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John Holbo - Editor
Scott Eric Kaufman - Editor
Aaron Bady
Adam Roberts
Amardeep Singh
Andrew Seal
Bill Benzon
Daniel Green
Jonathan Goodwin
Joseph Kugelmass
Lawrence LaRiviere White
Marc Bousquet
Matt Greenfield
Miriam Burstein
Ray Davis
Rohan Maitzen
Sean McCann
Guest Authors

Laura Carroll
Mark Bauerlein
Miriam Jones

Past Valve Book Events

cover of the book Theory's Empire

Event Archive

cover of the book The Literary Wittgenstein

Event Archive

cover of the book Graphs, Maps, Trees

Event Archive

cover of the book How Novels Think

Event Archive

cover of the book The Trouble With Diversity

Event Archive

cover of the book What's Liberal About the Liberal Arts?

Event Archive

cover of the book The Novel of Purpose

Event Archive

The Valve - Closed For Renovation

Happy Trails to You

What’s an Encyclopedia These Days?

Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Intimate Enemies: What’s Opera, Doc?

Alphonso Lingis talks of various things, cameras and photos among them

Feynmann, John von Neumann, and Mental Models

Support Michael Sporn’s Film about Edgar Allen Poe

Philosophy, Ontics or Toothpaste for the Mind

Nazi Rules for Regulating Funk ‘n Freedom

The Early History of Modern Computing: A Brief Chronology

Computing Encounters Being, an Addendum

On the Origin of Objects (towards a philosophy of computation)

Symposium on Graeber’s Debt

The Nightmare of Digital Film Preservation

Richard Petti on Occupy Wall Street: America HAS a Ruling Class

Bill Benzon on Whatwhatwhatwhatwhatwhatwhat?

Nick J. on The Valve - Closed For Renovation

Bill Benzon on Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Norma on Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Bill Benzon on What’s an Object, Metaphysically Speaking?

john balwit on What’s an Object, Metaphysically Speaking?

William Ray on That Shakespeare Thing

Bill Benzon on That Shakespeare Thing

William Ray on That Shakespeare Thing

JoseAngel on That Shakespeare Thing

Bill Benzon on Objects and Graeber's Debt

Bill Benzon on A Dirty Dozen Sneaking up on the Apocalypse

JoseAngel on A Dirty Dozen Sneaking up on the Apocalypse

JoseAngel on Objects and Graeber's Debt

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About Joseph Kugelmass

Joseph Kugelmass blogs at The Kugelmass Episodes. He is a graduate student at the University of California, Irvine. He joined the Valve in September, 2006.

Email Address: kugelmass@me.com
Website: http://kugelmass.wordpress.com/


Posts by Joseph Kugelmass

Friday, February 29, 2008

The Scientistic Fallacy: Peter Kramer, Judith Warner, and the Debate Over Psychiatric Medication

Posted by Joseph Kugelmass on 02/29/08 at 07:06 PM

(x-posted to The Kugelmass Episodes)

For scholars in the humanities, there is no way to avoid reflecting on what’s ahead for the discipline, a question that branches in two directions. First, how do scholars respond to the perception that they need increasing amounts of “hard evidence,” particularly historical evidence and cognitive research, in order to justify their claims? A strange disequilibrium has emerged: scientists who appreciate and cite cultural materials are heralded as Renaissance men, while literary scholars and philosophers who draw upon work from other disciplines are merely being faithful to the necessity of rigor, and saving themselves from laughable kinds of theoretical speculation. Second, what can we do with the expanding field of cultural studies? Its impact has been enormous: it has eroded traditional distinctions between media-specific fields (art history and literary studies, for example) as well as between modes of analysis (e.g. anthropology and “close reading"). What kind of work can cultural studies perform for the culture?

