Posted by The Happy Tutor
Excellent post and very interesting comments on postmodernism by Erza, entitled, 'Searching for More Fog'. He and Ray Davis in Erza's comment section are remarkably charitable towards my views. In a spirit of common inquiry and personal testimony, I will clarify if I can.
Derrida came to Yale under de Man's auspices as a liberator, as we did recently in Iraq. He and de Man were iconoclasts. The icons they trashed were my gods. I am not a postmodern, but a Primitive Christian, whose views predate the Reformation, if not the Resurrection. When you are done relativizing discourse, and breaking the idols, what remains is the need for human decency. What a person does or does not do, under pressure, often has very little to do with doctrines and counter-doctrines. What is missing among the postmoderns, it seems to me, is not so much human decency, though some were and are Machiavels and Narcisstic self-marketers, and many are just glib and naive, but an intellectual, moral, political or aesthetic practice that supports ethical action.
What I find in Diogenes, or in Christ playing with Pilate over the issue of Truth, or entering the Temple with a whip, or in Swift, Pope and Gay, is a truth-practice that is as multi-vocal, irreverent and deadly-playful as anything in Derrida -- but to much better purpose.
I am not up to date than on the recent history of literary theory. I walked out of that world in '81, unable to write, debate, or express anything other than inarticulate self-defeating -- indeed laughable -- indignation. (And the laughter was cruel and vaunting.) It has taken me 20 years to find my back to the cross-roads and take another turn.
I think my road goes from Diogenes to Christ to Swift, and after that you would have to find fellow travelers like Lichtenberg, Karl Kraus, Kafka, and cryptic bits of Wittgenstein. You could include Wilde, or the aphoristic side of Frost. What is this a tradition of? Art? Ethics? Philosophy? All of a piece - but with an unnerving moral bite. The Word made Flesh -- but more than a performative utterance.
In my way of seeing it, Derrida and de Man look as foolish as Pilate -- clowning to no ethical purpose, or to dissemble emptiness and guilt. Pursuit of truth is noble, but coming back empty-handed is not much to brag about. Pilate did that, and made an everlasting fool of himself in the process. The other guy bore witness. If I had the courage, I would follow him.