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The Valve - A Literary Organ | Arguments about Higher Eclecticism, as Illustrated by Two Paintings with One Name

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Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Arguments about Higher Eclecticism, as Illustrated by Two Paintings with One Name

Posted by Scott Eric Kaufman on 04/26/06 at 09:26 PM

[What follows is a version of my initial response to the Spivak event.  It seemed inappropriate earlier.  I lacked the time to edit my complaints constructively last week, and still do.  But I post them nonetheless, if only to deflate some preposterous claims forwarded elsewhere.  I hide it all below the fold since it likely bores the lot of you.  That said, it contains many pretty pictures, which we can discuss in isolation from the silly words which surround them.  This will, however, be my final word on the matter.]

Caravaggio, “Doubting Thomas"

image

Mark Tansey, “Doubting Thomas"

image

As I read Spivak’s “Scattered Speculation,” I thought it strange that this text was forwarded as a counter-example.  How could it not be considered highly eclectic?  In tone and diction; in the allusive style of its argument; in its constant quotations from the traditional roster thinkers associated with what I’d call Theory, I could hardly think of a more illustrative example of the form.  I was baffled.  So I devised some scenarios. 

What some thought would happen:

As everyone surrounded the figure they believed Jesus reanimate, I required solid evidence.  I would have to pluck the wound.  Once done, the other apostles would be proven correct.  Our faith would become fact.  Spivak would not be an example of Higher Eclecticism once I engaged her work seriously.

What actually happened:

As I stood in the middle road, I could not believe that ground had opened beneath our wheels.  I had been a passenger, brought to this fissure by another, and she seemed unconcerned.  Unbelieving.  She stared at me, hand on shifter, oblivious to the altered rock face behind her.  She would never believe what had happened.  She would insist that Spivak was not an example of Higher Eclecticism despite abundant geological evidence to the contrary.

In truth, she would floor the accelerator and wax triumphant when she reached her destination.  “Could you imagine such idiocy?” she would say, sip her drink, then add “He’s probably still out there trying to convince people of the existence of tectonic events.” She would not be incorrect.  I would be out there.  Perhaps some friends and I would wander interstates, pulling over on occasion to open our eyes:

As we could plainly see from the interstate, the rock now residing in that striped mountainside had once been brutally shoved around—shoved, not pulled, and with such force that a large part of it had been tipped up more than ninety degrees, to and well beyond the vertical.  Overturned.  Such violence can happen on an epic scale.  There is an entire nation in Europe that is upside down.

Because what is plainly there requires no faith, only observation.  More importantly, it never requires the faith I’ll never have.  Witness the limited, canonical field of theorists Spivak cited: Althusser, Benjamin, Deleuze, de Man, Derrida, Freud, Habermas (but only to dismiss), Jameson, Lacan, La Capra, Lyotard, Marx, Negri, Nietzsche, and Saussure.  Were I to have hypothesized that such a representative essay existed, I would have been shouted down, compelled to present evidence of my outrageous claim.  And yet there it is in an essay chosen to disprove the existence of essays of the very sort it is.

As to the style of argumentation, I cannot top Spivak herself.  In the midst of a technical if analogical discussion of how Marx’s word/reality relates to Saussure’s signifier/signified, she notes, parenthetically, that “if this were a technical discussion where it was necessary to respect the specificity of the vocabulary of linguistics, I would not of course, equate word/reality and signifier/signified” (83).  That she notes parenthetically that she will not do precisely what she has just done is bad enough.  That she immediately does it again sends my head spinning:

It is certainly of interest that, using a necessarily post-monetary notion of Value-in-exchange, which must suggest that “political economy [is]...concerned with a system of equivalence...[between a specific] labor and [a specific] wage,” Saussure shows us that, even in the mother tongue, it is the work of difference that rermains originary, that even as it is the most “native,” language is always already “foreign,” that even in its “incorporeal essense,” “the linguistic signifier...[is] constituted not by its material substance but only by the differences that separate its acoustic image from others” (83).

I’ll explain why I emphasized the phrase “of interest” momentarily.  For the moment, I merely want to point to the style of argumentation here, one which I think typical of Higher Eclecticism.  The initial disavowal—"if this were a technical discussion where it was necessary to respect the specificity of the vocabulary of linguistics, I would not of course, equate word/reality and signifier/signified"—implies Spivak possesses the ability to deploy, in a sophisticated fashion, the vocabulary of linguistics with technical specificity while simultaneously unburdening her of the responsibility to do so.  Which she then does, in the next sentence, now that it allows her to appear to argue her point with more rhetorical force.  I say “appear to argue” because she refuses to own her point.  It is merely a thing “of interest.”

Not that I should be surprised, as earlier in the paragraph she claimed that “Attention to Marx’s concept-metaphor of the foreign language is interesting here” (83).  Marx’s actual concept is not of interest, the “attention” Spivak will pay to it is.  Some may say that I am paying too much attention to her language and not enough to her argument.  Fair enough.  But the same people will at other times speak to the inviolability of form and content or style and substance.  If it is true in other cases, it must at the very least be considered plausible in this one.  Does the style of her argument alter its content?  Should I not take her at her word when she characterizes her language as “careful” (92)? 

What should I make of the fact that, despite not discussing the objects of literary criticism, she continually refers back to what other “literary critics” or “literary academics” think about these issues?  Should I note that the implied audience of “Scattered Speculations” and the actual audience of this event are not only different, but that one half of the latter denies that any such connections exist?  Or that the same half insists that they are bored by considerations of how the audience she addresses, implicitly and explicitly, reacts to her work?  That would mean that evaluations of Spivak’s works depended on ignoring the words she writes, the arguments in which she frames them and the horizon of expectations embedded in both. 

To claim that a higher eclecticism is not present in this text denudes it of meaning.  The only option is, as Jon has suggested, to find a coherent or tenably incoherent means of defending what Holbo calls “higher,” Jon “low-down and dirty” eclecticism. 

One cannot continue to deny that it is not a style.  One cannot continue to claim that critics of that style actually engage in an unthinking dismissal of difficulty disguised as an intellectual complaint.  And one cannot continue to intimate, in the absence of supporting evidence, and in the face of abundant evidence to the contrary, that the dismissal of the thought-qua-thought is a crypto-dismissal of a race or a gender or a sexual orientation by these parties.  Perhaps others dismiss them on such grounds.  No one participating in this debate has.  No one participating in these debates would even think to.  [Edited to eliminate some confusion about who claimed what.]

All of which is only to say, to return with unplanned poetry to where I began, that, pace Caravaggio and Tansey, I see the future of these discussions thus:


Comments

At times someone is so wrong the only thing to say is, “No.” This is one of those times.

No, Scott Eric Kaufman, no.

By on 04/26/06 at 11:03 PM | Permanent link to this comment

At least regarding the first few paragraphs.

By on 04/26/06 at 11:43 PM | Permanent link to this comment

No, Anthony, no. At least regarding those first two comments.

By John Holbo on 04/26/06 at 11:46 PM | Permanent link to this comment

[I know I also posted the following comment at Acephalous.  But it seems worth saying here, too, especially given the motivation and words erroneously imputed to me.]

