About Jonathan Goodwin
Jonathan Goodwin is an Assistant Professor of English at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.
Posts by Jonathan Goodwin
Tuesday, January 30, 2007
He Died Old
I thought it wonderful that De Quincey refers to J. C. Adelung’s (later volumes the work of J. S. Vater and Adelung fils) Mithridates, or The Universal Table of Languages when the “Malay” comes to visit in the Confessions. Observe
My knowledge of the Oriental tongues is not remarkably extensive, being indeed confined to two words—the Arabic word for barley and the Turkish for opium (madjoon), which I have learned from Anastasius; and as I had neither a Malay dictionary nor even Adelung’s Mithridates, which might have helped me to a few words, I addressed him in some lines from the Iliad, considering that, of such languages as I possessed, Greek, in point of longitude, came geographically nearest to an Oriental one. He worshipped me in a most devout manner, and replied in what I suppose was Malay. In this way I saved my reputation with my neighbours, for the Malay had no means of betraying the secret. He lay down upon the floor for about an hour, and then pursued his journey. On his departure I presented him with a piece of opium. To him, as an Orientalist, I concluded that opium must be familiar; and the expression of his face convinced me that it was. Nevertheless, I was struck with some little consternation when I saw him suddenly raise his hand to his mouth, and, to use the schoolboy phrase, bolt the whole, divided into three pieces, at one mouthful. The quantity was enough to kill three dragoons and their horses, and I felt some alarm for the poor creature; but what could be done? I had given him the opium in compassion for his solitary life, on recollecting that if he had travelled on foot from London it must be nearly three weeks since he could have exchanged a thought with any human being. I could not think of violating the laws of hospitality by having him seized and drenched with an emetic, and thus frightening him into a notion that we were going to sacrifice him to some English idol. No: there was clearly no help for it.
Some preliminary rummaging tells me that Adelung and Vater were the first to identify the structural similarities between Catawba and Woccon; does anyone else have wonders from the allgemeine Sprachenkunde? Alternately, I’m teaching De Quincey tomorrow and am interested in hearing how that’s gone from those of you who’ve done likewise.
Thursday, October 19, 2006
Graduate Study for The 21st Century--A Good Book
After coming across Geneviève Brassard’s review [Muse] in the latest issue of Pedagogy, I read Gregory Colón Semenza’s book, subtitled “How to Build An Academic Career in the Humanities.” Equipped with an admiring foreword by Michael Bérubé, it’s a remarkably detailed and pungent volume, filled with meritocratic ethos and practical advice. I’d summarize its basic message as “get to work, parasite.”
You’ll learn that there’s a “mid-Atlantic university” who won’t hire anyone without at least two articles and who hasn’t taught at least ten courses, for example, an instance that invites generalization. You’ll be reminded several times that diligent industry is the key to academic success, not native intelligence, talent, flair, or even pedigree. There are sample everythings--conference proposals, job acceptance letters, varieties of dissertation abstract. Its advice about teaching evaluations might be held to be somewhat contradictory, but there’s probably a dialectical justification for the assertion that they are nearly meaningless, are the cause of grade inflation, and should be abolished (120), and the (mostly) high figures prominently listed in the sample teaching portfolio.
It’s a book that I wish had been written when I began graduate school, and one that I would encourage anyone currently in a graduate program, contemplating enrolling in one, or even having recently finished their degree to read. (Though Semenza works hard at providing examples from other disciplines, I’d say that its English Dept. origins show.) I mostly agree with the idea that pre-professionalism creates a more meritocratic academic culture, though I think the extent to which this is happening is debatable.
Sunday, October 01, 2006
Linguistic Diversity An Asset
I remember a book, dating from the height of bicameral enthusiasm, which seemed to argue that Polynesian seafarers, speaking what might have been termed a low-noun or high-abstraction language, were thus in much better contact with their holistic half and could thereby perform abstractional feats of navigation that might defeat the intuition--if not the instruments--of the rocketmakers of Peenemünde.
This variety of linguistic relativism--not really derivable from S or W--is not modish and believed widely to be false. All languages have identical expressive power, at least in whole. From this belief, Walter Benn Michaels lab-ideates that the disappearance of languages is not to be lamented, since there will always be another, as good as any other in every relevant way.
