Laying the Foundations – Deconstruction and Wendy Wasserstein
If deconstruction consisted in saying that everything happens in books, it wouldn’t deserve five minutes of anybody’s attention (Derrida)
The French philosopher Jacques Derrida (1930-2004) has presented in his writings provocative views of Deconstruction. “Deconstruction is a reaction against structuralism and and works against seeing language as a stable, fixed, and closed system” (Shaikh 1). It destroys all what Western philosophy believes in and takes for granted: “Deconstruction suspends all what we take for granted about language, experience, and the normal possibilities of human communication” (Norris xii). In other words, Derrida challenges the entire philosophy of the Western civilization and calls its traditions into question. As a way into Derridean deconstruction, we have to acknowledge that Derrida’s own experience, in some ways, affects his work. It is the experience of his marginalization as a Jew that opens the gate for him to think about being the other- the marginal.
Derrida was born in El-biar into a Jewish Algerian family on July 15, 1930. He lived in Algeria until he was 19 years old. World War II began when he was nine. This war affected him and every Jew in the city negatively. In an interview with Noveal Observateur, he described how that event affected his life:
I was born in EL-Biar in the suburbs of Algiers in a petit bourgeois Jewish family which was assimilated… the war came to Algiers in 1940… no one can escape that violence and fear… the singular experience of the Algerian Jews, incomparable to that of European Jews, the persecutions were nonetheless unleashed in the absence of any German occupier. (David Wood and Robert Bernasconi 74)
At that time, he was living in an anti-Semitic atmosphere. He skipped classes for a year because schools expelled Jewish students and teachers without any reason, “go home your parents will explain” David Wood and Robert Bernasconi. (74) He tested the sense of otherness which awakened in him the general problem of identification. As consequences of these events, he began to withdraw from the French and Jewish community, “from all of which comes a feeling of non-belonging which I have doubtless transposed…everywhere”. (David Wood and Robert Bernasconi75) Hence, he lost himself in reading Sartre, Rousseau, Saussure, Nietzsche and other philosophers. In 1949, he immigrated to France. He enrolled at the Ecole Normal Superieur where he was inspired by the ‘success story’ of Albert Camus. In 1950, he completed his master thesis ‘Memorie’ which dealt with Edmund Husserl’s view on meaning, structure, and origin. At the end of 1950, he became interested in the problems of philosophy in relation to literature, writing, and textuality.
In 1966, Derrida gave a lecture at john Hopkins university conference entitled “Structure, Sign and Play in the Discourse of Human Sciences”. He questioned structuralism’s idea of stable centers. In that way he managed to turn much of the western thought upside down. From here he started a school of thought termed “deconstruction”. Derrida developed his ideas in several books and essays dating from 1967. The most prominent of them: ‘Of Grammatology’, whose subject is criticizing Saussure’s structuralism as “a final gasp of Western philosophy, that is of a metaphysical system spanning from Plato and Aristotle to Heidegger and Levi-Strauss” (lietch 24); ‘Speech and Phenomena’, in this book Derrida deals with Husserlian phenomenology especially his theory of meaning; ‘Writing and Difference’, which contained several articles on the views of Nietzsche, Foucault, Levinas, Freud, and Hegel on language and writing; ‘Positions’, a collection of interviews with Derrida; ‘Margins of Philosophy’, a collection of articles among them Derrida’s most prominent one “The Difference”; and ‘Dissemination’ , where he presents a new interpretation of the relation between speech and writing by reading Plato’s pharmacy.
Although Derrida provides a new way of thinking, he mocks any attempt to define deconstruction. It is impossible to generate a fixed meaning that would remain a model when applied to various contexts. For him defining deconstruction is an impossible act because it is considered an activity that goes against the whole work of deconstruction. In a letter to a Japanese Friend, Derrida claims:
What deconstruction is not? Everything of course! What is deconstruction? Nothing of course!… the difficulty of defining…the word “deconstruction” stems from the fact that all the predicates, all the defining concepts, all the lexical significations, and even the syntactic articulations, which seem at one moment to lend themselves to this definition or to that translation, are also deconstructed or deconstructible, directly or otherwise, etc. And that goes for the word deconstruction, as for every word. (David Wood and Robert Bernasconi. 16)
Derrida is usually deconstructing some specific issues in a close reading of a particular philosopher, but he does not present any particular rule about the nature of his philosophy. He claims in a letter that “Deconstruction happens; it is an event, which does not suppose decision, consciousness or organisation of subject. In French we say ca se déconstruit, something deconstructs itself.” Hence, deconstruction does not offer a specific, definable or stable method in the traditional sense which one could start with and apply it to any text. “To present deconstruction as if it were a method, a system or a settled body of ideas would be to falsify its nature and lay oneself open to charges of reductive misunderstanding” (Norris, Derrida 5). Either, the strategy of deconstruction cannot simply be repeated because it depends on the context it addressed. Instead, Derrida describes deconstruction in Of Grammatology as a double science or double writing. Deconstructive analysis implies both what can be realized and seen through the written text and what has been ignored and excluded. So, deconstruction is never complete, closed or concluded science, but rather it traces the hidden meanings in the written text. It does not come out with an original or central truth, or put an end to logocentrism and Phonocentrism. Instead, it makes changes and displacements:
Deconstruction is a mode of reading philosophical texts as texts, as modes of writing, rather than expressions of ideas. It is a reading that shows up the instability in the relation between what the philosophical text asserts, and how it asserts it. The unstable interaction between philosophy’s own self representations and its actual practices, is made clear. Deconstruction makes explicit a latent tension between what theory aspires to achieve, and how it attempts to do so. (Elizabeth Grosz. 29)
Deconstruction, thus, does not attempt to destruct logocentrism, correct it nor offer an understanding of metaphysics. Its aim is pressing these traditional philosophies to a point of cracking. The question now is how does one identify deconstruction? Deconstruction does not have any clear meaning and definable identity, thus may be the best way to understand deconstruction is to consider Derrida’s writings—what and how he has deconstructed in his writings. That is why, “It deconstruction has been variously regarded as a way of reading, a mode of writing, and, above all, a way of challenging interpretations of texts based upon conventional notions of the stability of the human self, the external world, and of language and meaning. ” (Habib 649)
Accordingly, deconstruction starts from dismantling the Western philosophical thinking that depends on the metaphysics of presence. Derrida claims in Of Grammatology, that the metaphysics of presence defines the meaning of being, time, and subjectivity as presence:
The history of metaphysics…is the determination of being as presence in all the senses of this word. It would be possible to show that all the names related to fundamentals, to principles, or to the center have always designated the constant of a presence. (19)
Derrida argues that the culture of the metaphysics of presence relies on the concept of presence; to find the origin and the center in presence. In other words, presence is considered the source and essence of every meaning. For instance, the speech/writing opposition is so important in the Western philosophical traditions. Derrida assumes that Plato directed the philosophical tradition thinking because, in the Dialogue Phaedrus, he presented speech as more primary than writing. Plato argues that writing produces absence—signifies the absence of the speaker. Writing is considered an obstacle that prevents presence because the intention of the writer becomes less clear within the written text. Instead, the speaker can better convey his/her message, feelings, and thoughts directly to the listener. Speech can be discussed and the speaker can easily deliver his/her intended aim to every listener. Consequently, this longing for presence favors speech over writing, or in Derrida’s own neologism: with Logocentrism. From here on, Derrida deconstructs the metaphysical thinking, disrupts its foundations and turns aside its quest for origin, presence and center.
