Monday, June 09, 2003

The annus terribilis for the progressive intellectual, of course, was 1989. Chinese dissidents in Tiananmen Square erected a Goddess of Democracy, eschewing their own traditions for those of the presumably dysfunctional West. The Soviet Union imploded, opening its archives and proving correct just about every charge made by every right-wing nut of the fifties. Vietnam was a puppet of the Soviets and Chinese; Alger Hiss was guilty; the American Communist Party was a stooge of Moscow. Worse, a despised America was revealed to have been the inspiration for all those Eastern European dissidents it was once so fashionable to fret over. Faced with Marxism's collapse, the intellectuals dismissed it as "Vulgar Marxism" and invented a new class of oppressed victims.

The result is what Wolfe calls "Rococo Marxism," the hermeneutics of suspicion unleashed on behalf of the "new proletariats": "women, non-whites, put-upon white ethnics, homosexuals, transsexuals, the polymorphously perverse, pornographers, prostitutes (sex workers), hardwood trees — which we can use to express our indignation toward the powers that be and our aloofness to their bourgeois stooges, to keep the flame of skepticism, cynicism, irony, and contempt burning." Hence the ascendancy of Derrida, Foucault et al. and their American knock-offs like Stanley Fish and Judith Butler. As Wolfe slyly suggests, however, Fish's Jaguar and scarves and six-figure salary reveal that, rather than an instrument for dismantling the capitalist patriarchy, High Theory is just another commodity for the academic entrepreneur to peddle. In other words, the anti-bourgeois fundamentalists are as hungry for status and lucre as any Wall-Street pirate or suburban real-estate agent.

From a review of Tom Wolfe's Hooking Up. Which I am damn sure going to read.


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