Normal Unhappiness of The Family Idiot




Jean Paul Sartre’s five-volume The Family Idiot portrays Gustave Flaubert, the romantic founder of French literary realism, as a victim of circumstantial suggestion and auto-suggestion living in the clutches of a figurative sort of conversion hysteria; namely, pithiatism.

In the first paragraph of Chapter Eight, ‘The Imaginary Child,’ Sartre alludes to the characteristic of pithiatism, a sort of hysteria determined by suggestion, in respect to his family idiot:

“This is Gustave as he has been constituted. Of course, any determination imprinted in an existing being is surpassed by the way he lives. In the child Flaubert, passive activity and gliding are his way living this constituted passivity; resentment is his way of living the situation assigned to him in the Flaubert family. In other words, the structures of this family are internalized as attitudes and re-externalized as actions by which the child makes himself into what others made him. Conversely, we shall find in him no behavior, as complex and elaborate as it might seem, that is not originally the surpassing of an internalized determination.”

According to Sartre’s psychoanalysis, Gustave’s being was not wholly defined by circumstances; he would have no self of his own as a mere victim of circumstances devoid of existential independence and freedom. He would be in effect a zombie or a machine unconscious of his own existence; if someone were to act like a machine we would naturally deem him psychotic not neurotic.

Naturally every human being by necessity introjects his social identity from others and projects what he has learned. Nevertheless, the individual, by virtue of its independent will to exist forever without impedance if it could, is bound to put up some resistance to the imposition of conformity, as we can see in every squalling child, and he will invariably get away with what he can get away with while accepting influences that serve his purpose. Thus he becomes his own person; a person being, to some extent, a unique composite of individual existence and social being. Every particular is a coincidence of universal qualities, no two coincidences being identical; hence the individual is somewhat unique.

As far as Sartre, a former member of the French Resistance during the war, was concerned, Flaubert did not actively affirm his existential self in the world. He just did not want to make the effort and thus in part be defined by its resistance thereto. He had what we might call a weak will—at one juncture he reflected that he was cowardly in his youth. He did not seem to know who he really was because he had not looked within; he had not conducted a painful regressive analysis of his self; instead, he avoided himself, using his literary art to paint himself out of the picture.

French Existentialism, with its struggle for freedom through individual responsibility, hails back to the introspective discovery of the self as will; that is, to French Voluntarism, for which Maine De Biran was an introspective pioneer. Biran confessed that, “Even from infancy I remember that I marveled at the sense of my existence. I was already led by instinct to look within myself in order to know how it was possible that I could be alive and be myself.”

Sartre, mentioning Flaubert’s resentment as a chosen way of living, does give young Flaubert a will of his own in his choice of style; negation or resistance to external influence constitutes the will of the individual, made manifest to us in his behavioral style. And that would leave Flaubert morally culpable for his way of life, at least as a liar.

Mind you that the pithiatic hysteric is a liar who believes in the lie; but this belief represses an otherwise nagging doubt to the so-called unconscious sector of the psyche. The forgetting of the doubt is imaginary; the belief is make-believe or bad faith inasmuch as it is not blind faith. It is a commanding hysterical performance of the kind that has made fools out of many psychoanalysts.

Sartre’s Flaubert was a paralytic writer whose acting career had been thwarted by his father, and who was self-blinded to his own existence and suitable self. That is, his neurosis prevented from being himself; that is, a comic actor instead of the serious writer he wound up being.

You see, Flaubert as a boy loved to stage little plays, and fancied himself as a playwright. Sartre, again and again, affords Flaubert’s father the brunt of the blame for Flaubert’s bad faith or inauthentic personhood; for it was his unappreciative father, whose affection he craved, who constituted the comical would-be actor as a self-contemptible family idiot who would isolate himself, withdrawing himself from his prospective audience to entertain them from afar, passively, in writing, instead of actively or directly, in person.

