To whom it may concern...
I’m quite willing to debate any
important issue - at length -
(and I mean this) that relates to the “Humanities” as presently prosecuted....
One proviso though - and I’m very serious about this - I've decided not
to enter into any more correspondence - or conversations - on the
purported “value” of specific theorists (as opposed to ideas) that I've
basically written off (after extensive research), except with
people that can be bothered to read some of the genuinely important
work in such areas...
So, for example...if you wanna defend Marx & Foucault in my hearing, to cite only the most egregious examples, then I'll definitely
expect you to have read Karl Wittfogel, and so on - or W.G. Runciman, at the very least...
Now, that's not actually very difficult (especially Runciman’s The Social Animal
which was written as a popular book, designed to interest potential
students in the real meat of the social sciences - and cut through all
the bullshit in doing so), and any potential reader'd also learn
something damned valuable - about genuine
scholarship in the human sciences - as well as much better ways to
think about power, structures & economic activity, to cite only the
most obvious examples...
Far too many times of late, correspondents have (unpleasantly) reminded
me of just - exactly - why I bloody well walked out of academia:
which wasn't (really) the lack of proper employment...or, of decent
money...or (even) the "corrupting the youth" bit (although we're
getting much, much closer, here)...
No, what really
made me gag
(literally, in one case), was having to listen to high-priced academic
experts spout hero-worshipping nonsense...when they couldn't even be
bothered to read the genuine scholarship - let alone the empirical work
- on the topic, if it didn't happen to’ve emerged from their particular
To be sure, there is
in Marx & Foucault - just as there is in Plato, and plenty of
others I basically dismiss...and, just possibly, even Hegel (a genuine
"walking intellectual plague", if ever there was one - and if you think
I’m unfairly bagging Marx here, you oughta try me out on that
particular garbage-peddling Prussian apologist/shithead)...as well as
Freud, Heidegger, Derrida - and plenty of others that I completely
Lacan & Althusser, however - the French “Freud” & “Marx” - are
another thing... Evidence is damned strong (Althusser even admitted in
his - posthumous! - autobiography, that he never read much of Marx)
that those swine were simple frauds
as scholar/researchers, right from the word go...
In addition, Lacan spent most of his time feeling up his young female
acolytes - whom he was supposed to be “training” - and the big A killed
his wife, amongst other sordid acts. Now, remember, that’s two of the
original big four of postmodernism marked down already, and - as we’re
talking about an incestuously self-promoting intellectual clique here
(a v.common pattern) - it really doesn’t say much for Derrida &
Foucault that they’d associate with (and strongly
promote) such out&out scum.
Anyway...well on the other side of the big divide, we’ve got several
intermediate cases - prime examples’d clearly be Chomsky in linguistics
(see Harris’s The Linguistics Wars
for the evidence, not to mention his activist promotion of the Khmer Rouge...for which he has - to this day - failed
to apologise), or - "best" of all - the great Descartes, the real founder of the current (a priori
) French tradition of so-called “philososophy”....
In physics - and psychology, as well - Descartes was a complete
disaster...in philosophy, he was a curate's egg (see Toulmin's Cosmopolis
for the most accurate account...and, also, the best intellectual
history of modernity/postmodernity - but; completely ignored by the
pomo crowd), still...in some areas (maths especially), Descartes'
influence has been crucial, and mostly to the good... However, see also
Reuben Hersh for a much more jaundiced - and very well-informed -
critique, as part of his radically humanist history/philosophy of
mathematics, that I've mostly bought...but, only after reading about a
dozen accessible mathematicians in depth over the last ten years....
Notice that I said "mostly" here - and I'm deeply impressed w/Hersh - because the genuine
problem, at root, w/the humanities (and the human “sciences” in
general) isn't really the decayed & unneccesarily jargon-ridden
prose style, or - even - the stupidly narrow obsessions w/methodology -
because...to be honest; those're all over the work of many scientists,
even though they're much more usefully employed...
No, the real problem is much, much simpler - and even more basic than that.
It's that they're badly stuck in the same stage that the physical
sciences almost were, way back in the seventeenth century - you
remember, the one when the Brits chopped off their damned King's head,
and invented communism...