Derrida assumes that the nature of the Western tradition of thought, language, culture since Aristotle and Plato depends upon the concept of ‘center’ that longs for a truth behind every meaning, a fixed point, an origin, a full certain presence and knowledge. They want to believe that there is a “presence” behind language and text as well. Thus, “deconstruction involves a way of reading that concerns itself with decentering, with unmasking the problematic nature of all centers” (Powell 21). Derrida called this belief ‘Logocentrism’. Logocentrism comes from the Greek word “logos” that stands for “word truth, reason, and law” and “TRUTH is the voice, the expression of a centeral, original and absolute Cause and Origin” (Powell 33). In other words, Western metaphysics has looked for centers to ground truth. But Derrida’s objection is that these centers fulfill one purpose; determines ‘being’ as ‘presence’, insures stability, authority, balance, coherence, and organization, and generates a desire for a direct meaning. Nevertheless, Derrida explains the idea of center in “Structure, Sign, and Play” as follow:
Classical thought concerning structure could say that the center is, paradoxically, within the structure and outside it. The center is at the center of the totality, and yet, since the center does not belong to the totality (is not part of the totality), the totality has its center elsewhere. The center is not the center.
To illustrate this, we could consider Nietzsche’s deconstructive argument of causality. The principle of causality is essential in our life. We always take for granted that causes produce effects. According to this logic causes are prior to causes. Moreover, Nietzsche points out that the principle of causality is in fact a product of chronological reversal. When one feels pain, he (or she) is tracing back the cause. So we have a link between the effect and what causes it. The cause becomes the center of the action, the origin of the pain. Consequently, deconstruction puts causality in question. Deconstruction focuses on the fact that it is the experience of pain which tempted man to look for the cause. In other words, pain comes first in mind then is followed by the searching for its cause. We could note that deconstruction reverses the opposition structure of cause/effect. It implies that since the effect is what obliged one to trace back the cause, hence it is the effect that should be treated as the origin. Jonathan Culler concludes, “If either cause or effect can occupy the position of origin, then origin is no longer originary; it loses its metaphysical privilege. A nonoriginary origin is a concept that cannot be comprehended by the former system and thus disrupts it” (Culler 88)
For Derrida, the entire Western tradition of thought since Plato is tangled with Phonocentrism: the favoring of speech, the spoken word over writing, the written word. Phonocentrism is a Derridean neologism and is formed from the French words phono, meaning sound, speech and -centrism meaning center which means the centrality of sound, speech and phonic element. Metaphysics of presence treats speech as superior to writing. As when we hear the words, we can see the speaker, contact with him and discuss him. Speech implies the presence of the speaker who makes a direct and intimate link with the listener. On the other hand, writing does not need the presence of the writer; it can be repeated and reprinted. Voice became source of self-present living, while writing destroys this pure presence. Thus, Writing is traditionally deemed inferior to speech. In this sense, speech is the original signifier of meaning and writing is considered as a representation of speech. This is essentially logocentric position because it puts the human being in the center. Logocentrism asserts presence as ‘being’ through speaking. It collapses writing into speech.
Derrida explains in his reading of the Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure’s A Course in General Linguistics that Saussure is stuck with the limits of metaphysics that calls for a deconstructive meaning. Saussure values more what is original and natural (Michael Payne 134). He defines language as made up of a system of signs. The sign consists of an opposition between a signifier (sound image) and a signified (a concept). Saussure argues that the sign is not the name of the thing. Sign does not unite a thing and a name but a concept and a sound image. In other words, “the signifier does not refer to some object in the world but to a concept in the mind.” (Dobie 153) For instance, the spoken word or written word of ‘sea’ is a signifier while the concept that you imagine in the mind is the signified. Hence, the concept of ‘sea’ is not the actual ‘sea’ but the general idea of ‘sea’ and the sound image is the mental imprint of the sound ‘sea’. Saussure shows that the sign has no positive identity. Its identity is governed by the differential relations it has with other signs. For him, meaning of words is not in words themselves but in the differences between them. Hence, Saussure’s notion of language is “a system of differences without positive terms.”
Saussure argues that the link between these two components of the sign is relational, differential, and arbitrary one. He exposes that the ‘signified’ meaning of any sound ‘signifier’ depends upon its difference from another one. For example, “the sound ‘Cow’ gains its identity only because it is slightly different from ‘Mow’ which is only slightly different from ‘bough'” (Powell 42). So “a sign is what all others are not.” (Leitch 8)
On the other hand, the relation between the signs is not natural but an arbitrary one. We could identify “one sign from another not because of its meaning but because of the differences between them” (Dobie 153). For instance: “the signifier ‘hot’ is able to work as part of a sign because it differs from ‘hat’, ‘hit’, ‘hop’, ‘hog’, ‘lot’, and so on.” (Raman Selden 156) Consequently Saussure says, “language is satisfied with the opposition between something and nothing.” So, “in every case, it’s a matter not of simple identity but of differences.” (Leitch 8)
According to Derrida, Saussure invokes a logocentric presence when he considers the signified as more important than the signifier. On the contrary, meaning, for Derrida, is not immediately present in a sign but meaning is always in some sense absent from the sign; meaning is a kind of presence and absence together. Derrida notes that the signifier does not lead to a definite and a finite meaning, but only to another signifier. For instance, if we look up a word in a dictionary, instead of finding a fixed meaning that would satisfy that search, we find more lists of other words (signifiers) that confirm the deferment of meaning. Thus, one never arrives at a stable signifier or a fixed meaning because every potential signifier has several signifieds which turns to be just another signifier. There is only an endless chain of signifiers. One could never reach a universal meaning. That is why deconstructionists point out that in a single text one can find several meanings; all of them are possible, right, and could be replaced by others. Hence, Derrida shows that any text can be read as saying something quite different from what it appears to be saying. Therefore, Derrida claims that a single text could possess many different meanings.