Otto Rank’s conclusion to his lecture, ‘The Play within Hamlet – Toward an Analysis and Dynamic Understanding of the Work,’ sheds some light on the psychology of playacting distinguished from playwriting:

“I shall attempt to pursue Shakespeare’s personal relationship to the material and to its treatment in somewhat greater depth than has previously been achieved. There can be no doubt that the great significance given in Hamlet to the dramatic art and to actors relates to Shakespeare’s professional interests and his artistic ambitions. As is well known, he also worked as an actor, sometimes playing roles he wrote. I have tried to explain this psychologically in claiming that acting is a fully valued psychic act and a more basic release for psychic states than the activity of the playwright. It is actually the actor who must complete the drama, who must do what the playwright wishes to do but, owing to psychic defenses, cannot achieve. The actor ‘experiences’ what the playwright can only ‘dream.’ If we compare this psychological formula to insights derived from the analysis of the play within the play, we find that there, too, Shakespeare has supplied an unconscious admission of how drama offered him a substitute for many things he had to renounce in life, just as for Hamlet the play replaces acts he cannot carry out due to powerful inhibitions. From the nature of drama itself, it is clear which psychic mechanism allows an actor the release, forbidden to the playwright, of blocked emotions that cannot otherwise be overcome. This is identification, taken as far as the temporary suspension of one’s own personality. In Hamlet, of course, broad use is made of identification, and in the interpretation of this drama I have often had occasion to make recourse to it.21 Our investigation shows how such identification functions as a significant component in dramatic talent; it also shows us a motive for selecting an acting career — a motive not to be underestimated. In the child’s relationship to the parents, as shown in the analysis of Hamlet, there arise certain forces that can push a personality with talent for identification, that universal artistic ability, directly into an acting career: the wish to be grown up, the wish to enact and imitate the father, to put oneself in his place — all based on the observations the child has made, though he slyly attempts to conceal this from his parents. The actor’s favorite roles offer him the opportunity truly to enact these tendencies and to allow himself to be overheard by the spectators, who have essentially become the precondition for his (portrayed) ability to carry out actions. This is the reverse of the childhood situation, which he has partially retained, while partially overcoming it through identification with the father. Thus this brief analysis of the “play within the play” extends to the entire drama Hamlet, which I believe I have made somewhat more comprehensible in its dynamic significance for the inner life of actor and spectator alike.”

Sartre cast Flaubert as an idiot and moron. Mind you that those terms may be employed without intent to insult people with mental incapacities due to neurological abnormalities and injuries. The popular word ‘idiot,’ derived from idios, meaning “one’s own,” in common parlance used to refer to a “private person” or one withdrawn from public affairs, a person or simpleton or “imbecile,” or an ignorant country bumpkin, so to speak.

As Mark Twain insultingly said, “Reader, suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of congress. But I repeat myself.”

And Linnaeus, as we learn from our etymological dictionary, used the term ‘morisis’ for idiocy in the sense of mental deficiency. An idiot might be a ‘moron,’ a term derived from moros, a fool. We notice that ‘morose,’ meaning gloomy, peevish, fastidious, has a similar root. A morose person is immoral, has bad manners in contrast to moral in the sense of good mores or habits.

In fine, we believe Sartre was in effect calling his favorite neurotic, Gustave Flaubert, stupid in five volumes. A neurotic is stupid inasmuch as their defensive patterns are inappropriate no matter how useful they may be.

Since “neurotic” is no longer included in the official diagnostic manual, should we insert “stupid” in its stead?

In fact, we see that “stupidity” was a word used by French alienists to indicate the form of insanity usually known as “melancholia with stupor,” and was defined by Wilhelm Griesinger, in Mental Pathology and Therapeutics (1867) as melancholia in which the patient is lost in self-contemplation.

Neurotic people have a sort of blind spot, or rather a cataract partially obstructing their cognition; they keep doing the same, useless thing over and over again, thus revealing their partiality, or insanity if they are seriously impaired. They appear to be stupid, at least in that respect. According to Sartre, Flaubert’s stupidity was in not knowing himself, of being stupid to his bona fide existence and the nature of the being that would accord with his native or existential disposition.

Flaubert himself identified stupidity with happiness: “To be stupid, and selfish, and to have good health are the three requirements for happiness; though if stupidity is lacking, the others are useless.”

He was indeed unhappy yet not unsophisticated, unintelligent, or stupid in the usual sense. Perhaps we might opine that Gustave became one of the fools he had played as a child, becoming stupid to his genuine existence in the process.

But that is not clever enough for Sartre’s convoluted reflections. He claims that Gustave consumed himself.