- Oh no...so sorry! - Marx invented communism, didn't he - even if all he actually
said about it was that everyone'd get a free lunch...f’chrissakes, at
least the diggers tried to put it into practice, and didn't advocate
"necessary" suffering - read bloodbaths - whilst sitting pretty (if
smelly & boil-ridden) in the Reading Room of the British
Museum, to get there...
They were only harmless little guys that just wanted something to put in their mouths, and were prepared to work for it...without
taking anything from anyone else - and it ill-befits any “leftist”
worth his salt to ignore them (although almost all do) in favour of a
vicious proven intellectual fraud (in major areas, and note...I didn't
say all), who treated his family and friends like shit - in just about
every imaginable way.
As far as I'm concerned, anyone who presumes
to lecture us on ethics (and let's face it, the case for communism is
ethical, or it's nothing), needs to be judged on their personal
behaviour - BEFORE we tackle their ideas in depth - and on that
score, to all of his (serious) intellectual followers today, Marx
doesn't even get off the bus...
Whereas...I’d make great efforts to meet the diggers anyday...
Now, back to the analogy - because it's extremely
illuminating.... Physics in the seventeenth century (actually, we're
talking seventeenth into eighteenth, but that's the shorthand people
mostly use) was partially stuck in hero-worshipping mode, divided into
armed camps that mocked each others ideas w/scant regard for the
evidence, once the “war” got out of hand, and appeared to stall for
several decades until the key players were all safely dead, and the
work of experimentalists - who tended to stay out of the fray - had
finally tipped the scales on all the important issues...
[Sadly...the only "experimentalists" in the humanities are our artists
- whose works are far too easily misinterpreted - and, anyway, it's
since their own ideas were taken "seriously" by our "esteemed" gatekeepers.]
The main culprits were Descartes & Newton (w/Leibniz in a minor
key, especially in the late stages), all of whom had huge egos &
fancied themselves - on top of their genuine discoveries - as universal
bloody geniuses...who could reinvent the world of learning whole cloth
(except for disciples). Sound familiar
It damn well should...
The biggest joke is that Newton had a real genius for mock humility - in print only, apparently (in person, by all
accounts, he was a glacially aloof and immensely arrogant pig), and so
is best remembered today - on general intellectual matters - for quotes
like the “standing on the shoulders of giants” bit, even though his
entire approach when it came to the (crucial) social structure of
science definitely belied this...
Anyway, both Newton and Descartes found it extremely difficult to admit to influences (and...this
is definitely the key
to the syndrome) and, when you look at what they did say along those
lines - on specific issues - you'll invariably find that they deliberately
distorted what they'd picked up, so as to minimize any really important
contributions by their genuine predecessors...
Think about it, now - what (exactly) does this say about intellectual work?
It says is that the thing to do is win at all
costs, bugger the truth (except where convenient - because your
apologist's'll excuse the rest - don't you worry about that) and exalt
the rare universal genius/marketer (ie: ME)...instead of the patient
collaborative processes that (actually) tend to deliver the real
goods, over time...
And, just remember this: every time (without exception) that
anyone unreservedly praises one of these self-promoting turds by name,
they’re actually supporting exactly
this stance, partly, I suppose, because they've too easily bought the
lines peddled by their apologist/shills...and partly because they’ve
been too lazy to seriously ask themselves whether there's any genuine
truth in them... I (reluctantly) draw the veil, here, on much uglier
reasons, as I think the “polite” version is already sufficiently
distasteful for any reader w/real standards on such matters...
ENOUGH! - I've heard all of that shit repeatedly...both in my
"official" career as a scholar, and in my subsequent & much more
serious vocation since, as a talent scout for a reformed
read much more serious explicitly Marxist stuff than most - and almost
certainly many times more cutting-edge work in the general tradition - and the
same'd go for stuff explicitly influenced by Foucault, although I've
never managed to make it through a whole book by either of the
Mostly out of sheer damn annoyance - but also because I prefer to let
others w/more tolerance for ego displays and rampant intellectual
dishonesty do most of my mining for me....
To put the Foucault thing bluntly, for example...as it hasn’t
conveniently been put together at book length (yet) - partly because
virtually no-one reads contemporary classical studies - is that,
in his early career, he read very, very widely in careful (mostly very)
obscure scholarship that no-one much on the European left even knew of
(such as the dissident social sciences critique work following on from
w/the Cybernetics Group of the 1940s: see Gregory Bateson, Margaret
Mead, and Norman Weiner as the best-known members - but, it’s not them
I’m talking about), as well as better-known but unfashionable stuff....