Saussure valorizes speech over writing; this enables him to conceptualize the sign as the presence of the signified. “Speech, according to Saussure is natural, direct immediately intimate and present to thought and meaning” (Powell 40). On the contrary, he marginalized writing and considered its only use is “in the absence of speech” (Powell 40). Saussure, also, considers speech a way of representing inner meaning while writing is simply a means of representing speech. So, Derrida sees, first, that Saussure privileges speech and marginalizes writing. Then, he presents the undecidable ‘différance’ to convey the divided nature of the sign and the relationship between speech and writing.
To chatter the nature of the sign, Derrida invents “différence” which is a neologism that shows that not only meaning is the result of differences between signifier and signified, but also meaning is deferred; meaning is never in the present moment. According to Derrida, “différance is neither a word nor a concept.” This neologism has a fundamental ambiguity. It is a term derived from the Latin ‘différer’ which has two meanings in both English and French languages: “to differ” and “to defer”. “To differ” designates the idea of difference itself, while “to defer” designates delaying, postponing or putting off in time. This term indicates that words are always at distance from what they signify, in the sense that a word which is present signals what is absent. According to Leitch “the play of différance denotes indeterminacy which results in the logic of paradox and a logic of impasse… Hence, there is no such a thing as objective truth”. In this sense there can be no wrong readings or interpretations as the American deconstructionist Paul de Man has said, “all reading is misreading.”
Derrida spells différance this way in order to stress his indebtedness to Saussure’s concept of ‘difference’ and to signal that his own use of the term which adds something extra or supplementary that is significantly different to it. The replacement of ‘a’ for ‘e’ makes meaning ever more uncertain for two reasons. First, it symbolizes the primacy of writing as opposed to speech; the ‘a’ cannot be heard but only written or read. Second, it denotes the centrality of absence just like presence; the ‘a’ has only meaning with reference to the new absent or displayed ‘e’. In this respect différance “is the hinge between inner meaning and outer representation, between what is present and what is absent” (Alex Scott. Online).
Moreover, logocentrism generates an entire history of binary oppositions: a tendency to form things in dualism. These oppositions include: speech/writing, culture/nature, self/other, identity/difference, mind/body, male/female, presence/absence, signifier/signified, truth/lie, inside/outside, reality/ image, essence/appearance and so on. What makes binary oppositions distinct is the preference of one term over the other. This polarized system is establishing one term as a positive value while the other term has a negative definition: the other. According to Robert con Davis and Roland Schleifer, deconstructive reading starts from “a philosophical hierarchy in which two opposed terms are presented as the ‘superior’ general case and the ‘inferior’ special case” (207). The first term of each pair received privilege status in the logocentric tradition, for example, the generally acceptance of ‘man’ to mean human and ‘woman’ only the special case of a female human being. The first term is described by a paradoxical term by what it is not; its less valued partner. We know light because it is not dark and so on. The first term is considered primary, positive, or present. While the second term is treated as marginal, negative and absent. These oppositional terms appear fixed in time and meaning, for instance, man is central but woman is marginalized, repressed, being the other, ignored, and pushed to the margins. The superior term in each hierarchy dominates the inferior one and establishes its authority at the expense of it. Therefore, the second term is described by the absence of certain qualities that characterizes the privileging one. Accordingly, feminists have pointed out that ‘woman’ is often defined as lacking certain male features.
Metaphysical system relies upon such oppositions to elaborate its thought. The identity of any term, Saussure argues, depends upon its relations to all other terms which in themselves have no positive identity. In the sense that, the difference between these terms constitute their identity.
Derrida undermines the hierarchy of binary oppositions. He challenges the assumptions and beliefs about what is privileged and has priority. He believes that the boundaries between binary oppositions are arbitrary and unstable:
In a classical philosophical opposition we are not dealing with the peaceful coexistence of a vis-a-vis, but rather with a violent hierarchy. One of the two terms governs the other (axiologically, logically, etc.), or has the upper hand. To deconstruct the opposition, first of all, is to overturn the hierarchy at a given moment. (Positions 41)
Derrida draws our attention to the fact that these dichotomies are arbitrary, unstable, reversible, and depending on one another. He challenges these binary oppositions through a double gesture of both reversal and displacement. First, he focuses on the weak point within the text and reveals the asymmetry in the hierarchy to indicate how these oppositions are related; how one is central, natural, and privileged, while the other term is marginal, ignored and repressed.
Then, deconstruction, temporarily, reverses these oppositions to make visible their multiple meanings and forces the dominant term to acknowledge its debt to the subordinated one:
To deconstruct the opposition, first of all, is to overturn the hierarchy at a given moment. To overlook this phase of overturning is to forget the conflictual and subordinating structure of opposition. Therefore one might proceed too quickly to a neutralization that in practice would leave the previous field untouched, leaving one no hold on the previous opposition, thereby preventing any means of intervening in the field effectively. We know what always have been the practical (particularly political) effects of immediately jumping beyond oppositions, and of protests In the simple form of neither this nor that. (Positions.41)
Derrida’s project does not only aim to reverse the hierarchy because by doing this, it remains in the logic of binarism. Rather, he attempts to show that these hierarchies represent privileged relationships by suggesting another procedure which is displacement; to put the subordinated term into the core:
The movements of deconstruction do not destroy structures from the outside. They are not possible and effective, nor can they take accurate aim, except by inhabiting those structures. Inhabiting them in a certain way, because one always inhabits, and all the more when one does not suspect it. Operating necessarily from the inside, borrowing all the strategic and economic resources of subversion from the old structure, borrowing them structurally, that is to say without being able to isolate their elements and atoms, the enterprise of deconstruction always in a certain way falls prey to its own work. (Of Grammatology 92)
The deconstructive procedures of reversal and displacement demonstrate that there are other ways to understand the relation between such dichotomies. Either, the philosophical text can be read to mean exactly the opposite of what it starts out to state. This results in ‘undecidability.’ Derrida implies the creation of a third term-‘undecidables’ which cannot be included within the philosophical hierarchy. Derrida says about undecidables, in Positions “a concept that can no longer be, and never could be, included in the previous regime.” Instead, it undermines and resists, disorganizes the stability and the fixed nature of the binary system:
Henceforth, in order better to mark this interval… it has been necessary to analyze, to set to work, within the text of the history of philosophy, as well as within the so-called literary text… certain marks… that by analogy… have called undecidables, that is, unities of simulacrum, “false” verbal properties (nominal or semantic) that can no longer be included within philosophical (binary) opposition, but which, however inhabit philosophical opposition resisting and organizing it, without ever constituting a third term, without ever leaving room for a solution m the form of speculative dialectics. (Positions 43)
These undecidables terms or ‘hinge words’ mark the writings of Derrida; such as différance, trace, repetition, supplement, pharmakon, hymen, writing and so on. They subvert binary opposition and eliminate its ambiguity. What problematizes these neologisms is that it has no clear or single meaning but several meanings and functions. The meaning of these terms is always fluid and changes in every text Derrida interrogates because it takes its meaning from the interrogated texts. These ‘hinge words’ play all ways, take no sides of the two terms of the opposition. So, its meaning will not be fixed down. Moreover, Derrida often describes these terms through negations, presenting what the term is not; for instance, the term difference according to Derrida, “it is neither a word nor a concept.” This is part of Derrida’s deconstructive strategy.
