Tuesday, May 11, 2010

How To Deconstruct Almost Anything--My Postmodern Adventure

This is really, really good.

Here are the facts about contemporary deconstructiony, PoMo-y literary (and cultural) criticism: there are some interesting ideas there, but not many. The practitioners are generally gripped by--one might even say obsessed with--a certain orientation according to which everything is "socially constructed" or something like it, and the primary categories through which one ought to consider and analyze things are in or near the race/class/sex/gender sector of conceptual space. The theories, positions, distinctions, methods, conceptual categories etc. in this vicinity are not very reasonable and/or not very plausible and/or not very interesting and/or not very likely to be true or accurate or genuinely fundamental. (Too many disparate elements in there to be precise or grammatical...but I'm in a rush here...) The approach is not thoroughly corrupt and mistaken, but it's as big and ostentatious a failure as you're ever likely to encounter in an actual university. It's not that people who do this sort of thing aren't smart, but the approach is so corrupt that it tends to drive away better minds and undermine those it doesn't drive away. That last bit is the most important part: this approach actually makes you dumber. Better disciplines are characterized by better approaches and methods. If, say, an average person studies a more respectable discipline characterized by a better general orientation, he'll be enabled to think better thoughts and do better work than he could have done left to his own devices. The generally approaches we're discussing here, however, tend to send people on downward trajectories rather than upward ones. Average people who learn to think like this will end up saying things that are less interesting and plausible and fruitful and likely to be true than they would if they'd been left to their own devices. The thoughts of smarter-than-average people will be put on a more average trajectory. And so forth.

It's not that the study of literature and culture is inherently bullshit. It isn't. In fact, it's pretty hard. It's rather that these currently-fashionable approaches are very largely bullshit. It's as if theologians had all become Scientologists, or the majority of people in the chemistry department had suddenly taken up alchemy.

Anyway, this is all fast and loose. Read the essay on the other end of the link for something genuinely thoughtful and insightful on this issue.


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