The soul takes fright at the hard truth of theory, which points up thc necessity of changing an impoverished form of existence. (Marcuse 113)
A quarter of a century has come and gone since the American academy experienced what is now called "the theory revolution" and entered a protracted sequence of culture wars in which the reigning definition of literature appeared to hang in the balance. Now, decades later, one seldom hears the word "poststructuralism" mentioned with a sneer or an argument praised for being free of "jargon." Such terms as "subject position," "social construction," "discourse," and even the much excoriated "deconstruction" have entered mainstream critical vocabulary and quite lost their ability to challenge the prevailing concepts of self, nation, authorship, and writing. Indeed, one might well be lulled into thinking that the culture wars are behind us, were it not for the figure of Michel Foucault. The argument ascribed to him has undergone no such dispersal and assimilation. His name crystallizes out all the features that both humanists and their poststructurally inclined counterparts tacitly agree to reject so that they mig ht disagree with one another without challenging either the boundaries of the literary discipline or the stability of its traditional object of knowledge. There can be no such cordial relationship when poststructuralism refuses to back away from the foundational principle that no form of cultural representation ever simply reproduces what it represents; it always produces that person, place, or thing, as such. This principle forecloses any possibility that we can encounter anything, either subject or object, that has not already been mediated by culture. This, simply put, is the logic of the cultural turn.
The cultural turn is a permutation of the linguistic turn. "The linguistic turn" refers both to certain developments in the philosophy of the human sciences during the early twentieth century and to the work of such poststructuralists as Althusser, Derrida, and Lacan, who together made literary scholars and critics rethink the relationship of language to the subject and object worlds. "The cultural turn" is a later development that not only marked the spread of poststructuralism to history and the social sciences but also promoted the interdisciplinary practice of "cultural studies." "During the 1980s and 1990s," as Victoria Bonnell and Lynn Hunt tells the story,
cultural theories, especially those with a postmodernist inflection, challenged the very possibility or desirability of social explanation. Following the lead of Foucault and Derrida, poststructuralists and postmodernists insisted that shared discourses (or cultures) so utterly permeate our perception of reality as to make any supposed scientific explanation of social life simply an exercise in collective fictionalization or mythmaking. (3)
Most poststructuralists greeted the migration of theory to the social sciences with skepticism, fearing the gradual erosion of procedures that gave absolute priority to language over the things and people from which language only seems to draw its meaning. But while poststructuralism distrusted what it saw as the reinstatement of certain binary oppositions prior to language and therefore capable of providing an outside source of meaning for language, Fredric Jameson raised another objection. He distrusted the cultural turn because it eliminated the possibility of a distinct and more primary domain of politics responsible for shaping all cultural expression. His own work nevertheless did a great deal to shift the critical categories and procedures for literary scholarship, as he sought to explain the profound cultural change happening concurrently. For Jameson, "the cultural turn" always applies both to new critical methodologies and to a cultural change taking place outside the academy as well as within: the very sphere of culture itself has expanded, becoming coterminous with market society in such a way that the cultural is no longer limited to its earlier, traditional or experimental forms, but is consumed throughout daily life itself in shopping, in professional activities, in the various often televisual forms of leisure, in production for the market and in the consumption of those market products, indeed in the most secret folds and corners of the quotidian. Social space is now completely saturated with the culture of the image. (111) 
If Jameson is right, then it follows that literary criticism rejects the cultural turn for a reason akin to his--if not because it turns all forms of political experience into cultural phenomena, then certainly because it turns all forms of cultural production into political phenomena. If, on the other hand, poststructuralists are right in distrusting the practices associated with the cultural turn for abandoning the philosophical rigor of poststructuralism, then quite the opposite is true. In shifting focus from specific kinds of writing to the larger and more amorphous field of popular culture and identity politics, the proponents of the cultural turn often fail to carry out the full inversion of writing and writing subject according to the logic of the linguistic turn. And to be sure, nowhere has the critical edge of that inversion been more effectively blunted than by the constructionist notion that culture imposes itself on nature, thereby determining how we see both ourselves and a world that were there before culture intervened. Judith Butler blames those who buy into this argument for maintaining the traditional humanist belief in essential qualities of race, class, gender, and humanness, even as they describe identity as a cultural imposition and coerced performance. That literary criticism feels relatively comfortable with poststructuralism suggests that it did indeed lose some of its critical edge as social scientists and historians brought certain poststructuralist concepts and procedures to bear piecemeal on culture. It is only where such a theory threatens to come full circle that the literary disciplines find it both unintelligible and dangerous. Literary criticism can tolerate internal differences only up to a point, and Foucault now marks that limit. His name has become synonymous with the danger of admitting that any cultural inscription--including literature--intervenes in the material fate of its subject matter, thus collapsing politics and culture into a single category that gives culture the upper hand. This move simultaneously challenges the special status of literature and eliminates its traditional sources of meaning.
