Paglia is a Neumann
April 29, 2006 4:04 PM   Subscribe

Camille Paglia How should the humanities be taught, and how should scholars in the humanities be trained? These pivotal questions confront universities today amid signs of spreading agreement that the three-decade era of poststructuralism and postmodernism is over.
posted by vronsky (72 comments total)

 
The problem with this turning to some grand guru from the past is that he is mainly derivative from Jung, and Jung(somewhat it seems sympathetic toward Hitler at one time)really has little to say that is really "scientific", a word and idea Camille thinks is needed to lift the humanities from the mess of the Frenchified criticism. Too, Camile likes the blend of male/female, derviced from archetypes via Jung. And that seems neatly, oddly enough, to fit into what I believe is her sexual leanings.

There are signs that a number of scholars are beginning to turn to Darwin for insights into literature and the arts: what in fact can evolution teach us about Art? How can insights from meme theory be applied to literature etc etc.

I always enjoy reading Paglia. She goes out of her way to acting the outsider, the bright well-read student at the end of the last row of seats who disrupts the class to tell them they are full of crap.

Why is it that critics are unable to talk about spcific pieces of art--painting, literature, music etc--without having to impose some ---ism upon it?
posted by Postroad at 4:22 PM on April 29, 2006


I was really hoping the essay would live up to the introduction. But no. This appears to be a plea to replace one old dead white guy with another old dead white guy. Her suggestion that the libraries have all gone digital, no one can really learn seriously from digital content, and the stacks are doomed to some sort of watery grave made me roll my eyes.

I was really hoping to see more about how the humanities should be taught, as in, how to engage students, how to employ student enthusiasm in the classroom, and how to incorporate real critical thinking skills into the curriculum. But no. Sadly not.
posted by Hildegarde at 4:22 PM on April 29, 2006


yeah, she is returning to patriarchy.

but read carefully, she only has words and little experience.
posted by Substrata at 4:25 PM on April 29, 2006


I wish this essay focused more on what the post says it focuses on. The lengthy discussion of Neumann is very interesting, but I can't get enough of vitriolic takedowns of capital "T" Theory (critical theory, poststructuralism, postcolonialism, Lacanianism, &c., &c.). What is taught in humanity and English classes in American universities is mostly crap and a distraction from approaching literature (in all its guises) holistically and with true depth. I am glad I read Leslie Fielder (mentioned briefly in the article) because he provided a glimpse of another way of approaching literature that wasn't rigidly locked down by whatever prevailing "ism" was currently being enforced in class. Fielder, whom some say is the most important American critic of literature, was never once assigned or discussed in any class I ever took. Yet, I read Lacan, Deleuze, Foucault, Spivak, Butler, etc. endlessly. Shameful.

(There are some good things to take from that camp, but not to the exclusion of everything else).
posted by Falconetti at 4:33 PM on April 29, 2006


It's good to see that the academy has finally accepted that "postmodernism" and "poststructuralism" are intellectually vapid and sterile. No matter what they replace it with couldn't be worse.

But it would be nice if they chose something that wasn't tainted with teleology.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 4:36 PM on April 29, 2006


What Hildegarde said. The first paragraph promises something the essay doesn't deliver. And talk about meet-the-new-boss thinking: Nor has poststructuralism produced any major new critics—certainly none of the towering scholarly stature once typical of prominent professors who had been educated in the first half of the twentieth century. She should re-write that as "major new critics I have bothered to read" and "towering scholarly critics" as "white European and American males who didn't have to bother with all those silly 'loser-voices' of women, blacks, hispanics, etc."

IMO, a major (and welcome) movement after Derrida and others was to get away from unified, centralized bodies of discourse--no Camille, there is no transcendent daddy- or mommy-figure in the humanities these days, and that's a good thing. It can be messy at times, sure, but college and grad students today at healthy, diverse college and unis probably have to suffer from having too many choices in terms of what they want to pursue.

As for the cry of "Oh, humanities studies are so vapid these days," I feel truly sorry for those of you who didn't manage to find good and enlightening profs in college or graduate school. I had plenty, too many too name really.

Honestly, this feels like a piece that was written 25 years ago. Yawn.
posted by bardic at 4:48 PM on April 29, 2006


It remains my position—as detailed in my long review-essay, “Junk Bonds and Corporate Raiders,” published in Arion in 1991—that Jacques Derrida, Jacques Lacan, and Michel Foucault were false gods, created and promoted by secular academics who might have been expected to be more skeptical of authority. As it became institutionalized in the undergraduate and graduate curriculum, poststructuralism hardened into dogma, and many humanities professors lost the ability to respect, assess, or even recognize any hypothesis or system outside their own frame of reference.

Maybe we should start by telling people not to make sweeping generalizations [like the one above] without backing them up with statistics? Of course, she does reference an earlier work which I suppose we could look up which is better then the vast majority of argumenters, but still.

Anyway pagila rambles on about Neumann, and by reference Jung and Freud. And on and on and on, and her only conclusion as far as I can tell is this:

Any major theory of culture must begin with prehistory and the development of agrarian society out of the nomadic. Here is where the Jungian approach, with its attentiveness to nature, demonstrates its superiority to the strict social constructionism of poststructuralism. The deletion of nature from academic gender studies has been disastrous. Sex and gender cannot be understood without some reference, however qualified, to biology, hormones, and animal instinct. And to erase nature from the humanities curriculum not only inhibits students' appreciation of a tremendous amount of great, nature-inspired poetry and painting but also disables them even from being able to process the daily news in our uncertain world of devastating tsunamis and hurricanes.

So, we should go back to the Jungian approach? Fuck that noise. Anyway, her only point is that we should not remove the concept of "gender" from the study of arts and literature, which is not something I've noticed.

This whole thing reads like "I don't like the way criticism is handled today, so we should replace it with a way that I do like".

I mean really, Pagilia presents no evidence for why she thinks we should a Jung based pseudo-psychology as a framework for studing the humanities other then that Neuman was cool and Neuman liked Jung. That's not a very good argument at all.

Anyway, if it was up to me I would have people study art and literature as a source of enjoyment, and analytical techniques should only be taught in ways that can increase the enjoyment of such works. Deeper metaphorical meanings outside of the works themselves ought to be avoided.
posted by delmoi at 4:49 PM on April 29, 2006


Jacques Derrida, Jacques Lacan, and Michel Foucault were false gods, created and promoted by secular academics who might have been expected to be more skeptical of authority.


This really refers to the giant, distorted spectre these thinkers have become for certain disciplines, notably English. Derrida's philosophy is difficult and requires immense reading in philosophy and philology to appreciate. Instead, they have been trivialized into petty cynics, whose texts can be taught through personal charisma and a series of oohs and ahhs.
Most seriously, poststructuralism did manifest damage to two generations of students who deserved a generous and expansive introduction to the richness of the humanities and who were instead force-fed with cynicism and cant. I fail to see that American students are emerging today even from elite universities with a broad or discerning knowledge of arts and letters. Nor has poststructuralism produced any major new critics—certainly none of the towering scholarly stature once typical of prominent professors who had been educated in the first half of the twentieth century.


hear, hear!
Substrata: yeah, she is returning to patriarchy.


