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Wednesday, February 15, 2006

The Standards of Responsible Scholarship

Posted by Daniel Green on 02/15/06 at 01:28 PM

John D. Caputo on Jacques Derrida:

. . .What everyone has more or less picked up about deconstruction, even if they have never read a word of it, is its destabilizing effect on our favorite texts and institutions. Derrida exposes a certain coefficient of uncertainty in all of them, which causes all of us, right and left, religious and non-religious, male and female, considerable discomfort. That was the side of deconstruction that grabbed all the headlines and made it in the 1970s a kind of academic succès de scandale. Without reading very closely, it all looked like a joyous nihilism. But what his critics missed (and here not reading him makes a difference!), and what never made it into the headlines, is that the destabilizing agency in his work is not a reckless relativism or an acidic skepticism but rather an affirmation, a love of what in later years he would call the “undeconstructible.” The undeconstructible is the subject matter of pure and unconditional affirmation—"viens, oui, oui” (come, yes, yes)—something unimaginable and inconceivable by the current standards of imagining and conceiving. The undeconstructible is the stuff of a desire beyond desire, of a desire to affirm that goes beyond a desire to possess, the desire of something for which we can live without reserve. His critics had never heard of this because it was not reported in Time, but they did not hesitate to denounce what they had not read, like the famous signatories of the letter to Cambridge University, who disgracefully declared Derrida’s unworthy of an honorary degree because he undermined the standards of responsible scholarship—the most elemental tenet of which would surely have been first to read what you criticize in public (a close second being, if you do read it, try to understand it). . . .


Comments

Daniel, could you say a little bit about your thoughts on this piece by Caputo?

I have no objections to Caputo; I’ve found his “Deconstruction in a Nutshell” to be useful, though I think his attempt to Christianize Derrida in “The Prayers and Tears of Jacques Derrida” is unconvincing. And this:

The undeconstructible is the stuff of a desire beyond desire, of a desire to affirm that goes beyond a desire to possess, the desire of something for which we can live without reserve.

I find sentences such as the one above very vague… What is catching your eye here?

By Amardeep on 02/15/06 at 02:52 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I’ve not read much Derrida—the essay in the 1971 structuralism volume, much of the early Husserl volume, perhaps half of Grammatology—but reading only that much has given me the distinct impression that we need not go only to his critics to find poor readers of Derrida. Many of his nominal supporters and expositors didn’t seem to have a very subtle grasp of what he was attempting.

By Bill Benzon on 02/15/06 at 02:54 PM | Permanent link to this comment

"the famous signatories of the letter to Cambridge University, who disgracefully declared Derrida’s unworthy of an honorary degree because he undermined the standards of responsible scholarship”

Though talking of responsible scholarship, I believe the reference here is in fact to a letter to the Times, not to the university.

By Jon on 02/15/06 at 03:18 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I think Bill is generally correct.  Though one needn’t really read all that much to do significantly better than the signatories listed above.  Caputo’s is certainly a very decent start, though I share Amardeep’s concerns.  His review of Politics of Friendship, entitled “Who is Derrida’s Zarathustra” may be especially helpful, for those inclined to fogbank wrestle--in between classes, paying the bills, family, administrivia, fending off the culture warriors, blogging and sweating over tenure, of course--with such a massive philosophic work.  Thanks for this post, and for the reminder of some context.

By Matt on 02/15/06 at 04:00 PM | Permanent link to this comment

The current essay also makes an effort to “Christianize” Derrida, which doesn’t do that much for me, but for my current purposes probably doesn’t matter. (Although I would agree that at the heart of Derrida’s project is an affirmation rather than a negation.) I was otherwise posting this as more or less a follow-up to the discussion from a few days ago about Derrida as bogeyman.

I believe the letter referred was a letter to Cambridge University. The Times letter was a different essay written in protest of Derrida’s obituary notice.

By Daniel Green on 02/15/06 at 05:45 PM | Permanent link to this comment

"The Times letter was a different essay written in protest of Derrida’s obituary notice.”

Um, no.  Did you follow the link I provided?  It’s to a letter dated May 6, 1992, published the following Saturday.

By Jon on 02/15/06 at 05:48 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I thought you were referring to the letter written to the New York Times.

By Daniel Green on 02/15/06 at 05:52 PM | Permanent link to this comment

"I thought you were referring to the letter written to the New York Times.”

Daniel, clicking the link would have kept you from compounding the error.  Beware: ignoring such things can get one into trouble, at least over at Bérubé’s place.

By Jon on 02/15/06 at 08:24 PM | Permanent link to this comment

20-30 pages of Of Grammatology should be sufficient to have any bright empiricist or rationalist signing the petition (And WVO Quine’s name made it onto that list, which may be itself sufficient grounds for some to align with the anti-pomo crowd). As dadaist mind-phucking OK, decon. is somewhat understandable and interesting (tho I think Andre Breton quite more effective and amusing) as say some reasoned, useful or insightful analysis of CS Peirce, speech acts, Nietzsche or even marxist anthropology, Ich denke nicht. Additionally, Searle’s rebuttals of Derrida and decon., however unappealing with the hipsters, are quite convincing. But Derrida, like Sartre and earlier Freud and Marx (tho in some sense marxian empiricism quite different from 20th cent. systems) has become part of the lit. crit. dogma (i.e. “responsible MLA-style scholarship”; one has to have attained a certain prominence to even be allowed to critique it. Simply saying something like “a medical text depends on reference to non-linguistic facts” is simply not considered.

By jake on 02/15/06 at 09:19 PM | Permanent link to this comment

There was nothing disgraceful about what those twenty or so analytic philosophers did. The philosophy department didn’t want to award Derrida a degree, but the liteature department did. The fact that the liteature department got to make the decision to give an honorary philosophy degree, over and above the protests of the philosophy department, now that’s the real disgrace.

