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Thursday, March 22, 2018

Deconstruction–The Irrelevance Of Ideas, The Idolatry Of The Here-And-Now, And The Dismissal Of Universal Values

Deconstructionism is based on the premise that much of human history, in trying to understand, and then define, reality has led to various forms of domination - of nature, of people of color, of the poor, of homosexuals, etc. Like postmodernism, deconstructionism finds concrete experience more valid than abstract ideas and, therefore, refutes any attempts to produce a history, or a truth. In other words, the multiplicities and contingencies of human experience necessarily bring knowledge down to the local and specific level, and challenge the tendency to centralize power through the claims of an ultimate truth which must be accepted or obeyed by all.
Wikipedia in an accompanying note to its site on Deconstruction says, “This article may be too technical for most readers to understand.”  The problem of course is not that the article is too difficult to understand, it’s that Deconstruction is not because of its logical complexity a la Kant or Heidegger but because of its illogical convolution.  Derrida, the father of Deconstruction, insisted that all texts are equivalent in their aggregation of biases; and if they are worth anything, they can be instructional tools for exposing inherent racism, sexism, classism, and homophobia. 

Derrida concluded that much of human history, in trying to understand and then define reality, has led to various forms of domination and that ‘deconstructing’ language is the first step to understanding the inherent prejudices in history, literature, and philosophy.  The organization and categorization of human experience into canons, liturgies, and treatises has been a method of consolidating intellectual authority, deliberately inhibiting popular expression, and as a consequence impeding society’s natural progression.

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Deconstruction, therefore, sees no difference between Shakespeare and a technical manual – both are simply expressions of culture and society at a particular given time and place.  Literary exegesis, exploring motivation, purpose, and character has no legitimate place in intellectual inquiry, since fictitious characters, drawn from authors already conditioned by history, society, and culture, could never have anything unique to offer. 

It is no wonder that Deconstruction has few adherents other than in academia.  Reducing the world’s literature, religion, and philosophy to mere social constructs and denying their uniqueness let alone their nobility seems utter nonsense.  To deny King Lear its mythical tragedy, The Glass Menagerie its pathos, Oedipus Rex its psychological universality, or The Brothers Karamazov its religious rigor, philosophical intricacy, and family drama. 

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Artists have always sought to illuminate the human spirit; and while some have indeed focused on more temporal affairs, most are concerned with more essential if not existential themes.  Artists from the Renaissance to the present day are concerned with meaning, value, and purpose; and have never been content to simply present the political, social, and cultural contexts of society.  Art is first and foremost and individual expression for individual consumption. 

The tableaux and triptychs of Anselm Kiefer and Francis Bacon are disturbing and unsettling.  The giant post-apocalyptic paintings of Kiefer are frightening not so much because of a vision of what might come but of what is.  The dark, brooding, impossibly indecipherable landscapes are as much depictions of inner reality as exterior.

What then did Derrida mean when he insisted that knowledge must be brought down ‘to the local and specific level’? A philosophical populism which asserts the absolute rightness of any collectivity? A dismissal of the moral, ethical, and spiritual principles which are the basic architecture of society? A denial of individuality and its creative expressions as necessary preconditions of a socially integrated community?

The ‘local level’ – the masses which comprise popular democracy – have never been known for high ideals, philosophy, or intellectual insight.  Shakespeare was more honest and critical than most in both Julius Caesar and Coriolanus where the mob is fickle, gullible, easily manipulated, and essentially ignorant.  Alexander Hamilton challenged Thomas Jefferson for his populist ideas.  The new Republic could not possibly survive the will of the people, Hamilton, insisted; and only because of willing compromise did he agree to an Upper House. 

At best the masses are living Hobbes’ vision of a short, poor, nasty, and brutish life with no time or energy to speculate on their destiny let alone the nature of their being.  Chekhov’s short story My Life tells the tale of a young aristocrat who defies his father and identifies with the Russian peasant.  He dismisses his former intellectualism, social privilege, and world of ideas for a rudimentary life.  He and his wife move to a remote village in the hope of becoming part of the noble peasantry.

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His idealism is soon destroyed as the peasants, seeing a soft, easy mark, take advantage of him, destroy his property, and run him off the land.  Although Chekhov may have shown some sympathy for the coming Russian revolution in his play, Three Sisters, he showed no such affection in this and other short stories.

While there is no doubt that aristocracies, monarchies, courts, and empires have ruled for millennia over the peasantry and not at all with it; there is equally no doubt that the accumulation of wealth enabled the proliferation of high culture.  There would be no artistic Renaissance without the Medicis, no Versailles without Louis XIV, and no Persian Empire without its emperors.  Greece, Rome, Egypt, Persia, India, and China are known for the genius of their aristocracies, their intellectual, creative, and social elites; not the masses of their citizenry. 

Bread and Circus was all the Roman peasantry was worth.  The shoguns and the mandarins of Asia ruled in an insular but rich environment.  Out of this exclusivity came what Derrida dismisses – philosophy, schools of art, drama, and literature.  In other words the best and most expressive of culture.

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Deconstruction, adopted by the political Left in both Europe and the United States, has been damaging and corrosive to the social integrity and spiritual promise of both.   It has resulted in the ethos of secular identity at the expense of individual worth.  By devaluing creative enterprise, spirituality, and philosophy – the most sophisticated expressions of human nature – it has overvalued the temporal.  Identity collectives – black, gay, transgender, Latino, women and others – adopting the same overarching principles of Deconstruction, limit individuality as the cost of social progress.  

As a result the moral and ethical principles enunciated by Jefferson and his colleagues and for years respected as universally applicable, are becoming outmoded.  Yet if there is no inherent value in any particular moral thought, then the whole idea of morality dissipates.

Jefferson and Hamilton both understood that a republic cannot survive without a sound moral and religious foundation.  All secular progress encouraged by economic enterprise, individual freedom, justice, and equality is for naught unless there are moral principles which guide individual and social activity.

Derrida, Lacan, and their fellow Deconstructionists  may have faded from academic prominence and from public view, but their ideas have not, for they have been institutionalized within the the political Left.  Social activists may not quote Derrida’s texts, but fully support his secularism, his denial of the concept of universal moral values, his devaluing of the individual, and his insistence on the higher value of the political.

It will take a generation or more to expunge the last traces of this infectious movement; but, like faith and spirituality under the Communist Soviet Union, no secular socialism can deny individual expression for too long.

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