No he didn't. You caught me. He said:
The deeper problem here is something Scott has been pretty merciless about at his own blog and The Valve: a meaningful reading of alliances made and alliances broken requires fidelity to those tools of analytic social science and historicism that theory (poststructuralist and otherwise) mostly abjures or uses in a mood of romantic bemusement. [...] What I'm referring back to is Scott's remarks about the mobility of a cultural studies/theory sense of the politics: its "left" is not any kind of socially incarnated left (save the social habitus of the constituencies drawn to the writing and consumption of theory, which is semi-effaced in the writing of such work). Its sense of left-ness is derived from a mutable, shifting search of representational space for transgression, liminality, culture-war, contestation, whereupon sides are taken, tents are pitched, and a left posture affirmed.
Funny how anytime Burke says something it sounds so much more eloquent than when I do. But he has a point: I do think that. This whole conversation has me reliving the week I spent reading nothing but back issues of Critical Inquiry in preparation for the Theory's Empire event.
As I moved through them, I found myself attracted to the theoretical stylings of that earlier generation of theorists, none of whom seemed stricken with the unthinking commitment to irrational positions I observe in contemporary theorists. For this reason, Alphonse van Worden's accusation struck me as willfully ignorant and particularly absurd:
This may have something to do with rational, good old fashioned Discerning Consumption's loss of market share to faddish Theory. Poor shopwindow display.
She describes "Discerning Consumption," a neologism whose wit sags with every flat iteration, as a desire for a return to something "rational, good old fashioned." Given my oft-stated position on Derrida (articulated in the essay to which I had linked once and mentioned linking to two other times in that thread) you would think someone interested in condemning it would bother to learn what it is. She didn't. The quickness to condemn despite a dearth of evidence and her determination to remain ignorant of the evidence despite my proferring it is what I've come to expect from self-identified theorists.
Others have recently caused me to question the validity of this expectation. But even they sometimes slip into bad habits. Case in point: the current (and ongoing) conversation between Sean, Rich, Jodi and Matt in which I figure as someone who, contra Sean, attempts to take seriously the claims of all participants. Only I'm not "contra Sean." It's unfair to Sean to ignore his recent (and forthcoming) discussion of Derrida's apocalyptic thought, in which he engages with the text as seriously as Adam praised Abrams for engaging with Derrida's earlier work. Now, as Adam pointed out, there are problems with Abrams' interpretation of Derrida, and there may well be problems wtih Sean's. But problematic interpretations are not sweeping dismissals. Similarly, when I finish composing this I'm going to tackle some of Jodi's work on Zizek. I may disagree with her conclusions, but if I honestly engage the arguments from which she draws them, would someone take issue with the integrity of the intentions I brought to the work? In other words, to echo Sean, would my disagreement with her arguments necessarily imply that I'm another David Horowitz? Given the figure I've become in this debate, I believe that all parties involved would assume that I approached her texts with intellectual integrity and evaluated them accordingly. I would be no David Horowitz.
How about I confuse this? Given my stated apprehensions about the psychoanalytic theory and weak alliegences to Foucauldian thought, I'll be strongly disinclined to agree with her conclusions because I'll no doubt find the assumptions on which her premises are based suspect. Still everyone involved in this debate will probably believe that I'm engaged in an honest evaluation of her work. How have I earned the benefit of the doubt? How has Sean not? Why does he deserve Horowitzian opprobrium whereas I do not? Institutional politics. Sean provides an object lesson in bad faith argument when he deliberately packages Matt in the same box as Ward Churchill, Pol Pot and stupidity:
The masters of these kinds of rhetorical tactics are the likes of David Horowitz and Christopher Hitchens. Their examples are worthy of being avoided. Consider some hypothetical possibilities. If I were like David Horowitz, I could ask you: Matt, just how do you distance yourself from Ward Churchill? Or, I could say: Matt, you’re on the left aren’t you? How do you distance yourself from the show trials, the great famine, the gulag, the reeducation camps, Pol Pot, etc. That would be a stupid, meanspirited, reductive and solely polemical question, so I’m not going to ask it. Let’s choose some less incendiary examples. I could say: Matt, you acknowledge that there’s a lot of bad theory out there, yet you defend theory from its critics. How do you distance yourself from the context of stupidity?
Strangely, Jodi--whose attempt to package anti-theoretical arguments in the same box with racism, sexism and nationalism inspired Sean's response--agrees that this gesture is the product of an institutional logic, one in which the "politics," despite being couched in the familiar left/right vocabulary, are institutional. As she says:
so-called theory positions are just as situated as so-called anti-theory; in the US, a left-right politics has built up around this; this does not reduce either side to these politics, it's simply part of their institutional contexts.
In this snippet she's still providing an intellectual history of the way the theory and anti-theory positions were mapped onto positions on the popular U.S. political spectrum during the height of the so-called Culture Wars in the '80s and '90s. Her map of the debate accurately depicts the arbitrarily but intensely "political" arrangement back before the stakes were so high. Stakes? High? As she says:
[The] evolving nature of the university and practice of scholarship are, particularly now, part of large scale political struggles. The Right has been actively organizing and recruiting students, passing legislation to guarantee that conservatives will be hired, that those teaching in Middle Eastern studies will be 'fair,' etc. This is part of the culture war of the last 20 years, but also taken to new levels. I have noticed a difference in my classrooms since 9/11, one that is hard to pin down, but one that asserts faith over reason more often than before.
She couldn't be more right. But the conclusion she draws from this situation is one I can't brook. She seems still to consider the map of institutional political terrain--the one formed when the stakes of the debate were whether and/or how much Plato/Shakespeare/Milton/&c. students should be exposed to--an accurate survey of the contemporary extra-institutional political terrain. She suggests--and Jodi, if I misrepresent your position, please correct me--that the terms of the debate as they were prior to this upswell of conservative faux-populism are identical to those now. That what needs doing is retrenchment of positions already staked instead of a reassessment of all tactics.
In short, she advocates the construction of an intellectual Maginot Line, when what is direly needed is a reevaluation of the "political" quality of "academic politics" in light of the organized, mobilized and conventionally political threat represented by an adversary of an entirely different sort. In this respect, despite my (now possibly fleeting) status as the figure welcomed by both "sides" or whatever quasi-martial metaphor you prefer, I must say I come down strongly on Sean's. Either intimations of racism, sexism, anti-semitism, nationalism, &c. are politically charged or they're better left unmentioned. To continue to play the institutional politics of '80s and '90s is to fundamentally misunderstand or overestimate the importance of purely institutional affiliation in contemporary society.
I've tried to finish this post for two days now, but people won't stop talking. So I'm stuffing my ears full of cotton, fixing my blinkers and posting without seeing how the debate has proceeded in other places so that I might 1) read about Zizek and 2) write about London.
 This is not latent Francophilia, merely an observation about a famously failed military tactic predicated on a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of the new challenge.