Derrida’s reading of Rousseau’s text in Of Grammatology is a good example of the deconstruction of hierarchic binary oppositions. Rousseau presents, in Essay on the Origin of Languages, nature as more valuable and fundamental than culture. Either, Rousseau is tracing the logocentric tradition; primaries speech over writing. He sees writing and culture as supplemented speech and nature. Hence, Derrida’s deconstructive analysis occurs through the undeciadable supplement. Derrida describes it as: “the supplement is neither a plus nor a minus, neither an outside nor the complement of an inside, neither accident nor essence” (Position 43). For Derrida Rousseau’s texts need to be deconstructed because “Rousseau cannot possibly mean what he says (or say what he means)” (Norris 33)
In Of Grammatology, Derrida deconstructs the writings of the 18th French philosopher and the father of French romanticism Rousseau. Derrida depends on Rousseau’s own concept ‘supplement’ to undermine the relationship between nature, culture and writing. Leitch points out:
According to the traditional account, archaic man, living in an innocent and blissful state of nature, comes upon a danger or insufficiency of one sort or another, bringing about a need or desire for community. In the evolution of man from nature into society,… culture supplements nature. (170)
To return to the nature state of simplicity, innocence, and grace, Rousseau argues that “culture and civilization corrupt human nature” (Powell 49). He sees “nature as good, original, virtuous, noble and present”. On the contrary, “culture is corrupt, degenerate, a ‘supplemen’t to nature’s full presence” (Powell 49). So, Rousseau prefers nature over culture and speech over writing. By doing this “he yearns for the full presence of speech and distrusting culture” (Powell 501). Rousseau considers speech as a natural expression of thought while writing is a form of addition which adds an image or a representation to speech. He argues that the face to face presence of speech–speaker and listener—gives way to civilization. Thus, for him, writing diverts the immediate presence of speech into imagination. This violent act of writing signifies the absent part of the present speech.
But, Derrida demonstrates how Rousseau’s texts are opened to deconstruction. He explains that all Rousseau’s writings are just writings; i.e. Rousseau is not present to us, and he is not speaking face to face with us—he is absent. We only know him throughout his writings on which he rely on to convey his messages and thoughts. Rousseau, either, confesses that when he is writing down, he feels tempted to fictionalize the original and natural truth. Rousseau concludes that “writing is a dangerous supplement to speech”(Powell 51). Consequently, Derrida depends upon the double standard and double meaning of the neologism supplement to destabilize these pairs of binary oppositions: nature/culture and speech/writing.
Derrida suggests the emergence of an ‘undecidable’ concept “the supplement” and traces it through the texts of Rousseau to deconstruct the hierarchy oppositions. Rousseau defines the supplement as a mere exterior addition. In other words, it is insignificant because the origin remains untouched. But, for Derrida: “What is added is nothing because it is added to a full presence to which it is exterior” (Of Grammatology 167). Derrida plays upon the double meaning of the term supplement. This term is derived from the French verb suppleer which means supplement. But, it does not mean only to add on, but also to take the place of or to substitute for. The supplement characterizes an addition and functions as an extra surplus to the natural presence. It adds itself to enrich and complete the presence so that the presence can be identified as the absolute and transcendental signified. The logic of supplementary, according to Derrida, reinforces the presence but on the other hand it implies the existent lack of presence—absence, which need to be supplemented. For instance, Rousseau says, “writing is both something that is added on to speech, which is supposedly already complete and full presence – and it is something that makes speech complete”. But, Derrida reveals that “speech is not complete if it needs writing to supplement it—it contains absence” (Powell 51).
The selection of philosophers presented earlier is a general account of Derridean deconstruction as a philosophical practice in relation to dominant historical figures in Western tradition and shows how Derrida’s practice reread the tradition itself. Indeed, deconstruction is concerned with offering an account of what is going on in a text not by seeking out its meanings or implications. In other words, deconstruction accounts for how the text conceive its meaning not what is the author’s intentions. So, Derrida’s most famous statement “it n’y a pas de hors-texte” There is nothing outside of the text explains, obviously, that deconstruction undermines the claim that the author is the master of meaning. The text always says more than what is intended and is always open to reinterpretation. Either, no author can control the reader’s reception of his writings. Derrida emphasizes this idea in Of Grammatology: “an author could say more, less, or something other than what he would mean.” In this respect, deconstruction is able to struggle and disrupt the text using its own words and techniques because, for deconstructionsts, “Truth is not an entity or property of the text. No text utters its truth; the truth lies elsewhere—in reading” (Leitch 122).
Inevitably, Derrida’s writings do not only criticize the traditions of the Western philosophy from various angles, but also they have an enormous influence in literary studies such as: psychology, linguistics, feminism, sociology, anthropology, etc. Many critics assume that deconstruction covers all post-derridean development in criticism. However, according to many critics, his argumentations have created strong negative reactions: being messy, unscientific, and lead to a labyrinth. On the other hands, it has raised hopes for others to understand the world positively in different ways. That is why Derrida’s thoughts and writings spread quickly and widely in the late 1970s and the early 1980s. Deconstruction has a significant effect in America because U.S. critics turn directly from phenomenology to deconstruction without considering the structuralist phase; structuralism and deconstruction arrive in America at the same time in the late 1960s.
