We Happy Few

There is an interesting remark in this review of Terry Eagleton’s After Theory in the Telegraph. Actually there is more than one. Noel Malcolm points out that ‘Cultural Studies’ is a discipline that has some difficulties and ironies considered from a left-wing point of view:

If you open these books and try reading a page or two, you will probably notice one more thing: most of them are unreadable…These are clever people who have spent years mastering bodies of theory and styles of argument, to the point where they can produce new quantities of the same. But the overwhelming impression they give is that they are writing to impress one another, not to enlighten you or me. You do not have to be intellectually conservative to find this an unsatisfactory state of affairs. Somewhere in the origins of this new academic quasi-discipline there was a democratic impulse…

Just so, and so it is indeed odd that the practitioners write to impress each other rather than enlighten the rest of us. Yes there are vocational reasons for it, but it’s odd all the same.

Clearly, something has gone terribly wrong. Not only have these clever cultural theorists ended up producing stuff which will never emancipate ordinary people, because no ordinary person can read it. They have turned into cultural relativists, and given up on the whole theory of emancipation. They do not believe in a general project of freeing people from the cultural or economic forces that oppress them; they are against general projects or general values tout court. “Progress” was a modernist idea; these people are post-modernists. In such circumstances, it is surprising that the task of attacking post-modernism has been left almost entirely to the intellectual Right…Where are the battalions of the Old Left when you really need them?

That’s the interesting remark I had in mind. Hasn’t he noticed? There are a lot of people on the left (old, new, whatever) who attack postmodernism. The writers of many of the articles on this very site, for example. And this site itself. Our chief reason for existing could be said to be in order to disentangle the left from nonsensical ideas many of which have no reason, even superficial reason, for being considered leftist to begin with. Surely it’s obvious enough by now that Cult Studs is far more of a vocational program for people with ambitions to go into the entertainment industry and make Lotsa Money than it is anything whatsoever to do with leftist politics. So, hell yes, there are leftist and/or at least non-rightist intellectuals who criticise postmodernism, and let’s hope there will be more and more, let’s hope it becomes a Movement.

One Response to “We Happy Few”