[Previous] [Main Index] [Next]

Friday, May 10, 2013

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

 This is the final installment in the 5-part series on Derrida, Critical Theory, and Post-Modernism.  Be sure to read the first four parts before you tackle this one.

        What Might Explain All This Pompous, Head-Spinning Turgidity?

All the obscurantist abracadabra, you'll remember --- which the first four buggy posts dealt with ---  originated in  German and French philosophy  or sociology and literary disciplines, only to be emulated later by their bedazzled epigoni in the USA, Britain, Australia, and Canada  . . .but not, note quickly, in English-speaking philosophical circles.  Just the opposite.  Adorno, Heidegger, and Marcuse in Germany --- and, Derrida, Foucault, and the other overblown French-thinkers-of-the-month --- have been widely regarded in those circles as essentially pretentious bullshitting  poseurs.  The epigoni followers, by contrast, are found overwhelmingly in sociology, ethnic studies, feminist studies, literary studies, some historical work, and among certain journalist copy-cats of these studies . . . all of which have been dominated for three or more decades now by postmodernist theoretical work.

That said, what follows by way of explanation is some tossed-out buggy opinions, nothing more, to account for these French and German intellectual origins.  If these opinions have any substance, it's because they're based on prof bug's own studies and teaching abroad in the 1960s and 1970s in France, Germany, and Switzerland . . . with Oxford, where he earned two degrees, a real contrast with these Continental countries. 

And from what bug has learned from others, things haven't changed that much over the last three to four decades. 

Against This Background, Start Here:

Which means --- start, above all, with the traditional structures of European universities, at any rate on the Continent  . . . Britain, please observe again, noticeably different here (more like American universities).  Everywhere in Continental universities, thanks to long-standing aristocratic and other status-hierarchies that had marked European societies for a millennium or more, professors in the humanities and social sciences have been treated, historically, as aloof demigod-mandarins . . . essentially untouchable and unaccountable to others.  And far, far above any explanations of their ideas, verbal or written, to lowly students or young academics.  

If you didn't and don't understand what they've said or written, however obscure, tough luck.  You're too callow and lame-brained to grasp their deep thoughts. And how dare you, a nobody, interrupt Herr Dr. Professor Somebody or Monsieur le professeur très important.

No surprise, Then,

. . .that in these markedly hierarchical universities these days --- over-crowded , under-funded, and distressingly impersonal as well--- students can't raise their hands in classrooms and ask their pontificating professors to clarify or elaborate on what they're claiming. So the professors can say anything and never be challenged. Ditto outside the classrooms. Their treatment of students, both historically and today, is formal and aloof.  Small wonder that there are no office hours or any personal access by students to their professors. 

Click on the continue button below

No surprise either, accordingly, that in the humanities and social sciences --- especially philosophy, history, sociology, literary studies, and even political science --- lots of proclaimed hogwash goes unchallenged. Professors can prattle on in their lectures or in their publications full of dogmatic obiter dicta, all set out in a cryptic and impenetrable style.

As for class assignments, there has traditionally been no formal reading list that professors handed out to their students. Students were expected to work on their own, reading what they thought might be relevant . . . which often meant no reading at all. The chief reason: final exams traditionally focused on poll-parroting the professors' lectures in a brief oral form, nothing else. Memory was everything. Independence was frowned on. And though there are some changes afoot in German universities, less so in French ones, the exam system remains more or less unchanged on the undergraduate level.

Built in Student-Alienation As a Result?

Despite some of these recent changes, European universities are  now starved for funds. Believe it or not, American universities spend about three times more as a percentage of GDP than their counterparts in Europe. See the 2009 Economist article: Germany's mediocre universities  for the data. The chief problems for such scarcity?   Universities have proliferated everywhere, with limited funding and hence without proper library facilities if students or professors want to do extensive research on their own.

