The Fetus, Parasites, and Narcissism

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This is am image of a fetus about to be vacuum...

When I stop thinking that I can be shocked by what another person says in this narcissistic society, someone proves me wrong. I was part of a group discussing the issue of whether the man should play any role in decision making concerning abortion. Both males and females took one side or the other in about an equal ratio. One woman, however, burst into the discussion and said in an angry tone, “No man is going to make me carry a parasite in my womb for nine months!” Taken aback, I wondered how people would respond to her—and a woman with children said that children already born were parasites. If she had used a joking tone of voice that would have been fine. She was serious. This illustrates how far the “cultural of narcissism,” a term coined by the Christopher Lasch, has penetrated into the psyche of some Americans.

It was after artificial contraception became common that children ceased to be considered a gift. I am not opposing artificial contraception—there are cases in which it is the best option—but the mentality that children are burdens rather than gifts has been a toxic byproduct of the ready availability of the pill. The notion that carrying a child in the womb for nine months is “carrying a parasite” ignores the fact that half the parasite’s chromosomes came through the mother. We are not talking about an alien life form sucking away the essence of the mother. The opposition to the natural bond between mother and child represents an attitude that is wholly oriented toward the self and not toward a dependent being. What would this person think about old people in nursing homes, the homeless, or people on welfare. Anyone wise would shudder at such attitudes among some Americans today. What is more disturbing is the willingness to share such a selfish view. Do people lack the ability to discern when they come across as self-centered spoiled children rather than as adults? Do others listening to comments calling a fetus up to the ninth month—or even a born child—a “parasite” realize that there is something seriously flawed about such an attitude. Too many people do not hide their narcissism. Abortion is the ultimate instance of narcissism, especially considering that the vast majority of abortions are done for the purpose of birth control. People desire the pleasure of sex, and when that results in conception, then they have the “parasite” killed as if they are killing a paramecium rather than a person. The devotion to the autonomous self and the rejection of natural bonds are characteristics of modernity, and with the decline of Christianity in late modernity there are no restraints on narcissism. 1.2 million abortions a year are only one symptom—the increasing acceptance of physician assisted suicide among young people is another. One hopes that T. S. Eliot’s version of the end of the world will not come to pass, but extreme narcissism always results in violence. May God help us.

Nostalgia for the New Critics

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Image of U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Penn Warren

Image of U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Penn Warren (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The field of English is in shambles, and the Modern Language Association is a gaggle of voices for various interest groups based on race, class, gender, and sexual orientation. Dissertations in English appeal to Derrida and Foucault long after they became passe in France. A presentation on any topic by any writer at a conference sponsored by a college or university English Department that does not mention the four “code words” listed above will be considered quaint and out of date by most of the audience. Much of the radicalism in academia stems from English Departments (although other departments can be guilty as well–philosophy, with its analytic bent, may be narrow in methodology, but at least it eschews the relativism of many people who call themselves “postmodern”). Although many English professors are old-fashioned social democrats who are liberals, not radicals, the radicals have a missionary-like zeal in pushing their agenda. This agenda is anti-Western Culture, anti-traditional Christianity (and Muslims take note–if Christianity were to falter in the West, Islam would be the next target of the radicals, who are engaged in a “divide and conquer” strategy now). When radicals take over, ideological diversity dies, and the departments become as one-sided, closed-minded, Puritanical, and bigoted as religious Fundamentalists.

I long for the days of John Crowe Ransom, Cleanth Brooks, Robert Penn Warren, and T. S. Eliot. They may have failed to give psychological and sociological factors sufficient treatment in literary criticism, but their focus on a close reading of the text is surely a better approach than seeking the alleged hidden motivations of the authors. From the New Critics I have read, I see no evidence that they denied the existence of polysemy, but they limited their discussion of polysemy to what was suggested by the text and various historical and mythological allusions found in the text. Postmodern criticisms of the New Critics seemed to confuse the New Critics with European Structuralists–Structuralism was more narrow in approach than the New Criticism, must more Platonic than Aristotelian in approach, much more abstract than concrete. Structuralism deserved the scathing critique of Derrida. The New Criticism was a horse of a different color.

With the emphasis on “newness” in academia, the decline in the New Criticism had to be replaced with something, and that something included Marxist, feminist, womanist, African-American, and queer approaches to literature. Some approaches (such as Marxism) were not necessarily subjective, but the other approaches I listed are largely subjective. Since the advocates of radical theories consider themselves social reformers, including reformers of the academy, they push their agenda like a Fundamentalist preacher pushes being saved from hell fire. The resulting cultural rot spreads to other humanities departments, to the extent that it is difficult to blame students who do not want to major or minor in the humanities. Frankly, I cannot blame them–the New Criticism probably offered more that is relevant to their lives–Shakespeare’s plays concern the universal human experience of revenge, pain, suffering, and happiness. The New Critics could at least point out where the text does relate to students’ lives. Poststructuralists focus so much on polysemy and a political reading of the text that students walk away in disgust. They should be disgusted. Let’s bring out some “New New Critics” to restore intellectual coherence and sanity to English Departments.