Scott McLemee’s takedown of Leon Kass, court philosopher to the George W. Bush administration, is a thing of beauty in several ways, but this particular bit excels:
The account of Kass’s speech in Inside Higher Ed—and the text of it, also available online—confirmed something that I would have been willing to wager my paycheck on, had there been a compulsive gambler around to take the bet. For I felt certain that Kass would claim, at some point, that the humanities are in bad shape because nobody reads the “great works” because everybody is too busy with the “deconstruction.”You hear the same stuff constantly in discussions inside the science fiction world, almost as frequently as you hear that “mainstream” novels are all about “adultery in Westchester County.” Some people really need to update their game.
It often seems like the culture wars are, in themselves, a particularly brainless form of mass culture. Some video game, perhaps, in which players keep shooting at the same zombies over and over, because they never change and just keep coming—which is really good practice in case you ever have to shoot at zombies in real life, but otherwise is not particularly good exercise.
The reality is that you encounter actual deconstructionists nowadays only slightly more often than zombies. People who keep going on about them sound (to vary references a bit) like Grandpa Simpson ranting about the Beatles. Reading The New Criterion, you’d think that Derrida was still giving sold-out concerts at Che Stadium. Sadly, no.
But then it never makes any difference to point out that the center of gravity for argumentation has shifted quite a lot over the past 25 years. What matters is not actually knowing anything about the humanities in particular—just that you dislike them in general.
The logic runs something like: “What I hate about the humanities is deconstructionism, because I have decided that everything I dislike should be called ‘deconstructionism.’” Q.E.D.!