Apparently my history professor finds it heartily entertaining to drop poor first-year grad students into the ocean of poststructuralism and see how well we sink or swim. I respect her all the more for it. Luckily the class lecture gave a concise overview of the theories leading into poststructuralism and what its premise is. Namely, the total lack of language to actually give meaning to objects. Because language is all self-referential (that is, you need words to describe the meanings of other words, which means you need to have definitions for those words, ad infinitum…), it is impossible to actually know a grand, over-reaching truth. All this is something I’ve been exposed to before, but never explicitly explained. But the most diabolical nature of these poststructuralists is this well-kept secret: their obtuse, complex, overwhelming language and structure is a conscious choice on the part of the writers to further emphasize the self-referential nature of language. And their philosophical musings have left historians with some interesting quandaries about how to look at history, and more directly, what to “do” with history. How do we use it, if history can not find an “answer.” There was good discussion about how to move forward, and if we really need to quibble over these theoretical questions. All I really can decide myself is this:
Derrida, go deconstruct yourself.
I love grad school!! Just don’t ask about post-poststructuralism.