During the early 1970s a group of Yale critics emerged as deconstructionts: Paul de Man, J. Hillis Miller, Harold Bloom and Geoffrey Hartman. By the mid and late 1970s another group of younger critics appeared: Shoshanna Felman, Barbara Johnson, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, etc. Those critics extended and applied Derridean ideas, style and techniques; for example they were searching for aporias in various texts showing how the texts could deconstruct themselves through its hidden contradictions. But every critic has his own touch. Paul de Man, for instance, never mentions Derrida’s concepts, topics or struggling with the same people, he shifts the stress to literary language. In Blindness and Insight, de Man argues that there is blindness in critics’ writings; they are affirming something other than what they intended. Moreover, de Man in Allegories of Reading explores the theory of troops and asserts that language is metaphorical. For him figurative language mediates between literary and critical texts, hence, criticism misreads a text. The act of reading, he argues, is an endless process in which truth and falsehood are mixed. Therefore, some readings are good, others are bad. The good ones always give birth to other texts; to an endless chain of texts. De Man concludes with “all readings are misreading.” Yet, Leitch proclaims that “the development from Derrida to de Man manifests itself as continuous narrowing and reduction. The object of deconstruction changes from the entire system of Western philosophy to key literary and philosophical texts.” (Leitch 52)
Deconstruction has a great significant implication for other fields. In terms of feminist struggle, for example, deconstruction makes a big difference to feminism. It offers feminism a new way of thinking about the world, a tool for challenging binary thinking which produces a future that contains the feminine and the masculine as well. Derrida along with French feminists, states Grosz in her essay “Derrida and Feminism: A Remembrance”:
his work on difference has engendered a new kind of feminism, a feminism beyond the egalitarianism of Mill, a feminism beyond the discourses of human rights, a feminism not simply interested in equal treatment in civil and legal institutions, indeed a feminism no longer committed to any pregiven goal, but above all a feminism committed to the full elaboration of difference and its uncontrollable and uncontainable movements of differentiation or becoming. (5)
Inevitably, Simone de Beauvoir’s book “The Second Sex” (1949), before Derrida, changes the way the world looked at women. She motivates the feminine to be skeptical of her fixed position in the world around her. Beauvoir observes, “they (women) make up about half of humanity.” (23) She argues that women have been forced to live according to the wishes, expectations and standards of men. Moreover, they have completely forgotten to be their own selves. Women, historically, have been treated as the ‘Other’ of men. Beauvoir states that “one is not born, but rather, becomes woman.” (330) According to her, man, historically, has been treated as the essential active subject and woman as the inessential passive object of action. In other words, the relation between man and woman has been defined over centuries as a hierarchical binary dualism where man is more valuable and woman is in a lower ranking; man is universal, woman is particular; man is the One, woman is the Other. Consequently, this position allows man to have an active role and influence outside home—in social matters, while woman’s area of action is locked inside the home. Beauvoir maintains that:
History has shown that men have always held all the concrete powers; from patriarchy’s earliest times they have deemed it useful to keep woman in a state of dependence; their codes were set up against her; she was thus concretely established as the Other. This condition served males’ economic interests; but it also suited their ontological and moral ambitions. (Beauvoir 193)
Beauvoir concludes that woman’s position and situation is not a result of her character, rather her character is a result of her situation. She observes that if woman wants to re-identify her subjectivity, she has to struggle against her situation. In this sense, Beauvoir presents an earlier deconstructive view in which she agrees with Derrida’s concern for phallogocentrism.
Derrida employs the concept of feminine to illustrate the illusory nature of phallogocentrism. For him ‘woman’ is, like any other Derridean undecidables, used to show how the current dualism is based on the exclusion of women. However, he is not interested in producing an explicit relation to feminism. He argues that women are equal to men but different; women have the same status as human beings; women have their own identity. He argues that women are in an excellent position to challenge the metaphysics of presence out of their subordinated ranking. Hence, his use of feminine is just to show that the metaphysical binary assumption man/woman is undecidable and unstable. In an interview published in 1985, Derrida says:
So for me deconstruction is a certain thinking of women which does not however want to immobilize itself in feminism. I believe feminism is necessary. Feminism has been necessary and is still necessary in certain situations. But at a given moment, to close oneself in feminism is to reproduce the very thing one is struggling against. (30)
Hence, by developing the idea that there is no origin, stable, or fixed center; feminists could use deconstruction as a strategy to pursue the feminists’ questions like all other logocentric hierarchal polarities. The male/female pair, for feminists, stands in need of deconstruction. Not surprisingly, the misunderstanding, misinterpretation and misuse of religion lead to depriving women of their equal rights with men. Men understand the creation of woman from man’s rib that woman is secondary, subordinated, and supplementary. They ignore the real intention of this situation. They do not realize how women should be treated. They must treat woman respectfully and mercifully. Instead, women are treated as possessions of their fathers, husbands and even their sons. They are identified to man in relation to man’s authority which is a very humiliating position. In this sense, Luce Irigarary in “Speculum of the Other Woman” (1985) shows that women are not different from men. For her, the term ‘woman’ is trapped inside the metaphysics of presence where definition of woman is only possible with reference to man. Thus, she stresses that only by challenging Logocentrism, established and resistible meanings, orders and centers could be deconstructed. Yet, imaging feminism outside masculine symbolic order is her most important target. According to her, the problem for women is achieving their identity on man’s area. Irigaray’s deconstructive direction is obvious in her essay “This Sex Which Is Not One.” She means by ‘this sex’ the feminine; ‘which is not one’ the masculine—she constitutes a radical beak with western traditions which see man as alone in the area.
On the other hand, Julia Kristeva in her paper “Woman’s Time” (1986), identifies three waves of feminism in which women are struggling against their otherness. In the first wave, women fight for equality with men on men’s terms. They are pursuing what we call today basic human rights such as the right to vote, the right of property and the right of higher education. In the second wave of feminism which is linked to the May 1968 uprising, feminists are:
Essentially interested in the specificity of female psychology and its symbolic realizations, these women seek to give a language to the intrasubjective and corporeal experiences left mute by culture in the past (Kristeva 8)
In this wave, feminists succeed to reverse the binary man/woman by identifying the devalued feminine and view womanhood as a global sisterhood. Then, in the last wave, there is a refusal of many previously established positions and framing issues in terms of dichotomies such as masculine/feminine. Consequently feminism for female writers is a turning point to rethink in their own lives and for their own subjects.
Yet, in many women’s plays, such as Marsha Norman, Maria Irene Fornes and Susan-Lori Parks, the female characters appear illiterate, poor, mistreated and killed by men. The audience feels and sees the patriarchal oppression imposed on women by men on stage. On the contrary, Wendy Wasserstein constitutes a radical break with this tradition. Wasserstein’s heroines are not traditional; they are unique. They have it all; well-educated, rich, high class, white, and have professional careers like doctors and professors. However, they feel oppressed because of the society in which they live. This society demands women to be superwomen. Society assigns women to many responsibilities and has many high expectations of them. Women or “superwomen” are expected to fulfill multiple roles perfectly as daughters, wives, sisters, mothers, professionals and so on. So, Wasserstein’s women experience these challenges and oppressions against them. Thus, Wasserstein’s point of view centers on how women find their true identity, how they can pursue their professional goals in life and how they can have it all without considering man as a center in their lives. In this respect, the writings of Wasserstein present a somewhat deconstructive attitude. Her writings involve redefinitions, reshapings, modifications and elaborations of female positions nowadays.
