Ask a Scholar: Critical Discourse Analysis

Dario Fernandez-Morera

Dear Ask a Scholar,

Do you have references of Latin-American authors that develop their work in Critical Discourse Analysis?

Answered by Dario Fernandez-Morera, Associate Professor of Spanish & Portuguese at Northwestern University. Dr. Fernandez-Morera received his Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from Harvard University. He has published books and articles in English and Spanish in the United States, England, and Spain on cultural issues and theory, Cervantes, sixteenth and seventeenth-century Spanish prose and fiction, modern Spanish poetry, the encounter between Europeans and Amerindians, Modernism, and contemporary political events in Latin America. Fernández-Morera has served in the National Council on the Humanities and as a consultant and reader for the National Endowment for the Humanities.

This approach to the study of literature and culture, used widely in the Latin American studies field as it is used also in the other languages and literatures and in the humanities in general, is not employed by novelists or poets.  It is an academic approach.  One only has to open an academic journal to find this approach everywhere.  It is but another reincarnation of the Marxist or Marxoid shaped discourses prevalent in the contemporary academic study of the humanities which I discuss in my book American Academia and the Survival of Marxist Ideas.  "Critical Discourse Analysis" draws on such authors as Marx (the great founder of materialist discourse), Antonio Gramsci (a member of the Italian Communist party in the 30's, a party quite loyal to Stalin), Louis Althusser (the French Marxist who confessed towards the end of his life that he had never actually read Das Kapital, although he made a living teaching and writing about Marx in the French universities), Juergen Habermas (the Marxist thinker member of the German "Critical Theory" group, from which "Critical Discourse Analysis" borrows even for its own name), etc.  In this approach, old venerable notions like "class struggle" are disguised as "domination," and "hegemony," where what explains everything are relations of domination and subordination (a variant is "subaltern studies," quite hot in academia today).  In my book I refer the reader to 1984, where the intellectual O'Brian, a high-ranking member of Ingsoc (English Socialism), explains life through power relations.  Orwell was quite familiar with this intellectual type and its curious approach to life and culture.

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Alas, Xerxes’ army came to grief and so did the idea of the professor as keeper of the archive of not-quite-lost knowledge. Today we have Google. And within the vast universe of Google, we have the endless corridors of Wikipedia. True, some of those corridors are blind alleys, but with a little patience, you can usually find what you need on the Internet and avoid having to move from your chair or speak to a person. Whether it is the Internet Movie Data Base or North American Bird Sounds, almost every domain of knowledge has its own easily-accessed reference tools.

As a source of esoteric facts, the role of scholars has eroded. Fortunately, we still have questions that call for confidently rendered and dressed up opinions. “Ask a Scholar” matches readers’ questions to scholars who either have the answers or interesting ways of obscuring their ignorance. We invite readers to submit questions. Click on the link to send us an email, or you may submit questions via Intellectual Takeout's Ask the Professor feature.

Questions submitted for consideration should call more for educated judgment than for facts that can be found easily with an internet search. We especially welcome questions that provide professors the occasion to draw erudite distinctions and incorporate mention of matters you had no idea were connected to the topic at hand.

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