April DeConick Flails and Misses

April DeConick has waded into the debate over historical criticism and ‘postmodern’ approaches. It’s an unfortunate post, not merely because April has no idea what ‘postmodern’ means, but she rolls out the moth-eaten arguments that historical criticism is scientific, objective and rational. It reinforces the impressions historians and literary critics get when they ponder that form of biblical criticism: it is locked into outmoded assumptions at home in antediluvian institutions.


64 thoughts on “April DeConick Flails and Misses

  1. It is the assumption that since history is obviously biased that we should revel in that and that anything can mean anything (as many postmodernists tout, and yes I have seen sentiments to that as clear as day) that is the reason that postmodernism from Lacan to “quantum feminism” is a laughable and quite frankly abhorrent pseudo-methodology to be avoided by not only Biblical studies but by all historical disciplines. I find relief in that the major trend of literary criticism has been moving away from the gibberish that has been spouted since the deconstructionists took over. No, sex is not inherently violent (Foucoult) and no women’s menstrual cycles do not inhibit their understanding of geometry (Irigaray).

    If you want to posit something other than what these major writers in post-modern have before posited, then it’s an uphill battle and I recommend foregoing the name “postmodern” altogether.


    1. Chris, unfortunately ‘postmodern’ has become the bogey which everyone seeks to avoid. I was once at a session at the SBL in which each side of the debate strenuously attempted to call the other ‘postmodern’. However, it looks like your reading is somewhat skewed, since the dominant understanding of postmodern is not an approach, a fashion or a fad that one can use at will. You might want to check Perry Anderson and Fred Jameson.

      1. …i mean, equivocating Lacan with Foucault with ‘deconstructionists’ is something we did in first year cultural studies courses, but for the purposes of a complex discussion around biblical crit this is pretty sophomoric.

  2. Postmodern as a term is so loosely applied it’s shrieks to be explained with every application. And sometimes it’s used as an insult to slag off an opposing view, or it’s used to describe oneself in order to pretentiously set oneself apart from supposed underling predecessors. So I don’t even step on the court. Totally agnostic on postmodern.

  3. postmodern is another one of those empty meaningless terms because it means something different to everyone who uses it. there’s really no point whatsoever in using it. some new term must be found.

  4. Further, what April and Craig and others call ‘postmodern’ is really another and now dominant phase of philosophy and literary criticism. That latest manifestation, if you will, of the critical spirit so dear to them.

    1. It always seems funny to me that those who throw around the bogeyman version of the word postmodern are in some ways the worst transgressors of whatever the bogeyman transgresses in their own usage of the word.

  5. OK Steph, it’s not my version, but it is one put forward by Fred Jameson back in 1984 (THAT year), which has since caught on and been traced with impeccable clarity by Perry Anderson. Postmodernism is the ‘cultural logic’ of late capitalism, i.e., the dominant worldview of the socio-economic system we have now. It’s part of the total picture, along with economics, politics, social relations, culture, ideology, philosophy, literary criticism and … biblical studies. What went before? Modernism and monopoly capitalism; before that realism and classical capitalism. In case that sounds monolithic and clunky, these various bits and pieces don’t necessarily fit together neatly, nor have we passed smoothly and completely from modernism to postmodernism. For example, a feature of postmodern philosophy or literary criticism is that modernism itself is now assessed critically, its assumptions and biases laid bare, the claim to be bias-free shown to be a bias itself. No longer can we assume the modernist positions; they now need to be defended and reasserted. A specific instance is that much of historical criticism relies on the modernist assumption of depth: the history of the literature and the Bible lies ‘behind’ or ‘beneath’ the text and so we need methods to find those histories. This position used to be assumed for any critical work on the Bible. If you challenged them, then you were a conservative Christian out of whack with modernity. However, now that depth assumption is no longer assumed within postmodernism, so it must be defended etc. In that respect van Seters and DeConick operate within a postmodern situation.

      1. I had a horrible feeling you might think that. No of course I wasn’t being sarcastic. But it is so logical and sensible that it should be assumed as the universal interpretation of postmodernism. I haven’t ever seen it clarified like that before. I’d like to wear it.