Scott, two points, mainly in so far as your post bears on my role in the past week or two:

1) I don’t see exactly why you think the essay was chosen to “disprove” the Higher Eclecticism. The essay was chosen, rather, as a common text around which the concept could be explained and debated. As I noted, in my call for contributions, when I suggested this particular essay above all, it actually would seem rather handy for those who wished to advance the thesis of such a “Higher Eclecticism.” In short, then, the point of choosing the text was rather the opposite of what you state.

(This was not the only reason the text was chosen, of course, but the other reasons have little or nothing to do with “Higher Eclecticism.")

2) Then you say that I personally have “suggested [the project] to find a coherent or tenably incoherent means of defending higher eclecticism.” Not so. Most of all in that I have still little idea of what “higher eclecticism” is. Rather, I’ve proposed a defence of eclecticism. And put forward the beginnings of one in, now, a number of places. Most recently, I’ve termed this a “lowdown and dirty” eclecticism.

Moreover, it should be obvious that, contra the implication of your paragraph that mentions me, I have at no point thought to defend (coherently or otherwise) “an unthinking dismissal of difficulty disguised as an intellectual complaint.”

By Jon on 04/27/06 at 12:08 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Oh, I am so breaking my own rule by commenting.

But Scott -

For the moment, I merely want to point to the style of argumentation here, one which I think typical of Higher Eclecticism.  The initial disavowal—"if this were a technical discussion where it was necessary to respect the specificity of the vocabulary of linguistics, I would not of course, equate word/reality and signifier/signified"—implies Spivak possesses the ability to deploy, in a sophisticated fashion, the vocabulary of linguistics with technical specificity while simultaneously unburdening her of the responsibility to do so.  Which she then does, in the next sentence, now that it allows her to appear to argue her point with more rhetorical force.  I say “appear to argue” because she refuses to own her point.  It is merely a thing “of interest.”

It’s an interesting example for you to pick. Because you’re trying to nail her for performing a perfectly Saussurian move - a move that is in fact inevitable if you buy the Saussurian model of language - in her usage of Saussure.

By CR on 04/27/06 at 12:12 AM | Permanent link to this comment

CR is BACK!  YEAH!!

By on 04/27/06 at 02:47 AM | Permanent link to this comment

CR, I’m telling...CR on you.  I’m really not trying to “nail” Spivak on anything in this, only point out that that it adheres, nearly perfectly, to the style John’s called “higher eclecticism.” People have denied, repeatedly, too often to link to, that John’s argument addresses no one, and that there’s nothing to his claim.  The essay demonstrates that there is, in fact, quite a lot to his claim.  All of which is only to say, that I’m not talking about the content of her statements about Saussure, but the rhetorical apparatus around them.  I’m not sure how denying that one is going to be technical only to be technical in the very next sentence is “a perfectly Saussurian move.” It plays into the “I’m an expert” but “my expertise isn’t limited to a single discipline” dynamic.  And that may be a valid one.  I think what Anthony and Jon and, perhaps, you don’t realize is that I’m merely being descriptive here.  I mean what I say in that last paragraph: proponents of higher eclecticism need to defend it instead of denying its existence or claiming it’s a false model of a particular style of thought.  It does and it isn’t.  I think the more productive conversation to have at this point would involve a defense of higher eclecticism, which is, in fact, a defensible model.  (So says the guy whose dissertation dips into sociological, biological, neurological and historical waters.)

Jon, now you see why I didn’t formulate a post based on my original notes.  The event took a different turn, and what I took to be the point--to demonstrate the validity or invalidity of John’s term via a group reading of a particular text--wasn’t the point and I didn’t have time to do a massive re-think of it.  So I bowed out, and would’ve stayed bowed out, were it not for Adam’s ridiculous triumphalism, one which amounted to, really, “the Long Sunday folk were more enthusiastic, therefore this thing called higher eclecticism doesn’t exist and we don’t have to talk about it anymore.” Nonsense.  The fact that the event turned in a different direction has no bearing on the stylistic qualities of the text being discussed.  But out of respect for the fact that people seemed to want to talk about it differently, to move in a different direction, I demured. 

Anthony, I’m not sure which few of the “first few” paragraphs distress you, but as to the majority of the post, I was careful only to demonstrate what she did without judging her, favorably or otherwise, for doing them.  If the stuff about the paintings bothered you, well, I apologize, but Adam’s post bothered me, so I saw no reason we all shouldn’t bother each other.  That said, I don’t think I painted an unflattering characterization of either side except on the issue of the existence/non-existence of the style John’s dubbed higher eclecticism.  It exists, and it exists in a way different from the way that proof of Christ’s divinity exists. 

Plus, I mean, we’re all in the same boat, no?

By Scott Eric Kaufman on 04/27/06 at 02:45 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Did Tansey ever paint a picture of a cow looking at a painting of a cow? The Safe Vision Test or something? I think it was at the Met. Or am I thinking of someone else. I realize that this is insanely off topic but this has been bugging me for a while…

By on 04/27/06 at 03:02 PM | Permanent link to this comment

1) Scott, yes, events took a different turn.  But, again, you grossly mischaracterize the original intent when you suggest that Spivak’s essay was chosen to “disprove” the existence of the so-called “Higher Eclecticism.”

2) Again, you grossly mischaracterize what I’ve said when you declare that I suggest the need to defend a “Higher Eclecticism.”

John had the chance to work through his argument about higher eclecticism in this event.  He chose not to.  As I’ve said repeatedly, that’s just fine by me. 

Meanwhile, now you say, in effect: in answer to the question “what is higher eclecticism,” all that’s required is to touch the wounds, feel it, see it, in Spivak’s essay.  It requires no faith, “only observation.” For, behold, it is “highly eclectic.”

This, of course, immediately before your claim that Spivak draws only on a “limited, canonical field” of theorists.  I.e. not so very eclectic at all!  C’mon, Scott, that’s ridiculous, you can’t have it both ways.  I think this is the confusion in Rich’s original reaction, which tried to argue both that she was too disciplinary and insufficiently so.

Meanwhile, more recently John has stated that it’s not the eclecticism that bothers him, but the “higher.” Which is the most bemusing part of this whole so-called concept.  And it doesn’t help me when, again, you translate “higher” as “highly.”

Whatever.  I just wish that, as you have like John recovered your annoyance, you wouldn’t traduce what I have said and done for the sake of your own disputes with Adam.

Except, and here is perhaps a question that Adam could come in on: I’ve always taken the story of Thomas to be about proving Christ’s mortality, not his divinity.  Thomas is to touch Jesus’s wounds as proof that he did suffer, did die, like any other mortal.

By Jon on 04/27/06 at 03:06 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Oh, and the following, which in your post it is implied that I want to defend, doesn’t seem much like mere description.  I don’t know what it is, as I have little idea what you mean, and at times can’t even work out the grammar, however much you declare that it’s just a list of truths universally acknowledged:

“One cannot continue to claim that [the higher eclecticism] is naught but an unthinking dismissal of difficulty disguised as an intellectual complaint.  And one cannot continue to intimate, in the absence of supporting evidence, and in the face of abundant evidence to the contrary, that the dismissal of the thought-qua-thought is a crypto-dismissal of a race or a gender or a sexual orientation by these parties. “

By Jon on 04/27/06 at 03:13 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I wouldn’t be surprised.  His “History of Modernism,” which I can’t seem to find online, has in its final panel a giant chicken staring in a mirror on the steps of a coop, so I don’t think a cow staring at a painting of a cow is out of the question.  It wasn’t, however, at the recent Tansey exhibit out here.  (I say “recent,” but it was probably three or four years ago.)

