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Chomsky’s Atavistic Revolution (with a little help from his enemies)

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Abstract

The <i>Oxford English Dictionary</i> defines Modernism as a &#8220;movement characterised by a deliberate break with classical and traditional forms or methods&#8221;. This is borne out by examination of how &#8216;modern&#8217; linguists have routinely established an ironic distance between their own work and what went before. The exception is Chomsky, whose &#8216;atavistic&#8217; revolution, harking back to putative early modern roots, broke all the rules in terms of the stance one could take toward intellectual predecessors in the wake of modernism. It showed how &#8220;a deliberate break with classical and traditional forms or methods&#8221; could be brought about by, not ignoring traditional methods, or taking an ironic distance from them, but reinterpreting them with a greater time depth. The ultimate irony lies in how Chomsky&#8217;s opponents forced an ironic distance on him, turning him into a mere garden-variety modernist &#8212; and by so doing, helped to guarantee the success of his generativist programme. <sc>atavism</sc>. Resemblance to grandparents or more remote ancestors rather than to parents. modernism. Movement characterised by a deliberate break with classical and traditional forms or methods. revolution. 1. A single act of rotation round a centre. 2. An instance of great change or alteration in affairs or in some particular thing. &#8211; <i>Oxford English Dictionary</i> (abridged)

References

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