“It would be inadequate to say that he plays the fool, that in the unreal world he becomes the imbecile he would be if he were actually afflicted with imbecility; in order to produce the analogue of the persona he represents, he becomes the fool he is. This obscure mass of agitation, terrorized incomprehension, fear, stubbornness, bad faith, and ignorance, which under the name of stupidity is the index of everyone’s alienation, is awakened and stirred up by the actor so that he might be unrealized through it as a magnificent idiot. What is he doing other than what he has always done, since a bad relationship constituted him laughable? To be sure, a dialectic operates between the character and the interpreter: the actor transforms the character to the precise extent that he is transformed by it. But these are relations between images. The role serves as an alibi: the actor sheds his persona, he believes he is evading himself in the character. But this is futile: in his befuddled alacrity to be nothing but a strange image, there is a distinct malaise and a deep antipathy, which encourages him to revile himself so that others may triumph. He is conscious, in fact, of choosing this or that disguise in order to make others laugh at him as he has always done.”

If we do not understand this, we are probably stupid idiots and damned fools ourselves at the feet of this great analyst—an admirer at Sartre’s funeral procession was quoted as saying that he did not understand what Sartre said, but he knew he was a great philosopher, and that was enough.

“Since his sincerity,” wrote Sartre, “such as it is, is rejected, and since he does not recognize his own right to feel anything until adults have given their consent, he is condemned by his father’s capricious mistrust never to determine whether he is feeling or just imagining his feelings. The deeper meaning of this personalizing revolution is that the child no longer knows whether he exists or is just pretending to exist. Given this option, Gustave unconsciously chooses anti-Cartesianism and, more obscurely, irrationality. If he manages only to produce images, isn’t he an image himself?”

So Flaubert does not exist or behave in the way Sartre wants him to exist, according to Sartre’s universal definition of existence, which is really a mode of being, a being responsible for oneself according to a Marxist psychologist’s desire. Flaubert, then, cannot help the way he is not himself, which unbeknown to him is a radical self; he is a phony, a victim of capitalist society. Therefore Flaubert is subject to a pithiatic form of neurosis.

A neurotic person is an unduly nervous one, a person who is anxious and emotional as the result of some invisible injury. He suffers from a psychic conflict between alternates, neither of which he wants to choose; say, between his ideal self, which others have propped up for him, and his real self, which he consequently despises when he falls short of the ideal. He is trapped between two hard rocks, and, in self-defense, works out an impractical compromise that condemns him to drag his cross around for the rest of his life.

Neurotic behavior seems to be an ineffective or inefficient or even absurd way of doing things to the observer; however, from the subject’s perspective, it may be a somewhat effective adaptation strategy inasmuch as it may allay his fears, for example, and make him feel that he has the world under control, or at least his behavior may manipulate others to react in a manner beneficial to him—unfortunately, it often makes matters worse, reinforcing, paradoxically, the neurosis. Still, the neurotic person is purportedly unaware of the true nature of his mental disorder.

Indeed, Sartre appears to have believed that Flaubert was neurotic, not figuratively speaking, but in the sense of mental illness, that he was mentally sickened by a sick i.e. bourgeois society. Disgusted with the self he was being, because he was unaware of his existential self, which should have been a radical self manning the barricades against the stupid bourgeoisie, Flaubert withdrew from society, isolating himself to agonizingly write Madame Bovary, featuring the fictional Emma Bovary, a haplessly romantic, hysterical woman who was incapable of loving any man; no man was perfect, leaving every candidate to fall short of her ideal. Her author would confess that “she is me.” He is the hysteric; she is his projection. She will die in the novel; he will wind up with the glory.

According to Sartre’s family idiot myth, Flaubert had not quite arrived at the state of neurosis at an early stage in his adolescence, although he was well on his way: “Looking at these passages [from Flaubert’s biographic writing],” Sartre reflects, “we are forced to acknowledge that Gustave does not intend to describe to us the tame, continually interrupted reveries of a “well-adjusted” adolescent; rather, he depicts an almost neurotic state, intentional, certainly, but outstripping his clear intention and yet suffered to the same degree that it is produced.”

Again the family patriarch is blamed for the neurosis with which Flaubert will be entailed:

“As the undisputed and shrewd head of the family, Achille-Cleophas contributed to maintaining the young man in a neurotic state that gave him a reason to sequester himself at Rouen and end his studies; in this sense, the father’s death certainly had the effect, if not of curing Gustave, at least of causing a remission of his illness. But the fundamental and archaic relationship of the child to the father (to convince him of his eminent value) was not altered; hence the remission was accompanied by a profound frustration.”

