. Goals and Motivations, Characterization, and Conflict will be dealt with in separate articles. Hopefully. 😉

        Reply
  • Smorgasbord - Variety is the Spice of Life.

    Reblogged this on Smorgasbord – Variety is the spice of life and commented:
    Jessica West has two sites that are very informative and entertaining particularly for writers.

    Reply

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