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John Holbo - Editor
Scott Eric Kaufman - Editor
Aaron Bady
Adam Roberts
Amardeep Singh
Andrew Seal
Bill Benzon
Daniel Green
Jonathan Goodwin
Joseph Kugelmass
Lawrence LaRiviere White
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Past Valve Book Events

cover of the book Theory's Empire

Event Archive

cover of the book The Literary Wittgenstein

Event Archive

cover of the book Graphs, Maps, Trees

Event Archive

cover of the book How Novels Think

Event Archive

cover of the book The Trouble With Diversity

Event Archive

cover of the book What's Liberal About the Liberal Arts?

Event Archive

cover of the book The Novel of Purpose

Event Archive

The Valve - Closed For Renovation

Happy Trails to You

What’s an Encyclopedia These Days?

Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Intimate Enemies: What’s Opera, Doc?

Alphonso Lingis talks of various things, cameras and photos among them

Feynmann, John von Neumann, and Mental Models

Support Michael Sporn’s Film about Edgar Allen Poe

Philosophy, Ontics or Toothpaste for the Mind

Nazi Rules for Regulating Funk ‘n Freedom

The Early History of Modern Computing: A Brief Chronology

Computing Encounters Being, an Addendum

On the Origin of Objects (towards a philosophy of computation)

Symposium on Graeber’s Debt

The Nightmare of Digital Film Preservation

Richard Petti on Occupy Wall Street: America HAS a Ruling Class

Bill Benzon on Whatwhatwhatwhatwhatwhatwhat?

Nick J. on The Valve - Closed For Renovation

Bill Benzon on Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Norma on Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Bill Benzon on What’s an Object, Metaphysically Speaking?

john balwit on What’s an Object, Metaphysically Speaking?

William Ray on That Shakespeare Thing

Bill Benzon on That Shakespeare Thing

William Ray on That Shakespeare Thing

JoseAngel on That Shakespeare Thing

Bill Benzon on Objects and Graeber's Debt

Bill Benzon on A Dirty Dozen Sneaking up on the Apocalypse

JoseAngel on A Dirty Dozen Sneaking up on the Apocalypse

JoseAngel on Objects and Graeber's Debt

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Monday, April 07, 2008

Vonnegut, Fish

Posted by Bill Benzon on 04/07/08 at 07:40 AM

Writing in Salon, Steve Almond reviews as posthumous collection by Kurt Vonnegut, Aarmageddon in Retrospect. Most of the pieces are set in Dresden and chart the trajectory of Vonnegut’s evolution to Slaughterhouse Five. From a letter Vonnegut wrote to his family in May of 1945:

On about February 14th the Americans came over, followed by the R.A.F. [T]heir combined labors killed 250,000 [sic] people in 24 hours and destroyed all of Dresden—possibly the world’s most beautiful city. But not me.

After that we were put to work carrying corpses from Air-Raid shelters; women, children, old men; dead from concussion, fire or suffocation. Civilians cursed us and threw rocks as we carried bodies to huge funeral pyres in the city.


* * * * *

Meanwhile, Stanley Fish gives us the scoop on deconstruction: properly understood, it has no political implications whatsoever; the culture wars of the 1990s were a mistake. Fish plays off French Theory: How Foucault, Derrida, Deleuze, & Co. Transformed the Intellectual Life of the United States, by Francois Cusset. Of deconstruction:

It doesn’t take anything away from us. We can still do all the things we have always done; we can still say that some things are true and others false, and believe it; we can still use words like better and worse and offer justifications for doing so. All we lose (if we have been persuaded by the deconstructive critique, that is) is a certain rationalist faith that there will someday be a final word, a last description that takes the accurate measure of everything. All that will have happened is that one account of what we know and how we know it — one epistemology — has been replaced by another, which means only that in the unlikely event you are asked “What’s your epistemology?” you’ll give a different answer than you would have given before. The world, and you, will go on pretty much in the same old way.


Comments

Fish’s little piece is typically vapid.  It has the exact same form as: a) atheism is politically null, b) to be sure, there are all sorts of religious hierarchies that tell people that they have truth, but c) “we” never really believed in them anyway, so it makes no difference to say that we don’t believe in them.

I’m not a conservative or neo-conservative, but that kind of breezy non-analysis is annoying.  When scientists talk about having access to truth—or, at least, the best description of it that we have—that’s not a politically null statement.  It affects all sorts of public policy.  The history of the intellectual fragment of the right wing for the last couple of decades has been a transit from attacking this kind of know-nothingism to embracing it, because if no one knows anything, power rules.  Fish is free to say that it never meant anything in the exact same way that a pundit who supported the Iraq war now says that their support never meant anything.

By on 04/07/08 at 11:13 AM | Permanent link to this comment

FWIW, as of this moment Fish’s essay has collected 551 comments. I don’t think that’s a record for him, but I do think it’s on the high end. Whatever his readership is, they care about deconstruction.

By Bill Benzon on 04/08/08 at 06:11 PM | Permanent link to this comment

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