By on 02/16/06 at 12:04 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Derrida’s honorary degree--like every other honorary degree--was in the gift not of any one department, but of the university itself.  The only exceptional aspect to Derrida’s degree was that the fellows of the university as a whole actually voted for the degree, thanks to initial opposition.

One could therefore quite feasibly suggest that in Derrida’s case the process was unusually democratic.

By Jon on 02/16/06 at 12:51 AM | Permanent link to this comment

An honorary degree is ( or should) only be awarded for exemplary work in a particular discipline and no group is better qualified to decide what counts as exemplary work in philosophy than philosophers.

Personally I’ve always been more than a little suspicious of honorary degrees in general. They are very often given out for a variety of ulterior motives that have little to do with scholarship. If they have to be given out at all I think it should by the experts.

By on 02/16/06 at 04:33 AM | Permanent link to this comment

One doesn’t have to be an oxbridge analytical philosopher to object to the Derrida fetish of many Lit. departments. Verification, proof, falsifiability, data-based empiricism are not the sole province of the anal. phil. or of academia; a progressive politics depends on a type of objectivity (responsible scholarship), making use of stats., economic or biochemical data which postmod. in effect undermines.  As with various types of literary dogma (marxism, freud, if not aristo-catholicism) postmod again keeps literature apart, distances it from specific contexts. And obviously there were some orthodox marxists who objected to Derrida as well; whatever sort of horrible events developed from Marxist economic and political theory, there was quite a empirical and sociological Marx, and his theories are at least in principle refutable or modifiable, tho’ most in the literary business are not so concerned with his views on the “rentier” issue or surplus value, but with marxism as an invocation.  The empirical Marx has some place in economic history; the marxist ideologue, like postmod ideologues is closer to a priest.

By jake on 02/16/06 at 12:11 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I really wouldn’t bother, Jon.  It would seem the ToS has found a kind of solidarity at last, perhaps even in full and uncontested agreement with itself.

By Matt on 02/16/06 at 01:01 PM | Permanent link to this comment

"Personally I’ve always been more than a little suspicious of honorary degrees in general.”

Well, that, of course, is quite another issue.

By Jon on 02/16/06 at 03:35 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Derrida actively opposed Soviet domination of Eastern Europe and was actually thrown in jail in Czechoslovakia during a visit there, due to seditious speech.  He also helped in the international propaganda effort against Apartheid in South Africa.  Both of those activities seem to me to be more meaningful than condemning crimes that occurred before he was born.

There’s only a limited amount that an academic qua academic can do directly in politics, and I think that Derrida was certainly not lax in his political involvement.  And far from being a commie, he was basically a classic liberal (although certainly cognizant of the limits of liberalism).

In short, perhaps it’s unwise to draw broad conclusions from a 30 page exerpt of a person’s book.

I will also note that Caputo is saying basically what I said about Derrida in my guest post, but no one would believe me.

By Adam Kotsko on 02/16/06 at 04:50 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Adam: I believed you.

By Daniel Green on 02/16/06 at 07:15 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Dan, You did.  Thank you.  Forgive me for forgetting.

By Adam Kotsko on 02/16/06 at 07:17 PM | Permanent link to this comment

responsible scholarship: i.e. TRUE statements about observable facts; or necessary deductions and arguments based on clearly stated axioms.

guess that would close down 100s of lit. departments, and a good deal of psychology, social sciences, phil., the arts, etc., and free up millions of dollars for some dread gear

By Pavlov's Rat on 02/16/06 at 10:22 PM | Permanent link to this comment

While I have not read much Derrida, what struck me in this passage was Derrida’s late search for something “undeconstructible” Derrida points out that “The absence of the transcendental signified extends the domain and the interplay of signification ad infinitum” in ”Structure, Sign, and Play” Derrida’s “new humanism” hinted at in that same paper is never really outlined. Derrida’s biography (Adam points out many examples)shows a commitment to many causes. In a way it betrays his philosophy because he indeed has his own “center” in the things he believes are worth fighting for. Perhaps Derrida is correct and a philosophical argument can be made to prove that a centered structure does not exist. The reply to this fact, could be, simply “so what?” and the follow up question could be “what’s next?” The fork in the road, it seems to me, is to either deny Derrida’s thought all together or agree initially with his precepts and, most importantly, move on to prevent a nihilistic stall. Instead of a hastening a terrifying “rupture”, perhaps Derrida’s work could point us toward a sort of noble nihilism.  This would be an equally skeptical philosophy that acknowledges the apparent lack of a transcendent signified and, out of pure utility, proceeds to manufacture not a unified “Center” but loosely unified “centers”.  This would be a sort of self-aware philosophy that acknowledges nihilism and embraces a sort of “best we can do for the time- being” pseudo-center. This is the way I see him creating something that could be called undeconstructible from within his system.

By Christopher Hellstrom on 02/17/06 at 02:43 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Christopher, So basically, you’d want him to embrace a cautious version of Enlightenment liberalism.

By Adam Kotsko on 02/17/06 at 09:55 AM | Permanent link to this comment

I’m not sure how the subject got to Derrida’s politics per se.  Wasn’t the ToS the only one bringing them up?  At any rate, his politics in the all-encompassing, complete grasp of his ouevre that I’ve read so far (i.e. all but the last 20 pages or so of _Specters of Marx_) seem not very unusual—basically, liberal.  His suggested New International, for instance, is seemingly based on extension of international law according to principles of justice, and as far as I can tell is not that different from any international NGO’s attempt to bring the structures that supposedly restrain the industrialized state internally to the interstate order.

If I were a Marxist, I’d be peeved at the book, sure.  It’s, as far as my inexperienced judgement can tell, a great literary reading of Marx, but it wholly fails to consider his economics or his politics.  I didn’t think that it was all that destabilizing in terms of language; I’m finding the book easier and more interesting to read than the average work of analytic philosophy (though, before the goon squad chips in, yes I’m sure that I missed many things).  But it trivializes Marx and Marxism to consider one as primarily a literary source and the other as primarily a narrative.  Derrida says that he’s not doing this, but what he actually *does* differs. 