Sartre attributes neurotic behavior to mental rather than physical causes. His rhetoric explicating the mechanics of the inner conflict and its outward results differs somewhat from that of the early masters, but that is of little consequence since the mechanical hypotheses cannot be falsified; strictly speaking, psychoanalysis is not hard science but a soft art if not witchcraft.

When a patient is not able to dredge up something pertinent to her mental disorder from the unconscious, claiming that nothing is there, the doctor may assume that there is something invisible there, and a force called resistance to maintain the repression, and do his best to torture the truth out of her somehow. Who can prove that that the unconscious, that repression, that resistance and so on do not exist? It is easier to come up with something for the doctor to analyze, perhaps a random recitation of ideas from which the Delphic priest may divine the hypostatical associations suitable to his theoretical framework.

Sartre became all too familiar with war hysteria and totalitarian regimes during the war. He said that unwelcome feelings which cannot be assimilated are externalized so that a global defense can be set up against them—a total war for a final solution, a war to end all wars.

We may attribute our faults to others, the enemies, who then are subhuman enough to justify slaughtering them. (Freudians would say that repressed content is unconsciously projected onto or transferred to others).

“Stress is the name we shall give to this unity of the nonassimilable element and the global defense that the totalizing process develops against it, infected precisely to the degree that it tries to neutralize the nonassimilable. In this case, neurosis is stress as much as character disorder. Of course, this totalizing effort to defuse the contradictions or to isolate them achieves its aim only at the price of dangerous divergences, which alter the totalized whole.”

The problem with Sartre’s voluminous ideologically biased analysis of the great author whom he never knew is that Flaubert was not stupid but wise, and wisdom was at the root of his unhappiness, a wisdom that we all have an intuitive albeit inadmissible inkling of in our own “normal unhappiness,” as Freud called it. Sartre was well aware of that, so he himself was playing the fool and at great length. What else is there to do?

Postmodernism is a Dead Canard

Drawing by Darwin Leon





Is Postmodernism Dead?

Postmodernism is rarely mentioned anymore even in vulgar quarters. It is obviously out of vogue, whatever it is or was. I suppose its popular demise is a crying shame for those who were devoted to extrapolating it for so many years. On the other hand, many of those shedding tears into handkerchiefs behind their veils must be weeping with joy, having been partially relieved of their burdensome postmodern confusion. Yet they may not understand just what the dearly departed was, whether it was a quacking duck or a canard, hence some confusion remains to be buried. For those who are still in mourning or are rejoicing, I will share my memories of and opinions on the dearly departed in hopes of clearing up the controversy over postmodernism’s late identity so that we may have closure.


At first I was so confused by postmodernism that I thought “postmodernism” was synonymous with “confusionism.” Nonetheless, I believed I could give a reasonable account of it. Reasoning about confusion as if it were understandable did little to dispel my confusion. My initial efforts to rationalize postmodernism with linear thinking were sinking me deeper into its bewildering morass. Unclean spirits crept in and infected my reason when I suspended judgment to listen to postmodernism’s farraginous canon of discourse.

I was reminded of the time I visited a friend in Bellevue for too long, and, thanks to the power of suggestion, I nearly got myself committed by the head discerner of unclean spirits there. It is certainly no wonder postmodernists mention madness and imprisonment so often. Be that as it may, my investigation of postmodernism was making an unwitting postmodernist out of me.

I had given existentialism the old college try before my encounter with postmodernism. Although I could not quite put my finger on my existence as a passionate and free individual responsible for its choices, at least with existentialism I was left with faith in meaningful meaninglessness, and in Nothingness, which seemed to be naked Being, or Being stripped of all its predicates. But with postmodernism I became a scattering of incoherent bits and pieces, a random jumble, a sort of trash-art personality or gallimaufry incarnate. I was nonetheless allowed to keep the precious conflict with authority my dad said was my issue, and I was encouraged to resent any encroachment on whatever culture I might want to conform to someday, namely someone else’s culture, the more exotic the better. I began to suspect that postmodernism was some sort of sophisticated temper tantrum mixed up with tantric practices and whatnot. I must confess that I was taken in by it, whatever it was or was not, and I wanted to do something about it.

