Adorno Made Him Do It

by Michael Bérubé on August 4, 2011

Shorter Mark Bauerlein: The leftist books Andrew Breitbart didn’t read in college eventually inspired him to slander Shirley Sherrod.

Because Breitbart used to be a liberal, but when he eventually found out that his college education involved deconstruction and semiotics, he became convinced that the NAACP are the real racists.

Just wait ‘til Breitbart finds out that Mark Twain was vice-president of the American Anti-Imperialist League!  He’s gonna send James O’Keefe out to sting the guy but good.

{ 58 comments }

1

Doctor Science 08.04.11 at 12:43 am

The way he claims to have thought that studying Mark Twain would be “a benign approach toward the American experience” suggests that he still hasn’t read Twain — at least not beyond “Tom Sawyer”. No-one who’s actually read “Huck Finn” could have said that.

I *think* what he means is that he thought “American Studies” would be what we used to call “a gut” — hey, I’m an American! how hard could it be? — and he treated it like one when the mean mean teachers expected him to actually pay attention.

2

P O'Neill 08.04.11 at 12:47 am

I bet it was Althusser who drove him over the edge.

3

kth 08.04.11 at 12:50 am

American Studies at Tulane. Not that there’s anything wrong with Althusser or Irigiray or whoever, nor that a university has any business dispensing the tepid chauvinism Breitbart was seeking, nor that there’s anything ‘benign’ about Twain or, really, any major American author. Just that taking Breitbart’s word for anything (in this case, that this particular undergraduate program is groaning under the weight of theory) is always a bad idea.

4

Michael Bérubé 08.04.11 at 12:54 am

I bet it was Althusser who drove him over the edge.

Well, that would be totally understandable. I remember when I read For Marx — almost immediately I wanted to go out and sabotage John Lewis’s political career. I can only imagine how much stronger the impulse would have been if I hadn’t known it was on the syllabus until a few years after I graduated.

5

Michael Bérubé 08.04.11 at 12:58 am

But kth, you know you have to look beyond the benign course titles of those required classes:

AMST 201: Introduction to American Studies
AMST 301: Special Topics in American Studies
AMST 501: Senior Capstone Seminar

“Introduction to American Studies” is the lower-division course on slavery, genocide, and imperialism; “Special Topics” allows students to devote an entire semester to slavery or genocide or imperialism (or any two in combination, with the approval of one’s advisor); and “Capstone Seminar” is basically advanced work in German-Italian nihilist theory.

6

Sandwichman 08.04.11 at 1:03 am

“And I started to analyze the courses that I took, and I realized that this was cultural Marxist theory.”

I’m not going to watch the video because I already know what he’s going to say. It’s a canned analysis. Breitbart didn’t start to “analyze” anything. The anti-PC party line was delivered to him courtesy of the Free Congress Foundation. Just like it was implanted in chapter four of Patrick Buchanan’s 2002 book, The Death of the West. The rough draft was published in a Lyndon Larouchite journal in 1992. The television broadcast was made in 1999 and the version that Oslo terrorist, Anders Breivik plagiarized comes from a 2004 FCF pamphlet.

This isn’t the early 1990s version of the “Political Correctness” culture wars. It’s a jazzed up, crazed-up apocalyptic conspiracy theory rendition of the nasty old swindle.

7

piglet 08.04.11 at 1:08 am

Enjoy: (I think I got the link from CT but it can never hurt to repost good stuff)

http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/showtracker/2011/07/about-late-last-night-jon-stewart-on-the-rights-victim-complex-video.html

8

Sandwichman 08.04.11 at 1:19 am

By the way, Michael, a must read is Martin Jay’s article in the Fall-Winter 2010-2011 Salmagundi, “Dialectic of Counter-Enlightenment: The Franfurt School as Scapegoat of the Lunatic Fringe,” in which Jay tells about his being sandbagged by William S. Lind/Free Congress Foundation television documentary, “Political Correctness: The Frankfurt School.”

See: Martin Jay Spills Some Beans!

See also Chip Berlet’s and my posts about the extent of Breivik’s plagiarism from Lind’s “Political Correctness: A Short History of an Ideology.”

Berlet: Oslo Terrorism Roundup

Berlet: Updated: Breivik’s Core Thesis is White Christian Nationalism v. Multiculturalism

Sandwichman: What is Cultural Conservatism?

Sandwichman: Confessions of a Cultural Marxist

9

Jonathan 08.04.11 at 1:30 am

I’m surprised that you didn’t mention the oddest thing there, which Breitbart’s claim that Noam Chomsky spoke in “strange jargon not accessible to the average person.”

