The Theory of Deconstruction and Munidasa Cumaratunga

By Dr Ruwan M Jayatunge M.D.

(April 13, Ontario, Sri Lanka Guardian) The French philosopher Jacques Derrida questioned the fundamental conceptual distinctions of our understanding of the World through a close examination of the language and logic of philosophical and literary texts. Derrida laboriously worked to formulate an exceptional theory of deconstruction since early Sixties. Deconstruction sees all writing as a complex historical, cultural process rooted in the relations of texts to each other. Deconstruction clarifies the instability created by the metaphorical, meanings of words. It discloses the metaphysical contradictions of philosophical writings.

It’s a surprise to know that Munidasa Cumaratunga (1887 – 1944) a Sri Lankan linguist and a writer who had a profound knowledge of the Sinhala language had similar views like Derrida about the effect of the language.

He believed the power of language and its ability to promote creative thinking. He observed language as the primary tool to understand the world also considering its ambiguity. Munidasa Cumaratunga believed that the word should represent the meaning of an object in and out. But he knew it does not represent on most occasions and suggested alternative modes.

Most certainly he never had any access to this poststructuralist theory of Deconstruction. But he was a scholar who had a brilliant English knowledge. He must have read Immanuel Kant and Friedrich Nietzsche like Derrida Munidasa Cumaratunga deeply analyzed the effects of language to the human psyche.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines deconstruction as "A strategy of critical analysis [...] directed towards exposing unquestioned metaphysical assumptions and internal contradictions in philosophical and literary language.

Barbara Johnson In her book The Critical Difference (1981) clarifies the term: "Deconstruction is not synonymous with "destruction", however. It is in fact much closer to the original meaning of the word 'analysis' itself, which etymologically means "to undo" -- a virtual synonym for "to de-construct." ... If anything is destroyed in a deconstructive reading, it is not the text, but the claim to unequivocal domination of one mode of signifying over another. A deconstructive reading is a reading which analyses the specificity of a text's critical difference from itself."

Derrida clearly states that deconstruction is not an analysis, a critique or a method it is not a neat set of rules that can be applied to any text in the same way. Each deconstruction is necessarily different. As Derrida stated Deconstruction takes place, it is an event. Deconstruction is based on a meticulous kind of apply in reading and, thereby, a method of criticism and mode of analytical inquiry
Although deconstruction was sometimes used pejoratively to suggest nihilism and frivolous skepticism Jonathan Culler Professor of English at Cornell University gives a provocative analysis of deconstruction considering deconstruction in terms of the questions raised by psychoanalytic criticism. In Deconstruction, "The entire history of the concept of structure," Derrida argues, "...must be thought of as a series of substitutions of center for center, as a linked chain of determinations of the center"

The knowledge of 'reality cannot be achieved only via words. For instance can we translate any experience into symbolic form? Think of a sensation like orgasm and explain it via words. A Text cannot simply transfer an author's ideas totally. Therefore Derrida encourages the (re)reading of philosophical writings. A deconstruction describes the failure of the appeal to presence within the text what its author intended it to mean. It describes problems in the text rather than creating them.

All texts are mediated by language and by cultural systems and meaning is a shifting field of relations in which there is no stable point. Reading can be different. It can be literal reading or deconstructive reading. In deconstructive reading a highest level of universality could be achieved. For this reason deconstructive gives a sense closer to reality also it helps entering into the thoughtful play of contradiction examination of the stability and cogency of the text. Derrida argues that all theories of knowledge are metaphysical appeals to the full presence of truth in a given situation.

Consider how a word can crate negative or positive characteristics in the mind. For an example if someone says a nose neutral emotion is created in the mind and if he says penis or condom provocative emotional flush comes in to action. Consequently each word generates prototype emotion when it is being analyzed in the brain. The other distinctive feature is each word has a mental picture. When we hear the word spoon a specific mental picture (spoon like) formed in the mind. What about if someone says heaven? We have some form of imagination of that place although we have never seen it. The ancient Sinhala word Seesiakanaya denotes an object with 400 corners. Can anyone create a mental picture of such an object?

Another aspect is the ambiguities of a text and it can be interpreted in different ways giving dissimilar nuances. Therefore a text has no stable reference and obviously anyone can question the ability of language to represent the reality. Obviously the language has numerous limitations and the reader frequently find the impossibility of providing intentional meaning.

Most often the expected meaning does not originate in the words and understanding may be somewhat different. For ice cream Munidasa Cumaratunga used the Sinhala word Himakirama. The English word Ice Cream does not represent its true nature. Ice cream is more like snow and soft and in a semi solid form. As the English word it is not like a hard substance as an ice cube. The word Hima(Snow) Kirama (Cream)gives a more accurate picture of an ice cream. To facilitate the reader to understand the text Munidasa Cumaratunga used numerous newly formed words.

Munidasa Cumaratunga analyzed the problems associated with structural description. Like Wingastine he knew the World cannot be explained or understood via words. Most of his views were compatible with Jacques Derrida. Although they were two different people who lived in different academic eras they shared something common.