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bloodyjack Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Apr-07-04 12:40 PM
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Post-modern warfare: the ignorance of our warrior intellectuals

Stanley Fish

Who would have thought, in those first few minutes, hours, days, that what we now call 9/11 was to become an event in the Culture Wars? Today, more than nine months later, nothing could be clearer, though it was only on September 22 that the first sign appeared, in a New York Times opinion piece written by Edward Rothstein and entitled "Attacks on U.S. Challenge the Perspectives of Postmodern True Believers." A few days later (on September 27), Julia Keller wrote a smaller piece in the Chicago Tribune; her title (no doubt the contribution of a staffer): "After the attack, postmodernism loses its glib grip." In the September 24 issue of Time, Roger Rosenblatt announced "the end of the age of irony" and predicted that "the good folks in charge of America's intellectual life" would now have to change their tune and no longer say that "nothing was real" or that "nothing was to be believed in or taken seriously." And on October 1, John Leo, in a piece entitled "Campus hand-wringing is not a pretty sight," blamed just about everything on the "very dangerous ideas" that have captured our "campus culture"; to wit, "radical cultural relativism, nonjudgmentalism, and a postmodern conviction that there are no moral norms or truths worth defending."

Well, that certainly sounds bad--no truths, no knowledge, no reality, no morality, no judgments, no objectivity--and if postmodernists are saying that, they are not so much dangerous as silly. Luckily, however, postmodernists say no such thing, and what they do say, if it is understood at all, is unlikely to provoke either the anger or the alarm of our modern Paul Reveres. A full account or even definition of postmodernism would be out of place here, but it may be enough for our purposes to look at one offered by Rothstein, who begins by saying that "Postmodernists challenge assertions that truth and ethical judgment have any objective validity." Well, it depends on what you mean by "objective." If you mean a standard of validity and value that is independent of any historically emergent and therefore revisable system of thought and practice, then it is true that many postmodernists would deny that any such standard is or could ever be available. But if by "objective" one means a standard of validity and value that is backed up by the tried-and-true procedures and protocols of a well-developed practice or discipline--history, physics, economics, psychology, etc.--then such standards are all around us, and we make use of them all the time without any metaphysical anxiety.

As Richard Rorty, one of Rothstein's targets, is fond of saying, "Objectivity is the kind of thing we do around here." Historians draw conclusions about the meaning of events, astronomers present models of planetary movements, psychologists offer accounts of the reading process, consumers make decisions about which product is best, parents choose schools for their children--all of these things and many more are done with varying degrees of confidence, and in no case is the confidence rooted in a conviction that the actor is in possession of some independent standard of objectivity. Rather, the actor, you or I or anyone, begins in some context of practice, with its received authorities, sacred texts, exemplary achievements, and generally accepted benchmarks, and from within the perspective of that context--thick, interpersonal, densely elaborated--judges something to be true or inaccurate, reasonable or irrational, and so on.
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bloodyjack Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Apr-07-04 05:05 PM
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1. god damn it
is anybody home?
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bemildred Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Apr-07-04 07:53 PM
Response to Reply #1
2. Oh all right.
It's a long piece, and you have to actually work a bit,
so I put it off. But I finally read it. Stanley is always
a pleasure to read.

So what's it mean to you? Why'd you put it up?
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drhilarius Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Apr-07-04 11:53 PM
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3. My field of Study is PoMo lit.
And I have to say the period after 9/11 wasn't exactly the best time to be a post modernist. I think Fish neatly rectifies some of the misconceptions people have about "the age of irony" and "moral relativism" (as it is constructed by the right. What a lot of critics of Post-modernism failed to realize is that the media reaction to 9/11 represented the zenith of post-modern, late-consumer capitalist, society. The media was turned against against us, and the media itself participated in the spectacle as people scrambled to find better footage of destruction and death so people wouldn't "tune them out".
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Viking12 Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Apr-08-04 11:58 AM
Response to Reply #3
4. In other words...
The declaration of the "end of the age of irony" is proof that it lives on.
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Martin Eden Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Apr-08-04 04:37 PM
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5. The Post-Modern President, by Josh Marshall
In case you mught have missed this excellent September article in the Washington Monthly:
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struggle4progress Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Apr-08-04 11:23 PM
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6. What is the point of any theory ...

not ultimately rooted in experience and experiment? In politics, theory is irrelevant unless grounded in the practice of concrete people: if it's not licking stamps, shaking hands, talking on the phone then :wtf: Whatever rhetorical homage post-modernists have paid to practice, they have generally been divorced of it, as evidenced by their verbal profusions.

In our present crisis, when new brown-shirts apparently threaten to materialize shortly, ordinary (apolitical) Americans at least need to understand some of the insights from Foucault: ie power is (partially) constructed in mundane daily interactions.

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drhilarius Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Apr-09-04 01:14 AM
Response to Reply #6
8. I agree with theory.
1. When a person becomes a teacher, he or she take education theory, not his or her future students. He or she will also learn that any theory only provides guidelines, and must be shaped to fit his or her particular circumstance. The guy on the street may not see how Frederic Jameson, or Francois Lyotard, or even Foucault effects him, but it's the job of those of us who do to educate him (the organic intellectual, if you will). For instance, I brought up Debord and the society of the spectacle here on DU, and I ended turning someone on to him. Debord certainly isn't irrelevant, because he can illuminate how our media has become just another product, and how the bushies, aware of this fact, have used the discourse of advertising to brainwash the masses. I went back home and turned my friends onto this as well. Sure, they're still Bushies, but getting them to read some Debord and Foucault is a start to waking them up.
2. I completely agree with your critique of the jargonism in academic theory. There are profs who are doing theory just for theory's sake. One running joke is the best dressed people at the MLA conference are the Marxist theorists. There is, however, a movement among grads to shift from theory to praxis. It's unfortunate that many of the old post-structuralists (the deconstructionist) are still in charge, because they're, frankly, giving theory a bad name, making it seem obscure and irrelevant.
3. in addition to Foucault i would suggest Edward Said's Orientalism, it might shed some light on why the US relates to the middle east as it does.
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Miss Authoritiva Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Apr-08-04 11:53 PM
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7. Now I remember why I bombed out of graduate school...
First I was a post-modernist, then a pre-post-modernist, then a post-post-modernist, and then I fell in with a really bad gang of reconstructed deconstructionists. The only time any of it made any sense was when I was stoned on really good pot while drinking really bad wine. Something my professors didn't appreciate during their stuffy, 3-hour long seminars. Long before the last semester ended, I completely gave up and started to hang out with the film students instead, but they kept harping about wanting to be auteurs.
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