This is a knee-jerk dismissal typical of petty investigators and scrutinizers of greater women and men. Please explain how she is "returning to patriarchy". As the comment stands, you sound a little foolish.
posted by ori at 4:50 PM on April 29, 2006


And when I was a kid, I had to walk uphill to school. Both ways! In the snow! In my socks! And see how much better I am for it? Kids these days, I tell you.

Get off my lawn.
posted by Hildegarde at 4:56 PM on April 29, 2006


These pivotal questions confront universities today amid signs of spreading agreement that the three-decade era of poststructuralism and postmodernism is over.

Many of my profs and instructors seem to have missed that memo. Could someone please, please fill them in. This is why I've taken to linguistics rather than literature in my spanish major.
posted by gauchodaspampas at 4:58 PM on April 29, 2006


ori, she's suggesting that nothing of value has been produced in any humanities field in the last 30 years (which would make this paper even more ridiculous from the standard of non-American scholars), and her solution seems to be that we need to leap-frog back to underlooked, if not downright eccentric, academics of the 1920's and 1930's. Maybe "patriarchy" isn't the right term--a return to mediocrity perhaps?

And I totally agree that "Lacan-Foucault-Derrida" is a misleading scare phrase. Personally, I have no time for Lacan, but I'd recommend Derrida and Foucault to anyone (for different reasons, obviously, Derrida for a number of his essays, Foucault for Surveille et Punir and the first volume of History of Sexuality).
posted by bardic at 4:58 PM on April 29, 2006


So, if all this poststructuralism and Theory with a capital T has become "institutionalized in the undergraduate and graduate curriculum", how is it that I have done four years of undergraduate (primarily in history and English with a bit of women's studies and some creative writing thrown in), and another two years of graduate coursework, and I still have NEVER had a class which discussed any of it?

I have had classes which discussed Adam Smith, classes which discussed Marx. I have read books which analyse history statistically, linguistically, holistically and beautifully - but so far no Derrida, and what I have learned of Foucault is that he was a rigorous scholar who believed that history should be done like archeology, systematically piecing together the bits of evidence. When I studied literature, I was expected to understand genre, conventions, imagery, and rhetoric, to analyse how authors played with expectations and defied them, and generally how they created their art. When I attend literature papers at my current university, more often than not it seems that the literature is being analysed in a historical mode.

I think that French criticism, while fashionable with some people, is a lot less deeply imbedded into the humanities than people outside the humanities realise, and pretty much a straw man. If you don't think the theory works, explain why and show why your analysis is better.

But many people who know more about the criticism than I do tell me that it is very interesting and imaginative - it gives a new perspective on things. Whether this is useful to what you are studying will depend entirely in what sorts of questions you are interested in.
posted by jb at 5:02 PM on April 29, 2006


"Most seriously, poststructuralism did manifest damage to two generations of students who deserved a generous and expansive introduction to the richness of the humanities and who were instead force-fed with cynicism and cant. I fail to see that American students are emerging today even from elite universities with a broad or discerning knowledge of arts and letters. Nor has poststructuralism produced any major new critics—certainly none of the towering scholarly stature once typical of prominent professors who had been educated in the first half of the twentieth century."

This paragraph made me want to stand up and cheer. As a grad student at NYU in the early nineties Lacan et al were in full bloom and in classes with large doses of pomo theory, my main reaction was, the emperor has no clothes.

Bloom once said something about how he lamented the fact that English departments had been overtaken by pedantic, politically correct sociologists.
posted by vronsky at 5:06 PM on April 29, 2006


Bloom once said something about how he lamented the fact that English departments had been overtaken by pedantic, politically correct sociologists.

Once? This has been his strident cry for several decades now.
posted by ori at 5:17 PM on April 29, 2006


Susan Sontag died what, a year, two years ago, and Paglia is complaining that we haven't had any good critics in years? And going back to a Jungian is her "solution"?

Also, ori is exactly right that Derrida, especially, has to be read by someone with a very strong philosophical background - of course his work is just a set of catchphrases if you haven't read Aristotle and Heidegger, because you don't know what he's responding to (the idea of the "supplement", for example, is most easily understood as a critique of the idea of an "essence" in Aristotle). I mean, I'm not superfond of Derrida, but he's not the bogeyman.
posted by Pseudoephedrine at 5:17 PM on April 29, 2006


If you don't think the theory works, explain why and show why your analysis is better.

Point One: That sort of analysis has no value in poststructuralism.

Uh, I think that covers it.

vronsky: While Bloom can be overly reactionary and acerbic sometimes, enough to put me off him, I agree with his point. Interestingly, as a side note, Houellebecq discussed in The Elementary Particles how many of their ilk commited suicide. Don't know what that means.

Humanity majors should be given books like Bloom's Where Shall Wisdom Be Found? in their introductory class, not "Structure, Sign, and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences."
posted by Falconetti at 5:23 PM on April 29, 2006


Uh, that Houellebecq comment wasn't supposed to be there. it's a remnant of a deleted paragraph. But yeah, lots of poststrucutralists commit suicide.
posted by Falconetti at 5:25 PM on April 29, 2006


It's good to see that the academy has finally accepted that "postmodernism" and "poststructuralism" are intellectually vapid and sterile

Huh? Camille Paglia is about as far as you can get from representing "the academy." She's a professional disrupter and contrarian. I sometimes enjoy reading her, but rarely agree with her.

Why is this post tagged "post"?
posted by languagehat at 5:28 PM on April 29, 2006


post feminism
posted by vronsky at 5:33 PM on April 29, 2006


Falconetti, and Romantic canonical poets, both Anglo and Continental, don't? Obnoxious argument.

And Bloom's best work was done in the 70's when he was a true academic radical. Ever since he's become the spokeperson for conservative literary values (in the truest sense of the term "conservative"). I find him at best amusingly fussy and at worst, a hyper-pedantic menace. I wouldn't recommend any of his latest work to anyone.
posted by bardic at 5:34 PM on April 29, 2006


Point One: That sort of analysis has no value in poststructuralism.

I know it makes for good copy, but this isn't actually true. Derrida certainly thought that discourses had intellectual presuppositions which determined which interpretations were good or bad or not. He simply didn't see that process as set in stone, so that all we had to do was keep on publishing more papers within the same methodology and eventually we would discover the "true" interpretation of the text. If that sounds surprisingly banal, well, it doesn't make for good copy, but it is true.
posted by Pseudoephedrine at 5:34 PM on April 29, 2006


By the way guys, Bloom's been dead for about fourteen years now.
posted by Pseudoephedrine at 5:36 PM on April 29, 2006


The lengthy discussion of Neumann is very interesting, but I can't get enough of vitriolic takedowns of capital "T" Theory (critical theory, poststructuralism, postcolonialism, Lacanianism, &c., &c.). What is taught in humanity and English classes in American universities is mostly crap and a distraction from approaching literature (in all its guises) holistically and with true depth.

I honestly think this is the biggest load of crap I've ever heard. A "distraction from approaching literature... with true depth"? Have you read any Derrida? I have my problems with all the so-called "post-structuralists" but the last thing I'd accuse them of is a lack of depth.
posted by maxreax at 5:39 PM on April 29, 2006


post feminism

Dude, if you want that, you have to write it as one word: postfeminism. Right now, you've got it tagged as "post" and "feminism." The previous post tagged "post" was on "The Last Post." I suggest you change your tags if you want them to be of any use.
posted by languagehat at 5:41 PM on April 29, 2006


bardic: It wasn't an argument, it was just interesting. I didn't even mean to include that in my comment, as I indicated.
posted by Falconetti at 5:45 PM on April 29, 2006


Yeah Dude I know. It was a mistake on my part.
posted by vronsky at 5:53 PM on April 29, 2006


But it would be nice if they chose something that wasn't tainted with teleology.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 7:36 PM EST on April 29 [!]


