I spent most of today reading Laclau’s On Populist Reason. I still have a good chunk left — and in any case it’s too soon for me to respond intelligently to the theoretical content as such — but I thought that it was worth remarking that one thing I have always admired about Laclau is the clarity and rigor of his arguments. When I read Laclau and Mouffe’s Hegemony and Socialist Strategy, for example, I came away convinced that the economy really can’t be determinative “in the last instance,” and I don’t think that would’ve happened had they presented that portion of the argument in a more stereotypically “continental” style. (This book holds fewer surprises for someone familiar with Laclau’s previous work, so no such epiphanies have resulted so far.)
Even in the most extreme instances of “continental” style, though, such moments of crystal clarity do occur and are very powerful — for instance, early on in Nancy’s Inoperative Community, he lays out a very straightforward and compact argument that the “metaphysics of the absolute” is simply logically incoherent, and to my mind, the only possible response there is, “Wow, I guess you’re right.”
It seems possible, however, that if a text were simply the accumulation of such moments of crystal clarity, it would paradoxically lapse back into an absolute opacity.