# 22 Practicing Deconstruction

Now that you’ve learned about structuralism and deconstruction, practiced deconstruction with “The Glass Mountain,” and reviewed some examples, you will complete a theoretical response to a text using deconstruction as your approach. You will read three different texts below. Choose one text and respond to the questions in a short essay (500-750 words). I have included questions to guide your reading. You may choose to respond to some or all of these questions; however, your response should be written as a short essay, and you will need to come up with a thesis statement about your chosen text. Post your short essay as a response to the Deconstruction Theoretical Response discussion board. I have included the theoretical response assignment instructions at the end of this chapter.

## Checklist for Deconstruction

Remember, when using the deconstruction approach, the goal is to closely examine the text itself and look for ways in which the text undercuts its own stated or preferred meaning. You’ll do this by looking for binary opposites, differance (how the text contains its own contradiction), arbitrary meanings, and how one pair of binary opposites is privileged over the other.

1. Identify the oppositions that are present in the text.
2. Determine which member of the binary opposite pair seems to be preferred by the text.
3. Look for evidence that contradicts this preferred or favored meaning.
4. Expose how this evidence undercuts the text’s meaning.

You should also consider things like form and genre. Make sure you understand what the text’s stated or preferred meaning is before you start to look for the gap between that stated meaning and what the text actually says.

## 1. Death, be not proud (1633)

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul’s delivery.
Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell’st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.

### Questions

1. What is the form of this poem? What type of poem do we traditionally associate with this form (think of Shakespeare or Petrarch)? How does the choice of this form complicate our interpration of this poem?
2. What assumptions do we have to have in order to make the claim the poem is making? Look closely at the last line. How could this line be used to turn the poem’s stated meaning against itself?
3. Who is the poem’s audience?  How does the stated audience differ from the real audience? How does our knowledge of the real audience affect our reading of the poem and what it is trying to accomplish?
4. Find one line in the poem and look for contradictions within that line. For example, line 9 says that “Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men.” But if the stated audience is death, why is this line problematic? Can someone be a slave and also be dead–or be Death? (Steven Lynn, Texts and Contexts, p. 140).

## 2. “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” (1926)

By Langston Hughes
Dedicated to W.E.B, DuBois

I’ve known rivers:
I’ve known rivers ancient as the world and older than the
flow of human blood in human veins.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young.
I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep.
I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it.
I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln
went down to New Orleans, and I’ve seen its muddy
bosom turn all golden in the sunset.

I’ve known rivers:
Ancient, dusky rivers.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

### Questions

1. How does the poem play with language and meaning? Explore how Hughes uses language in the poem. Are there any words or phrases that have multiple meanings or connotations? How do these linguistic ambiguities challenge conventional interpretations?
2. What binary oppositions are present in the poem, and how are they subverted? How does the poem blur the boundaries between these opposing concepts or disrupt traditional hierarchies associated with them?
3. What role does time and history play in the poem? Examine how the poem addresses the concept of time, from ancient rivers to the present. How does it disrupt linear notions of time and history, and what implications does this have for the poem’s meaning?
4. What are the implications of the “I” in the poem? Investigate the identity of the speaker (“I”) in the poem. How does the poem deconstruct the idea of a fixed, stable self or subject? Does the “I” represent a collective identity, and if so, what does this say about the fluidity of identity and subjectivity?

### Questions

1. What is the most obvious statement this advertisement makes? What sorts of attitudes, feelings, and assumptions does the advertisement assume its audience has? What effect does it try to create?
3. Which audiences or meanings are excluded or suppressed? Deconstruction insists that texts must exclude or suppress some meanings while privileging others. For example, the advertisement focuses on how the computer is easy to use, but it also states that you need to know three programming languages. And there are some people who are conspicuously absent both from the text and the images.
4. Do you see anything arbitrary or absurd here? For example, how does the image of Ben Franklin work (or not work) in this advertisement?

## Theoretical Response Assignment Instructions

For each of the critical approaches we study in Critical Worlds, you will write a short response that demonstrates your beginning understanding of the concept by applying the approach to a text. Treat these responses as short essays. The responses are intended to help you find what you do and don’t understand about the critical approach so that we can discuss the approach as a class.

### Instructions

Step One: At the end of each section in Critical Worlds, you will find a chapter called “Practicing [Theoretical Approach].” (For example, “Practicing New Criticism”) Read all the works in this section and be prepared to discuss them on our class discussion board or in class.
Step Two: Choose one of the works to write about in your response. For example, you will read all four of the short works in the New Criticism section, but you will only respond to one, perhaps “Recuerdo” by Edna St. Vincent Millay. Refer to our course schedule for due dates.
Step Three: Use the questions that follow the one work you’ve chosen to prompt your response. Your final response should be written as a short essay that considers the key elements of each question, 500-750 words in length (3-4 complete paragraphs). When you directly quote the text, use MLA style and include page or line numbers in parenthetical citations for later reference. Do your best, and please reach out if you need help.
Step Four: Submit your response by copying and pasting it into the discussion board forum designated for this assignment. Do not attach your response as a Word document. Refer to the course schedule for due dates. I strongly recommend that you draft your response in Word of another software program that includes a grammar and spelling checker.
Step Five: Online students are required to respond to two classmates who chose different texts from the one you chose for your response. These responses should both be 100-150 words in length (200-300 words total) and are due by Sunday. Students who attend class in person are not required to post responses to classmates because we will discuss the works in class together.