Travel Fantasies

I seriously considered moving to Mongolia where I would buy a used yurt, round up some stray livestock, and become a nomad. I would have to give up lactose-free vegetarianism and take up meat-eating and drinking mare’s milk. I would learn to like the diet, horse racing, and vodka. But then I learned a money economy had been introduced by some yuppies with a laptop. Bankers were stealing the money. Nomads were exchanging their herds for money, which is absurd: a nomad’s real wealth is measured by number of head and not by number of exchange units or the Western junk that can be purchased with them! To make matters worse with the virtues of an advancing free-market economy, the Russians were no longer putting out fodder for the winter.

Survival of the fittest is not my cup of tea. So much for my Mongolia plan! Then my mind wandered to Myanmar for awhile, but I could not bring my body there to be shot or hung: I just hate juntas. I was disappointed to learn that the Myanmar junta wanted to build scarce Western houses for everyone who approved of the junta. I preferred plentiful bamboo. I know, fire insurance is not available, but so what if the bamboo house burns down? Happy-go-lucky villagers can just throw up another house after celebrating the good life again. As for the contents of the bamboo shelter, who needs more possessions than can be carried on one’s back? Indeed, I speculated, property is theft, the source of all the violence. Evil is of our own making! But alas, the globe is overrun with property and its attendant evils including monogamy and juntas who hate multiculturalism. (Ironically, in its love for denigrated others, postmodernism includes juntas on its protected species list). After much such mental globe-trotting, I gave up on finding a postmodern Arcadia. There are no pockets of paradise left, so I decided to stay put in the despicable West.

Talk About Talk

Postmodernists seem to think language is everything, so I took up talk about talk. Talk is the model for everything; language is the model of organization. The universe is yackety-yack; the elements of the universe as we understand them are all talking systematically. Each element is determined by its system wherefore each individual is specified by its complex relation with other elements. Genuine postmodernists must remember that signs do not refer to the real world but are merely reflexes of the flexible system.

In fact, there is no real world for there is no Reality. And, without Reality for statements to correspond to, there is no Truth. The Universe is not a unity or singular entity with its own independent essence, but is a discombobulated universe of various canons or systems of “discourse.” Strictly speaking, the universe is just a speech of speeches without a Speaker. Anyone who dares to speak the Universe is a fool or a liar. However, if he is a bigot with a system, postmodernists cannot but admire him as an Other who has a canon of discourse, for they love the authority they hate.

In other words, there is no such thing as the Truth. Words like “Truth”, “Nature”, “Reality”, are weasel words, nominalistic lies implying that transcendental values exist. That is to say that only the particulars or elements of systems exist. Welcome back to the temporal and spatial finitude modern people fought so long and hard to transcend. So long to Liberty at the end of the historical road; say so long to Oz at the end of the yellow brick one. Welcome to Logos as a system without a wise God. Say hello to a postmodern idol, to Discourses, or systemic linguistic practices which are not just our everyday verbalizations, but everything we do.

Analogously speaking, everything of human value is a sign of a discursive system. As we speak, the elements of Chicago are carrying on a robust Midwestern conversation with cattle, corn and wheat, and, conversely, with the Windy City’s wind, residents, great lake, and everything else worth talking about. Within that urban complex, professors of sociology at the University of Chicago are firing their canon of discourse, perhaps at the reproductive canon of discourse in rural Illinois.

Initially taken in by postmodernism, I tried to be cool. I practiced putting down the supposedly Western way of thinking, which is, of course, the hard way; the rigid phallic way. However, when doing just that, I erected my thinking above thinking itself in the same old despised way! I grew increasingly cynical about the postmodern canon of discourse. It seemed to be shooting its mouth off to get a reaction. It seemed to be making trouble just to blame the trouble on its neoteric forefathers, biting every hand that fed it.

Postmodernists believe man is dead, buried in structural systems to which he constantly adjusts. But the postmodern structures are inane conceits. Thus postmodernists are left with a pseudo-science too arid to be ugly. Everything talked about had been talked about before so many times that it seemed like the graves had been picked clean of everything including the bones, and that we were just talking about some crazy talking technique neither we nor its inventor understood because it is actually an anti-technique.

In sum, I found very little original thinking in the postmodern camp populated by interpretations of interpretations of interpretations instead of human beings. Alienated from my transcendental ego, I was tempted to return to existentialism, to re-read Husserl, Heidegger, Camus, Sartre, and, may heaven forbid, Kierkegaard, Buber and Tillich, but I desisted since the very idea of existence before being, the category-of-one as a universal particular before the Universal, was incomprehensible.