The real value of cultural studies is the revival of the broad study of rhetoric, with the aim of creating a more self-aware culture. A case in point is the current debate over medication prescribed for psychiatric disorders. For years now, one of the most recognizable voices in this debate has been that of Peter Kramer, a psychiatrist who rose to fame after publishing an anxious little volume entitled Listening to Prozac. Listening to Prozac was, essentially, a plea for caution. Kramer was impressed by what he’d seen then-newer antidepressants accomplish for suffering patients, but he was concerned that they would be over-prescribed or used to enforce conformity. Then as now, Kramer used amateur credentials as a lover of culture (he has, among other things, published a novel) to add depth and shading to his claims. Over time, Kramer has responded to the evolving conversation about psychiatric medication by taking on the new critics of antidepressants. Instead of urging us to be cautious about medications like Prozac, he now works to neutralize the perceived threat of books like Charles Barber’s Comfortably Numb: How Psychiatry Is Medicating A Nation.

Judith Warner, writing for The New York Times, recently applauded Kramer’s deeply critical review of Barber, published on Slate. Both Warner and Kramer make extremely poor arguments, arguments whose weaknesses appear to be invisible to them because of their disciplinary confidence and ways of understanding expertise. What is remarkable about both columns is the absolute lack of rhetorical understanding: blindness to the rhetorical function of certain medical practices in the context in a given culture, and a worrisome readiness to ground claims about the culture in irrelevant scientific data. What we need is not Kramer’s misleading “hard evidence,” but rather knowledge of what cultural factors are producing the debate over psychiatric drugs, and a sense of how the discourse can be not “disproven,” but transformed.

Continue reading "The Scientistic Fallacy: Peter Kramer, Judith Warner, and the Debate Over Psychiatric Medication"

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Why Americans Didn’t Watch The Oscars

Posted by Joseph Kugelmass on 02/28/08 at 10:55 PM

(x-posted to The Kugelmass Episodes)

The Oscars mean two things to most Americans. First, it’s a chance to celebrate the most impressive films of the year, from a mainstream point of view. We wash ourselves clean of forgettable trash like Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, and look back (through a series of painfully short and choppy montages) at films that reflected national fears, intoxications, and bouts of moral seriousness. Second, it’s a celebrity parade and fashion event. This year we didn’t need it. Why?

Continue reading "Why Americans Didn’t Watch The Oscars"

Friday, February 08, 2008

Larval Subjects on Pedagogy

Posted by Joseph Kugelmass on 02/08/08 at 03:50 PM

I highly recommend that you check out Sinthome’s response to my tag about teaching. He teaches philosophy, and this remarkable post synthesizes the Socratic value of provocation, alienating others from their habitus, with the healthy alienation and skepticism many of us felt during our own student years—something to which it is hard to remain loyal as teachers.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Talented Mr. Student: Books, Class, and “Passing”

Posted by Joseph Kugelmass on 01/29/08 at 06:02 AM

(x-posted to The Kugelmass Episodes)

This post is a sequel to what I wrote here about teaching literature, and the relationship between literature courses and social class. Readers concerned about the fallout from the conversation may want to read the post here.

Continue reading "The Talented Mr. Student: Books, Class, and “Passing”"

Friday, January 25, 2008

Teaching Literature: The Meme

Posted by Joseph Kugelmass on 01/25/08 at 05:48 PM

(x-posted to The Kugelmass Episodes)

Over at Reassigned Time, Dr. Crazy has written such an odd post that I have to respond in brief. The inspiration for the post was great: why do you teach literature? A White Bear wrote in with some fascinating observations about how her students respond to literature; she has observed them relying on a phony positivity that tries to immediately neutralize texts by applauding them for being conventional, and then applauding them for being different. This leads to several interesting conclusions, such as a) AWB is back and you should read her, and b) it’s a worthwhile question for any teacher to answer. If you happen to be a teacher, perhaps you will answer it in the space provided for comments.

Continue reading "Teaching Literature: The Meme"

Monday, January 14, 2008

In Response to Stanley Fish’s 2nd Post on Justifying the Humanities

Posted by Joseph Kugelmass on 01/14/08 at 07:27 AM

Below the fold, my comments on Fish’s new column on the humanities, available here (and footnoted by our own Bill Benzon here). I also submitted the comment directly to the Times. Thanks to tomemos for the initial link.

