. . . Bryn Mawr

. . .

Bryn Mawr Stories   The breakfast was nearly over, and the black waiters were serving the ices.

"Can you see Lilian Coles?" Blanche bent around an intervening neighbour to ask Katherine. Katherine, happy in the fact that she would get a degree on the morrow, looked across the tables just as Lilian touched glasses with a freshman, her lips moving in the chorus,

"Here's to Bryn Mawr College!"

It was Hester Grey who saw a solemn look on Lilian's face as they rose to join in "Manus Bryn Mawrensium." But at that moment it seemed to Lilian herself, that of all the "lætissimæ puellæ" she, in her way, was the most joyful.
Elva Lee, '93.

The hunt is up, the hunt is up, and it is well-nigh day....

. . .

"Why do men [sic] halt between two opinions, and expect histological impossibilities?"

My recent outburst prompted the outburst below, recieved under the above title. I just hope Clifford D. Simak felt this proud when he read Fire the Bastards!

I'm tempted to have it carved on my tombstone. But, considering the financial burden that would put on my heirs (drat this Estate Tax!), I'll probably stick with my original choice of epitaph: "STUPID! STUPID! STUPID!"

Waitamminit, you don't name (or link) names, so I'm not sure of this; but --you're mad at teachers who accuse, say, the Clinton administration of being responsible for proto-bushian injustices so you point out Zizek's absurdity and threaten him with the disgruntlement of a mob of lumpen Christians? Not that there's anything wrong with your view of SZ --I especially liked the wordsalad he produces in the interview to which you linked, and it was indeed impossible for those who only intended to establish their state capitalism to rely on the revolutionary mobilization of the people (most effective revolution, though? by what criteria?)-- but something in the chain of argument reminded me of FrontPageMag's Derrida obit, and the longstanding canard that materialism by itself would reduce ideas to mere passive accompaniments of economic activity. There is a whole universe of meaning to be rescued and redefined: maybe it's just not a good time of year to level accusations against "academics." It *is* important, Ray, to remember that positive motivation to do something is aroused by the expectancy that one's behavior will be followed by positive consequences. Consider not just two prosodically similar statements, but *three*:

"None of that in Kubrick, who manipulates his films like a chess player, who makes an operational scenario of history."

"The destruction of craftsmanship during the period of the rise of scientific management did not go unnoticed by the workers."

"Understandably, hostile or uncooperative witnesses seldom grasped the nature of the hearings they were so forcibly attending."

I mean, it turned out to be advantageous for Kerensky, but at what price? Tom Frank is essentially trying to figure out how the Right's propaganda machine works, right? And had his book been universally ignored, they might have resented every blasphemous word of it. Does that, in your eyes, make him a class traitor by reminding him of your Bryn Mawr profs? These habits of life are of too pervading a character to be ascribed to the influence of a late or brief discipline. I lack the confidence to charge this danger equally to every part of the discourse; I no longer know what objects and ends are in my field of awareness. But surely your Missourian cohort would be equally unhappy with Chip, whose wound has closed up, for his elitism. Signs carrying social information vary as to reliability. Is it beyond your credence that there are teachers (and remember that SZ is not one) who provide political educations, who raise students' consciousness sufficiently to change their lives, and who still don't let the DLC off the hook, and remain appalled by Angela Davis' support for Clinton, or by Carter's having opened up the WH to the bornagainers' leaders? What then do you think of Riesman's view that there's such a thing as a "national character"? I dread hearing you say that the argument for child labor followed the same line, when the Constitution Party presented it in early 2000.

. . .

How I Am Not an Analytic Philospher

I find it surprising that you are so sweepingly dismissive of philosophy, as a discipline, frankly. Wittgenstein, Austin, Searle, Dennett, Putnam, Kripke, Davidson, lord knows I can rattle on if you get me started [...] it's all crap, or arid twiddling, you assume? You are, of course, entitled to your opinion. I'm not offended, or anything, but I'm a bit surprised. It's a fairly unusual attitude for someone to take, unless they are either 1) John Emerson; 2) strongly committed to continental philosophy, from which perspective all the analytic stuff looks crap; 3) opposed to interdisciplinarity, per se.
- John Holbo, in a comment thread
I have sometimes characterized the opposition between German-French philosophizing and English-American philosophizing by speaking of opposite myths of reading, remarking that the former thinks of itself as beginning by having read everything essential (Heidegger seems a clear case here) while the latter thinks of itself as beginning by having essentially read nothing (Wittgenstein seems a case here). [...] our ability to speak to one another as human beings should neither be faked nor be postponed by uncontested metaphysics, and [...] since the overcoming of the split within philosophy, and that between philosophy and what Hegel calls unphilosophy, is not to be anticipated, what we have to say to one another must be said in the meantime.
- Stanley Cavell, "In the Meantime"

