01 October 2011


Yum yum yum. It's Saturday night so let's have some fun.

I. A good part of what I've learned over the years about Postmodernism came from reading the literary critic and essayist George Steiner (not that there is anything we can really learn from it, but just stay with me here). His books were introduced to me by a very good friend with whom I've lost touch, many years now. Those were my university days, meaning sleep during the day and work into the late night hours at our assigned office. That is, if we weren't procrastinating, which was a common occurrence. Oftentimes we'd just consume enormous quantities of junk food and smoke like fiends, discussing everything from theology to macroeconomics to science to the streamlined biology of women. An atheist with a elevated propensity for melancholic defeatism, he nonetheless had one up on me in that this guy was a massive storehouse of knowledge and culture (coming from a highly educated, upper class family abroad). In hindsight, I now have mixed feelings about delving into the works of a self-proclaimed elitist.

II. The thing that really grabbed my attention in Steiner's writings was his emphasis on the fundamental importance of language to culture. He is also a stylistic writer, extremely so at times. His essays are chuck full intricated and confounding words that even aristocrats use only once per decade. Steiner's prose is alluring as a river flowing with quicksilver. As a speaker, he effortlessly mesmerizes the audience. Here is a little video sampling of him when interviewed for a documentary on Martin Heidegger. I've read 16 of his books. Those pertaining to language are After Babel: Aspects of Language and Translation, one of his more famous works, Real Presences: Is There Anything in What We Say?, Language and Silence and Extraterritorial: Papers on Literature and the Language Revolution, the latter three being essay compilations. Other notables where hours were spent reading include The Death of Tragedy, Antigones, No Passion Spent and On Difficulty and Other Essays. One of his first books, Tolstoy or Dostoevsky: An Essay in Contrast is, in my opinion, essential reading for any student of literature. Rightly, he sides with the vehement, soul-exposing Dostoyevsky. Tolstoy is too pastoral and girly for my tastes. Three books are apocalyptic in tenor: In Bluebeard's Castle: Some Notes Towards the Redefinition of Culture, a biography on Heidegger, father of Postmodernism, and Nostalgia for the Absolute, from his 1974 Massey Lectures.[1]

III. Despite his ability to dazzle with astounding feats of linguistic gymnastics, many of Steiner's ideas and propositions repulsed me. First and foremost is that he's made claims to the effect that anti-Semitism is endemic to Christianity. Not a few academics make this argument. It's an industry in some places, but that's a discussion for another day. In the context of this post, what is immediately apparent with Steiner is that he avows to be a traditionalist/conservative when it comes to high culture and it's preservation (classical music, fine art, poetry, etc.); yet at same time he approvingly quotes and references those radical thinkers whose philosophies have facilitated the abolition of Western Civilization. For example, he will praise Martin Heidegger as being the greatest philosophical mind of the twentieth century. However, Steiner is well cognizant that Heidegger was a Nazi and that his ontological existentialism is intimately associated with the Nazi weltanschauung.[2] This amoral, contradictory, even inauthentic mode of presentation is persistent throughout most of his books.[3] It is also a mirror reflection of the elemental aspects of Postmodernist thought. Praise and promotion for a treatise there will be because of a supposedly enigmatic writing style (as over substance), of subjective epiphanies, of bizarre interconnections, of free association without limitation, etc. And all this without regard to its moral and social consequences in the objective world where real people live their lives, knowingly or not, in conformance with this debilitating worldview, if it so happens to hold sway with whatever group. Note, for instance, the structural abominations "designed" by architects spellbound by Deconstructionism.

IV. In 1996 a brilliant experiment was conducted by Alan Sokal, a physics professor at New York University. He submitted a paper entitled "Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity" to the Postmodernist journal Social Text. The main argument of the paper was that the scientific notion of quantum gravity was in actuality a "social and linguistic construct". As Sokal detailed in this paper:
...deep conceptual shifts within twentieth-century science have undermined... Cartesian-Newtonian metaphysics... revisionist studies in the history and philosophy of science have cast further doubt on its credibility... most recently, feminist and poststructuralist critiques have demystified the substantive content of mainstream-Western scientific practice, revealing the ideology of domination concealed behind the facade of "objectivity"... It has thus become increasingly apparent that physical "reality", no less than social "reality", is at bottom a social and linguistic construct.[4]
Beautiful textual content, is it not? Mellifluent, yes? Deliciously appealing to Gunther, the thick-rimmed glasses-wearing sipper of latte's, connoisseur of Lacan-inspired interior design schemes? The paper was accepted and published. But... it was a hoax, as Sokal afterward wrote in an article for Lingua Franca magazine.

