Alt Left: The Problem with Literary Criticism: It’s Postmodernism, or, Worse, Postcolonianlism

Postmodern prose has long had a tendency to be remarkably unintelligible. Writers have been accused of writing in a secret code available only the “elect” – those in their profession who are able to understand it, and resembling an actual language in that respect.

Postcolonialism is just one of the bastard children of postmodernism and like the rest of the brood, has a marked tendency to be hard to understand. A controversy about this has broken out in the lit crit field itself, with Edward Said and some others accusing the people in this field of being unintelligible. In particular, as they are supposed to be writing towards an audience of “subalterns” as Gyati Spivak famously put it, these subalterns themselves with hardly understand this new writing.

Subalterns are the oppressed, meaning all of those groups that have been rendered oppressed or victims by the Cultural Left. I’m quite happy that so many of these writers are on the Left – we could use more writers – but critics have noted that the downtrodden folks, who often tend to have lower incomes and education levels as opposed to the oppressors, will definitely not be able to read the writing that takes them as its subject.

And after all, postcolonial writers do seem to writing from the point of view of the various oppressed groups around the world. The fact that their own targeted audience probably cannot make heads or tails out of this prose is regarded as a serious flaw in Postcolonialism.

To make it worse, postmodernists tend to have a variety of folks as the heroes of the field such as Jacques Derrida, Jacques Lacan, Jean-François Lyotard, Pierre-Félix Guttari, Gilles Deleuze, Hélène Cixous, Slavoj Žižek, and the rest of the mostly-French intellectuals (all are French except for  Žižek) who have sprung up in the last 40 years.

Much ink has been spilled about these folks, usually along the lines that their writing is seriously unintelligible and is perhaps intended to be this way. The problem here is that postmodernism and postcolonial literary criticism tends to use a lot of philosophy in their prose and they are always quoting from the folks mumblers above, who in fact could be regarded as their heroes.

They are known as the French Obscurantists. Derrida, Lyotard and Zizek are philosophers, Lacan and Guttarri are psychoanalysts, and Cixous is a writer. Lacan was known as being a grifter and a fraud, and I doubt if his theories are worth much. Nevertheless, his muddled thinking has sponsored its own school unfathomable nonsense called Lacanism. On the other hand, Derrida and Žižek are noted for their incomprehensibility. The same has been said about Cixous and in particular about Guttarri and Deleuze.

Psychoanalysis has been largely (but not completely!) trashed in the US as nonsensical theory that isn’t even true and probably even worse, isn’t even wrong! However, France and even the rest of the Continent continue to be in the grip of this junk science, which I’m quite sure even Freud would have disavowed if he came back to life.

As a matter of fact, if this were to happen, I think Freud would become a psychiatrist with a heavy focus on the neurological, genetics, and meds, while still relegating room for therapy. But even there I think he would trash psychoanalysis as BS and instead would probably gotten on board with cognitive and behavior therapy, which at least has a scientific track record of working better than placebo.

Anyway the French were always said to be – and probably were – better thinkers than we provincial Americans, and this has probably been true up until recently. The fact, that France and the Continent in general is still in the grips of psychoanalytical BS when we’re not is pretty pathetic when one considers that the French have always bested us in high-level thinking and now we provincial Americans are making sense and they aren’t.

However, Cixous also writes stuff that looks a lot like fiction. It’s pretty deep stuff, but it’s understandable. I dipped into ~pages of The Enchanted Clock. I can see why people could not make heads or tails of it, but I actually rather liked it. I was surprised to read an excerpt from Guttari and Deleuze’s magnum opuses – I forget which one of Anti-Oedipus, A Thousand Plateaus, and Capitalism and Schizophrenia (which has as dumb of a title for a book as these things get) it was cobbled from, but I was shocked that I was able to completely understand it.

On the other hand, it is only now, in my 60’s, that I can finally understand Nietzsche. I can also understand some Hegel and even a bit of Kant (who probably didn’t even understand himself). Surprisingly, Sartre was worse than all of them, but of a 12 page chapter, I did understand half a page or so.

Prior to this decade, I was never able to make any sense out of any of these philosophers. This is why I don’t buy it when people say that intelligence peaks at 23. Sure, fluid intelligence peaks, but crystallized intelligence, which is what I am talking about here, can keep rising into the 50’s 60’s (in my case) and even 70’s and 80’s. This type of intelligence is “what you know” and is linked to the hoary concept of wisdom.

Fluid intelligence on the other hand is a measure of how fast your brain works and it miraculously peaks at the same time that the number of brain cells in your head. But I’m sure it must be a coincidence as there’s no link between head size and intelligence, right? This is why classical musicians and mathematicians tend to peak young and then gradually slow down as they age. I’ve also noticed that rock bands tend to peak young too.

Few bands are still making good music into their 40’s.  And the three greatest novels of the last 200 years were written by three men – one 32, one 37, and the other 40. I’ve also noticed along these same lines that novelists tend to do their best work when they are rather young and as they age, the quality of their work often declines.

Of course this is not always the case, but it’s something I noted. Hence, novels and classical/rock music are  all strongly linked creativity. Creativity is not dependent on crystallize intelligence and in fact, it probably even gets in the way of it. Instead, creativity may be more linked to fluid intelligence or the size of your brain.


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