I should acknowledge that John's question wasn't addressed to me. Also, that I'm no philosopher. I begin by having read a little, which makes me an essayist or, professionally speaking, an office worker who essays. I'm going to appropriate John's question, though, because some of the little I've read is philosophy and because essaying an answer may comb out some tangles.

Restricting myself to your menu of choices, John, I pick column 2, with a side of clarification: Although that menu may indicate a snob avoiding an unfashionable ingredient, it's as likely the chef developed an allergy and was forced to seek new dishes. I wasn't drawn to the colorful chokeberry shrubs of "continental tradition" (and then the interdisciplinary slap-and-tickle of the cognitive sciences) until after turning away from "philosophy, as a discipline." Before that turn, I was perfectly content to take Bertrand Russell's word on such quaint but perfidious nonsense.

In fact I came close to being an analytic philosopher or rather, given that I'd end up working in an office no matter what, being someone with a degree from an analytic philosophy department. On matriculation I wanted coursework which would prod my interest in abstract analysis, having made the (warranted) assumption that my literary interests needed no such prodding. The most obviously abstractly-analytical majors available to me were mathematics-from-anywhere or anglophilic Bryn Mawr's logic-heavy philosophy degree. As one might expect from a teenage hick, my eventual choice of math was based on surface impressions. The shabby mournfulness of Bryn Mawr's department head discouraged me, and, given access for the first time to disciplinary journals, I found an "ordinary language" denatured of everything that made language worth the study. In contrast, the Merz-like opacity of math journals seemed to promise an indefinitely extending vista of potentially humiliating peaks.

Having veered from Bryn Mawr's mainstream major, my detour into Haverford's eclectic, political, and theologically-engaged philosophy department was purely a matter of convenience one which, as conveniences sometimes do, forever corrupted. I left off the high path of truth: Abstract logic fit abstractions best: natural language brought all of (human) nature with it. As I wrote in email a few years ago, it seemed to me the tradition took a wrong turn by concentrating on certainty to the exclusion of that other philosophical problem: community.

* * *

I'd guess, though, that besides expressing curiosity your query's meant to tweak the answerer's conscience.

At any rate, it successfully tweaked mine. To paraphrase Hopsy Pike, a boy of eighteen is practically an idiot anyway; continuing to restrict one's options to what attracted him would be absurd.

I don't mean I'll finally obtain that Ph. B., any more than I ever became a continental completist. No, I just think my inner jiminy might be assuaged if I gathered some personal canon from the twentieth-century Anglo-American academic tradition.

Cavell, instantly simpatico, will likely be included, but one's not much of a canon. By hearsay Donald Davidson seemed a good risk, and recently a very kind and myriadminded friend lent me his immaculate copy of Subjective, Intersubjective, Objective.

Davidson's voice was likable, and I was glad to see him acknowledge that language is social. But I was sorry he needed to labor so to get to that point. And then as the same point was wheeled about and brought to the joust again and again, it began to dull and the old melancholy came upon me once more. Could these wannabe phantoms ever face the horrible truth that we're made of meat?

With perseverance I might have broken through that shallow reaction, but I didn't want to risk breaking the spine of my friend's book to do it. I put it aside.

And then, John, you tweaked my conscience again:

If you just want a reference to post-Wittgensteinian analytic philosophers who think language is a collective phenomenon and who are generally not solipsists, that's easy: post-Wittgensteinian analytic philosophy as a whole.

Because, of course, my shallow reaction to the Davidson sample might well be expressed as "My god, they're all still such solipsists."

* * *

I remember one other "Farewell to all that" in my intellectual life. At age eight, I gave up superhero comic books.

The rejection was well-timed. I'd experienced Ditko and Kirby at their best; I'd seen the Silver Surfer swoop through "how did he draw that?" backgrounds I didn't realize were collaged. After '67, it would've been downhill.

