How do we know what “cat” means? Is it as simple as pointing at the animals we call cat, and then saying the word? 20th century philosopher,
Jacques Derrida, would say no. The word “cat” is not simply a reference to the furry, four legged creature that meows and is indifferent to your existence. In other words, we don’t get the meaning of “cats” so easily. Language is quite a bit more complicated Thinkers like Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle all ground thinking into belief that there is an objective truth that can be apprehended through philosophy. They understood philosophy as a
sort of journey where, through practice, the truth and falsity of our claims
are eventually revealed. For Derrida, however, privilege in reason as the way to achieve objective truth is itself problematic. Deconstruction is a way of showing that our assumptions about language and objectivity are flawed. There is no reference point outside of text. No way to think outside of language. No correct and true word for actions or object. There is no objective truth. There is no significance in the words themselves. Calling a jump kick a snarflag, a punch a flipflam, a guy abobo, or a cat znutigunrgk jax
is just as good as any other word. In his loquacious work of grammatology, Derrida famously asserts that
there is nothing outside of the text. What he means is that we come to understand everything about the world through language. And as such, it is inescapable. The way that we come to know language isn’t from an encounter with the true essence of a term, but rather the meaning is
created in relation to other words, or what Derrida calls diffèrance. For example, we know what cat means because we understand the idea of feline, domestic, animal, and pet. We understand pet as not feral, as a friend. We understand friend as not an enemy. We comprehend enemy as an opposing force. We know that by force, in this instance, we don’t mean the multiplication of mass and acceleration, but rather an entity or person, and we comprehend person as not an animal, as not a… as not a cat. Each concept points to another
concept we define ad infinitum, the meaning of a term turtles all the way down. Moreover, all text is unreliable. There is no single or objective meaning of words. Most text contains conflicting narratives that intersect and contradict. Deconstruction points out these contradictions. And that is how deconstruction is both construction and destruction, hense the word play. But when does deconstruction end? Really, isn’t a cat just a cat?