Sunday, October 10, 2004


A little less drivel in the world.

Apparently, Jacques Derrida has passed away. Doubtless there will be mourning in the hallowed halls of academia, where Derrida is adored for giving literary critics permission to say whatever the hell they want about a "text" without having to worry about whether or not (1) it makes any sense and (2) it is in any way supported by the text being studied. Wonderful stuff, deconstruction.

So, we've gotten rid of Foucault, Said, and Derrida. I wish I could have a human response to their passing, but I just can't seem to muster one. I have a hard time mourning the passing of people as destructive as this bunch, and besides, they've worked so hard to rob us of our essential humanity, it would actually be a slight to their memory to have a human response.

Unfortunately, their acolytes are still alive and kicking, and we'll probably see some over-the-top obituaries explaining to the unwashed masses how terribly, terribly important Derrida was.

Perhaps the blogosphere can devote some of its collective energy to desconstructing these. After all, it's what Derrida would have wanted, isn't it?

Just curious--why do you lump Said in with Derrida and Foucault? He was a very different kind of thinker--certainly leftist, but much more grounded in historical research (actual history) than either D. or F. I haven't read a lot of Said apart from Orientalism, and there's plenty to argue with there, but I see none of the corrosive nihilism and essential anti-humanism that one sees in French theory in general. Said does embody a kind of later leftist historical materialism that is more recently fashionable than D. or F.--certainly postcolonialism, identity politics, et. al owe much to his influence--but I still see him as being more in the mainstream of Western thought than D. or F.

Kevin Walzer
^^That's an easy one. All three have contributed to turning literary studies into the nightmare it is today.
Timothy Burke, whose habit of turning dithering into a moral virtue reminds me of a certain presidential candidate, nevertheless has some cogent things to say about Derrida here.

"This back-door empiricism, this authoritative negation, was one component of the interior absolutism of Derrida’s critical method. The other was the cry of all or nothing at all, that if communication could not be perfected, then there was no communication, if texts could not have a correct meaning, they meant everything, anything, nothing in particular."

Probably more than anything else this trait illustrates the intellectual vacuity of pomo thinking to me: There is no sense of proportion, no acknowledgment that what is trivially "true" is not usefully true in any relevant, big-picture sense.

The other argument I hear is that Theory's occasional insights are worth the slog. I cannot understand why anyone would pick through the tangled mats of pomo in search of such tiny lice of wisdom; surely there's a better food source out there.
I can understand the frustration with epigones and acolytes, but Said is one of history's most prominent humanists. Indeed, his "Culture and Imperialism" opens up literary texts to one of their most human qualities - their authors' struggle to make timeless art out of the dehumanising forces of cultural hegemony (and the statism that supports that hegemony).

Though his acolytes are generally leftist idiots, Said's ideas are not themselves of either the left or the right. (For example, Hegel wasn't exactly a Commie, but that didn't preclude a peculiar synthesis of his work.)

"Thousands of cultural conservatives agree - Said is swell! Try him today!"

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