QUOTE: “Texts are now spread open like thighs, reading for the triumph of the misreader, as the life of study is reinvented as something remarkably resembling rape. A deconstructed text is tantamount to a forgery.” Philip Rieff


“According to Rieff, the first world is pagan, obsessed with gods, whether the Olympian deities of ancient Greece or the aboriginal spirits of Australia’s outback. The second world is monotheistic; in its realm, the Living God authoritatively issues prohibitive commandments. The third world is obsessed with erasure,2 determined to destroy the second culture, indeed, culture itself, and usher in an “age without moralities and religions.”3

Instead of commandments, it favors the ever-shifting phenomena of “values.”4 While the first world had taboos and the second had divine “interdicts,” the third world starts with “remissives” (excuses and exceptions) and ends in “transgressives,” where once-condemned sins are now celebrated.5

The move from first to third worlds is a transition from fate to faith to fiction. One is finally left in a place where “there is no truth, only rhetorics of self-interest.”6 Where once there was a “Way,” a via (“verticality in authority”), and “the sacred,”7 now there is only human vanity and license, a world where relativistic multi-culturalism is actually anti-culturalism.8 Having thrown off a master, man is now “mastered only by his desires.”

Schools teaching “self-esteem therapy are preparatory schools” for third world “scourges,” driven by “an ideology of anger and hatred,” bent on destroying “white males, patriarchy, biological constraints on sexuality, the ruling class, capitalism, pet ownership, law: any restraint that keeps a man or woman from becoming the world.”Such “[t]hird world education is a matter of indoctrination into the fictive culture of the primacy of possibility”10—a universe with no limits.

In Rieff’s terms, the acts of those committed to this downward spiral are “deathworks,” and its “negational artists” are legion: the American poet Wallace Stevens (“Notes toward a Supreme Fiction”);11 the Irish writer James Joyce (Finnegans Wake);12 American novelist Joseph Conrad (Heart of Darkness);13 Viennese psychiatrist Sigmund Freud (Moses and Monotheism);14 German tyrant Adolf Hitler (Mein Kampf);15 Spanish artist Pablo Picasso (Les Demoiselles d’Avignon);16 French artist Marcel Duchamp (Etant donnés);17 British philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein (Philosophical Investigations);18 American broadcaster Bryant Gumbel (adversarial interview of the Reverend Ralph Abernathy on NBC’s Today Show);19 U.S. Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun (the majority opinion in Roe v. Wade); 20  American filmmaker Martin Scorcese (Goodfellas);21 American photographer Robert Mapplethorpe (Self-Portrait);22 and French philosopher Michel Foucault (The Archaeology of Knowledge). 23


Excerpted from the Kairos Journal

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What do you think about deathworks and culture?

6 responses to “QUOTE: “Texts are now spread open like thighs, reading for the triumph of the misreader, as the life of study is reinvented as something remarkably resembling rape. A deconstructed text is tantamount to a forgery.” Philip Rieff”

  1. Timely for me. I’m working on a review of a biography of Wallace Stevens. There is a destructive and self-destructive tendency in him and in others like him. Thank you for posting this excerpt.


    • LOL–but wasn’t Hitler an artist? Maybe Hitler doesn’t belong but the notion that deconstructing everything to the point of turning it into nonsense or castigating old white authors for being old white authors who for whatever reason really did write amazing books seems to be what’s done these days (I remember it in college myself). Society right now deconstructed into all these little interest groups fighting each other makes no sense to me. What a waste of precious time on earth. I have a jaundiced view of the art scene having studied at NYU at a time when abstract work was the only way of getting an “A.” Instead of learning skills I learned how to beat the system by painting horrible works of art with vague story lines I came up with on the way to class and suddenly I was a star pupil. It was like a race to see who could create the worst, easiest and self-indulgent junk. I came close but didn’t even win! Hahaha.


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