10

Michael Bérubé 08.04.11 at 1:56 am

Breitbart didn’t start to “analyze” anything. The anti-PC party line was delivered to him courtesy of the Free Congress Foundation.

That’s awfully uncharitable, Sandwichman. I see no reason to doubt that Breitbart responded to that alumni query from Tulane by going to his study every day for six to eight months and poring over every single one of the books he’d blown off during his four-year frat-boy Mardi Gras (thank goodness he hadn’t sold them back to the campus bookstore!), only gradually and reluctantly coming to the conclusion that he’d been assigned a toxic mixture of Walter Benjamin, Giorgio Agamben, and Noam Chomsky. Oh, and speaking of whom:

I’m surprised that you didn’t mention the oddest thing there, which Breitbart’s claim that Noam Chomsky spoke in “strange jargon not accessible to the average person.”

I’m pretty sure he was referring to Chomsky’s technical work in linguistics. Nothing else would make sense.

11

JP Stormcrow 08.04.11 at 1:56 am

I bet it was Althusser who drove him over the edge.

I guess we’re just assuming he didn’t read past the ‘A’s. But now:

Adorno->Althusser->Bacchanalia->Bauerlein->Bérubé

12

bh 08.04.11 at 2:10 am

#3 — right. It’s not just that the plural of anecdote is conservative. The anecdotes themselves are far more often than not complete bs. You have to assume that the likes of Breitbart will be foolish, fanatical, and dishonest, or you’ll get at least partially rolled.

13

hartal 08.04.11 at 2:25 am

On Mark Twain, it was my chance finding of a copy of King Leopold’s Soliloquy that made me question what I was being taught and not being taught. That was years before Adam Hochschild’s great book was written. And then I had to reflect on the way in which Heart of Darkness had been taught to me. I too was unsatisfied with my education, but today Twain’s bitter and brilliant satire is more likely to be taught along with Conrad’s novella in light of the history that Hochschild lays bare. And the colonial origins of the Holocaust are slowly coming to be recognized. I think of a great book by Enzo Traverso Origins of Nazi Violence.

You know, there was a recent report in the Economist that made me think Althusser really was on to something. His critique of the Hegelian totality opened up the possibility of all the elements not being contemporaneous. It turns out that societies that long ago made a turn to plow agriculture which favored patriarchy still are more sexually unequal (lower female participation rates in the economy and politics for example) even if agriculture is no longer an important part of their economy. Althusser’s emphasis on the complexity of totality seems important in light of such findings. At the very least, it was an important correction of reductionist tendencies within Marxism.

14

Michael Bérubé 08.04.11 at 2:37 am

Althusser’s emphasis on the complexity of totality seems important in light of such findings. At the very least, it was an important correction of reductionist tendencies within Marxism.

Yeah, but with Raymond Williams’ “Base and Superstructure in Marxist Cultural Theory” (sssshhhhh, don’t tell Eitbartbray) you get a much better account of the complexity of totality, minus all that Lacanian baggage. It’s a win-win.

15

John Protevi 08.04.11 at 2:37 am

Ain’t nobody do that thing you do like Adorno do.

16

ScentOfViolets 08.04.11 at 2:38 am

The way he claims to have thought that studying Mark Twain would be “a benign approach toward the American experience” suggests that he still hasn’t read Twain—at least not beyond “Tom Sawyer”. No-one who’s actually read “Huck Finn” could have said that.

Maybe he read the Illustrated Classics version. I think this is the second time in as many months where I can use Huck Finn as an example of why it’s so hard to learn about this sort of stuff on your own – there’s some great bits in there about, for example, certain books a family of “quality” is supposed to have on public display. But if you don’t know the titles, what they were about and who they were written by, all of that will go right over your head. Unless you are reading it under the direction of an English prof who can point out the historical context and the significance and of those seemingly irrelevant details.

17

hartal 08.04.11 at 2:42 am

Michael,
What I remember about Althusser is a sense of elements being temporally out of joint. I am not sure how that works in Williams–it’s been fifteen years since I read this stuff. Would love to hear more. Or maybe I’ll look it up tonight.
It seems that Breitart missed by five years the opportunity to study at Tulane with the great scholar Idelber Avelar
Professor
Latin American Literatures and Intellectual Histories
Critical Theory, Cultural Studies

18

mds 08.04.11 at 2:45 am

only gradually and reluctantly coming to the conclusion that he’d been assigned a toxic mixture of Walter Benjamin, Giorgio Agamben, and Noam Chomsky.

