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Was deconstruction an American creation?


In the Boston Review, Gregory Jones-Katz argues that despite its association with French theory—and with the towering figure of Jacques Derrida—deconstruction as a reading practice was developed and disseminated primarily in the United States. Discussing thinkers like Harold Bloom, Paul de Man, and Judith Butler, Jones-Katz suggests that while the French may have given birth to deconstruction, US academics cultivated and popularized it. Here’s an excerpt from the piece:

With this one claim Derrida assimilated one of America’s founding texts into his philosophical project, locating the deconstructive stance and style of reading—ironic, reflexive, demanding, prescient, undermining dualisms and foundational truths—at the heart of the nation. If that were the case, could it really be true, as so many academics on the Left and the Right during the 1970s and ’80s claimed, that deconstruction was a destructive import from Paris’s Rive Gauche, one that threatened literature, history, perhaps even truth, justice, and the American way to boot?

Viewing deconstruction as a foreign mode of interpretation obscures the fertile soil in which it took root and flourished in the Untied States. Central to the story of deconstruction, but often neglected, are the various American contexts that cultivated and disseminated deconstructive undertakings. Even though the image—to some, the bogeyman—of the European theorist persists, the truth is that deconstructive literary theory was largely an indigenous creation. This change of perspective throws new light on the scapegoating of French Theory for the decline of the humanities. As it turns out, what began as a rarified method of reading literature practiced in seminar rooms and lecture halls has permeated many arenas of American life, including quite a few far beyond the academy.

Image: Harold Bloom.