Madison reviews Peter Gabel's The Bank Teller and Other Essays on the Politics of Meaning. Her analysis provides insight into Gabel's philosophical lineage, the postmodern lexicon and its roots, and the missing feminist perspective that haunts Gabel's work in Critical Legal Theory, political history, and spiritual humanist philosophy vis-a-vis scientific paradigms. The essay ultimately affirms Gabel's philosophy while taking issue with some of the methodologies he employs to reach his conclusions.
Ivory gives an overview of the book:
To use its own self-referential lexicon, the concept of “The Politics of Meaning” might be summarized as the collective hope to transform society by recognition and fulfillment of our intuitive desire to love and be loved in authentic community. Gabel states, “These ideas are based on an intuitive knowledge . . . that the reader can recognize this meaning through a felt experience of comprehension.” The reader will likely assent, and yet the voice of academic authority leans over the reader’s shoulder, deriding intuition, demanding inaccessible scholarship dripping with footnotes. The language of exclusion is confectionery to most philosophers, but Gabel is not enticed. “Too joyless,” he laments of the Frankfurt School in particular.
An even more telling example of the near-hysterical distrust of Gabel’s insight is an article in another law journal claiming the concept of reification is only worth analyzing to avoid humiliation at law faculty cocktail parties. In that article, the author fantasizes at length about the potential embarrassment one might feel if accused by a fellow party-goer of reification, and how delightful it would be to embarrass the Other instead, by issuing a scathing rejoinder proving that the notorious Gabel and his theory of reification should be discarded. Although it contained one interesting footnote concerning—appropriately enough—being raised by wolves, the article was entirely unconvincing. The apparently socially anxious law professor who wrote the piece simply regurgitated object relations and meaning-stream theory, which do not even vaguely contradict the value of deconstructing society’s fantasies about itself. In fact, these useful theories of human identity development simply underscore how children reaching for their blankie become adults reaching for the Republican Party.
He seems to be an undocumented postmodernist, deconstructing everything left and right, but without making it official. This lack of interest in identifying with other deconstruction mavens is explained in essay three, “On Passionate Reason,” a scandalously short and perfect essay. Gabel easily convinces the reader that the profound deficiency of the post-Enlightenment view is that it provides clever critiques, certainly, but without a vision for what should be built once everything is torn asunder. Gabel makes his point well that the intellectual Left lacks an articulated moral vision and “insight into social life as a whole . . . to reunite and illuminate . . . our common humanity.”
This is probably why, in the first essay discussed here, he ignored feminist methodology, including the particularly germane identification of phallogocentrism, and the overtly feminist ‘philosophy of science.’ He appears to have moved beyond deconstruction while postmodern thinking was still getting interesting. Generally, the volume paints a portrait of a man who has abandoned the basement library of intellectual minutiae to shout the truth, as he sees it, from the highest rooftops. This may be why he does not want to acknowledge his unique place in the pantheon of postmodernists. He is the lone passionist.
This issue is a very dense and intense retelling of Helena Bertinelli’s early childhood and it does not waste any time getting into the thick of things. Her family’s role in the mob and fall from grace is...