Joshua Heyes is a PhD Student at the University of Birmingham. He holds an MA and BA from the University of Nottingham, and blogs at a Broad Place. He has given permission for his review of Death Comes for the Deconstructionist to be republished here on the Marylebone House blog.
Death Comes for the Deconstructionist Review
I was given a copy of Death Comes for the Deconstructionist at a significant time in my life – a time when I was, for the first time, engaging with the ideas of Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault and the enormously influential schools of thought that they inspired. The “deconstructionism” referenced in the title of the book is a multi-faceted set of ideas that cannot be conveniently summarized. But you could think of them as “post-modernist” in the sense that there is a rejection of any kind of objective meaningfulness to life, given any and all meaning is simply created by us through the systems of language we are beholden to (Derrida’s most famous quote is “there is nothing outside the text”). Consequentially there are no moral centres in life (again, they are just centreless linguistic systems), and the only imperative to life is “transgressive play” – playing at stepping over the boundaries of our moral systems to embrace the centreless, ever-shifting empty chaos of meaning. I found myself wrestling with these ideas, not because they held any kind of appeal to me or worried me that they might in fact be “true” (teehee…), but because I was stumped as to how such ideas could in fact be seriously held by anybody – why this idea would appeal to someone, and how it would actually work itself out in a life.
The genius of Taylor’s novel is that it achieves this very task by imagining the life of a deconstructionist, yet in an ironically “playful” move, the “deconstructionist”, Dr. Pratt, is dead for the entire book, and the plot revolves around the quest to uncover his murderer by a man beholden to the legacy of Dr. Pratt’s ideas. Jon Mote is tormented by his own regrets, yet comforted by his disabled sister Judy’s simple faith and trust. The book comes to a climax as Jon deals the truth about Dr. Pratt’s murder, the origin of his radical ideas, and his own inner demons.
I think Death Comes for the Deconstructionist is a such a rewarding read because of the masterful way Taylor weaves together countless powerful stories about trust, betrayal, faith, depression, madness and regret. But what I loved most about this book, and what I feel to be its most valuable message, is the way that Taylor shows how terrifying, revolutionary philosophies like deconstructionism can be seen simply as ways of making sense of, and dealing with, the everyday horrors of human life and the haunting ghosts of our past.