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Friday, April 26, 2013

Jacques Derrida: Deconstructionist Genius or Self-Bamboozled Fraud? Part III

             Please Be Sure To Read the First Two Posts on Derrida Before This One 

             What Follows Is a Much Fuller Version of the Buggy Comment . . .

. . . sent originally in reply to the NYRB post on the life of Jacques Derrida and how it helps to explain much of philosophical work.  Click here for the post.   Oh, now that prof bug found some time to finish this fuller version, it turns out to be so long that it will have to be divided into two more posts to reach the end.

The Fleshed-Out Buggy Stuff:

Like the rest of the posters here, Ms. Eakin, I [prof bug'] appreciate your illuminating comments on Jacques Derrida's life --- all of which help to make sense of his philosophical writings and public utterances. 

They're doubly illuminating, come to that, thanks to the clear and straightforward writing you've used here . . . no pretense whatsoever.  Too bad the followers of Derrida, Michel Foucault, Jean-François Lyotard, and all the other post-modernist thinkers in France and elsewhere haven't used a similar writing style.  Far from it.  One and all, it seems, they have emulated to near-perfection the convoluted verbiage and utterly obscure hot-air prose-style of their intellectual heroes.  The same is true of those equally avid devotees who regard Theodore Adorno in his German and American phases during the 1920s through the mid-1940s as a giant philosophical wonder, even if --- as the leading member of the neo-Marxist Frankfurt School of Critical (Cultural) Theory --- he wasn't at all a post-modernist and said lots of ludicrously silly things about American life in muddle-headed pompous ways. 

In any case, since Adorno (as you'll see soon) is a big heroic thinker in most postmodernist circles, we'll have a fair amount to say about his recklessly nutbin claims before we get down to Derrida's even more preposterously screw-loose hocus-pocus.

We Can Go Further

All of these postmodern superstars and their epigoni here and abroad have done little more than churn out agitated swirls of lengthy gibberish and snobbish harebrained views . . . yes, even when they claim to be championing populist social movements and saving the Others and the rest of the exploited and downtrodden masses in America and Europe: the masses, you see, not just victimized by rabid capitalism and pseudo-democracy of the standard Marxist lingo, but also, for certain groups, by remorseless white racism and male-enforced misogyny.

Adorno was in this vein, but with a twist.  Along with the rest of the neo-Marxist Frankfurt School specializing in cultural studies, almost all of whom migrated during the Nazi period to Britain or the USA, Adorno himself concentrated in exposing what he called the implacably cunning and nefarious inanities of the new culture-industry . . . and especially in the United States, the vanguard in all aspects of mass popular culture after WWI: above all, thanks to big technological breakthroughs in radio, popular music, records, magazines, and movies.  Not to forget, needless to add, TV's relentless spread after WWII before Adorno returned to Frankfurt, Germany in 1949. 

For Adorno, almost all of it was horrendous: not just stupid and vacuously anti-intellectual, you understand . . . rather, calculatedly exploitative, the modern equivalent of Roman bread-and-circus stuff for the miserable masses. 

Meaning More Concretely?

Meaning that the new popular culture, in all its variety, was at bottom a ruthless form of deliberate brainwashing.   The more the populous "standardized pap" spread from the 1920s on, the more the endlessly ruthless moneybags boss-class running the culture-industry could count on brutalizing the minds of the already dimwitted American masses, making them (in Adorno's view) even more unreflective and anti-intellectual than before while, simultaneously, you understand, seducing them, bit by bit, into submissive acceptance of their miserable and oppressive existence in class-ridden American life.  And to what end of all this fiendishly furtive mind-control?  Nothing more, but also nothing less, than to enshrine monopoly capitalism and the existing status quo as something irrevocable --- totally unchangeable. 

With the real beneficiaries, of course, just a tiny few --- the  ever richer top-dogs in the culture-industry, along with those in the rest of the new giant corporations, the big banks, the proliferating mass-media, and what have you.  Not to overlook, needless to add, the less wealthy but well-off toady politicians at all levels of government in the USA, themselves, in all but name, prisoner-puppets manipulated by their rich donors.