But eventually, in adulthood, I guilt-tripped back again.

With iffy results, I'm afraid. I greatly admire Alan Moore's ingenuity, but that's the extent of his impact. Jay Stephen's and Mike Allred's nostalgic takes are fun, but I preferred Sin and Grafik Muzik. Honestly, the DC / Marvel / Likewise product I look at most often is Elektra: Assassin, and I look at it exactly as I look at Will Elder.

No matter how justly administered, repeated conscience tweaking is likely to call forth a defensive reaction. And so, John, my bruised ignorance mutters that Moore showed far less callousness than Davidson regarding the existential status of swamp-duplicates Davidson talks as if the poor creature's not even in the room with us! and wonders if AAA philosophers' attention to collective pheonomena might not parallel attempts to bring "maturity" to superhero comics:

"We've got gay superheroes being beaten to death! We've got female superheroes getting raped! We've got Thor visiting post-Katrina New Orleans! How can you say we're not mature?"

Because immaturity is built into the genre's structure.

Similarly, whatever it is I'm interpreting as microcultural folly might be the communally-built structure of academic philosophy, and leaving that behind would mean leaving the discipline as, I understand, Cavell's sometimes thought to have left?

Well, Davidson I'll return to. In the meantime, I bought an immaculate Mind and World of my own to try out. After all, any generic boundaries feel arbitrary at first, and, fanboy or not, I still own some superhero comic books....



1) Wilfrid Sellars 2) Grant Morrison [the set is "practitioners who turns the fault of their framing genre into merits by seriously thinking about why they embrace them allowing this understanding to shape their practice"]

John Holbo sends a helpful response:

Quick read before I get on the bus. That comment you quote is a bit unfortunate because, in context, I wasn't actually complaining about Bill not studying philosophy as a discipline. I was objecting to his claim that there was nothing interesting about post-Wittgensteinian Anglo-American philosophy. It has nothing to say about language or mind or any of the other topics that interest Bill. It isn't even worth giving an eclectic look in, to borrow from, in an interdisciplinary spirit. Bill is an interdisciplinarian who makes a point of steering around the philosophy department - not even giving a look-in - when it comes to language, intentionality and mind. I find that combination of attitudes perverse. So rather than saying 'opposed to the discipline' - hell, I'M opposed to analytic philosophy as a discipline (how not?) - I should have typed: 'convinced that it is a giant lump of crap that does not even contain a few 14k bits of goldishness'. Bill and I were arguing about whether there might not be bright spots in post war Anglo-American philosophy. I said yes. He said he assumed not. (He assumes it must all just be solipsism, ergo not helpful.)

Another point. "Could these wannabe phantoms ever face the horrible truth that we're made of meat?" I think it's a wrong reading of various fussy, repetitive approaches to materialism and mind to assume that people are shuffling their feet because they are FEARFUL of letting go of, maybe, the ghost in the machine. Rather, they are caught up in various scholastic debates and are hunched down, porcupine-wise. They are anticipating numerous attacks, serious and foolish, pettifogging and precise. In Davidson's case it's always this dance with Quine and empiricism. (I could write you a song.) But shying away from the very idea that we're made of meat isn't it, spiritually speaking. This lot are fearless enough, at least where positions in philosophy of mind are concerned. They're just fussy. (Not that waddling along like a porcupine is any great shakes, probably. But it isn't exactly a fear reaction. It's the embodiment of an intellectual strategy.)

Is that a porcupine or a hedgehog, then.

Reckon it depends on whether you're American or Anglo.

I wish this was the conclusion of a review of The Gay Science, but it's just the conclusion of a review of In Kant's Wake: Philosophy in the Twentieth Century:

In the 100-year struggle for a philosophical place in the sun, analytic philosophy simply won out by the end of the twentieth century it was the dominant and normal style of philosophy pursued in the most prestigious departments of philosophy at the richest and most celebrated universities in the most economically and politically powerful countries in the world. [However] In Kant's Wake shows that there are some serious unresolved issues about the history of twentieth-century philosophy that every serious contemporary philosopher should be seriously interested in.

