Term Paper: Postmodernism

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[. . .] Derrida on the other hand argues that the word monitor is just a signifier and if you look up a dictionary you will find many other words or monitor, thus the words do not represent reality, they just lead to other words, we become stuck in endless chain of signifiers and are unable to get what is really out there in the world. We like to think we're dealing with the real world, but in fact we're just dealing with a construction of the world we've built up using language. And because we're stuck in that construction, our selves are therefore constructed by language. This is Derrida's "chain of signifiers" [Derrida, 1974].

Derrida deconstructs language and Western philosophy emphasizing the notion of decentring. One of his claims is that "there is nothing outside the text" i.e there are no signifiers in text that can relate to any sort of "reality." When language tries to deal with society or some other externality, signifiers slide into other signifiers without reaching a signified; they only reach meaning when working on some immediate, limited level. But there is not ultimate truth which can be arrived at through language. Derrida's aim is to deconstruct this language which not only gives rise to linear thinking but it is because of this concept of language and the notion of logocentrism that many practices and certain human thinking are considered as "outside" the paradigm or simply as "other." According to Derrida all the binary opposition in language of truth and falsity of good and evil of being and becoming are created by this flawed notion of logocentrism. Deconstruction means a new way of thinking, a way of thinking which is not grounded in the logocentrism but it deconstructs the myths of logocentrism [Powell, 1997]. Derrida says that the whole human thinking and civilization is based on this thinking, the concept that language and words corresponds to the objects in the world. For Derrida language or texts are not a natural reflection of the world however Derrida thinks that these texts and language shapes us. Derrida sees the history of western thought as based on opposition: good vs. evil mind vs. matter, man vs. woman, speech vs. writing. These oppositions are defined hierarchically: the second term is seen as a corruption of the first, the terms are not equal opposites.

Take an example of the of a biblical phrase "Let there be light," now this statement carried with it an implicit belief that there is a God, who is speaker of this sentence and that God is present because has spoken, he exists. The present God is the origin of all things because God creates the world by speaking and what God created is binary opposition, starting with light/dark. The texts create their meaning from the binary opposition as we have seen and each term has a meaning only in reference to the other. These binaries are fundamental in all western philosophy and because of this system a center is posit from which the whole system comes. Western thought has a whole bunch of terms that serve as centers to systems, according to Derrida we are designed by language and so is the whole system, the politics, the religion and the social beliefs. It is because of this language we create "outsiders," where some are privileged and some are discarded. It is the power of this language that creates specific thinking and specific practices and condemns certain groups and certain practices [Powell, 1997]. This system according to Derrida is a fixed and closed system and here Derrida sounds more like Foucault. This closed system is particularly supportive to the governments and religious fundamentals who have created fixed systems and hierarchical modes based on the logocentrism. There are certain population who is discriminated and considered outcasts based on this system and the society also boycotts certain behaviors and practices because of this system. Thus there is no real freedom to human beings, we are living in a closed system and the political system which is also based on this notion of logocentrism does not provide true freedom. According to Derrida true freedom can be achieved by breaking the thinking barriers and by breaking the "norms" which are also based on this rigid system. The weapon Derrida introduces is of 'Deconstruction' which is a suspicion against the traditional thinking; this method critically evaluates every text and concept and finds out the bias in it.

Foucault with his analysis of the prison system and the modes of punishment describes how power relations can create margins in society and label certain group as "others" or outside the society. In Foucault's work the relationship between power and knowledge is central, Discipline and Punish essentially charts the reorganization of the power to punish, and the development of various bodies of knowledge (the human sciences) that reinforce and interact with that power. The modern power to punish is based on the supervision and organization of bodies in time and space, according to strict technical methods: the modern knowledge that Foucault describes is the knowledge that relates to human nature and behavior, which is measured against a norm. Foucault's point is that one cannot exist without the other. The power and techniques of punishment depend on knowledge that creates and classifies individuals, and that knowledge derives its authority from certain relationships of power and domination. It is power, which creates certain margins in society and lets some to decide and control the thoughts of the wider society. The relationship between the prison and the wider society cannot be stressed enough. For Foucault the prison is not a marginal building on the edge of the city but is closely integrated to the city. The same "strategies" of power and knowledge operate in both location and the mechanism of Discipline that control the delinquent also controls the citizen [Foucault, 1977]. Unlike Derrida Foucault does not give any strategies on how to combat these problems, Foucault's argument is that we cannot abolish the prison, because our ways of thinking about and carrying out punishment will not allow it. The prison is part of a "carceral network" that spreads throughout society, infiltrating and penetrating everywhere.


Derrida, Jacques. Of Grammatology. Translated by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1974.

Powell, Jim. Derrida for Beginners. New York: Writers and Readers Publishing, 1997.

Klages, Mary. Structuralism/Poststructuralism, 2001 at http://www.colorado.edu/English/ENGL2012Klages/1997derridaA.html

Foucault, Michel, Discipline and Punish, Trans. By Alan Sheridan, New York: Pantheon, 1977.

Sarup, Madan, An Introductory Guide to Post-structuralism and Postmodernism,… [END OF PREVIEW]

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