A Rightist Post Modernism?

gen-mus list

July 12, 2000

Perhaps one of the oddest chapters in the [possibly] rightist part of postmodernism's past is Paul de Man, the Guru of the Yale deconstructionists. It is often suggested that Yale really gave deconstructionism its worldwide popularity. In 1987, the _New York Times_ revealed that de Man had written numerous articles for pro-Nazi publications during Belgium's occupation. The articles were extremely anti-Semetic, (among many other things, he assigned Jewish people many negative qualities and called for their mass deportation.) 

For years many of de Man's deconstructionist colleagues knew about his dark past and remained silent about it. After the exposes, Derrida came to de Man's defense with articles such as "Like the Sound of the Sea Deep Within a Shell: Paul de Man's War." Derrida said that the attacks on de Man for the "mistakes" of his youth were in themselves "exterminating gestures." Derrida's integrity was thrown into question by the opponents of deconstructionism who said his responses only illustrated the theory's moral weaknesses. On the other hand, perhaps no response, regardless of how intelligent or finely nuanced could stand up to the emotions associated with the treatment of the Jews during the war.

Recent research has also fully documented Heidegger's close ties to National Socialism -- thus ending the denials of his defenders. Jeff Collins, _Heidegger and the Nazis_ (New York: Totem Books, 2000) provides a very readable account and also gives a cogent and balanced summary of Heidegger's troubled relationship to postmodernism. (It is only 70 pages and would be an excellent text for students.) 

In 1988 Juergen Habermas expressed the anxiety that German students reading French post-structuralists were reabsorbing their own irrationalist tradition of the prewar era. [Habermas, "Work and Weltasnschauung," in _Heidegger: A Critical Reader, Cambridge, Mass.: Blackwell, 1992, p. 189.]

One of the principle arguments of de Man's work is that desconstructive readings of texts tend to end in "aporias," deadlocks of meaning, or "undecidability." A nihilistic tendency can follow, and this is where the vague trend I sense in new music and art seems to evolve. Where calculated decisions are needed, deconstruction has seemed able to do little more than insisit on the imperative of deferring or disrupting decision. This has left some artists with a feeling of inaction or helplessness. Building on recent developments in science, this gap is being filled, in part, with ideologies of biological determinism such as those embraced by this year's Ars Electronica [2000]. The view seems to be that biology can provide reliable truths where culture fails. 

When the aporias of postmodernism are filled with ideologies of biological determinism a potentially dangerous mixture seems to evolve that is notably reactionary. For an illustration, see my article "Profoundly Shocking Ars Electronica at <http://www.osborne-conant.org/ars.htm> 

I think important theoretical commentaries could be written about these developments, especially as embraced by the digital arts, which are rapidly redefining music's relationship to the body and creating a new kind of misogyny in the process. Ironically, some of the best responses could probably be formulated by using Heideggers writings on technology. 

These troubling developments also illustrates why the gen-mus and IAWM list should remain active. Through list discourse we can keep each other abreast of developments thus allowing for important and much needed responses by people specializing in gender studies and the arts. 

William Osborne