Using Technology to Deepen Democracy, Using Democracy to Ensure Technology Benefits Us All

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Richard Rorty, October 4, 1931 -- June 8, 2007

Richard Rorty has died. If I had never read his work, I would quite literally not be the person writing these words.

I still viscerally remember the experience of reading Contingency, Irony and Solidarity when it was first published in 1989. I felt utterly overwhelmed and inadequate in the face of the text and read it from the first page through to the last and then, without a second's pause, flipped back to the first page and read it again to the end. Then, still unsatisfied with myself, I started again right away and re-read it a third time after that.

For me, Richard Rorty remains the definitive anti-authoritarian writer. His notorious diatribes against conventional philosophical "truth-talk" were hardly the glib or vacuous celebrations of relativism they were regularly derided as, but constituted an affirmation of that which is good in the way of belief and so stands up to the tests of experience, testifies to the urgencies of personal perfection, and facilitates the conversation of peers, but while at once decisively repudiating the transcendentalizing seductions of Priestly authority -- the false assurances of certainty, finality, purity, and ease, whether in the name of God or of Science or of Convention. When Rorty insisted that there was no "truthful" language available to us in which we might say the way the world is in a way the world would prefer to be described in he managed to imagine a world that was truly without even the vestigial scientistic trace of faithfulness in false gods, false idols, false forces of history, in the false priestly pieties that interminably demand our obedience or our worship. This godless world Rorty testified to was scarcely an arid or barren landscape, but one that he filled instead with the clamorous conversation of a free and expressive humankind, a world of creative and collaborative peers. His was a world that deserved and demanded the democracy which, Rorty always insisted, had firm priority over even the philosophy to which he dedicated his life.

Richard Rorty, democrat, secularist, progressive has vanished from the world.

I will remember him, I will read him, I will teach him, and I will write in the tug of his gravity until I vanish from the world myself.


Robin said...

Beautiful memorial, Dale.

I was really surprised when I heard this news this morning - just 2 weeks ago I was asked to cover a class of a colleague so he could go speak at a conference where Rorty was speaking. You can imagine this news in my pragmatist-rich department.

Jonathan Pfeiffer said...

This is sad news, indeed.