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Thursday, November 17, 2011

Why I'm So Glad I Missed Deconstruction and Post Modernism

The tyrrany of the deconstructionists/semioticians as evinced by Jeffrey Eugenides:


from The Marriage Plot
Jeffrey Eugenides

     He flipped the pages until he found the one he wanted.  The he returned to the bed and handed the book to her.
I Love You
je-t'aime/I-love-you

As she read these words, Madeleine was flooded with happiness.  She glanced up at Leonard, smiling.  With his finger he motioned for her to keep going.  The figure refers not to the declaration of love, to the avowal, but to the repeated utterance of the love cry.  Sudeenly Madeliens happiness diminished, usurped by the feeling of peril. She wished she weren't naked. She narrowed her shoulders and overde herself with the bed-sheet as she obediently read on.
     Once the first avowal has been made, "I love you" has no meaning whatever. . . 
     Leonard, squatting, had a smirk on his face.

Utter foulness.  Those who would say that words have no meaning or have meanings that are infinitely mutable do not understand the harm they do to themselves, to others, and to the language.  Words do have definitive meaning even when repeated.

Fortunately, the mere assertion does not make a thing so the burden of such a claim falls on the claimant as is always the case in those who would compromise meaning and accept anything less than the fullness of the truth.  Language is not a humpty-dumpty construct in which any given word has the meaning I want it to have at any given time.  It is not infinitely malleable--as malleable as it is.  Nor is it infinitely empty, regardless of those who would elevate the reader to the status to the writer and who would proclaim loudly, in academic purple, the death of the author.

5 comments:

  1. Well put. In The Secret Knowledge, David Mamet argues that liberalism succeeds by convincing its adherents that there is some kind of secret knowledge that the elite know--but they don't. I see this all the time in academia; I used to try so hard to feel that deconstruction was TRUE, because there's this weird religious quality to learning these theories. Finally, you realize it's the theory, not language, that's empty.

    I've never read The Marriage Plot--is it taking apart deconstruction and postmodernism?

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  2. Dear Elizabeth,

    I don't know if that is his purpose/part of his purpose. If you are interested in something of that ilk, you can't do much better than James Hynes's magnificent The Lecturer's Tale in which Judith Butler's most ludicrous contribution to critical literature is held up in a bright spotlight for some well-deserved ridicule.

    shalom,

    Steven

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  3. This is an interesting blog.
    Words are the most powerful tools we have...and especially in books, of course, they affect, mold, and shape our lives, as I daily comment upon in my own blog.
    Please feel free to check it out.

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  4. Speaking as a poet, I'd say the truth is actually in the middle somewhere. Words and incredibly malleable and can indeed mean the opposite of what they seem to mean. There is plenty of confusion around two big words, for example, that carry a lot of baggage: "God" and "love." Ask 14 different people what they mean by those words and you'll get at least 18 different answers. Yet everyone seems to think those words have fixed single meanings—meaning, the meanings that they themselves have invest in them.

    But it's also true that words are not totally arbitrary, nor are they totally void of meaning. But neither are words so fixed in meaning as many would believe—if that were so, ambiguity in even the most traditional poetry would not, could not exist. Yet it does. Again, the truth it somewhere in the middle.

    As a poet, I use words to evoke an experience in the reader, I hope. I aim to have them have an experience, not just tell them about having an experience. But as a poet, as a bard, I also know how quickly words can betray you, and be unable to convey what you're feeling in your deepest self. Both are true.

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  5. Dear Art,

    You won't here otherwise from me. Productive ambiguity is the essence of the art of literature. However, for something to be even ambiguous, the words from which one shapes the ambiguity must have meaning. If any word has any meaning you want to give it at any time,you no longer have ambiguity, you have unintelligibility. And so there is, as you have noted a fine middle zone where the language is fruitful and productive.

    shalom,

    Steven

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