The word “aporia” originally came from Greek which, in philosophy, meant a philosophical puzzle or state of being in puzzle, and a rhetorically useful expression of doubt. In contemporary theoretical parlance, the term has more been associated with deconstructive criticism, especially with Derridean theory of differance, as a reaction to structuralist interpretations of texts, denoting “a point of undecidability, which locates the site at which the text most obviously undermines its own rhetorical structure, dismantles, or deconstructs itself” (Derrida).

Aporia suggests “an impasse”, a knot or an inherent contradiction found in any text, an insuperable deadlock, or “double bind” of incompatible or contradictory meanings which are “undecidable”. Derrida, for instance, cites the inherent contradictions at work in Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s use of the words “culture” and “nature” by demonstrating that Rousseau’s sense of the self’s innocence (in nature) is already corrupted by the concept of culture (and existence) and vice-versa. Derrida has also described the paradoxes that afflict notions like giving, hospitality, forgiving and mourning. He argues that the condition of their possibility is also, and at once, the condition of their impossibility.

Many of the aporias “revealed” by Derrida were, in fact, encountered as such long ago by the Neo-Hegelian philosophers in connecting phenomenz to their various absolutes. All texts undo or dismantle the philosophical system to which they adhere by revealing their paradoxical nature; they subvert all sorts of determinate readings, and the clash between the referential or literal and the rhetorical or figurative levels of discourse inevitably results in aporia. In other words, the gap or lacuna between what a text means to say and what it is constrained to mean creates aporia.

Christopher Norris, in his widely discussed book on Derrida, presents the pivotal feature of deconstruction as “the seeking-out of those aporias, blindspots or moments of self-contradiction where “a text involuntarily betrays the tension between rhetoric and logic, between what it manifestly means to say and what it is nonetheless constrained to means”. To some critics, the concept of aporia corresponds to William Empson’s seventh type of verbal difficulty in literature, which occurs when “there is an irreconciliable conflict of meaning within the text.”


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