In Front Page Magazine, Steven Plaut provides a rather idiosyncratic definition of the postmodern academic technique of deconstruction:
Deconstructionism is the nonsensical infantile “philosophy” that argues that words have no meaning, there are no facts nor truth, and the only thing we can REALLY be absolutely certain about are that the US and capitalism and Israel are evil and must be eliminated.
Whatever you may think about the accuracy of this (grimly tongue-in-check?) definition of deconstruction, Plaut’s characterization of deconstruction certainly doesn’t equivocate on the value of the phenomenon he is criticizing.
However, the critique of deconstruction and of ‘postmodernism’ more broadly is not limited to the right. A number of left-wing scholars and journalists, including Terry Eagleton, Alex Callinicos, Martha Nussbaum and Nick Cohen, have made criticisms (whether constructive or destructive!) of recent critical tendencies in the academy and in activism.
I don’t find it easy to come down on either side of this debate. Indeed, are there only ‘two sides?’ I will acknowledge, however, that in the wrong hands, deconstruction is very strong medicine indeed; and like the Socratic pharmakon of Derrida, the panacea will very quickly become a poison.
But how, then, to counter the menace of rigid and formalistic ‘right-on’ pomo critique, which ends up being merely the repudiated mirror image of the ‘classical’ or ‘modern’ critique it supposedly has advanced beyond? How is it possible to separate, however imperfectly, recent academic tendencies from the folly and opportunism of the Regressive Left?
I don’t have any answers.
But I do have questions.
… And responses.
So, here is my attempt to conduct an accessible and readable interpretation of a key trope from a classic of poststructuralist critique: the trope of the Nomad. I’d appreciate hearing your thoughts, especially in terms of how my ideas might be relevant to promoting a healthier, more nuanced and more context-sensitive view of Israel. It seems to me that postmodernism, poststructuralism and deconstruction are more often weaponized against Israel, than used to critique and deconstruct the ‘totalizing’ ideologies of anti-Zionists, anti-Semites and conspiracy theorists.
In their two epic volumes of Capitalism & Schizophrenia, Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari introduced two complementary tropes.
One is the ‘Oedipal’ good burgher and ‘neurotic.’ He is respectable, orderly and decent; but self-enslaved to a moral and theoretical certainty of the true, the beautiful and the good; a certainty in which, deep down, ‘he’ does not believe at all.
The other is the freewheeling and terroristic ‘Nomad,’ who represents a freedom of thought which is not merely ‘liberal’ and ‘decent’ like his opposite number; but rather, which undermines the smug foundational certainties of the civilized Oedipal neurotic.
I would argue that, at times, the various ‘nomadic’ disciplines of the ‘postplex’ (e.g.postmodernism, poststructuralism, postcolonialism, posthumanism), while challenging foundationalism, merely risk inverting the faux-scientific word-worship of the party of Oedipus. The illegitimate children of ‘Solar Oedipus’ are thus the followers of ‘Lunar Oedipus’ who mirrors dimly the Law of the Father he is purportedly rebelling against.
It seems, then, that the Nomad is not free of fission. The new schism is between ‘the Nomad as mendicant,’ a complacent social rebel who undermines the powers of this world by endorsing them; and ‘the Nomad as terrorist,’ who ironically endorses the powers of this world by undermining them.
The mendicant is of the party of Lunar Oedipus.
The Lunar-Oedipal mendicant is trapped in a synchronic, static, timeless ‘formalism’ of ‘forever that,’ which is merely the darkened mirror image of Solar Oedipus.
By contrast, the terrorist lives in a diachronic ‘eternal this,’ that necessitates and facilitates the contextual shift between classical Oedipal-liberal reconstruction and nomadic deconstruction.
Admittedly, these two kinds of Nomads are difficult to mutually dissociate, at least beyond a certain point. But which Nomad can represent a constructively destructive path for future critique?
I would argue that up to now, the history of the postplex has been that of the Lunar-Oedipal Nomad.
Is it not time for those of us who repudiate onesidedly critical views of Israel to take a more contentious stance?
Is it not time to separate ourselves from the Regressive Left mendicants, and seek a liberalism of the backbone?
A heart gentle, but never soft?
A head hard, but never hollow?
And finally, and no doubt most contentiously:
Skillful iron fists that are never raised to initiate aggression, but such that when due season shall arrive (as it inevitably does), we will rain down our shouts and roars of even-handed emancipation and liberty, with merciless precision?
Israel is not ‘The Great Totality,’ and Palestinians are not the ‘The Great Subaltern.’ Working to challenge anti-Israeli and anti-Palestinian sentiment alike will require a certain Stoic hardheartedness…
For without hardheartedness in due season, true and tenderly authentic compassion never once shall flower.
Theoretical and artistic terrorism are valuable enough; but they must stubbornly cede no quarter to the physical violence of the literal terrorism that the Regressive Left have neither the courage nor the conviction to repudiate.
Physical violence must be staunchly opposed by all serious critics, and in a perfectly consistent and evenhanded manner. And this means that serious critique requires a certain (wholly figurative) ‘terrorism’ of its own, so that the aggression of the body can be sublimated into the aggression of the heart and soul.
Otherwise there is no hope for individuals of the human species to live free, equal, and emancipated from all unnecessary fears and burdensome sorrows.