Friday, September 21, 2012

Cognitive Dissonance at "The Nation"

( Originally written and posted on MySpace on May 31, 2009 )
The Nation is a weekly review which is firmly planted on the left.  [ I } read it only because [ I get ] a special academic discount.  Obviously, someone must subsidize it.  Why people who are affluent enough to have money to give away, choose to give it to The Nation  is a minor mystery.  There are obviously "values voters" on the left as well as on the right.

Once in a long while, writers at this weekly show some signs of ideological stress.  Such appears between the lines of a lengthy essay review in the June 8, 2009, issue, the "Spring Books Issue."  Chosen as the cover story, where it is entitled "William Deresiewicz on Literary Darwinism," it is a review of several new books about the new school of Darwinian literary criticism.  Among titles reviewed are Jonathan Gottschall's The Rape of Troy:  Evolution, Violence, and the World of Homer and his more theoretical Literature, Science, and a New Humanities.

This obviously presents a dilemma to the reviewer.  He settles for arguing that Darwinian literary criticism is not really relevant to literature.  Writing in The Nation he cannot damn Darwinism, a deed which might lead some people to place him in the company of people on the Christian Right.  On the other hand, he realizes that findings of Darwinian literary critics as well as the findings of evolutionary psychology in general are not supportive of the left's concept of humanity.  This is because the left wants everything human to be an outcome of culture, not nature.  Leftists can create a new culture, a new society, to remove all and any flaws of humanity.  They do not want to contend with anything based in heredity.

Deresiewicz does have one very sound observation to offer:

    " The humanities, meanwhile, are undergoing their own struggle for survival within the academic ecosystem.  Budgets are shrinking, students are disappearing, faculty positions are being lost, institutional prestige has all but evaporated.  As the Darwinians are quick to point out, a lot of this suffering is self-inflicted.  In literary studies in particular, the last several decades have witnessed the baleful reign of ' Theory, ' a mash-up of Derridean deconstruction, Foucauldian social theory, Lacanian psychoanalysis and other assorted abstrusiosities, the overall tendency of which has been to cut the field off from society at large and from the main currents of academic thought, not to mention the common reader and common sense. . . ."

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