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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 Sean McCann

Sean McCann is Associate Professor of English at Wesleyan University.

Email Address: smccann@wesleyan.edu


Posts by Sean McCann

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Against Respect

Posted by Sean McCann on 11/01/05 at 01:02 PM

As Henry Farrell notes, Walter Benn Michaels’s essay on “The Neoliberal Imagination” in the current N+1 is not to be missed. (Short version here.) Henry points out that Michaels’s essay is a brilliant rejoinder to the false meritocracy of the contemporary right. True. But it’s also of interest for anyone who follows the depressing spectacle of academic politics or the fashions of contemporary lit. By Michaels’s lights, there’s more than a little resemblance between the positions of our most prominent culture warriors. 

Continue reading "Against Respect"

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Unpolitical Animals

Posted by Sean McCann on 10/18/05 at 08:45 AM

Via Brad DeLong, Christopher Lehman laments the low quality of American political fiction.  Some of the details are wrong, but the big picture seems right to me.  American lit loathes politics.

hmmmm . . . either the permalinks are screwed up or I am.  Scroll down to Willie Stark.

Monday, October 10, 2005


Posted by Sean McCann on 10/10/05 at 02:02 PM

It’s not sex, but it’s one of those words that probably plugs directly into the limbic system.  The news that Daniel Drezner has been denied tenure will no doubt be rocketing around the blogosphere, encouraging sympathy for Drezner and a variety of other emotions--anxiety among those who hope for but haven’t yet obtained the sinecure; contempt for the institution among those whose working lives make the whole concept foreign; and some mixed emotions among those of us who, like me, have been treated well by the academic lottery.  It might be a good occasion too to take up again the question of what tenure is good for and whether it’s still good for it. 

Continue reading "Tenure"

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

All Sorel’s Fault

Posted by Sean McCann on 09/28/05 at 11:37 AM

Mulling over Zizek’s absurd theory of revolution and Foucault’s fascination with “the enigma of revolt” I was struck by how indebted to Sorel they both seem and with the continuing purchase in the academic literary mind of Sorelian attitudes. 

Continue reading "All Sorel’s Fault"

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Political Spirituality

Posted by Sean McCann on 09/15/05 at 11:15 AM

I’ve been reading Foucault and the Iranian Revolution by Janet Afary and Kevin B. Anderson, and the picture it paints is not pretty.

Continue reading "Political Spirituality"

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Kabbalah to Nowhere

Posted by Sean McCann on 09/14/05 at 06:01 AM

In addition to being an impressive novelist, Coetzee looks to be a damn fine critic.  A few months ago, he reviewed in the NYRB the whole corpus of Faulkner biographies.  If memory serves, it was both a generous essay and one that took apart some of the superstitions of biography with a scalpel.

In the current issue, Coetzee brings the same discrimination to recent Whitman scholarship.  (Not on line, alas.) I don’t know that my sense of Whitman is changed by reading it, but Coetzee writes with enviable concision and lucidity.  It would be hard not to see W as an impressive personage, of course.  But in a few pages, Coetzee makes him more vivid and memorable than anything I’ve encountered in a while. 

Continue reading "Kabbalah to Nowhere"

Monday, August 29, 2005

Harmless History

Posted by Sean McCann on 08/29/05 at 03:59 PM

I think the first time The Plot against America came up here at the Valve was in a comment responding to Scott’s intriguing “Crypto-Communist Conflagration” post.  Scott’s point, if I understood it correctly, was that the genre of “alternative history” fiction, like some versions of marxisant cultural politics, manages both to repudiate and mimic the great man theory of history because it sometimes imagines that single consequential actions can utterly alter the course of events.  In response, Prof. Synecdoche pointed to Roth’s novel as an alternate history especially true to the form.  It has in Lindbergh a great man of a sort (and perhaps other, morally as opposed to historically, great men as well), and by leading the U.S. toward fascism, he dramatically reshapes the destiny of the nation. 

Except he doesn’t really.  (Warning: spoilers below fold.)

Continue reading "Harmless History"

Monday, August 08, 2005

Lament for the Ad Hominem

Posted by Sean McCann on 08/08/05 at 07:42 PM

I’m sure my colleagues at the Valve and readers alike feel like Michael Corleone right now. Just when they thought they were out, I drag them back in. My apologies to all for an unwise post.

I’ve disabled further comments and will disable comments to this post.  I hope we can have more generous discussions on other posts and elsewhere.