I believe this to be an exercise in Fishian contrarianism, and the linguistic details about what “linguistic relativism” and “expressive power” actually mean can only bring what’s at stake here into sharper focus. In the spirit of the exercise, however, I want to suggest that it the argument applies to the burning of books (in any language) just as well. Most books are unread and those read will increasingly become unread as books grow and mutate. While every book is unique in its own way, that uniqueness stems from its diachronicity--the interaction of a means of expression with its particular time, interpreted, inevitably, developmentally by the reader. Since there is no eternal past for us to move into, whatever can be transmitted from this diachronic encounter already has been. Thus, burning the books that have affected us will not matter, as the effect is ineradicable; and burning the books that have not affected us does not matter, because they couldn’t change our knowledge of the past or thoughts about the present or future anyway. Whatever is truly unique in a book is lost in historical translation, so therefore its means of transmission might as well not exist, especially if it takes up valuable computing and recreational space. (Ontogenically, yes, such disappearances might matter; but that’s noise.) Books are not discrete entities from the historical view. They are connected to each other in patterns anterior to language, and the node-bearing books, those of connective significance, have already been identified.
Do you have the intuition that it’s a far worse fate for a language to disappear than a book?
Thursday, July 20, 2006
I don’t know if you’ve seen Alan Liu’s sensible statements on Wikipedia, but I asked the students in the Intro to Media Studies class to comment upon them. Most of their responses seemed to agree with Liu about the proper use of Wikipedia. Several of them indicated that they used Wikipedia as a source of infotainment.
And one considerably entertaining thing I’ve noticed recently is the gratuitious Star Trek reference. For example, the entry on the Iranian airliner shot down by the U. S. S. Vincennes in 1988 contains one, as does the entry on ex post facto. Imagine my surprise, then, when after reading this somewhat oracular passage from Beyond Good and Evil: “the sacrifices of the first-born in all prehistoric religions belong here, as well as the sacrifice of the Emperor Tiberius in the Mithras grotto of the isle of Capri, that most gruesome of all Roman anachronisms” (Basic Writings of Nietzsche, ed. and trans. Walter Kaufmann, 257), I found that the inevitable did not manifest, being instead modestly tucked away on a disambiguation page.
I’m fond of comparing Britannica and Wikipedia entries on subjects such as the end of Tiberius, and I’d have to say here that the EB has it better.
Tuesday, July 11, 2006
Culturally Sophisticated Self-Fashioning
Leiter’s response is measured and largely free of invective. Here’s what I think is the key paragraph ("graf"):
“Continental" for these folks does not mean “Continental philosophy,” as Ms. Heifetz’s spectacularly ignorant remarks well illustrate: she obviously hasn’t a clue about the thinkers, ideas, and arguments that constitute the glorious traditions of post-Kantian philosophy in Germany and France over the last two hundred years. “Continental,” rather, is more of a non-cognitive term, expressing something like the following: “yeah for left-wing opining about culture and politics, that’s philosophy.” As readers know, I’m a big fan of left-wing opining, but it ain’t philosophy, Continental or otherwise. This juvenile usage of “Continental” is widespread, I fear, among those who are philosophically illiterate but fashion themselves culturally sophisticated.
I don’t recall much in the way of discussion about these differing definitions of “continental” and “analytic” inquiry here, particularly as applied to questions of literary theory, and I thought it would be good to solicit some opinions from the readership.
Sunday, June 18, 2006
Alan Jacobs on Blogging
Jacobs, a former prolific commenter here at the Valve, writes, “With few exceptions, posts at the ‘academic’ or ‘intellectual’ blogs I used to frequent have become the brief and cursory announcement of opinions, not the free explorations of new and dynamic thinking.“
And what could be disturbingly perverse about Miéville? (Other than once referring to John Crowley’s work as “twee,” a word that should be retired from the language.)
Saturday, June 17, 2006
Suppose that you could only own one of the Library of America editions. Which one would it be and why? (I don’t know if the Melville one is valuable, but please no.)
I’d probably go with this one.