By Scott Eric Kaufman on 04/27/06 at 03:24 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Guess what: it’s called “The Innocent Eye Test.”

The only thing I could find on the chicken-looking-in-a-mirror one is this Times’ article from ‘82: http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9903E1D61639F936A35752C1A964948260

In a triptych called ‘’A Short History of Modern Painting,’’ for instance, a woman hosing down a window is a metaphor for Impressionism cleansing traditional painting. A man butting his head against a brick wall represents formalism and other modes that are, so to speak, only skin deep. And a hen looking at herself in a mirror symbolizes Conceptualism and performance art, which, in the artist’s words, take place ‘’in front of the surface,’’ or are reflected by it.

Also a propos this discussion: “Derrida Queries de Man”

And, hey, didn’t Tansey do the cover for the Norton Anthology of Literary Theory and Criticism? Are you sure you’re not secretly fond of the “other side,” Scott?

By on 04/27/06 at 03:37 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Let me just say that I approve this message. Scott seems to me exactly right about all the points he makes in this post. Spivak is a pretty darn good poster child for ‘Higher Eclecticism’, for what it’s worth. The discussion on Long Sunday didn’t really focus on that, which is fine - no accounting for taste. But, as Scott says, he and I have trouble seeing how discussions which defend Spivak without addressing the sorts of points he raises in this post can really be interesting. It really is as simple as that. Adam is right that there was a great deal of enthusiasm for Spivak. A large mass of discussion was generated. But it has never been part of my critique of Theory that Higher Eclecticism is inconsistent with people generating large chunks of verbiage. Quite the contrary. So it seems to be a bit weird, to say the least, to try to settle the debate by sheer force of weight. Obviously Adam and co. will reply that what they think is decisive is the brilliance of the defense of Spivak against the lazy charge of eclecticism. Which brings us round again. As Scott says, the denial that she is a Higher Eclectic, per se, seems a perverse denial of the obvious. What would be more interesting would be hashing out how her being interesting or worth reading is still somehow consistent with this obvious fact. But that’s a discussion yet to take place. Why is Spivak’s penchant for not owning her own points, per Scott’s post, a good thing rather than a bad thing? Why is patomiming ‘carefulness’, without providing it, an effective philosophical strategy? It isn’t even that I can’t imagine serious answers to these questions that don’t attempt - implausibly - to deny their presuppositions. But I would like Spivak’s defenders to make the attempt. (Of course, if Spivak’s own procedure is fine, then no doubt defenses of Spivak which exhibit what Scott and I regard as grave intellectual faults are fine and virtuous as well. Then we get to the point where no discussion is possible. Well, perhaps that’s where we will end up, because perhaps that is where we belong. Not very satisfactory, however.)

By John Holbo on 04/27/06 at 03:40 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Jon, “disprove” is probably the wrong word.  “Discuss” would probably be better; however, from my perspective, the denial that such eclecticism exists was one of the motivations for the event.  Again, thinking back to the original conversation, in which everyone wanted 1) a definition of it and 2) proof of its existence.

A couple of quick notes: yes, the grammar in that sentence gets a little spastic and could use revision.  I actually meant to say that “one cannot dismiss those who point to the existence of higher eclecticism by claiming they shy away from difficulty.” I meant, therefore, the exact opposite of what the parallelism I set up suggested.  Sorry about that. 

However, I should say I’m not indicting you for wanting to defend “higher eclecticism,” so much as saying that the conversation would most fruitfully proceed as a defense of the presence of such eclecticism. 

And yes, Spivak’s essay is highly eclectic in what I’d consider a predictable fashion; namely, that she does cite a particular canon of thinkers.  There’s no contradiction there, either, since what I’m saying is that lots of people quote the same group of eclectic thinkers that Spivak does.  Just because there’s a roster doesn’t mean it can’t be eclectic.  It is “highly” eclectic in that it incorporates Marxist thinkers, psychoanalysts, linguists, &c.  That’s an eclectic group of thinkers.  It’s “higher” in the sense that the rhetoric and tone is often haughty and dismissive of what it considers retrograde thought.  It can be, and I think is demonstrably, both.  I don’t mind the “highly eclectic” characteristic, obviously, but I could do without the “higher.”

Think of it--sorry, it’s April--like a baseball team.  It’s racially eclectic, and yet still a team.  When I refer to, say, the Mets, I refer to them as a group despite said group being racially eclectic.  Analogously, I could talk about Team Theory, and it’d star the folks Spivak cited, as well as a couple others.  They’re an eclectic lot, but they’re all still on Team Theory.  That’s what I mean when I say the limited canon of theorists are highly eclectic.

By Scott Eric Kaufman on 04/27/06 at 03:41 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Jon: “I think this is the confusion in Rich’s original reaction, which tried to argue both that she was too disciplinary and insufficiently so.”

And here I am again.  My contention, briefly, was that she engaged with what was basically a wide-ranging economic problem, in connection with which she cited nearly every major Theorist, and perhaps two Marxist economists.  So yes, both too disciplinary and insufficently so, in the typically hegemonic Theory way that says that only thoughts about text are important, even when text isn’t really your subject.

And now that dismissal has come up yet again, and I’m already typing… There have been many, many theories about “dismissal” in connection with this symposium, as in, why do some people dismiss Spivak’s essay?  The comment thread to this post provides most of them.  (I recommend the thread to other interested readers, BTW, as representative.)

Was it was a dismissal of difficulty, in which people dismissed Spivak because they couldn’t understand her?  Perhaps not; to quote Jodi: “difficulty is not the issue--it seems a different kind of dismissal, one possibly linked to sex and race, one that doesn’t want to hear/acknowledge some voices”.  So difficulty becomes a code word for something else. (az had already made the connection to dismissal because of sexuality.) Then you suggested, in a paragraph that alludes to all of these possibilities, that John’s dislike of her “style” prevents him from reading Spivak seriously.  (Which, since you kept “style” in scare quotes, is also a code word—or perhaps not.  Nicely ambiguous.  But I’ll assume you meant style instead of “style”.) Another interested blogger (sorry, I’m tired of linking) suggested that because John wasn’t a Marxist, he of course had to dismiss Spivak’s work, since it is Marxist.

So many theories!  And so little evidence of actual reading.  You wrote, just after your response, that “[...] speaking personally, I’m not that interested in a protracted reading of John’s post. I don’t see it as being particularly productive for what I, at least, am trying to do.”

But you know that he didn’t address her work seriously, because he didn’t like her “style”.  Right?

Now, if you’d like to engage with Scott in this post, I’d suggest maybe reading more about the Higher Eclecticism.  It’s not like that much has ever been written about it.  A quick Google reveals:

First apparent mention

Re-explanation

Another attempt

And a draft

A parody (but serious discussion in comments)

Google shows scattered comments and so on, but that’s pretty much it.  No need to read through the entire Holbonic texts, just text search for “eclecticism”. 

