|. . . 2003-11-12|
Men are from Champ de Mars, women are from Picardy
|. . . 2003-11-13|
What I want in my house is a sane woman, a cat wandering around the books, and friends all the time. Otherwise why bother?
|. . . 2003-11-15|
Lawrence La Riviere White follows up:
How much of "actual scholarship" turns out as (to use Kierkegaard's word) chatter?With specific regard to our earlier attempt at understanding, he goes on to suggest that it's
For example, during the last Cornel West debacle, UC's John McWhorter weighed in against Professor West. Professor McWhorter cited his own current project, some modest essay modestly proposing modest new perspectives on some modest problem in linguistics (& from my small experience w/that field, those folks really can pare down an issue to the thinnest shavings). At this point I say to myself, "Yes, we should all be working hard & earning those paychecks, & I'm sure Professor McWhorter does fine work in his field, & I have no doubts as to his fine intentions, but what are the odds that this essay will make any difference to anything?" Given my own experience trolling through journal after journal, I'm not going to bet my mortgage on it. & I'm not alone in this belief. Professor Wai Chee Dimock, a one-time guest of honor at our school's graduate American Studies conference, advised us to remember that the shelf life for our writing is about ten years. In other words, no one reads this stuff anyway.
What's to be done? Professor Dimock seemed to be arguing for lower standards. Don't get too hung up on anything you're doing just now, because you're going to be on to something else soon enough. If you don't like the weather, wait ten minutes & it'll change. This smacks of rank professionalism to me. Don't worry about the point of the game, just play it. I am too much of a romantic, but also too much over-invested in artifacts, to keep that down. If it's pointless why don't we just skip it? More silence, please. & when we do speak, perhaps a formal recognition of the insubstantiality of our discourse. Essays instead of books. Feuillitons (why I feel that word should be translated as "firecracker"?) instead of essays. If we can't prove anything, why not have fun? Put a bit of sparkle in it!
not that graduate students & professors are dim, but they're not bright enough. As in, these problems are really difficult, & only the best & the brightest throughout our glorious history have made substantial progress on them. Though a recurrence of my chronic nostalgia is undoubtedly muddling me here, I think our current historicism has exacerbated this issue. Back when the problems were timeless, one could (not that many availed themselves of this option) have a certain humility before them. Who am I to claim a solution to the mind-body distinction? But now that it's all ad hoc (today's solutions for today's problems!), what's to stop me from knowing it all?Yeah, "always already" really gets my goat. Isn't that what "is" is? But for bulk search-and-replace of the phrase, Juliet Clark's suggested improvement seems more practical: "now inasmuch as ever".
Okeh I'm getting way too muddled here, but I hope you know what I'm trying to say. Let me say this much: perhaps more explicating what has already been said but not yet understood (how about an exchange of the "always already" (a phrase from Heidegger, which explains the stink of "I know the secret!" about it) for the "never yet") & less theory-making. Or as I'd say to the kids, let's clean up the mess we've already made before we start making a new one.
I should have made it plainer that I didn't mean any offense to real scholarship. As a blustering blowhard, I'm its dependent. (And as a blustering blowhard, I'm in no position to cast stones at philosophical hubris.) What motivated me was my continuing wonder at finding the grazing land of academic journals so lightly vegetated in comparison with fanzines or little magazines or genre fiction magazines or weblogs.
After, at White's instigation, considering more closely my use of the term "real scholarship" -- in the humanities, that would include transcription and translation and correction, letters and interviews, attention directed to the previously overlooked, re-publication of the currently out-of-print -- that contrast seems slightly less wonderful. Clearly my notion of "real scholarship" is as one with my notion of good fannishness. Again, I think of the amateurish era of Joyce studies, when the bulk of a journal could be taken up by "Notes" -- aperçus, speculations, elucidations, emendations, and jokes -- and its later aridity, talking long and saying little.
Grad school can't alone be responsible for thinning that fannish energy. As proven by the tender verdancy of academic weblogs, the joy of shared discovery continues ready to burst out, given half an opportunity. There's something herbicidal about professional academic publishing itself.
|. . . 2003-11-16|
Our too-infrequent correspondent Jessie Ferguson:
> it always seemed to me that agreement on the existence of some sort ofIt's true that the humanities don't support the law of noncontradiction. And I'm down with that; I'm an aesthete, not a logical positivist.
