The subjective, harlequin nature of theoretical writing, like bad theoretical writing, is usually an object of derision among other intellectuals. Lecturing in French, according to Mark Lilla, Derrida was “more performance artist than logician” who filled his talks with “free association, rhymes and near-rhymes, puns, and maddening digressions.” “[E]ven if we accept the coherence of his life and thought we must constantly remind ourselves that they always had one object, and one object only: Michel Foucault.” Paglia agreed. Derrida’s cryptic prose carried “a private agenda in France that is not applicable to America.” Foucault’s books are “simply improvisations in the style of Gide’s The Counterfeiters. They attract gameplaying minds with unresolved malice toward society.”
To the extent that this is a problem it is a much different problem from the one we started out with. There are many ways for the humanities to exclude those on the outside, lathering papers in of courses is not among them. Tics like that are products of thought, or rather stagnancy of thought, the key symptom that imagination and ingenuity of expression have been gutted from the process. The great sin of American academia, and maybe American society as a whole, is its stalker-like infatuation with earnestness. It cannot for one second relax or convene with humor. The prestige of the institution is too sensitive; even a muffled giggle could send cracks up the walls. Those institutions seem somehow worse off from where they were in the 1970s. But rather than appropriate rigid, poorly translated affectations from overseas, the trend seems to be turning to a great loosening of the tongue and the mind, the embracing of textual play and what Andrea Long Chu calls “committing to a bit.
Writer - Critic - Poet - Editor