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Deconstruction, Destruction & Reconstruction

Jacques Derrida is one of the most influential and frequently criticised philosophers of the 20th century. He became famous for introducing the term “deconstruction” into the intellectual vocabulary. “The idea of deconstruction,” according to Jacques Derrida, is “to deconstruct the workings of powerful nation states… to deconstruct the rhetoric of nationalism… .” Ultimately, he wanted to reveal the inner workings of ideas and institutions as well as expose their inherent weakness.

He was writing at a time when the largest institution in the world – the US Army – was waging an unjust war against the Vietnamese, who were acting as proxies for the second largest – the Soviet. For its part, the USSR committed terrible atrocities in the 20th century. Derrida’s point is to show that human beings are flawed and their works – ideas and institutions – cannot therefore be perfect. The reader should not be overzealous but should be humbled by admitting the possibility of his own error.

An open letter from 18 academics said that Derrida “does not meet accepted standards of clarity and exactitude… .” He himself contradicted people who used the word deconstruction, claiming that he had been misunderstood. The discrepancy between the thinker and those who disseminated his work was to prove problematic.

Students of deconstruction have long become notorious, regardless of whether Derrida would agree with their interpretation or not. Often, they just want to deconstruct for deconstruction’s sake. Screenwriters and film directors have developed their own version. This too became controversial.

Star Wars is the best example. George Lucas was considerably inspired by Joseph Campbell’s book The Hero in a Thousand Guises. It describes steps of initiation a young man takes from childhood onwards – and from youthfulness to manhood. In short, how a man is built to be at peace with the feminine sphere and a holy warrior. This idea is found in many ancient stories – by Chinese, Indians and Europeans. George Lucas wanted to give people an ancient narrative; of an archaic archetype that everyone could identify with.

In his film Star Wars, Luke Skywalker began as an adventurous farm boy. Through a series of introductions, mainly by Yoda and even Darth Vader, he appears a heroic adventurer who never gave up when things got tough. He even managed to bring Vader over to the side of light.

A great many fans were shocked to see a Luke Skywalker running away from responsibility in 2017’s The Last Jedi: a bitter recluse who hated himself and everyone else. The public recoiled in disgust. Many angry texts (including this one) and comments criticising the series followed.

On a larger scale, long respected heroes are being deconstructed. In 2018, Mahatma Ghandi’s statue was removed from a university campus in Ghana. Last year, a call was made for the removal of a Ghandi statue in Leicester. The removal was called for because the famous independence leader was a racist. There is plenty of publicly available evidence to suggest this. There was a deconstructionist movement to pick apart Mandela’s legacy. He was accused of being too careless with the legacy of apartheid. The legacy of the recently deceased Desmond Tutu is also being deconstructed by his self-styled peers because he prioritised peace rather than retribution during the transition from apartheid to the current form of government.

Deconstruction, as explained by a Derridian, was a way of demonstrating that there are no clear-cut answers and that every created human being will have flaws. Demonstrating these flaws could humble people and remove dogmatism from society. It seems that his followers have ironically reverted to dogmatism in their behaviour in the public sphere. It is like in Dostoevsky’s The Demons, where members of the Russian intelligentsia become obsessed with ideas from the West.

During his career, accusations of nihilism have also been levelled against Derrida. I don’t know whether this criticism is justified. However, it is evident from his successors that they have adopted a nihilistic archetype. The Russian writer Turgenev introduced the word “nihilism” into the public domain and outlined its pathology. In one book, he has one of his characters say to a nihilist, “You deny everything, or to put it more accurately, you tear down everything, but you also have to rebuild.”

What comes after deconstruction, what follows destruction? Shaykh Dr. ‘Abdalqadir As-Sufi’s The Book of Tawhid is a title that offers help because it aims to; “construct the complete man.” In his concluding chapter, the author turns to the book Fusus Al-Hikam by Muhjiddin Ibn ‘Arabi:

“I will now take this very thing from Shaikh Muhjiddin Ibn ‘Arabi’s Fusus Al-Hikam because it is so clear and beautiful. It explains man’s place in the universe:

‘If Allah, subhanahu wa ta’ala, willed it (He uses His attribute of will, which is one of the mother attributes) that the source of His most beautiful names, which are not to be enumerated, be seen, or you could equally say that He willed that His source be seen, for if He willed that the source of His attributes be seen, since the attributes and the essence are one, that meant that He wanted to somehow explain His own essence. He wanted them to be known in a microcosmic being that contained the entire command. This was to lose existence through which His mystery was manifested to Him.”

He wanted the source of His most beautiful names to be seen in a microcosm that contains the entire command, the entire universe. For every aspect of the universe is found in man. Man is the microcosm of the macrocosm. He is the focal point of the whole matter. He is the end result. He is what was intended with the creation.”

Orphans of Uganda
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