Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Paglia on The Death of Academia

Camille Paglia is one of the oddest ducks on planet earth. She's like a living, breathing Freudian slip, except that she seems to mean what she says. You never know what she's going to say next. Even so, I occasionally find myself agreeing with some of her arguments, especially when she takes on academia. Here's one good example, from Canada's Globe and Mail:
Paglia is not a huge fan of deconstructionism, the long-reigning gospel in academe. Western culture is in serious decline not only because it is being overrun by the Philistine armies of the entertainment industry, she says, but because on college campuses across the United States, political correctness has run amok.

"I was in Kansas City on my book tour and met this woman studying public administration, and she was complaining about having to study [poststructuralist French thinker Michel] Foucault. I mean, it's absolutely absurd. It's become doctrine. It's everywhere."

Consuming a force-fed diet of the French intellectual method of Foucault, Jacques Derrida, Jacques Lacan, Roland Barthes and Jean Baudrillard, she adds, students emerge "passive to language, indifferent to fact, and arrogant towards culture."

Academic dissidents have been silenced.

"Philistine armies of the entertainment industry"? I have no idea what she's getting at there. But the rest is true to a word.

I am sure that most people today have no earthly idea just how unearthly the humanities, and literature in particular, have become. The quality of Lit studies has fallen so low that it simply can't go any lower. The problem is not merely that of graduating low-performing students or spending too much time on only one style of literature. It's even lower than that — much, much lower in some schools.

Ever more students seem to be reporting entire quarters spent in 100- and 200-level courses never once reading a book let alone writing an essay about one. They also report spending more time arguing in Lit class about current events and politics (full-time Bush bashing) than they ever spend doing that in their sociology or political science classes. And while not studying literature in a Literature class is bad enough, the situation is made worse by the fact that there's very, very little dissent. It's a wasteland. Any non- Far-Left point of view is snuffed out faster than you can say the words "narrow minded", usually by sneering ridicule from the professor.

I had the same experience myself. I remember hoping that my Lit classes were merely aberrations, but reports coming from other students demonstrated that they were not. Any hope that I did manage to retain was finally demolished some years later when I was invited to teach a writing course at my alma mater. After one term, I refused to consider taking a job in academia ever again. A person of integrity couldn't be a part of such a program.

Literature in American Universities is dead. It's been replaced by a grab-bag of so-called Postmodern doctrines: Structuralism/Post-structuralism/Marxist Dialectic Theory/Critical Theory. Together they all start from one fundamental premise: Reality doesn't exist and you can't know anything. They then proceed to the next phase of education, telling you exactly what you should know: You must accept all of my Leftist propaganda on faith or be cast out. And finally they gird up their newly created Leftist roboticons for going out into the real world: Now we'll show you how to restructure the way you use language so that you can make your enemies think you're smarter than them and at the same time help you believe that you're still being reasonable even when you're not. That's postmodernism in a nutshell.

Philosophically, who's to blame? I'm no philosopher, but I routinely encountered the names Paglia mentioned, especially Foucault and Derrida, and if you've read anything by these language whores, then you'll already know why Literature is dead.

In my view, these men (and Barthes) are so evil they almost make Ellsworth Toohey, the villain in The Fountainhead, look like an understatement. That so many professors in academia seem to revere these mind-destroying, deceitful bastards is one of the scariest aspects of our current world, scarier to me even than a born-again Christian being President, and that's pretty damn scary.

[Edit: Add Paul de Man to the list of witch doctors. I just remembered him.]

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