Dear Dr. Taylor:

I cannot but believe that you will be receiving similar irate responses to the Foucault perspectives published in the August 2000 issue of Mental Retardation. Not silencing voices in the matter of Foucault can only invite papers on the positive points of Mein Kampf. The tyranny of this fad is reflected in some very negative policies within the University Presses who turn out most academic literary criticism. I am quite aware of this because I have published with them, and I can truly say that when I compare the critical response to manuscripts submitted 15 years ago to manuscripts submitted this year, that tyranny appears to have finally been overthrown. This brief note is not under submission elsewhere. Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

Pasquale Accardo, MD

Reader Reaction

Pasquale Accardo

As someone who has published in the fields of both developmental disabilities and literary criticism, I was amazed (appalled is actually the more accurate word) at the recent inclusion in this journal of two papers (Danforth, 2000; Gelb, 2000) in which they discussed the appropriateness of inviting Foucaultian perspectives into the field. In the best postmodernist fashion, one can simply critique them by saying that they were both composed of nothing but lies. They had to be lying because the theory presumes that any use of language automatically involves lying.

Danforth's (2000) disingenuous tale of Fred set up a straw man. It is just as likely for the psychometricians to be defending Fred's higher potential against people who know him better, people who work with him on a day to day basis, and are disgusted with his tantrums, his self-injurious behaviors, his aggression, and his incontinence. Despite what the cold scientists say, they know that he does not have the potential for behavioral improvement.

If Foucault were to analyze an American Association on Mental Retardation (AAMR) mission statement, he could “read” it as a document of unrelieved hatred towards persons with mental retardation. If the AAMR were to cite a century of progress and achievement, he would demonstrate how such claims merely proved its culpability—the organization “doth protest too much.” In these literary/cultural theories, there are no facts, there are only dogmatic interpretations. In the absence of any uncontested facts, and because logic is prima facie excluded, the only thing that can discriminate between different interpretations once one accepts its fundamental irrationalism, is the typical resource of fascist academics—force. Reason and democracy, the standards of our post-Enlightenment world (standards that remain valuable if limited) are a priori ruled out of consideration by a rag-tag theory that collects the worst flotsam and jetsam of a discarded psychoanalysis and a discredited Marxism.

In his warning note Gelb (2000) neglected to refer to the disastrous impact of postmodern/deconstructionist approaches in other fields. Windschuttle (1996) has documented the destructive effect of importing such perspectives into the field of history: For all practical purposes it transforms history into historical fiction. Remember, there are no facts, only interpretations. It is structuralist critics who have provided the methodology to deny the Holocaust and to defend the anti-Semitic collaborators in this abomination as its true victims. Opposites do not merely attract; they are metamorphosed into one another.

Gelb (2000) mentioned the association of this philosophy with Nietzsche but failed to reference the even closer association of the pioneers of this approach with the Nazi movement. After reviewing the cases of Martin Heidegger and Paul de Man, Hirsch (1991) concluded that “It is misleading to disengage contemporary antihumanism from Nazi dehumanization, for they share philosophical and cultural origins” (p. 225). Nietzsche and the Nazis, it might be recalled, had a fairly specific program for dealing with persons whom their philosophy of the superman considered “unfit.”

It is certainly possible that selected postmodernist techniques (such as aporia and decentration) might be of interest to our field, but their utility will doubtless be independent of the theory as a whole. A journal with a Foucaultian perspective invites the fabrication of data and the exclusion of all rational argument. You would then be left to publish opinion pieces by self-proclaimed authorities.

At a time when such irrationalism appears to have worn out its welcome in the humanities, it makes little sense to welcome it into our field. It reminds one that the failure of megavitamin therapy in schizophrenia was actually employed as a rationale for using it to treat Down syndrome. The only sane (in a common rather than Foucaultian sense) recommendation that can be offered with regard to the ideas of Michel Foucault can be derived from the popular teen television show Buffy the Vampire Slayer: “Don't invite these bloodsuckers into your house.” No good can come of it.

Author:Pasquale Acardo, MD, Professor and Director of Pediatrics, New York Medical College, Westchester Institute for Human Development, Valhalla, NY 10595.

References

References
Danforth
,
S.
2000
.
What can the field of developmental disabilities learn from Michel Foucault?
Mental Retardation
38
:
364
369
.
Gelb
,
S. A.
2000
.
“Be Cruel!” Dare we take Foucault seriously?
Mental Retardation
38
:
369
372
.
Hirsch
,
D. H.
1991
.
The deconstruction of literature: Criticism after Auschwitz.
Hanover: Brown University Press
.
Windschuttle
,
K.
1996
.
The killing of history: How literary critics and social theorists are murdering our past.
New York: Free Press
.