For all taint related complaints I heartily recommend Tide With Bleach (rtm) as I believe its surfactants even go to work on such tough stains as blood and grass.
posted by nervousfritz at 5:55 PM on April 29, 2006


I honestly think this is the biggest load of crap I've ever heardread.

Funny, I would say the same thing about Of Grammatology.

Have you read any Derrida? I have my problems with all the so-called "post-structuralists" but the last thing I'd accuse them of is a lack of depth.

I've read Derrida extensively, from Writing and Difference to his later works on ethics and Marx. As I indicated, I don't think someone like Derrida lacks all value, but for all his talk of "play" and "playfulness," his deliberately obfuscatory writing style sucks all the joy out of literature, creating a blot over every other approach. I know, I know, he has to write in such a turgid and rambling manner or else he is falling prey to the very forces that he is trying to undermine or whatever. He values depthlessness, but I think that is commensurate with lack of depth, while he (and you) perhaps think it opens up everything ("there is nothing outside the text," etc.).

I look to someone like Leslie Fielder, who writes penetratingly, intelligently, and clearly about literature for a better model.
posted by Falconetti at 6:03 PM on April 29, 2006


Camille doesn't like Foucault, film at 11, yadda yadda yadda.

/shakes head, looks at calendar, makes sure it's not 1986
posted by docgonzo at 6:09 PM on April 29, 2006


Have you read any Derrida? I have my problems with all the so-called "post-structuralists" but the last thing I'd accuse them of is a lack of depth.

In a somewhat different context, Hollywood screenwriter John August made the following comment:
My friend Rawson has a good phrase for it: “Playing obscurity for depth.” It’s the tendency of a screenplay — or an actor — to make weird choices that the audience won’t understand. The audience, fearing that they just didn’t “get it,” will label the writing or performance brilliant.
Is Derrida deep? Or is he just obscure?
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 6:26 PM on April 29, 2006


Pseudoephedrine: Allan Bloom has been dead for about 14 years, but Harold Bloom is still very much alive.
posted by raysmj at 6:26 PM on April 29, 2006


I've read Derrida extensively, from Writing and Difference to his later works on ethics and Marx. As I indicated, I don't think someone like Derrida lacks all value, but for all his talk of "play" and "playfulness," his deliberately obfuscatory writing style sucks all the joy out of literature, creating a blot over every other approach. I know, I know, he has to write in such a turgid and rambling manner or else he is falling prey to the very forces that he is trying to undermine or whatever. He values depthlessness, but I think that is commensurate with lack of depth, while he (and you) perhaps think it opens up everything ("there is nothing outside the text," etc.).

I wish Derrida was more clear, as well; I'm not denying that his writing can be deliberately confusing (for the reasons that you list, among others)--but I have serious issue with the notion that Derrida sucks all "joy" out of literature because of a confusing writing model. It's like saying that Wittgenstein or Kant suck all "joy" out of philosophy because of the inherent confusion in their works (and yes, I think it's an apt comparison--Derrida was as much philosopher as critic).

Derrida is talking (for lack of a better phrase) about the processes by which we make sense of "making sense"; it would be near-impossible to make his writing less confusing.

Furthermore (and this has been pointed out before by people who are smarter and more qualified by me), criticising a writer--especially a critic--for being "too confusing" does not, as such, hold much weight; thousands upon thousands of writers and critics (among them Wittgenstein and Kant, but also Joyce and pretty much all the Modernists) have been criticised as "too confusing" in the past.

I look to someone like Leslie Fielder, who writes penetratingly, intelligently, and clearly about literature for a better model.

I liked a lot of things about Fiedler (not Fielder), among them his defense of "genre" books. I don't think that as a lover of literary criticism I have to choose one thinker or school of though and hew to him, her or them at all times.
posted by maxreax at 6:27 PM on April 29, 2006


Is Derrida deep? Or is he just obscure?

Judging by the breadth of his scholarship and work; his knowledge of literary, social and philosophical history; and the penetration of his work, I'd say he's deep (and, maybe, obscure as well).
posted by maxreax at 6:30 PM on April 29, 2006


To rip on Lacan while suggesting a return to Freud(among others) is freaking ridiculous, as most of what Lacan did was go back and rewrite Freud in a vocabulary that Freud did not have access to.
posted by papakwanz at 6:34 PM on April 29, 2006


Metafilter: Tainted with Teleology
posted by rdone at 6:50 PM on April 29, 2006


This seems to be a rehash of every single column Paglia ever wrote for Salon. The whole "down with Foucault/Lacan/Derrida" schtick was entertaining the first 20 times I read it, but I can't believe she's still on this hobby horse now.
posted by alidarbac at 8:33 PM on April 29, 2006


Derrida et al I don't generally mind and find interesting/entertaining at times (especially Barthes' S/Z although that's probably beter characterized as uber structuralist rather than post anything). Lacan on the other hand, is completely off his rocker when he starts using diagrams and pseudo mathematical equations. There's entertainment value in that too I guess, but it's more of the WTF!? variety than the "that's interesting" variety.
posted by juv3nal at 8:44 PM on April 29, 2006


This really refers to the giant, distorted spectre these thinkers have become for certain disciplines, notably English. Derrida's philosophy is difficult and requires immense reading in philosophy and philology to appreciate. Instead, they have been trivialized into petty cynics, whose texts can be taught through personal charisma and a series of oohs and ahhs.

Right on. And it is also interesting to note that in the country from which they hail they are always put in a much larger context of thinkers and ideas - not completely ignored but not a principal focus either. Seriously, there are departments in the US practically built around these guys. Maybe its our consumer mentality.
posted by pwedza at 8:54 PM on April 29, 2006


especially Barthes' S/Z although that's probably beter characterized as uber structuralist rather than post anything

Indeed. I'm no fan of Derrida or Lacan either -- largely because I find that with both writers the effort isn't repaid in returns.

Barthes and Foucault is a completely different story though. Both changed the way that I saw the world, and both had a significant impact on shaping my ability to think critically.

Which is not to say that everything they wrote was absolutely bang on the nail. IIRC, large tracts of Foucault's history was somewhat dubious, but you don't read him for factual accuracy -- you read him for his focus and his method.

Mind you, I read most of this material back in the early 80's, so perhaps I missed much of the excess that I read other people associating with structuralism/post-structuralism/post-modernism?
posted by PeterMcDermott at 9:19 PM on April 29, 2006


.
posted by exlotuseater at 9:47 PM on April 29, 2006


My theory friends say that for those who claim they don't have or use theory that that is itself a theory. Whatever they do when they discuss literature is based one way or another upon some theory. Perhaps. But if post this or that has faded, what is not the fashion is Studies, ie cultural studies etc and there is too a bit of a return to historical approach by way of historicism (Greeblatt et al). There is even a group of critics who study...beauty, aesthetics, asking What makes a work of art truly good and worthwhile? wow. glad you asked.
posted by Postroad at 10:02 PM on April 29, 2006


for those who claim they don't have or use theory that that is itself a theory.
Exactly.
Terry Eagleton's Introduction to Literary Theory makes this point quite well.