The Political and Economic Fall-Out?

What with the growing impact of the fiendish double-dealing culture-industry, soon joined after WWII by a new prosperity and consumer-industry, socialism ---so Adorno and the other Frankfurt immigrants lamented --- could never be a reality for the American masses.  As for Franklyn D. Roosevelt's New-Deal, it was tepid to begin with.  Worse,  by the time Adorno gathered and published in one book all these mind-controlling insights into the core nature of American society and culture --- in 1944, and in German (a book we'll return to in a few moments) ---the New Deal had lost all its radical reform-aims. 

 So, politically speaking, what lay ahead for America?

Simply said, Fascism.  No, not necessarily in the blatant Hitlerian or Mussolinian militarized jack-booted manner. Rather, so Adorno and lots of other Frankfurt Critical Theorists agreed, in einem im amerikanischen Stil.

Or, as the stalwart Criticial Theorist Herbert Marcuse put it later in a popular 1964 book, One-Dimensional Man, a shallow, banal, mindlessly submissive Fascist-style, with consumerism and ever horrid pop culture that emerged after WWII inisidiously buying off the masses, who --- for all their mindless and dreary existence as exploited underdogs --- came to believe that their meaningless lives weren't so bad after all.  And, to ask once again, the daily hit-the-jackpot con-men winners of all this crafty hocus-pocus ?    Needless to repeat, the rich big-shots in what Adorno had called two decades earlier the ever more manipulative stage of capitalism --- AKA, advanced industry society.  The brainwashing fraud all the more nefarious, from the 1950s on, as the scheming elites in the pop culture-industry were now aided --- so Marcuse argued --- by the moneybags bosses in the fast-growing mass media, the new giant advertising complex, the monopolistic industrial corporations, the behemothic banks, and of course, as before for Adorno, by  their strong-armed political sycophants who managed the new industrial-military complex of the cold war. 

And it gets worse.  What with the masses now inveigled, so Marcuse argued further, into an ever more vapid and submissive  life- styles, thanks to the continual spawning by the dominant elites  of bamboozling and alluring  "false needs" that required ever more consumption, loans, and piled-up debt.  In short it was Fascism in an American style all right . . . from which all critical thought had faded away into oblivion. 

A buggy exaggeration surely --- surely? --- of what any sane and thoughtful scholar might think in 1944, with a year to go in the global war against Fascism and Militarism, never mind twenty years later on in the cold war, and especially for Marcuse by the mid-1960s.

Nope: No Exaggeration ---Just  the Opposite. 

Want harder evidence of Adorno's (and other Frankfurt Critical Theorists') views?  Then bear with prof bug as he examines a little deeper Adorno's extravagantly pompous, screw-loose animus toward popular culture and its relation to the ultimate outcome of mass-brutality, mass-stupidity and mass-submission sooner or later to some form of Fascism a l'Americain 

Start With Adorno on Jazz, Other Popular Music, Hollywood Films, and Hollywood Cartoons --- All Auguries of Fascism

All of these new technologically based cultural innovations, no exception, served up irrevocably "standardized" pap that lacked all originality, spontaneity, and independence from money-dominated moguls and their Machiavellian lackeys in America's culture-industry and political life --- or so the Mastermind critic said over and again.  More specifically, for Adorno --- convinced that the atonal music of Arnold Schoenberg was one of the few ways to subvert the onrush of popular culture (he came to hate Schoenberg's later 12-tone shift)--- jazz, the rest of popular music, radio and records, and of course Hollywood films were deliberating facilitating  the gradual triumph of fascism in American life. 

Even movie-cartoons --- get this! --- aided the jack-booted triumph. 

How So?  Or Donald Duck As a Quack-Quack Avant-Garde Portent

Gotta be kidding, buggy?  Nope once again. 