    1. Mark Fisher in his Capitalist Realism book says we should start using the term capitalist realism to distinguish this quite rigourous Jameson version of postmodernism from the other extant ones. I think this might actually be useful to start doing so.

  6. Clever, but fail. I am no stranger to new concepts, having written on concepts of l’autre in Herodotus (twice applicable, actually, and probably still useful some more), religious/ethnic relativism, and colonialism, all as it pertains to Classics authors.

    And yes, they are all unique, and Foucault, I know, and Derrida, and Lacan, and Kristeva all are not the same person, so much is obvious (I can tell you who criticized whom! beginning with the most famous feud of Derrida and Foucault), but they all are part of the same intellectual tradition, the obfuscation and misapplication of scientific and literary concepts and theories with the result of gibberish and pseudo-intellectual fraud.

    And with such sneering at my background in Classics, it’s little wonder that the examples I gave rendered defenders of postmodernism incapable of rebuttal.


    1. in that case Chris i think you’d better be more specific in your critique rather than attack a vague “intellectual tradition” for “misuse of scientific and literary concepts”. What is it exactly that you don’t agree with? Is it Derrida’s notion of differance? Trace? L’avenir? Is it his attempt to move beyond Saussure’s linguistics? What exactly is misapplied/misused? Besides, Foucault’s preoccupations differ significantly from Derrida, not to mention people as diverse as Baudrillard or Zizek, or even Rorty and Gadamer. I think they would eschew the notion of a common tradition.

      btw, i think roland would be very amused at being called postmodern.

    2. Chris I know the word ‘fail’ is big these days- but for my sanity’s sake might you never use it again? It’s so very annoying. Every time I read it I hear in my head the whiny valley girl voice I hear when I see the word ‘whatever’.

  7. ‘and no women’s menstrual cycles do not inhibit their understanding of geometry (Irigaray).’

    That is one of the most ridiculous misreadings of Irigaray I have come across…and there are plenty. If you are going to be critical of something, do it carefully. I thought that was something your prefered methodology was supposed to espouse.

    Julie Kelso

  8. I’m afraid I fail to see where I called Roland himself postmodern.

    And as for specifics, I already listed some, why don’t you start there?

    As I said earlier, many of these “literary theorists” (if such a noble term can be applied to such ignoble writers) misapply concepts *like* for example the concept of l’autre. If you want a thorough rebuttal, try Alan Sokal or Richard Dawkins (the latter here). I have given a few examples of what I see as abhorrent examples in these various yet unified writers.

    (I think you are mistaken on why they are unified – not because their theories are the same, for as I said earlier, postmodernism isn’t a method, but rather because all these people engage in what Alan Sokal rightfully calls fashionable nonsense. It’s an atmosphere that allows “quantum feminism” to be a valid dissertation topic and for Roland here to arbitrarily throw in “capitalism” without regard or perhaps wrongfully with regard to its meaning.)


    1. The idea that Dawkins represents a through rebuttal is ridiculous. It’s a combination of quotation and sneer, that mirrors the worst tactics of those who support intelligent design. He rails again them for not reading the material but is prepared to do much the same with ‘postmodernism’ and religion.

      1. quite right alex. he is as fundamentalist in his methodology vis-a-vis his foes as his foes are normally against him.

  9. ok, let’s see if we can fiddle with this a little…

    Firstly, Foucault’s work on the ‘History of Sexuality’ linked the emergence of human discourses on ‘sex’ with power, or more precisely, biopolitics. That is, they are ways in which we come to construct and know the self in this way (as opposed to some other way). What we know as sex in modern societies must be understood within a configuration of other social discourses (e.g. health, education, birth control), which can be shown to change over time (e.g. as sin or adultery, as mystical knowledge). In this sense, sex is linked to power/knowledge, but Foucault does not conceive of power in an entirely negative sense (i.e. it is both disabling and enabling).