Wendy Wasserstein (1950-2006):
Wendy Wasserstein is the first woman to win a Tony Awards at all. Moreover, she won a series of honors including The New York Drama Critic Circle Awards, The Pulitzer Prize, and The Village Voice. She was born on October 18, 1950 into a middle class Jewish family who lived in Flatbush, Brooklyn. She is the youngest of four children; all of them have professional achievements. The eldest sister Sandra Meyer, died of cancer in 1996, at the age of 60. According to Wasserstein, “Sandra was the first female product group manager at General Foods, in 1969; the first female president of a division of American Express, in 1980; the first female to run corporate affairs as a senior officer at Citicorp, in 1989” (Shiksa Goddess 22). She achieved high success in men’s world while the best job available for woman was a boss’s secretary. Moreover, Sandra shows Wendy that one could have interesting experience by chattering orders. Wendy remembers the day her sister was supposed to pick her up and take her for a grilled cheese sandwich. Instead, Sandra bought her a shrimp meal then took her to a movie. It was a very special day because it opened Wasserstein’s mind to realize the variety of options available to women. Georgette Levis, the middle daughter, the most traditional of them, was married young to a psychiatrist, had babies and became the successful owner of a larger country Inn, the Wilburton and Wasserstein’s brother, Bruce, is a successful business man; a super star of the investment-banking world.
When Wasserstein was eleven, the family moved to Manhattan, New York where she experienced the feeling of otherness; a Jew among non-Jews; she could not devote herself totally to her Jewish traditions and at the same time she did not participate in the American life style. She was caught in between: “for us, Christmas was a reason to get on a plane to Miami…it was my childhood eye on a foreign and dominant world” (Bachelor Girls 155). It is apparent that Wasserstein led a complicated and chaotic life. She attended Brooklyn Ethical Culture School, then the all-female Calhoun School and graduated from Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts in 1971. After that she studied creative writing at the City College of New York, under Joseph Heller and Israel Horvitz, receiving a master of Arts degree in 1973.She went to Law school, Business school and Medical school, but she finally found her way into the Yale School of Drama where she received a master of Fine Arts degree in playwriting in 1976. Depending on her undergraduate experience, she had submitted a master thesis play Uncommon Women and Others which launched her professional career when it opened Off-Broadway in 1977. From that time, Wasserstein’s plays and musicals have been produced off and on Broadway. Wasserstein’s subsequent plays include; Isn’t it Romantic? (1980), The Heidi Chronicles (1989), The Sisters Rosensweig (1992), An American Daughter (1996), Old Money (2002), and her last play Third (2005). She discusses in her plays themes of Jewish identity, feminism, women’s subjectivity, and American politics. In addition, Wasserstein has made her personal life, her family and her friends the subject of many essays which she has written for newspapers and magazines. Many of these essays have been collected in two of her books: Bachelor Girls (1990) and Shiksa Goddess or How I Spent My Forties (2001). Either, she writes Sloth, her first novel Element Of Style, Children Book, Pamela’s First musicals in 1996, and the screen play The Object Of My Affection in 1998. On September 1999, at age 49, she gave birth to a daughter, Lucy it was a dream for her to become a mother with or without a husband and this is the conclusion of her play “The Heidi Chronicles.”
Wasserstein led an unconventional life and experienced “different and various stages in her life” (Bigsby 332). During her early years, her parents favored her brother over her. At the time where Bruce received books about world travels, she read “Eloise and Madeline” and was obliged to learn a full feminine etiquette. In this respect, her mother sent her to Helena Rubinstein Charm School and June Taylor School of Dance, and then she attended a series of women’s school. What shocked her as a girl in the fifties was her wish to find a female partner to her favorite television show Bachelor Father “who possessed all the variety of a Broadway musicals,… and who never close herself from the possibility of adventure.” (Bachelor Girls 6)
The picture became more sophisticated at Mount Holyoke College. She and her friends received mixed, changeable and confused messages from the college concerning the role of women in society and how to handle their lives. First, they were taught feminine etiquette in order to graduate and marry a nice, rich and successful man who could insure security in marriage. Then, with the advancement of the women’s movement, the message was shifted and focused on women themselves to fulfill their dreams and had professional careers such as lawyers, doctors engineers, teachers and so on and conduct a happy marital life at the same time. But these sudden changes created a mixed combination of flux, mess, confusion and liberation. So, these women felt pulled many ways apart. They did not know what to do: choose marriage over career or vice versa. Especially, they did not have a role model to show them how to react or what to choose; what was right and what was wrong. Wasserstein herself experienced this feminist dilemma when a suitor asked her to sacrifice her dreams of playwriting:
When I was twenty-eight, a hot marital contender told me I must choose between him and my play going to Broadway. My play certainly didn’t get to the Great White Way, but he and I certainly didn’t make it to the altar either…The self-recrimination for not being a certain kind of woman, a certain kind of mother, a certain kind of complete person is a quiet but constant undertow, a persistent dull ache. (Bachelor 147-8)
This confusion, about women’s status and roles in society, do not have an end. At the Yale school of Drama, Wasserstein was the only woman among a dozen men studying playwriting. What maked the matter worse was her parents allow her to enroll into Yale, she says, “because it was Yale, and I could meet a doctor or a lawyer there.” But she discovered that there were no women playwrights or directors talk to them. Thus, she decided to write an all women play. She remarks in an interview with the Playwright’s Arts:
I was a student at Yale and we were studying a lot of Jacobean drama. To me, basically, it was men kissing the skulls of women and then dropping dead from the poison, and I thought to myself, “Gee, this is really not familiar to me. It’s not within my realm of experience.” Simultaneously, there were all these posters for Deliverance around New Haven. I thought to myself, “I’d really like to write the flip side of Deliverance.” I worked backwards and thought, “I want to see an all-female curtain call in the basement of the Yale School of Drama.
In fact at the first reading of Uncommon Women and Others, a male student can not belong to such a play. So Wasserstein was determined to challenge negative female stereotypes and prove that a woman could be stage worthy. She presents a world of female characters negotiating their own dreams, needs, and fears in a male-dominated world. She discusses these issues through her experience as a woman more than a Jewish woman. Wasserstein does not dramatize all ordinary women, but her characters are more privileged than other women dramatists. They are often well-educated, well-read and rich. In an interview with Esther Cohen, she remarks:
I think the thing is the women I write about are kind of middle class, upper middle class people, who have good jobs and they’re good looking, and there’s no problem.. . They’re not sort of working class.