To Adorno's Marxist-Critical Theory thinking, recall, the new culture-industry's boss-class in populist mass society --- the USA pioneering the way --- intended with stealthy cunning, all tricky-like, to indoctrinate the simple minds of the Americanos into accepting  their miserable, underdog existence as unchangeable.  Meaning more specifically?  Meaning that, bit by bit --- each day that went by --- the insidious culture-industry sought to mentally ear-stroke and eye-please the public with third-rate music, stupid comedies, romantic movies, and mysteries on screen: not to forget lots of bang-bang westerns,  thriller books and magazines, along with flim-flam love stories for hapless women.  Until, just to repeat, their already inferior minds came to believe, over time, that their wretched lives in capitalist, pseudo-democratic America really weren't so bad after all.  No, not so bad as they might otherwise think. 

The predicted result? 

Thanks to all the crafty brainwashing, the oppressed masses would go on living their despairing, hopeless lives with resignation.  But, simultaneouosly, if you could watch a Marx-brothers' comedy on Saturday night, and on Sunday listen to the Lone Ranger or the Boston Redsox game on the radio  --- while on Monday at the factory or in an office you  chatter at the drinking fountain about the New York Yankees' latest wins --- then, surely, things couldn't really be that bad, could they?  Ha! Fat chance of that. 

Something else : Don't forget the impact here of strong religious belief in America . . . always a bête noir for Marxist thinkers.   Thanks to it and the culture-industry's systematic sly-as-a-fox indoctrination, the dimwitted American masses had another consolation besides the idiocies of the culture-industry.  There was always the consolation of a fantasized belief in a better life after death. 

Enter the Nefarious Movie-Cartoons: Or Who's the Worst Fascist Mind-Controller: Donald Duck, Daffy Duck, or Bugs Bunny?

If you think that the Hollywood moguls and the other capitalist big-shots in America's culture-industry  couldn't have been that clever with their calculated indoctrinating strategies, you're wrong.  To prove it, our genius Critical-Theorist from Frankfurt --- ever a smart cookie --- unmasked all by himself the ingenious role of cartoons in all this systematic brainwashing.  If American-style Fascism lay just down the road, that money-bags goal was furthered by the ever popular cartoons that accompanied the shameless, standardized main movie-features . . . and especially those of Donald Duck . . . a kind of quack-quack combo in Adorno's mind, it seemed,  of Mussolini and Hitler as might have been imagined, say, by a daffy inmate in a insane-asylum who was high on laughing-gas.

You think prof bug is pulling your leg here? 

Maybe, say, at the expense of the esteemed front-line celebrity of the Frankfurt School of Critical Theory.  Because surely --- surely --- nobody in his right mind would contrive something at this level of inanity. Oh yeah?  Well, consider this gem from one of Adorno's 1944 book, Dialektik der Aufklärung, that he wrote with a Frankfurt colleague, Max Horkheimer.  (A tip: the book in German is nearly unfathomable.  The American translation, the latest in 2002, makes Dialectic of Enlightenment far more readable.)  Here's one dilly from its first chapter.

"Cartoons were once exponents of fantasy as opposed to rationalism. They ensured that justice was done to the creatures and objects they electrified, by giving the maimed specimens a second life. All they do today is to confirm the victory of technological reason over truth. A few years ago they had a consistent plot which only broke up in the final moments in a crazy chase, and thus resembled the old slapstick comedy. Now, however, time relations have shifted. In the very first sequence a motive is stated so that in the course of the action destruction can get to work on it: with the audience in pursuit, the protagonist becomes the worthless object of general violence.

"The quantity of organized amusement changes into the quality of organized cruelty . . . Insofar as cartoons do any more than accustom the senses to the new tempo, they hammer into every brain the old lesson that continuous friction, the breaking down of all individual resistance, is the condition of life in this society. Donald Duck in the cartoons and the unfortunate in real life get their thrashing so that the audience can learn to take their own punishment." [Note: buggy paragraphing here.]

Holy Toledo!

What did Adorno think of Bugs Bunny?  Or worse, the half-crazed smark-alecky Daffy Duck  . . . maybe, come to that, wasn't Daffy always decked out in black skin-duds, a clear sign that he was likely to be a genocidal  SS-Spy? And didn't his slurry speach seem to suggest a German background?  As for Bugs, he was so clever at outwitting Elmer Fudd and all his other enemies that surely --- surely! --- he couldn't really be an inane American, could he?

To Be Continued