    On deconstruction, I’m not quite sure I understand your point. If it’s about Derrida, then what his work (while admittedly difficult) seeks to make apparent NOT that there is no truth (or as you put it “anything can mean anything”), but rather that truth consists of a series of strategies (e.g. your persistent citation of Sokal and Dawkins in an attempt to buttress your conclusions). Meaning is tendentially defined, but that doesn’t mean that words mean whatever I want. However, it does mean that meanings are contested. For example, what constitutes an “Australian”? In the early-1990s at the height of multiculturalism, it was the technicolour quilt. Under John Howard, it was the white bushman or Anzac. Meanings were contested and changed, but not freewheeling.

    On post-feminism (Irigaray), I haven’t read enough to comment, but I am flicking this thread on to my comrades in gender studies to consider.

    On scientific method (and Dawkins), a good book to read would be Paul Feyerabend’s ‘Against Method’ and ‘Realism, Rationalism and Scientific Method’.

  10. @Alex:

    Dawkins was a review of Sokal’s book. If you’re unaware of Sokal, get cracking.

    @remy bit by bit:

    “On deconstruction, I’m not quite sure I understand your point. If it’s about Derrida, then what his work (while admittedly difficult) seeks to make apparent NOT that there is no truth (or as you put it “anything can mean anything”), but rather that truth consists of a series of strategies (e.g. your persistent citation of Sokal and Dawkins in a

    This is precisely the very thing that makes Derrida so ridiculous and hypocritical to boot. As for persistent citation, I mentioned him once here, which again furthers my belief that no postmodernist knows how to read.

    “For example, what constitutes an “Australian”? In the early-1990s at the height of multiculturalism, it was the technicolour quilt. Under John Howard, it was the white bushman or Anzac. Meanings were contested and changed, but not freewheeling.”

    And of course it ignores connotative v. denotative meanings. It’s still pure BS. Meanings change? Tell me something new. Another major problem with the postmodernist group is their argument by assertion, NEVER proven. Of all the Lacan, Foucault, Derrida, Irigaray (and that was painful to read), Butler, Kristeva, etc… I’ve seen very few places where some theory or another is evidenced. It’s all assertion.

    That’s not how the real world works. And if you don’t believe me, assert as often as you can that you can fly and then jump off a bridge. The results might not be what you like.


    1. hmmm… i’m not sure if pushing this further is going to be fruitful, but i’ll try. i feel bad for clogging up this thread on Roland’s blog.

      take Foucault. are you suggesting that works like ‘History of Madness’ are based on assertion only? i’m afraid i disagree. it’s historicism, and in contrast to determinative teleologies (e.g. scientific progress, etc), this necessarily requires the author to demonstrate the particularities that give rise to certain events.

      On meanings: the connotative/denotative division is precisely what fails to hold in the example i provided. (what does “Australian” denote?)

      As to jumping off a bridge, you are right (though i’m much more accustomed in these discussions to ppl telling me to jump in front of a bus). and yet how the act of jumping off a bridge is understood always necessitates a discourse (e.g. bungee jumping, suicide, etc – and even suicide is discursively rendered differently if you are Japanese or American or Hamas) How your parents come to know you jumping off a bridge is also discursive. Lacan, for example, would argue that the likely ‘trauma’ that would result is precisely the inability of say, your parents, to integrate this (Real) event into their meaning structures. (This is an important point actually because the West finds it difficult to understand suicide bombings – Talal Asad’s book on this is worth a read)

      So Chris, if what you are arguing against is that signs and signifiers are freewheeling and meaning is never fixed at all, then i agree with you. However, if you then suggest that this is what Foucault/Derrida/Butler amount to, then i cannot help but find that incredible.

    2. ‘Irigaray (and that was painful to read),’

      No doubt, Chris. I’m sure it is not because you lack the ability to understand her responses to Hellenic and neo-Platonic philosophies (Speculum) or any other philosophies for that matter. She is very difficult AND at times quite painful to read. However, the thing is, when you persist with this stuff you realise these are very, VERY educated, clever and (I really do think) important contributors to modern debates about knowledge and how we go about, well, contributing some more. There are a number of people I have met who are, as you suggest, in this game for some kind of egositic reason (career, whatever). But once you sit sown and read this stuff over a number of years and take it seriously, you begin to see that it is not bullshit (though many of the articles written as comentary or whatever may well be). This is western philosophy as it has come to be…and politically it is very important. Our job as academics in the Humanities, I guess, is to get on top of this stuff, criticise it for its very REAL failures, and try to offer something new.