V. Inspired by the "Sokal Affair", some time ago this blogger conducted his own experiment, a kind of "stream of consciousness" test. In the blurring smoke of sophistry, I will now like to effect a self-indulgent exercise in grammatical solipsism; checking, in a way, for "presence" and meaning in language. As Steiner said in the video linked above, "Deconstruction speaks of language as an autonomous, inward turning game, as a dance around an infinity of possible meanings". In what follows I will as much as possible neglect rules, evade logic, engage in the solipsistic and the ridiculous. I will pick words, so to speak, out of nothing, ejecting the notion of continuity, direction and purpose. Essentially, I will just play like the Dadaists and "let everything go". I will be a Postmodernist intellectual.

Here is the outcome:
Notwithstanding the innate inclination of neurologically-minded denizens, who, without ruminating on the quagmire that has interpenetrated their circumflexive normalities, things have metaphorically culminated into a maelstrom of incontestibilities. Alternatively, the hyper-biological, those individuals whose externalities are devoid of stratae - and I wholeheartedly affirm the erudition of these buffoons - perpetually combat the ontological necessity of a necessary unit, thus extenuating into an apocalyptic chaos. Now, one might interject that, even though these amalgamations, these conglomerates of particularities, are withdrawn from the hiddenness of the global scheme of interconnections, they are still, without rubric, the epiphany and apex of potentialities. Predestination and the atypical meanderings that delve and suffuse within the innermost cavities of the metaphysical abyss are, indeed, the dissociates of the embedded, nominated anti-logocentrisms. However, if the roundaboutness has camouflaged the internalities of the megalopolis, it would be presupposed that the juxtapositions and circumlocutions would suffice for the post-conditioned detachments and antecedents. Moreover, the multi-dimensioned, the trinity of universals, would, perchance, scream onwards beneath, between and behind the geometrical subdivisions that are coincidentally adjacent, and therefore intermingled with, the extraordinary capacities of humanity, the befriending of consequences. Collaterally, these indiscreet problematics are tautological in the sense that they commingle with the eventualities inborn in the cranium that we label as society. The randomness of the syllogisms and hence their totalities are rendered nil. If the reader were to subsequently refute these verifications - and, indeed, the probability confounds us - it would be explicated that the implosive force of the corresponding returns would eventually rebound and enter our range of spatial cognition. This hypothesis may seem fruitless, but if we sample the denatured aspect of thrownness of the gratifying essent we sublimate into that singularity which swirls into a region contiguous to Gondwanaland. The cataclysm, the catastrophe, astound and attract us as though we defended the crushing thrust of the pluralisms of the contemporary dissidents. From this, in this, near this, and of this, we wane, we compress and decompress until the finality of the circumstance is floundered. Although, if the duality of the substance is a reflection of its existentiality, we push backwards and succumb to a plentiful notion that dwells, to the residency within the coextensiveness of being human.

Now, one asks, is this true?

Nay, I say.

Sixteen score and three years have passed, have engendered indecisiveness that detaches, that staggers the credible emblems. Lastly, and by no means eloquently, it is too late. Bypassing these actualities, and fretting alongside these buttresses, we query the naturalness of the dreaded classification and, supposedly, the subjugations that infuse into our minds. If this were subdued teleologically, we would - and I concur with this grandiosity - be baffled and compounded retrogressively. Venus and vapour, that etherealness, would make ephemerality reign in the highest sovereign mode. Saliently and, one would assume precipitously, we are disgusted to the point of an abdominal implosion. And the dissonant music of the spheres would give an unstable foundation, a structure that wavers synchronously as time diminishes. Perchance without the condition of boundedness. It follows that pornographic subliminalness and the noise humanity makes one excitable. Returning to the lowest immaterial possibility, the folly of the complicated, including that bilateral diffusiveness which is incessantly propounded, enmesh us in quietness.

Or so it would seem.
See, it's easy. Try it and then submit your work to Social Text for possible publication, or perhaps to Vox Nova, or even to the poetry section at the Prairie Messenger. And, no, yours truly was not consuming an alcoholic beverage when composing that tract. Nor was the Postmodernism Generator utilized.

Just think of all the people Joyce has hoodwinked.

Will have something more substantial up next time around. In the meantime, the reader might want to peruse my essay on Deconstructionism here.

Now it's time for a cookie. Goodnight.


1. Steiner also has some fiction: Anno Domini: Three Stories, Proofs and Three Parables and The Portage to San Cristobal of A.H., the acronym meaning "Adolf Hitler". His autobiography, Errata: An Examined Life, is one of the strangest books I've ever read.

2. See V. Farias, Heidegger and Nazism, trans. P. Burell and G.R. Ricci (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1989), passim; W.E. Hughes, "The People Versus Martin Heidegger", First Things, December 1993, no. 38, pp. 34-38; H. Ott, Martin Heidegger, A Political Life, trans. A. Blunden (London: Fontana Press, 1994), pp. 133-260; R. Safranaski, Martin Heidegger, Between Good and Evil, trans. E. Osers (London: Cambridge University Press, 1998), passim.