And a lot of the politics in the book is simple appropriation.  Derrida goes through a list of ten major problems (in imitation of the ten ghosts in _The German Ideology_?) but doesn’t actually say anything about them.  He refers to the problems of the “animal world” which, he says, he has no time to describe, and I was left thinking, does he mean factory farming, conservation biology, or what?  “What” is precisely the answer, I think; people have spent a lot of time and effort establishing the seriousness of these concerns, using resources of science and organization, and by an off-hand reference Derrida wants to place his work within this context without actually sharing in the work of creating it.  That’s not solidarity, that’s the same kind of maneuver that annoys me about a lot of literary “politics”.

By on 02/17/06 at 10:46 AM | Permanent link to this comment

"This would be a sort of self-aware philosophy that acknowledges nihilism and embraces a sort of “best we can do for the time- being” pseudo-center.

Or in other words, a sort of Deweyan/Rortyan pragmatism.

By Dan Green on 02/17/06 at 11:00 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Dan: Or in other words, a sort of Deweyan/Rortyan pragmatism.

Adam: Christopher, So basically, you’d want him to embrace a cautious version of Enlightenment liberalism.

If there is no set transcendental signified to Derrida, either of these approaches would be a possible response to nihilism. But Caputo’s idea that the acorn of Derrida’s nihilism leads to the oaktree of religion seems a a stretch. Like I said I have not read Derrida’s later writings or a biography but I was not under the impression that he had an Eliot-like late conversion. It seems to me pramatism or enlightened liberalism does not have to require the “center” Derrida wants to avoid if it is embraced as a utilitarian concept so we can keep on keeping on. Religion on the other hand is too capital “T” truth for Derrida,I would guess. But thank you for your patience with my admitted weak grasp of the full picture.

By Christopher Hellstrom on 02/17/06 at 12:54 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Perhaps it’s not entirely correct to identify religion with “capital-T truth.” Perhaps Caputo might be looking for a way to continue to practice Christianity (for example) now that we no longer have the luxury of leaning on a “real God out there” or on “religious experience.”

I wish it was more possible to discuss religion in the US without people getting scared.

By Adam Kotsko on 02/17/06 at 01:22 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Good point, Adam. I was looking at it from Derrida’s perspective. Though I am not religious,I have no problem discussing religion in an open way because I do not have the constraints of a system weighing me down. I think Derrida did.

By Christopher Hellstrom on 02/17/06 at 01:42 PM | Permanent link to this comment

He refers to the problems of the “animal world” which, he says, he has no time to describe, and I was left thinking, does he mean factory farming, conservation biology, or what?  “What” is precisely the answer, I think; people have spent a lot of time and effort establishing the seriousness of these concerns, using resources of science and organization, and by an off-hand reference Derrida wants to place his work within this context without actually sharing in the work of creating it.  That’s not solidarity, that’s the same kind of maneuver that annoys me about a lot of literary “politics”.

Hi Rich.  You’ll be delighted to know that Derrida takes up a far more strictly philosophical reflection on the question of ‘the animal’ elsewhere.  Um, I don’t think he ever tries to pass himself off as either a factory farmer or a conservation biologist, much less an “expert” on these subjects.  Good point though.

By The Goon Squad? on 02/17/06 at 01:55 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Why not actually discuss some of Derrida’s sort of semiotic-anthropological claims--For one, there is his reading of Sassaure and Peirce, and basically the discussion of writing as sort of entity which reinforces logocentrism, and “Being as Presence.” (Inferring any sort of immaterial or religious views from Of Gramm. seems quite verboten). The view of language as logocentric and platonic itself is far from settled. (At the very least, the early positivists--including CS Peirce himself really-- were conscious of many of the metaphysical traces remaining in language and there was impulse to rid the language of essences and platonism.

Regarding Peirce, JD seems to agree with him that the signified always is itself a sign; The represented is always already a representamen. . This is, I believe, an empirical claim about the brain, and not simply semiotic or metaphysical.  Brain scientists search for the semantic/linguistic module and associated neurology, and the relation of semantics to perception. And my reading of Peirce leads me to believe that he does not state that the sign has no connection to the ding an sich; in fact, he’s quite close to a sort of Kantian empirical view (really a scientific view) that thought depends on an object; the understanding forms its conceptions on perception of physical objects, or from a priori math/logico entities. The initial sign/inscription may generate signs, but there was a cause; there was a sensation.  Is JD himself then some sort of nominalist or positivist? (note the insistence on the arbitrariness of the sign)? Perhaps, but instead of focusing on what state of affairs lead to the creation of the sign, the actual word or sentence (tho he avoids discussing statements of sentences for that would involve a more logical disucssion), he raises phenomenology, Hegel, etc. and the festival of obscurity commences. 

That’s not to say that Of Gramm. is not a worthwhile read to some extent (at least from an anthropological view), but JD does offer claims which are themselves surely refutable and even verifiable (or not), and the entire issue of “word (spoken or written) to object” is really skirted--but then most logicians lack the cognitive skills to address that issue either.

By pavlov's rat on 02/17/06 at 02:02 PM | Permanent link to this comment

He’s not using the word philosophically in this case, Matt, although I did misquote him when I referred to the phrase from memory as the “animal world”.  In the Peggy Kamuf translation in paperback, it’s at pg. 85, just after the list of ten non-metaphorical world problems and description of the New International: “let us never neglect this obvious macroscopic fact, made up of innumerable singular sites of suffering: no degree of progress allows one to ignore that never before, in absolute figures, never have so many men, women, and children been subjugated, starved, or exterminated from the earth.  (And provisionally, but with regret, we must leave aside here the nevertheless indissociable question of what is becoming of so-called ‘animal’ life, the life and existence of ‘animals’ in this history.  This question has always been a serious one, but it will become massively unavoidable.)”