As far as "a bit of a return to historical approach"... well, Greenblatt's "Renaissance Self-Fashioning" was published in what, 1983? New Historicist theory (and its offspring) has been more or less dominant in literary studies for 15-20 years.

One of the many silly things about Paglia's article (and others like it) is the bandying about of "Lacan, Derrida, and Foucault" as though they are interchangeable. They are not. There are certain overlapping concerns, but all three have different subjects of interest, different methodologies, and different goals (Foucault is especially different from the other 2, who arguably have more similarities).

The other thing: no one reads (or at least, no one SHOULD read) these 3 theorists, or any other theorist, just to learn their content. As Peter McDermott noted, you read for focus and methodology. Certainly cults of personality have developed around them as around many other critics, Paglia included, but that's the nature of the academic star system. Paglia seems to imply that students are thrown a copy of Of Grammatology and Hamlet and thrown to the wolves, which is complete B.S.

Finally, the implication that we're seeing "the end of post-modernism" or "the death of theory" is inane, and again, false. One defining characteristic of most of of these theoretical/philosophical trends is that they can adapt and mutate beyond their own "death." Hell, people still do traditional historical and biographical criticism, and formalist/New Critical close reading is making a comeback (in an altered form). And even though high theory has gone a bit out of fashion in favor of cultural studies and postcolonial approaches, many departments are actively looking for "theory people."
posted by papakwanz at 11:35 PM on April 29, 2006


I read this entire thread thoroughly, and you all argued passionately and articulately. I also have absolutely no idea what the hell any of you are talking about.
posted by jonmc at 12:13 AM on April 30, 2006


Paglia seems to imply that students are thrown a copy of Of Grammatology and Hamlet and thrown to the wolves, which is complete B.S.

It depends on what school you're at. Some schools (like Columbia) are more fully under the Pomo spell, in the humanities, than other schools. At Columbia for sure its gone way over the deep end and people (other than the 'eminent' profs involved) are sick and tired of it. When it gets this overdone, its no longer theory, its dogma and is presented as dogma; in a way, in the hands of its most enthusiastic partisans, Pomo theory becomes exactly what it claims does not exist: scientific or religious certainties. It presents itself as the end of history (teleology); presents itself as the Law (of language or thought), etc. Claims to derive its truths from the very "nature of language", doesnt it? So much for "play" and agency. You can have agency against anything except against the "play" of language. Yea, right. At this stage it becomes merely a political weapon like everything else; see how Spivak uses it, for example. Theory as just a crass political tool for temporary and opportunistic uses. Spivak for instance "celebrates" this use of Pomo theory as the only valid use of theory itself. Thats just disgusting, and not because I'm after absolute certainties (which would be the knee-jerk accusation against anyone saying that), but because I'm after dialogue and communication as an ethics in itself -- two things that Pomo-as-weapon make impossible, and thereby cannibalizes its own potential as a counter-ethics. Dialogue-as-ethics is something Derrida-Spivak-Lacan (I'm leaving out Foucault because he does not belong in that grouping) never considered and cannot consider, because of their own apriori assumptions about the way language works. Derrida is useful when he dismantles 'essense', but that is NOT all he tries to do; he also projects Aristotelean (actually, Calvinistic, but no one has yet called him on it) evangelicalism onto every utterance, and claims to be merely 'discovering' it there. No, he put it there and cannot acknowledge it (for this, Foucault is useful). The net result isnt that we're freed from essentialization: the net result, rather, is that we're all trapped in an endless play of essentializations. THat is what Derrida winds up doing: essentializing the very thing he sought to de-essentialize: evangelical language (teleological certainties that 'defer' to the 'law'). With that, all notions of communication-as-ethics vanishes, since for him all communication is merely a race to a prior authenticity, merely a missionary-on-missionary war of all against all. Hence the eternal cynicism, the apoliticism, the superficiality, and so on, that marks his philosophy, his style of reading, and his politics. However, woe is to you if you point any of this out in the presence of his disciples, for whom the only alternative to Derrida is some form of positivist-evangelical-fascism. And they sure wont let YOU say otherwise. As someone said recently: When you think you're Rocky Balboa, the entire world looks like Apollo Creed. And 'Derrideans' certainly think they're Rocky Balboa, and so every utterance they face sure seems like Apollo Creed.


I read this entire thread thoroughly, and you all argued passionately and articulately. I also have absolutely no idea what the hell any of you are talking about.

jonmc: dont worry about it, its not important - or, it wont be, in another 5 years. Pomo was great for having challenged (in a unique way, building upon Sassurean linguistic theory) concepts of teleology and essentialism in ideology, theory, and religion: that was all good. But Pomo will dissappear, however, because its own inherent politics re-populates the world with teleology and essentialism in every utterance in every language. Thats its destructive and inherently self-contradictory side. And no, thats not the only way out for ethics and nor is such re-population in the 'nature' of language. There are alternatives to 'deferring to the Law'; alternatives to being a missionary in speech. But those alternatives will come from a different movement than Pomo, because Pomo painted itself into such a tiny corner that it can no longer think beyond its own premises; it has ceased to be either creative or imaginative. Like Marxism, Pomo too has made a contribution against the ravenous juggernaut of science-and-certainty, and like Marxism, Pomo too will fail at making itself out to be a 'complete' replacement for the things it critiques. And thats a good thing, especially when the thing it critiques is the concept of 'complete' solutions. If in the end this drives theory to theorize 'flexibility-as-an-ethics-of-its-own', to theorize what non-missionary language and utterance looks like, then it will all have been worth it. But with dogmatists still in charge of most of our most elite university departments, I'm thinking the dogmatists will prevail for a while longer. Lets patiently wait them out, and in the meanwhile, silently suffer their insufferable shrillness and arrogance. We waited out the Marxists too, after all.
posted by jak68 at 1:56 AM on April 30, 2006


OF course jak68, because Marx's ideas about economics and literature have totally disappeared and have no effect on humanities studies today.

Sheesh. At least admit you hate something. Poo-pooing it doesn't make it go away.
posted by bardic at 2:25 AM on April 30, 2006


Like Marxism, Pomo too has made a contribution
Bardic: Who said I hate it? I said it was overdone in some departments.

As for Marxism, you dont have to tell me, I'm a socialist. That doesnt blind me to what happened in '89 and in the years since.

Actually I'm merely asking that we treat all the "isms" with context and flexibility rather than with dogma. Whether its marxism or capitalism or postmodernism or positiivism or fundamentalism or evangelicalism. I dont care what your "ism" is; I only care if you've lost the ability to contextualize it and its uses.

You might say I think postmodernism went against the spirit of postmodernism when it became dogma. Thats all I'm saying. And that in some departments thats exactly what it has become.
posted by jak68 at 3:31 AM on April 30, 2006


Marx is really useful when you are thinking about social and class changes in the industrial revolution. Which is to be expected, since that is exactly what he was writing about.
posted by jb at 4:40 AM on April 30, 2006


jak68, I read your comments with a great deal of understanding and sympathy. Contemporary Art departments are infected with the same sort of goofy dogmatism that seemingly unknowingly (certain un-self-critically) recapitulates all the kinds of thinking po-mo supposedly made taboo. In other words, in the way that you and others have pointed defenders of the standard major players do so in the most essentialist and teleological ways. In Art we have thinkers like Arthur Danto declaring the End of Art to parallel the End of History. I actually found Danto's book to be interesting, but all "End of ..." discussions strike me as funny. Until I am dead, I likely won't know the true end of anything (and then I won't "know" it as I am dead).

