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The Postmodern Bunghole

November 9, 2009

imagesGraduate school in English literature is nothing if not indoctrination. One is always to bear in mind that identity is a “construct” forged through an encounter with “alterity.” A few truisms: Shakespeare is only Shakespeare as the result of the expurgation of Pericles from the First Folio; late-medieval England only becomes a nation due to its antagonism with the French, Jews and Saracens. Identity is thus not merely a construct, but a historical construct. Nor do moral or scientific principles rest on unshakeable foundations. As one “episteme” – to use Foucault’s word – gives way to another, radically different conceptions of man, reason, and morality gain acceptance.

These are the ABCs of postmodernism, which arises as a revolt against Enlightenment rationalism. (As I had the misfortune to discover, graduate students with an interest in forming complete words or even sentence had better consider a program other than literature, where one must recite the ABCs day and night.) A useful critique postmodernism is, but like all critiques, it has its limitations. As John Medaille of the Distributist Review explains, postmodernists mistakenly regard Enlightenment notions as “the only possible notions of truth. Hence, postmodernism secretly accepts back what it rejects, and ends up rejecting truth itself; it therefore ends in nihilism.” Postmodernism cuts Voltaire and Kant down to size, yes, but it doesn’t have much useful to say about Christianity, whose universalist claims have deep historical roots.

Derrida and Foucault are therefore best regarded as the ass cheeks of the Enlightenment. There was plenty of dung in the notion that unaided human reason and the scientific method should alone enjoy the status of truth. And we can all be grateful to French philosophy for squeezing such a notion out of the bunghole of academia. Still, it is time to either fertilize new soil, or scoop the whole mess up. For my part, I favor fertilizer. Medaille even claims it possible to fertilize churchyards with postmodern dung. How resourceful.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. November 16, 2009 1:41 pm

    “Derrida and Foucault are therefore best regarded as the ass cheeks of the Enlightenment.” – Brilliant word picture.

    Mike
    http://modernpensees.wordpress.com/

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