Contradictions in fiction: Structuralism versus Jacques Derrida and deconstruction

Joanna Klara Teske

Abstract


The phenomenon of contradiction has been highlighted in recent decades by both postmodern art and deconstructionist philosophy. Deconstructionists seem most interested in contradictions generated by language and hence pervading all human life; they expose contradictions and proclaim their inevitable and devastating impact on human beings’ epistemological efforts. Postmodern art, though sometimes expressing radical scepticism, seems less predictable and more versatile in its use of contradictions. This paper attempts to offer a structuralist study of contradiction in discourse in the context of fictional narratives. Three contemporary novels—The Unconsoled by Kazuo Ishiguro, Life of Pi by Yann Martel and House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski—have been selected for the study. The paper focuses on the uses of contradictions and, in particular, their contribution to the works’ meaning and the process of interpretation. It appears that contradictions in fiction perform various meaningful tasks and, with rare exceptions, do not preclude the possibility of a consistent reading of the text. The second section of the paper brings into consideration deconstructionists’ and Jacques Derrida’s views on contradiction. While the uses of contradictions in postmodern fiction might supply an argument with which to oppose the epistemic scepticism advocated by deconstructionists, Derrida’s original treatment of contradictions, related to his critique of logocentrism inscribed in language, might be impervious to this kind of argument. Indeed, Derrida’s critique of language might partly undermine structuralist studies of contradictions; one should, however, remember that this critique rests ultimately on Derrida’s own uncertain metaphysical assumptions.

Keywords


contradictions; structuralism; deconstruction; Jacques Derrida; postmodern fiction

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ISSN: 2329-583x

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