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June 10, 2005

Comments

Kenji

How do you find Mann or Soseki these days? How do they stack up against Proust and the like?

dsquared

I've said it before and I'll say it again; that nonsense is perfectly comprehensible if you approach it in good faith and apply yourself. It's really no more difficult than probability.

Abiola Lapite

"How do you find Mann or Soseki these days? How do they stack up against Proust and the like?"

Soseki is a great stylist in his own right, but one can't mention everyone every time. Mann I like not so much for his prose style as his love of ideas.

"I've said it before and I'll say it again; that nonsense is perfectly comprehensible if you approach it in good faith and apply yourself. It's really no more difficult than probability."

Sure, you're free to keep saying that, and I'm free to keep saying that it *is* nonsense; not only do I know enough about linguistics to know that most of what these French poseurs have to say about de Saussure is rubbish, but I'm hardly alone in calling their output worthless. When thinkers as diverse as Quine, Chomsky, Searle and Foucault say someone is full of it (not to mention people known to you yourself on a more day to day level, e.g. John Holbo or Brian Leiter), a wise person might just stop and think perhaps there's some truth to what they're saying. I've tackled Faulkner, Pynchon, Gaddis, Proust and other challenging writers just fine, so it's not a question of insufficient application on my part.

Oh, and one other thing: let me make it clear that my problem with these French pomo "philosophers" isn't with any message they may be trying to send, or even that they're being dry or pedantic, as you'll never hear me call "Das Kapital" a load of meaningless nonsense despite my loathing for the philosophy it advances, nor will you hear me dismiss "A Critique of Pure Reason" in spite of its dust-dry nature. My problem is that these "thinkers" aren't actually *saying anything meaningful* once all the verbiage is set aside - they are at best wholesale dealers in antinomies (and not those of the Zen kind), and at worst breathing counterparts of the context-free-grammars which Andrew Bulhak and others have used to generate syntactically correct and meaning-free babble. That a book is free of glaring grammatical errors and heavily utilizes a subject-specific vocabulary is not in itself a guarantee of profundity or indication of "depth."

dsquared

Let's get down to cases, Abiola. Not all French critical theorists are equal, which is why blanket condemnations or endorsements of them are bound to be silly. Which books by which authors have you read?

Abiola Lapite

"Of Grammatology", by Jacques Derrida, "Ecrits: A Selection", by Jacques Lacan, and, thanks to mandatory Film Studies and Literature college classes, a whole passel of utterly forgettable readers on a long list of other usual suspects, including Baudrillard, Deleuze, Guattari and Irigaray, all of which only served to convince me that I was being taken for a gigantic ride. If so many precious hours of my undergraduate experience hadn't been wasted on this rubbish, I wouldn't be so venomous in my contempt for it all today.

Perhaps a more meaningful question would be for *you* to suggest which books by which theorists *are* worth reading, as the lavish praise and devotion given to the ones I've read by Lit Crit aficionados hardly encourage me to think the rest are any better.

dsquared

Foucault's History of Madness and the Barthes Reader would be my choices for the Best of French Theory.

Abiola Lapite

Funny you should suggest Foucault: he's one of the few modern French thinkers whose works are repeatedly bracketed as being an exception to the general tendency towards empty verbiage. It also speaks strongly in his favor that he knew enough to admit his ignorance when pumped for a quote about a subject he knew nothing about - a virtue almost unknown amongst the ones I've encountered, including Baudrillard, Lacan and Derrida.

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