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January 27, 2004

Comments

Jon Ihle

Very amusing, Frank. One thing I learned from the deconstructionist Paul de Man while getting an English degree at a luxurious American liberal arts college (the loans for which I'm still paying nearly ten years later) is that one's blindnesses contain the most shattering insights.

My BA cost me, the US government and the Vassar scholarship fund about $100,000. Since I work in a market where none of my college's cachet or vast networks of influential people are in force, that's a wasted investment. In fairness, I don't even really work in my field of expertise, not that there are lots of jobs for literary critics going these days.

Frank McGahon

That's a good line: interesting that the "blindnesses" of the Deconstructionists themselves, doctrinaire Marxists to a man, contained "shattering insights" about the operation of capital, economics and human nature.

Of course not all investments, voluntary or involuntary prove to be optimum. The key problem about publicly funded education is that nobody gets to choose whether they want their taxes to pay for middle class kids to have a ball while their own kids can't get into university. If we really wanted to do it, a charity for middle class kids' college funds, including "entertainment allowances", would be just as successful as animal shelters or guide dogs for the blind.

Jon Ihle

I think you're mixing up deconstruction with other, Foucault-influenced, strains of post-structuralism. Indeed, the doctrinaire Marxists (such as Terry Eagleton) have always been hostile to deconstruction, which they saw as a reactionary intellectual movement. Nobody was more pleased than the leftists when Paul de Man's collaborationist wartime journalism was posthumously exposed. As far as they were concerned, deconstruction was a front for fascism all along.

Frank McGahon

Perhaps I am guilty of conflating post-structuralism and deconstructionism, but wasn't Derrida, the arch-deconstructionist, also a doctrinaire Marxist? My impression was that, prior to 1989 at least, the marxist analysis was simply, unquestioningly accepted by academics who might disagree on almost everything else.

Jon Ihle

Well, the chief Marxian insight that our real conditions of existence are obscured by ideology, i.e., their false representation, still animates lots of critical thinking in the academy. It's not a bad basis for critique in general, I think, which is why Marx has been so influential in the humanities. I suppose Derridean thought is analogous to Marxian thought in that Derrida conceptualises reality as a linguistic construct in which the true arbitrary nature of language is obscured by ideological totalisation in the form of logocentrism which - surprise, surprise - falsely represents reality. On the one hand, deconstruction converges with Marxism in that both are hostile to established power structures - whether political, economic or linguistic; on the other hand, Derrida's linguistic critique is ultimately pretty devastating to Marx's dialectical (and teleological) view of history.

Frank McGahon

Yes, but more simply and narrowly, the tendency was to accept unquestioningly Marx's critique of capitalism and his assumptions about the inevitability of proletarian revolution.

Jon Ihle

Perhaps because I never really accepted simple and narrow Marxism, I'm blinded to its influence on deconstruction. Perhaps its because I entered college after 1989, but Marx's critique of capitalism was far more prominent in my English department than was any fantasy about the inevitability of the proletarian revolution. Of course, I once encountered a professor who said we should be studying the holy trinity of class, race and gender. You would have liked him, Frank. A real kindred spirit.

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