Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The postmodern threat

Jon Cogburn links to some discussion of Derrida. Among these is this from k-punk (who has some interesting thoughts on Morrissey, about whom more below, here). Cogburn seems to agree with k-punk's claims that Derrida always treats everything he writes about as if it were a text (while refusing to ignore the form in which it is "written") and that deconstruction is a kind of pathology that refuses to say Yes or No except, as it were, accidentally.

I don't see anything wrong with treating things as texts, as long as their form is taken into account (including whether they take the form of a text or not). Of course, doing so might be unproductive sometimes, but every attempt to do something risks failure.

It's the second claim that interests me. Or rather, the two claims taken together seem close to getting at some of the worry I have about philosophy done as Stephen Mulhall might be interpreted as doing it. There is a lot to be said for not trying to say anything, it seems to me, especially about the ultimate nature of reality. But then why write books? And, perhaps more to the point, why read books or papers by someone who is trying not to say anything? The complaint about Derrida, I take it, is that there really is no point at all in reading his work, or his later work at any rate, precisely for this reason.

If this is true of Derrida it is not true of Mulhall. At the very least, his work sheds light on the meaning and value of other people's work. But I still wonder whether that's all it does, or whether something of Mulhall himself is there too. And if it is, what exactly is it? And is it good, bad, or indifferent? I have wondered, for instance, whether his work is a kind of Christian propaganda. Perhaps some is. But is all of it? And is an element of propaganda inevitable in work like his (i.e, roughly, reading)? If so, is that necessarily a bad thing?

I once wanted to write a paper about Rorty on feminism called "Sister I'm a Strong Poet," but all I had was a title. In "Sister I'm a Poet" Morrissey sings that he has "no reason to talk about the books I read, but still I do" and that's because he's a poet, i.e. (in part) a poseur. Rorty always struck me (perhaps I was very wrong about this) as having a hard time explaining why he was talking about the books he read. Somehow the point, as I understood it, was meant to be pragmatic and political, but I don't see philosophy changing the world. Perhaps his goal was to divert the philosophically-minded away from useless philosophy (which is not all philosophy) and toward useful political action. Certainly he preferred feminists who wanted action to those who seemed to want only more deconstruction. So I'm not saying that he was a poseur. But there is a danger of mere posing or what k-punk calls "grey vampirism" in talking about books.

I think I'm rambling/erring now (but part of the point of this blog is for me to think out loud, so caveat lector), but one last point. Larkin once said that there are two types of poetry: the kind that tries to say something new and the kind that tries to find a new way to say something old. He preferred the latter type. So do I. This is why I don't much like the idea of trying to say something, because the something in question is meant to be something both new and important. I don't see anything really new in ethics being good. And I don't see anything really new in metaphysics being important. But that's begging the question I suppose.

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