I agree also with the others who were disappointed with Paglia's opening paragraph (which became a bit unadvisedly excerpted by the way) turning into a paean to Neumann. I think pomo is on its last legs as well, not in the academy but in the world that once upon a time it accurately described. In Art anyway the antitheses between idea <> image are ready to be synthesized to borrow from Hegel. So, to confront postmodernism with historical moments from the past, as Paglia does, is a failure from the outset. That's chiefly what labels like modernism and postmodernism describe - a moment in history. Rather than providing a crystallized, actual philosophical truth or thought that can be objectively plucked from some sort of essence tree, such labels are simply a description that provides some insight into the historical moment in which we find ourselves. When a paradigm no longer usefully does that, and I suggest this is the case with postmodernism, we should take a look around and begin to build a framework that might describe how things seem to be now.

The Internet more than anything has probably swept aside the authority of postmodernity. Paglia commited the same gaffe - I roll my eyes at all the theorists and critics who wish to inform me of the "newest thinking" and then don't have the foggiest notion of what's on the Internet. The Internet, for better or worse, is a major driver of culture.
posted by Slothrop at 5:30 AM on April 30, 2006


I vote for turning Frederick Crews loose on this essay.
posted by thomas j wise at 6:42 AM on April 30, 2006


Derrida was as much philosopher as critic

Actually, Derrida was entirely a philosopher. He only strayed into literary criticism because many French literary types have been trying to do philosophy themselves. Often, as with Proust, Mallarme, Ponge, etc. they did it well enough to warrant philosophical treatment, i.e. deconstruction. Proust read Bergson, referenced Hegel: how can so-called literary critics claim to understand him without knowing what he knew about philosophy? Paglia seems not to understand this point. Or perhaps she pretends not to understand it because her audience thinks that constructive ignorance is edgy and rebellious.
posted by anotherpanacea at 8:07 AM on April 30, 2006


delmoi: "Anyway, if it was up to me I would have people study art and literature as a source of enjoyment, and analytical techniques should only be taught in ways that can increase the enjoyment of such works. Deeper metaphorical meanings outside of the works themselves ought to be avoided."

Ah, the solipsistic masturbation school of criticism!

(How appropriate for Paglia and Bloom.)
posted by vitia at 11:02 AM on April 30, 2006


I got to have lunch with Frederick Crews before he gave a talk once. He's a very smart, very decent guy.
posted by bardic at 11:32 AM on April 30, 2006


I read this entire thread thoroughly, and you all argued passionately and articulately. I also have absolutely no idea what the hell any of you are talking about.

it's kind of like listening to farmers talking about the best way to raise chickens ... it doesn't make much sense to us, but at least we can get fried chicken and eggs out of it

hmmm ... wait ... where's derrida's fried chicken?
posted by pyramid termite at 12:26 PM on April 30, 2006


Bravo jak68!
posted by vronsky at 1:08 PM on April 30, 2006


raysmj> Ah, ok, that makes more sense.

jak68> Derrida is useful when he dismantles 'essense', but that is NOT all he tries to do; he also projects Aristotelean (actually, Calvinistic, but no one has yet called him on it) evangelicalism onto every utterance, and claims to be merely 'discovering' it there.

And it is. If you don't understand how Aristotle created the conceptual vocabulary by which we understand the world and ourselves, even today, then you need to go back and reread Aristotle. Every time you use the word "energy" or "substance" or "essence" (to name three examples), you're relying on Aristotelian concepts (if not necessarily Aristotelian terms per se). When you deny that a thing can both be something and not be something, or when you use a syllogism to reason through a problem, you're using Aristotelian structures. Aristotle's influence is pervasive.

In attacking this Aristotelian system of thought, Derrida is following Heidegger, who wrote Being and Time as, amongst other things, an attempt to replace the Aristotelian vocabulary with a newer, more robust way of articulating the world. Derrida extends that critique in a relatively straightforward way in order to work out the consequences of language being "the house of Being".

His notion of the trace as the basis of language is a challenge to Aristotle's conception of the (verbal) assertion as the fundamental mode of speech, his idea of the supplement undermines the idea of essences, his notion of the interpenetration of presence and absence is a critique of substances, and deconstruction itself is an attempt to form a critical methodology not beholden to A.'s logical works (especially the Categories and the Organon).

Also, "Calvinistic"? In what way?
posted by Pseudoephedrine at 1:22 PM on April 30, 2006


Yes, I too would be interested to know how jak thinks Derrida can be considered "Calvinistic."
posted by papakwanz at 1:33 PM on April 30, 2006


That's chiefly what labels like modernism and postmodernism describe - a moment in history. Rather than providing a crystallized, actual philosophical truth

Slothrop: thats exactly right. (And so nice to be understood and empathized with!).

I also agree with your comments on the importance of looking to the future rather than the past, and on the internet's importance in reshaping the 'laws' of culture formation.

Seems like academe, in the humanities anyway, is perpetually 10 years behind the world, tho it often claims to be 10 years ahead of it. I'll never forget once I was in a discussion with a famous pomo prof in her office, and a question came up that we didnt know the answer to. So I said, "lets Google it". To which she replied: "Google it? Whats that? What do you mean, Google it?". This was in 2001.
posted by jak68 at 1:37 PM on April 30, 2006


A few observations on Calvinism, Derrida, Aristotle

Aristotle's influence is pervasive.

Pseudophedrine: This much I agree with, as you say above: Aristotle's influence is indeed pervasive. However, Is "pervasive" the same as "totalized"? Therein lies my disagreement. I'd argue "pervasive" is different from "totalized". Derrideans generally need to conflate the two, and only by such a conflation can they then (triumphantly) equate language-as-such to power-as-such (making every utterance an act of "violence", and thus as a solution, seeking something they claim cannot be found: Language that does not do violence). I agree that every utterance casts a shadow; I disagree that it is, thereby, "fatal". Anyone who appreciates, with Derrida, that Aristotelian metaphysics grounds western thinking (hold that thought: Does it ground 'thinking as such?' because when you conflate 'pervasive' with 'totalizing', you may as well claim it grounds thinking-as-such since then you dont allow any agency against totalizing Aristotelean metaphsyics. Does it matter if you're arguing that Aristotelean metaphysics became totalizing through a totalizing culture, or that it became totalizing because it is part of the way itself language 'works'? Derrideans tend to argue both, hopping from one to the other, in both cases the net result is that "pervasive" Aristoteleanism (which I can accept) is equated to "totalizing" Aristoteleanism (which I reject as an essentializing move of its own)).
SO - if you can appreciate that Aristotle is "pervasive", but you see (as Foucualt does) that pervasiveness as a product of cultural and historical and sociological processes (carried, for example, by the history of modern western institutions and their formations, discourses, practices, disciplines), then you come to a point where you can say: Derrida projects Aristotle everywhere, and does so while claiming to 'discover' it everywhere -- ie, generates a totalized Aristotelean world around him so that his arguments can 'work'. That is: How can we tell which utterance is drawing on Aristotelean metaphysics, and which is not? How can we tell when we've projected something, vs. when we've discovered it? In a sense, Derrida "exempts" himself, as an all-seeing eye, out of the very historical and sociological processes of which he himself is a part. What does Derrida construct? What does Derrida project? Isnt it undecidable? But for Derrideanism to work, Derrida must himself claim what he says cannot be claimed: a transcendental stance located in and drawing from the nature of language itself: In other words, he must regularly blur the line between "pervasive" and "totalizing", when he talks about the Aristotielean inheritence. Without such a blurring Derrida can only be a CONTEXTUALIZED critique of an Aristotelean inheritence, rather than what 'Derrideans' want him to be: A critique of language-as-such, and power-as-such.
I also by the way separate Derrida from Derrideans. Derrida himself from time to time expressed uneasiness on precisely such questions: questions about whether his critique was a totalizing critique of language itself, of "western culture" (totalized) itself, or merely a parochial critique of one aspect of a western/greek inheritence that exhibits itself under certain (institutional-knowledge-power) formations and conditions only. "Derrideans", on the other hand -- the dogmatists populating many (not all) humanities departments, are precisely the ones who are much more eager to blur such lines and evade the necessary self-criticism: they are the ones who forge ahead and turn "pervasive" into "totalized", giving themselves a "universal" linguistic weapon to deploy against Apollo Creeds (which they "see"-- construct?) everywhere.
Admit it: without grand claims to universality and universal applicability, wouldnt Derrideanism be merely "very interesting" rather than the "crisis" of meaning and representation that its seen as today?