Ah, I’ll make it easier and just go quote from what appears to be the first mention:

“A nice passage from Valentine Cunningham’s Reading After Theory which appears in Theory’s Empire:

‘Theorists have indeed managed to pull off what is, by any standards, an astounding coup, or trick; have managed to wedge together a great many various subjects, concerns, directions, impulses, persuasions and activities that are going on in and around literature, and squeeze them all under the one large sheltering canopy of ‘Theory’. They have managed to compel so many divergent wings of what they call Theory under the one roof, persuaded so many sectional variants of interpretative work to sink their possible differences around a common conference table, in the one seminar with the sign Theory on its door. So while setting their faces, usually, against Grand Narratives and Keys to All Mythologies, as delusive and imperialist, and all that, Theorists have managed to erect that Grandest Narrative of all – Theory – the greatest intellectual colonizer of all time. How this wheeze was pulled off, how you can have the political and the personal subjects of literature – representations of selfhood and class and genre and race: the outside-concerns, the outward look of writing, the descriptive and documentary, the reformist intentions and the ideological instrumentality of writing – envisioned and envisionable as absolutely part and parcel of the often quite opposite and contradictory functions of writing – the merely formal, or the technically linguistic, or (as often) a deeply inward, world-denying, aporetic writing activity – rather defies ordinary logic. Foundationalism and anti-foundationalism, shall we say roughly the Marxist reading on the one hand, and the deconstructionist on the other, make awkward bed-partners, you might think. But Theory deftly marries them off, or at least has them more or less cheerfully all registered as guests in the same hotel room. (p. 27-8)’

But no. This is a plainly inaccurate account of what excites some and worries and offends others about the Higher Eclecticism, as we might call it. What worries and offends is a strong sense that there is nothing higher about it. (Pardon me, what follows is obvious. But since it is denied, it apparently needs to be said.) Intellectually, Theory looks like unseemly irrationalism, an excuse for simple absence of discipline.  Stylistically, it looks like metaphysical mannerism - kitsch. I’m not saying this is obviously right. But this is obviously the complaint.”

Now (this is Rich again), it’s been fun watching people wonder “what is the Higher Eclecticism?” and showing the appropriate degree of intellectual interest needed for the next blogfight and all, but maybe someone should try harder this time.  You might start, with Spivak, with “Foundationalism and anti-foundationalism, shall we say roughly the Marxist reading on the one hand, and the deconstructionist on the other, make awkward bed-partners, you might think.” Do they?  Or is Cunningham wrong?  Does it really make any sense whatsoever to, let’s say, talk about Marx’s labor theory of value in connection with literary value?

By on 04/27/06 at 05:04 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Hey there, Valve & Co.  I’ve been thinking about this question in the context of an unintentionally (?) funny radio interview with Richard Rorty, and maybe it’s an interesting discussion topic here too—by “here” I mean “on this site,” if not necessarily “in this thread”:

Why might one argue, or write, so as to encourage misunderstanding?

Reason one: encouraging a misunderstanding indirectly encourages understanding, by forcing the reader or interlocutor to shift perspective and terms.  If R/I is too stubborn to shift, then s/he deserves his/her ignorance—no matter the virtue of communicating the misunderstood point in the first place.

Reason two: encouraging a misunderstanding reflects a prior misunderstanding, and so performs the writer’s *own* stubbornness.  It communicates the distance between the writer and the prior-thing-misunderstood more forcefully than merely stating it in plain, denotative terms would do.

Scott, you posted earlier about the “end of the Valve,” if facetiously, and about the dispiriting tone.  Much of the commentary above this post seems focused on misunderstanding, misunderstandings-of-misunderstandings—by now I’m simply curious about the phenomenon in general.  What does it mean to understand something, or to misunderstand something?  Where does it entitle you to go?  Does strategic misunderstanding have a productive place in intellectual dialogue?

From a wikipedia article on Gilles Deleuze (at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gilles_Deleuze):

Deleuze once famously described his method of interpreting philosophers as “buggery”, as sneaking behind an author and producing an offspring which is recognizably his, yet also monstrous and different.[3] The various monographs are best taken not as attempts to faithfully represent “what Nietzsche (or whoever) meant” but as articulations of Deleuze’s philosophical views. This practice—Deleuze ventriloquizing through other thinkers—is not willful misinterpretation so much as it is an example of the creativity that Deleuze believes philosophy should enact. A parallel in painting might be Bacon’s Study after Velasquez—it is quite beside the point to say that Bacon “gets Velasquez wrong”. (Similar considerations apply to Deleuze’s uses of mathematical and scientific terms, pace Alan Sokal.)

[Edited to differentiate the quoted material from pica’s commentary.]

(The word used there is “misinterpretation,” not “misunderstanding”—in hermeneutics, in fact, *understanding* can be elided.  It would be hard to determine whether Deleuze *understands* Nietzsche from reading his monograph on Nietzsche, although we could (and I suspect I would) have a strong hunch about it, but we could talk about his interpretation of Nietzsche.  In conversation, though, with its more forceful claims on responsiveness, or responsibility, or whatever you might call it—I think understanding is critical.  So one could productively discuss the two concepts together.)

I choose the Deleuze example because I think many people consider his misinterpretations fairly intellectually useless, if not strictly illegitimate.  The only thing of his I’ve read, part of his essay on Kafka, infuriated me more or less for that reason—the Kafka piece he was creatively plagiarizing, I thought at the time, was a zillion times more interesting and thoughtful than his cut-up, and it had a potent visceral effect on me to read the, er, buggered version.  (That’s a hell of a fascinating trope anyway—wanking + violence = jouissance, which is all you need, I guess, and anatomically improbable reproduction...) Any thoughts on this?  Desire for fresh post?

By pica on 04/27/06 at 05:30 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Scott, indeed, “disprove” and “discuss” are rather different terms.  And your post depended on your suggestion of the former, not the latter.  And, again, I’ve never said I wanted to defend “higher eclecticism.” I do wish that you wouldn’t continue to repeat this mischaracterizations.

John, the discussion on the Valve didn’t focus on this category of “Higher Eclecticism,” either.  Which is your prerogative, of course.

Rich, I stand by my brief characterization of John’s original post.

And on engaging with Scott’s post, I’m sticking for the minute with the insinuations he made about my motivations and words.  Which is my prerogative.

As to the concept of higher eclecticism, yes, it still seems to me more than unclear.  Thanks, Rich, for pointing me to all the sources.  I remain uncertain if what’s at issue is the eclecticism, or the higher.  John and Scott seem to want to have their cake and eat it.  As I say, I don’t particularly have anything against eclecticism, which seems sometimes (as in Scott’s comment here on his own dissertation) to mean simply “interdisciplinary.” Now he defines “higher” as a “rhetoric and tone [that] is often haughty and dismissive of what it considers retrograde thought.  Well, we can all sign on to the crusade against haughtiness if that’s what it turns out to be.

Oh, and Rich, nice proposal.  Here’s an idea.  Why don’t we do a close reading of ... let’s say ... a canonical chunk of a major theorist. Something solid, not occasional journalism or a maybe throwaway piece. Not so big that public, fairly comprehensive close reading is impossible. Not so small that the target is defenseless. Maybe a book chapter. The piece should be chosen by theory’s defenders, so that there can be no complaining later that it was a cheap ‘n easy target. John (and Scott, if he cares to join in) will do a kind of close reading, really entering large chunks of text into evidence, and seeing whether their complaints about her philosophic style are supported by the text. That is, they will see whether the Higher Eclectic function is self-resembling. The point is just to get past these hopeless meta-preliminaries (see above).

