There is a certain type of commentator, ostensibly on literature but in fact more on aspects of social relations, very common in University departments in America and Europe, and whose best known exponents are seen as groundbreakers, leading the way for others to follow along a particular path, which they imagine is the only important one for their discipline to consider. They are to be found in all branches of the humanities, and in many departments of many leading universities they have taken control. In some places they seem to control entire universities, and even the whole of academia.
Their principle characteristic, by which they are easily recognised, is that they do not know how to think. They are therefore unable to do any real academic work, but are limited to the endless repetition of false or empty statements purporting to support their favourite idea, which is always a variation of men/ whites/ the middle class/ heterosexuals etc are bastards. The variations are many and frequently they are in conflict with one another, but the elite do not argue among themselves. They do not dispute the value of other people’s dogma (they may not even be capable of doing so) because to attack one would be to question all and might diminish the value of their own. They are, of course, afraid of thinking in others, which would be a threat to their position, and so they impose a regime of rigid orthodoxy, not only on their students, whom they control by not teaching them anything beyond standard dogma, only giving good marks to formulaic reproduction of that dogma, and punishing any kind of real thinking by administrative means; but also other lecturers, whom they deny preferment, spread rumours about, accuse of –isms which they have themselves raised into terrible crimes, refusing any defence to those so persecuted. There is a certain class of word, which changes depending on the fashion of the moment, which is popularly held to justify itself. Thus an accusation of racism is in itself proof of racism which is then held to be the greatest of all thought crimes.
How this situation has been allowed to come about is another question, but the undoubted fact remains that in many areas thinking is persecuted, students are denied the education they think they are receiving, and anything approaching proper research becomes impossible. This cannot be done in mathematics, for example, but areas which permit of other than pure scientific method, which are open- legitimately or otherwise- to more speculative theorising- linguistics is a clear example- are under very serious attack.
The motivation of the practitioners of this betrayal of a generation of students and the brutal bullying of colleagues is very clear. They wish to propagate their prejudices and hide their inability to reason, and thereby keep their posts and gain prestige. They are stupid people, filled with prejudice, incapable of proper reasoning.
Intelligence is the ability to do abstract analysis. I offer this definition for what it may be worth. Opening any academic text it is possible to tell in a paragraph or so whether the writer is able to reason. Even if the text is only providing general information the organization of it tells you quickly whether it is worth reading on, whether one can learn anything from it, trust it, whether the writer can think.
The major exponents of the original techniques of obfuscation that were applied blindly by later leaders in the field were Jacques Derrida, Jacques Lacan and Michel Foucault. The particular writers of whom I wish to speak, and to whom all of the above is strictly applicable, are Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Susan Gubar, Sandra Gilbert, Homi Bhabha, Edward Said, Roland Barthes, Henry Louis Gates…; the list goes on.
To read the writings of any of these is to be struck immediately by their ignorance, prejudice, narcissism, irrationality, illogicality, inability to construct even the very simplest argument, and utter disregard for the truth. They are people who cannot think, who are afraid of reason, as we shall doubtless have cause to say again and again. To compare these scribblings with the work of true scholars in any discipline (this has nothing to do with the pre-eminence of pure science) is to laugh out loud at them, and to feel very sad at the thought that they control young minds and the careers of better teachers.
It will take several posts to explain in detail why what they do has no academic rigour, and is therefore valueless, and I shall not try the reader’s patience too far. Later there will be general discussion of their errors and critique of some illuminating particular examples.