The English used in this article may not be easy for everybody to understand. (November 2011)
Deconstruction is a way of understanding how something was created, usually things like art, books, poems and other writing. Deconstruction is breaking something down into smaller parts. Deconstruction looks at the smaller parts that were used to create an object. The smaller parts are usually ideas.
Sometimes deconstruction looks at how an author can imply things he does not mean. It says that because words are not precise, we can never know what an author meant.
Sometimes deconstruction looks at the things the author did not say because he made assumptions.
One thing it pays attention to is how opposites work. (It calls them "binary oppositions.") It says that two opposites like "good" and "bad" are not really different things. "Good" only makes sense when someone compares it to "bad," and "bad" only makes sense when someone compares it to "good." And so even when someone talks about "good," they are still talking about "bad." But this is just one thing it does.
Because of things like this, deconstruction argues that books and poems never just mean what we think they mean at first. Other meanings are always there too, and the book or poem works because all of those meanings work together. The closer we look at the writing, the more we find about how it works, and how meaning works for all things. If we deconstructed everything, we might never be able to talk or write at all. But that does not mean deconstruction is useless. If we deconstruct some things, we can learn more about them and about how talking and writing work.
Words are made up of 'signifiers', or the sounds/spellings, and the 'signified', or the meaning and concepts they are talking about. However, the meaning of a word is naturally ambiguous; the word in itself and the meaning are not naturally linked. The word 'band' can refer to an elastic band, a pop music group, a gathering of brass musicians or a collection of people, each with separate connotations and mental images. This means it is the reader who will choose the meanings of words. In a similar way, reading is like trying to hold a wet fish, because there are a variety of meanings to each word. Jacques Derrida calls this "slippage along the chain of signifiers."
The chain of signifiers is a long chain of words that are interrelated, for instance a chain might look like this: "band, brass, copper, police." This chain really has no end, because each word connects to many others, and the more slippery a word, the more words it relates to.
Deconstructionists question language and meaning. Some people who were very close to Derrida are usually called deconstructionists. These people include Helene Cixous and Jean-Luc Nancy. If someone really deconstructed everything, he or she could not talk or think! Instead there are people who deconstruct things (books, poems, writing, words - in short, texts). Jacques Derrida began deconstructing things in the 1960s, but he was not the first. Martin Heidegger had talked about deconstruction in 1927 with Being and Time but he used the word "destruktion". Heidegger might even say that he got the idea from Ancient Greek philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle. Other important people who talked about it include Paul de Man and Judith Butler.