the rape of the masters
Post #338 • August 4, 2004, 6:55 AM • 29 Comments
I just started on The Rape of the Masters by Roger Kimball. It's already a hoot.
If there were a Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Words, "theory" would long ago have been granted protected status as an Abused Noun. Academics wishing to use the word would be required to apply for a special license, submit character references from three persons never convicted of exposure to graduate-school education, and contribute to a fund for other unfortunate words. The case of "theory" is especially sad, because in it we have an example of serial abuse: first by the professors of literature, then the professors of "cultural studies" and kindred interdisciplinary redoubts, and lately by art historians.
The subtitle, "How Political Correctness Sabotages Art," put me off at first. Some conservatives brand a thing PC to save themselves the trouble of thinking about it, and I'm not going to be happy if he tars intelligent liberalism and flaccid Marxism with the same brush. He does have one advantage over the pomos, however, that indicates to me that he's on a better track than they are - he's funnier than any of them so far. He quotes one Professor Keith Moxey:
"Derrida has shown" - doesn't your heart leap up at that phrase? -Derrida has shown that language is incapable of conveying the type of meaning that is usually ascribed to historical narratives. According to Derrida, linguistic signs are arbitrary constructs whose significance is impermanent and unstable. Language functions to suggest an absent presence of meaning. That is, the meanings of linguistic representations are always illusory, since they depend on metaphysical claims that cannot be substantiated.It would make an instructive - but also a very long - parlor game to enumerate all the things that have gone wrong in these few sentences. One might begin by asking in what sense Derrida can be said to have "shown" anything about the subject at hand. "Argued," possibly; "contended," no doubt. But "shown"? That word carries with it an implication of cognitive success. ... How about the assertion that "the meanings of linguistic representations are always illusory"? Either it is false, in which case we can have done with it, or it is true - in which case it is, once again, false, because it contradicts itself. Oh dear.
So here's my challenge - somebody find me a postmodernist who can dish out the philosophy and make me giggle in the process, like Kimball here. I have long believed that wisdom culminates in laughter, and that a humorless philosophy is an oxymoron. What does the other side have to offer?