Tuesday, April 29, 2008

French Theory in America = Freedom Theory?

Mr. Fish has been on a roll lately. I've enjoyed his two recent columns decrying the recent guilt by association nonsense in the political press. And on top of that there's his two part discussion of French Literary Theory, another hobby horse of mine. The basic idea of French Theory is that we can't know the capitol T Truth because language affects our understanding of the world. This strikes me as somewhat common-sensical, but maybe that's because I've watched the Matrix too many times. Fish's point (or the point of the book Fish is discussing because Fish doesn't say things, he only says things about things *wink*wink*) is that French theory is accurate, but that it doesn't matter. This was the conclusion that Little Earl and I came to 5 years ago in our undergrad English program. Maybe Stan wouldn't be such a bad guy to have over for some arugula after all.


Little Earl said...

How often do you do arugula anyway?

I like some of these comments from readers:

"This is drivel about drivel — “metadrivel” as some stucturalist, post-structuralist or deconstructionist might say. Literary theory (not to be confused with literature) is more worthless and deluded than alchemy or astrology ever were. It should be banished from our educational system. Failing that, any student who takes a course in literary theory should be required to take three in mathematics, a discipline which has actually manages to cogently connect words and names with perceptions and actions."

"Other theorists have the dubious excuse of writing for an audience of graduate students who have to know, or at least pretend to know, this stuff. But in this case, the general readership of the New York Times is treated to long sentences choked with paren(the)sis, back/slashes, novel concepts promoted with scant reference to real-world examples, multi-syllabic jargon, and my personal favorite, common words made obscure when cradled by quotation marks. (Paragraph 14 is the winner here, although 21 gives it a serious run for the money).

Can anyone write about French literary theory in a way that wouldn’t make Strunk and White (or George Orwell for that matter) roll over in their graves? Or is my desire for meaning no(thing) more than an arbitrary logocentric preference for discursive “clarity” over opa/city? Either way, I’ll remain doubtful of the value of any theory that can’t be explained in plain language."

"It, deconstruction, has the consequence, said Roger Scruton, that no text really says anything, including the text which says so; deconstruction deconstructs itself and disappears up its own behind, leaving only a disembodied smile and a faint smell of sulphur."

"It’s interesting to read about deconstruction as if it’s a new concept. This has been one of the central issues of Buddhism and particularly Tibetan Buddhism for thousands of years. Not only do they have the intellectual aspect of it covered…their meditative aspects and techniques bring it into a whole other realm of unity of field or oneness of experience that is both the answer and antidote to this conundrum. The concept of Annata or non inherent existence of the self is basic to all Buddhism. It doesn’t say there is no self…it says we misapprehend reality by imputing a solid non changing reality to the self and objects that is unwarranted. Anyway, this is Buddhism 101…..very basic. I’m shocked there’s much of an argument."

"I haven’t read Cusset’s book but Fish’s discussion omits perhaps the most important reason that deconstructionism became a fad in American Universities, particularly English Depts. That is careerism. There is a limit on how many conventional books can be written on Milton. Bring in something like deconstructionism and other apparently exotic theories and then there is a way to produce scads of new articles and books."

Herr Zrbo said...

I've never really paid much attention to your Stanley Fish related posts before because I didn't know who he was.

Then, over the past month, I've been working on my first real paper for grad school (due this Friday!) and one of my sources is this great article on the nature of truth, etc. by none other than Stanley Fish. But I didn't make the connection that it's the same guy you two are always talking about until right now. Weird.

Anyone care to read a 20 page paper on the nature of Holocaust denial and its inclusion in the library?

Little Earl said...

Count me in!

yoggoth said...

I read something by Fish in undergrad but I don't remember what. Maybe it was the same article.