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Columnist Will Saletan, who I saw do a really brilliant talk on "framing" in political rhetoric at a Cato University about a year ago, has a series at NPR in which he deconstructs the favored buzzwords of the various presidential contenders. You can also read the analyses at Slate.

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  1. Hmm, for a site that so dislikes Derrida, you do use the term “deconstruct” quite a bit. 🙂

  2. Derrida, I’m not so big on– I think Michel Foucault was right to call him a “guerrila obfuscationist”– someone who uses his own impenetrability as a defense against ever being critiqued or contradicted. But deconstruction is a perfectly useful form of analysis. A lot of theory has gotten a bad rap on the right because of a contingent historical association with bad politics. The next few years will see libertarian and conservative scholars rediscovering the work of a lot of those thinkers who were in fashion in the 80s.

  3. This “site” dislikes Derrida ?

  4. Julian Sanchez,

    Well, to be frank, Foucault was wrong. Derrida correctly took Foucault to task for claiming to write a history of madness in which he spoke on behalf of the mad as if he had wrote from some archimedian point outside of madness. And there is nothing “obfuscationist” about what Derrida has written. In fact, it is clearly a radicalization of what Saussure (the father of the structuralists/post-structuralists, though he did not use the term) wrote in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

    Now if you are going to use words like “deconstructs,” coined by Derrida I might add, then you are going to have to accept some of the baggage that comes with that – that language is constitutionally unstable (making the self unstable I might add), that reality is a semiological one, etc.

    BTW, what “bad politics” are you specifically writing of? The political notions of continental thinkers are highly varied – Barthes for example flirted with a whole number ideological viewpoints; Foucault despised any totalizing ideology (thus he was an anti-Marxist in this sense); and I don’t even know if Baudrillard has political views.

  5. “Now if you are going to use words like “deconstructs,” coined by Derrida I might add, then you are going to have to accept some of the baggage that comes with that”

    To paraphrase Walter from The Big Lebowski… who’s the postmodernist now? Linguistic essentialism, Jean? Tsk, tsk. Anyway, I was thinking, for instance, of the anticapitalism of Deleuze and Guatarri, Baudrillard’s disdain of the “consumer society,” etc.

    As for JD, I have trouble taking him seriously after reading Alan Sokal’s biting takedown in “Fashionable Nonsense.”

  6. Julian,

    Yes, I realized after what I wrote, it was a mistake.

    Anyway, how is anti-consumerism “bad politics?”

    I believe people don’t like Derrida because his ideas are so frightening. Its hard for people to deal with ideas such as: “From the moment that there is meaning there are nothing but signs. We think only in signs.”

  7. People like and dislike people because they do or do not agree with them on certain issues they hold dear – whether they (disliker or disliked) are actually right are not is an entirely different issue.

    That comment doesn’t particularly bother me, as it would seem to me to harken back to Greek thinking (and mine, even if it isn’t Greek and I’m misremembering), that there may or not be Truth or Reality, but we cannot “know” it in a direct conscious sense – we can only behave in certain ways, seek out and interpret certain sensations and information, and use what we learn to attempt to construct an idea of what reality is really like outside our own individual perceptions. For an example of how reality isn’t directly available, one can merely consider optical illusions (where clearly what we see is not precisely what is actually there) and all sorts of cognitive tricks and foibles (like vertigo, and broken human intuition on things like statistics and physics, etc).

    Whether or not we actually think in signs, however, and what exactly that means, and just what he takes “signs” to mean, is beyond me.

  8. I think pomo lit critics, like legal realists, deliberately overemphasize the difficulty of establishing the meaning of a text. People who adopt a pose of exaggerated epistemological uncertainty in reconstructing the original understanding of the Constitution have a vested interest in muddying the waters.

    The one deconstructionist I actually enjoyed reading, because he was entirely free of deliberate preciousness and obfuscation, was Stanley Fish. He was an openly cheerful nihilist, who could tell you in plainly understandable English why no text had a plainly understandable meaning. And Fish was totally honest; he said that all discourse was designed to conceal the interests of a privileged group behind “neutral” or “universal” symbols. When challenged as to whether this applied to academicians, he immediately replied that deconstruction was a form of discourse that promoted the power interests of English professors.

  9. If there “may or not be Truth or Reality,” then where did those two terms come from? Why do they even exist? What do they relate to if not the very meaning of their (verbal) “signs”?

  10. Othmar, as reported by Schulz, trumps all of this:

    “Waahh-waa, wah, wawawa. Wa? Wahh-wah-wha!”

    It is obvious once one has decoded the significanators.

    Kevin

  11. Rene:

    If there “may or not be Truth or Reality,” then where did those two terms come from? Why do they even exist? What do they relate to if not the very meaning of their (verbal) “signs”?

    They are concepts; the question is whether or not they have some other form of ‘meaning’, of existance. For instance, it could logically/theoretically be that all things are mere social creations, and that for something to be thought so is sufficient to make it so; it could be that it absolutely doesn’t matter what anyone thinks about anything, that reality is as it is and thought and concepts are sepperate and possibly completely uninvolved in the ‘material’ world (extreme dualism, kind of); it could be something else, too.

    There are a logically infinate amount of things that could be true, but to the extent that some are mutually exclusive, not all of them are true. It is thus a task for us to discover which statements are true, and which false, and which theories and concepts are the most useful (particularly when truth or falsehood cannot be ascertained empirically, such as with heuristic theories, viewpoints, emotional feelings and reactions, etc), and so on.

    That’s what I think I meant 🙂

  12. Plutarck, if “It is a task for [you] to discover which statements are true … “ how do you intend to do this if (in your opinion) “truth cannot be ascertained empirically” in the first place?