As for religion, calvinism, and postmodernism, I have much to say on it (enough that its part of my dissertation, actually). Very briefly: I'd argue that a) Derrida (taken in this narrower, parochial sense) is correct about metaphysical inheritences shaping how meaning and legitimacy are constructed today ("within institutional contexts," I would further limit it). However, b) Derrida (and Heidegger and all of our favorite secular-academic theorists) are somewhat wrong to lay the blame on Aristotle and the Greek tradition, overlooking that much more direct, powerful, instituional, and continuous influence on western metaphysics of meaning and legitimacy: the christian church, and its volatile and powerful history in Europe, and especially its own crises of meaning and legitimacy that came to a head in the Reformation. Much of what postmodernism has identified as being the metaphysical groundwork of language, power, meaning, legitimacy, I'd argue, draws a much more direct line to these Christian conflicts rather than to the far off Greeks, who were themselves only rediscovered in the course of that volatile conflict with the Church that was called the Enlightenment. I'm not denying a Greek inheritence; I'm saying whatever that inheritence was, is less direct than our inheritence from Christian crises, and also it was recieved only after being modulated through Church hands. (And wasnt the Catholic church, in a direct sense, the first "Foucauldian institution?"). Hence my interest in the relation between evangelical thought and postmodern thought; and after several years of rumination on the subject, I've decided that postmodernism in its 'evangelical' forms (as in Derridean dogmatism, for instance), owes much to Calvinistic/missionary ideas on society, power, language, meaning, and institutional forms, much more directly than to the Greeks; and certainly in either case, these are not in the 'nature of language itself', but very much socio-historical and cultural processes.
Those are the points on which, I guess, I seek to differentiate myself from postmodern dogmatisms, while being entirely appreciative of the basic postmodern project.
posted by jak68 at 2:22 PM on April 30, 2006 [1 favorite]


Still formulating thoughts on your most recent post, which is thoughtful and thought-provoking, but I just have to say:

she replied: "Google it? Whats that? What do you mean, Google it?". This was in 2001.
So what? I don't see how not being technologically savvy w/ regards to internet search engines = being 10 years behind the rest of the world in any meaningful or important way. If Judith Butler can't program a VCR, does that mean she has nothing valuable to say about gender?

A minor point, admittedly...

Anyway, back to the Calvinist thing, I agree, sort of, but it seems to me that Calvinism, and Reformation doctrine in general, posited that wrt The Word (of God, that is) there is no distinction between signifier and signified, hence their focus on all believers reading scripture in the vernacular. The slippage between those two and the breakdown of the sign is exactly what much (most? all?) theory post Saussure is concerned with. Not that this shoots your dissertation down or anything, but I think there is at least some (minor? unimportant?) complication to what you're arguing.
posted by papakwanz at 2:37 PM on April 30, 2006


I'll never forget once I was in a discussion with a famous pomo prof in her office

When I first glanced at that, I thought it said "a famous porno prof." And I thought: why didn't I have a porno prof?
posted by languagehat at 2:49 PM on April 30, 2006


jak68> If your argument is that there are professors who interpret Derrida's work dogmatically, well, yes, there are, and they are not very interesting people to read as a result (and I generally do not like their ideas). But Paglia herself, and the commentary on this thread, has been on Derrida and his work, not the brick carriers.

Admit it: without grand claims to universality and universal applicability, wouldnt Derrideanism be merely "very interesting" rather than the "crisis" of meaning and representation that its seen as today?

Remember, Derrida is a Heideggerian. Deconstruction is a subversive strategy within the Zuhandheit mode of thinking. Like all forms of Zuhandheit thinking (and Aristotle's theories are such), it operates within a horizon of universality and totalisation. So yes, Derrida does totalise Aristotle. But then, so does Aristotle. The radicalness of deconstruction's critique is not founded on it escaping the Zuhandheit mode, but that it picks apart the modal and substantial links by which the Zuhandheit mode is put together in the first place.

Or, to put it in plain English, deconstruction is a theory that all theories, including itself, are not necessarily the way they are because of tight, intrinsic connections (logical or physical) that necessitate or cause some particular outcome, but rather because of the world they arise in. These worlds are constituted out of language, and by studying the free play of language in actual practice (don't forget Derrida's other main influence is J.L. Austin), we can come to understand why things are the way they are, in theories.

However, b) Derrida (and Heidegger and all of our favorite secular-academic theorists) are somewhat wrong to lay the blame on Aristotle and the Greek tradition, overlooking that much more direct, powerful, instituional, and continuous influence on western metaphysics of meaning and legitimacy: the christian church, and its volatile and powerful history in Europe, and especially its own crises of meaning and legitimacy that came to a head in the Reformation.

That's an interesting point about Calvinism and religion, but I must admit I think you're wrong about Heidegger in particular. H. received his first philosophical training in a seminary, and he is very strongly influenced at the start of his career (pre-Being and Time) by religious considerations (he returns to them later after the Turning). Heidegger does give due credit to Augustine, Aquinas, Nicholas of Cusa and the church in general in much of his work, especially once he gets going on the history of Western thought as the forgetting of Being. But even earlier on, such as in "Phenomenology and Theology", he's already very sensitive to the demands religion places on one's thought and its development - H. is strongly influenced by Nietzsche, after all, and much of his work can be read as struggling to get out the Aristotelian theology of Catholicism (especially, but not only, the notion of God as some kind of substance).

In fact, the Church has two specific roles of great importance in our epoch, in H.'s view. They translate Aristotle into Latin using a set of standard glosses, which obscures the phrases A. used to very precisely express certain ideas (and which, in H.'s view, show the tenuousness of A.'s project), and they come to think of substantial as the measuring stick of the real, especially in their reflections on the nature of God (where God becomes the first substance). The church, through Aquinas and many others, carries out the Aristotelian project in the form of science, which theology is a type of (in H.'s view). Sure, the Church does much of importance, and it is a bit unfair to place all the blame on A. himself, but he merely serves as a handy gloss for the whole system since he is its founder. It's easier to say "the Aristotelian system" than "The Forgetting of Being as Being". Heidegger mainly called it "Metaphysics" which is a bit more confusing than it needs to be, perhaps.

