Decentering in poststructuralism is a consequence of Derrida’s critique of binary oppositions, especially of speech/writing, where he accused Saussure of privileging speech over writing, owing to the presence, and authority of the speaker. Terming it as phonocentrism, which is a manifestation of logocentricm (centrality of the Word), Derrida argued that the whole of Western philosophical thought is implicitly governed and dominated by the idea of logocentrism. Alternately, Derrida called logocentrism, the “metaphysics of presence” and he problematised the very notion of presence, which entails authority, permanence and control, by establishing that presence itself contains traces of absence and hence the centre is always under erasure.
The decentering of the centre/ subject is thus, an anti-humanistic idea, which has preoccupied structuralist and poststructuralist critics. While liberal humanism idealised the centrality and dignity of man, as “immortalised” in Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man,
Michelangelo’s, David and other Renaissance artworks, the structuralist reduced the human subject/ author to a mere space-or location within a larger structure, where the langue precipitates into a particular parole.
Deconstructionist critics reduced the human subject to one of the effects engendered by the differential play of language. Paul de Man, in Allegories of Meaning, states that “we rightfully reduce” the subject “to the status of a mere grammatical pronoun,” There is no longer a controlling agency in language, and it is left to an unregulatable play of purely relational elements.
Roland Barthes expressed this idea dramatically, “As an institution, the author is dead”. A number of psychoanalysts, Marxists and New Historicists, manifest this similar tendency to negate the authorial agency. Instead, the human subject is seen as a product of diverse psychological conditions and as subjected to the uncontrollable workings of unconscious compulsions. Alternately, the subject is held to be a construct or a site traversed by current forms of ideology.
In New Historicism, readers too are stripped of all traditional attributes of purposiveness and initiative and are replaced by an impersonal process called “reading”. Thus in contemporary academic discourses, the individual is a decentred and fragmented phenomenon, with no single identity or stable self. it is reduced to positions within a shifting cultural, ideological signifying field.