Of course, since it’s Breitbart, he’s actually referring to a toxic mixture of Richard Benjamin, Giorgio Armani, and Norm the Cheers guy.

19

Michael Bérubé 08.04.11 at 2:54 am

Yep, Idelber would’ve straightened him out, all right. As for Williams, can you really be suggesting that you are unfamiliar with my three-part series on that essay? The universally acclaimed Theory Tuesday Part V series that revolutionized the Internets and paved the way for the Cultural Marxist Perpetual Ponyland in which we now live? Oh, all right, here it is.

Part the First, followed by

Part the Second, followed in turn by

The Last Part.

Indeed, that was the end of Theory Tuesdays, because writing 9000-word essays about 9000-word essays made me … tired. But I’m glad I did it.

20

Michael Bérubé 08.04.11 at 2:55 am

Yeah, mds, but Richard Benjamin’s seminal “The Actor as Producer” is totally culturalistic Marxism.

21

Dave 08.04.11 at 3:05 am

ZOMG Imagine if Breitbart went to GRAD SCHOOL.

“…Years later, Tulane asked me to reflect on my experience, but I had already committed suicide.”

22

JP Stormcrow 08.04.11 at 3:05 am

Not necessarily inconsistent, but quoted in the linked Bauerlein piece:

“I was an American Studies major, and I really did think that when I chose that [major] it would be reading about the Constitution and the Founding Fathers, Mark Twain and, sort of, a benign approach toward the American experience.”

From his recently published memoir, Righteous Indignation: Excuse Me While I Save the World!:

So as I walked out of the student union with that letter [a notice he was late in declaring a major - JPS] in hand, I marched up to an attractive group of blond coeds with whom I was socially familiar. Part to make them laugh and part to finally make up my mind, I told them that by the end of our conversation, they would decide my major for me. After less than five minutes of discussing my academic interests or lack thereof, we decided on American Studies. What a stud, huh?

23

hartal 08.04.11 at 3:15 am

Michael,
If I remember Elliot’s book Althusser, Althusser’s theoretical contributions were often positions within Party debates; perhaps Althusser was trying to criticize certain dogmatic approaches to society as a simple capitalist totality, underwritten by a Hegelian metaphysics, and open the way for actual social research into the complexity of the social formation.

Again it’s been years since I read Althusser or Elliot. I do agree with you a structuralist theory that sees modes of production as only specific and determinate ways of combining fixed elements seems ill-suited to understand history, its diachronic movements, and its messiness.

But I must say that I think Bourdieu’s habitus has proven more helpful to me than Gramscian hegemony in understanding the deep subjective commitments to ideology.

By the way, I can’t see why we can’t combine the kind of critique of ideology that a Chomsky or Patrick Colm Hogan attempts with a Gramscian or Bourdieuan critique.

The problem of course may be the elitist assumption that everyone but the cultural theorist is under illusio of one kind or another. Ranciere abandoned that assumption in one way; and Boltanski with his sociology of critique in another way.

24

Hob 08.04.11 at 3:20 am

25

sg 08.04.11 at 5:43 am

I love that he went in a liberal and came out a conservative, but he blames college for making people liberal. Shock! A conservative who thinks he’s brighter and more independent than his peers…

26

Myles 08.04.11 at 6:48 am

Eh, whatever. People really shouldn’t be seriously influenced by their college classes. So far, except for economics (which pushed me in a more environmentalist as well as libertarian direction), college classes haven’t really changed my worldview much.

27

Emma in Sydney 08.04.11 at 8:00 am

So Myles, people shouldn’t be influenced by the most concentrated time they will have to listen, read and think in their whole lives. Right. Explains a lot.

28

Phil 08.04.11 at 8:01 am

One night in my first year at college, I had a dream. Never been the same since. (I was more of an individualist anarchist before then.) What seems amazing as well as deeply disappointing to me now is that I never said a word to Williams in three years, despite the fact that I actually lived & studied in the same institution & occasionally saw him about the place. But then, what would I have said – “I was deeply impressed by the book you wrote 25 years ago, no not that one, the other one”? Wasted on the young.

29

ejh 08.04.11 at 8:33 am

I may have mentioned this before, but I think I may have attended Williams’ last lecture. He spoke to the SWP’s Marxism event in 1987 on the socialist novel, of which he concluded (if I recall correctly) that there were no real examples since The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists. He was taken ill not long afterwards and died the following January.