I’ve already pointed out that Derrida’s “obvious macroscopic fact” is probably incorrect, but in any case misleading, since the vast increase in world population means that there are more people being X for nearly any value of X than ever before.  But, as you say, he’s not an expert in factory farming or conservation biology, nor has he specified really what he’s talking about, though the allusive force of his statement depends on the public strategy produced by the work of activists in those two areas among others.

By on 02/17/06 at 03:17 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Okay Rich, fair enough.  I doubt he would dispute the potentially mislreading allusive force of the statement.  He did that lots, and perhaps should have done it less, if the result is immediate dismissal of his approach entire.  I also suspect, though, that he simply didn’t wish to appeal to every sort of reader.  And in any case the truth-content of his parenthetical, reluctant aside is hardly diminished by such reference.  Especially when one considers that he had in fact devoted, and especially since then, serious attention to the theme of animality (not public strategy--remember, he’s a philosopher).

That he puts the word ‘animal’ in inverted commas does rather signal toward the larger philosophic questions, for instance:  what is this ‘animal life’ exactly, of which the experts indeed often speak; do we know what we mean by this yet?  (Look at Agamben’s work, just for example.)

Do you really suppose that Derrida would argue with you about the existence of more people on the planet than ever before?  And while it may detract slightly from the overall seductive appeal of the trajectory of his thought, it hardly contradicts his point.  There really are more people suffering than ever before, and at a time when “victory” is nevertheless being declared over suffering in general, and being declared in a unique, and unprecedentedly hegemonic manner.  The fact that there are more people in general does not detract from the irreducible existences of these individuals who are suffering.

Hope this is helpful.

By Matt on 02/17/06 at 03:53 PM | Permanent link to this comment

oops, didn’t intend to write “mislreading”

speaking of portmanteaus..

By Matt on 02/17/06 at 03:59 PM | Permanent link to this comment

A Peter Singer would be a far better reference in regards to animal suffering, exploitation and associated environmental issues. Maybe instead of another chat of say the Crying of Lot 49 and “differance,” the specifics of the cattle industry. Or oil.  Yet that would verge on normative ethics which postmod seems concerned with (the number of people suffering, exterminated, etc.) but yet unable to address or define. That is to say, JD brings up empirical issues regarding suffering, exploitation, but his arsenal of semiotics, anthropology, Hegel-Marx, etc. is far from being up to the task of resolving the economic or biological issues. But lit. people will continue to assume there is some magical (or perhaps theistic) semiotic or maybe poetic ju ju that will result in some major ethical transformation. Even Mao had answer to that: political power flows out the barrel of a gun.

By x on 02/17/06 at 04:04 PM | Permanent link to this comment

....and Derrida might be read, along with most lit. criticism and continental philosophy, as a type of cultural extortion; in effect, the lit. unionists refuse to acknowledge that literature--the study of, the teaching, the production--is itself part of the regime, and that doesn’t imply buying into the various forms of extortion that marxism developed into either. Indeed the criticism may be of a higher degree of exploitation and a sort of intellectual pandering than the few authentic literary texts; tho’ generally the writing of literature, apart from that of a few bohemian types (that’s not say those products are themselves valuable either), is done with profit and success in mind.

English departments are a version of soft-bodied Teamsters, if not a type of vichy-like parasitical institution. There may not be more bourgeois types of humans than English professors and lit. grad students, and in some sense deconstructionism has provided them with a large body of dogma and quasi-knowledge that will do in place of well, canonical texts. (but could there may be some grounds for a sort of amoral, anti-class revision of marx where peasants, proles and bourgeois, corporate capitialists, etc. are all sort of viewed as opportunists, and the dialectic--hyper-dialectic--is more human/nature than class oriented). Even figures such as Dawkins and Dennett and the socio-biologists, empiricists of all types, are closer to real “party material” than the most ultra-left literary type.

By pavlov's rat on 02/17/06 at 08:38 PM | Permanent link to this comment

"Even figures such as Dawkins and Dennett and the socio-biologists, empiricists of all types, are closer to real “party material” than the most ultra-left literary type.”

I love it, you don’t even need to really attack their views, just their politics. Never mind that Dawkins and Dennett are left wing or that Chomsky shares their empricism and their belief in human nature, no, anyone who doesn’t share your narrow conception of the left is excluded.

By on 02/18/06 at 02:28 AM | Permanent link to this comment

It’s just a really bad argument, Matt.  Once you agree that numbers of suffering people are important, then the important question is whether the proportion of people suffering can be reduced.  If Fukuyama were right (and I don’t think he is) then any attempt to change societal structures would lead to even greater absolute numbers of people suffering then those suffering now.  Victory is being declared (again, incorrectly in my opinion) not over suffering, but over every alternate method of organizing society.

I bring this up not to harp on one paragraph out of the book, but because it’s absolutely fundamental to the entire discussion, encompassing multiple philosophers.  Liberalism doesn’t promise a utopia, it only promises the best available setup.  The retort “but large absolute numbers of people are still suffering” puts you down the road to the same old Zizekian stance, where the important thing is the liberatory promise, no matter if it will always be an empty promise.  I personally feel more scorn for this “let them eat straw” attitude than even for Fukuyaman complacency, because at least under complacency, the proportion of those suffering is slowly decreasing.

As for the animal remark, you write “in any case the truth-content of his parenthetical, reluctant aside is hardly diminished by such reference.” But his remark has no truth content; it doesn’t really say anything.  It says that there is a serious question of what is becoming of so-called ‘animal’ life.  That statement has been artfully neutered, I think is the best description, and depends for its sense of meaningfulness on the work of other people who do not have the luxury of the air quotes and the air of mystery.  Again, I bring this up because it is fundamental to the general complaint about literary politics: a lot of it is appropriation.

By on 02/18/06 at 09:52 AM | Permanent link to this comment

a lot of it is appropriation.

....or just generalism, syncretism. We see it as a virtue. You and John, for different reasons, see it as a vice. Oh well. I worry about a world in which there are nothing but experts, completely atomized. But I guess you’re OK on your own.

