I’ve been reading Fancois Cusset’s French Theory: How Foucault, Derrida, Deleuze & Co. Transformed the Intellectual Life of the United States. Cusset talks at length about the “Americanization of French Theory” or put differently, the creation of “French” theory by American importers and contextualizes all of this quite nicely within the American social/political background. One of the things that I always find interesting, and I’m not trying to rehash old boring debates, is the utter vitriol that characterizes the backlash against what was/is perceived as “poststructuralism” or “postmodernism” or “French theory” or “deconstruction” and very often, the corresponding caricatures that both the “fans” and detractors of each thinker creates, whether Deleuze, Derrida, or Foucault. This phenomenon is well known. However, Cusset mentions Camille Pagila’s (who is someone I respect) manifesto against Foucault from 1991, “Junk Bonds and Corporate Raiders,” in passing. I had totally forgotten about this 80 page diatribe against Foucault et al. It is worth reading, but only in the same type of way that I crank up the volume when I hear Steve Perry sing “Oh, Sherry” on the radio. Here’s a taste:
Lacan, Derrida and Foucault are the academic equivalents of BMW, Rolex and Cuisinart…French theory is like those how to tapes guaranteed to make you a real estate millionaire overnight. Gain power by attacking power. Make a killing. Be a master of the universe. Call this number in Paris now! Continue reading
Having finished about half of Alex Thomson’s Deconstruction and Democracy: Derrida’s Politics of Friendship this afternoon, I got distracted from the actual content of the book – a rather dry, even if erudite, summary of Derrida’s discussion of “democracy” – and realized that I am growing increasingly disappointed with the state of what one might label “derridalogy” [copyright - Perverse Egalitarianism] as opposed to “Derrida Studies” primarily for a following reason: books and articles dedicated to Derrida’s philosophy that are coming out in the recent years (and, of course, I haven’t read them all but, after having finished Bayard’s awesome book in one sitting, I can discuss them nonetheless in their totality) are strangely of two main types: Continue reading
Stanley Fish’s recent post in New York Times discusses the book on the influence of “French theory” in America, but finally – according to the comment section – does nothing but bring back to life an old (and very much dead) debate about the “value” of deconstruction. So every single proponent and opponent of “French theory” crawls out of their cubicles to leave a nasty comment – it’s pretty entertaining!
Stanley Fish writes:
It was in sometime in the ’80s when I heard someone on the radio talking about Clint Eastwood’s 1980 movie “Bronco Billy.” It is, he said, a “nice little film in which Eastwood deconstructs his ‘Dirty Harry’ image.”
That was probably not the first time the verb “deconstruct” was used casually to describe a piece of pop culture, but it was the first time I had encountered it, and I remember thinking that the age of theory was surely over now that one of its key terms had been appropriated, domesticated and commodified. It had also been used with some precision. What the radio critic meant was that the flinty masculine realism of the “Dirty Harry” movies — it’s a hard world and it takes a hard man to deal with its evils — is affectionately parodied in the story of a former New Jersey shoe salesman who dresses and talks like a tough cowboy, but is the good-hearted proprietor of a traveling Wild West show aimed at little children. It’s all an act , a confected fable, but so is Dirty Harry; so is everything. If deconstruction was something that an American male icon performed, there was no reason to fear it; truth, reason and the American way were safe. Continue reading