One of the tenets of deconstruction is that all texts resist closure. There is always more than one meaning to a text.

There is a kernel of truth in this. Because of our finite nature, there are certain things that human language cannot express, and because our nature is further limited by the effects of sin, our use of language is often imperfect. Furthermore, in literature, novelists and poets will often make use of ambiguity to express more than one thing in the same utterance, which, in turn, represents our complex experience of the world.

The problem of course is that post-structuralist apologists have raised the absence of closure to the status of some sort of epistemological absolute. This puts them in the awkward position of claiming that the sole closure is the absence of closure. If you mention this to a member of the post-structuralist priesthood, they are likely to mumble something about aporias thinking that this gets them off the hook, which, of course, it does not.

Over at the National Poetry Foundation’s blog, Harriet, Martin Earl offers an interesting ethical critique of this deconstructive tenet . Whimsically comparing the rise of deconstruction with the rise of digital cameras, Earl argues that one of the goals of deconstruction was to liberate the reader from the supposed tyranny of the author:

The author (read the death of watered-down Nietzsche), was downgraded to the status of mechanic, a kind of interface, or a content provider, and the reader (under the tutelage of critic-theorists, some of whom were poets themselves) was elevated to the status of avenging angel. Armed with the hermeneutics of deconstruction, no poem was safe. Augmenting the reader’s tool-kit with the latest super-hard drill bits was coupled with an attempt to politicize the reader whose duty it became to tear down not only the poem, but the whole poetic canon; the political project was grounded in, and justified by a very traditional American trope of liberating the individual (a recycling of the radically conservative vision of the individual conquering the wilderness, that vast and open linguistic frontier).


Yet, Earl continues, most readers do not want to be liberated in this way. In fact, being subject to the author in the traditional sense provides a form of liberation often ignored by critical theorists:

According to the Aristotelian tradition readers read (or, in his version, attended theatre) because they wanted their emotions to be purged. They wanted to experience the emotion of falling from a great height and then they wanted to go home and have a good night’s sleep. The American poetical avant-garde of the late twentieth century lacked the humility to give American readers what they craved, a cathartic experience, and instead tried, with great hubris and the new technology of literary theory, to feed them an agenda.

This supposed liberation of readers, which in turn becomes a form of imprisonment, reminded me of Romans 6, which compares the supposed benefits of being a slave to our own sinful nature with the benefits of being a slave to the author God. The former brings death—in this analogy, the death of the hard-hearted, supposedly “liberated” reader. The latter brings the ultimate catharsis—the redemption of our souls in the purging of our sinful nature.

Articles by Micah Mattix

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