JB: To make some of these issues more concrete, another impetus for this discussion was the piece you wrote for the Chronicle of Higher Education’s symposium on the “birth, death and rebirth” of postmodernism, called “Playtime Is Over.” That was a reflection on the changes in intellectual culture—and especially in youth culture—that you’ve witnessed yourself since the 1990s, when you were in graduate school. Can you say a little about how postmodernism—and the “playtime” sensibility—affected you as a student?
JS: I was in a Ph.D. program in analytic philosophy in the Nineties. So we had these almost subterranean reading groups on Deleuze and Guattari and other French theory, but we read these things with a cautious, somewhat detached perspective on the currents of thought that were much more popular in English departments. So as graduate students in analytic philosophy we were attuned to all of this and not necessarily hostile to it. Analytic philosophers remained committed, broadly speaking, to the law of the excluded middle; that is, that everything is either true or false and there is nothing in between. Postmodernism, again speaking in broad strokes, never took any purported determination of truth or falsity as the last word, but always sought to expose or undermine the conceits of self-serious and haughty truth-mongers. The clearest signs today of the death of postmodernism are coming from, for example, the young people who are simply not buying [the NYU professor] Avital Ronell’s self-defense, that she was just plumbing the infinite depths of campy play or whatever with her grad student. They want to know: Was she harassing him or wasn’t she? (Answer: She was.) The law of the excluded middle is back, baby.
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