Procrastination City!
Inflation in China?


In comments and elsewhere, those with a sharp distaste for cultural studies "theory" in moral philosophy see it as one undifferentiated reactionary mass: FoucaultAlthusserDerridaJameson.

I want to draw some distinctions:

  • Fredric Jameson: A number of very interesting hypotheses about the relationship between material life, culture, and ideology in the age after the age of mass communication--hypotheses that may be true and may be false, but that are certainly worth investigating.

  • Jacques Derrida: I'm not sure there's anyting there: he traps himself into a nihilistic philosophical box, which he gets out of only by declaring his arguments immune to the destabilizations he performs on the arguments of others.

  • Louis Althusser: There's something there, but (a) it's reductionist, simplistic, and largely wrong; and (b) the violation of discourse ethics in calling it an interpretation of Marx is so gross and grotesque to compel the conclusion that he was either always a con man or always a madman.

  • Michel Foucault: The bill of indictment against Foucault is:

    1. He was a naive enthusiast for a bunch of nasty Iranian terrorists and thugs.
    2. He was French.
    3. He trusted sources he shouldn't have trusted.
    4. There's nothing useful you can get out of Foucault that you can't get out of John Grenville Agard Pocock, Quentin Skinner, and a creative misreading of Thomas Kuhn's Structure of Scientific Revolutions.

I agree with criticisms 1, 2, and 3. 4 may be true as well, but I came to these ideas not through Pocock and Skinner but through Foucault and Keith Tribe (1). Therefore I openly avow myself the pupil of that mighty thinker Michel Foucault, and even here and there coquette with the modes of expression peculiar to him. But at least for my purposes his useful ideas suffer a certain mystification in his hands: he presents them upside-down, as it were. They must be turned right side up again, if you would discover the rational kernel within the mystical shell.

(1) J. Bradford DeLong (forthcoming 2008), "Two Months Before the Mast of Post-Modernism," in John Holbo, ed., Framing Theory's Empire (West Lafayette, IN: Parlor Press for Glassbead Books) J. Bradford DeLong (1986), "Senior's `Last Hour': A Suggested Resolution of a Famous Blunder," History of Political Economy 18: 2 (Summer), pp. 325-333