Wednesday, February 17, 2010

A bit of Marxism, eclecticism, Post-Modernism, Post-structuralism, Hegel, Derrida and a lot of SHIT

As even the mere viewers of cricket know very well, it is not only the unmanageably brilliant balls but relatively easy ones with misleading bowling action that get many a batsman out. Darling B delivered one such which requires time even for the umpire to take some time to lift his finger. Just as the clueless Batsman leaves for the pavilion even without realizing how it happened, let me offer my explanation. But, thanks again B for making me read a couple or so of Dan Brown's novels once so that I can play Professor Longdon here to crack the coded insults he showers on me.

The serious charge is that I have a "secret affair with Postmodern literature." Even more damagingly, that "most of the Marxists have a tendency of being secret admirers of post-modern eclectics. Even as they project themselves that they are reading `dry’ Marxists commentaries and writings and keep talking about them in open, the unquestionable source of pleasure or the scholastic libido is achieved only in post-modern school of writings." Now, it is more than one allegation. A series, if you like. Whether or not they are coherent is, for time being, I leave out. I address each of them as if they are separate ones. Firstly, it assumes that only post-modernism is eclectic while Marxists are not so and should not be so. Second is I have an unacknowledged affair with Post modern literature. And, thirdly, that all Marxists are like this. I reject all these as baseless.


Eclecticism means gathering up ideas, propositions and formulations from different philosophies, theories without a regard for, in violation of, the need for coherence. Eclecticism involves the sin of two levels of incoherence. First is,   the ideas, concepts, and elements borrowed from different theories make sense only in their parent systems and not outside of them. Second is, thus gathered elements do not fit in with each other. Problems arising from any or both of these could result in, or results of, eclecticism. I shall argue in a moment why Marxism itself is eclecticism and that eclecticism is a good thing.
 Before "deconstructing" the very idea of eclecticism, let me point to the slight of hand B performs here. It is true that eclecticism involves borrowing elements from different theories. But, not all borrowing from different sources and recombining them becomes automatically eclectic. The casteist understanding of eclecticism is: simply assuming that if a concept originally from a particular theory it should belong to it and can't be transferred to other theories. I called this illusion(when believed) or tyranny( when imposed) 'casteist' because, in Hinduism you have to inescapably remain in the caste you were born in. Well, I am for eclecticism, here. I am for cross-fertilisation of persons as well as ideas. In fact, this analysis is itself an example of eclecticism. I am using the model of caste system to explain knowledge production.

Marxism has multiple sources

Let's take Marx as example. It is well-known that he derived and recombined 3 utterly unconnected intellectual traditions: British classical economics, German Idealist philosophy and French Socialism. And, of course, added something of his own and reprocessed the whole thing. I think it is enough to establish that Marxism is fundamentally eclectic(in B's mislead and misleading sense), like any other meaningful body of knowledge. Marxism is not alone. It is one thing come up with hot potch of things cut out of diverse sources and an entirely different matter to forge a meaningful system from multiple sources. The point about eclecticism is coherence. B mistakes it for plurality.

Let me give one more example from Marxism. Hegle is very important for Marxism, Marx and Engels respected him more than any thinker. As you know, Hegel is an idealist. His system is known to be the most elaborate, therefore very complex, philosophical system. In that system, as Hegel and his interpreters never tired of telling us, everything is connected with everything else. Even his different books are said to be different stages or explanations of a single system and not genuinely self-contained books. What is more, Hegel himself considered all previous philosophies, from the Greeks to his time, were different stages and aspects of a single onward march of philosophy, he asserted, that culminates in his philosophy and ends there. Hegel's interpreters keep telling us that to understand Hegel, it is crucial that each element in it is a part of the whole system, whose full meaning is clear only in retrospect, in the light of the totality. Considering this, it appears that Hegel is the most unlikely philosopher to be selectively appropriated. You have to take all of it or no part of it.

Now, what did Engels say about Hegel, who in turn was a reactionary and thought the Prussian monarchy was the ultimate thing to happen in the history of humanity?