But perhaps another time.  I’ve put too much on hold the last couple of weeks or so with this symposium.

By Jon on 04/27/06 at 06:36 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Except, John, now you’ve jumped in to give your approval, saying that “Scott seems to me exactly right about all the points he makes in this post,” now I have to ask you to clarify that you do not also subscribe to the gross mischaracterizations of my actions and words.

Many thanks.

By Jon on 04/27/06 at 06:52 PM | Permanent link to this comment

OK, just one more… Rich, for goodness sake.  Again, the unsympathetic reading.  I put “style” in quotation marks because, um, it was a quotation, taken from John’s post.  (That’s how I at least generally use quotation marks.)

If you want misreading, it was subsequent to this that you said that everyone had argued John had dismissed Spivak because of her difficulty.  At which point I had to point you back to my own words, in which I had noted that John’s gesture was due in fact to her “style” (again, quoting).

OK, all this “he said she said” is getting more tedious than ever.  All I ask is that the basic courtesy I try to extend in reading other people be extended to me.  Rich, and now more flagrantly than ever Scott, with the added imprimatur of John, have refused to extend such courtesy.

By Jon on 04/27/06 at 07:01 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Sorry, Jon. Are you suggesting that this discussion of Higher Eclecticism was what went on at Long Sunday? That seems like an odd thing to say, frankly. (So maybe you didn’t mean it.) People discussed what they wanted, of course. But it certainly wasn’t whether the charge of Higher Eclecticism had validity. This was sort of my point, upstream in the thread. I find it hard to conceive of finding Spivak interesting except in the context of an engagement with the peculiar form/style - call it what you will - of her writings. I didn’t really do very much of that myself, though I did a bit. I didn’t see a lot of that going on, interestingly, at LS. So I didn’t really take a lot away from the event. It didn’t work for me, philosophically. Scott’s post gets at the reasons why - to him and to me - the discussion at LS seems pretty philosophically weird. It seems to scrupulously overlook very salient and peculiar features of the matter under discussion. But I do appreciate that you put a lot of work into it, which is a noble thing to do. And apparently many people were satisfied with it, which is presumably some gratification for your efforts.

By John Holbo on 04/27/06 at 07:03 PM | Permanent link to this comment

John, I’m not entirely sure what you are referrring to, but I was referring to this symposium held both at Long Sunday and on the Valve.  Your post on the Valve was one of the first contributions to the symposium.  In it, you said (and I’ve quoted you several times on this) that you couldn’t “force [your]self” to go over the issue of “Higher Eclecticism.” Which, as I’ve now said ad nauseam, was just fine by me.  As you say, people discuss what they want to.  But it’s really rather odd that you now choose to express some exasperation that posters at Long Sunday didn’t engage so much with the “Higher Eclecticism” either.

Anyhow, again, are you maintaining your approval of Scott’s mischaracterizations?

By Jon on 04/27/06 at 07:10 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Well, it depends on the perspective, doesn’t it?  I entered into the conversation as someone who believes that there is, in fact, a style which could, in fact, be labeled “higher eclecticism,” and which conforms to the content of Spivak’s essay.  As to your notion that I’m maliciously mischaracterizing your position, I really mean to say no more than you did in the original conversation.  We may call it different things, but I think we’re talking about the same bird, i.e. the one I described above.  After all, aren’t you at least implicitly defending Spivak’s argument and methodology, and isn’t that what I’m calling higher eclecticism? 

I honestly don’t mean to mischaracterize what you’ve said, and only intend to take you at your word.  I think the conversation’s dead-ended on the fact that you don’t think what I’m calling “higher eclecticism” here applies to the work you defend.  Fair enough.  I’ll drop the phrase, but do you think the problems I identify in Spivak’s method and argument as presented above are characteristic of a certain style of scholarly production?  I cede to you the right to christen it whatever you please; “low-down and dirty eclecticism” works for me, as I’m more interested in the practice than the name.  (I only insist that it have a name, since I see it as a recognizable and categorizable set of practices.)

That said, I’m genuinely interested to hear how you would address the problems with the essay I outlined above: that it’s built on the backs of an familiarly eclectic canon of thinkers; that she seems to be engaging in some rhetorical high-handedness intended to both establish herself as an expert and to dismiss the validity of other bodies of thought; and finally, to ask the question directly, that if content relates in any way to form, don’t we have to try and understand how the formal properties of her text relates to the points argued therein? 

I think these interesting and productive questions, and would like to discuss them, so I hope we can get past the misunderstanding of what I’ve attributed to you.  (And I would be amenable to editing the original post with a link to and quotation of the comments I had in mind, as I don’t want you to think that I’m putting words in your mouth or maliciously mischaracterizing your thoughts or intentions.)

By Scott Eric Kaufman on 04/27/06 at 07:15 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Well, again, a bit of fidelity to what I actually said, in the comment to which you linked:

“I have no real idea what John Holbo means by ‘higher eclecticism,’ but in many ways I’d happily admit that my own work is concerned with, and operates though, a form of (perhaps lowdown and dirty) eclecticism.”

Which is again, rather different from your mischaracterizations.

Yes, and I’d be happy to discuss these things.  You said you were going to respond at more length to that comment, either that day or the following one.  And I’d thought the symposium might have been an opportunity to do so.  Neither eventuality turned out.  Fair enough.  C’est la vie.  And so on.  As I have said, and said again, I bear nobody any grudge for not writing a blog post.

But I do object to the mischaracterizations now.

By Jon on 04/27/06 at 07:20 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Sorry, a bit of cross-posting there. I’m not quite sure what the gross mischaracterizations are supposed to be, Jon. It does seem to me right that my focus on ‘style’ was absurdly - by az and Jodi - taken as an appropriate occasion for dropping heavy and evidentially unsupported hints about gender bias and/or racism. I don’t recall you going in for any of that, so I’m willing to let you off the hook. But I don’t see that Scott was really trying to get you on the hook. He mentions you at the beginning of a paragraph, but it isn’t clear that, by the end, he isn’t discussing contributions to the Spivak event more generally. (I really don’t care, but if it’s bothering you perhaps you can just disavow intellectual agreement with those comments that Scott is responding to. And that will be that.)

Adding to my comment above, one reason why I’m surprised that the LS event is regarded as having addressed the whole Higher Eclecticism issue is that everyone over there seems to have found my post uninspiring. And no one really discussed it, except to diagnose it somewhat lazily in passing (exception which proves the rule). Which is fine (except for the lazy diagnoses). But the post really was about my ideas of Higher Eclecticism. I did a spot of close reading. If someone wanted to discuss the issue, they might have considered whether my reading was correct/fair, etc. As I have said several times, my post was hardly the most wonderful post in the world. But it actually contained discussion of this question, if anyone was interested in it. And I did link to some of my earlier discussions of the question, if anyone cared to flip back to the archives and take a look.

Look, I certainly don’t begrudge everyone their enthusiasm for Spivak, little though I am capable of sharing it. What annoyed Scott - and inspired this post - was Adam’s triumphalist ‘ha-HA’ post. Which, to judge by his recent comments, he himself now regards as somewhat ill-advised in its tone. Surely it is clear what Scott found that post somewhat provoking?

