January 24, 2011
Death by DeconstructionismBy Larrey Anderson
The talking heads continue to yap about the source of the savagery driving Jared Lee Loughner. Many on the left have tried, and failed, to pin the blame for the Tucson massacre on the Tea Parties or, just as ridiculous, on Sarah Palin. Meanwhile, the 900-pound gorilla in the interrogation room remains unquestioned and unchallenged. Its name is "deconstructionism."
Deconstructionism is historical relativism on crack cocaine. The "theory" is being freely and openly distributed to almost every college student in America. Courses in most of the humanities typically include the works of Jacques Derrida and Michel Foucault. In fact, it is nearly impossible to find a recent textbook on literary, cultural, or artistic criticism that does not contain phrases like, "As Derrida has proven...." or, "As Foucault has shown...."[i] That Derrida and/or Foucault have "proven" their silly theories is taken for granted in modern academia.
What exactly is deconstructionism? I will try to make this philosophical drivel as simple and understandable as possible. The two most influential proponents of deconstructionism were the French philosophers Derrida (1930-2004) and Foucault (1926-1984). Derrida focused on the philosophy of writing and grammar and Foucault emphasized cultural issues.[ii] I will center this article on the work of Jacques Derrida.[iii]
Derrida dared his readers to "invent in your own language if you can or want to hear mine; invent if you can or want to give my language to be understood." He states, "...this distance, divergence, delay, this deferral must be capable of a certain absoluteness of absence if the structure of writing, assuming writing exists, is to constitute itself."[iv]
Such avenues of "thought" (if this bilge can be called thinking -- imagine the gall it takes to write: "assuming writing exits") have a dark side. According to Derrida writing is a sign that signifies "difference" or a "trace." (He became famous for his supposedly subtle uses of the terms "différance" and "trace.") This led Derrida to conclude, "writing is parricide"[v] because writing "opens up the series of oppositions dominated by ‘inside/outside'" (the powerful versus the powerless).[vi]
Derrida's philosophy, seen as a sign of the times, is a dream of violence. As he states in one of his most influential works, De la grammatologie (Of Grammatology published in 1967): "...writing is not a sign of a sign, except if one says it of all signs, which would be more profoundly true." A sign of all signs is surely a sign of the times. Thus, Derrida calls, at least implicitly, for his readers to fulfill a "dream of violence." Elsewhere he urges his readers to "go there where you cannot go, to the impossible, it is indeed the only way of coming or going."
Since writing, according to Derrida, is either meaningless or an ever changing interpretation imposed by the reader, the "impossible" is inextricably linked by Derrida to violence. One of the chapters in Derrida's Writing and Difference is titled "Violence and Metaphysics." Metaphysics -- which literally means "beyond physics" -- would seem to be, ipso facto, beyond violence. There can be no violence without something physical taking place. According to Derrida:
Those readers who are trained in grammar will recognize that these sentences cannot make sense as written -- but that is an aside.[viii] Derrida is explicitly telling his readers that language is powerless unless it is accompanied by violence. Derrida gives us his solution to his concocted quandary of language a few pages later:
Writing is fleeting. Speech is powerless. Want real power? Shoot someone...preferably in the face. This is not philosophy. It has nothing to do with metaphysics. This is gangster rap abstrusely disguised as philosophy. And for many impressionable university students it is required reading.
Now, let's do a brief survey of the motivations and inspirations of some recent mass murderers and attempted assassins.
In 1972, when Derrida was starting to become famous in America, Arthur Bremer tried to assassinate George Wallace. Bremer was not motivated by politics -- he wanted fame. He kept a dairy of his plans (which included the possible assassination of Richard Nixon -- Bremer wasn't particularly political or picky). His diary was published in 1973.
Bremer's book formed the basis of the main character in Martin Scorsese's movie "Taxi Driver." This is the movie that inspired John Hinckley's 1981 assassination attempt of Ronald Reagan. (By this time Derrida was at the height of his fame. He was lecturing extensively in the United States.) Hinckley deemed himself a poet and writer. In 1978 he switched his major at Texas Tech from Business Administration to English. He currently writes songs and poetry from a mental institution.