Why else, if not to declare fealty to his adopted discipline, would Richard Rorty, the well-known philosopher newly hired by the Stanford English Department, devote so much of his Achieving Our Country to denouncing the influence of Foucault? There is no evidence to suggest that Rorty bears Foucault any personal malice. Failing to understand exactly how Foucault's arguments have changed the way that any number of scholars across the humanities and social sciences practice their respective disciplines, he uses Foucault to personify all that he finds objectionable in poststructuralism, feminism, and multiculturalism, even though relatively few feminists and multiculturalists can abide poststructuralism, much less Foucault. In the absence of any more apparent reason for Rorty's professional animosity, I can only read it in terms of the same cultural logic that more than a century ago sent John Stuart Mill, along with some of his most erudite contemporaries, fleeing to a domain of literature imaginatively fortif ied against the pressures of the marketplace. The youthful Mill understood his intellectual milieu as one in which cultural advancement necessarily accompanied the formation of a more democratic government. At this stage of his career, Mill considered culture virtually synonymous with "civilization." At some point during the 1850s, however, Mill apparently came to see the cultural environment in England as one that was systematically eliminating the conditions necessary to the formation of genuine individuals. In response to his famous change of mind, Mill came up with an alternative notion of "culture" as a domain outside and independent of business and politics that might supply the emotional and imaginative education necessary to produce a complete individual. By turning his personal crisis into a cultural crisis, Mill helped to put the question of what should be done about it squarely at the center of intellectual debate during the second half of the nineteenth century. To explain Rorty's attack on Foucau lt, I plan to exhume the logic that prompted such men as Mill to understand themselves as the beleaguered defenders of culture with a capital "C" in the face of the overwhelming allure of culture with a lowercase "c.,,  So keen was the sense of betrayal on the one side, and so pervasive the advantage on the other, that it hardly seems possible for the conflict to have lasted this long.
Thanks to the expansion of English studies throughout what was once the Empire and Commonwealth, however, the culture wars have not only endured but also gained intensity.  The crisis that inspired Victorian culture critics to link national well-being to literature was destined to reproduce itself in their ideological heirs, who believe, along with Mill, Matthew Arnold, John Henry Newman, and many others, that a literary tradition offers the most effective and perhaps only way, as Arnold put it, of making "the best that has been thought and known in the world current everywhere" (70). Like their Victorian forebears, the founders of English studies in the early twentieth century sought to preserve traditional culture from both non-Western influences and the rapidly expanding mass media.  This is a well-known story, and it is not my purpose to elaborate it here. My sole point in dwelling on the cultural crisis that shaped Victorian culture is to establish an instructive parallel between what, in Mill's d ay, was happening within public culture and what, in our own time, appears to be happening primarily within the English departments of American universities. Against this background, it should come as no surprise that such defenders of traditional literature as Rorty tend to bristle and hiss whenever the challenge to their ideal of culture comes from within the very institution created to protect it.
Brushing aside the fact that he never performs a serious reading of those whom he attacks, least of all Foucault, Rorty's attack on Foucault is irrational on two counts. First, he commits a fundamental error of classification that someone trained as a philosopher would never make were he intent on mounting a logical argument. Rorty holds Foucault's influence largely responsible for the formation of a "Cultural Left" that includes such disparate individuals as novelists Neal Stephenson and Leslie Silko as well as Jameson and Butler and assorted unnamed critical theorists, feminists, and proponents of multiculturalism. With the possible exception of Butler, none of these Americans owes much of an intellectual debt to the French philosopher. As a group, moreover, their work has nothing in common beyond a tendency to question whether the tradition of American letters is as inclusive and uplifting as previous generations of critics and scholars have maintained. Yet, on this basis alone, Rorty proceeds to split th e entire universe of letters into Manichean halves and blame the influence of Foucault for the fall of literary criticism into cultural critique. Second, Rorty sees the intellectual betrayal of the old Left by a new Left as the direct result of a more basic political betrayal that occurred during the 1960s, as a new generation of university intellectuals stopped handing out leaflets at factory gates and devoted themselves to cultural politics. By doing so, this new generation not only spelled the doom of a long-standing and noble tradition of political activism; they also accused the literary tradition of excluding groups of Americans on the basis of their race and gender. As a result, in Rorty's view, literature can no longer unite what social inequity has put asunder. If the public demonstrations staged by intellectuals of the 1960s have divided the nation politically, then the new ways of reading and writing literature that seemed to follow on the heels of this political uprising have made it impossible to think of literature as the basis for national consciousness and thus as a basis for the unity of the nation itself.
In lamenting this fact, Rorty does precisely what he wrongly accuses Foucault and legions of authors and critics of doing. That is to say, he talks about literature and the way we read it as if that literature constituted the political body of our nation and critical analysis could therefore unite or dismember it. He has, in other words, collapsed culture into politics and read literature as if it actually were what it represents. I might be tempted to dismiss his argument on these grounds alone, were it not for the fact that Rorty first delivered these essays as the prestigious William E. Massey, Sr. lecture …