By John Holbo on 04/27/06 at 07:29 PM | Permanent link to this comment

We could, then, consider this a response to that comment, since it’s an extension of what I was going to initially post, which was intended to respond to the claim that you and others didn’t understand what Holbo meant by “higher eclecticism.” One way to say it, then, is that the characteristics of articles like Spivak’s “Scattered Speculations” constitute what Holbo calls “higher eclecticism,” and that’s what he intended to imprimatur above.  (Such was, I thought, the reason for the event, which is why this post seemed so suddenly incongruous with the rest of the material posted, most of which built off the assumptions John and I wished to examine in detail.)

By Scott Eric Kaufman on 04/27/06 at 07:33 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Thanks for dropping by again, Pica. (Glad you evidently don’t mind to much my having dragged you into the slanging match with my original post.) I do think that the question of ‘encouraging misunderstanding’ is an interesting one. Like you, I’m not sure whether it is really appropriate to this thread, because I don’t have any especial suspicion that Spivak fits the bill. But I think it’s important that, faced with a text like Spivak’s, one should start to canvas some seriously diverse potential motives for the odd production qualities. When I say thinks like ‘we should be asking what the point is of not owning one’s own claims’, that is obviously a hint at a criticism, but by no means is the negative verdict foredoomed. “On Truth and Lie In an Extra-Academic Sense”: possible title for a paper. Part of what vexes Scott and myself, I think, is a sense that a failure to give an inch in the face of our criticisms must amount to a failure to give an inch to these possible, extravagant justifications for really strange intellectual procedures. Which are the only possible justifications. So it seems to me.

By John Holbo on 04/27/06 at 07:46 PM | Permanent link to this comment

John, let me repeat.  The two mischaracterizations about which I’m complaining in Scott’s post are:

1) His suggestion that the Spivak text was chosen as a “counter-example” or a means to “disprove” the thesis of a “Higher Eclecticism.”

In so far as I chose the text, I’d like to have some say over the narrative of how the text was chosen.  And I specifically noted the suitability of the text for those wishing to articulate and defend such a thesis.  All I noted in addition, was there might be some kind of irony that in making that charge, those articulating it might find themselves in some sympathy with Terry Eagleton.

I want to stress this point, especially in view of the criticisms (to which I link again in my round-up) that the whole symposium was set up simply to have another bust-up over Theory vs. anti-Theory.  Again, in so far as I’ve had anything to do with setting up this symposium, I have at all times tried to avoid such a to-and-fro. 

1) His assimilation of my comments on eclecticism with a purported defence of a “higher eclecticism” as he and you and everyone’s dog understand it.

I’d be more or less happy with the formulation that Scott has more recently come up with, that I have “set out to intelligently defend the set of methods and arguments [you] call ‘higher eclecticism,’ i.e. what [you] observe in Spivak’s essay.” In an ideal world, I’d circle that with plenty of caveats, but it’s not an ideal world.  For instance, it’s more a proposal than a project.  I’m not entirely sure that even a “lowdown and dirty” eclecticism is defensible.  But I do think it’s a thought worth exploring.

Anyhow, sadly I really am running out of time.  (No plane to catch, but for various reasons the past couple of weeks have been a wash.) So, yes, it’d be a nice discussion to have, but not right now.

And guys, if your beef is with Adam’s post… take it up with Adam, eh?  I can’t say I agree with his note of triumphalism.  But at this late stage, I’m starting to sympathize with his frustration.

Although, all this could be a little like the analytic scene.  It’s always said that the analysand only mentions the most important thing, the root of the trauma, in the last ten minutes of the fifty-minute session.  But the analyst must always reply the same way: “Time’s up.  Until the next time.”

By Jon on 04/27/06 at 07:51 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Jon, since you’re objecting to mischaracterization of what you wrote, I hope you don’t mind if I quote your entire paragraph, for context, again.  (I could quote more context—but I’ve already pointed to the thread if you think you need more.) It was:

“One, which points out the way in which the recourse to anecdote is so often a means of dismissal, of trivialization, of not treating (usually) a woman or other minority scholar or theorist as a scholar or theorist. In other words, it’s a way of marking their difference, and implicitly excluding them on that grounds. I take that to be part of az’s original point. And I agree, as I hinted in my reference to all this talk of Spivak’s “difficulty”: it carries the implication that she is somehow a “difficult” woman, awkward, a diva, not worth engaging seriously. Again, I agree essentially with the notion that there has been something in, for instance, John’s posts that has played into this dismissal. He doesn’t like her “style.” So he won’t read her seriously. But there are no doubt better examples of such attitudes elsewhere, too.”

So, the original quotes around “difficulty” and “difficult” are—actual, not scare quotes, not intended to link the concepts of difficulty of texts and difficulty as a diva?  So you really put “style” in quotes *because you were quoting that single word from John* and not because you wanted to relate “difficulty” and “style” through that linking sentence “I agree essentially with the notion that there has been something in, for instance, John’s posts that has played into this dismissal”?

That strains credulity.  Rather, I think it’s unlikely but possible that you wrote this paragraph unconscious, if you will, of what you were writing.  I think that more than qualifies as basic courtesy on my part.  That’s what I meant when I said that’d I’d accept that you meant style and not “style”.  My point then becomes that even when I assume that you meant style, you still did not read John’s post carefully before deciding that he did not engage Spivak’s work seriously.

As for the Higher Eclecticism, I agree that you don’t have to read about it.  No reason to, if you’re not interested in commenting on it.  But Scott, in this message, has reintroduced it.  You seem to be being pulled back into discussing it, even though your major concern is mischaracterization, and if you are, you might want to read some of that stuff.

By on 04/27/06 at 08:10 PM | Permanent link to this comment

John: “I do think that the question of ‘encouraging misunderstanding’ is an interesting one. Like you, I’m not sure whether it is really appropriate to this thread, because I don’t have any especial suspicion that Spivak fits the bill.”

Hi, pica—like your writing.  John, I thought that pica was talking about the misunderstandings in the thread, not those in Spivak, i.e. “Much of the commentary above this post seems focused on misunderstanding, misunderstandings-of-misunderstandings—by now I’m simply curious about the phenomenon in general.” Especially “Does strategic misunderstanding have a productive place in intellectual dialogue?

A good topic for another thread, I agree.  This one is due to balloon to unreadability.  (Sorry, RD.)

By on 04/27/06 at 08:33 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Rich, quickly, touché on one point: the middle use of quotation marks” ("a ‘difficult’ woman") is indeed a use of them as what you call “scare quotes.”

As for the Higher Eclecticism, again, for God’s sake, Rich.  I was so happy to read about it that I helped organize a symposium in which it was anticipated that it would be a major topic of discussion.

By Jon on 04/27/06 at 08:48 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Just shameful, Jon’s treatment in this thread. 

And hardly surprising.

By Matt on 04/27/06 at 08:59 PM | Permanent link to this comment

OK.  But you didn’t actually read about it when John originally linked to his explanations of it.  In an ideal world, he and Scott would have commented far and wide about it, but you know that both were busy.

