We all take shortcuts. We all have a couple of scholars in our pockets who, in a pinch, we feel comfortable reading what they've written about Thinker X instead of tackling Thinker X herself. Admit it. You and I both know where you learned about Ernst Bloch. There's no shame in it. (Anyway, in Scholar Heaven everyone gets to read all the books they always meant to get around to reading, so why not cut few terrestrial corners?)
I say this partly in response to forgottenboy and Adam's comments in defense of Freud on the basis of established utility. As a means to local argumentative ends, i.e. stripped of its universal explanatory power, I could live with the continued presence of psychoanalytic thought in literary studies. I know—and am presently arguing with—people for whom this better-than-squat model enables them to produce incisive work.
The splits that we see at work between so-called modernists and
postmodernists, between Lacanians and Deleuzians, between all manner of
methodological beasts, are in large part not splits caused by
differences in reading for meaning, but rather differences in the
methods by which interpretation and the subsequent production of
meaning is possible. In other words,the theoretical assumptions that
inform the interpretation determine the possibilities and final form
that any interpretation will take.
That final sentence speaks directly to my concern that even a local psychoanalytic explanation has global effects on the shape and outcome of the argument it assists. The argument may have turned another way—perhaps an equally tendentious one, but differently so—had it not adopted a set of ready-made psychoanalytic concerns. A Jamesian reading may have worked better, but the psychoanalytic has greater appeal. Why?
Cultural capital, for one. Tradition, for another. Equally powerful—and equally obvious—is its status as a system of ideas with a built-in fail-safe, what Ernest Gellner calls "a self-maintaining circle of ideas [conveniently] well-equipped with devices for evading falsification." If we're going to take a short-cut, why not take the well-respected, traditional one we can expertly defend? To put it differently:
We all turn conservative when we have our hand in the cookie jar. It seems natural to stuff our guilty consciences behind the most heavily fortified position available, and psychoanalysis is it. I understand the motivation, but fear it over-applied. (In some cases, "only-applied.")
I'm not knocking strong ideological and philosophical convictions per se. I am, however, questioning the seriousness with which they're held when folks betray little or no awareness of the trap 1) integral to their theoretical druthers which they 2) spring with postal regularity.
Why not admit it? Why insist that one is open to new ideas when the very system to which one so rigidly subscribes precludes the possibility of accepting them? If everyone else knows you play a rigged game, shouldn't you?