Having looked quite quite a bit at Semiotics (the science of signs) and it’s usefulness in decoding an image to decipher meaning, I felt it appropriate to take a further look at Deconstruction.
I find that the subject of deconstruction is very in depth, and highly complex. It relates primarily to literary criticism, but can be applied equally to any form of language or communication, which photography is. I struggle to read about this subject, loosing interest (or understanding) very quickly. Thankfully, I found a few helpful videos that have (hopefully) explained it in layman’s terms.
Where Semiotics is largely associated with Roland Barthes, Deconstruction is the further exploration (and often contradiction) of it by Jaques Derrida.
If Semiotics can be associated with Structuralism – where things have a specific and set meaning, then Deconstruction is associated with poststructuralism – where something can have multiple meanings, often contradictory to their intent.
To me then, in its simplest terms, Deconstruction (or poststructuralism) is about looking for alternative meaning or the lack of meaning altogether. It is about questioning what is being communicated. The sign, being the sum of the signifier and the signified, can actually be a signifier of something else. Likewise, a message can be picked apart so much that it no longer means anything.
Deconstruction is highly critical, and (to me) is akin to sarcasm. Take this example:
“You like nice today.”
What seems like a straight forward communication can actually have multiple meanings if deconstructed (and if we’re being picky). Without knowing the intent of the sender, we can only surmise the possible meanings. A reply from a structuralist would likely be:
Whereas a possible reply from poststructuralist could be:
“What do mean I look nice today? Don’t I look nice everyday?”
Here there has been a need to question the senders intent because the message has not been communicated effectively.
Here is another example:
A sign on a lift door reads:
“Guide dogs only”.
Again, the message seems quite obvious. but what does it actually mean?
Are humans allowed? What if the blind person has some other form of guide animal, is that allowed? Who is the sign for? We assume a blind person, but how do they read it?
Therefore, through deconstruction, we can actually say that the sign is meaningless.
For those interested in exploring Deconstruction or Poststructuralism further, the links below will take you to some quite refreshingly lighthearted and simplistic explanations, using animations.