April 12, 2006

Say Anything

While I'm on the subject of Paul J. J. Payack, I might mention a bizarre remark he made in the CBS.com piece I mentioned in my earlier post.

Payack knows he's got skeptics, but he identifies the real enemies of his research as "postmodernists and deconstructionists" who tend to deny that any definition of a word is suitable. Payack's definition: "anything that can be understood. If millions of people are saying 'bling bling,' we'll accept that."

"Postmodernists and deconstructionists" have been called a lot of things, of course -- "anything-goes" relativists, enemies of reason, and America-haters, among other things -- but not even their most ferocious critics would be likely to describe them as defenders of the idea that words have fixed meanings against the popular tendency to use language in novel and creative ways.

But as best I can divine, what Payack means by "postmodernists and deconstructionists" is simply "snooty academics." It's a sign of how successful the cultural right has been in its attacks on the academy that even people who don't have a clue what postmodernism and deconstruction mean can use the words to evoke anti-intellectual stereotypes, even when the positions they're charging academics with holding are the opposite of the ones that postmodernists have been accused of promulgating. (Stanley Fish, meet Mr. Chips.) But then, if millions of people are saying "bling bling"...

Posted by Geoff Nunberg at April 12, 2006 08:04 PM