I might as well give my own opinion now that I’ve written this much.  I didn’t comment on the Higher Eclecticism during the symposium because, although I think I understand it, it wasn’t my major concern with this Spivak essay.  While her style and methods are unquestionably eclectic in a typically Higher Eclectic manner, her goal in the essay also required eclecticism.  As I wrote early on, I don’t see how you can have scattered speculations about something that has as many meanings, even just economic meanings, as “value” now does without being eclectic.  I thought that she should have been *more* eclectic, in a certain sense, widening her range of sources to include major economists outside the very narrow tradition that she referenced.  So this wasn’t and isn’t a simple issue to discuss, and I had more important questions, such as my oft-repeated one about why Spivak thought that literary value had anything to do with good old Marxian value from labor power.  The seeming congruence of style and goal gets into questions of whether her goal was a good one to pursue in the first place, and whether, if so, the Theory style was really the best one to pursue it with.  (My answers are yes (sort of) and no, respectively.)

By on 04/27/06 at 09:18 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Sorry Matt, but I don’t buy it.  No one here treated Jon with anything but respect.  A misunderstanding was had, but I thought it hashed out with admirable civility by both sides, or do you somehow think this a shameful attack.  That would be, as they say, a creative interpretation of the facts.  I could hardly be more earnestly apologetic for imputing to him things he had not said, and in offering to edit the original post to 1) clarify what I had said and 2) typographically distance Jon’s words from those which some could reasonably assume, via proximity, that I’d attributed to him. 

Unless, of course, what you mean by “shameful” is that I clearly articulated my problems with the Spivak’s style...a topic which this thread has yet to address but one which, given Jon’s generous investment both in setting up the event and plain generosity in allowing me to bow out graciously, I won’t press him to.  If you’d care to discuss them, however, I’m game.

By Scott Eric Kaufman on 04/27/06 at 09:22 PM | Permanent link to this comment

And now, to add one more item to our register of inclusive humor, I must say goodbye for the evening, as I have a previous engagement with a softball game.

By Scott Eric Kaufman on 04/27/06 at 09:27 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Rich, you’re right—I was referring more to the tangle of misunderstanding in the comment-thread than to Spivak, whose work I haven’t read enough to say—I meant specifically to propose an inquiry without an arbitrarily chosen target, so as to avoid an endless loop along the lines of:

“I was just reading X and thinking about her take on Kant, which is so different from mine—I conclude that, gee, people read things differently.”

“I don’t see what you’re talking about, I got a totally different meaning out of Kant!”

“Well, exactly, that’s my point.”

“But you don’t explain why you think Kant is a skeptic!  You seem to think everyone is a skeptic, probably because you’re upper-class junior faculty!”

“Look, I don’t want to argue about Kant; I just wanted to point out that people have different ways of reading things.”

“It’s so typical of neo-Kantian skeptics to draw lines in the sand like this!  This is a total pseudoproblem, and if you look at what X actually wrote, you’ll see why.”

Ad infinitum.  I mean, every step is justified, sure, but only someone outside the system can see how justifiable stopping the argument would be…

Anyway, sorry if this is counterproductive.  I’ve had nothing but cookies and coffee since about noon, and I suspect some of the loopiness in the above loop is more chemical than textual…

By pica on 04/27/06 at 09:29 PM | Permanent link to this comment

At the end of the day, it would seem, then, that “the Higher Eclecticism” is a synonym for “Theory.” In which case, yes, it would be ridiculous to claim that Spivak is not an example of it.  Yet somehow everyone thought that you intended more with the term “the Higher Eclecticism” than a synonym for “Theory.” I think this is reasonable, because if it is nothing more than a kind of denigrating name for something that already has a perfectly well-known name, then there’s just not much to the term, despite all the many thousands of pages that have been spent trying to explain it.

I suppose that what I’m saying is that you want it both ways, or that you’re using “the Higher Eclecticism” in an equivocal sense.  On the one hand, it is simply a synonym for Theory as such.  On the other hand, it is something like “a synonym for Theory insofar as I have decisively critiqued it.” So for someone to admit that Spivak is an example of “the Higher Eclecticism” would seem to presuppose that they buy into your blanket critique of Theory—but when they resist it, you get to say, “But surely you can’t deny that this text is Theory, through and through!”

By Adam Kotsko on 04/27/06 at 09:41 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Rich,

Maybe you should consider sitting one of these conversations out.  (I will not be responding to anything you write in response to this comment; you can have the last word in this abortive conversation.)

By Adam Kotsko on 04/27/06 at 09:44 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Nope.  You can have Theory without the Higher Eclectism.  It’s sort of a later form; it didn’t exist when Theory started.  For instance, Derrida did Theory, but I wouldn’t say that his writings are examples of the Higher Eclecticism.  For one thing, he didn’t need to cite lots of other people, for another, he (from what little I’ve read) preserved a coherent method throughout a piece.

By on 04/27/06 at 09:55 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Maybe you should consider sitting one of these conversations out.

Why should he?

By on 04/27/06 at 09:59 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Re: the theological question.

First, I don’t think Thomas doubted that Jesus really died.  Here’s the relevant passage:

But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” (John 20:24-29)

It’s not clear to me that Thomas ever actually put his fingers in the wounds (that is, the text seems to leave it ambiguous).  I’ve always read it as meaning that Jesus appeared to him and offered to let him touch the wounds, but Thomas was so overwhelmed by the vision that he didn’t feel he needed to do that anymore.  But in any case, it seems pretty clear that his skepticism has to do with the resurrection rather than the death of Christ—the wounds would be proof that this was the same man who had died in that particular way.

By Adam Kotsko on 04/27/06 at 10:12 PM | Permanent link to this comment

AK: “At the end of the day, it would seem, then, that “the Higher Eclecticism” is a synonym for “Theory.””

RP: “You can have Theory without the Higher Eclectism.”

Two points: (1) taking both comments together, it seems to be the case that “Higher Eclecticism” is reserved for higher ranking thinkers (especially Butler and Spivak—anyone else?) and (2) if you can have “Theory” without “Higher Eclecticism”, can you have “Higher Eclecticism” without “Theory”?

The point, of course, is that “Higher Eclecticism” remains—as far as I can tell—merely a fancy way of dismissing Butler, Spivak and whoever the hell else it is that merits the collective hatred of John, Scott and Rich this week.

By Craig on 04/27/06 at 10:24 PM | Permanent link to this comment

blah, Perhaps my response will illustrate why I think Rich needs to sit one of these out.

Rich, First, if Of Grammatology isn’t a book with eclectic references, then there is simply no such thing as eclecticism.  Second, this illustrates, yet again, that aside from the big-T/little-t equivocation, there is a third meaning of theory:
1. Critical thought, generally construed
2. The kind of stuff certain American lit professors do
3. The sources for those American lit professors

Derrida did not intend to do “theory,” nor did Foucault, nor did Lacan, nor did Kristeva, nor did Irigaray, nor did....  Derrida intended to do philosophy, for example.  “Theory” is an American thing, and this is according to Derrida himself.  It is understandable that one would apply the term to the people who were used as sources for “Theory,” since you have to study those people in order to understand “Theory,” but it is not a very precise or helpful use of the word in this context—especially since John has stated that his concern is with the American phenomenon.

By Adam Kotsko on 04/27/06 at 10:48 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Anthony: eek!  That wasn’t me talking, that’s the quoted paragraph from the wikipedia article.  I should have put quotation marks around it.  You can check the site to see where it ends and I begin again if you like—my commentary picks up after that parenthesis about Sokal, and includes the “all I’ve read of Deleuze is this shitty Kafka article which I hated” part.  Well, I knew I’d fuck up being intelligible somehow; it never fails.  Very sorry about that.  Please don’t continue to think, er, whatever you were thinking about me, and condemn me in your mind for being a sloppy editor instead.

