Re: unusual language [postmodernism]

Jeffrey R Galin (galin+@PITT.EDU)
Wed, 9 Oct 1996 20:17:41 -0400

Nick wrote several interesting things and then this:

> So there are primary texts--writers who are more important to read than
> others in a given field, with given discourse conventions, in a given
> time, and given place. That these givens may all ultimately arbitrary and
> subjective and deconstructable doesn't do much to mitigate the force they
> exert on graduate students learning a field, preparing for oral exams,
> writting dissertations, or professionals getting published, doing research
> and teaching, getting tenure and promotion.

No doubt there is a canon of critical texts that graduate students
read in order to enter "beyond school." Yes, these texts tend to shift.
Yes, knowledge of certain authors is as much a form of cultural currency
in some contexts as is a diploma in hand. Of course, this does not
explain why a course in critical theory will look different in almost
every department in which it is taught. But that is another set of

All this said, I still find it fundamentally odd that academics
trained as cultural critics would argue the need for ranking and classing
texts within postmodern theory, that one author is more authentic or more
of a source. Seems to me that Rue's question about the strip mall is more
on target than figuring out who said what first in print. That is
postmodernism, as so many have suggested , is not a theory so much as it
is an epistemology, a regime of truth that governs how statements of truth
and value are validated and specific effects of power are attached to

The strip mall is a manifestation of the current regime of
truth, as is the dramatic explosion of the WWW within pubic (rather than
academic) domains, and as is the mania for news that has emmerged out of
the past two decades. One does not need to study Heidegger to understand
that postmodernism is an aesthetic that forms our ways of knowing and is
manifest in cultural production of all kinds.

Furthermore, the cultural currency that is so important for
graduate students, as Nick points out, doesn't play in most other
discourse communities. We saw the obvious result of this discrepancy in
the culture wars debates that broke out in the popular press in the early
1990s. Basically, people disregard what they don't understand (if they
don't worship it, that is).

Ultimately, a ranking of authorities serves as much to priviledge
and exclude as does overly jargony prose. It is one form of elitism.
This is the paradox I was trying to point out in Beth's suggestion about


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