3. For a critical review of Steiner's works see B. Cheyette, "Between Repulsion and Attraction: George Steiner's Post-Holocaust Fiction", Jewish Social Studies, vol. 5, no. 3, Spring/Summer 1999, pp. 67-81.

4. A Sokal, "Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity", Social Text, Spring-Summer 1996, no. 46/47 (Science Wars issue), pp. 217-252.



Chris (Left-footer blogspot) said...

My friend, you have missed your vocation as a Post-Modern philosopher. All is not lost, and it is never too late!

Join us, as Spats said in "Some Like It Hot". There's money in it!

TH2 said...

Sounds like fun. I'll grab my copy of Of Grammatology and head on over.

Seraphic Spouse said...

Very amusing. Gay novelist Edmund White might not be everyone's cup of tea, but he did save me from a burden of guilt and self mistrust when he declared (and provided an illustrative anecdote) that Jacques Lacan was a complete charlatan.  Later, when reading Fr. Lonergan, who is very difficult to read but has a coherent, workable system, I knew this opinion to be absolutely true. The French Emperors have no clothes, and the scandal is that they got away with it for so long.  Meanwhile, I know what you are going to say about Lonergan, but I will counter at once by saying that his works should not be judged by the Lonerganians. Some Lonerganians delight in making up their own Lonerganese instead of making Lonergan's thought more accessible, and that is largely self-defeating, as all it does it put students off Lonergan. He has no French, emblazoned-on-T-shirts glamour, being an Irish-Canadian priest from Saint-Ouain-Ouain, Eastern Townships.

TH2 said...


"Some Lonerganians delight in making up their own Lonerganese instead of
making Lonergan's thought more accessible, and that is largely
I agree, there's a bit of a gnosticism (i.e. secret knowledge) in that aspect of the Lonergan types. Promise to go easier on you with respect to Lonergan in the future. Do you have have any posts/articles on him that I might read? Would be interested.

Still have to come over and read Seraphic Goes to Poland. Hope trip went well.

rvernons said...

A few things, if I may.


How come you read so many of Steiner’s books? Like having
too much chocolate pudding, weren’t you sick?


“For example, he will praise Martin Heidegger as being the
greatest philosophical mind of the twentieth century. However, Steiner is well
cognizant that Heidegger was a Nazi and that his ontological existentialism is
intimately associated with the Nazi weltanschauung”


That’s hilarious. Whatever do you mean?



Lonergan has to be one the most lucid philosophical writers
ever. Just read the Introduction in Insight.
How could you improve on the clarity of its style?




And what, for an example, is a Lonergan type?


Since when does Gnosticism equate to secret knowledge?

Seraphic Spouse said...

Okay it is nice that "rvernons" is a Lonergan fan, but if he thinks Lonergan is one of the most lucid philosophical writers ever, he has not read much Lonergan. Did he get past the Introduction to "Insight", that's what I'd like to know. Read up to Chapter 6 and then give me a call, buddy.

I hold the first diploma in Lonergan Studies Regis College ever awarded, and I am here to tell you that reading Lonergan is serious, head-pounding WORK. Insight Chapters 4 and 5 are FREAKING NIGHTMARES and you just want to keep from dying of intellectual humiliation before you can get to Chapter 6. Nobody should try reading "Insight" without reading "Method in Theology" or at least some of Lonergans essays in "Second Collection" first. Read "The Way to Nicea", if you can find it in print. It's AWESOME, and I used it to thwart a dogma-hating heretic at Barely Catholic.

Meanwhile the "Toronto School" (which means the Lonerganians from St. Mikes and Regis, and there are so   Lonergan types as ANY real Lonerganian will admit, come ONNNNN) strongly resists the notion that Lonergan was either a Kantian or a Transcedental Thomist. RAHNER was a Transcedental Thomist, KANT was a Kantian, and Lonergan was NEITHER.  Lonergan was a critical realist, not an idealist, and he would never say man creates reality by having ideas about it. Absolutely not. Your Father Jaki did not understand Lonergan, but hey. Thousands don't.    

You boys make me cross. Go to Regis and study Insight with J. Dadosky or G. Rixon and then get back to me. Otherwise stop talking about Lonergan. TH2, at least, gets good participation marks for cracking open U & B.

TH2, I don't think I've blogged on Lonergan recently. If I can find it, I'll send you a paper I wrote for an International Lonergan Conference in Mainz.

There are Lonergan types. The best kind mentions Lonergan's ideas over and over again and explains his vocabulary over and over again so that students finally get them and it. He (because it is usually he) goes to Lonergan conferences, and knows all the big Lonerganians and can darn well list them off. He asks how Fred Crowe, S.J. is doing. He uses Lonergan in all his theological work, so to spread the name of Lonergan to the four corners of the world. He follows all the vogues, so he has probably read Rene Girard, too. He believes in "Cosmopolis" and therefore thinks of how Lonergan can be used in practical ways, be it fixing Africa's problems, or helping people getting out of abusing relationships. 