(Just thought I’d mention: yr beloved liberalism is an invented system as well, codified by philosophers, philosophically minded politicians. Or am I wrong? Is it simply a spontaneous product of natural law?)

But more to the point. Can you explain precisely why you don’t agree with Fukuyama? You keep saying that he’s wrong - but you seem to agree with him on all the essential points.

By on 02/18/06 at 11:32 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Since I think that available political forms are limited by economics, naturally I think that Fukuyama is wrong—he seems to think that economic conditions are never going to change.  But even if economic conditions never changed, he also seems to think that no significant development in economic or political ideas is possible under current conditions.  Since I believe that progress in the sciences is possible, and since the sciences affect economics and politics, I think that’s a bad bet.  (Actually, even without that, I think that the idea that no one is ever going to come up with a better way to set up society within current conditions is a bad bet.) I don’t pretend to know how things are going to develop, but I don’t think that political stasis is likely.

And there’s a big difference between appropriation and mere generalism or syncretism.  To re-use the current example, you could talk to a non-expert animal rights activist or environmentalist and get some idea of concrete outcomes desired and a more or less coherent policy view.  When Derrida appropriates this language for something that really may be quite different, he’s not saying “I support animal rights activism or environmentalism”.  He’s appropriating work.

By on 02/18/06 at 12:32 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Never mind that Dawkins and Dennett are left wing

Read it more closely and you might note I was empathizing with those views to some extent-- certainly preferable over the hegelian anthropology that is postmod; yet I don’t think many lit. people are willing to confront the consequences of naturalism or biological determinism.  Isn’t postmod in ways a reaction again both the material dialectic as well as scientific materialism or behaviorism? The Dawkins/Dennett school, and Darwin as a whole, is viewed as “vulgar” materialism by many lit. types, I believe. There are some grounds for skepticism towards a pure naturalism, perhaps (Kant’s 3rd antinomy provides a hint, if not Descartes maybe), but the postmods don’t really address those arguments in any systematic fashion. Postmod is sort of like Sartre recapitulated; a way of acting, tres chic, regardless of its truth status.  JD seems to completely avoid discussing issues in any sort of tradtional manner: no ontology, no epistemology, nor any real marxist meat and potatoes. Words and concepts are bandied about but never really defined: “appropriation”. I doubt one could provide a clear and distinct meaning for that.  Who could, after reading some of the bizarre conceptual sludge of Glas, conclusively say he was not mad, or maybe 3/4 charlatan?

Additionally, however trite falsification or verification in general may seem to lit. or continentalist people, there is an issue there relevant to postmodernism. How, if not by some sort of inductive or analytical method of proof may concepts or theories or political strategies be confirmed? What would count as a refutation of works of literary criticism? Most lit. crit is used more like say Acquinas’ Summa.

The dogma issue is overlooked by the postmod left, as it was by many marxists who never could believe that the surplus value theory was often not a correct description of economic reality. At least the evo.psych. crow, like Darwinists, are in principle anti-dogmatic.

By pavlov's rat on 02/18/06 at 02:00 PM | Permanent link to this comment

CR, you think I think intellectual generalism is a vice? Why do you think I think this? I am at a loss. But if you are going to make that charge, shouldn’t you make sure to tag on a charge of rank hypocrisy, since obviously I AM sort of a generalist. Or is there some other John you are talking to in this thread (I don’t see one)?

It’s likewise mysterious that you think Rich is opposed to intellectual generalism. And that you think he’s Francis Fukayama (of all the silly kids to mistake him for). But Rich has already addressed that one, so we’ll let it pass.

By John Holbo on 02/19/06 at 11:37 AM | Permanent link to this comment

It’s bad form to show up in comments just to grouse about someone else in comments, ignoring the actual post. Thanks for the link, Daniel. It was interesting. Addressing Bill’s point above: Derrida has notoriously unreliable followers, yes. (There should be a special name for philosophers who wreck their disciples: Wittgenstein would qualify.) I would be curious what commentators - not Culler, not Johnson, not Spivak, not Norris - are considered to be sensitive and reliable. I have gotten the most sense out of Bennington/Derrida, the book that’s just entitled “Jacques Derrida”. It contains the “Circumfession” Caputo mentions (so perhaps I have now formally discharged my duty to talk about the post itself.)

By John Holbo on 02/19/06 at 11:48 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Derrida is the fave of the ensconced belle-lettrist or literary cleric, who doesn’t have to deal with economics, with tangibles, with 405 traffic jams on a daily basis. Adorno and the Frankfurt crowd’s writing is more applicable and verifiable; and there is lot less of the “philosophy as fashion show” aspect of the french postmods.  The Culture Industry, tho overgeneralized, moves in a way that JD never did--even if we disagree with it......

By x on 02/19/06 at 12:22 PM | Permanent link to this comment

John,
How about Rodolphe Gasché? He’s explicitly against the literary studies reading of Derrida (e.g., Johnson and Culler—both of whom I like actually, but that’s another post). Anyway, if you’ll forgive me for being a little ham-fisted here, Gasché thinks that the only way to read Derrida is as an inheritor of Hegel’s ideas about speculation and dialectics. Where Hegel wants everything to reflect in a perfect synthesis, Derrida questions the possibility of such reflection.

It’s a more complicated and interesting reading than I’m making it out to be here, but Gasché definitely knows his stuff. “The Tain of the Mirror” would be the place to start.

By on 02/19/06 at 12:29 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Roger, I haven’t read Gasche. I agree that Culler should be given more credit for getting Derrida right. I think he tends to function a bit as a scapegoat in these discussions. Implausible things that Derrida really does appear to be saying get foisted off on Culler. But that is, indeed, another post. (I was just writing Culler off in preemptive anticipation of him not finding defenders. But now you’ve defended him. So I was wrong.) I entirely agree that Derrida needs to be read as Hegel, Hegel and more Hegel. (One of my peeves about him is that he tries to argue with folks like Searle like they were Hegel.)