Continue reading "In Response to Stanley Fish’s 2nd Post on Justifying the Humanities"

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

In response to Stanley Fish’s “Will The Humanities Save Us?”

Posted by Joseph Kugelmass on 01/08/08 at 05:52 AM

(x-posted to The Kugelmass Episodes)

Bill Benzon calls our attention to a new blog entry by Stanley Fish, posted by The New York Times here.

It is easy to imagine how, after a lifetime of dedicated scholarship, an emeritus professor like Fish might react in frustration against the platitudes in Education’s End, a new book by professor of law Anthony Kronman. Kronman has little to offer us; his vision of college as a place for the “nurturing of those intellectual and moral habits that together form the basis for living the best life one can” is a rhetorically tepid, repackaged version of a pedagogical philosophy shared by many earlier authors, including Matthew Arnold and Michel de Montaigne. Montaigne figures prominently in Alexander Nehamas’s book The Art of Living, which is entirely devoted to the enormous history of this idea within the Western philosophical tradition alone, to say nothing of history, literary studies, or the other constituent disciplines of the humanities.

That said, the banality of Kronman’s prose is no excuse for what Fish has written. Fish ends his post thus:

To the question “of what use are the humanities?”, the only honest answer is none whatsoever. And it is an answer that brings honor to its subject. Justification, after all, confers value on an activity from a perspective outside its performance. An activity that cannot be justified is an activity that refuses to regard itself as instrumental to some larger good. The humanities are their own good. There is nothing more to say, and anything that is said – even when it takes the form of Kronman’s inspiring cadences – diminishes the object of its supposed praise.

The crux of Fish’s argument against literature as an agent of moral self-fashioning goes like this:

If [Kronman’s position] were true, the most generous, patient, good-hearted and honest people on earth would be the members of literature and philosophy departments, who spend every waking hour with great books and great thoughts, and as someone who’s been there (for 45 years) I can tell you it just isn’t so. Teachers and students of literature and philosophy don’t learn how to be good and wise; they learn how to analyze literary effects and to distinguish between different accounts of the foundations of knowledge.

It my sincere belief that this argument is worthless. I hope, when I am finished, that it will be ashamed to show its face again. It is hardly original with Fish; rather, it is everywhere, since it makes scholars in the humanities feel humble and forthright, and it makes people hostile towards the humanities rejoice.

Continue reading "In response to Stanley Fish’s “Will The Humanities Save Us?”"

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Parodying Academic Blogging

Posted by Joseph Kugelmass on 01/05/08 at 06:00 PM

(x-posted to The Kugelmass Episodes)

Dear readers,

In the spirit of the wonderful MLAde 2007, produced by two very funny UC Irvine grad students and distributed, guerrilla-style, around the conference, I’m pleased to present this parody of academic blogging, entitled “My Story.”

Continue reading "Parodying Academic Blogging"

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

The Best and Worst of Intellectual Blogs 2007

Posted by Joseph Kugelmass on 12/25/07 at 04:26 AM

(x-posted to The Kugelmass Episodes)

Uncollected thoughts on the year in academic, political, and cultural writing online. 

Continue reading "The Best and Worst of Intellectual Blogs 2007"

Thursday, December 20, 2007

The Feminist Bookstore video and Yes Means Yes

Posted by Joseph Kugelmass on 12/20/07 at 08:45 PM

That prankster Jessica Valenti, of Feministing, is back at it (in the aftermath of her book Full Frontal Feminism) with an essay collection in progress entitled Yes Means Yes. As sometimes happens, I’ve been busier writing comments than posting; you can read the ongoing discussion at tekanji’s Shrub Blog.

Hat tip to Truly Outrageous for a link to Carrie Brownstein’s hilarious performance in the Feminist Bookstore video, which, if you have any contact with New Age culture—and you know you do—you’re bound to enjoy.

