Stanley Fish Uncovers Old Wounds.


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. The rest is here.

Interestingly enough, the post is tagged “Deconstructivism” – say what? I think it was “Deconstructionism” – a stupid term invented by all those who saw the “danger” of deconstruction and yelled loudly about the political and intellectual catastrophe that was coming. Even though Fish’s post is a review of the book, all the comments to the post are attempts to reply to his descriptions of “deconstructionism” – and, as was the case with all the comments to Fish’s previous posts, it’s all about smart people telling Fish that he just isn’t smart enough – there is some awesome pretentious stuff there:

R. Vangala writes: “What the professor is discussing is a topic that has been, and continues to be, within the scope of academic philosophy; something the professor does not hold a degree in.” Really? This is a person who supplies the stupid public with a series of links about philosophical concepts as if to suggest that people never heard of Google. And of course only people who hold degrees in certain disciplines have the authority to speak about them.

Another great one – apparently French theory is responsible for the world hunger and Osama Bin Laden: “For instance, it is well within the ability of the modern world to deal with world hunger. There is no reason for the last fifty years of nearly constant famine in many parts of the world. Instead of just sending more food during famines the developed world needs to encourage population control in countries at a regular risk of famine. However, largely because of the fear of being called neo-colonialist oppressors, inhuman rationalist, and the nagging fear that they might be making the situation worse, though that is really hard to imagine, the industrial world sends food without sending any support for population control and the next famine is even worse. So, French theory encourages faith based solutions and millions of people suffer unnecessarily… Remember, the conservative argument against deconstruction was that there are higher truths than science, so yes, Derrida is in some small way partly responsible for the rise of both Osama Bin Laden and Dick Cheney. ”

And there are some nice generalizations like this one: “Academia has certainly deconstructed itself beyond repair. I’m retiring from it, and I’m saddened by what it’s become. My English department is run by these theory charlatans. They’re gatekeepers, really. Once they got inside the door, they slammed the door, installed some locks, then closely guarded whom they let in. So many have been hired solely by virtue of their politics. The incessant stream of Ph.D.s churned out by the university machine has produced a generation of self-serving careerists. Humanities departments are divided into cliques these days, tiny little fiefdoms formulated upon half-thought-out theoretical positions, which really only serve to further their own personal careers on the basis of their politics, gender, or race. They publish each other and then call what they do scholarship, having the gall to bestow upon themselves the title of scholars. They are abysmal writers and even worse teachers. They tend to produce robots like themselves, and I would no sooner listen to them explicate a text than I would to my cat.”

7 thoughts on “Stanley Fish Uncovers Old Wounds.

  1. My favorite comment:

    Sir:
    How will I be able to sleep soundly tonight knowing now that the names of the horsemen of the apocolypse are Goedel,Gadamer,Heisenberg and Derrida?!

  2. I’m just surprised at how passionate some of the people are in the comments sections, as if they waited their whole lives to stick it to the man and his deconstruction and poor naive Stanley is their main target here – old idiotic points are brought up again and again: Paul de Man was a Nazi-sympathizer, therefore, deconstruction is responsible for all the evil in the world, Derrida is incomprehensible and his followers are charlatans-careerists etc etc etc… I wish people were so passionate about philosophy itself even if in the form of basic notions of “critical thinking” or “argumentation” – sadness all around the Emelianov household…

  3. These comments are fascinating if nothing else for their (bizarre) vitriol! 552 comments!

    Here’s a good one:

    “Once again, Stanley Fish has made the ignorant more secure in their ignorance.”

    And another (I highlighted the best parts):

    There is a major economic aspect to the French craze. It’s pseudo-philosophy as media business. Here’s the background: The first professional philosopher (i. e. one who actually earned his living as a philosophy professor)was Immanuel Kant, and it’s noteworthy that he was also the first to write in a highly complex, cryptic and idiosyncratic fashion. A co-incidence? Not at all. He started a trend (Hegel, Heidegger, etc.) of professional philosphers whose income depended on generating opaque and imposing systemic theories, some brilliant, some worthless, but all verging on the incomprehensible; and this not because their subject matter was inherently difficult but because their styles were deliberately esoteric. Then came a Frenchman, Sartre, who through the same obscurantist approach managed to make of himself not merely a hot-selling academic but a pop star. He showed the way for these “French Theorists” who won fame, fortune, and groupies by cranking out sometimes amusing, occasionally insightful, and mostly meaningless tracts written in an in-group lingo guaranteed to impress sophomores. The fact is Sartre’s major insights could be (and have been) well summarized in a few pages and the same is true of these more recent phony Frenchman who have wasted so much of America’s time,ink and tuition money. Meanwhile the Theorists and their tenured acolytes are laughing all the way to the bank.

    Wow! Tenured acolytes laughing their way to the bank?! I haven’t seen anyone in academia laughing their way to the bank!

  4. Just when you thought it was safe – The Theory War is back on!

    Funny thing is, when someone bangs on about deconstruction now in continental philosophy circles, it is now seen as a bit head-pattingly quaint of them.

  5. It is funny, but mostly sad since it’s the only more or less visible philosophical conversation and the whole “intentionally opaque” angle is a bit disconcerning – apparently philosophical ideas are very easy, it’s just people make them out to be complex to make a career out of it – this is just sheer idiocy, and i’m not sure where it’s coming from…

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