The Opaqueness of Language

Doug Henwood dhenwood at
Sat Nov 4 13:49:22 MST 1995

At 2:13 PM 11/4/95, LeoCasey at wrote:

>IMO, there are moments of the French critical theorists (Iriguiy, the former
>Maoists from _Tel Quel_, etc.) for whom opacity is not a necessary
>consequence of a specialized vocabulary, but a cover for a lack of substance.
>This is not the case, however, with Derrida or Foucault, to cite two of the
>more prominent thinkers considered in this vein. The problem is that that
>both men write out of a philosophical tradition heavily indebted, either by
>attraction or repulsion, to a number of thinkers (Nietzsche, Heidegger, the
>phenomenologists, Lacan and more) not generally on the reading list of
>Marxists. Indeed, some of the difficulty of the writing style is a
>self-conscious attempt to express a certain understanding of language taken
>from various of these philosophers. I am not going to try to explain their
>approaches in any detail (there is a regular little cottage industry of
>secondary literature for anyone with an inclination [and the time] to figure
>them out). But I will insist that opacity to some is no more a sign of some
>intellectual defficiency in philosophy than it is in economics. Transparency
>is a virtue, but transparency and opacity are relative terms, and what may be
>transparent to an economist could very well be Greek to a philosopher.

I won't buy the specialized vocab argument for a sec with the (po)mo
French. I've read a lot of psychoanalysis. I got stuffed with critical
theory by the English faculties at Yale and the University of Virginia. I
love reading Nietzsche. Heidegger is a crock, but comprehensible. Foucault
is comprehensible. Derrida and Lacan are in a world of their own.

You're right about the value controversy, though, Leo. I just don't see how
it's worth the time. There's knowledge gathered for action, there's
knowledge gathered for its own sake, and then there's value theory, which
I'm going to lobby to have included in DSM-V.



Doug Henwood
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