30

ajay 08.04.11 at 8:38 am

“Special Topics” allows students to devote an entire semester to slavery or genocide or imperialism (or any two in combination, with the approval of one’s advisor);

We’re a slavery, genocide and imperialism school. Well, we can do you slavery and imperialism without the genocide, and we can do you genocide and imperialism without the slavery, and we can do you all three concurrent or consecutive. But we can’t give you slavery and genocide without the imperialism. Imperialism is compulsory. They’re all imperialism, you see.

31

chris y 08.04.11 at 8:57 am

I was trying to think of an example, post-mediaeval, of slavery and genocide without the imperialism, and coming up empty.

32

bh 08.04.11 at 10:08 am

26 — So much makes sense now.

33

BenSix 08.04.11 at 12:01 pm

I was an American Studies major, and I really did think that when I chose that [major] it would be reading about the Constitution and the Founding Fathers, Mark Twain and, sort of, a benign approach toward the American experience.

Send him a Twain piece on anti-imperialism, claim it’s from the New York Times and he’d be righteously denouncing its anti-Americanism.

34

Bill Benzon 08.04.11 at 1:10 pm

Political Correctness: Frankfurter School 101: This is a two-week summer course all Nathan’s employees take on how to make small talk with the customers. It’s taught by faculty from the Oskar Mayer (family name was Matzerath) Academy of Hot Dog Hermeneutics. Huckleberry Hound occasionally gives a guest lecture.

35

Bill Benzon 08.04.11 at 1:21 pm

“Theory Tuesday” — Ah, as the lady once upon a time sang, “Those were the days my friend . . .” As I recall, on the Apple label. That was before Steve Jobs, of course, that was back in the days when we wore an onion on our watch fob and had a slender flask of Four Loco in our walking sticks. The good olde days.

36

Steve LaBonne 08.04.11 at 1:49 pm

Send him a Twain piece on anti-imperialism, claim it’s from the New York Times and he’d be righteously denouncing its anti-Americanism.

It might be even more fun to ask him to guess who said this: “I am said to be a revolutionist in my sympathies, by birth, by breeding and by principle. I am always on the side of the revolutionists, because there never was a revolution unless there were some oppressive and intolerable conditions against which to revolute.”

37

ajay 08.04.11 at 2:02 pm

31: The USSR. (Before 1945, when it took over half of Europe.)

38

JP Stormcrow 08.04.11 at 2:20 pm

ajay@37: Hmm, I guess you could say the USSR came already internally-imperialized thanks to the the Tsarist regime.

39

Tom Bach 08.04.11 at 2:38 pm

Except for destroying Ukranian independence and related whatnotery, pre-1945 USSR was like totally not imperialist.

40

Jim Demintia 08.04.11 at 3:41 pm

Don’t forget about Central Asia. Nancy Condee characterized the Soviet Union pretty aptly as an anti-imperialist empire.

41

MPAVictoria 08.04.11 at 3:54 pm

With a few notable exceptions the USSR was not imperialist?

42

Sandwichman 08.04.11 at 4:02 pm

Bill Benzon @34: Pardon the cliche: ROFLOL!

43

mark f 08.04.11 at 4:04 pm

Everyone remembers 1939′s Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, commonly referred to as the Nazi-Soviet Anti-Imperialist Agreement for Preserving the Integrity of Free Poland, Finland and Baltic States.

44

Sandwichman 08.04.11 at 4:08 pm

Bill Benzon @35: “The good olde days.”

How about, “Fortunately, Mussolini recognized the danger Gramsci posed and jailed him.” THOSE were the days, mein freund!

Sometime during the last half-century, someone stole our culture. Just 50 years ago, in the 1950s, America was a great place. It was safe. It was decent. Children got good educations in the public schools. Even blue-collar fathers brought home middle-class incomes, so moms could stay home with the kids. Television shows reflected sound, traditional values.

Where did it all go? How did that America become the sleazy, decadent place we live in today – so different that those who grew up prior to the ’60s feel like it’s a foreign country? Did it just “happen”?

It didn’t just “happen.” In fact, a deliberate agenda was followed to steal our culture and leave a new and very different one in its place. The story of how and why is one of the most important parts of our nation’s history – and it is a story almost no one knows. The people behind it wanted it that way.

What happened, in short, is that America’s traditional culture, which had grown up over generations from our Western, Judeo-Christian roots, was swept aside by an ideology. We know that ideology best as “political correctness” or “multi-culturalism.” It really is cultural Marxism, Marxism translated from economic into cultural terms in an effort that goes back not to the 1960s, but to World War I. Incredible as it may seem, just as the old economic Marxism of the Soviet Union has faded away, a new cultural Marxism has become the ruling ideology of America’s elites. The No. 1 goal of that cultural Marxism, since its creation, has been the destruction of Western culture and the Christian religion.