> outside world that had to be referred to was basically healthy. At least
> I've known some pretty sane science majors.
this is very true -- to the point of cliche? hm. i was reminded of it recently at a coffeehouse where some professor was holding office hours at a nearby table, going on and on about poststructuralist social theory. i don't hold theoretical discussions against people -- theory certainly has its place -- but i was particularly struck thinking later about the lack of real-world applications of the theories by their proponents. part of the trouble is that there is not a push for consensus among theorists or researchers in the social sciences, whereas there is in the natural sciences. there is no sense that it's "just fine" that people would do entire lifetimes of work on the same problems, taking completely divergent approaches and making incommensurable assumptions, in the sciences, because one of those sets of assumptions & approaches must be better than the other -- or else, by definition, you're looking at two different sorts of problem. so it's highly inefficient because people can waste so much time staking out their theoretical territory rather than working towards a shared body of knowledge. this is fine, i think, in fields which concern, say, pure aesthetics rather than praxis -- there doesn't have to be a Grand Unified Theory Of Jane Austen -- but it would be *helpful* if there were some very general consensus about how people are conditioned by social norms, for instance. if you didn't have completely different assumptions about human behavior being made by marxian sociologists and classical economists, both doing current work, both contributing & producing research papers, winning awards, being allowed to train other sociologists and economists or influence policy or what have you. in terms of any sort of reality, can these two (hypothetical) accounts really *both* be accurate?
to put it another way: if you ask me about the research i'm doing in biology and i say, well, i'm examining the ability of receptor x to respond to events y and z and i'm about to present the work at a conference, it would be pretty strange if i added that no matter what i said, five out of ten people were going to disagree with me -- but so what. or even something like having a paper in spectroscopy read by a particle physicist who would then declare that it was right from a chemistry perspective but wrong from a physics perspective. these things don't really happen. yet i think the "you have your story, i have mine" reply is fairly common in the social sciences and the socially-conscious humanities...
this is probably why people who do work in the humanities and actually care about the work they do get into trouble emotionally -- the only ones i've seen having a good time with it are the ones who are completely mercenary and basically see graduate school or the professoriate as a means to maintaining class privilege without the burden of a corporate job/lifestyle. by that i don't mean any disrespect. not much, anyway. to be honest, i wouldn't weep if some of those sinecures dried up -- i have a hard time believing anyone has a right to a life of the mind when it's so often a thinly disguised right to be economically supported at barely-sustainable levels at the expense of people who are no less talented or perceptive.
which... sigh... makes me sound like a socialist again. but i think it is hard fucking work enlightening people and there isn't any point in getting credit for doing it halfway... i think there is a benefit to social and cultural theory, but that in the current state of academia very few people benefit from it -- compared to the countless many who are directly affected by the Cato Institute and the World Bank and other organizations of interest to theory-loving goons. and i don't see that i have much power to change that.
so no, i don't know that i'm turning my back on the humanities themselves. i'm not writing any more papers on how milan kundera is a bastard, though.
Still, it seems only fair that when we resign the duty of logical coherence, we should also give up our right to the rhetoric of indefinitely extendable "proof."
The little mystery we've been considering here is is just how empty most stuff published as humanities scholarship is. Not necessarily how foolish, or misguided, or self-conflicted it is, but how much nothin' fills the journals, and how much one nothin' tastes like another no matter what the trademark promises. Goofy Grape or Choo Choo Cherry, who can tell?
Ferguson's comparison helps clear that up for me. We can plod along in the sciences, filling crannies, verifying results or their lack, and so on, and still be producing something even if it's not discipline-shattering. But there are no negative results in the humanities: I can't construct an experiment that will convincingly prove that Lacanian analysis has nothing useful to tell us about the novels of William Dean Howells. Which leaves plodding-along humanities scholars able and prodded to demonstrate nothing-to-say one individual case at a time.
I'm afraid that Ferguson's probably also right to call this hard-won insight a cliché. Francis Bacon anticipated it, for one:
But the Idols of the Theatre are not innate, nor do they steal into the understanding secretly, but are plainly impressed and received into the mind from the play-books of philosophical systems and the perverted rules of demonstration. To attempt refutations in this case would be merely inconsistent with what I have already said: for since we agree neither upon principles nor upon demonstrations there is no place for argument. And this is so far well, inasmuch as it leaves the honour of the ancients untouched.In "the academic Left," we see the dispiriting spectacle of a holy crusade conducted against the Idols of the Marketplace for the Idols of the Theater.
And in the plays of this philosophical theatre you may observe the same thing which is found in the theatre of the poets, that stories invented for the stage are more compact and elegant, and more as one would wish them to be, than true stories out of history.
It's not much of a match.
|. . . 2003-11-17|
"She's A Soldier Boy"
A New Generation, 1969
She tells lies with her eyes
Another month, another idiotic gender essentialist story:
Scientists say they have discovered what happens in the brain when someone falls in love.This BBC reporter is careful with the "most"s and "more"s:
Most of the women showed more activity in the body of the caudate, the septum and the posterior parietal cortex, which are areas linked to reward, emotion and attention. Most of the men in this study showed more activity in visual processing areas, including one associated with sexual arousal.And also careful to do so only several paragraphs after the blatantly overstated hook:
But scans found women's brains showed emotional responses, while men's showed activity linked to sexual arousal.That's called balance.
