Louis Menand Loses It

Louis Menand has an article in the December 23 issue of The New Yorker that defies explanation. Crack cocaine, perhaps, or a game of Truth or Dare gone horribly wrong. His nominal subject is Dr. Seuss, but the article reaches such heights of literary pretension that one suspects the usually-astute Menand of some sly act of parody. How else to explain such howlers as those excerpted here?

The decision to turn "The Cat in the Hat" on the trope of the mater abscondita is not without interest, coming, as it does, from a writer who chose his mother's maiden name as his pen name.

The cat's improvisations with the objects trouvés in the home he has invaded are obviously an allegory for his creator's performance with the two hundred and twenty arbitrary words he has been assigned by his publisher. The cat is a bricoleur. He has no system -- or rather, his system is to have no system.

"The Cat in the Hat Comes Back" is the "Grammatology" of Dr. Seuss. It is a book about language and structure, those Cold War obsessions. That the "Cat" books' appearance coincided with the publication of Noam Chomsky's "Syntactic Structures" (1957) and Claude Léi-Strauss's "Structural Anthropology" (1958) is, as they used to say during the Cold War, no accident."

These semiotic felines do exactly what a deconstructionist would predict: rather than containing the stain, they disseminate it. Everything turns pink. The chain of signification is interminable and, being interminable, indeterminate. The semantic hygiene fetishized by the children is rudely violated; the "system" they imagined is revealed to have no inside and no outside. It is revealed to be, in fact, just another bricolage. The only way to end the spreading stain of semiosis is to unleash what, since it cannot be named, must be termed "that which is not a sign." This is the Voom, the final agent in the cat's arsenal. The Voom eradicates the pink queerness of a textuality without boundaries; whiteness is back, though now it is the purity of absence -- one wants to say (and, at this point, why not?) of abstinence.