To understand anything, we have to know its history. To understand who stole our culture, we need to take a look at the history of “political correctness.”

Gramsci famously laid out a strategy for destroying Christianity and Western culture, one that has proven all too successful. Instead of calling for a Communist revolution up front, as in Russia, he said Marxists in the West should take political power last, after a “long march through the institutions” … Fortunately, Mussolini recognized the danger Gramsci posed and jailed him.

45

Michael Bérubé 08.04.11 at 4:13 pm

Mister, we could use a man like Mussolini again. Didn’t need no welfare state, everybody pulled his weight….

46

Sandwichman 08.04.11 at 4:48 pm

The trains ran on time.

47

gmoke 08.04.11 at 5:44 pm

The trains ran on time, all the way to concentration camps.

48

JP Stormcrow 08.04.11 at 6:41 pm

Keep your government hands off my Amtrak!

49

mds 08.04.11 at 7:39 pm

It might be even more fun to ask him to guess who said this: “I am said to be a revolutionist in my sympathies, by birth, by breeding and by principle. I am always on the side of the revolutionists, because there never was a revolution unless there were some oppressive and intolerable conditions against which to revolute.”

Too easy, Mr LaBonne: it was President Obama’s mentor, Saul Alinsky.

50

Michael Bérubé 08.04.11 at 8:28 pm

51

Charles 08.05.11 at 11:01 am

Well that was a bizarre reading of the piece at Minding the Campus, which is produced by the conservative Manhattan Institute–the same group that publishes City Journal. Obviously, Breitbart’s point–and the author’s–was that higher ed has become so enamored of cultural marxist critical theory that it’s better to just stay drunk than to imbibe such nihilistic euro-twaddle. It doesn’t say much that you missed that obvious point, or that you wrongheadedly treat the piece like it’s an attack on Breitbart.

52

Michael Bérubé 08.05.11 at 9:13 pm

Breitbart’s point—and the author’s—was that higher ed has become so enamored of cultural marxist critical theory that it’s better to just stay drunk than to imbibe such nihilistic euro-twaddle.

How could I possibly have missed this? You’re right, my misreading of Bauerlein’s intent is just bizarre. Thank you for taking the time to explain that intellectual conservatives now agree that it is better to drink your way through college than read semiotics, and that Bauerlein is totally OK with the career path Breitbart has taken.

Also, thank you for explaining “Minding the Campus” and the “Manhattan Institute.” There is so much I have yet to learn….

53

Substance McGravitas 08.05.11 at 9:33 pm

What has Europe ever given us anyway?

54

Timothy Burke 08.05.11 at 9:42 pm

Argh. I know the right thing to do is mock and stop with that, but honestly this kind of stuff makes me furious because I think Breitbart is just the latest decomposing slurry at the bottom of a deep well of sinister appropriation. Meaning, I honestly think that a decade ago there were some people who really had heartfelt feelings about their feelings of a gap between their expectations about what the subject of literary study or American history was and what the content of academic study turned out to be. Not to the discredit of academics at all, because that gap had opened up for good reasons, and was a product of a meaningful intellectual history. It was (and I think still is) worth exploring how it happened, what it meant, and some of how that gap played into a public discourse about the humanities. The problem is that people more cunning and nasty than Breitbart, who is pure thug from beginning to end, have so thoroughly used and poisoned any possible exploration that it’s a hopeless conversation from the moment it starts.

55

andrew 08.05.11 at 11:54 pm

54: You’re probably aware of this, but a few years ago American Literary History ran a forum on American Studies based on Leo Marx’s “Believing in America” which sounded a lot like the type of discussion you describe. [Project Muse link to table of contents]

56

Doctor Slack 08.06.11 at 4:43 pm

God, I haven’t thought about Mark Bauerlein in years. And I didn’t even realize how blissful those years were… until I saw this post.

57

tomslee 08.06.11 at 4:55 pm

…Breitbart’s claim that Noam Chomsky spoke in “strange jargon not accessible to the average person.”

Breitbart is bang on. I never could make head or tail of “colourless green ideas sleep furiously”.

58

Bill Benzon 08.06.11 at 8:42 pm

& there’s the poem John Hollander built around Chomsky’s line:

Curiously deep, the slumber of crimson thoughts:
While breathless, in stodgy viridian,
Colorless green ideas sleep furiously.

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