Always a pleasure to hear from Josh Lukin, here responding to Peli's comment:

Yeh, that's what's interesting about Morrison, for those of us who believe he succeeds at what he sets out to do: his self-reflexive attitude toward trotting out the Nietzsche and the Shelley and the Shakespeare to justify some old costumed claptrap. My clumsy undergraduate piece about that, "Childish Things: Guilt and Nostalgia in the Work of Grant Morrison," showed up in Comics Journal #176 and is cited here with more respect than it deserves.

Looking at comics with a maturity/immaturity axis in mind is great at explaining why Miller's Eighties work is more successful than Watchmen; but it has its limits, not least of which being that we've been down this road before in the superhero stories of Sturgeon, in PKD's (and H. Bruce Franklin's) critique of Heinlein, in Superduperman [find your own damn explanatory link, Ray [anyone who needs an explanatory link to Superduperman probably stopped reading me a long time ago. - RD]], etc. Like David Fiore, I find the Carlyle/Emerson axis (which, come to think of it, has its parallels in Heinlein vs. Sturgeon) to be more fruitful: are we talking fascist superhero stories or Enlightenment superhero stories and, if the former, does the aesthetic appeal of the fascist sublime outweigh the ethical horror?

. . .

The Male Feminist: Myth or Menace?

As one of the repelled colonizers of Bryn Mawr's Denbigh Hall in 1978, I can actually speak with authority on this question. It's a completely trivial and distracting question, but hey, you take what authority you can get.

"Feminist" is a label. A label is not essence, nor an equivalence function. Like all such social markers, it's meant to be applied when applicable, and applicability varies by context.

In contexts where the label is a contested object of desire (notably some blogs and some academic departments; I'm not sure women's folk festivals even exist anymore): No, a man cannot be a feminist. Proof by contradiction: To insist on the "feminist" label would help me override a woman's voice or take a woman's place.

Anyway, the self-applied label usually conveys little information beyond hope for a merit badge. Treating a woman as a sentient being should be a matter of common decency rather than a newsworthy achievement, and enjoying the company of women might indicate nothing more than heterosexuality.1 You shouldn't need to be acknowledged as a "feminist" to feel disgust at date-rape, or to argue with idiots,2 or to shut up and let others get a word in edgewise. Painstaking accounts of female suffering can sometimes be useful to feminism, but to produce them you need only find female suffering attractive as spectacle.3 You only need ears to appreciate Joanna Russ's prose. And you only need eyes and a brain to notice that Hollywood buddy comedies (like William S. Burroughs) posit an Earth populated by two species: male humans and female Borg.

In contexts where the label is used dismissively (notably most non-academic settings after 1985 or so): Yes, a man can be a feminist. Dismissive senses include "crazy people who take that crazy shit seriously" or "killjoys who bitch about gross power imbalances" or "perverts who don't mind leg hair" and so forth. And I am, in fact and undeniably, one of those crazy killjoy perverts and might as well fess up to it. Besides, how far am I really gonna lower the tone of a neighborhood consisting mostly of Daddy's-Girl feminists, Let's-Go-Shopping! feminists, and Rich-Republicans-Are-The-Real feminists?

1   Stendhal supported higher education for women on the grounds that it would make them even more fun to hang out with. I find this a convincing argument.

2   From a vanished comment at vanished UFO Breakfast:

I reserve the right to reveal this revelation at my own site or deathbed confession, but I discovered the American economic class system, cultural class system, and how fucked up the rest of my life was going to be on my first evening at the Quaker teaching-oriented financial-aid-guaranteed no-frat no-football college when the guys I was walking with talked about going to Villanova to seek stupid girls because only stupid girls would fuck you.

And I knew -- I knew from the bottom of my balls -- that this was evil and wrong. Because only smart girls knew where the local Planned Parenthood was.

3   From innumerable cites, I pluck Hitchcock.


Jessie Ferguson kindly pointed out that at least one of my attempted jokes ("indicates heterosexuality") was too compressed even for my intended audience, and that blogs provide a safer home than the academy for contemporary feminist discussion. I've quickly revised in the hope of clarity.

Josh Lukin points out more error:

"You only need ears"? What kind of ableist message is that?
Marge: Homer, didn't John seem a little... festive to you? Homer: Couldn't agree more. Happy as a clam. Marge: He prefers the company of men! Homer: Who doesn't?

And remember, chicks dig male feminists!


Copyright to contributed work and quoted correspondence remains with the original authors.
Public domain work remains in the public domain.
All other material: Copyright 2015 Ray Davis.