Ben Lerner’s second Adam Gordon novel, The Topeka School, offers both a genealogy of right-wing political speech and, presumably, an alternative. But insofar as the novel’s politics culminate in political theater, that alternative is reduced to the politics of the status quo. The Topeka School, and those critics for whom its success rises or falls on its ability to provoke aesthetic experience, conflate political experience and political action. While no work of art is likely to do the work of dismantling structures of inequality for us, the work of art that asserts its irreducibility to the “inflexible laws” of the political status quo, and our experiences of it, might provide a new way of seeing or imagining it together—something that the attention to aesthetic and political experience alone cannot do.
Do we really need Wittgenstein? It depends. I think that literary scholars today really ought to have a workable understanding of Wittgenstein’s vision of language, for it provides a vital and distinctive alternative to other views on the same matters, views that are widely taught. For the same reason, I think literary scholars really ought to understand Wittgenstein’s critique of theory (or, if one prefers, of certain standard notions of what philosophy is). For a literary theorist it ought to be as unthinkable to know nothing about Wittgenstein as it has been to know nothing about Saussure, or Derrida, or Lacan, or Foucault, and so on through the pantheon of more recent theorists. I wrote Revolution of the Ordinary to make this possible.