Deconstructing Deconstructed Mind-F@#%s

In a recent blog post, Stanley Fish provides a highly readable, concise, and understandable summary of deconstruction by way of previewing a new book on the history of deconstruction in American thought.  The thrust is simple: Some Americans freaked about over French theory for no good reason.  In response to concerns that deconstruction means an end of the world, Fish writes:

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 All that will have happened is that one account of what we know and how we know it — one epistemology — has been replaced by another, which means only that in the unlikely event you are asked “What’s your epistemology?”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.

That last bit hits the nail on the head: despite all our mental-masturbation over deconstruction, the world goes on.

Except that it doesn’t for some people.  Some folks, once they get deconstruction into their melon, don’t seem to be able get it out.  The way they see, understand, and even operate in the world changes.  Their day-to-day language is littered–literally, junked-up–with “signifiers,” “discourse,” and “subjectivity.”  You can’t understand a damn thing they’re saying, because they keep moving about, careful never to take up a position for fear that it would commit them to an epistemology (didn’t I promise never to use that word? Damn).  In these cases, there can be only two conclusions: (1) the person is way smarter than I am, and I’m just too dumb and slow to keep up; or (2) the person has gone off the deep-end.  Depending on my mood, I’m often inclined to decide on option 2.

Which is sad, because, as Fish implies and Michael Berube better explains, there’s a lot to like and some excellent potential in postmodernism, deconstruction, and the rest of the French theory grab-bag.  One of these days I’ll muse on what happened to my love of theory.  But for today, I’ll appreciate Fish’s worthy attempt to explain why we all–and particularly the deconstructed mind-f@#%s–need to relax.

7 thoughts on “Deconstructing Deconstructed Mind-F@#%s

  1. I agree, completely. I went to undergrad at an Ivy league school and it was impossible to have an even relatively informed discussion about historical theory without it deteriorating into babble about the signifiers and the signified. Which is all well and good, but not when an obsession with postmodernism renders you unwilling to actually *have an opinion* on anything at all…

    It reminds me, if somewhat indirectly, of what Mike Huckabee said about science:

    Oh, I believe in science. I certainly do,” he said. “In fact, what I believe in is, I believe in God. I don’t think there’s a conflict between the two. But if there’s going to be a conflict, science changes with every generation and with new discoveries and God doesn’t. So I’ll stick with God if the two are in conflict.”

    In other words, Huckabee dispenses with science altogether because it is only a representation of the current estimation of truth, and not an absolute (and therefore must, by definition, remain in flux). It seems to me that that’s the logical endpoint to the extremes of postmodernism: because the absolute truth is impossible to define (or by definition does not exist, to be doctrinaire about it), let’s all just pretend that it’s no longer important to attempt it at all.

  2. Well, Huck acts as if science *repudiates* itself every generation. It doesn’t. It refines, focuses, and modifies the mass of what is considered to be reliable knowledge, but there are still clear correlations and commonalities between the science methodologies of our time and those of even someone like Francis Bacon. The scientific method, in other words, still does what it does no matter what changes in what we know to be true, which was Fish’s point: just because science doesn’t produce transcendently true knowledge (the way the bible, for example, is supposed to) doesn’t really mean that we can’t still use the scientific method to produce progressively more and more useful and reliable models for how the world works. In fact, the claims that science produces “true” knowledge (and that deconstruction therefore poses some kind of problem for it) indicates to me a fairly loose grasp of the scientific method; after all, it is never possible to say something is true in science (only to infer measaures of reliability from the fact that a theory hasn’t been disproven yet).

  3. ZZ,

    Yeah- thanks for the clarification. I agree completely. What I was *trying* to say:

    Huck:Scientific Method :: “People who can’t get deconstruction out of their melon” : Historiographic Method…

    Throwing out the baby with the bathwater, in other words.

    Oh- and incidentally, as for this:

    Well, Huck acts as if science *repudiates* itself every generation

    Am I the only one who’s reminded of hegelian dialectics?

  4. interesting syllogism;I”ll agree as long as “getting out of their melon” implies a certain mis-use of deconstruction (or at least what I consider a mis-use), which is the kind of mis-use I read Fish trying to throw out — the idea that deconstruction’s demystification of truth disables us from using the concept of truth as a lode-star, or something.

    re: the Huckster, I’m going to miss him. I hope he sticks around (while continuing to have no real electoral potential). He’s the only bass playing hegelian fundamentalist preacher *I* know of in the republican party.

  5. Pingback: Sorry. Also: Suck It, Sean Wilentz « The Academy’s Bench Warmer

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