Engels said, Hegel's SYSTEM was bad but METHOD was revolutionary and it was appropriated by Marxism. Well, to keep jargon to a minimum and not to overreach myself, given my very basic and crude knowledge of Hegel, I tried to use journalistic simplifications than philosophically accurate vocabulary or explanation. But, I hope this is enough to demonstrate that Marxism takes many things from other systems and theories and that there are workable ways of picking and choosing. If this is what B wants to tell us eclecticism, yes Marxism is eclectic and I am a Marxist.
And, so are every system of knowledge. Even cultural or religious sysytems which are supposed to be less open to external influences and known for their attempts to remain 'pure,' can be shown to be made up of borrowing from other pools.
Another danger with B's idea of self-containing and closed nature of theories and systems is that it covers up one thing common to all knowledge systems: they don't remain static. They keep adding new things and very often it involves shedding old ones. Very often, old things are dumped even before new ones come. Revivals and reconfigurations are not new. More over, there is this thing called paradigm shift- incidentally I don't know of any other word which fascinated B more than this this. It's altogether a different model to explain the development of knowledge. It is not necessary for me to explain to B that one of the features of this idea of paradigm shift is that, in science, elements( individual verified facts) increasingly come in conflict with the system they belong to, until it becomes a crisis, which eventually results in and resolved by, replacing the system with a new paradigm that arranges the elements in much coherent fashion. And, how is the better paradigm chosen? From among the competing paradigms(read systems)!

So much for B's theory of (anti) eclecticism! It is even worse than Hindu idea of marriage with its insistence on permanent, exclusive faithfulness. What he is advocating is similar to obligatory incest and incest alone.

Post-Modernism and Post-Structuralism
Let's go back to his charge. My alleged clandestine affair with post-modernism loses most of its power if the crucial crime of being eclectic is withdrawn. But, still, lets consider being post modernist is itself is a wrong thing. Here, I must admit that B is right. It is wrong to be a post modernist though each of us have a right to be so. But, the only weakness of B's allegation now is that I am not a postmodernist secretly or openly. The only hint B provides us as to his idea of post modernism is the mention of Derrida{I am here using 3 different things- Postmodernism, Post-modernism and postmodernism as if they are interchangeable. I must confess that I am not sure what exactly is the difference the punctuation or different adjectivisations(Postmdoernism/Postmodernity) mean. To vulgarise things a bit to the point of distortion, there is always a danger of being asked by a postmodernists why should anything and everything should mean something or the other?  Probably, B will explain to us in detail in his response to this humble submission}.

Derrida is, in his own words, NOT a postmodernist. At any rate, he said whatever he said was in a certain Marxist spirit! Derrida's denial of being a postmodernist or his espousing of Marxism could well be disputed. Though, I don't. I emphasis it. However, self-descriptions are not necessarily be accepted as the final word. Just think of the arguably 20th century's greatest and most famous positivist philosopher Karl Popper. He lamented, in vain, that he was not only a non-positivist but one who waged a life-long fight against positivism!!

Here again, one crucial distinction is to be made. There are a variety of thinkers, not necessarily in agreement with each other and frequently more disputed or disregarded each other's views than thought of themselves being partners of a common intellectual project, whose new ways of doing philosophy and theory came to be known as Post-Structuralism. This label too was not liked by most of those who practiced those new ways of thinking. But, it was broad and loose enough a title. It simply means, an intellectual attitude which depends on, and also departs from, "structuralism." Though such dependency can be defined relatively easily, not least because structuralism is mostly a clearly defined set of concepts and also amenable to easily organizable corpus of key terms. But, "departure" is a different ball game altogether. It can, and indeed did, vary considerably. Even then, the new sensibilities arising from the work of these diverse thinkers could still be clubbed and called Post-Structuralism without violating the rule of keeping each individual work in its uniqueness and integrity and still managing to see the common concern of the thinkers involved and thinking they inspired. All of it is a matter of thinking while the post-modernism is a political attitude and a set of arguments against other political philosophies and also a word commonly given to a range of doing and speaking about politics. To summarize, somewhat crudely, while Post-Structuralism is a movement in philosophy, post-modernism is mobilizing it for doing (or not doing) politics. Conflating them is what you call catagorical mistake.

Of course, some forms of art and literature too are called postmodernist. For example, Sahriar Mandanipour's famous novel is known as post-modern novel. B, knowingly or unknowingly, conflating these distinctions.

But B's style seems to be one full of cryptic allusion than clear illustration.