The worse kind is a male chauvanist pig who is totally stuck on the sound of his voice, and makes up his own Lonerganese, and discovers 17 new categories Lonergan never dreamed of, and sneers when women Lonerganians give a particularly interesting and lucid discussion of how Lonergan's ideas can be used to help the weak. ("Fluff," he sneer.s) He intentionally keeps people out of his little secret language club and makes students feel stupid and helpless if they don't just play along, pretending they get it when they don't. 

I hope this is helpful.

TH2 said...

Hey Boss, great response. Yes, helpful. Regarding your paper - at your convenience, if you so elect.

Am going to respond regarding Lonergan's critical realism, but would like to take a number of days to think things through. Plus I have so much on the go right now, juggling so much, etc. Moreover, on this subject, I have not your ability to write so copiously so quickly.

Brigid Elson said...

There was no need for Lonergan to reinvent philosophical terminology when there was a long tradition of Christian philosophy already available. Why abandon Thomistic and neo-Thomistic terms terms unless you want to be uselessly "original?"

TH2 said...

It was the modernist Fr. Maréchal who steered off course when he attempted originality by merging Kant with Aquinas. Lonergan, it appears, is his most famous intellectual offspring.

Seraphic said...

People who don't read Lonergan but need to comment on Lonergan are eventually going to give me a stroke. 

Lonergan was writing to a 20th century, multi-religious, multi-national audience. When he began "Insight" he was very worried that the differences between human beings were going to lead to a nuclear holocaust. The task Lonergan set for himself was to find the intellectual "common ground."  New situations call for new language. Jeepers. Philosophers and theologians--including John Paul II and Benedict XVI--have done and do this all the time. Did Thomas Aquinas ever employ the phrase "hermeneutic of continuity"? No.  Meanwhile, Lonergan DID use Thomistic terms. Lonergan WAS a Thomist. AAAAAAAAAAA! 

TH2, please. Do me a favour. Take out "Insight" and read page 178. Then call up Professor Dadosky at Regis, tell him I sent you, ask if he has five minutes, and ask him if Lonergan is a Kantian. Okay? 

Seraphic said...

Oh, and by the way, I see he mentioned "Marechal" exactly once in Insight's 770 pages.

TH2 said...

Already told you I read Lonergan. I even dug out my copy of Insight and Gilson's Methodical Realism to answer back to your comment above, which I hoped to do in some detail. But maybe will just do summarily.

One quick point for time being: Gilson = we immediately register objective reality, Lonergan = more so intending reality by querying, thus skewed more so to mind. The very term "critical realism" as such is a kind of insurgency, for lack of a better word, because it prioritizes the mind which, well... criticizes reality. Reality need not be criticized. It presents itself as such.

Again, excuse my lateness but work is overwhelming now, and also want to complete my next post, past my self-appointed due date. To top it off - computer problems just started today.

Seraphic said...

I didn't mean you, I meant Bridget there. But critical realism does not mean criticizing reality. It addresses how we know reality.  

Lonergan himself in one interview defined critical realism as "the philosophical position that states that the real is that which is known by the threefold process of attentive experience, intelligent inquiry, and responsible judgement. Reality is that which is known by totality of correct judgment." http://www.writework.com/essay/interview-bernard-lonergan-critical-realism-essay-delves#.TqqCed483SY

But this does not determine reality. The real is, and would be if there was no human being about to know it. "Truth is what is," as Thomas Aquinas said. Lonergan's assertion is a statement that affirms man's ability to know the real and explains how it is done.  

Seraphic said...

Oh shoot. It turns out that website is an essay provider. Arg! Don't click. When I tried to read the whole thing, it was blocked on my computer (long story) and identified as "Criminal." How weird. So now I have to say I don't know if that is really something Lonergan said in an interview, but it is still a Lonerganian definition of critical realism.

Marco Mastromonaco said...


TH2 said...

Let's see... you attempt to direct me to a site regarding Lonergan and the computer pops up with the message "criminal" Hmmmmm. "Jeepers"! That's interesting :)

Brigelso said...

Well, first of all my name is spelled B-R-I-G-I-D, so attention to reality there, please! And second, Aquinas had already a very good explanation of how we know, as had his followers, including the not so dumb Maritain, who didn't have such a high opinion of Marechal if I recall correctly. And how was explaining how we know a new situation? 

Seraphic said...

I know. So embarrassing! But I guess it makes sense that among those students who think they must rip a paper off the internet or fail are students who found themselves in a Lonergan course past the drop date. If they do that, though, they are definitely in a "flight from understanding", for their Lonergan prof will catch them out, guaranteed. 

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