Her women characters are trying to figure out how to lead their lives while balancing romantic expectations with career goals. She brings to the stage the confusion, despair, anxiety, loneliness, and fragmentation which women face in their search for identity in a continually changing world. So Wasserstein uses a comic approach to address women status and their mixed feelings of insecurity and self-doubt. According to Christopher Bigsby, “it is a defensive tactic deployed by her characters, a mask behind which to hide, a way of denying the depth of their anxieties, of navigating through a world whose operative principles they find hard to grasp” (346). But, what distinguishes Wasserstein’s sense of feminism is the fact that women’s lives are more important than “making you and your children tuna-fish sandwiches” (The Heidi Chronicles 173). Even, she refuses being labeled as a feminist playwright. In her opinion, men are not subjected to such labels. In an interview with Jackson R. Bryer, Wasserstein comments:
Yes, you’re always asked, ‘Are you a feminist, and how does this affect your work?’ It would be nice if someone asked a man, ‘What are your feelings about women?’ I guess they don’t have to have them; I don’t know. But it would really be an interesting thing to ask.
So, she dismantles the traditional belief that female characters are generally pushed to the margins and only depicted through their connection to the main male character. In this respect, Wasserstein echoes Derrida’s belief of dismantling the logic of the Western Logocentrism. Wasserstein, through her plays, puts on stage women who are able to speak, work, share their ideas, take decisions and make choices outside the Phallocentric order of society which sees women subordinate in every area of life. She challenges the opposition man/woman to the point of undecidability where man is no longer the dominant half of the society, on contrary, both of them are merely parts of humanity, they share the same responsibilities. This occurs in a number of places in her plays.
Her first play “Un Common Women and Others” opened in 1977. It is “an assertion of the significance of women, of the legitimacy of their anxieties and hopes, and of the power, irony and wit of their language” (Bigsby 333-4). Wasserstein overturns the balancing power by presenting an all-female play. It explores the lives of five twenty-seven-years old women who meet in 1978 at New York restaurant and travel back six years to their senior year at Mount Holyoke. The play depicts privileged, well-educated women who face new options for women in a patriarchal world. Kate is a successful lawyer and Samantha is married and pregnant at the reunion. Between both of them; Holy-the only Jewish character- refuses to devote herself to her parents’ ideas of marriage; Muffet is a student of feminist history; and finally Rita, the outspoken radical feminist in college, is eventually married. While Wasserstein sheds light upon the five girls, the only representation of maleness is through a backstage male voice. The humor lies in the role of the male voice because he is merely embodying the societal views towards women and their role: “By the time a class has been out ten years, more than nine-tenths of its members are married’ with many of them devoting ‘a number of years exclusively to bringing up a family’, or working ‘as Girl Friday for an Eastern Senator, service volunteer in Venezuela, or assistant sales director of Reader’s Digest’ (Uncommon Women 50),
Rita exposes how they are torn between what they learnt at Mount Holyoke and what they found outside the college dorms: “our entire being is programmed for male approval…. Everything I can name is male. Where I see things this way; it becomes obvious that it’s very easy to feel alienated and alone” (33-4). But Kate challenges the way the society dictates women into marriage, “sometimes I wonder what I would do if I did not work or go to law school” (56). According to Derrida, this point of doubt is a weak point where the text deconstructs itself. So, they start to negotiate their new position in the world. They do not to sacrifice their inner life for professional success and vice versa. In this sense, they call into question the role of man in women’s lives and the importance of marriage. According to Rita, “Well, God knows there is no security in marriage. You give up your anatomy, economic self-support, spontaneous creativity, and a lot of energy trying to convert a male (half person) into a whole person …, so you can do your own work. And the alternative—hopping onto the corporate or professional ladder is just as self-destructive. If you spend your life proving yourself then you just become a man, which is where the whole problem began and continue”(51).
The play ends with all the five characters imagining a brighter future, but they push the date to an infinite future. So, Wasserstein dismantles the man/woman opposition to the point that man is not considered the privileged part in the binarism structure. Moreover, he becomes an obstacle in woman’s way rather being a source of security or a solution. This is indicated in the final scene of the play when man’s voice fades and gives way to woman’s voice. But seeking a new position and searching for “having it all”, leave the women in transition, confusion and fragmentation.
Wasserstein goes a step forward with her next play Isn’t It Romantic? (1983). Many critics describe this play that starts up where Uncommon Women and Others end. It explores the lives of two twenty-eight year old friends: Janie Blumberg and Harriet Cornwall. Both of them are now outside the college borders seeking romantic fulfillment and a promising career. The dream for perfection in everything and ‘having it all’ grow bigger: “be married or live with a man, have a good relationship and children that you share equal responsibility for, build a career, and still read novels, play the piano, have women friends, and swim twice a week” (133). Wasserstein makes a progress in this play in which she renders a male character a role in on the stage to figure out his impact on the women’s lives.
Although Janie and Harriet experience the same imbalance and uncertainty, they are different in personality, attitude and appearance. Janie, on the one hand, is a free-lance writer who is dominated by her Jewish parents to get marry. Her mother, Tasha Blumberg, is “untraditional Jewish mother with traditional values”. She urges Janie to “always look nice when you throw out the garbage, you never know who you might meet” (9). Harriet, on the other hand, looks like, “the cover girl on the best working woman’s magazine; she is attractive, very bright, charming and easily put together” (6). Besides, she has an affair with her married boss’s boss. Her mother Lillian Hellman is a successful professional executive who push her daughter toward working rather than marriage. For her “life is much easier without relationships” (38).
To satisfy her mother’s requirement, Janie involved with Marty Sterling; a kidney doctor at Mount Sinai hospital. In short, he seems “Janie’s mother dream come true: a prince” (82). But Janie finds Marty just like her parents; overbearing and obstacle in her away to achieve her self-independence. As a self-centered man, he does not pay attention to Janie’s need and situations. He discourages her form taking her dream of writing seriously, telling her: “you want to interview at ‘Seasame Street’, fine. They do nice work. But don’t let it take over your life. And don’t let it take over our life. That’s a real trap” (42). He goes further to command her life and make plans to their future, ignoring her opinion. So Marty reflects a world where the power dwells within the dominant maleness and women are trapped and submerged within patriarchal law. His patriarchal attitude ruins her equivalent relationship she wants. He narrows her options and blocks her freedom of choice. In this respect, she resists that kind of relationship, telling him that she cannot continue with him.
At the same time, Janie refuses Marty; Harriet ends her affair with her married boss who does not satisfy her because he sees women like Harriet “want me to be the wife. They want me to be the support system… I just wasn’t told that’s the way it was supposed to be”(30). Although he is a man, he expresses the confusion felt by men who find women ranking with them. Hence, Harriet decides to react against her feminist convictions and her mother’s rules; “she announces with pride: I’m going to marry Joe Stine” (42) whom she “had been dating for two weeks” (145). Moreover, she explains to Janie the reasons behind her quick and sudden decision: “Joe makes me feel like I have a family. I never had a family. I had you and Lillian, but I never felt I could have what other women just assumed they would get” (143).