Sunday, June 11, 2006
Familiar Foreign Words
Here are those that are not italicized according to the 13th edition:
And the 15th:
eros and agape
I wonder how many of those from the 13th (or is it thirteenth? I really can’t look it up at the moment) are holdovers.
Wednesday, June 07, 2006
Dear Valve Commenters
How about registering with the site so that your comments don’t have to be approved manually?
Also, “Cylon-occupied Caprica” is the worst running sub-plot in the history of episodic television.
And another thing: you may have seen this Chronicle article about indexing software and the like. It’s my understanding, however, that there’s not a generalizable program alive capable of reading the full-text of an article formatted in MLA and converting it to Chicago or vice versa. Storing references in a database and having them automatically formatted is one thing, and I can see why you would do it. But it doesn’t work for the already written. Does anyone know of a solution here?
Thursday, May 11, 2006
Best Fiction of the Last 25 Years
I have little to say beyond noting here for the record the good taste of those Jesus’ Son voters.
Perhaps we could discuss omissions and criteria. I think that Infinite Jest is the most glaring omission and that White Noise is a much better book than Underworld.
Tuesday, April 11, 2006
The Vocabulary of the Poets
It’s said that Browning used over 38,000 words, perhaps the most of any well-known poet. Many are like “minish” and “baracan.” The amount of different words used is proportional to the total output, of course, but what poet uses the most obscure vocabulary per poem? I guess we should restrict this to those of moderate fame and above. Eliot comes to mind. I remember “maculate” well. Auden uses “steatopygous,” but Pynchon’s the only place I can remember “callipygian.”
Tuesday, March 28, 2006
Stanislaw Lem, 1921-2006
If you haven’t heard, Stanislaw Lem has died. (I don’t exactly endorse that obituary, which is short on references to his work, and where’s the Olaf Stapledon entry in the ODNB, by the way? How did this happen?)
Lem was perhaps the most intelligent writer I’ve ever read, and a substantial amount of his work remains unavailable in English (with Summa Technologiae being the prime example. I hope that Michael Kandel is able to go forward with his plan to translate it.)
We here at the Valve are planning an informal series of commemorative posts about Lem’s work. If you’d like to contribute, please let me know.
Wednesday, March 15, 2006
Cronenberg as Complete Darwinian
Let us hear from Roger Ebert:
David Cronenberg says his title “A History of Violence” has three levels: It refers (1) to a suspect with a long history of violence; (2) to the historical use of violence as a means of settling disputes, and (3) to the innate violence of Darwinian evolution, in which better-adapted organisms replace those less able to cope. “I am a complete Darwinian,” says Cronenberg, whose new film is in many ways about the survival of the fittest—at all costs.
I taught eXistenZ today and have just watched the aforementioned film, and I don’t think matters are quite as simple as they seem here. My favorite EP argument is that ovulating women prefer rugged, rakish men just then*--perhaps even to the point of straying in hope that a less roguish provider might mistake these wandering rocky genes as his own: The World as Will and General Hospital.
And you could say that A History of Violence illustrates this idea. The trick, however, is that both masculine types are in the same person. As burgher Stall, sex is wholesome reward with cheerleader outfits while the kids are safely engaged in nurturing activities. As thug Cusack, sex is violent thrashing on hard wooden steps. The former’s gratuitous, the latter necessary. (There’s also the matter, mentioned by Ebert, of his son manifesting his genetic violent destiny; but this is an ancillary case.)
The film is adapted from a graphic novel, and this has influenced its style. The characters are similar to the flat and affectless types seen within the gameworlds of eXistenZ, and this is not a criticism of the representative capacity or intellectual depth of the medium (speaking of which, has anyone noticed what short shrift Alan Moore seems to have gotten from reviewers of V for Vendetta? Is this just me?). And this pastel-wash scenery and stilted dialogue reveals the essentially sardonic quality of Cronenberg’s remark. There is no complete Darwinism. Ed Harris’s character speaks with the voice of Teiresian wisdom and is shot in the back for his efforts. Everything that he says about Cusack is true. His wife and family, we have to think, would have been better off listening to him. And they would have, had their acquiescence not been required by the film’s symbolic economy. What Cronenberg means by “complete Darwinian” is cinematic awareness of and clinical detachment from the wretched atavism around every dinner table.