I Love Aardvaarks and Slime Mold

I also took up the passionate study of slime mold and aardvarks during my excursions into postmodernism, and I wrote haikus about obscure herbal medicines. I was so infuriated by a Western zoologist’s rude remark that aardvarks are ugly that I imbibed a prodigious quantity of tranquilizing herbal tea. Duly intoxicated, I surmised that, with the advent of the Internet, mankind will soon fulfill its destiny by becoming a Global Glob, analogous to a gigantic slime mold covering the globe, living off of decaying matter while leaving the thriving vegetation unharmed. I composed a haikus on the subject because an idolized professor of postmodern literature said the sonnet form is really that of a syllogism, and as such it had served more to stifle erotic romance with patriarchal formalism than to promote it.

My haiku on the Global Glob, alluding to billions of cells becoming a single yellow cell having the appearance of a sick cosmic dog’s vomit, created quite a big stir on the Manoa campus.  I was immensely amused by the feedback, but I still could not stand postmodernism’s supercilious talk-about-talk vocabulary. People really thought they knew it all when they learned how to say “paradigm” over and over. That I did not mind so much. But if I hear “discourse” or “episteme”, or even worse, “canon of discourse”, one more time, I will certainly redundantly retch.

The hypocrisy of the postmodernist pseudo-scientists, who seem to be trained by frustrated Marxists, is appalling to any Westerner in his right mind. The very idea of it, to use the supreme canon of “Western” thinking to blast the West! And to think one might get away with it by peppering his supposedly objective manifestos with some such obscure weasel-word as “topos”. Please, I do not want to go to that confusing place! To hell with the “topoi”! I quit! Take me to the Enlightenment!

El Cogito Factor

One thing postmodernism is dead set against is the Enlightenment, especially the Enlightenment’s favorite induction, El Cogito Factor, which makes all brilliant deductions from a broad generalization possible. The amazing frustrated existentialist, Rene Descartes, discovered the world-shaking factor for himself, stating it in the elegant a< b (“a implies b,” or “a therefore b”) propositional form, “Cogito ergo sum”, or, “I think therefore I am”. And if one thinks long enough, one arrives at the conclusion that the “I” doing the thinking thinks about many things yet is still the “I”, hence consciousness is a unity apposite an infinite plurality of possible objects.

The “I” may be otherwise explained as a broad generalization instead of an a priori, existent essent, as self-consciousness mysteriously induced from the awareness of multiple objects. On the inductive side, the “I” or subject, when absolutely universalized, magically becomes the Subject-of-subjects or “God.” And from that universal supreme Individual, from that almighty-I, all things are deduced. Meditate on the interlocking triangles of the “Star of David” to better understand the logical absurdity.

Of course any reasonable person knows there is no person without society, that we are social beings, that there is no I without a WE, that language is common to all speakers, that the universe of discourse is essentially ONE. The ONE is the Unity-of-unities such as the unity of history, the unity of the self or ‘I”, the unity of the objective world and so on, unitary beings in themselves. Absent the unities, or absolute common denominators, we would quickly devolve to insanity and to the nihilistic end of history desired by many postmodern anarchists.

All this may be the usual philosophical nonsense about common sense. But it leaves us with due cause to wonder how people got so confused as to forget who they were anyway. So I shall continue apace: Postmodernism is reactionary and it would return us to the old confusionism that existed before the hero Descartes elevated the subjective -I to its noble status, an elevated status which asserts the individuality of the will, hence individual freedom; Descartes was a philosophical Protestant in the sense that, when seeking to know himself, he took no catholic authority for granted, but resorted to his ability to think for himself.

Nevertheless, postmodernists abhor the very unity of consciousness we take for granted even more than they detest globalism. They would make us and our groups into the elements of systems and into cogs in machines, slaves to the finite discursive systems, the fantastic monstrosities they concoct for us to constantly adjust to. They resent the authority of reason, confusing it with the arbitrary authority of the old patriarchs, whose irrational might made right and served the centralization of power in their royal “I”s on their thrones. The postmodernists’ confusionism betrays them, for they would actually revert to the primitive forms of arbitration. In their self-contradiction, in their absurd denial of the Cogito Factor, they assume that the organization of intelligence, which is the natural process of evolution, is a Western conspiracy that must be thwarted. And they would unwittingly outwit it by means of its own method. But of course! That is the only method we know of, the one Method of methods gleaned from the universal science of methodology, the study of methods, which depends on the Cogito Factor, on the identity of the “I” as a unity of consciousness capable of generalizing its objects.