Anyway, I should look at Gasche I guess.

By John Holbo on 02/19/06 at 12:46 PM | Permanent link to this comment

What do you have against Norris? Let’s be specific here.

By Jonathan on 02/19/06 at 12:57 PM | Permanent link to this comment

John, have you read Samuel Wheeler’s book (Deconstruction as Analytic Philosophy?)?  Some interesting comparisons to Wittgenstein there (sample article title: “Wittgenstein as Conservative Deconstructor"), as well as to Davidson.  And of course you know Martin Stone, who contributed to the Lit Witt event.  For this Derrida-non-understander, the most helpful thing I’ve ever seen was Stone’s contribution to Crary and Read, The New Wittgenstein, “Wittgenstein on Deconstruction”.

By Dave M on 02/19/06 at 01:12 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I agree with Jonathan. I find Norris perfectly reliable.

By Dan Green on 02/19/06 at 01:30 PM | Permanent link to this comment

This is very funny. I’m so used to people telling me that Culler and Norris are unreliable, if I try to rely on them, that I was just preemptively knocking them down so I wouldn’t have to go through the whole ‘of course you can’t believe a word of Culler and Norris’ song and dance. Honestly, I think that Culler and Norris both have their solid virtues as Derrida readers. Norris, in particular, seems to take the view that Derrida has more or less left him behind; that is, Norris only likes the early stuff, and only thinks that his readings of Derrida fit the early stuff. If you read the early stuff in light of the late stuff, Norris will look like he’s missing the religious turn coming. But Norris just doesn’t approve of the religious turn. (If memory serves. It’s been a couple years since I read Norris.)

By John Holbo on 02/19/06 at 01:37 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I haven’t read the Wheeler, Dave. Maybe I should.

By John Holbo on 02/19/06 at 01:39 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Aand similiar to Hegel (and really to Kant, whose idealism and misapplied antinomies and dialectic may have generated all the subsequent mistakes of continental phil.), Derrida does everything he can to avoid naturalism, to avoid facts, economics, nature, empiricism. (But most lit. people are similiarly drawn to anti-naturalism and to a sort of lightweight idealism) Searle’s inistence on external realism and brain instead of mind cures a lot of that, but he’s too square and prosaic for the cafe-artistes......

By x on 02/19/06 at 02:05 PM | Permanent link to this comment

fwiw, I don’t disagree with anything Caputo says here, and Derrida still doesn’t seem like much of an enlightenment type to me. But then joyous nihilism and unconditional affirmation don’t seem that different to me either.

By on 02/19/06 at 02:29 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Aren’t there any lit. boys around who ever considered what, say, Nietzsche (or Pound) would have had to say about Derrida or the rest of the parisian-leftists tossing his name around? Fools rush in, etc., (but better fool than an angel): Nietzsche would have, I believe, most likely ranked postmod. next to Kant and Hegel’s massive and futile ghost architectures, and even more suspect due to the socialist and anthropological underpinnings. More of the real world (naturalism) become illusion, and however detailed a system (or anti-system) yet a manifestation of slave morality, of resentment (regardless if Derrida was aware of those concepts or not).

By phritz on 02/19/06 at 02:58 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I’m with John on this one: the admission that one’s read Norris or Culler typically entails a strong suspicion that one hasn’t read Derrida.  As for who thinks Norris and Culler poor readers of Derrida, I can say, for one, that Derrida did.  He claimed, playfully, to find Derrida for Beginners a far better introduction to his thought.  That said, John’s correct in identifying the early/late distinction, esp. since it’s early Derrida which frequents literature departments more than late.  Since that’s what Culler and Norris focus on, anyone who relies on them leaves themselves open to the charge that they haven’t engaged with his recent thought, even though Derrida’s most recent work was of limited use for literary scholars.  (Outside of being, as he called them, “repetitions of the process,” i.e. object lessons in deconstructive method.)

By Scott Eric Kaufman on 02/19/06 at 03:06 PM | Permanent link to this comment

.....there may be a way to salvage a rationalist Derrida from Of Grammatology, perhaps, and not via belle-lettrist popularizers, or Hegelianism per se, but via CS Peirce and his sort of pragmatic idealism (Peirce more drawn to idealism via Bishop Berkeley than to Kant), and CSP was himself not completely hostile to Hegel. But most aesthetes are probably not to keen on Rhematic Indexical Legisigns and the rest of Peirce’s rather obtuse logic meets semiotics

By x on 02/19/06 at 05:29 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Rich:  at least under complacency, the proportion of those suffering is slowly decreasing

Maybe yes, and maybe no.  Mightn’t that depend on any number of factors, including how one speculates for the long-term future, and whether one considers localized contexts where entire generations are increasingly dependent upon Monsanto, or that IMF loan for that slave-labor job tearing down their local rainforest and their country’s future in order to pad McDonald’s bottom line, etc?  Of course the Groovy Street Theatre of 1999 and its subsequent repetitions encouraged the WTO to start talking more about poverty reduction and sustainability, but the reality remains quite another matter...and so on.  But I’ll grant you, that in a world where the callous numerics of a head count appropriately adjusted for inflation are all that matter, you and Fukuyama may have a point.  Derrida is, however, primarily interested in certain specific questions of context, ones that have to do, naturally enough, with language and philosophy.  The fragility of an increasingly unbalanced economic system, the facts you are no doubt well-aware, not to mention the impact of the neocon’s latest leninist geopolitical extravaganzas...well to make a long story short, your “at least,” considered from any variety of angles other than simple proportions, begins to look much less than rosy.  If you’re really interested in Derrida’s thoughts on these issues, you’d be wise to consult much of his later work (he wrote a few things after Specters after all)--in particular the interview with Borradori in Philosophy in a Time of Terror, where he further articulates what some might call a rather obviously pro-Enlightenment position (though his reading of Kant, much like that of Kierkegaard, is perhaps not likely to immediately satisfy many Xtians), and in pages right next to Habermas (and about which I’ve written elsewhere).

