[Marxism] Shades of Alan Sokal?

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Mon Jul 25 08:44:33 MDT 2011


(More venom from Anders Breivik, this time directed against 
post-structuralism. I rue the day when I bought into the 
"socialist" crusade against Gayatri Spivak et al. There was 
something deeply reactionary about it that I did not recognize at 
the time.)

Political Correctness: Deconstruction and Literature Literature 
is, if not the most important cultural indicator, at least a 
significant benchmark of a society’s level of civilisation. Our 
nature and environment combine to form each individual mind, which 
in turn expresses itself in words. Literature, as the words 
society collectively holds up as exemplary, is then a starting 
point of sorts – a window into the culture. Today’s literary field 
is therefore worth examining for the insights it provides into our 
current cultural milieu. The contemporary Western European and 
American literary field is awash in “isms:” Marxism, Freudianism, 
feminism, and so on. Most of these are the academic cousins of 
what is called in the common culture “Political Correctness.” 
Literary theorists take their particular brand of criticism and 
apply it to literature in an effort to find self-affirmation in a 
“discovered” meaning of the text. For a feminist critic, for 
example, no longer does Andrew Marvel’s “Upon Appleton House” have 
the beauty of the grounds as its theme; it speaks instead of the 
evils of a patriarchal line of inheritance. These “cultural 
critics,” so named because they critique literature based on the 
point of view of a particular culture, arose in the 1960s, but 
their schools of criticism only truly began to pick up steam with 
the arrival of the school of deconstruction in the 1970s.

The works of the father of deconstruction, Jacques Derrida, began 
to be translated from the French by American professor Gayatri 
Spivak in the mid-1970s, a time when the U.S. literary scene was 
ripe for its influence. The economic Marxists were alive and well 
on Western European and American campuses, and the cultural 
critics were still being fed by the radicalism of the times. 
Feminists had gained a foothold in the earlier decade, but they 
had in their meagre arsenals only a vague feeling of repression. 
What they lacked was philosophical backing – the courage prompted 
by having their own logos. The arrival of deconstruction from 
France provided that philosophy. At that time, that generation of 
academics was doing what all academics do, telling the previous 
generation that it had it all wrong. In this case the rebellion 
was against the New Critics – so-called even now, decades after 
their prime. The New Critics specialised in finding the meaning of 
texts without regard to background information such as authorial 
intent, a process that had “the text is everything” as its guiding 
principle. The new generation of critics set out to turn that 
principle on its head.

Instead of “the text is everything,” the new generation claimed 
that “everything is text” and turned to analysing anything and 
everything in relation to the literary work. If a poet wrote a 
poem that included a female character, the critics would look into 
the poet’s relationship with his mother, his wife, his sister and 
so on in an effort to offer up an interpretation of the work. This 
could have (and often did have) the positive effect of using 
biographic information to gain new understanding of the work; 
however, these new interpretations were not attempts to discern 
the true meaning of the work (as the New Critics had done) or even 
to discover the author’s intended meaning (as traditional readings 
attempted). This new generation of critics instead became prime 
practitioners of what is known in literary circles as “cultural 
criticism.” They strained to view literature from the “woman’s 
point of view” or the “victims” or the “radical minority point of 
view.” Their attempts were not to find meaning – they were 
influenced too greatly by relativists for that – but to find 
sexism, racism or “homophobia” in the works of male, European or 
heterosexual authors. Derridean deconstruction became a tool for 
these cultural critics.

Simply stated, deconstruction is a school of thought that posits 
that words have no meaning. Instead, words have “traces” of 
meaning. The meaning of a word is continually disappearing, 
leaving us with only the memory, or trace, of what that meaning 
once was. Once they realised the power of this school of thought, 
the cultural critics embraced it readily, for here they discovered 
a method of attack on the traditional interpretations of literary 
works. They used deconstruction to remove traditional meaning and 
replaced it with new meaning. That meaning was the Political 
Correctness that infests our society today. For example, after the 
traditional meaning of “How Do I Love Thee?” has been destabilised 
in the process described above, a feminist critic might come along 
and - in the absence of a stable traditional interpretation – 
declare that the poem is “really” concerned with how women in 
nineteenth-century England were conditioned to see themselves as 
secondary to men. The intelligentsia had forgotten its literature 
in its haste to promote its politics.

Unfortunately, that has not stopped the cultural critics from 
indoctrinating this new generation in feminist interpretation, 
Marxist philosophy and so-called “queer theory.” Requirements for 
reading Shakespeare, Milton, Chaucer, and other dead white males 
are disappearing, to be replaced by options to take studies in 
“The Roles of Women in the Renaissance” (an excuse to lament the 
sexism of the past) or “The Bible as Literature” (a course 
designed to denigrate the Bible as cleverly crafted fiction 
instead of God’s truth). The reliable saviour of the 
intelligentsia is the common man and his common sense. Common 
sense dictates that words do mean things, and as deconstruction 
posits otherwise it will be relegated to the margins of society. 
Sadly, its effects will linger on – it has given a sense of 
validity to cultural criticism and established a marketplace for 
its ideas.





More information about the Marxism mailing list