Postmodernism, Theory, and the End of the Humanities

For more than a decade now, Christopher Norris has been writing clear and informed discussions of where deconstruction and other versions of critical theory in the humanities are headed. The clarity of his accounts has been a public service, since few of the philosophers and literary and cultural theorists he discusses write clearly. Stanley Corngold actually praised "Sartre's deliberate antibourgeois refusal to write well . . . that has proven congenial to [Yale's Paul] De Man." They could write well if they wanted to, but that would mean giving in to the false standards of Western civilization, the capitalist, colonialist, totalizing oppressor that has given them tenure. For years Norris defended the leading writers of Critical Theory from accusations that their deconstructions of logocentric (or phallogocentric) texts from Plato to Husserl were trapping reader and text and the humanities as a whole in a Skinner box of language from which there was no escape and into which ethics and politics appeared only to be revealed as an illusion created by a specter which called itself the Will to Truth, but was in fact Nietzsche's Will to Power. As the years went by and as each generation, lasting about two or three years in this rapidly changing world, advanced by deconstructing the hidden premises of the previous generation, it became clearer and clearer that "that way madness lies." In a series of recent...

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