Hell, even Wittfogel was a (left) hate-figure by this stage - so almost none of French left would’ve actually ploughed through Oriental Despotism - A Comparative Study of Total Power.
And, then...he repackaged that stuff, in tendentious syntheses that flattered left sensibilities, by blaming all
evils on Western traditions - never honestly admitting his full debts -
for the new French structuralist left. Fine (or - unless
I’m being v.charitable, just borderline...but really, in actual
terms...irrelevant - since no-one but Foucault scholars reads that shit
today), although fundamentally dishonest....
In mid-career - which is his best-known work - he went much more
readable, recycled a lot of his earlier stuff, but in even more
tendentious forms (ie.: he dropped most of the care in at least
suggesting that counter-arguments were being honestly assessed -
which made it even more devastating to the naive), and started mining
laboriously detailed institutional histories produced by old-fashioned
- but very dull - scholars of things like asylums and prisons.
This time, because he was even less honest about his sources - and
historians (as opposed to critique-mongers) keep track of such things
- varied complaints from specialists started to pile up. But,
let’s face it - how many
histories of penology or asylums have YOU read? - the sources were
still v.obscure to most and, given that the Foucault industry was in
full swing by this point...no-one paid that much attention...
The really disgraceful stuff (on a scholarly level - since that’s what
we’re talkin’ here) doesn’t start until the final stage. Scuttlebutt it
may be, but word is definitely out that, by the the mid-70s...at least,
the “sainted” one was spending all of his spare time hanging around the
ugliest gay S&M dives he could find - reason his career was so slow
to take off in the US is that he wasn’t too interested in spending any
time in New England, rather than NY, LA & SF...
Anyway, the nadir was “achieved” w/the “histories” of sexuality. People
who develop monomanias - especially when their standards were never too
high to begin with...and slipping - tend to lose focus on anything
else.... like evidence, for example.
Because so few read the contemporary scholarship on the classics, it wasn’t until the publication of Courtesans & Fishcakes
- a freak minor bestseller by a classicist in the 90s - that many in
the broader Humanities became aware just how deeply wrongheaded he was
on the ancient Greeks...
Hell...you can repeatedly
cruise the Bryn Mawr Review (the best contemporary online classics
scholarship source), and you won’t find ONE avowed Foucauldian, or I
haven’t, anyway, and I’ve cherry-picked that (great) resource for years (on the
other hand, there are still plenty trying to deconstruct the classics),
because...he blotted his copybook so badly w/them - by egregious
errors, dumb arrogance, and just plain ignorance (since this was
obviously new territory), that no-one in the field has ever really
taken him seriously since.
Maybe the odd idea, sure...but that’s it....
is someone that the
contemporary “Humanities” is STILL insisting that I need to read? I
could give you a similar line on Marx (final stage is much less
disgraceful - in both senses - but the earliest stage is much, much
worse - after all, Hegel was no humanist by any sensible definition),
and Freud’s case'd be parallel, albeit w/variations - I even own the
comprehensive demolition jobs on that particular fraud, if you’d soil
your hands by actually bothering to read the same...
Funnily enough, there’s a very easy
way to spot these turds - you only need to read very widely, and use
one extremely simple rule.... My criterion of judgement - simple
as it is - is to concentrate on work that gets praised by several
serious scholars that I respect (people who do groundbreaking original
research & then fit the results into things generally, via wide
& careful mining of theory) - preferably from more than one
intellectual tradition, and even more preferably from widely scattered
Basically, it's just triangulation (you know, what surveyer’s do) -
which is why I certainly claim no great personal innovation. And also,
note the key shorthand terms that I tend to use - "serious" "scholars"
"respect" "honest" "lower intellectual profiles" - all ways of saying
that genuine understanding of the great collaborative work (over deep
time) that’s the real
the intellectual community ends up delivering the goods...even if the
resulting theories are usually much less neat packages.
...and (please), just tell me when the real world was ever neat, eh?
