A conversation with Richard Rorty

This set of interviews with Richard Rorty (done by Derek Nystrom and our old friend Kent Puckett), entitled Against Bosses, Against Oligarchies: A Conversation with Richard Rorty, is now available on the web, in pdf.

R[ichard] R[orty]: Roosevelt said early in his first administration that, ‘If I were working for an hourly wage, I would join a labor union.’ This was a very important moment in the history of the labor movement. Was he speaking from the side of the less powerful? No. I could say to the janitors at the University of Virginia, for God’s sake join a union. Would that be speaking from their side? No. But it’s good advice anyway, even if it can be viewed as condescending.

Q: And this is reflected in both Achieving Our Country and articles like ‘Two Cheers for Elitists,’ your review of Christopher Lasch’s last book. In these places, you make an unabashed defense of top-down initiatives. But what about the idea that all knowledges are partial, imminent knowledges, and that the things you think should be done are in part a product of where you’re speaking from?

RR: The masses always knew that. The intellectuals always knew that. Everybody’s always taken this for granted. The first thing you say when you hear a political speech is something like ‘well, that’s what it looks like to him.’ But I can’t see that Foucault or anybody else has given us new insight into the tediously familiar fact that your views are usually a product of your circumstances.

Q: How can one acknowledge this point in one’s writing and still say something useful, though?

RR: Why bother? Why not let my audience acknowledge it for me? Everybody knows that I’m an overpaid, privileged humanities professor. They knew it before they read my stuff. Why should I bother with self-flagellation?”