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During my work on this paper I had the opportunity to see a television report on the admission of homosexuals into the army. What I saw (and I may well have seen things that were not shown) may serve as introduction to the rather difficult and, if I may say so, postconceptual topic of deconstruction and second-order observing.
The report showed discussions in the United States Senate and individual interviews with privates and officers of the army. A lot of distinctions came into the foreground. The main questions were as simple as they were difficult, namely whether or not the admission of homosexuals would weaken the strength of the army and how strong would be objections and resistance on the side of the army. The issue was introduced for political reasons in the electoral campaign of Mr. Clinton, but it seemed to get out of hand. There were legal distinctions showing up from time to time, for instance whether or not the present practice was in conformity with the constitution (constitutional/unconstitutional) and whether or not the law would be able to control illegal behavior such as sexual harassment or violence against homosexuals in the army (effectiveness/ineffectiveness of the law), but behind all of this was the undisputed distinction between heterosexuals and homosexuals.
Such a situation gives an occasion to open the deconstruction kit and see what would happen if we applied the instrument. We would have to deconstruct the distinction heterosexual/homosexual. This, of course, would destroy the presupposition of a "hierarchical opposition" in the sense of an inherent or "natural" primacy of heterosexuality. At least we would see, if not effectively destroy, what Louis Dumont would call l'englobement du contraire(1) - that is, the inclusion of oppositions into a hierarchical structure of preferred life-styles.
But this can be said in the terminology of "prejudices" and without using the ambitious and transconceptual operation of deconstruction. And Derrida himself explicitly warns against such a strategic and political use of deconstruction.(2) His aims are more ambitious - and less specific. Deconstruction draws attention to the fact that differences are only distinctions and change their use value when we use them at different times and in different contexts. The difference between heterosexuals and homosexuals is not always the same; it is subject to differance.
No objection. But what if we asked the question: Who (that is, which system) is using the distinction as a frame (or scheme) of observations; or, Who is the observer? What does he invest in making this distinction and what will he lose in maintaining it?
Then immediately a variety of observing systems appear; the political system, the interaction of a session of the United States Senate, the army, individual privates and officers, rejected homosexuals, females and males, and we at our television sets. The illusion to be deconstructed is the assumption that all these systems designate the same object when they use the distinction heterosexuals/homosexuals. The stereotypicality of the distinction leads to the assumption that all these systems observe the same thing, whereas observing these observers shows that this is not the case. Each of them operates within its own network, each of them has a different past and a different future. While the distinction suggests a tight coupling of observations and reality, and implies that there is only one observer observing "the same thing" and making true or false statements, a second-order observer observing these observers would see only loose coupling and lack of complete integration.
But this is not the end of the story. We forgot the most important observer - most important at least for this case - the body. It also makes its own distinctions and decides whether or not to be sexually attracted. Observing this observer leads us to ask whether or not it dutifully follows cultural imperatives,(3) or whether there is an unavoidable akrasia (lack of self-control),(4) as the Greeks would have said, a lack of potestas in se ipsum (self-control) in humans and in social systems.
If this akrasia is taken for granted, can a soldier know how his body would observe the situation if it includes homosexuals without the protection of privacy - under the shower or in sleeping quarters or in a lot of similar situations? Even if society and the military prefer heterosexuality, and even if the mind of an individual accepts this definition for himself and for his body, could he or she be sure that his/her body plays the same game?
The television interviews report that the soldiers, these strong and healthy, well-nourished young men with oversized arms, legs, and bodies, confessed to being afraid of having homosexuals around them. But this would be (assuming that the law effectively prevents sexual harassment) completely harmless. Could it then be that the soldiers are worried about the possibility of each's body reacting as an observer of its own and that others would see that? It may be a very small chance of surprise, but a possibility amplified by uncertainty.
If this is true - and it is indirectly confirmed by the fact that female soldiers are much less concerned about the possibility of having lesbian comrades because their bodily reaction would be less distinct and more easy to conceal(5) - the whole definition of the problem changes. When the Greeks spoke about akrasia and the Middle Ages about potestas in se ipsum, the frame for observations was defined by the distinction of reason and passions, and reason was the position of an observer who was supposed to be created by God to observe His creation in one and only one way. Deconstruction destroys this "one observer-one nature-one world" assumption. Identities, then, have to be constructed. But by whom?
The problem of admitting homosexuals into the military is the problem of how to protect the fragile and eventually self-deceiving constructions of individuals; it is the risk (not untypical for soldiers anyway) of wearing badly fitting garments. It is not a problem, as many would like to see it, of protecting hypocrisy. It is not a problem of the freedom of the individual either. The United States Senate would probably never call on experts in deconstruction or second-order observing, and these experts would not offer a political solution. However, could the political system, blinded by its own rhetoric, ignore that a more complex definition of the problem is available?
The American discussion about deconstruction has reached its stage of exhaustion. By now deconstruction looks like an old-fashioned fashion. There was a time when one thought to use deconstruction as a method to analyze literary or legal texts, replacing older, more formal methods of revealing the immanent meaning of a text. At the same time, hermeneutics lost its stronghold in subjectivity and became a method of creating circularity and of putting meaning into a text in order to be able to find it there; it taught how to construct something new by reading old texts. However, hermeneutics retained the idea that interpretation had to penetrate the surface of an object (that is, a text) or a subject (in other words, a mind) to reach its internal depths where truth was to be found.(6) It therefore retained the traditional idea of a boundary between the external and the internal that only Derrida dared to deconstruct.(7) There were also available the Hegelian version of dialectical method and Peirce's semiotics, both of which aimed at transcending distinctions in the direction of a third position. Deconstruction, however, was designed, if it was designed at all, to be none of these. Deconstruction seems to recommend the reading of forms as differences, to look at distinctions without the hope of regaining unity at a higher (or later) level, or even without assuming the position of an "interpretant" in the sense of Peirce. Deconstruction seems to be adequate for an intellectual climate heading toward cultural diversity. But were there any firm rules and any hope for results in the deconstruction business - that is, …