Thursday, March 2

"to say it quickly--logocentric hierarchy"

John Derbyshire's top ten reasons why postmodernist theorists should be publicly flogged (actually, he proposes a worse punishment, but I prefer to lament the decline of public flogging) were an unwelcome flashback to my brief time in graduate school:

10. Whether we take the signified or the signifiers, language has neither ideas nor sounds that existed before the linguistic system, but only conceptual and phonic differences that have issued from the system. (Ferdinand de Saussure, Course in General Linguistics, p.120.)

9. Knowledge ... creates a progressive enslavement to its instinctive violence. (Michel Foucault, Language, Counter-Memory, and Practice, p.163.)

8. No longer a coherent cognito, man now inhabits the interstices, "the vacant interstellar spaces," not as an object, still less as a subject... (Edward Said, Beginnings: Intention and Method, p. 286.)

7. Understanding belongs to the being of that which is understood. (Hans-Georg Gadamer, Truth and Method, p.xix.)

6. Post-modernism signals the death of such "metanarratives" whose secretly terroristic function is to ground and legitimate the illusion of a "universal" human history. (Terry Eagleton, Awakening from Modernity, p.194.)

5. Does truth, then, arise out of nothing? It does indeed if by nothing is meant the mere not of that which is, and if we here think of that which is as an object present in the ordinary way, and thereafter comes to light and is challenged by the existence of the work as only presumptively a true being. (Martin Heidegger, Poetry, Language, Thought, p.71.)

4. The author is therefore the ideological figure by which one marks the manner in which we fear the proliferation of meaning. (Michel Foucault, What Is An Author? p.159.)

3. It is these predicates . . . whose force of generality, generalization, and generativity find themselves liberated, grafted onto a "new" concept of writing which also corresponds to whatever always has resisted the former organization of forces, which always has constituted the remainder irreducible to the dominant force which organized the -- to say it quickly -- logocentric hierarchy. (Jacques Derrida, Margins of Philosophy, pp.329-330.)

2. Truths are illusions of which one has forgotten that this is what they are. (Friedrich Nietzsche, The Portable Nietzsche, p.47.)

1. In the naming, the things named are called into their thinging. Thinging, they unfold world, in which things abide and so are abiding ones. (Martin Heidegger, Poetry, Language, Thought, pp.199-200.

I had the great displeasure of encountering many of these statements as a literature grad student--particularly the de Saussure, Gadamer, Heidegger, Derrida, and Foucault. I also bought a volume of Eagleton on a visit to Blackwells, in Oxford, when I was 16, which I read during my young radical phase, and heard Said recite his uncivilized platitudes while I was an undergrad (of course, I lapped it up then).

I am just thankful that Derbyshire didn't dare delve into the masturbatory mental ejaculations of Deleuze or Guattari. I took a course on these two intellectual Elmyr de Horys in grad school, and my only memory is of a Japanese student who gave a rambling presentation on Japanese comic books and instruments played with the anus, which sounded (the presentation, not the instrumentalisation) as though it was, at least partially, in English. I assume said student passed the course, though I have no idea why.

For a taste of Deleuze's nonsense, consider that he characterized his approach to earlier philosophers as "buggery," that is, sneaking behind an author and producing an offspring which is recognizably his, yet also monstrous and different. [Negotiations, p.9]. Charming. Typical of his own works is the following useful statement:

That identity not be first, that it exist as a principle but as a second principle, as a principle become; that it revolve around the Different: such would be the nature of a Copernican revolution which opens up the possibility of difference having its own concept, rather than being maintained under the domination of a concept in general already understood as identical. (Difference and Repitition, p. 41)

And don't even get me started on rhizomatic principles of decalcomania or "capitalism and schizophrenia."

For the best refutation of all of this confusion, I recommend the indispensible Roger Scruton's short tract "Upon Nothing." Scruton can be difficult going (translation: a bit on the dry side--particularly his Aesthetics of Music, which I have started and put down more times than I care to admit), but this is a concise and convincing piece that requires no deep philosophical knowledge to follow.

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