Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Mind the Aporia

I don't think I've encountered a clearer exposition of deconstruction (a.k.a. "French theory", antifoundationalism, poststructuralism) than the one offered by Stanley Fish in his most recent blog post. At the risk of summarizing a summary, here's a good taste:

The Cartesian trick of starting from the beginning and thinking things down to the ground can’t be managed because the engine of thought, consciousness itself, is inscribed (written) by discursive forms which “it” (in quotation marks because consciousness absent inscription is empty and therefore non-existent) did not originate and cannot step to the side of no matter how minimalist it goes. In short (and this is the kind of formulation that drives the enemies of French theory crazy), what we think with thinks us.

It also thinks the world. This is not say that the world apart from the devices of human conception and perception doesn’t exist “out there”; just that what we know of that world follows from what we can say about it rather than from any unmediated encounter with it in and of itself. This is what Thomas Kuhn meant in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions when he said that after a paradigm shift — after one scientific vocabulary, with its attendant experimental and evidentiary apparatus, has replaced another — scientists are living in a different world; which again is not to say (what it would be silly to say) that the world has been altered by our descriptions of it; just that only through our descriptive machineries do we have access to something called the world.
Clear as mud? Good.

There are many criticisms of deconstruction from many angles, but fundamentally, it poses no lasting challenge to the idea that there is a stable-enough reality upon which to base actions and arrive at results. However interesting it might be to deconstruct 'the body' and 'disease' and 'aerodynamics' down to the merely discursive, actual human beings can thrive without fear of polio and fly from place to place in jets.

1 comment:

thepoetryman said...

Humans do enough to deconstruct science without the help of a deconstructionist!

What we think with thinks us?

Damn! And there I was under the impression that "what thinks us... is what we think... Drat. Back to the drawing board.