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Deconstruction and the current mess

Elizabeth Powers explains at National Review Online how an insidious element of college campus culture has affected the rest of society.

A recent Wall Street Journal editorial drew attention to the source of the moral denunciation that now dominates journalism: namely, “dogmas that began in the universities.” These dogmas go by various names (among others, “postmodernism,” “multiculturalism”), but I will gather them under the term “deconstruction,” as it best encapsulates what is at their core. It consists of critiquing the writings of past authors, especially male ones, “deconstructing” them, which means exposing the submerged ideology of power, racism, misogyny, repression, and so on that is hidden below the overt text of a novel. This French cultural product, which began to occupy a prominent place in American university literature departments in the 1970s, has had the effect, over several student generations, of bringing literature departments, especially those of foreign languages, to extinction. Why? It is in the DNA of adolescents, even of those who have never heard of Jacques Derrida, to deconstruct, to tear apart the assumptions of their forebears. When professors stopped talking about Milton’s prose and began pointing out his treatment of his daughters, students got the point immediately. Why would 18-year-olds hang around to confirm what they knew only a year or two earlier, anyway: that anyone born before their own birth year doesn’t have a clue? …

… The aim of theory, as it was called in the academy, was to “read forward.” It would no longer be a case, as in traditional scholarship, of reading backward, of studying sources or analyzing the traces of literary predecessors (one could also apply this to historical events), … but instead it would lay bare the biases of its creation — intolerance, racism, privilege, misogyny, you name it — that lived on and was passed down in literary works.

Mitch Kokai / Senior Political Analyst

Mitch Kokai is senior political analyst for the John Locke Foundation. He joined JLF in December 2005 as director of communications. That followed more than four years as chie...

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