As a partial escape from the ghastly pseudo-coherence and philosophical sickness of the Trump administration, I have, of late, turned to reading more literary criticism, which, as the critic Northrop Frye convincingly argued decades ago, is as legitimate an independent discipline as literature itself. In my reading enjoyment, there is relief. Indeed I'm so fond of literary criticism, I find I often prefer it to its targeted texts. My recent, concentrated turn to criticism's distractions has, however, also led me to moments of despair nearly as profound as keeping up with the Trump administration's latest flimflammery.
To wit, earlier this morning (on frequent occasion I arise abnormally early) I was perusing the collected essays in Deconstruction and Criticism, on whose back cover there is a blurb presumably meant to sell the book: Its five critics therein engaged envision, and I quote, "a problematic which is thematized in their preoccupation with the epistemology of figural language, with the priority of language over meaning, with an expanded concept of traditional exegesis embracing allegorical and religius modes, with the language of criticism as such vis-à-vis the language of the text." Had I read that dreadful ostentation before I bought the book (used, unseen, online), I might have saved $3. For the blurb is no blurb; it's a warning. Actually, I probably would have bought the book anyway, because one of its essayists is the anti-deconstructionist Harold Bloom, whom I adore.
Hence one of my preferred escapes from the horrors of the Trump administration can be both treacherous and futile. Perhaps I should simply move on to Harlequin romances. I prefer that my distractions be in tolerable English, and what could be more tolerable than boy meets girl, boy wins girl, boy loses but re-wins girl, or whatever the unnatural order of all things simplistically romantic happens to be. But this I cannot do, for I agree with the poet Shelley (emphasized by Bloom), who extolled the sublime pleasures of difficult over easy reading. (By "difficult," however, Shelley didn't mean ostentatious gobbledygook.)
So what, I hear you cry, does any of this have to do with contemporary politics, the usual stuff of this site? Hell I'm not too sure, for I've been reading about literary deconstruction, which ferociously muddles the mind. On the other hand, "deconstruction" is a favored buzzword of Trump's Goebbelsesque minister of propaganda, Steve Bannon, so there is some detectable relevance. Of course I doubt that Bannon understands the word's original, circumscribed meaning; in his advocacy of "deconstruction of the administrative state" he more accurately means the destruction of the administrative state. But that sounds less intellectual; Bannon much prefers to promote the "problematic which is thematized in [his] preoccupation with the epistemology of figural language." So the administrative state's deconstruction it is.
Rather than reading political theory or literary criticism, though, Bannon should be reading a bit of history. Can the administrative state get carried away with regulation? The answer is as affirmative as bureaucracy is inherently self-justifying. Regulation, however, is, at its root, a matter of battling nationally harmful accumulations; which is to say, the corralling (or attempted corralling) of societal problems springs largely from years of governmental neglect. FDR's explosive New Deal regulations weren't merely the theoretical fancies of interventionist brain trusters. They were, instead, the inexorable products of Hooverian indifference — just as Dodd-Frank was the product of overlooked Wall Street cowboyism, and Obamacare was the tragically belated response to Republicans' unremitting do-nothingness about a healthcare system in crisis.
In other words, there is a real, inescapable and laudatory history to the administrative state's imposing presence — an observation that should be self-evident even to pseudointellectuals who throw around words such as "deconstruction." And yet Bannon & Boss appear to possess no comprehension of what they're destroying. Their philosophical modus operandi is as simplistic as the plot of a Harlequin romance, which, pace Shelley and Bloom, I may yet be reduced to reading as a desperate distraction from Trumpian flimflammery.