Icarus and the Myth of Deconstruction

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Icarus and the Myth of Deconstruction In all three texts, it is the act of analysis which seems to occupy the center of the discursive stage, and the act of analysis of the act of analysis which in some way disrupts that centrality. In the resulting asymmetrical, abyssal structure, no analysis -- including this one -- can intervene without transforming and repeating other elements in the sequence, which is not a stable sequence. Barbara Johnson "The Frame of Reference" The Critical Difference 1. Introduction Among its detractors, literary theory has a reputation for sinful ignorance of both literature and the outside world; literary critics either overemphasize the word at the expense of context (as in formalistic criticisms) or overemphasize context at the expense of the word (as in political and historical criticisms). However, deconstruction holds a particularly tenuous position among literary theories as a school that apparently commits both sins; while formalistically focusing on the words on the page, deconstruction subjects those words to unnatural abuse. Thus, deconstruction seems locked in the ivory tower, in the company of resentful New-Critical neighbors. Such charges have received insufficient response from deconstruction's top theorists who, though they define and redefine the basic tenets of their approach, fail to justify such an approach in the world. They have explained their purpose, but not their motivation. With this desperate need in mind, then, embarking on any new piece of deconstruction poses a twofold demand: to not only seek to unfold new facets of a text (or texts) through a deconstructive lens, but to aim that lens outside of literature and show its implications in society, away from any ivory tower. Ovid, Pieter Brueghel and W. H. Auden have (inadvertently) created a lineage convenient to these demands. In Ovid's myth "Concerning the Fall of Icarus" from Metamorphoses[i], he created a character that has become an icon, several millennia later. Pieter Brueghel adopted the icon in the sixteenth century for his painting Landscape with the Fall of Icarus, which then received famous treatment in the twentieth century by W. H. Auden in his poem "Musée Des Beaux Arts." These three works provide a beautiful, laboratory-quality arena in which to apply various deconstructive ideas: Jacques Derrida's theories of translation and the "dangerous supplement" and Roland Barthes' conception of the myth as language. However, such an inheritance necessarily extends to include the critical work that draws it together.

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