Janie does not only feel aboundoned by Harriet but also by her mother’s attitude. Consequently, she declared her subjectivity over the society’s predictable scenarios. She decides to act like her mother rather than what she says. The play ends with Janie dancing alone to “Isn’t it Romantic?” the play’s end is a subversive of the traditional male/female and center/margin oppositions. Janie ruptures the entire patriarchal system which deems marriage as the mainstream culture. Her dancing alone is considered a starting point where the opposition itself gives way. “She learns” according to Bruce King “to change her life, to respond to her inner voice, and to take a stand; she turns down a comfortable marriage and concludes the play dancing alone” (32).
The central character of Wasserstein’s next play moves another stage. The Heidi Chronicle (1989) is spanning two decades of change in the life of Dr. Heidi Holland. She is an art history professor at Columbia University, witty and unmarried. Wasserstein uses a chronological order in developing the action that traces Heidi “from the prefeminist era in 1965 where she was sixteen, through the political activism of the late1960s, the woman’s conscious-rasing groups in the early 1970s, the feminists’ protest on college campuses during the mid-1970, the super woman era of the early 1980s, and the Yuppiedom of the mid 1980s.” (king 33)
The play begins with Heidi lecturing “in front of a screen. Slides of painting are shown as she lectures.” (26) She presents several paintings by women artists from 1559 to 1869 who had been completely ignored during their life time and after their death. These slides demonstrate that women are still experience inequality in a logocentric world dominated by men’s idealism. In act one, Heidi travels back in history to 1965 where she was sixteen and where she met her friend Peter. From the very beginning, Heidi shows marks of challenging the mainstream. At that time, Heidi rebelled against the interest in young man. She attended school parties just for entertainment while her friend Susan was searching for a man. Then, the action jumps to 1968, to another party at the time of Senator McCarthy where she met Scoop Rosenbum who will have a major effect in her life development. Scoop is the editor of Liberated Earth New. He represents the familiar image of a centered-man; arrogant, difficult, smart, stubborn, but at the same time has the confidence Heidi lacks. The irony lies in the odd relation of Heidi and Scoop because she is “allowing this guy to account for so much of what I think of myself. I allow him to make me feel valuable. And the bottom line is, I know that’s wrong” (182).
Then, there is a rapid jump among the scenes; each one is taking place several years after the preceding one where the shared feelings among the women at the end of this era are “confusion, irresolution, the sense of immeasurable gap between what they want and what their society tells them they can get” (Richard Gray 733). Again, the action moves forward to 1977 where Heidi attends the wedding of Scoop and Lisa, a Jewish rich woman from the south, while he is in love with Heidi. But he wants to marry a woman who would not be a competitor in his own success but labor just at home for his success without any commitments or responsibilities on his side. Besides, he can cheat on her. He tells Heidi:
Let’s say we married and I asked you to devote the, say, next ten years of your life to me. To making me a home and a family and a life so secure that I could with some confidence go out into the world each day and attempt to get an A. You’d say, “No.” You’d say, “Why can’t we be partners? Why can’t we both go out into the world and get an A?” And you’d be absolutely valid and correct…
HEIDI: So. So now it’s my fault.
SCOOP: Sure it is. You want other things in life than I do.
HEIDI: Really? Like what?
SCOOP: Self-fulfillment. Self-determination. Self-exaggeration.HEIDI: That’s exactly what you want.
SCOOP: Right. Then you’d be competing with me. (201)
Although he loves Heidi and he is a successful man, he is threatened by Heidi’s independence and her desires to fulfill her potentials.
As the play progresses into the 1980s, Heidi is giving a speech on the topic “Women Where Are We Going?” in Miss Grain’s School East Coast Alumni Association in 1986. Heidi, in her speech, sumps up her role and her feelings of atonement and disappointment with her friends:
I’m just not happy. I’m afraid I haven’t been happy for some time. . . Idon’t blame any of us. We’re all concerned, intelligent, good women…It’s just that I feel stranded. And I thought the whole point was that we wouldn’t feel stranded. I thought the point was we were all in this together. (232)
The play ends at Heidi apartment in New York in 1989. It is a crucial end because Heidi is not married but she decides to create her own family. Suddenly she adopts a baby-daughter. When Scoop asks her if she is happy, she answered:
Well I have a daughter. And I’ve never been particularly maternal…. She’ll never think she’s worthless…And maybe, just maybe, things will be a little better. And, yes, that does make me happy.
SCOOP: So I was right all along. You were a true believer.
HEIDI: I don’t see how it could be any other way. (247)
Her adoption of Judy, on the one hand, is a sort of breaking her commitment to Scoop. She declares her superiority over him. She is aware of the structural inequalities in society and is unwilling to take up her assigned role at the top of the social pyramid. And, on the other hand, she is subverting the traditional family structure. She disobeys the arbitrary rules and values of society and being a single mother who hopes a promising future for her own daughter. She still has faith in women’s liberation but this liberation has a long way to go.
In short, Wasserstein offers us a new vision of theatre and asks us to look at our society’s and our ideas’ ambiguities, even when things seem, at first glance, clear and fixed. In this sense, Wasserstein shares Derrida’s articulation of deconstruction as it “improves our ability to think critically and to see more readily the ways in which our experience is determined by ideologies of which we are unaware.” (Tyson 241) Deconstructive reading force the reader/audience to concentrate more fully on the text and on the meanings of it because it cracks the surface and shakes the ideas to trace the hidden meanings and reach a sense of instability. Consequently, approaching Wasserstein’s writings with the same intensity, we can realize a deconstructive attitude interweaving her writings to the extent that reader/audience needs to rethink the notions which she presents in her writings. It occurs in a number of places in her plays starting from Uncommon Women And Others 1977 to her final masterpiece Third 2005.
Wasserstein creates on stage another formula of female characters who are not normal of the genre of theatre. She is only depicting uncommon women who have the ability and the power to challenge the status and positions posed on them. Regardless of this, they experience mixed feelings of vagueness and self-doubt. She is described as a chronicle of her own generation because her women characters share her generation’s age, ideas conflicts, expectations and disappointments. The characters grow in age from play to a play as each play, according to Bigsby, “gives way to the more measured ironies” of the next play reflecting what is happening in that time. So reading Wasserstein’s plays chronically, we can see her women are trying to “Have it All” in life. By paying attention to women’s lives which was neglected and invisible and focusing on women’s issues, Wasserstein is shaking the traditional views of women which the society has considered natural and stable. For this new insight into women’s lives Wasserstein’s The Sisters Rosensweig, An American Daughter, and Third will be discussed since they enable the reader/audience to see the deconstructive attitude of Wasserstein’s writings.