Another datum on how postmodernism’s political reflexes are authoritarian — despite its high-theory-ambiguity stance — and that the theory provides rhetorical cover for politicization.
Ken Wilber (via Joshua Zader):
‘”The end of any serious deconstructionist movement came with the Paul de Man debacle. On the morning of December 1, 1987, the New York Times reported that a young Belgian scholar named Ortwin de Graef had recently discovered incontrovertible evidence that in the 1940s Paul de Man, the most gifted and brilliant of the American deconstructionists, had been a Nazi sympathizer (writing articles and reviews for Belgian newspapers supporting the Nazi cause—something he had gone to great pains to hide) and had authored such articles as “The Jews in Contemporary Literature,” where he had stated, among other things, that “a solution to the Jewish question … would not involve deplorable consequences for the West. It would lose, all told, a few personalties of mediocre value ….”
‘The deconstructionists immediately leapt to de Man’s defense with all the conceptual tools at their slippery disposal, and furiously attempted to demonstrate that inherently sliding contexts meant that de Man’s pro-Nazi actions were actually the opposite of a Nazi sympathizer, that his helping the Nazis was really not helping the Nazis, that his anti-Jewish stance was really pro-Jewish, that the criminal was really the victim, and other variations on the theme that “yes” really means “no” because contexts are boundless …. (Curiously, the deconstructionists did not likewise think that “less salary” was the same as “more salary,” or that “no tenure” was really “tenure.” Amazing how language straightens right up when you’re sincere.)
‘Put bluntly, the deconstructionist defense came down to: since there is no way to anchor truth and right, there can be no false and wrong either, so Paul de Man’s crime was really its binary opposite, innocence—and another nasty value hierarchy had once again been deconstructed and inverted, an inversion that converted a vicious act into a merely linguistic predicament, and excused an ontological demon as being merely an embarrassing literary faux pas, about as grievous as, say, a dangling participle.
‘Aperspectival madness—the inevitable endgame of confusing sliding contexts with merely arbitrary contexts, and the inevitable endgame of disconnecting meaning from validity claims, claims that seize contexts and hold them still long enough to establish clearly enough just who did, and who did not, help the Nazis.”‘
More on the de Man case in The New Yorker.
via Stephen Hicks