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Notes and Fragments HERMENEUTICS OF SUSPICION AND POSTMODERN PARANOIA: PSYCHOLOGIES OF INTERPRETATION by Linda Fisher In a recent discussion in Philosophy and Literature,1 William Bywater argues that the characteristic features of postmodernism display a striking similarity to the "mode of functioning" described by David Shapiro as the "paranoid neurotic style" in his bookNeurotic Styles.2 More specifically, Bywater claims, a comparison of Shapiro's characterization of the paranoid with Stanley Fish's description of the postmodern critic in Is There a Text in This Class?3 reveals that the behaviors, attitudes, and motivations of the paranoid and the postmodernist coincide in a number of significant respects.4 In developing this comparison of the psychologies of the paranoid and the postmodern, and suggesting that postmodernism itself displays a certain paranoia, Bywater is chiefly concerned to critique postmodernism as it is manifested by the postmodern critic. In particular, he argues that the perspective which promised a liberating openness and creativity as a result of the critique of authority turns out to be more inflexible, circumscribed, and authoritarian than the theories it sought to displace. Similar characterizations and criticisms of postmodernism and other related discourses have appeared in various contexts; there is a particular contemporary resonance, for instance, in view of the current debates about "political correctness." But what is especially interesting about Bywater's contribution to these discussions is his suggestive comparison of the postmodern and paranoid psychologies, with the unPhilosophy and Literature, © 1992, 16: 106-114 Linda Fisher107 derlying thesis about the paranoia of postmodernism. I do not wish to debate here whether this characterization of postmodernism is entirely fair or accurate, or whether his criticisms of the critic are justified. Instead, I would like to follow up on the characterization of postmodernism as paranoid by developing some of the possible connections (not drawn by Bywater) with the so-called "hermeneutics of suspicion." The connection I see is the following: this characterization of the postmodernist style as paranoid bears certain conceptual and thematic affinities to the hermeneutics of suspicion. In this respect, despite occasional claims of discontinuity with or overcoming of the tradition, I will argue that postmodernism can be seen as continuous in many ways with a longer hermeneutic tradition of critique and suspicion, particularly insofar as it often takes direct inspiration from the figures most generally associated with the hermeneutics of suspicion—Marx, Nietzsche , and Freud.5 The point of exploring this connection is to begin to develop some of the implications of this analysis of postmodernism—implications that Bywater touches on, but fails, I think, to develop. In particular, what is most significantly revealed in this analysis of the paranoia of postmodernism is notjust the failed promise—or theoretical reversion—of postmodernism that Bywater discerns, leading to his general sense of disillusionment. Rather, I take a tendency to deny authoritarian readings , where every interpretation has equal legitimacy and none claims authority, yet nevertheless arguably to posit authority, as indicative of the fundamentally self-contradictory nature of postmodernism. In what follows I will explore this connection between the hermeneutics of suspicion and what might be called postmodern paranoia. I do not make any claims for the completeness of this account; I am attempting here only to sketch out some ideas about this connection and its implications, and to suggest some possible critical considerations. The paranoid style, according to Shapiro, is distinguished by an intensely perceptive but narrowly focused attention, directed toward the probing of the apparent and overt, considered to be a deceptive camouflaging of "what is really going on," and which is countermanded by the rooting out ofthe latent, disguised, or hidden agenda. For Shapiro, the true motivation of paranoia is not the fear of some danger of personal harm, but the fear of being subjected to external control. 108Philosophy and Literature That is, the behavior of paranoid individuals stems from a condition Shapiro terms "unstable autonomy": a fragile sense of self which leads them to be in "a state of hyperalertness for threats to their autonomy" (p. 80). All their energies are concentrated, therefore, in protecting this fragile autonomy by assuming control in a twofold manner: seeking out and uncovering these perceived threats while constantly affirming...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 106-114
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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