Monday, December 17, 2007

A Colder Eye: Yeats, Radiohead, and the Economies of Late Style

Posted by Joseph Kugelmass on 12/17/07 at 08:15 PM

(x-posted to The Kugelmass Episodes)

On Radiohead’s new album, In Rainbows, William Butler Yeats, and the move away from science fiction and fantasy in their later works. 

Continue reading "A Colder Eye: Yeats, Radiohead, and the Economies of Late Style"

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Watching I’m Not There

Posted by Joseph Kugelmass on 12/05/07 at 01:35 AM

(x-posted to The Kugelmass Episodes)

Several nights ago, I had the pleasure of watching I’m Not There, the new Bob Dylan movie that excited everyone so much because of the prospect of seeing Cate Blanchett in drag, talking to Allen “David Cross” Ginsburg.

The film was initially a gigantic disappointment. I came away bitter about it, largely because I wasn’t prepared for the kind of experimenting involved. While I knew that Dylan would be played by several different actors, and assumed there would be stylistic differences between each thread, I was still looking for a biopic capable of explaining how Dylan produced so much great music. I have always loved origin stories more than any other part of grand narratives; Issue #1 is consistently my favorite. I like to study how people and their literary doubles become what they are.

Rather than give us any inkling into the creative processes at work in Dylan’s music, the film is really Dylan’s requiem, which is strange considering that Dylan is still alive. 

Continue reading "Watching I’m Not There"

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Ratatouille, continued

Posted by Joseph Kugelmass on 11/15/07 at 05:32 AM

(x-posted to The Kugelmass Episodes)

(Bill’s original post on the film is here.)

I am melancholy to think of the moment in which this gorgeous, sunset-toned film appears. Every frame of it is washed in romantic pastels, an opulence that alone made it worthwhile to me. To the extent that the film has a point, it is a diatribe against criticism, except under particular circumstances that the film itself memorably defines—when the critic risks himself in defense of something new. 

Continue reading "Ratatouille, continued"

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

ACLA 2008: Literary Character at the Threshold of the City

Posted by Joseph Kugelmass on 11/14/07 at 09:00 PM

Dear readers,

The comparativists among you may want to consider joining me for a seminar at this year’s American Comparative Literature Association conference, in the gritty, glamorous city they call Long Beach.

My seminar is “Literary Character at the Threshold of the City,” and the description is here, along with links to the online application and conference info. The deadline for submissions has been extended to December 3.

If you are presenting a paper or hosting a seminar yourself, and want to meet up, drop me a line at josephkugelmass (at) gmail (dot) com. I definitely want to organize a get-together in the name of the blogosphere.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Zizek the Embarrassment

Posted by Joseph Kugelmass on 11/09/07 at 04:16 AM

(x-posted to The Kugelmass Episodes)

“Resistance is Surrender”
Headline of Slavoj Zizek’s new article for The London Review of Books

There is a telling moment in the film Zizek! where Zizek discusses his own books, and says that his favorite works are the ones where he manages to consider the philosophical tradition most deeply, such as Tarrying With The Negative. Although all of Zizek’s books contain analyses of popular culture and programmatic political speculation, the quarrels that he has personally found most productive have been within the long historical traditions of philosophical debate over dialectics, consciousness, subjectivity, and the way the world becomes manifest through experience. Meanwhile, believing himself capable of discussing the political issues of the day in a clear and accessible manner, Zizek has written political op-eds for a number of publications, including The New York Times, the UK Guardian, and The London Review of Books. These columns are a curious blend of agit-prop and academic exposition; while some of Zizek’s references remain bewildering to readers unacquainted with postmodern political theory, he clearly intends to write transparently and to inspire action.

In the process, he has become an embarrassment to academics and to the Left, even though, admittedly, he has never resorted to reminiscing about Frank Sinatra and Ted Williams. His newest piece, re-posted numerous places around the web, is an endorsement of Hugo Chavez that supposedly comes at the expense of the Left, which, Zizek maintains, colludes with the status quo in secret.

Continue reading "Zizek the Embarrassment"
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