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« Two or Three Things I Learned About Impressionism, Part III | Main | Doing It For a Living »

February 06, 2003

Free Reads -- Mark Goldblatt on the MLA

Friedrich --

The annual meeting of the Modern Language Association is always good for an easy laugh or two, what with so many lit profs being the political nitwits that they are. In his column today, Mark Goldblatt manages the easy laughs well, and then takes the discussion a useful notch or two further along.

Sample passage:

On the one hand, Leftist intellectuals drenched by now in postmodern hogwash dismiss the suggestion that the world exists independently of our perceptions ... Knowledge, to them, is a function of power, always tainted by political and cultural bias ... Telling people who disagree with you that they're wrong, under such circumstances, is an act of political oppression.

On the other hand, Leftist intellectuals have no problem whatsoever telling people who disagree with them that they're wrong. That's not oppression . . . that's (open finger-quotes) education (close finger-quotes). Leftist intellectuals believe they see beneath the surface of things, that they discern the reality beneath the blur of language conveniently forgetting that they're committed to a worldview in which the blur of language creates reality, a worldview in which one blur of language is no more valid than another since there's no underlying reality to measure language against. In other words, they claim that they see beneath the surface while simultaneously claiming that the surface is all there is.

Not bad! The piece is readable here.

Best,

Michael

UPDATE: Chris Bertram has posted a response, as well as some excerpts from Bernard Williams here.

posted by Michael at February 6, 2003




Comments

I've posted a reaction (and a big plug for Bernard Williams) at http://junius.blogspot.com/2003_02_02_junius_archive.html#90291067

All the best

Chris

Posted by: Chris Bertram on February 7, 2003 9:43 AM



Leftists intellectuals like this make for an easy laugh, but then, in the general culture, intellectuals of all kinds are often set up for easy laughs. Look at some of the nighttime television, shows like Cheers or Frazier, there's always at least one character whose supposed to be an intellectual and gets easy laughs for being overly analytical, perhaps neurotic, and stupid in a book-smart way. When I see people laughing at leftist intellectuals, I always wonder if they are laughing for the same reasons I am - because they think the underlying theory is self-contradicting, or merely because the object of scorn is an intellectual.

Not that this matters very much in the end, because, of course, other people have a perfect right to laugh at a joke for their own reasons. They certainly don't have find things funny for the same reasons that I do. But it gives me a moments pause, since I'm fairly intellectual, and there is always the chance that I'm the thing that's being laughed at.

As to the content of whatever "postmodern hogwash" might be discussed at the meeting, Chris Bertram is right to point out that criticism such as this doesn't help change the situation. It is criticism from the outside, meant only for laughs among the circle where it originates.

Since I live in a small college town I've inevitably ended up with quite a few grad student friends. Nearly all of them have read Foucault. Intelligent conversations can be had discussing Foucault, both to criticize him and to praise him, and in such settings as that - sitting at a restaurant across from a friend with whom you disagree, there is a high level of trust, and so real progress can be made. You can criticize much of post modernism and get a real hearing for your views, and perhaps the other person will come round and agree with you.

But sitting on the outside and throwing darts at a dart board named "post moderism" is not likely to change people's minds about anything.

Posted by: sapereAude@krubner.com on February 7, 2003 2:24 PM






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