Whereas - in direct
all of the so-called "major" intellectual traditions in the humanities
& human sciences, that’re really strongly marked by marketing genius
(and I'll give them that much, at least), as far as I'm able to see
(and I've given them a damn close investigation - closer than they
deserve), have turned out to be albatrosses around the neck of the
academic community in particular - which invariably ends up bloated by
careerist hacks that do no useful work at all...and serve mostly to
stifle anything new that comes along.
When things get too bad - see the original Greek academies under Roman
rule, or the European universities under late scholasticism (and
well beyond - they were totally moribund for hundreds of years) for the
worst examples - real
learning & innovation simply takes itself
elsewhere, when the vocation is strong enough - and mine definitely
is, let me tell you...
So, if you want to defend Foucault by dismissing his followers - and
without knowing anything of the real alternatives - well, you can
surely get my drift by now. It's just a hangover from shoddy
intellectual training - I blame myself
(amongst others) here, as
dissaffected postgrads have “taught” you most of what you "know", given
the current academic climate...
It's also - exactly - the type of thinking that keeps such lousy "traditions" going - and is always
seen throughout history...A tradition can best be judged by its
followers - the "genius" of the founder(s) is bloody well irrelevant to
what's going on now - unless you subscribe to the (particularly) dumb
myth of an eternal fall...from some mythical golden age - and I
don't/life in the trees was frequently pretty nasty, and dental work
So...next time that you find yourself thinking along such lines -
however distantly - just remind yourself that all
doing, is setting yourself up for the "intellectual" version of an old
con trick... You know the one:
"ANCIENT knowledge, believed lost, can now be YOURS!"
Because...that's all these calls for new re-readings of the "greats"
actually are - unless very carefully delimited by genuinely new data,
from the full
variety of relevant approaches.
Now, try thinking over this one, if you've just - naively - assumed
that the great dishonest die easily. Despite very strong
counter-arguments (and I’d say devastating, except that we’ve only got
the barest fragments) at the time (and I certainly can’t better
them on the basics), plus the massive successes over recent centuries
of the physical sciences and technology, it's probably only
in the last
50 years or so that there've really ceased to be new (serious)
philosophers who’ve considered themselves Platonists - and then, very
rapidly, all of that postmodernist shit arrived, to provide yet another safe
haven, for those that still wanna make light of consensual reality via
Now, that's well over two millennia...And, you could definitely make a
much stronger case for re-reading Plato than Marx & Foucault put
together - although I'd've (personally) denied that only a few short
As Eric Havelock carefully proved, in the year I was born, and about a
thinker he in very many ways deeply despised (think about it - YES? -
would Marx, or Foucault, or any
other “theorist” whom you’ve been
trained to revere...have been fundamentally honest enough to’ve done
this? And Havelock was twice the original thinker - at least - that
those two particular turds were, put together...and his best book’s
still out of print, by the way)...Plato was much
more of an innovator
than even most of his disciples claimed.
He didn't invent the idealism which they all loved him for - that was
from the Pythagoreans & others, as Plato admitted, since he was
carefully selective about whose views he distorted - just
the realists/democrats, basically...
No, Plato's actual
genius (and I don’t actually think the term is
meaningless - try looking up it’s origins sometime) was as a prose
stylist, whose coinages furnished the new philosophies (and they soon
multiplied - which he would’ve hated) with a hell of a lot of key terms
that we all now take for granted - which is why his interpretations
lived, even as those of his original opponents died, or went
They, unfortunately, tended to concentrate on teaching - for money -
and orally, to boot...and used their relatively brief writings as
teaching aids (and, please note: I’m doing neither, whilst my
opponents’re doing both).
In contrast, Plato lived the live of a leisured gentleman, mainly taught only
those he wanted to...when he wanted to try things out; and concentrated
on honing his terminology/prose style to demolish rhetoric (which he
named - purely to damn) and the nascent sciences, with a (then)
uniquely smooth style which was a pleasure to read & that presented
itself as the light of pure
reason - as it was well above all that vulgar
If you don’t think that he won - overwhelmingly - then remember, it
took about two millennia for the sciences to get (roughly) back on
track, and - even more damningly - essentialism/idealism (in the philosophical sense) is still the commonest
intellectual error (as it definitely wasn’t
at the time he wrote)...and rhetoric, which is just an older term for “argumentation”, is
still an insult to anyone that hasn’t studied it.
