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THE EXAMINED LIFE

The Unbearable Complexity of Being

IT'S NOT EVERY DAY that a professor issues a public apology to his students for leading them astray intellectually. But in his most recent book, ``The Moment of Complexity'' (Chicago), Mark C. Taylor, a distinguished professor of humanities at Williams College, does just that.

Nearly 20 years ago, Taylor established himself as a preeminent American practitioner of deconstruction with his book ``Erring: A Postmodern A/Theology.'' But in ``The Moment of Complexity,'' which appears this week in paperback, he claims he will no longer teach students the paralyzing deconstructive conceit that ``all they have to look forward to is the endless struggle to undo systems and structures that cannot be undone.'' Deconstruction, an unregenerate product of the Cold War, is addicted to futility, Taylor writes.

Ideas, who studied under Taylor in the mid-'80s, gracefully accepted this mea culpa, then telephoned the repentant philosopher at his Williamstown office to find out what he's teaching the latest crop of undergrads.

``Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, every aspect of life, from financial and media networks to transportation and biological networks, has become increasingly interconnected,'' said Taylor, who himself has linked academia to high finance by cofounding the distance-learning company Global Education Network. ``Our social, political, cultural, and economic organizations have become much more complex, and life is more ambiguous and uncertain.'' The solution? ``Instead of yearning for simplicity, we should recognize and embrace the interconnectedness of everyone and everything,'' he said.

``As I look at the world today, hope does not come easily,'' Taylor admitted. Slipping back momentarily into the old deconstructive mode, he said: ``Perhaps I could put it paradoxically: We must hope without hope.''

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