      Julie Kelso

  11. I can’t help thinking that what we’re witnessing here is perfectly normal in that strange world of intellectual struggle (was thinking of another word there …). Think Galileo and the resistance to his new-fangled ideas, the opposition to biblical historical criticism (which has since become the new theological orthodoxy), the challenge of Marx and Engels, or for that matter feminism (which ain’t, by the way, ‘postmodern’, especially if you go back to the 19th century) and the strident opposition it still generates. So new ideas come along, vigorous, critical, energetic, challenge the lazy assumptions of those who have become a little too comfortable; they wake up and start denouncing young, smart dudes, telling them off from disturbing their slumber (heard that before somewhere – Enuma Elish). But it’s also very much about turf wars, especially in tertiary institutions. Will this philosophy department or that theology program hire someone who is smart and quick and has some new ideas, or will they go for someone who simply reinforces the status quo and make everyone feel comfortable for a while at least?

    1. It’s a wierd mix that’s in the “postmodern” category, according to most. Feminist hermeneutics is certainly one of the wierder ones usually thrown into the great unwashed opposition to hist-crit. Apart from the odd exception that proves the rule (Camp…), feminist heremeneutics within biblical studies is a poster-girl for liberalism.

      For some pre-Christmas fun, check out adherence to Continental or Analytic philosophy (under “Tradition”) as you move from Undergraduate to Faculty, in this large survey done last month:

      1. Those are some pretty crazy numbers. I’m hoping that the majority of those as identifying themselves as influenced by Quine, Russell, and so on, aren’t the ones sitting on my admissions committee. In my statement of purpose, I identify myself explicitly as having interests in ‘post-Kantian European philosophy.’ Although, I did purposefully choose schools that probably had the faculty who were giving the answers in Continental philosophy (ie the schools that you won’t find on the Leiter report), so I’m not that worried about it.

        It is funny that ‘continental philosophy’ becomes a minor item. While searching out various schools online, I noticed that a lot of lists say something to the effect of ‘it will serve you well to have AoC or AoS outside of continental philosophy.’

  12. Not this old nugget.

    When all else fails, make yourself out to be a martyr. This is less Galileo and more Giodorno Bruno. Just because there’s resistance to something doesn’t make it right. And this rubbish is about as wrong as it gets.

      1. But modernists aim for coherence – whereas theologians valorize incoherence and give it the mystifying label of “paradox”.

  13. This is pointless. Yes, of course, because there is rejection of BS, that automatically makes it right.

    You went from defending crackpottery to becoming a crackpot yourself. Congrats.

  14. I hereby:
    a) search for the narcotic that passes as tea – kawakawa
    b) celebrate the 51st comment on this thread
    c) swear that I am not Chris Weimer in an effort to generate discussion
    d) agree that Chris’s best contribution to the debate is ‘crackpottery’
    e) have begun a major bout of nostalgia for my days in Classics

      1. Oh yes, Latin, Greek, Sanskrit, and then I taught classics at a stuffy private school in Sydney for a couple of years. Made the Latin and Greek stick, that’s for sure, and made me realise that anyone who has been to a private school should be shot and buried in a mass grave.

  15. wow, i go shopping for 3 hours and it’s gone overdrive here with name-calling and so on! serves me right for being overdetermined in that time by my neoliberal consumerist postmodern hybrid subjectivity.

  16. As I point out in the discussion at the Dunedin School:

    Worthwhile checking out Jameson’s efforts to map all this ‘Theories of the Postmodern’ – there’s anti-modernist, pro-modernist, pro-postmodernist and anti-postmodernist, into which he lines up Lyotard, Wolfe, Jencks, Tafuri, Kramer and Habermas in one of his classic combinatoires. Would want to update it now, but I haven’t got the time.

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