Also note that we’ve (eventually) learned - very carefully - exactly
he got up to & why it worked. As intellectual culture finally
becomes more demotic, we're ripe - overripe, in fact - for a
counter-revolution that'll revisit Plato properly & reverse what
basically went wrong when the literate Western intellectual tradition
got fully into gear after Plato - and yes, Heidegger/Derrida were right (if only here);
there is a genuine problem...
It's not actually that
difficult to correct, as the real war will
actually be over prose style/terminology - as the alternative
traditions're already in place & over-ready for integration into an
That's the one where high culture is - finally - set aside as not
central to understanding culture...where pragmatism/pluralism (not the
parody, but the real thing) replaces idealism/monism as the underlying
framework for philosophy, where the sciences & the humanities stop
making war on each other (at least in general - there are no utopias
here), and where pluralist democracy is freely admitted to be the best
we can manage, and serious intellectuals mostly stop pining for
impossible social orders & start seriously upon the task of trying to
fix the damned thing...and concentrate their energies on arguing about which versions’re best...
If you think that's insanely ambitious, then you're wrong, bluntly...as
I've learned (from bitter experience) that only plans road-tested when
seriously depressed are genuinely reliable, and this one was actually
hammered together in that state - and mostly against my will (because I knew that
it’d be a hell of a job keeping all
of those balls in the air).
Anyway, to return to Plato proper, just to make a point I noted in
passing, now...when I said strong counter-arguments, I wasn't joking.
To my mind, still, the great
Greek intellectual contribution wasn't that of
Plato, or even Aristotle - it was from people like Democritus - the
original atomic theorist & the (last) major figure in the biologically
naturalistic anthropological theory that died a - very - quiet death
after Plato and, also, a natural democratic pluralist...who moved to
Athens (even though he couldn't be a citizen there) so's he could live in
the greatest democracy of the age...
Sadly, he also believed in simple, reasonable arguments - and didn't bother
getting stuck into his opponents - so his work survives only in fragments.
And I've learned the lesson from that, too...
What you do - when you can do no other - is hone your approach in
isolation, get all the key ingredients - and nearly all the secondary
ones - ready to roll, nail your "discourse" style, and - perhaps most
importantly - get your terminology exactly right, so that it appears
way of discussing such issues, so that your opponents seem
(to outsiders) to be weirdly baroque &/or far too simplistic, given
the actual diversity of issues involved.
That’s why “discourse” is OUT - like memes, sociobiology, texts,
differance - you name it... As far as I’m concerned, it’s crucial to
play to the crowd in this demotic age, and - even if I didn’t dislike
all but a few recent theoretical coinages - tactical considerations’d
still rule ‘em out, as using “their” terms is giving comfort to the
enemy, after all (unfortunately, we’re pretty much stuck w/most of
Plato’s, as they’re now the common tongue of intellectuals of all
To give you a real sense of how important this is, I’m even going to
strongly advocate dropping most of Mikhail Bakhtin’s individual
terminology - and I rate his as the most crucial contribution to cultural
theory of the last century. After all, as Plato proved - and Darwin
too, in the reverse direction - the important thing is to win the ideas
game, because the terms then mean what you want...and so, then, exactly
do we need Bakhtin’s “chronotope”, when we might be able to
redefine "genre" to mean exactly that?
A nice thought just occurred to me - can conventional genre approaches
explain why it’s so easy to parody any genre, simply
by shifting the language register far enough...but keeping the action
model roughly similar? Answer is NO, bluntly...as, if
everything is within language in the first place, then that particular
division just doesn’t really operate. With Bakhtin, it’s dead easy. As
the guts of “chronotopes” are complex modes of action in space/time in
the first place, all you have to do is move the language (or the action)
far enough away from anything sensible (however defined) and, there you
go - instant parody!
I’m damned if I can see why this (bloody simple) approach hasn’t yet
subsumed the rest of genre theory - guess it must be too "obvious" & non-textual for
yer genuinely "scholarly" types....
Back to the chase.... Darwin was much
smarter than Bakhtin on the
terminology front - he invariably used simple common-language
composites like “natural selection”, and even adopted phrases like
“survival of the fittest” (Spencer) when everyone else did - even
though he markedly disliked most of them (he’d worked hard on his
terminology, after all) - and then re-wrote his greatest work
repeatedly, for new & “improved” editions, albeit all current
scholar/biologists prefer the original...