Take the libraries at Bordeaux University, where Prof bug was co-director of an all-campus UC exchange-program and taught in French in the mid-1970s.  Closed two-hours for lunch and shut down at 7:00 in the evening during the week, the poorly equipped and poorly organized liberaries were also closed on the weekends; closed, for that matter (believe it or not), for two months every summer. Student unions don't exist (again, remember, British universities are very different and are much more like ours.) Intramural sports hardly exist. There are no extra-curricular activities of any sort --- no university student center, no university daily newspaper, no student literary journals, very little in the way of sports facilities or academic clubs and so on.

Just lots of anonymous buildings, no contact with professors, no active campus life, and tens of thousands of students on any campus older than 20 years.

And, a pop-eyed surprise for bug and his California students in Bordeaux, there weren't even any schedule of classes made available to the students: just some affixed note on a tack-board, whose hours and days could change in unpredictable ways. (German universities are better organized on this score.)

Back to the Professors

Given all this, little wonder that the untouchable, unaccountable professors tend in large numbers to disdain or lord over their inferiors . . . whether undergrads, graduate students, or lower-level professors.

No need to repeat buggy's earlier opinions.

Note though. If a professor in the humanities or social sciences writes a book that gets bad reviews, he or she tends to dismiss those reviews as reflecting envy, resentments, or the plain stupidity of the reviewers. (In French universities, lots of academics do no research or writing. Even in Germany, which invented the research-university in the late 19th century (brought to America toward the end of it), lots of recent hires of professors in the proliferating universities seem to do little or no research or publication . . . despite formal demands for such research.

And the sciences and engineering?

Well, there are lots of gifted researchers in them, no doubt about it, and relations between students and professors may be somewhat better, but not by much.

For all that, though, in both France and German, young science-researchers might do all the research and writing for an article; yet on the title-sheet, the names of the authors will likely begin with the head of the research-lab  . . . even if he or she did no work at all on the research or written manuscript (or even do more than glance at it) , followed in order by senior professors' names who at least might have read or commented on it, but nothing more. Nada. In last place will come the name (or names) of the actual researchers . . . as if they didn't do much beyond some bland donkey-work.

Can you blame them if they become cynical?

Enter Now, For Some Fun, Listen To Why Derrida ...

. . . couldn't stand being asked repeatedly by his American students (and journalists) to elaborate on and clarify his verbose and puzzling ramblings, whether the students raised their hands in the classroom or came to his required office-hours. (He was a frequent visiting professor at Yale and UC Irvine). Try not to break down in laughter.  Apparently for our professor, it's cheesy American pragmatism for a professor from Europe to accept an invitation from an American interviewer and then find that the interviewer wants poor Jacques to explain, clarify, or elaborate on his life-time work, such as the meaning of deconstructrionism.  It actually get worse.  Derrida was never able to give an explanation of what deconstruction actually meant.  Then, too, for American students to ask for such clarification was beyond disbelief. 

Click here for the fun.



         Oh, A Few Last-Second Add-On Thoughts (Or Opinions Really):

1. In the comments section linked to in The Economist article on German universities, a fair number of German readers protested the criticisms of their university system. Some referred to American engineering as "crappy" compared to German engineering, and others to the alleged domination in American Nobel Prize winners --- about 60-70% a year for decades now --- as due to Chinese or Japanese immigrants and above all Jews who fled Europe in the Nazi period.

      First off, that's nonsense.  Somehow these crappy engineers and technological specialists have managed to put men on the moon, land a mobile vehicle on Mars, and explore others parts of our solar system. And develop a series of anti-missile weapons and various intelligence satellites.  Then, too, there's a flourishing airplane industry --- both commercial and military; just as its American oil-engineers who are rapidly transforming the US into the major petroleum producer world-wide, with natural gas a far more benign form of exuding C02 (assuming it has some greenhouse effect). And somehow, come to that, Americans dominate by far the new information-technologies --- think of Intel, Microsoft, Apple, Adobe, Google, and on and on (all founded by risk-taking entrepreneurs), not to mention Amazon, Facebook, Twitter, You-Tube, and on and on again. (By 1995, in the US --- as the innovator in all forms of information technologies --- 75% of the Fortune-500 Big Companies never existed before 1975. In Germany and France and Japan, hardly any new Big Company emerged at all in their equivalent indexes.  