    STATEMENT: “It is hot outside.”
    [True] or [False]?
    (Thermometer shows empirical evidence of 103 degrees.)
    ANSWER: [True]

    STATEMENT: “I feel hot.”
    [True] or [False]?
    (Thermometer in your mouth shows empirical evidence of 98.9 degrees.)
    ANSWER: [True]

    I believe that in order for you to be successful at establishing truth (your awful spelling notwithstanding) it would help if you’d first put that wine bottle away.

  13. Rene:

    You seem to have entirely missed the context and meaning of “truth cannot be ascertained empirically” – because I didn’t say that, and I think it an utterly absurd and wrong position to begin with.

    Neither of your “STATEMENT”s contradict anything I have said. I don’t see what you’re even disagreing with.

    My original statement and position was to point out that reality is not directly available to anyone, as is proven by various experiments that show that what seems infinately reasonable and ‘real’ ain’t exactly so.

    So what you are specifically disagreing with? I’m guessing you took what I said to mean something other than I said it to mean (sic), and thus we are arguing over a misunderstanding, not a genuine disagreement. But of course as one cannot know (in the absolute sense) whether or not something is right, only whether or not something is wrong, you’ll have to set me straight if I am mistaken in my perception of the situation.

  14. THIS is why I quit fuckedcompany and came here.

    Carry on.

  15. Kevin Carson,

    Well, Derrida openly admits that his own works can be deconstructed; and that deconstruction as discourse can be as well. The analogy is to a hyena devouring its innards.

  16. Rene,

    Hot in comparison to what? Your scenario requires some objective criteria for “hotness,” so what is it?

  17. First of all, the thermometer in your mouth says nothing about whether you feel hot or cold. You can’t refute someone’s report that they feel hot by pointing out that the thermometer shows a low temperature or whatnot.

    As for the “meaning” of verbal signs, the argument is that the “meaning” itself just consists of another set of signs. So I say “hot” and point to a thermometer reading or a subjective feeling as the “meaning” of hot. But both of those are themselves signs.

  18. Well, I’m sorry. Words are all we’ve got. Words (symbols, or “signs” if you will) are the tools of thought. They are just about the only way we have right now of apprehending reality.

    Some might assert that mathematics and music are yet two other ways. Maybe so. (Einstein and Mozart would agree.) Nevertheless, between WORDS, MATH, and MUSIC — those are about the most effective means we sentient beings have of not only grasping and understanding our universe, but also for enabling us to fairly well articulate it and to give it meaning.

    I mean, how else … what kind of semaphores can we rely on to communicate our meaning and understanding of reality, short of telepathic transmission?

    Sure, we might quibble over the proper use of such indicators, but ultimately — considering the marvelous technological ends we have achieved thus far — I’d say we’ve been pretty successful at not only lending meaning to our reality, but have managed to keenly articulate it, manipulate it, and, I’d venture to say, even control it to a great extent.

    To then defile such tools of thought by dragging them through a linguistic mud, and obfuscating it (as Mr. Derision, excuse me, Mr. Derrida tends to do) is to do a great disservice to a value that we have striven so long to hone and perfect (language.)

    Consider that it took us at least 100,000 years to do so, I?d say, let?s concede its efficacy and show it some respect. (Take note, Plutarck.)

  19. Errr… so where, exactly, is the point of disagreement here? I see vague allusions to a “linguistic mud” but no articulation of any substantive difference in views.

  20. Julian! Damn it! Do we always have to DISAGREE?! What is this? A battleground? Does H & R stand for Heave & Rip, or Hustle & Rant, Hump & Rage? What?

    Take a deep breath. Go grab a cup of tea over there and sit down. Put your feet up. Relax, will you?

  21. Niet, Jean! What you say here is fine, if you’re Robinson Crusoe — if you lived totally by yourself, mumbling abstractions to yourself, just pissing in the wind.

    But the minute you enter the social arena, where you might have TO COMMUNICATE with others, then there had better be some agreement as to the meaning of your terms. (That is, if your intentions are to be successful at obtaining your ends.)

    If I want value “X” from you, but approach you with the following request: “fsdajg erpo
    o khsauewq qweth ;lk;lsvj lklsdksdu!” … then I doubt that I’ll be very successful at obtaining value “X” from you.

    If it is my intention to communicate, I had better speak your language (and vice versa.)

    (Notice the “com” in the word “communication.”)

  22. Rene,

    Hmm, Derrida never implies or argues that language is useless, which appears to be your argument. In fact, he persuasively argues that without the semiotics that makes up language we would be lost; nevertheless its a tool which has flaws, and those flaws lie in its slipperiness.

    A fundamental undedidability is built into language; this is because once language enjters the public domain the speaker or writer loses control of it, as it always open to new understandings, etc. Add to this the fact that Derrida claims that meaning is never present but always deffered, and you see how radical, and liberating a notion Derrida’s ideas are. Furthermore to me this ought to be also a very liberating notion to libertarians I would think; that is fact that language is not univocal, that each individual brings such a cascade of meanings to texts, etc.

  23. “To then defile such tools of thought by dragging them through a linguistic mud, and obfuscating it (as Mr. Derision, excuse me, Mr. Derrida tends to do) is to do a great disservice to a value that we have striven so long to hone and perfect (language.)

    Consider that it took us at least 100,000 years to do so, I?d say, let?s concede its efficacy and show it some respect. (Take note, Plutarck.)”

    I haven’t a bloody clue what this has to do with what I was talking about – but it clears up for me that we obviously aren’t on the same page about what each other is trying to say.

  24. “It took us at least 100,000 years to hone the language. Show it some respect.”

    BOTTOM LINE: Your syntax is usually awful and your spelling is even worse, Plutarck.

    (Dat’s wat da man wuz implying.)

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