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.
The Critical Difference (1981), Barbara Johnson
Benjamin was a Marxist, and critic. His long essay, The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, was extremely important to me when I was in art school - as was Derrida in general. Benjamin's piece was an effort to define a theory of art that would be "useful for the formulation of revolutionary demands in the politics of art". Benjamin talked about the "aura" of a work of art which, to him, meant traditional association with primitive, feudal, or bourgeois structures of power and its further association with magic and (religious or secular) ritual. In the age of mechanical reproduction (print, film, photography) where there is no actual "original", the experience of art would be freed from specific place and ritual and made available to the masses. He wrote: "For the first time in world history, mechanical reproduction emancipates the work of art from its parasitical dependence on ritual."
Ah, but we live in the age of "Low Information Voters." We live in an age where a philosophy that requires critical thought has been made banal by the age of mechanical reproduction - deconstruction meets mass media. Deconstruction no longer resides in philosophy, but "launches" fashion products, bathroom items, sports equipment, political attitudes. We have an irony deficit as the world becomes more and more banal.
Why does this matter? The New Yorker Cover that depicts Obama as a Muslim, fist bumping his wife who is clad as an afro-wearing, machine-gun toting militant in the oval office, portrait of Osama Bin Laden on the wall, while the American Flag burns in the fireplace, is why it matters. The New Yorker said the cover was illustrating an article called "The Politics of Fear", a satirical look at the scare tactics being used to derail Obama's campaign.
"The burning flag, the nationalist-radical and Islamic outfits, the fist-bump, the portrait on the wall? All of them echo one attack or another. Satire is part of what we do, and it is meant to bring things out into the open, to hold up a mirror to prejudice, the hateful, and the absurd. And that's the spirit of this cover," a New Yorker spokesman said in a written statement.I get it, I really understand what they think they've done and what they intended. But if you deconstruct the contradictions, you find that it did not work. The majority of people will not read the article, and will focus on the image. Mechanically reproduced images are fast, and say a lot. And the cover treads on very thin ice. It is offensive. It plays into the politics of fear. But it is charicature and it is satire and it is getting people talking.
More important: it was not censured.
I don't care for the cover at all. In my opinion, it fails in its intent because so few people actually will go to the deeper meaning. Each of the "symbols" present in the drawing refer to various attacks by the far right against Obama, and the cover's intent is a commentary on that type of politics of fear. But it plays too close to the actual fear - perhaps by not being absurd enough, perhaps because we've lived in a climate of fear for too many years now, perhaps because as a nation we have lost our soul. We certainly have lost our ability to think, to exercise critical thought and discourse.
But I would not cancel my subscription to the New Yorker. Nor would I demand they remove the cover nor would I demand an apology. I've thought this through, and I am now at a point where I applaud them for their big brass ones for risking so much ire. Yes, it is offensive. Maybe I am glad that somebody somewhere has decided to not be politically correct. Maybe we need to be offended more often. What do you think?