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Blogger Book Club II: Something I Liked

By Matthew Guerrieri

This week’s discussion of Hickey’s book around these parts has been by
and large skeptical-critical, which kind of gives the impression that
the book was a chore. But (for me, at least) I had a good time
disagreeing with it–I read the book a second time and had more
fun disagreeing with it. So, just to say thank you for by far the
highest-quality procrastination of the week, here’s something I liked
about the book: Hickey’s defense of French
Structuralism.

Somehow, the delicate instrumentalities of
continental thought had been transmuted by the American professoriat
into a highfalutin, pseudo-progressive billy club with which to beat
dissenters about the head and shoulders.

… Foucault’s
ruthless, timely dismantling of the human sciences had simply
vanished. It had, in fact, been surgically amputated and a dumbed-down
travesty of Frankfurt School sociology sewn onto its place. Barthes’s
dead author walked the steppes as an avatar of ethnic and sexual
identity, replete with neediness and aura. Foucault’s Panopticon and
Lacan’s gaze were untidily bundled into one lumpy paranoid concept….
(p. xix)

Though I would say that the caricature of
Continental thought came as much from outside as inside (my alma
mater’s former
president
, after all, was known for spitting about the Frankfurt
School like John Lithgow in Footloose), the reminder that the
original thinkers were more elegant, subtle, and even playful than you
might get from their reputation is always welcome. I never dip back
into them without feeling refreshed (even Foucault, who can be pretty
heavy going in translation). So even though I didn’t quite buy
Hickey’s application of the Bentham-Chardin divide from Foucault’s Discipline
and Punish
(pp. 5-8), it was still my favorite part of the
book, and put a lot of the rest of his criticism of institutions in a
more complex and useful context. In some ways, disagreeing with
someone who’s read Barthes et al. can be more invigorating that
agreeing with someone who hasn’t.

Comments

  1. It’s important to remember that the vast majority of this book was originally written in 1993, and although it has been revised, Hickey warns us in the introduction to be mindful of the differences between the arts scene now and then. So much of my (and our) confusion and consternation with The Invisible Dragon seems to come from our wish that Hickey would just pick a side. But he is a critic (not an artist), and his role is to be critical. I’m not saying we shouldn’t call him out for perceived contradictions, but I want to acknowledge that I am, like Matt, very inspired by this book, even though (and perhaps because) I don’t always understand or agree with its conclusions.

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