I’ll give two very simple examples, which are by nature inadequate because (1) every deconstructionist knows that words are fundamentally inadequate and (2) Derrida himself wrote page after page without ever succinctly explaining what deconstructionism is.
There’s a famous painting called ‘The Treachery of Images,’ by Rene Magritte. It has a painting of a pipe along with the words, “Ceci n’est pas une pipe” (French for “This is not a pipe.”) An observer would look at the painting and say, “What the hell is this? Of course it’s a pipe! Everyone knows what a pipe looks like!” But a deconstructionist would say, “No, it is not a pipe. It is merely paint splattered on a canvas. Not a pipe at all. The best we can say of it is that we agree - by common consent - that this particular arrangement of paint creates the illusion or semblance of a pipe.”
And the rest of us just shrug and go back to watching Netflix.
This is deconstructionism at work. It starts with the assumption that all language consists of symbols that are necessarily inadequate and unfixed in their meaning. Different people at different times will reach different interpretations based on their own understanding. A deconstructionist will look at a piece of text and deliberately question everything about it, from the meaning of words to the context in which it was written. At best, this allows us to gain new perspectives on things. At worst, it’s a bunch of self-important navel-gazing gibberish.
This is what people are (probably) talking about when they say there is no objectivity in literature or speech. It is impossible for us to really interpret what Magritte’s painting of a not-pipe what intended to communicate or what Magritte intended by it. It looks pretty darn clear that it is a pipe to me, but Magritte insisted it was not a pipe. We can only guess at and try to infer the meaning of the painting by studying the context and the background of the artist.
I’ll give a second example: I once encountered a budding young deconstructionist who said ‘Return of the Jedi’ was actually a movie about the Vietnam War, in which the Stormtroopers represented America and the Ewoks represented the Vietnamese. Clearly, in his mind, he thought that because George Lucas grew up in the Vietnam era, this was not an unreasonable interpretation of the hidden message underlying ‘Return of the Jedi.’
I mention this not because his interpretation is ‘correct,’ (in fact, I think this guy was an idiot) but rather as an example of what deconstructionists do. They try to dismantle everything to examine the core assumptions and contextual clues to arrive at new interpretations. And because everything is subjective and there is no objectivity in literature, it is impossible to prove that ‘Return of the Jedi’ is not a secret metaphor for Vietnam.
In case you were wondering, my response was: “Jesus Christ, dude. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.”