Yes, indeed, ladies and gentlemen, we see here the grand contradiction of postmodernism: the rebellious child becomes its own father, the very father it hates. What it deplores, the Western culture that fathered it, it really adores.

Authority is a Big Problem

I must admit that my inner child was rebellious when I first embraced postmodernism. The movement was automatically impertinent, disruptive, and critical of authority. Good! I was born with a conflict with authority. But I was unable to discern the difference between postmodernism and philosophical anarchy or dogmatic skepticism. I wanted to join a postmodern protest march but I could not find a postmodern flag to march behind. I found out later there was no such flag or march.

I also discovered that, for all their love of concrete systems, the postmodernists were unable to propose any such system or institution to replace the Western hegemonic system they hate so much. When caught with their pants down in that respect, they resort to the very sort of vague generalities and weasel-word vocabulary they accuse modern thinkers of. Postmodernists realize they have no solution to the problem of injustice being done to others by the insiders of the predominant power-culture, therefore they resort to ineffable solutions instead of the ones already being employed.

We hear of “another law…lying beyond the totality of the present” (Derrida) and a “new form of right” (Foucault), of faith in an “imaginary community not really present but in relation”, of “agnostic respect”, or respecting the other’s system while not knowing that one’s own system is the best, and of the “radical democracy of the people” in whom there is a “uniformity.” But that uniformity would belie postmodernism’s beloved systemic differences and assert the absolute common denominator abhorred, the subjective-I. The object of postmodernism’s ethical relativity is not mere toleration of others, but the active celebration of the other as another hence we have a politics of Otherness. And what happens to the “we” who is celebrating its “others”? What if the others are Nazis who want to kill Jews and we are the Jews?

We are advised to remember that what we are depends on what we are not, therefore we are to have respect for the not that makes us what we are. This advice has it merits, but we should also remember that our love of the common good hates evil forms contrary to that good, vicious systems that might have to be annihilated. Furthermore, what we are depends more on what we want to be than what we are not. Yes, God must have Satan and Satan loves God, but let us place our love rightly.

The more I found out about postmodern politics, the more useless the same seemed. Since politics are actually rooted in morality, and since postmodernism espouses ethical relativity, there is no such politics as postmodern politics. In any event, we and the others have plenty of political, religious, and ethical tools already at our disposal, dialectical and critical tools forged by millennia of practical experience.

The Talking Cure

I was confused by postmodernism so I took up the detoxification program to talk my way out of the morass. As one may surmise from the foregoing, I most fortunately gave up my study of postmodernism before I had completely lost my mind. You see, behind the postmodernist mask is the mechanical madness of a plurality of selves. That is to say, there presumably is no patriarchal phallic “I” that postmodernism absurdly identifies with an abhorred “subjectivism” as it confuses objects with the subject and pleads for the very objectiveness it lacks in its own narcissistic subjectivity. Yes, the plurality is a system, but so is the multiple personality. Without a unifying soul, the plural system is possessed by devils or demons, so to speak. If a man became a constantly adjusting adjustment to a complex system, he would be mad.

The Authoritarian WE

We find much evidence of confusionism in postmodernist philosophical tracts. For instance, it would seem that the postmodern thinker, to be consistent, should not use the erect “I”, the nominative singular pronoun, when referring to himself in his tracts. Rather, since he has repudiated the Cogito Factor, he should always employ “we”, the nominative plural of “I”, because he really means to refer to the systemic collection of selves, the multiple personality that he, in his delusion, thinks he is. In doing so, he will be not only consistently confused but ideologically correct, since his “we” would be a feminist commune juxtaposed to a male chauvinist “I”, with transgender connotations. However (hypocrisy of hypocrisies), although we find the postmodern intellectual employing the “we”, he does not mean it in the postmodernist sense but rather in the usual authoritarian sense, that of “Western” science applied to the social quasi-sciences. While writing alone in his study, he uses the authoritarian ‘we’ to cloak his uncertainty with a semblance of social authority, as if the whole intellectual community were behind him, speaking through him.

