Mon, Apr 9, 2018
I once complained to the small clique in control of a student magazine that they’d devoted an entire issue to semiological analyses of, variously, clothes, cinema and music. “And have you actually read anything about semiology?” sneered one?
I hadn’t really and the criticism smarted so I went off to learn about semiology. And then postmodernism. I quite liked some Roland Barthes. I read Jonathan Culler on deconstruction – “On Deconstruction” – and I read Derrida, and Baudrillard, and de Man, and Foucault, and Lacan, and more. I went back to Saussure and the Russian Formalists. I read Lévi-Strauss (the anthropologist, not the maker of jeans).
So believe me, I know what I’m talking about when I say the vast majority of it is utter nonsense. Guff. Verbiage. Deliberately obscure. I put a fair amount of time and mental effort into trying to wring some meaning from On Grammatology and concluded, with others, that ‘He’s difficult to summarise because it’s nonsense’, and with Chomsky when he wrote:
'I found the scholarship appalling, based on pathetic misreading; and the argument, such as it was, failed to come close to the kinds of standards I've been familiar with since virtually childhood'.
Postmodernism did considerable damage to the reputation of the Humanities and to the enthusiasm of individuals who’d innocently signed-up for an Eng Lit degree because they liked reading novels. It wasn’t just a bit of a laugh – Alan Sokal hoaxed the respected journal Social Text because, as committed activist, he was concerned that the postmodernist gang were playing games and that the intellectual Left was getting lazy.
Imagine my delight, then, when I came across the novel, The 7th Function of Language, which suggests that the death in 1980 of Roland Barthes was no accident but that he’d been murdered because he was in posession of some powerful information about language itself. It calls Foucault a ‘slaphead’. It also has Derrida himself torn apart by dogs belonging to the American philosopher, John Searle.
Great fun. Though as one of the luminaries of the PoMo world, Julia Kristeva, has just been revealed to have been a communist spy for - among all possible choices - Bulgaria, there might just be more to the novel than an an overdue satire.