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Effectiveness, not truth

Post #1316 • March 24, 2009, 8:43 AM

David Thompson deserves your attention for an interview with Dr. Stephen Hicks, whose Explaining Postmodernism I am not permitting myself to buy until I get through Theory's Empire.

Pomo is rhetoric-heavy, yes. But rhetoric is a tool, so one can ask how it's being used and why it's being used that way. The postmodernists have rejected reason, and along with it concern for evidence and consistency. What then is the purpose of rhetoric? In pomo practice, there are a couple of possibilities.

One is that rhetoric becomes a kind of subjectivist expressionism - you play around with language and hope that something interesting pops out. Derrida is often like this - I think of him as a performance artist of postmodernism. In its darker moods, this approach recalls a line from Kate Ellis, a sympathetic-to-postmodernism commentator, who noted "the characteristically apolitical pessimism of most postmodernism, by which creation is simply a form of defecation."Whatever's been processing and churning up inside you - you just let 'er rip.

The other use of rhetoric is politically-charged persuasion. Pomo rhetoric becomes long on emotionalism, ad hominem, and so on, and it becomes short on logic and evidence. But the point of such rhetoric is effectiveness, not truth.

Not long ago I had the opportunity to point out on J.T. Kirkland's blog that Theory is all tactics, which is essentially the same point. The person to whom the comment directed replied, "The truly insulting thing here is Franklin's interpretation of me as all tactics," thus turning the point into an ad hominem from which no useful discussion could ensue, not that we didn't try. I have a book on the formal fallacies handy for such occasions and I'm taking heed of John's recent advice to study up on the informal fallacies.

Thompson's interview with Ophelia Benson is also eminently worth your time.

While comments are off, feel free to e-mail me your thoughts and I'll either add them to this post or do a Your Letters post later in the week.

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