Center: An idea, event, or image that, once identified or posited, gives apparent structure to a text — be it a relatively short utterance, a literary work, or an entire social discourse — thereby limiting its possible meaning or meanings. For example, the creation of Eve from Adam’s rib has served as a “centering” idea, event, and image in Western culture. Jacques Derrida, a twentieth-century French theorist closely associated with deconstruction, suggested that texts have no one determinate and determinable meaning and therefore have no identifiable fixed center or purpose.
Practitioners of deconstruction (as well as many new historicists and other poststructuralist critics) aim to decenter the text, that is, to undermine the text’s presumed center and its concomitant structure. By drawing attention to the divergent meanings that arise from the diverse connotations of signifiers within the text, they challenge the assumption that its “meaning” is either determinate or determinable.
Similarly, poststructuralist psychoanalytic critics have deconstructed the subject, or self, suggesting that — like the text as understood by deconstructors — it lacks the defining center and structure typically posited by traditional theories regarding personality and character. Twentieth-century French psychoanalytic theorist Jacques Lacan contended that the concepts of the subject, self, ego, and “I” are merely constructs, fictions of coherence that hide the inconsistency, contradictoriness, and indeterminacy of being.