He was trying to get back at me in a more cryptic and convoluted way than in which I arguably mocked him. If my nastiness lies in attacking Raymond Williams, whose books B was in possession of, His counter-offensive lies in insulting me exactly the way Eagleton was insulted recently by Zizek. B, since he is B, knows that insinuations rather than incendiary remarks would hurt his targets.

Eagleton was known as the most famous, influential and formidable enemy of postmodernism. The terror- ya, that is the word- created by Terry Eagleton among the post-modernists is stuff of legend. He ripped the post-modernists apart while leaving the readers in stitches. This terror was unleashed not by means of cruelty but through clarity. Let me tell you one anecdote.
There used to be a Professor in EFLU(previously CIEFL) who was considered by a portion of her students as a big academician. She built that reputation over a period of 3 decades of untiring work- not of scholarship but of scheming, as the gossip goes. From my experience, I testify that she could say the most baseless and banal things or outright lies in the most confident of the tones. I couldn't imagine even Einstein explaining his discovery so confidently as this Professor saying things as outrageous as this one: John Calvin invented conscience- not the concept, the conscience itself! Human beings did not have conscience before Calvin invented it!!

I am not the kind to rise my voice too frequently in the class room (though surely being moron enouch to turn blogs into such places, B would mock me) and definitely not the type to waste words discussing with such fake intellectuals, I did not in the least interested in debating with her. But, a sweet idiot of a classmate really caused immense discomfort to her and also to me. He brought one of Terry Eagleton's books to the class room itself. I forewarned that chap not to discuss that book with her while giving it or recommending it to him.

That fool brought the bomb stright to the class room and even asked unsuspecting me to sit next to him on the fist bench  and opened it and held it in such a way as to catch her attention. Terry Eagleton's book caught, not her attention but herself off guard. It was pretty visible to the whole class that she was not in her element that day. She concluded the class slightly early and did not waste time to stop at our bench and made such a face at the book. As soon as this fool realized that the Professor didn't see it as very funny, out of confusion than out of malice, though,  told her that I gave that book to him. Her look to me was what Frank Kohler might have given to the cops when he was captured, in Gourvitch's A Cold Case.

And, if you want to see the taste of a bit of Eagleton:

or, in the same journal:

This much of talking about Eagleton may sound unwarranted when it was me who brought him into this debate whose role should be - if I have any decency expected of honorable bloggers which surely I am not - at the most be one of a "vanishing mediator." Because obviously, nothing in the first bout of this exchange itself called for his presence. It is favouritism, B smacks his lips in annoyance, when he thinks of it, I am sure. But, my friend B is no less malicious in making use of such innocent presence of Eagleton against me. And, he does so with tongue in cheek seriousness and even with a pose of a wounded saint.

It was Zizek, whom B met recently while I failed to do so, who humiliated his friend Eagleton by calling him as unconscious postmodernist. Lifting that line straight from Zizek(another of my idols) to abuse me is an extraordinary feat of multiple benefits for B.

If I disparaged Williams to annoy B, he could do so by doing the same to me, only with multiplied effects, by invoking Eagleton's humbling in his own frind Zizek's hands.

Consider: B knows very well that Eagleton doesn't have qualms to admit that he did nothing other than rediscovering, reinstating Williams and becoming a readable Williams for our times and guarding the discipline Williams helped founding -Cultural Studies- from the dumbing down effects, unMarxian twists by fakes of the kind I described earlier.
And, recently I gave him a lecture he did not ask- greatness of Derrida.Not that I know much about Derrida. But, lecturing happens not when you know something but when you feel that the listener doesn't know about it. It is an inexorable law of nature. Expecting otherwise is like blaming the naughty kid who fell from the top of the dining table when he tried to dance on it. You can't blame a poor kid for the law of gravity.

Finally, he picks a case of one icon of mine humiliating another and invokes it without actually mentioning their names and apparently directs a similar charge at me. As if to prevent the possibility of these associations being taken as accidental, he warns us in advance of the 'nuance' in which only the writer(god) and the stupid B can decipher it in entirety."

It is like blaming god for forcing poor devotees to offer Prasadam. As if god is the one who eats it. But, the worst of all is his description of himself as "poor" just before rendering my situation "poorer" by forcing me to first decoding and then disputing his cryptic insults. It is worse than the state of a battered victim having to undress himself in public to establish the severity of wounds inflicted.
Well, let me take a break. I hope to resume my response soon.