Mass murderer Seung-Hui Cho was also an English major -- a senior at Virginia Tech where he massacred 32 people before killing himself and ending his literary career. Not surprisingly his short story "Richard McBeef" is based upon a failed parricide where the son attacks the father's face: "John [the son] sticks his half-eaten banana cereal bar in his stepfather's mouth and attempts to shove it down his throat."
Like Cho, Jared Lee Loughner also studied English and poetry in college. Loughner's obsession with grammar and with Nietzsche should tell us something. Something obvious.
As Socrates recommended in the Republic, "Then we must look at the corruptions of this [the intellectual education of the young] and see how it destroyed many, while a small number escape -- only those that [escape] are called ‘useless' not ‘vicious.'"[x]
It is time to deconstruct deconstructionism. We damn well need to start taking seriously its grisly affects and possible effects on young people in our institutions of "higher" education.
Larrey Anderson is a writer, philosopher, and Senior Editor for American Thinker. He is the author of the award-winning novel, The Order of the Beloved, and the memoir Underground. He is working on a new book The Death of Culture.
[i] Here are a few of the "scholars" I have read who write in this vein: Stanley Fish, Mas'd Zavarzadeh, J. Hillis Miller, Michael Riffaterre, Rosalind Krauss, Nicholas Fox, Paul Fry, Michael Fried, Cornel West, Christopher Norris, Svetlana Alpers, E. Ann Kaplan, Geoffrey H. Hartman, and Griselda Pollack...for starters.
[ii] Foucault, for example, had the audacity to assert that sexuality "is a name that can be given to a historical construct." (The History of Sexuality, Volume I, chapter 3, p. 105 in the Hurley translation.) This should come as a surprise, not only to sane human beings, but also to all of the animals that procreate via gender mating (assuming these animals have read Foucault). Foucault blamed almost all of our social ills on the bourgeoisies -- including mental illness. E.g., his work greatly influenced the psychiatrist R.D. Laing. I have written about this here.
[iii] Derrida was influenced by Nietzsche, Ferdinand de Saussure, Heidegger, and Paul de Man. The works of all of these writers are promoted in academia. (See the syllabus linked to above.) The last two men in this list were members of the Nazi Party and/or openly anti-Semite. Derrida, whose parents were Jews, vociferously and publically denounced his family and his Jewish heritage. He defended de Man's writings -- some of which called for a "final solution" to the Jewish "problem."
[iv] Emphases mine. Taken from the essay, "Signature Event Context." Part of a subtitle of a later section of the article is "Of Writing: That Perhaps It Does Not Exist." Think, for just a moment, about writing such a nonsensical subtitle.
[vi] Quoted in Stanley Rosen's, Hermeneutics as Politics, Oxford University Press, 1987, p. 82. "Inside/outside" is also from Derrida's Pharmacie, p. 118. Hermeneutics as Politics is probably the best book in print on the relation of deconstructionism to contemporary culture and politics.
[vii] Emphasis added. Jacques Derrida, Writing and Difference, Chapter 1, "Force and Signification," English translation by Alan Bass, p. 3. Note the chapter's title. The entire chapter is worth reading in order to understand the link between the use of force and Derrida's notion that reading is writing or différance. A few pages later imagine an impressionable young student trying to understand this:
[viii] How could violence possibly change the relationships of the denotations of nouns, pronouns, or adjectives? These relationships are established by rules of grammar through an ongoing examination of the traditional usage of the words.
[ix] Emphases added. The end quote is from Emmanuel Levinas. One of Derrida's later works was titled, The Gift of Death. A positive review of the book stated, "Derrida intends to free us from the common assumption that responsibility is to be associated with behaviour that accords with general principles capable of justification in the public realm (ie. liberalism). In opposition to such an account, he emphasises ... ‘radical singularity'...." [Sic.]