However, this (eventually) meant that everyone who actually went to
same - back then - ended up interpreting other people’s phrases/terms
fashion - whilst the (actually Spencerian) “Social Darwinists”
gradually dwindled to a crank fringe, since they were so obviously out
of tune with Darwin himself.
Now, those are unbeatable
tactics in support of the right argument, but
can only be used by someone w/some real modesty in his makeup - and I
just (then) wondered if Darwin studied Plato on tactics (a century
before Havelock), since he, rather than the theologians, was really
Darwin’s great opponent on the most basic level...
And...if you think that there’ll be massive resistance by the current
humanities academia to a massively researched proposal to dump
postmodernism, in favour of a firmly based & carefully selected
theoretical pluralism - then, think again...
The state of play today - but one that’s hardly visible to the
undergrads - is that hardly anyone really believes
most of that shit -
and they certainly can't defend it convincingly when pushed, as I know
full well from experience - but they’re still riding it in lieu of
anything else available....
Sad, but true...careerism will generate that kind of fundamental dishonesty.
In addition, their by-now long-term stress on "Theory" has made going
back to serious scholarship, deeply informed by commonsense intuitions
that’ve been properly thought through (the best of the old package)
deeply unattractive - which is also fair enough, I suppose...(hell...I
must be getting tolerant in my old age).
And careerism has also meant that there was simply no time to
of the areas needed to replace an overarching model
like postmodernism (however defined). Result is, there's a bunch of
separate cabals all over, who've nailed critiques in one area - and
very little attempt to try & ask what a positive theoretical
program might mean overall...
Another aside, here...on my favourite current question for postmodernists:
“...so, you’ve influenced a bunch of undergrads - who have to satisfy
YOU to do well, so that’s no fair - and (as well) you’ve got another
bunch - the badly disgruntled postgrads trapped in serf-like conditions
- but (please
) just ask them off the record & you’ll get a shock - but otherwise, tell me... just who else believes in your shit?
Now...let me pick a nice example - if you can find me ONE postmodernist
mechanic, just one, then I’ll eat everything I’ve said here today....
try to weasel out of it by claiming mechanics can’t have
serious intellectual interests - because that’s elitist nonsense of the
sort you’re always claiming to be subverting...
Good mechanics - after
all - are master practitioners...and their “practices” damn well work
- so, why NO converts?
Well...I’ll tell you why, since you so evidently can’t...it’s because
they have to deal, on a daily basis, with complex, real-world physical
systems - and the sheer recalcitrance of these makes a mockery of your
systemic nominalism/radical skepticism, to such a degree, that they
couldn’t even begin
to entertain your ideas seriously for one minute & still
Now...forget what that "says" about them - they’re fine - and think about
YOU.... just what does this have to say about your precious theories,
Allright - enough w/the aside...I think I’ve rubbed enough salt into
that wound - I’ve established that times’re over-ripe...but,
then...why ME? Well, I’ve thought this through in (at least) a dozen ways -
and, like Darwin, I think I can well deny overweening arrogance...and,
as you’ve seen, I think there’s a damn good case to be made for that
particular problem crippling a lot of potentially great synthesists -
and all I can (really) say is this...
After all, if I started out on this project full-tilt (as opposed to
reading lots of science/history etc... (well after getting Bakhtin in
place as my key cultural & language theorist) only in 1994, and didn't
feel I was ready to start producing seriously 'till 2003, and I read
faster than almost anyone else (fact)...plus, I devoted most of my time
to same - no job, remember, means no responsibilities - then, given the
additional fact that so much of the crucial work only came out in the
last ten years, I just don't think anyone w/real responsibilities (ie.:
academics) could've managed a fraction of same....
Remember, you've gotta know
the fields concerned, not just "miraculously" light upon the best book,
and said fields're too dynamic for histories (or even survey articles) to
help that much. Add in the (crucial) importance of group musical
"practice" as guide to thinking about complex open human systems, and I
think you can get the picture...
Still, I'd've considered floating the result as a thesis - but (sadly) supervision'd be a joke - however, I'd also
have had to play “their” rhetorical game, not mine... And I've - definitely - got much better rhetoric...
theoretical pluralism - not some "scientific" takeover bid - should prove a very attractive rallying call for those who genuinely
want to build something useful....