That is to say, in his subjectivity he pretends to be objective. His ‘we’ does not really mean an actual plurality of subjective selves that are in turn plural in themselves, but alludes to a foil for the collective, a fictional unity postmodern theologians sometimes call “god.” The authoritarian ‘we’ is a screen standing for the fear of being exposed as a naked-I. That is why many academics fall prone to postmodernism. But the king really is nude, and he should not be ashamed of his sovereignty.

The academic ‘we’ used as a cloak of authority may be worn as a proud badge of ability or of feigned humility, but under its skirts we discover genuine self-loathing and hatred of society. For the fearful individual has subjected himself to the curse of credentials under that terrible ‘we’ of “Western” science he allegedly deplores. The postmodernist would rather appropriate that ‘we’ internally, not in the unity he has subjectively made of the external objective ‘we’ that he hates for its restrictions, but as a plurality, a plurality he then demands without but does not really want because he does not really want it within. What he wants within is what he defies, the absolute unity of consciousness in the Subject-of-subjects, the Almighty-I. To have that, his self must be the naked-I he fears.

Yes, the postmodernist is ashamed of his nudity. He loves his linguistic textiles; he loves his distorted and fragmented reflection in the pool. He refuses to face the self being reflected by the mirror. He refuses to confess his fear and love for that “I”, the particular “I” that is a unique coincidence of universals and at the same time is in itself quite real although ineffable. That unique subjective self is indeed mad or crazy like a fox about its confinement, not as a systemic plurality, but in its real, divine unity struggling for authority over the multiplicity of objective restraints.


Now then, I believe I have cleared up my own confusion concerning postmodernism by making the foregoing perfectly clear to myself. But I proceeded with this address for altruistic reasons. I wanted to enlighten the confused persons who might be weeping with joy or grief over the popular demise of postmodernism, yet did not know exactly what had died. Therefore I have just a few more remarks to make before we adjourn. I will be brief since almost everyone fled for the exits some time ago. Please bear with me, especially if you doubt me, for my conclusion includes a resume of my confessional qualifications. Be not ashamed if you are still somewhat confused despite my clarification or even because of it. Many ordinary persons remain confused, disturbed, and deceived by the great canard called postmodernism. Since its recent demise beneath that inevitable historical progress of human enlightenment which is nothing but the remembrance of Truth, confused people are being gradually restored to common sense.

To return to the “I”, common sense dictates that I am thinking by virtue of my free will to think what I want to think, therefore “I” exists as a thinking-I that is essentially prior to its thoughts, or is, as subject, independent of its objects. In other words, I am prior to my thinking; nothing can resist god hence god has nothing to fear therefore no reason to think. However, the abstraction does not end there, for absent my objects of resistance (inertia), there can be no identified will set against objects, no “I” as free-will. Nevertheless, there is “I” as freedom-from-nothing; nothing exists. Then I am everything. I am the ONE, the Naked-I, the Unity of the void analogous to absolute space or total absence. And, from ONE, the All is posited. I mean, I am, so to speak, the universal universal.

As I appear in this particular human form within my Universe of intercourse, I am the particular concrete universal, the unique coincidence or unity of my adjectival universals (universal predicates). I am the creative unity in diversity of this my natural person (the fusion of individuality-society) in reciprocal correspondence with my diverse other ‘I’’s in my I-ness.

Furthermore, I am deliberately self-limited by my possession of this human form. Nonetheless, from transcendence I am self-created and self-moved.

The Universe is my gift to myself: the Universe is FOR my I-ness to exist in my various modes in relation to my objections raised. However, the only way I can be known to myself as a particular human being partially limited by myself, is in my individual human form. From that perspective there is no other universal-I besides the human-I. All other absolute universals are projections of the human-I, and they fall short of the absolute humanist Truth, towards which there is, however, historical progress; history, after all, is a human agency.

I, as a human being in this particular freedom incarnate, am a test of Truth available to all human beings. Our criterion, our unity of conscious experience, is in our freedom as individuals. There is no certain common structure of consciousness governing our being with a permanent rule of law, for we are I-Being and our being is life demanding freedom from all restraints upon its will to live eternally as “I”. In this I-will-love, this love of life, our lives are one. All structures and systems that fail to serve this purpose will eventually be dismantled. Other systems will serve us as machines for the time being, for systems and structures are our agents, not our masters.

Rest in Peace

Now that I have made myself perfectly clear, may postmodernism rest in peace. After all has been said, postmodernism is a dead canard, therefore this discourse is adjourned until further notice.

David Arthur Walters

University of Hawaii Manoa Campus 1999