And still haven't almost two decades later.

      Secondly, well . . . thank heavens for those immigrants . .. European Jews arriving in droves between 1890 and 1914. In fact, American Jews --- born in the USA for generations now --- do win about 25% of America's Nobel Prizes, even though they are about 2% of the population.

Some Clarification:

1) Jews number world-wide about 15 million --- or about 1/5 of 1.0% of the 7 billion people worldwide. Overall, they have produced about 20% of all Nobel Prize winners . . . which means, proportionally, that they have outperformed by a factor of 100 times their population-size. Consider in passing that Jews of European descent --- Ashkenazi, who have the highest IQ average world-wide: about one standard deviation higher than the average European (112-115 vs. 100 or about a full standard deviation) --- add up to about 80% of the 15 million or so Jews in the world.

Sephardic Jews --- descendants of those who were expelled from Spain and Portugal in the late 15th and early 16th centuries and were invited by the Ottoman Turkish rulers to move into their European empire (mainly the Balkans) --- add about another 10% to the total. Their IQ measures 103. . . just about the level of Asians in Japan, China, South Korea, Singapore, and Taiwan. Oriental Jews, living in Muslim countries for about 12 centuries --- who then fled for their lives without carrying any of their possessions (all confiscated) in the aftermath of the Israeli-Arab war of 1947-1948 --- live mainly in Israel today and have an IQ of around 91. They add up to about 10% of world-Jewry. The average Arab IQ is about 84 --- a standard deviation or so below the European and European-American now-Jewish average.  That leaves the final group: about 35,000 Ethiopian Jews, saved from growing massacre-attacks on these peaceful farmers by a large Israeli airlift in 1977.  They all live in Israel now.  Their IQ average is around that of African peoples in tropical Africa --- under 80.

As for Americans of East Asian descent, plus some from India, they have racked up impressive educational achievements and professional accomplishments. They number about 18 million in number (or about 5.0% of the total USA population, with Chinese, Korean, and Japanese Americans adding up to about 6 million). The total number of US Nobel prizes in the sciences and economics comes in around 300. Asian Americans have won 20 or so of them.  Most likely, their percentage of US Nobel Prizes will climb in the future. 

2) And observe:

Somehow, European Jews fleeing the ancient hatreds of anti-Semites in Europe --- assuming that a few remained alive after the Holocaust ended in 1945 --- don't seem eager to immigrate to Germany from the New World and Israel, any more than the large influx of Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, or Indians want to. How strange? (There were 9 million Jews in Europe when WWII started. By the end of the war, 6 million were killed off. Others immigrated to Israel or elsewhere. Today, in a European Union of almost 500 million people --- and for that matter in all of Europe with 730 million people --- there are roughly 1.2 million Jews. Or about 0,02% (1/5th of 1% )of the total European population. Most of those Jews are older people.  Hitler was more or less right. Whatever happened by the end of WWII, Europe would be essentially Judenfrei --- free of Jews.

 2)  As for "crappy" engineers once more, a Dutch university --- Leiden --- has been ranking universities world-wide in research-prowess in the physical sciences, social sciences, engineering, and technological disciplines for a few years now . . . using, in the process, a very straightforward and transparent methodology. In the 2013 rankings just out, MIT was first-ranked, UC Santa Barbara was second, followed by Stanford, Harvard, Princeton, Rice University, and UC Berkeley. In fact, American universities occupied 18 of the top 20 positions, and 34 in total of the top 50. No German university is ranked among the top 75.

Then one German university emerges in the 77th position and another in the 95th . . . that's it for the top 100 universities worldwide.

You wonder, with all the crappy American engineers, how we've notched up these kudos.  Final observation: Prof bug himself spent 40 years as a professor in political science at UC Santa Barbara.