Hymns in Ad Hominem

Posted by Sean McCann on 08/08/05 at 11:52 AM

New evidence that William Pannapacker (as described here) leapt too soon to his air of mild disappointment.  Alphonse van Worden suggests that complaints against Theory are a variant of anti-semitism.  Mark Kaplan calls it stupid careerism and tainted by “a rightest agenda." Jodi Dean adds that current criticism of Theory just manages to conceal its past racism, misogyny, and homophobia.  Doesn’t matter if you think otherwise because “no matter what one intends, one’s position can be allied and is generally allied in ways beyond one’s choosing": if you’re a critic of Theory you’re perforce in the current of, or in the context of, or, what the heck, just conservative and anti-intellectual.


Update.  New comments are disabled, but the old have not been deleted and can be found by clicking on the permanent link jump.

Friday, August 05, 2005

There Be Monsters; or, Rosa Parks: Not Psychotic

Posted by Sean McCann on 08/05/05 at 07:48 AM

I hope that title grabbed you and will persuade you to ruminate for a second over a dry question or two: was Jacques Derrida an apocalyptic thinker? And, if so, why should we care?

Continue reading "There Be Monsters; or, Rosa Parks: Not Psychotic"

Thursday, August 04, 2005

. . .  and Junky Aesthetics

Posted by Sean McCann on 08/04/05 at 11:57 AM

I just came across a long, elegant essay by Eric Griffiths about Burroughs in the July 22 issue of the TLS (archives for subscribers only).  Though strikingly intelligent, it’s a disconcerting piece, apparently motivated by both thoughtful and sympathetic interest in the whole Burroughs oeuvre and by a stern sense of Burroughs’s moral failings.  For Griffiths, Burroughs is less the satirist he’s sometimes taken to be than a Gulliver himself—fascinating and comic, but also a smug visionary

Continue reading " . . .  and Junky Aesthetics"

Junk Aesthetics . . .

Posted by Sean McCann on 08/04/05 at 08:26 AM

Reading John’s posts about Vernor Vinge, John Crowley, and some of the problems of genre reminded me of a work of criticism I . . .  well, cherish would be too strong a word.  Thomas Robert’s study An Aesthetics of Junk Fiction is a book for which I feel a deep affection, one only strengthened by what seems sadly to be Roberts’s unfair, but entirely predictable neglect.

Continue reading "Junk Aesthetics . . ."

Friday, July 29, 2005

Culture, like booze (and still a public good)

Posted by Sean McCann on 07/29/05 at 02:54 PM

John Quiggin makes the excellent suggestion that we put away the romantic conception of art as “the immortal and transcendent product of individual genius, free from and superior to, all social restraints” and replace it with an older meaning of the term. 

let’s agree that in most areas of human endeavour, things can be done with skill and effort, in a way that will only be fully appreciated by someone who has themselves put in a fair amount of effort, or they can be done in a cheap and superficially appealing way, and that the latter will often succeed in the market. Until about the beginning of the 19th century, the term ‘art’ was used in relation to the first way of doing things, with no particular restriction. We still speak of the “Vintner’s Art for example.

Quiggin’s thought is that we should continue to do so, and that we shouldn’t necessarily think of painting, or music, or literature any differently.

Continue reading "Culture, like booze (and still a public good)"

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

I Owe Stanley Fish an Apology

Posted by Sean McCann on 07/26/05 at 09:20 AM

Post in haste, repent at leisure.  When, rushing out the house, I tossed up a response to Stanley Fish’s op-ed last week, I foolishly didn’t expect it to generate much discussion or that it would lead us into the deep waters John’s recent posts have been exploring.  Nor did I give either Fish’s op-ed or my post as much thought as I should have and hence miscommunicated some of Fish’s central claims.  Yet another example of the perils of the blogosphere.

Continue reading "I Owe Stanley Fish an Apology"

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Fish Again

Posted by Sean McCann on 07/19/05 at 06:25 AM

Stanley Fish continues his domination of the public sphere with yet another op-ed in the NY Times today.  It’s of interest in these parts because, in an unsuccessful effort to have something new to say about Supreme Court appointments, Fish makes heavy weather of the argument made by Against Theory.  In fact, Fish all but directly quotes the book’s renowned central example.  Here’s Fish’s reprise of Knapp and Michaels’s hypothetical of the sea tossing up a line from “A Slumber Did My Spirit Seal”:

The problem is that there is no such object [as what is simply “said” by a text like the Constitution]. Suppose you’re looking at a rock formation and see in it what seems to be the word “help.” You look more closely and decide that, no, what you are seeing is an effect of erosion, random marks that just happen to resemble an English word. The moment you decide that nature caused the effect, you will have lost all interest in interpreting the formation, because you no longer believe that it has been produced intentionally, and therefore you no longer believe that it’s a word, a bearer of meaning.

Myself, I’m a Walter Benn Michaels partisan.  But even I can see that in the piece included in TE John Searle deals a devastating blow to Knapp and Michaels’s argument, as John does in his Poetics and Problematics essay. 

Continue reading "Fish Again"
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