Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Stanley Fish is kind of a dick. 

Can someone explain for me the value of Fish's blog on the NYTimes website, in which he repeatedly uses the rhetorical power of deconstruction to reveal the relativity of political positions? Discussing the potential boycott of Israeli academics supportive of the regime, Fish writes:

"Whether or not divestiture and other actions taken by academics were decisive in, or even strongly contributory to, ending the apartheid regime is in dispute. What should not be in dispute is that those actions, however salutary and productive of good results, were and are antithetical to the academic enterprise, which while it may provide the tools (of argument, fact and historical research) that enable good and righteous deeds, should never presume to perform them."

The academic enterprise should never presume to perform good deeds or engage in the political world that conditions it? This is surely a disastrous and depressing endgame for deconstruction in this country-- a remarkably conservative position that the academy should spend its time parsing arguments and conflicts to bits but never, ever make ones of its own.

In Fish's previous column, he has a grand old time dissecting the term "neoliberalism" in the hopes of convincing us that it actually means nothing and is merely a hollow battle-cry for dumb leftists. Correct me if I'm wrong, but couldn't one do the same to "fascism" or "neoconservatism?" Yes there can be a range of how these terms are used, but in general they are very clear about which policies and figures they represent. Neoliberalism for me is a set of initiatives post-1989 that were designed to bring both developed and developing world into an economic and political unity. Its economic hallmark was not quite "globalization," which merely connotes the interconnectedness of national economies, but the aggressive and destructive third-world policies of the World Bank and IMF. The political ideal of neoliberalism was based around humanitarian intervention by NATO, generally spearheaded by the United States, and obviously this dream died a fiery death with the Iraq Invasion.

Am I crazy to argue that this, in the simplest terms, is what people mean by "neoliberalism?" That is, the quixotic mapping of the American economico-political system onto the rest of the world, whether they like it or not?


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