From 2008: On Deconstruction

The more things change, the more they stay the same. Here’s me in 2008, still trying to pretend I belonged in the legal field and not in deconstruction. 

Law schools sell their programs on two major claims, apart from whatever they have in the class size/library size/clinics department: “Law school will change you” and “Learning the law teaches you how to think.”

Naturally, what they *don’t* tell you is that law teaches you to think narrowly, and law school may turn you into someone you don’t like. It did me; and I did not like that person largely because she had been trained to think narrowly, whereas the person I was before law school had access to, and used, a much larger range of analytical approaches. The person I was before law school, not surprisingly, was an English major.

So, in the interests of getting back the person I was before law school, and perhaps thus getting back the ability to write more than a brief before I am doomed forever to draft the latter (it may already be too late), I blew the dust off my old literary theory textbooks last night and started in at the same place I left in 2004: deconstructionist theory.

At the time, I didn’t really understand deconstructionism, but I liked it. I now know why: deconstructionism (or, more accurately, “post-structuralist”) theory seeks to question how and why the things said in a particular text are juxtaposed against those that are left unsaid (or said, but by way of negative comparison), and what that reveals about our own beliefs and biases.

I’ve firmly believed for some time now that a great many, perhaps all, of the social “truths” on which we rely to survive as a society (but not a community) are things that are only true because a critical mass of us act as if they are – that is, they have no inherent truth and are only useful insofar as they give us an order to our world – and are damaging insofar as they prevent certain members of society from engaging as full autonomous human actors with the rest of society.

Ironically, law-thinking, which claims to be questioning all sorts of assumptions, is one of those areas that falls greatest prey to this particular trap.

Never, ever, EVER let anyone tell you that you will not be subject to certain social assumptions in a law school classroom. As an upper-lower-class girl who literally spent her formative years in a tin shack on a Superfund site, I discovered with a nasty shock when I reached my elite law school of choice that poverty, in the classroom, was funny. Or it was the fault of the poor: no one ever conceded that poverty may be caused by, and the trap of, events, situations, and circumstances beyond the control of the poor. (This would have required more scrutiny of their “rich privilege” than I think most of these kids were willing or able to apply…talk about your “untrue norms”!)

As much as a few other classmates and I tried to explain that being born in a trailer didn’t make someone jokeworthy or stupid and in fact you know a few of us right now, the words fell largely on deaf ears. These kids relied on their view of the world; and no amount of deconstructing Justice Scalia’s dissents could make them deconstruct their own worldview.

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