Reflections on a Glossary entry.

{All posts under the New Media Class category are for a History and Theory of New Media class I am taking during the 2019 Spring Semester at SUNY Empire. Please be aware that all comments must be approved before they are posted}

My Glossary post: 


dē-kən-ˈstrək-shən  Originally a literary theory by Jacques Derrida, deconstruction is a philosophy which explores the idea that meaning is only possible within arbitrary context.  It is often pitched as in opposition to analytical theories, especially those based in structuralism.  Although Derrida’s ideas were about literary analysis, deconstruction has been applied to various other branches, including architecture, music, social theories, law, and linguistics.     

Derrida himself fought against the idea of deconstruction as a school of thought, only framing the definition of deconstruction in terms of negatives, saying “Deconstruction is not a method, and cannot be transformed into one” (Wood).  His refutations of deconstruction as a critique, method, analysis, or even as post-structuralist are because Derrida uses deconstruction thought in these negations.

Deconstruction is important in the Age of Information as way of understanding how and why communications, especially on the internet, are wholly dependent on the assumed arbitrary context of the content creator and content consumer.  Meme culture is a good example of this.   

Wood, David; Bernasconi, Robert (1988). Derrida and Sifférance (Reprinted ed.). Evanston, Illinois: Northwestern University Press


My Reflections:

Ultimately my paper is going the relationship between Hip Hop culture and New Media technology.  An important part of my understanding of this, and life itself, is the concept of Deconstruction, which was originally presented as a literary theory by Jacques Derrida. 

                To present Deconstruction in as simple a form as I can manage: “Meaning is dependent on context”.   This is of course an oversimplification that, while making the concept accessible to more people, misrepresents Deconstruction. This is where we start the enter the woods.

                By explaining Deconstruction, I will start to use words, terms, and phrases that will assume unspoken agreements of truth and context.  Many of these are cultural. For instance, my phrase above about ‘entering the woods’.  This assumes an understanding of swiftly dwindling upper Northern Hemisphere environments predominately European and American. In 50-100 years from now this phrase will be archaic, or even fantastical like ‘slaying dragons’.

                Much of our communication depends on these contextual, cultural clues.  The more complex the subject, the more reliant we are on context.  One could argue that at some points all we are doing is communicating context without any substance or meaning whatsoever.  In fact, Deconstruction has a bit of a dirty reputation for being used to expose the lack of actual communication that is going on.  Many a lazy philosophy student I’m sure has used it to declare their classes meaningless.

                Hip Hop is a syncretic culture and artform that has often taken cultural pieces and created new meaning from them by changing the context.  Let us take, for instance, the vinyl record.  A technological advancement to preserve sound so that we can share it across time and space.  A way of archiving a musical performance.  Now let us take two copies of the same record and use them to repeat a certain passage.  I play the 16 bars on record player #1 and at the end start playing the same 16 bars on player #2.  While playing on #2, I reset player #1 so that when player #2 is done, I’m playing the passage on #1 again and resetting #2.  Viola, a breakbeat.  I have manually created a loop. The records and players are now a loop machine.

                Let us go further and manually manipulate a record, pulling it back and forth, to keep playing a few seconds worth of sound.  I manipulate the ‘scratch’ with a fader and artistically add the sounds to a piece and I have made the record and player into a musical instrument. 

                Now the deeper use of deconstruction is when I take samples and scratches of sound and layer them in a different context than their original.  Do you need to know the original piece referenced to enjoy the new?  No.  In some instances that knowledge might help you understand the artist’s deep meaning.  In others it was just a cool sound.

                Hip Hop does this non-musically as well.  The Culture has always taken technology and used it innovatively, New Media being no exception.