Scott:  even though Derrida’s most recent work was of limited use for literary scholars.  (Outside of being, as he called them, “repetitions of the process,” i.e. object lessons in deconstructive method.)

I can think of several exceptions to this remark, not least of all because--to take only the last part--Derrida would <em>never</em> have been satisfied with a description such as “object lessons in” a “method.” But if you’ve read even a little late Derrida on the subject of “deconstruction"--a word he <em>never</em> accepted without enormous qualification, much less as scientific method--you would know this, so maybe you’re just being sort of flippantly, banally cute. 

(Norris himself admits, as I remember--in the notes at the end of his first book--that he’d only just begun to know enough to realize how wrong, and where wrong, he was.  An acknowledgement that marks rather strongly in his favor, imho.  But then there are indeed better critics too.)

By Matt on 02/20/06 at 12:09 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Hmm..the reader can possibly guess where that comment was going anyway...I’ll give you a clue, that it ended in the words, “banally cute.”

By Matt on 02/20/06 at 12:13 AM | Permanent link to this comment

"Adorno and the Frankfurt crowd’s writing is more applicable and verifiable”

I recently read a philosopher say something very wise, it’s one of the great vice of our times that we construe the worthwhile is crassly ultilitrain terms. I might not like Derrida but the idea that the problem is that he is not poltically or socially or economically applicable enough is just wrong.

By on 02/20/06 at 01:22 AM | Permanent link to this comment

nor utrillitarian, perhaps?

By Matt on 02/20/06 at 01:44 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Hey, we both got the spelling wrong.

What’s wrong with X is that he has a very narrow conception of good. In another thread he attacked philosophy because it doesn’t get anything done, I could respond to this by pointing out that it actually does get some things done(1) but that’s really beside the point. Why should we think that knowledge and the search for knowledge, one of the things that makes us humans, isn’t itself intrinsically good? Push Pin doesn’t equal poetry.

(1)
http://people.brandeis.edu/~teuber/phillsat.html

By on 02/20/06 at 03:56 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Matt: “But I’ll grant you, that in a world where the callous numerics of a head count appropriately adjusted for inflation are all that matter, you and Fukuyama may have a point.”

Matt, this nearly inspired me to dash off lyrics to be sung to Mary Poppins’ “Jolly Holiday” (Every Group Goes Better With Puchalsky, perhaps).  If you’re going to assign me to a group for purposes of easier polemical targetting, I’ve already been given the roles of gang leader, Archbishop, and even one of a Holy Trinity just within the last couple of months.  And all I get with Fukuyama is a point?  Don’t I at least get to be part of an Axis or something?

At any rate, I never said that “the callous numerics of a head count appropriately adjusted for inflation are all that matter”.  What I did say was that they matter more than the questionable joys of a commitment to a pseudo-religious promise that is accompanied by indifference to the probability of even more suffering than now exists.  Without attacking the possibility of rearrangement of society per se, it’s incumbent on those supporting it to have at least some idea of what they’re doing, right?  That implies at least some engagement with economics.  Marx filled this role for the left for some time.  But the problem with Marx now is not merely one of language, it’s that his economics is in many respects now known to be incorrect.  Building on bad economics is intellectually shabby.  Replacing it with a concern with language—well, isn’t that inherently magical, in the sense of a belief that an incantation (in modern terms, perhaps, a psychoanalysis) can change the world?  Or perhaps just “I have a hammer, therefore the problem is a nail.”

The last paragraph is more about Zizek than about Derrida.  I am fully aware that by reading Derrida primarily because I’m interested in politics, I am not his ideal reader.  Still, the one particular lecture-series-copied-into-a-book by Derrida that I have now nearly finished goes into the question of “Whither Marxism?” from a completely unhelpful direction, for my purposes.

By on 02/20/06 at 11:45 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Applicability and a Peirce -Wm. James utility criterion of truth are not irrelevant, even to progressives. The viability of analytical phil. (with its roots in pragmatism) is due to its relation to computing/programming issues, to operations, to problems of induction, phil. of science, etc.

At some point writers, academics, scientists or laypeople or whoever must agree on some type of method of reaching truth. If you simply reject induction or logic or argument or the scientific method as a whole in favor of, what, aesthetics, Heideggerian “revealing,” poesy, theology, etc. then really there is not much point in discussing anything. Most postmods at some point made that leap of faith (unfaith?) into the anti-rational. They often claim that traditional criteria of utility, or efficaciousness in Quine’s terms, is some type of oppression --"hegemony" (without actually proving that this is the case) and so the discussion halts. But that’s how the belle-lettrist left operates. It’s not really about truth or argument; it’s a pose, like Sartre yammering on for hours about Hegel and Marx at Les Deux Magots or whatever.

Utility is not prima facie a bad thing, and not unrelated to Praxis in orthodox Marxist sense (Marx an empricist, remember--check out the opening of the German Ideology--and utility an essential aspect of empiricism).

There’s also the possibility that Derrida is, in fact, wrong--as in his comments regarding language, speech, the arbitrariness of the sign, the supposed unlimited signification. If one bothers to read some of Of Gram. (the more coherent parts at least) one notes there are basic issues regarding denotation and connotation that he overlooks or obscures.  Words and sentences leading to an unlimited play of connotative meanings or suggestions, OK, that’s understandable, if a bit trivial; an unlimited play of denotations, nyet, nicht, nein.

By x on 02/20/06 at 11:52 AM | Permanent link to this comment

A lot of Derrida’s biggest fans think Spectres of Marx sucks.  The way this is normally put is that the book is certainly interesting, but as far as a book about Marx, you could do better.

In my opinion, his best political stuff tends to be in dialogue with Kant.  Those works were what convinced Habermas, the self-appointed spokesman for Enlightenment rationality, that Derrida was in the Enlightenment tradition (to respond belatedly to Sean’s comment that he doesn’t find Derrida to be especially Enlightenment-oriented).

