Í framhaldi af þarsíðustu færslu, sem fjallaði um skilning og einfaldleika, vil ég benda á eftirfarandi orð Noams Chomsky um fræðimennsku og skilning. Þakka Eika fyrir ábendinguna, þetta er frábær texti.

Dialectics is one that I've never understood, actually - I've just never understood what the word means. Marx doesn't use it, incidentally, it's used by Engels [ed. þetta er reyndar ekki rétt, orðið kemur fyrir a.m.k. tíu sinnum í fyrstu bók Kapítalsins]. And if anybody can tell me what it is, I'll be happy. I mean, I've read all kinds of things which talk about "dialectics" - I haven't the foggiest idea what it is. It seems to mean something about complexity, or alternative positions, or change, or something. I don't know.

I'll tell you the honest truth: I'm kind of simple-minded when it comes to these things. Whenever I hear a four-syllable word I get skeptical, because I want to make sure you can't say it in monosyllables. Don't forget, part of the whole intellectual vocation is creating a niche for yourself, and if everybody can understand what you're talking about, you've sort of lost, because then what makes you special? What makes you special has got to be something that you had to work really hard to understand, and you mastered it, and all those guys out there don't understand it, and then that becomes the basis for your privilege and your power.

So take what's called "literary theory" - I mean, I don't think there's any such thing as literary "theory," any more than there's cultural "theory" or historical "theory." If you're just reading books and talking about them and getting people to understand them, okay, you can be terrific at that, like Edmund Wilson was terrific at it-but he didn't have a literary theory. On the other hand, if you want to mingle in the same room with that physicist over there who's talking about quarks, you'd better have a complicated theory too that nobody can understand: he has a complicated theory that nobody can understand, why shouldn't I have a complicated theory that nobody can understand? If someone came along with a theory of history, it would be the same: either it would be truisms, or maybe some smart ideas, like somebody could say, "Why not look at economic factors lying behind the Constitution?" or something like that-but there'd be nothing there that couldn't be said in monosyllables.

In fact, it's extremely rare, outside of the natural sciences, to find things that can't be said in monosyllables: there are just interesting, simple ideas, which are often extremely difficult to come up with and hard to work out. Like, if you want to try to understand how the modern industrial economy developed, let's say, that can take a lot of work. But the "theory" will be extremely thin, if by "theory" we mean something with principles which are not obvious when you first look at them, and from which you can deduce surprising consequences and try to confirm the principles-you're not going to find anything like that in the social world.

Incidentally, I should say that my own political writing is often denounced from both the left and the right for being non-theoretical-and that's completely correct. But it's exactly as theoretical as anyone else's, I just don't call it "theoretical," I call it "trivial" -which is in fact what it is. I mean, it's not that some of these people whose stuff is considered "deep theory" and so on don't have some interesting things to say. Often they have very interesting things to say. But it's nothing that you couldn't say at the level of a high school student, or that a high school student couldn't figure out if they had the time and support and a little bit of training. I think people should be extremely skeptical when intellectual life constructs structures which aren't transparent-because the fact of the matter is that in most areas of life, we just don't understand anything very much. There are some areas, like say, quantum physics, where they're not faking. But most of the time it's just fakery, I think: anything that's at all understood can probably be described pretty simply. And when words like "dialectics" come along, or "hermeneutics," and all this kind of stuff that's supposed to be very profound, like Goering, "I reach for my revolver."

Actually, occasionally in interviews I've said this about not understanding "dialectics," and I get long letters back from people saying, "You don't understand, here's what 'dialectical' is"-and either it's incomprehensible, or else it's trivial. So maybe I've got a gene missing or something-like people can be tone-deaf, they just can't hear the music. But everything I encounter in these fields either seems to be sort of interesting, but pretty obvious once you see it-maybe you didn't see it at first, and somebody had to point it out to you-or else just incomprehensible.

I'm skeptical: I think one has a right to be skeptical when you don't understand something. I mean, when I look at a page of, say, quantum electrodynamics, I don't understand a word of it. But I know what I would have to do to get to understand it, and I'm pretty confident that I could get to understand it - I've understood other complicated things. So I figure if I bothered to put myself through the discipline, and I studied the early stuff and the later stuff, I'd finally get to the point where I understood it. Or I could go to someone in the Physics Department and say, "Tell me why everybody's excited about this stuff," and they could adapt it to my level and tell me how to pursue it further. Maybe I wouldn't understand it very deeply, or I couldn't have invented it or something, but I'd at least begin to understand it. On the other hand, when I look at a page of Marxist philosophy or literary theory, I have the feeling that 1 could stare at it for the rest of my life and I'd never understand it-and I don't know how to proceed to get to understand it any better, I don't even know what steps I could take.

I mean, it's possible that these fields are beyond me, maybe I'm not smart enough or something. But that would have kind of a funny conclusion-it's nothing to do with me. That would mean that somehow in these domains people have been able to create something that's more complex than physics and mathematics-because those are subjects I think I could get to understand. And 1 just don't believe that, frankly: I don't believe that literary theorists or Marxian philosophers have advanced to some new intellectual level that transcends century after century of hard intellectual work.

There are parts of philosophy which I think I understand, and it's most of classical philosophy. And there are things that I don't understand, because they don't make any sense-and that's okay too, these are hard questions. I mean, it's not necessarily a criticism to say that something doesn't make sense: there are subjects that it's hard to talk sensibly about. But if I read, say, Russell, or analytic philosophy, or Wittgenstein and so on, I think I can come to understand what they're saying, and I can see why I think it's wrong, as I often do. But when I read, you know, Derrida, or Lacan, or AIthusser, or any of these-I just don't understand it. It's like words passing in front of my eyes: I can't follow the arguments, I don't see the arguments, anything that looks like a description of a fact looks wrong to me. So maybe I'm missing a gene or something, it's possible. But my honest opinion is, I think it's all fraud.

Þetta er úr Understanding Power: The Indispensable Chomsky, The New Press, 2002.

4 comments have been posted
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Arnaldur | 17.2.2012 kl. 21:45

Hehehe. Hann skilur ekki dialectics. Fífl.

Eiki | 17.2.2012 kl. 22:15

"Dialectics" er líka gott orð til að búa til undirtitla á ritgerðir og fyrirlestra (helst með witty spurningamerki líka):

Dialectics of poverty or poverty of dialectics?

Toward a dialectics of violence.

Dia-lactose? The dialectics of lactose intolerance.

Það eina sem er lærðara er að setja sviga utan um nokkra stafi í orði til að búa til orðaleik.
(ef)Feminist T(he)ory: the (con)struction of dialectics?

Sveinbjörn | 18.2.2012 kl. 03:21

Þetta með svigana er mögulega ein versta (og á sama tíma ein sú allra besta) hugmynd sem ég hef nokkru sinni heyrt.

Aykee, ye continue to surprise me with yer wit, sir! Our modern day Icelandic Swift, methinks!

Steinn | 17.2.2012 kl. 23:56

Vá hvað finn fyrir mikila hamingju í hjartanu að lesa svona lagað.