Postmodernism, Theory, and thernEnd of the Humanitiesrnby E. Christian KopffrnFor more than a decade now, Christopher Norris has beenrnwriting clear and informed discussions of where deconstructionrnand other versions of critical theory in the humanitiesrnare headed. The clarity of his accounts has been a public service,rnsince few of the philosophers and literary and cultural theoristsrnhe discusses write clearly. Stanley Corngold actuallyrnpraised “Sartre’s deliberate antibourgcois refusal to write wellrn. . . that has proven congenial to [Yale’s Paul] De Man.” Theyrncould write well if they wanted to, but that would mean givingrnin to the false standards of Western civilization, the capitalist,rncolonialist, totalizing oppressor that has given them tenure. Forrnyears Norris defended the leading writers of Critical Theoryrnfrom accusations that their deconstructions of logocentric (orrnphallogocentric) texts from Plato to Husserl were trappingrnreader and text and the humanities as a whole in a Skinner boxrnof language from which there was no escape and into whichrnethics and politics appeared only to be revealed as an illusionrncreated by a specter which called itself the Will to Truth, butrnwas in fact Nietzsche’s Will to Power. As the years went by andrnas each generation, lasting about two or three years in thisrnrapidly changing wodd, advanced bv deconstructing the hiddenrnpremises of the previous generation, it became clearer andrnclearer that “that way madness lies.” In a series of recent books,rnof which the latest is Truth and the Ethics of Criticism (1994),rnNorris has denounced the latest manoeuvres of the “DeconstructivernTurn” to which he devoted so many informativernbooks. Like Daddy Warbucks in Mad magazine’s parody ofrnE. Christian Kopff is a professor of Creek and Latin at thernUniversity of Colorado in Boulder.rnLittle Orphan Annie, our hero may have shown up “just afterrnthe nick of time.”rnTheory triumphed in the humanities. Position after position,rneven entire departments, like Duke’s English faculty,rnwent over to the new way of thinking. Deconstruction andrnfeminism turned their back on philological method andrnarchival research. Even the nod preferred tliese scholarly toolsrnby the neo-Marxist New Historicism was largeK’, well, theoretical.rnThe effect on the humanities in America’s colleges andrnuniersitics has been impressixe. In the last 20 years, majors inrnEnglish and Classics have declined bv about 30 percent. (Historyrnhas lost 45 percent of its majors over that period.) Classicsrnmajors once scored an average of 50 points higher on the CraduaternRecord Exams than English majors, but no longer. (Classics’rnnumbers declined; English’s numbers have remained thernsame.) When positions in the humanities become available,rndeans often give them to departments in the physical or biologicalrnsciences, or to trendy social science departments, suchrnas Ethnic Studies or Women’s Studies.rnThis lemming march to destruction affected not only thernnumbers of majors (after all, we are still teaching nonmajorsrnEnglish Composition and Greek Mythology), but also thernmoral basis of the humanities. In everv society we make sensernof our lives by telling not only our own story, but the story orrnstories of our group, our nation, our culture. The Postmodernistsrndenounced this cultural necessity as indoctrination intornan oppressive and illusory “Meta-Narrativc.” They insisted thatrnlanguage has no relation to any sort of real wodd, where we livernand move and have our being. We are all trapped in the funhousernof language, which shapes what we think or can think.rn16/CHRONICLESrnrnrn