Friday, 15 July 2005

Theory's Empire: Fact Checkin' Fukuyama, or Count Them Numbers! They's Numbers! In "Presentism," Graham Good argues that Francis Fukuyama's brilliant Hegelian work called The End of History was dismissed unread by most theorists despite (or because of) its offer of a coherent and persuasive vision of where we are in human history. If any further justification were needed for the dismissal, it was provided by the news that Fukuyama worked fro the U.S. State Department. So why bother with study, argument or disproof? (288). For reasons unclear to me then--and still murky to me now--I didn't buy it. I'd seen too many serious engagements with Fukuyama's argument for Good's claim to be true. So I did some fact-checking of the cursory but thorough sort beloved by bloggers everywhere. Here are the results: A general search of JSTOR reveals 653 citations of Fukuyama's The End of History. Limit the database to "Language & Literature," and you're left with 57. "Not bad!" you yell? (Self-congratulation is so becoming.) Considering that the "Language & Literature" is one of the four largest sub-groups in the database (63 journals to History's 57, Business' 59 and Economics' 40), that means the vast majority of citations of Fukuyama appear in other fields. So how seriously have the folks who study "Language & Literature" taken one of the most influential theories--ideological inclinations notwithstanding--of the past 15 years? Well, they're not doing too well in terms of pure numbers. But maybe the literary scholars who take the time to challenge his argument do so seriously. A quick tour: Social Text's editorial board loves to publish articles that bash Fukuyama. To wit: David Scott argues that "Fukuyama's thesis (such as it is) is simply that the changes and transformations taking place around the world today ... should not be seen as isolated, contingent events" (12). Further condemnation: "it may be felt, rightly or wrongly, that The End of History, elegant and learned as it may appear, is merely the work of the U.S. State Department ideologue and therefore hardly worth reflecting on" (14). Scott's evalution (such as it is) is simply dismissive, merely the work of a Social Text ideologue and hardly worth reflecting on. In Specters of Marx, Derrida calls The End of History and the Last Man "the grammar school exercise of a young, industrious, but come-lately reader of Kojeve" who possesses a "sophisticated naivete" and a neoconservative "evangelism" (56, 62). Judith Butler doesn't diss so much as dismiss Fukuyama as Kojeve-lite, then says this about "their" theory: "On the contrary, in a sense that will become important to interrogate, the unrealizability of the end of history is precisely what guarantees futurity, for if history were to have an end, a telos, and if that end were knowable in the present, then the future would be known in advance of its emergence, and the futrue would be always already present" (4). This is a stunningly general argument: if we know exactly will happen, then the "future" is in some sense "present." As in: if I throw a ball up...
Life among the Bhabhatistas: a Memoir in the Key of Clatter, for Dry Bones and Cello Brad Delong complains of the noise my dry bones make when they clatter. Then he sprints below decks and stands, in the boiler room, at the contact point, before the mast. (I'm relieved his metaphor's metaphorical: I would pity the crew quartered in the boiler room.) He says: Over at The Valve, they are talking about the book Theory's Empire--and thus about the damage done by "Critical Theory" and its spawn on the American humanities over the past generation. But most of it is all too... theoretical. What work can you do with statements like... ...and then he quotes, among other things, the second half of the fourth paragraph of my contribution as an example of the bloodlessness of the Valve's critique of Theory. Now, DeLong is sharp on matters economic, but if his reading of my essay's typical of his analysis of all matters outside economics, then I applaud his decision to stick to his strengths. On what grounds, if not logical, would he have literary critics confront the excesses of more Theoretically-minded critics? My essay, as you know, fingers the decline of rigorous thought as the motive force behind the rise of Theory in the humanities. And I argue my point, if you please, rigorously. But rigor and logic are bloodless, whereas invective is sanguifluous. In Timothy and Sean's posts, the streets run crimson as the life runs from the things which late were Theories. Those posts excel where mine fail: they make sweeping arguments designed to appeal to those who are already convinced of Theory's vacuity. In other words, they have the rhetorical flair which appeals to someone who, like DeLong, dismisses Theory as so much blather. And some of it is. However, no one who practices one or another of the regnant Theories will read Timothy or Sean's posts and reevaluate their life's work. They will recognize, in both, the hostility that they and theirs have (admittedly) earned. But it still reads hostile, and it's still likely to be ignored. Consider an example: Sean and Timothy are Generals in the War Against Theory. All available intelligence points to a battalion of Bhabhatistas hiding in the Deconstructed Zone. On the eve of battle, General McCann delivers a rousing condemnation of the Bhabhatistas. General Burke follows suit. The troops, intoxicated by the rhetoric, grab their gear and prepare for the assault. Sounds about right to me. But what would happen if Covert Operative McCann delivered that same condemnation to Bhabhatistas he bunks with? How long before the life begins running from the rapidly de-sanguinating body of poor C.O. McCann? Not long at all. So C.O. McCann, knowing his intentions and his audience, would probably choose to encourage defection by other means. "We have the logic," he mouths to a bunk-mate. "But, the Bhabha said..." "Forget about the Bhabha!" he whispers with a vehemence belying volume. "The Bhabha lied. Logic is real..." "...The Logic is The Real?" "No," McCann mumbles. "Logic is real. As in 'it exists.'" "Oh, I...

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