*Penton-Voak IS, Perrett DI, Castles DL, Kobayashi T, Burt DM, Murray LK, Minamisawa R. “Menstrual Cycle Alters Face Preference” Nature 399 (1999): 741-742. (Only one of many.)
Monday, March 13, 2006
The Recreated World: A Research Question
While reading this article about the prospects of a nuclear Iran, I noted that Kennedy estimated the odds of a nuclear war during the Cuban Missile Event as “‘’between 1 in 3 and even.”
Using either that or some other potential apocalypse, can you think of fictional scenarios in which the world is somehow recreated as it would be imagined to be, through simulation technology or similar, and a character recognizes that the true life is absent? Not The Matrix, more like The Man in the High Castle in that the disaster has to be a counterfactual real.
Sunday, March 12, 2006
Zizek’s 24: Jack Bauer is the Agent of Exception
Being neither meet nor fitting that Crooked Timber should outflank us on Zizek commentary/flamewar, I want to redirect your attention to the following item from The Guardian. In particular, note this claim:
It is here that we encounter the series’ ideological lie: in spite of the CTU’s ruthlessness, its agents, especially Bauer, are warm human beings--loving, caught in the emotional dilemmas of ordinary people.
I learned from the wikipedia entry (whose information, I imagine, must have come from the novelizations which I didn’t know existed and really wouldn’t in a more perfect world) that Jack Bauer has an undergraduate degree in English from UCLA. Being about forty years old, his education would have been anti-humanist and theoretical, mind you. Rather than eternal verities, he learned the nihilism and despair central to the literary theory in today’s society. And boy does it show. Bauer is emphatically not a warm human being. All of his relations with other human beings are as compromised as CTU in the beginning of the season. Almost every single point of conflict within the show must be resolved by Bauer being more ruthless than anyone else. Are we to think that he cares at all whether the gun he fires at--what’s his name, Chet?--his daughter’s boyfriend’s head is loaded?
The fourth season appears to be frighteningly reactionary. Any time there’s suspect news, it’s shown on a CNN-lookalike, contrasted to the virile reporting of Fox. The treachery of the defense contractor is just a feeble attempt at ideological balancing, quickly forgotten. There’s a “not all Muslims are terrorists- some are willing to fight defense contractor mercenaries in a post-EMP apocalypse because they love this country” moment. Torture scenarios multiply so rapidly and improbably that the audience cannot expect to maintain a suspension of disbelief. Each of them has a specific emotional correspondence: mother/daughter, father/son, lover/husband, comrade/betrayer. The final resolution comes not through torture but through recognition and understanding (the defense secretary’s son’s revelation of his homosexuality) and then the bargaining of professionals (the eerie femme nikitale who’s previously blown herself out of a plane and shook virulent hands with the president).
Here’s Zizek again:
So what about the response to this hair-splitting? Some argue that at least the US is now more open and less hypocritical about its behaviour towards terrorist suspects. To this, one should reply: “If US representatives mean only this, why are they telling us? Why don’t they silently go on doing it, as they did it until now?” What is proper to human speech is the gap between the enunciated content and its act of enunciation. Imagine a couple who have a tacit agreement that they can have discreet extramarital affairs; if, all of a sudden, the husband openly tells his wife about an affair, she would have good reason to wonder why he was telling her. The act of publicly revealing something is never neutral; it affects the reported content itself.
How about if Bauer is not the homo sacer, precisely, but rather the ordinary office worker? I don’t want to suggest that the entire show is the dramatized fantasy of an imaginative former English major who plays out his all-too ordinary emotional conflicts against a backdrop of romantic national emergency and several bits of the old ultraviolence (though the show’s emphasis on the petty machiavellianism of the office begs for explanation). I mean, who can watch this show and avoid going around saying things like “I have tactical command in the field” when calling to ask what to pick up from the grocery store? The enunciated fantasy content of the series is transformative. Everything’s a ticking time bomb--TPS reports, annual reviews, expense accounts. We won’t gradually fall behind; it’ll end all at once. Not even lycanthropy can save us.