By Adam Kotsko on 02/20/06 at 11:55 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Heidegger’s critique of technology sort of indicates a lot of the misguided thinking of postmod.(if not the inspiration at least a precursor to Derrida and Co.). “Technology is not the essence of technology.” Technology is for Heidegger pure instrumentalism; a means to an end--it thus has no sort of grounding in some worked out teleology--we could not say it is a type of Good or conducive to the Good (but what type of activity is?)

This is understandable to some extent, but Heidegger makes the Kantian error (the deonontological fallacy really) of trying to determine the goodness or truth of something by intention and intuition instead of by consequences. Technology may result in bad things; it may lead to good things. H. failed to realize that teleology is as much a matter of empiricism and fact-finding, perhaps even falsification, as it is philosophy; besides who assembles a teleos? Humans do; not “Dasein”, or Platonic forms or impersonal historical forces (there is no objective force “Enlightenment Rationality”; Voltaire didn’t cause WWI).

One could in principle hate the technocracy,as Hei. and Derrida evidently do. But presenting that detestation as philosophy or objective truth is another matter. UNIX might not be so poetic; but it might be quite useful, even for subversives.

By x on 02/20/06 at 01:27 PM | Permanent link to this comment

the questionable joys of a commitment to a pseudo-religious promise that is accompanied by indifference to the probability of even more suffering than now exists.

Just for the record, Rich, in the post-revolutionary society, based loosely on Stalin’s notorious five year plan, Derrida would also like to take away your pony.  Oh, the precious poetry that leaps to mind!

By Matt on 02/20/06 at 02:06 PM | Permanent link to this comment

You see, Matt, supporting something without being able to say why it would actually be better is a really a rather intellectually flimsy position.  That’s why the answer is always something of the sort that you write above.  Better to light up a single Acolyte than curse the darkness, right?

By on 02/20/06 at 02:50 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Rich, I really do sense this conversation is degrading, but just out of curiosity what is it exactly, I’m supposed to be supporting and defending now?  An ability to read Marx as literature?  The simply “wrong” economics that Derrida himself doesn’t defend, the use of the phrase “animal life” in a parenthetical aside without giving due credit to conservation biologists by name, and when Derrida went on to write extensively on the philosophical question of the animal, and humanism, or what?

By Matt on 02/20/06 at 03:51 PM | Permanent link to this comment

That said, be happy to place you within the Evil Axis of those whose first reference is to Mary Poppins, if only then we could make up.

By Matt on 02/20/06 at 03:58 PM | Permanent link to this comment

...postmod artistes also often seem to suggest Derrida was some type of crypto-ethicist; the reduction of all meaning to a subjective play of signifiers is assumed to be an improvement on any sort of traditional disputation or empiricism. Perhaps Of Gram. is not relativism of a Nietzschean sort, but certainly relativism, either cultural or epistemological, would seem to be a conceivable result. The later D. may have not been so prone to ambiguity, but the writers who seem to think there is some cohernt postmod potlicla agenda realy seem quite confused.

In some sense there are two broad philosophical agendas for westerners to choose from: a somewhat Nietzschean-Heideggerian impulse to protecting Western Occidental values (which may make use of analytical philosophy, or theology, literature, or trad. phil), and marxism-multiculturalism, and postmods generally fall in with the marxists.  That’s not to say the continentalist rightism is equivalent to say dixie fundamentalism, nor that all leftist ideas are wrong or ideological driven; and it’s bit more complex than say fascists vs. communists (tho in some ways that is somewhat accurate). Humans decide on what faction to join (or perhaps to join none in some Bakunin or Unambomber defiance) based on advantages, on self-interests, regardless of some presumed objective rationality. Maybe Nina Powers will put out for M*** if he pretends to be decent Trotskyite. Or not.  Alas, neither postmod or marx is likely to further the interests of most caucasians.

By x on 02/20/06 at 04:32 PM | Permanent link to this comment

X

Analytic philosophy is NOT fundamentally pragmatic in it’s historical roots. Analytic philosophy’s main roots are in Ferge, Russell etc.

I never implied that utility is a bad thing, I merely arguged that it is not the only thing.

By on 02/20/06 at 10:36 PM | Permanent link to this comment

That may be true to some extent, but Russell asserted that CS Peirce was the most profound American philosopher of his time, and Quine often mentions pragmatism and alludes to Peircean ideas (prag. verification for one). Wittgenstein also read Wm. James and most likely Peirce, and the Tractatus shows a pragmatist side, I believe. btw it’s FREGE. And Peirce, tho a “pragmatist” was not as attached to empiricism as James was; P’s quite the realist (philosophically speaking) in terms of mathematics and logic. I won’t pretend to have mastered Carnap’s oeuvre, but there are pragmatic aspects to his writing : a logical semantics as efficient, useful for the sciences.

By x on 02/21/06 at 02:19 AM | Permanent link to this comment

..really tho I don’t care to trade on any names. IN some sense I would agree with some leftists that much analytical phil. is the work of elite, hyper-cerebral technicians who ignore other important matters, say in regards to politics: Frege was not exactly too interested in applications, tho his symbolization of predicate logic probably was of assistance to programmers, as were some of Witt. ideas in the Tractatus; and behavioral psychologists drew some inspiration from the positivists, for better or worse. IN many sense anal. phil faces the same problems that the Heideggerian school does when confronted with a utility criterion of truth. Who is the logician or philosopher (or really pure mathematician), who could match say Pasteur, or Mendel, or Mendeyev, etc. or many other physiologists, biologists or chemists in terms of producing some valuable work.  IN terms of any sort of basic utility, philosophy is near the bottom, tho I tend to think the symbolic language is of higher value and utility than endless theorizing or most literature.

By x on 02/21/06 at 02:40 AM | Permanent link to this comment

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