So, yes, there are dogmatic jerks in any intellectual grouping, including amongst people who admire and attempt to use Derrida's work. But why that means we should discard Derrida's work instead of reclaiming it from the dogmatic jerks is unclear. And that first option is what Paglia and several people on this thread have been arguing for, and what I am arguing against.
posted by Pseudoephedrine at 3:41 PM on April 30, 2006


Ouch. Once upon a time I would have fallen into this debate like a hungry wolf happening upon a deer carcass, but gosh, my brain feels like toast today -- so much for that!

One thing I will say about Paglia, though, is that I've always liked her no-bullshit approach to gender studies. I cringe when I think that I once considered women's studies as a minor -- dropped that plan right after taking WS100 -- all those whiny-assed rich girls from Cincinnati moaning about their "oppression."

Fast-forward 10+ years later with all the women's studies heroines of my college days going to hell in a handbasket: at least Paglia's still consistent...
posted by bitter-girl.com at 4:27 PM on April 30, 2006


I don't have much to add either but I'm really glad this turned into an intelligent discussion. When the subject is Camille Paglia vs. postmodernism, you never know and you brace for the worst...
posted by furiousthought at 5:19 PM on April 30, 2006


psuedophedrine and papakwanz: Thanks for the thoughtful comments. Some quick responses, by no means complete, follow below. I'll add to this over next few days (I've got a paper to finish in the meanwhile). Clearly tho these are huge topics and we cant exhaust them on Metafilter, but I just wanted to indicate some of the other directions from which Derrideanism might be challenged (ie, non-Paglia ways). Hence my particular intervention in the interesting conversation in this thread. And its always nice to meet others interested in, and wrestling with, theory issues.

Quick response to papkwanz: If Judith Butler can't program a VCR, does that mean she has nothing valuable to say about gender?

I only mentioned the google episode in relation to Slothrop's observation about the internet changing the rules of culture formation and that most humanities profs are not appreciating that enough. But sure, I agree that there is more to culture-theory than the internet and its effects.
I do think though that theorists of culture especially ought to be up on whats happening with the kids - ie, with their students, to whom they are going to be lecturing every semester. Academics are, in my opinion, notoriously disconnected with their student's cultural and social lives and concerns, and that in turn makes for bad teaching and disconnected interactions between teacher and student. Some of the profs I know here, actually TAKE PRIDE in that (its a bizarre form of cultural elitism, as if knowing what the students are into, is beneath them). I find that intolerable, myself. To take a different example of teacher-student disconnect, so many profs here who teach middle east/south asia, have yet to even address for their students, in their lectures, any context/history behind why 9/11 occurred, when for the students, its one of their most pressing (and natural) questions (our enrollments in middle east/south asia history classes jumped 50% after 9/11). But our teachers/profs/theorists, many of them stuck in either marxist or pomo dogmas, give the students nothing they can use; they present some kind of cultural relativism (which is fine, but does little to satisfy any explanatory/historical framework the students are seeking), or present some kind of postcolonial-imperlialism explanation (its all the west's fault) - which again is fine, but such complete elimination of accountability for the terrorists rings hollow for those who watched the planes. Seriously, our profs rely on theory as a way to not have to address their students pressing questions, lives, concerns. In that context, I do find it ridiculous for profs to be so disconnected from whats going on in contemporary culture to be something bordering on irresponsibilty. Just my opinion tho. No, it doesnt take away from their other work, but it also is a valid criticism, I think. My mom doesnt know about the internet and google either; but on the other hand, she doesnt present herself to 50 students twice a week for 13 weeks each semester as an expert on cultural theory. So to me thats just one more indicator of a basic disconnect between many of these profs and the world around them. Its in that context that I mentioned it, not to say therefore everything else they've done isnt worthwhile.

Calvinism, and Reformation doctrine in general, posited that wrt The Word (of God, that is) there is no distinction between signifier and signified, hence their focus on all believers reading scripture in the vernacular.

This is true, of course. HOwever, didn't their ensuing inability to agree on those meanings, launch (as many historians have it) the entire discipline of philology, as biblical and exegetical scholars hurried back to the past to find original greek, hebrew, and latin meanings, in order to quell the violent conflict that resulted from their different interpretations? Saussure himself is located in the philological "field" that resulted from that; he was a classically trained philologist who was countering Muller's diachronic, historicist (etymological) approach to discovering meaning, with a sychronic, structural-sociological approach. Sassure himself argued that both approaches were needed, and he himself didnt think he had just ended Western civilization as we know it (on the contrary, he firmly believed philology was a Science and that he was contributing to it as a Science). That belief, he certainly shared with Muller.

The problem was picked up by later philosopher-academics (levi-strauss for instance) who turned it into cultural-structuralism (locating the sychronic organization of language in the "nature" of thought, ultimately, in human physiology, in the nature of the mind) , and from there (in the well known tale) to poststructuralism which eliminated that last 'grounding', making meaning a fully cultural process in both its axes, in sociology and in history, in space-time (and thus this was one of the many ways pomo eliminates the "anchor" of meaning in "reality").

Its a fascinating historical process that leads directly to the postmodern crisis of meaning and the terms of THAT crisis. In a sense, Derrida is still looking for absolute certainty in meaning, even as he says it cannot be found. Only on those terms is Derrideanism a "crisis". If you give up on the search for absolute meanings (ie, step aside from that church-historical project) (ie, learn to "speak" in a non-missionary "language", or culture, or system of thought), then it ceases to be a "crisis" and becomes merely interesting. Thats why the continuance of the crisis is in a perverse sense predicated on the argument that search for absolutes is somehow 'natural' or essential, somehow totalized. It isnt! It itself is historical and cultural!

Anyway, thats why I see Sassurean signified/signifier activity as being very much a part of the overall crisis of meaning that was in fact unleashed by the Reformation.

I dont believe in utopias, past present or future; but I do think catastrophe can be avoided and that we do have agency as humans-using-language to avoid it. Especially when its socio-political catastrophes of our own making. I see any attempt to naturalize the language of missionarism -- which is what I see Derrideanism as doing, in effect -- as sneaking back in the very form of essentialism that it claims to be fighting, and thereby sneaking back in the same institutional manipulation of language that missionaries -- and advertisers, and positivist, and lots of others use (in specific institutional contexts and almost always in an institutional context), and presenting those uses of language as if they are a part of language itself.

psuedophedrine: As far as disagreeing with Paglia, I think we're both on the same page. I merely wanted to argue that there are plenty of other reasons with which Derrida and Derrideanism can be challenged, from a critique of his ethics, to his logic and philosophy too. And that not every rejection of Pomo is 'reactionary'; there are plenty of leftists who reject pomo as well (especially its tendencies towards its own brand of 'reactionary' relativism in socio-political ethics).

I'm not JUST rejecting derridean Dogmatists (tho I am doing that); I'm also very much suggesting Derrida's own thought arrives at a cul-de-sac, resulting from his own hesitation to historicize himself and his own moment. Thats one of the weak-spots in his overall framework that it is productive to pick at and open up. There are others, too, of course.

