Theory, Theory, Theory

1.

Perverse Egalitarianism has posted up the dilemma of readers who are textually discombobulated by so-called “difficult books,” though he himself assumes he is above the fray, being conversant with them. He confesses to have “found [him]self suspicious” of difficult work – although he “has read texts in the sciences that express complex ideas in very basic prose.”

He asks, tongue in cheek: “If terribly dense styles such as we find in figures like Deleuze, Lacan, Hegel, Derrida, etc., etc., etc., aren’t a form of intellectual terrorism?”

In this wise, we quote Italo Calvino’s early resolve to write clearly, connect directly. In Six Memos for the Next Millennium, lectures he wrote by September 1985, “at the moment of departure for the United States and Harvard University” but death overtook him before the projected journey, he says: “When I began my career, the categorical imperative of every young writer was to represent his own time… Soon I became aware that between the facts of life that should have been my raw materials & the quick light touch I wanted for my writing, there was a gulf that cost me increasing effort to cross. Maybe I was only then becoming aware of the weight, the inertia, the opacity of the world…”

& this wall between him & the exterior phenomenon may as well be the crux of difficulty that eludes readers who wish to seek the clarity of discourses they themselves (in a desire to know themselves as well like patients keen on knowing their diseases) & try to bushwhack through the undergrowth of words. Many would retreat to the clearing in the heart of the jungle where survivors had pitched camp, crushed by the formidable monsters of convoluted prose. A few would forge on, almost to a point they would be enamored by the very pain unleashed by their tormentors, as in Stockholm syndrome, & consequently hold court like their masters, as though they had been knighted as the second-line priests of the Kabbala. [The subaltern interpreter “identifies with his/her captors.”]

Why all this rigmarole that turns into a punitive apprenticeship for those who seek salvation from the daily grind?

The blogger clarifies “he is not referring to the quality of their concepts or arguments,” but rather to the “general writing strategy that demands so much work on the part of the reader in the art of interpretation…”

The attempt taxes no less the patience of believers.

One suspects some kind of elitism here, almost like the mumbo-jumbo of medieval magicians who pretended to turn lead into gold, or the monks who reserve for themselves the power to read the scriptures of God. Thus, the textual search cannot happen without the necessary clearance from the keepers of wisdom, who have declared themselves as such.

In the process, language assumes a superstructure-cum-infrastructure of its own being & tends to become the sacred letters of arcana, all this beyond common explication when truth seemingly unfolds itself in individual will. Everything has to be refracted through the lens of the huddled circle of wise men – & in the florid, technical & invented language of circular references, they pronounce that solemn distance from the chaotic world, proclaim their own genius that cuts the Gordian knot of ambiguity, & airily dismiss the presentiment of lay people who admit that their thoughts cannot hold candle to theirs. & suffer the arrogance of their intellectual lords, accept the limitation of their domain of encoding, allow the world to persist as if they the masses never existed at all.

(But didn’t Sokal laugh off the quasi-equation of Lacan, whose mathematical capability is all suspect in his graph involving the Real, Imaginary, Symbolic?)

Would it be a loss for a peasant or a worker if he hadn’t a clue on what Hegel establishes as contradiction or Marx designates as freedom?

In today’s post-modernist discourses, philosophers have shifted from “questions of state, mode of production, & civil society [that] are too hard to resolve to… the more intimate & living & fleshly like the body” [Eagleton]. Hence, the exegesis on desire, drives, the unconscious writ large like a language which Umberto Eco critiques in Roland Barthes: “power inscribes it for its human eternity, in language, or to be more precise, its necessary expression, the language we speak & write, the given language.” & this results in the problematic of penetrating the labyrinth of language through language, the opacity of the world with the opacity of the tool.

Should discourse then be restricted to a few nabobs chattering among themselves who infest the communication grid & relay the sanctified truths to consumers mesmerized by their own lack of profundity?

In the West, even hereabouts, the language of the academe is in thrall to the governing institutions that twist meaning according to their own terms, & cast out net of words to haul in the hapless legion.

To say it according to the context of their own grief is to court death & disaster: you cannot holler “Enough is enough” in the streets & go scot-free.

So you do it the merry-go-round way in a language that doesn’t immediately kill, but takes a long time for its poison to take effect.

Must we abandon Lacan, Derrida, Marx, etc. because they do not appear transparent & efficacious like any conversation? (Yet, how do we know things are as they are?)

Certainly it is incumbent upon philosophers to express, nay, touch on, the reality of daily life on the level of surface ambiguity [Anne Dillard] but this should not serve as heavy smokescreen to confuse all: the masses can be fearless & enterprising too.

The question of intellectual terrorism is most real & cannot be dismissed as a literacy dysfunction, or non-academic. We all face the possibility of global demise: why should a cabal pronounce its calculus as beyond our understanding?

The philosophers must meet us halfway, lest they be the foolish old men lecturing in empty halls.

The blogger ends, thus: “Perhaps a little consideration is in order.”

2.

The young writers are swearing off theories as impediment to writing – they argue that discourses on psychoanalysis, modes of production, body, desire, etc., are best left to science experts. Their truths, intimated by their hearts’ cognition, are inviolable & beyond objective demonstration. This notion implies ecriture – which has an objective causality – as beyond ideology, cannot be structured as in mathematical equation because the soul defies understanding. Anyone, they seem to insist, who imposes their theory on the world is despotic, a one-eyed jack who sees events in an absolutist way.