Where to start? How about with the original researchers' assumption that "falling in love" is a simple biological universal, free of cultural specifics? Because otherwise they certainly wouldn't be coming up with these fascinating hypotheses about evolution.
Or, sticking to the story's own terms, how about the possibility that most women in New Jersey reach orgasm more slowly than most men in New Jersey, and that New Jersey women have therefore "evolved" to associate sexual arousal with systems of reward and attention? Or that most men in New Jersey have more opportunity to jerk off to porn, and that New Jersey men have therefore "evolved" to associate sexual arousal with visual processing?
And how about those "most"s and "more"s? Given that we're talking about "17 young men and women," in just how many individuals was that played-up distinction incarnated?
If I was a cheerier sort, I might take it as a good sign that essentialists have been more and more forced to rely on the most variable and plastic organ of the human body (no, breast implants don't count) for support. But I'm depressive, so instead I take it as another sign that the government is preparing prenatal genetic tests which, along with universal "Seinfeld" syndication, will replicate the social norms of present-day middle class America forever.
I think my doctor called that "depressive." Sometimes I get those medical words all mixed up.
+ + +In other news, still no comeback in sight for bisexual chic!
|. . . 2003-11-19|
The pleasure we take in stupid art arises not from superiority but from recognition: the blush-warmed fleshy contact of the artist's stupidity with our own.
|. . . 2003-11-20|
David Lightfoot neatly summarizes our journey through Reading Zukofsky's 80 Flowers in this poem from "Grammaticalisation: cause or effect?":
Understands he chapter 4?
He understands not chapter 4.
He has could understand chapter 4.
Canning understand chapter 4.
He wanted to can understand.
He will can understand.
He can music.
I see from a teasing PDF-only abstract-only that Lightfoot has also tackled the Libertarian question:
He suggests that we replace it with a process of cliticization, "which captures the desirable effects of government and unifies 'government' phenomena with many other phenomena." Sounds kind of utopian to me, but he's the doctor!
|. . . 2003-11-22|
Children 12 and under fly free.
|. . . 2003-11-23|
|I am all at a standstill; as idle as a painted ship, but not so pretty. My romance, which has so nearly butchered me in the writing, not even finished; though so near, thank God, that a few days of tolerable strength will see the roof upon that structure. I have worked very hard at it, and so do not expect any great public favour. In moments of effort, one learns to do the easy things that people like. There is the golden maxim; thus one should strain and then play, strain again and play again. The strain is for us, it educates; the play is for the reader, and pleases. Do you not feel so? We are ever threatened by two contrary faults: both deadly. To sink into what my forefathers would have called 'rank conformity,' and to pour forth cheap replicas, upon the one hand; upon the other, and still more insidiously present, to forget that art is a diversion and a decoration, that no triumph or effort is of value, nor anything worth reaching except charm. — Yours affectionately,|
|. . . 2003-11-24|
Having had occasion to review my "bit of blog about Badiou," Adam Tobin rightly takes me to task:
While I have you on the line, I'd also like to say that (contrary to your claim that they are evil) soap operas are not single-POV heroic narratives, although such are often used as materials: Chris is pleased to learn that his private eye has already dug up some juicy dirt on his kid brother. Meanwhile, Livvie makes it clear to Jack how much she wants him to make love to her. A flustered Lucy asks Kevin how he can possibly think of leaving Port Charles now that he knows he has a daughter. Eve steps out of her bath to find Ian staring at her. When Harris returns to claim his "prize", Eve covers by assuring a worried Ian that she's only going out to explain the next medical procedure to their captor. Kevin is forced to bodily remove Lucy from the lighthouse but she stubbornly refuses to let go of his arm. Chris interrupts a moment of passion between Jack and Livvie.Honestly, I meant to refer only to the particular use made in a particular time and place of a particular convention of pseudo-realistic narrative: the division between protagonists (in the longest running soap operas of that time, the wise, good-hearted, mostly passive observers; in sports, the home team; in lives of the poets, the poets) and antagonists (the amoral, weak-willed, and active villains; the visitors; the girlfriends).
But given the treatment usually doled out to gendered genres, I should have been more careful. For all I know, such soap operas aren't even made anymore, and even when they were, their toxicity wouldn't have compared with The 700 Club or "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber". To makers and viewers of soap operas, I apologize.
Badiou, on the other hand, can go peddle his papers.
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