Regarding Heidegger's seminar days and his Christian leanings, no doubt he draws on it, but this gets into different metaphysical formations within Christianity (which is by no means homogenous of course, there are plenty of formations within the Christian tradition which in fact oppose "evangelical" language (consider Unitarianism or Christian mysticism or even some of the early pre-Nicene variations) -- so I'm not conflating Christianity with evangelicalism, tho clearly the latter emerges from the former as ONE of its more notorious -- and institutionalized -- formations). So I'm entirely open to the suggestion that Christian metaphysics can be used against itself. Thats actually one of my arguments. I'd accuse Derrida of NOT doing that; of naturalizing one aspect of Christian metaphysics and sociology (ie, evangelical metaphysics and sociology) at the expense of many others. In this I find Heidegger therefore more useful and consistent than Derrida, notwithstanding the fact that Derrida thinks of himself as an uber Heideggerian.

Regarding your other points, I'll have to reply back in a few days; hope you will check back.
posted by jak68 at 12:03 AM on May 1, 2006


I just don't get the theory haters. You all must have had some really bad professors. I'm sorry to hear that. Learning shouldn't be about having dogma shoved down your throat.

The thing is, I think Derrida, etc., would recoil at the notion of being shoved down anyone's throat. The work demands an intense engagement -- yes, horror of horrors, it's difficult and cannot be crammed into the tiny conceptual and temporal space of a TV advertisement. "Must not be worthwhile then. Why can't they talk in plain everyday language? Must have something hide."

For crying out loud, we live in a complex world and it's getting more complex every second. A complex world demands complex means of understanding it. We're still developing those means (always will be), I think, and I guess I see pomo theory as one step in that direction, something that will be altered and refined as time goes on . . . But whatever the case, it's just downright knuckleheaded to attack these means because they are complex/obscure and certain professors seem to find them a little too sexy for their own good and/or the good of their students and so these theories must be hiding some kind of evil French doctrince or agenda -- which seems to me to be bottom-line argument I hear over and over again in discussions like these. If you want to attack this stuff, at least attempt to engage with it on its own terms, instead of banging your shoe against the podium and screaming loudly. Since when did otherwise progressive Americans start subscribing to Marxist-style social realist doctrine, where everything in the arts should uncomplicated, representational, straightforward narrative, something that everyone can understand without any effort? I just don't get it. It's like listening to Bush talk about science.
posted by treepour at 10:10 AM on May 1, 2006


jak68> I think we're mainly in agreement about the paedogogical failures in postmodernism. It _is_ badly taught, certainly.

And I'd be inclined to agree that Derrida isn't sufficiently historicised in the later (ethical, Levinas-influenced) books, but I think in Writing and Difference and Of Grammatology (and stuff from that era, up until somewhere around Margins of Philosophy or Positions), he's sufficiently historical. He is a philosopher, after all, not a historian, and so his interest is in picking apart fundamental assumptions, new and old, rather than tracing their permutations over the centuries. Both are valuable and interesting, but thought is slippery enough that just following it over time isn't enough.

Heidegger's concept of the "epoch" might be useful to understand why D. is unwilling to historicise himself to the extent that say, Foucault and Gadamer demand. The "epoch" is a stretch of history in which Being "withholds" itself from us in a particular way. How this hashes out in actual practice is that the world is represented in a particular way, as made of certain objects (and kinds of objects) and having a certain structure. With each epoch, the objects, kinds of objects and the structure change, but each time (at least in the Greco-Christian-Enlightenment thread) we get further from Being itself. To take back Being (to "gather" it to ourselves, as Heidegger comes to say) from beings, we have to open ourselves to new articulations of the world. This is done by thought.

Thought suppresses what the world is by negating it. Or, to put it another way, thought extends history beyond just the past, and possibly the present, into the future. This extension into the future runs past the epoch it finds itself in, and the institutional structures that shape the epoch (but, importantly, it does come _from_ them as well) and towards the open horizon.

So, Derrida's thought is not historicised as fully as say, Foucault or Gadamer's because it is future-oriented, and thus basically a philosophy of possibility ("Pardes", by Giorgio Agamben lays this out a bit more clearly than I am, and was actually the essay that turned me around on D. It's available in a collection called "Potentialities"). So the reason it's not historicised is because it's not primarily concerned with how things are or were, but how they could be - what the coming epoch will be like. This is also why so much of D.'s philosophy is critical - in order to open up to possibility, it needs to negate the current epoch it finds itself in.

And yeah, no worries about needing a couple of days. I can wait.

Also, if I can politely make a small suggestion, your posts, at least in my browser (Mozilla 1.0.x) are appearing without more than a handful of line breaks, which makes them a bit hard to read. I'm interested in what you're saying, but the format makes it a bit difficult to get through it all. Thanks :)
posted by Pseudoephedrine at 11:23 AM on May 1, 2006


treepour> The other thing to keep in mind is that it's not the case that we have a conceptually simple vocabulary that arises obviously and directly from our experiences in the world, and Big Bad Derrida comes along and tries to make everything overly complex and confused, but rather, we are already in a very advanced and developed conceptual system that comes from the Greeks, the Catholic Church and the Enlightenment. Derrida's system is only as complex as the one we already inhabit (if that much), but it's just that it's unfamiliar to people. So yeah, saying that Derrida is "obscure" or "complex" is a bit of a bum's rush when the same people use terms like "real" or "possible" without blinking an eye. That's not to say that he's not difficult - it does involve, after all, entering into a completely new conceptual system - but rather that he's not overly complex, or so complex that no one can understand him, or obscure without good reasons.
posted by Pseudoephedrine at 11:30 AM on May 1, 2006


Psuedoephedrine -- great point about conceptually simple vs complex vocabularies, thank you. Not sure how relevant this is, but in reading your note I thought back to one of the first times I felt like I "got" Derrida. "There's no new conceptual material here," I thought, "save for the way in which concepts interact with one another; he's doing something completely new with what I'm already familiar with." That same reading also produced a feeling of witnessing meaning being created as I read; quite uncanny, relevatory, and lovely all at the same time.

It's precisely that sort of experience I feel like so many people are missing out on when they dismiss theory out-of-hand as something between meaningless jargon and a mysterious French religious cult and/or political conspiracy.
posted by treepour at 1:21 PM on May 1, 2006


This conversation has become something very interesting - I don't understand all of it, but I'm learning. Please go on and talk more about this.
posted by jb at 4:55 AM on May 3, 2006


I was just about to ask pseudophedrine if he wanted to take this conversation offline because I think it will rapidly become too unwieldy for metafilter!
jb> if you're interested feel free to email me (and I'm sure psuedoephedrine could contribute on this too?) and we can point you towards decent books on the subject if you're interested in that sort of thing. (for that matter anyone who is into theory could point you towards such material, I'm sure).
pseudeephedrine> would you mind if I emailed you? that would solve the formatting problem too that you mentioned with my posts...
posted by jak68 at 4:49 PM on May 3, 2006


Go for it. I'm a bit slow at responding to e-mails though, so please, be patient with me.
posted by Pseudoephedrine at 11:45 AM on May 4, 2006


What a shame -- I'd bookmarked this thread, and was looking forward to following the discussion (and asking jak68 to enlarge on his discussion of Calvinism) .. and now it's gone offline. Oh well.
posted by verstegan at 1:43 PM on May 4, 2006


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