But this is, again, to state that the writer is outside the determinations of his milieu, the social & textual environment that constitutes the meager sovereignty of his being. He feels his freedom is essentially given & he can declare whatever his senses want to. The Big Other isn’t looking over his shoulders. This is simply Cartesian, & hasn’t he been turned upside down like Hegel?

O if only things were that simple. & Shakespeare isn’t a product of his time – never hemmed in by history. His epoch.

On the other hand, another scourge is stalking the campus – the young who are exceptionally receptive to whispers of revolutionary change are keen on playing with new-found toys of diverse theories, juggling them like Merlin in rubber shoes. They are obsessed with knowing everything – the classical & the contemporaneous – so as to prepare them for that “leap in the dark,” a la Kierkegaard, & never to fall flat on their faces.

Theories would allow them to nimbly step around bodies that litter the academic field.

But how can they build on a structure made of shifting sand, because theory on theory is what the Masters have argued: they are all too deep in humongous conversation while apprentices gawk & slap their knees. Closure is nowhere in sight because they have missed the point of attack: the monsters are striking in the dark, which they conjecture if they exist or not.

(They have failed to lift the veil.)

Theory isn’t the culprit. What theory should hold sway is the always-forever question of the time. Gravity, after all, is both fact & theory.

Isn’t the final end of theory to change the world?

Capitalism is the Gorgon of our age. & this is another theory waiting in the wings to unfold.

3.

a.

Philippine literary criticism normally traces itself to the Propaganda Movement which makes of text as vehicle of political inertia; then it gets blindsided into empty aestheticizing in the imperial Commonwealth years under Pax Americana; to eventually settle uneasily as post-modernist aberration since the ’80s.

Today, it is no more than a mimicry – the dominant discourse in English & Filipino departments – of what Robert S. Dombroski would call as New Historicism, whose “critical positions… display a notable affinity with different Marxist approaches by virtue of their interest in social roles and the construction, rather than representation of character.” Moreover, “what, it is claimed, prevents New Historicism from being too closely associated with Marxism in spite of its engagement with questions relating to the structures of domination and their relationship to cultural production…” because NH argues “Marxism tends to be teleological and, when it is not, it is not sufficiently radical-historical [:] it does not believe in the contingency of its own ideas.”

It claims that history is no longer “linear, progressive and deterministic” – but no one believes it anymore.

But the telos is not an idee fixe.

Socialists, of course, are skeptical of this theory peddled as Marxist vulnerability – although Eagleton remarks: “What strikes a socialist most forcibly about history to date is that it has displayed a most remarkable consistency – namely, the stubbornly persisting realities of wretchedness and exploitation.”

The New Historicism consequently “neglects class as a structure of analysis.” & herein the path to hermeneutics in Philippine context leads toward the old formalism of New Criticism, a return to Commonwealth reaction & recuperates the bluster of art for art’s sake, so heavily stressed in workshops, although camouflaged with postmodernist idioms. The engagement of the social is merely a ruse toward the denial of dialectical struggle cum class, which US-trained pedagogues are wont to pontify as dogmatic, mechanistic, charges leveled against orthodox Marxism by cosmopolitan centers feeding off monopoly capitalist excess.

It is deemed negative in post-modernist debate, but this is a “social category,” according to Eagleton, “and an agent of social transformation.” & this class, for Dombroski, “is intrinsically linked to the processes of material production and constitutes the reality in which gender, race and sexual preferences are anchored.”

In short, this is the spot that blinds the local critical eye: so poems, stories, plays & novels – even essays – are again weighed according to the abstraction of intrinsic value, autonomy, beauty, et cetera. Linguistic finesse that observes standard representation as framing for transparency is not a Bakhtinian imperative.

(So we take note of the anomalous imaginative ploy that enables a college student to fantasize guerilla dialogues without having any experiential encounter outside his insulated campus life, never realizing he would be projecting his own class on the speaking voices: this was similarly pointed out by Gelacio Guillermo who questioned Rio Alma’s poem about a cadre engaged in some interior monologue.)

b.

One goes into theorizing on the basis of an already constructed mind-set: we prefer Zizek over Sartre, Bourdieu over Teilhard de Chardin, Badiou over Kierkegaard on the assumption they perform the closure over our interests – that is, their discourses supplement what we have initially found to linger in our habitus, our curiosity triggered by the context of our subjectivities.

It is not surprising that Zizek would find resonance in the heart of young scholars: The Elvis Presley of philo is a veritable compendium of film, music, philo & lit giants that are intertwined in a new light: this bestiary that would dazzle the Socratic flaneurs in MTV mix. At this point of historical flux when Marxism is a god that failed & the future isn’t even privy to Benjamin’s angel, anyone who emerges from the ruins of despair would find Zizek a comforting figure that survived the first wave of socialism but wouldn’t denounce it, assaying also as unacceptable the triumphalistic chest beating of capitalism. Which exactly fills the bill for a generation of Filipino activists who devours Zizek as a feast of texts: he represents a positive despair in view of the promise yet unfulfilled by the revolutionists of the ’70s, its deflection in the ’80s, & the subsequent rectification in the past decades to keep their hopes alive.

We choose the philosopher who amplifies most our secret longings & defends our subject-positions.

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One Response to Theory, Theory, Theory

  1. Pingback: A Brief Reply to a Long Comment On Žižek « (Mis)readings

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