By pica on 04/27/06 at 11:14 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I’m glad we’ve gotten to the point where Derrida is acceptable. Also, I’ve been searching for that Tansey painting for literally years , so overall this has been a good thread to me.

By on 04/27/06 at 11:35 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Well, Pica was certainly right about the strategic misunderstanding, wasn’t she? As to Jon’s demands for retractions - I guess Scott has said it. In approving Scott’s post, I wasn’t really concentrating on accusations against Jon. I didn’t read that particularly stretch as accusatory. (And now I see it has been edited.) I took Scott to be saying just: Jon seems prepared to defend eclecticism of some sort. (Now I can’t remember what it said.)

Anyway, in the hopes of choking this unhappy thread I will now plug it with a really long comment, addressing what I take to be Jon’s concerns, which seem to me (for the record) genuine and reasonable but ultimately misplaced.

A source of legitimate confusion hereabouts may be the sense that - well, hell, what are the odds that being a cultural critic/literary critic will not involve some degree of eclecticism? It’s a practical activity; one takes ‘what works’ as one makes one’s way. (Terms like ‘bricolage’, ‘flaneur’, come to mind.) It hardly seems likely that any Grand System or Single Correct Method is in the offing. So what’s the point getting all in a lather about eclecticism?

This seems fair enough, I grant, but the sort of eclecticism that Scott and I object to is rather more specific in character.

Consider a passage from the introduction to a popular anthology, Cultural Studies [Grossberg, Nelson, Treichler] - one which I quote in my dialogue, if you happen to be familiar: “It is problematic for cultural studies simply to adopt, uncritically, any of the formalized disciplinary practices of the academy, for those practices, as much as the distinctions they inscribe, carry with them a heritage of disciplinary investments and exclusions and a history of social effects that cultural studies would often be inclined to repudiate.” Ergo, “no methodology can be privileged or even temporarily employed with total security and confidence, yet none can be eliminated out of hand. Textual analysis, semiotics, deconstruction, ethnography, interviews, phonemic analysis, psychoanalysis, rhizomatics, content analysis, survey research—all can provide important insights and knowledge.”

In short, the editors think it is important to ‘do theory’. (The quality of the anthology itself makes this even clearer than this isolated passage.) Now the problem here is that the editors are, on the one hand, very concerned to generate the sense that their distinctive sort of eclecticism entails a kind of hyper-critical vigilance. They are not lazily relying on just one method or lens or approach, as lesser folks. Certainly they are not just naively asserting things, like some anti-theoretical traditional humanist troglodyte might. No. They are somehow doing something very special and distinctive. Theory. Theory exhibits some special philosophic virtue. For reasons of ‘critical security’, theory is needed. On the other hand, if you are just going to take whatever you like, let go whatever you do not, to suit an unspecified ‘inclination to repudiate’ certain things, then there is no clear reason why this is NOT a recipe for complacent dogmatism. What if your ‘inclinations’ themselves are problematic, or in need of critical examination? How are you ever going to be brought to see your own problems? The flexibility of theory (or Theory, as you like) does not seem to provide any mechanism for critical self-reflection. It is an amplifier for inclinations, not a mirror for examining or improving them. Theory is a rhetoric, in effect. Theory is elements of metaphysical poetry - extracted from the edifice of philosophy - deployed on behalf of ‘inclinations’. This is not in itself such a terrible thing. We all like rhetoric, I trust. But the hazard - the ‘Higher’ in Higher Eclecticism - is the erroneous impression generated that there is something impressively philosophical or ‘critical’ about this sort of eclecticism. When it is really hard to see how just taking the bits that suit your inclinations could be THAT.

Turning to Spivak, it looks to me as though this is, indeed, what we have got in her case. As Scott’s post brings out, she is careful not to own her own claims - yet she is still seeking to achieve big effects by means of them. This is a big rhetorical advantage, but it is hard to see why it is very philosophically impressive. At any rate, this is the ISSUE. This is the concern. That what is tricked out to look like an impressively philosophical, critical performance is really not. Or at least no real reason has been given to regard it as such. It’s just that her mannerisms are very suggestive of critical authority.

There is also a narrowness to it. As Scott says, there is a magic circle consisting of particular names - in Spivak’s case “Althusser, Benjamin, Deleuze, de Man, Derrida, Freud, Habermas (but only to dismiss), Jameson, Lacan, La Capra, Lyotard, Marx, Negri,Nietzsche, and Saussure”. Taking a bit of all these to suit one’s inclinations is a common mode of ‘doing Theory’. (Though of course some Theorists don’t do it that way.) The basic point is: there is no apparent reason why ‘doing Theory’ in this way should produce good results rather than bad. There isn’t any check on the results, since any inconvenient result can be repudiated at leisure. This is really a basic problem with Spivak, it seems to me: I don’t see that she is engaging in reason-giving, as opposed to assertion. Obviously this in itself is just an assertion. I just made it. An argument is needed as well. I think I offered the start of one in my post, by means of my close reading of the opening and conclusion of her article. Scott offers some arguments as well. Probably more argument is really needed. But at least it should be clear what is at stake here. The concern is that a highly characteristic style - a brand of metaphysical poetry - is pantomiming critical or philosophic virtue, when there is no obvious reason why that should really be the case.

Last but not least, Adam wants to get Rich to sit this one out by pointing out the following distinctions. Theory can be:

1. Critical thought, generally construed

2. The kind of stuff certain American lit professors do

3. The sources for those American lit professors

The problem with sending Rich to the penalty box for fudging 2 and 3, if he does, is that he is going to be in there with (among other big names) Derrida (who I am reasonably sure Adam does not wish to banish from the field of play). Because Derrida quite often acknowledges that Theory means 2, but then dismisses anyone who dislikes 2 as necessarily resistant to 3. Which does not at all follow. I don’t suppose he really was confused, but it is a very tempting rhetorical move. It’s just not legitimate. But as a result of this sort of somewhat irritable usage - which I am genuinely concerned to clear up - you can’t sort out the relation between 2 and 3 clearly. Which is something I’ve been trying to do.

There. If that doesn’t hold the thread, I give up. And surely I must be about done with Higher Eclecticism as well. Honestly. ("This is the last song I will ever sing” (yay!) “Oh, I’ve changed my mind again” (awww) “Good night, and thank you.")

By John Holbo on 04/27/06 at 11:43 PM | Permanent link to this comment

pica,

Even if you edited this most sloppily, it doesn’t make it OK to say. Hell, your comment that “I choose the Deleuze example because I think many people consider his misinterpretations fairly intellectually useless, if not strictly illegitimate.” is baseless and false.  Many people?  Where?  People like John?

Look, please, don’t take comments on Wikipedia for truth. How about you look at his math and figure out if it’s wrong. Or his science. And that Kafka essay is genius in my opinion.

By on 04/28/06 at 12:09 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Sorry, some comments got turned on a bit late, upstream: Pica, Craig, Anthony. (Our comment notification system is a bit mucked up at present.)

[Good heavens, the things people say about me.]

By John Holbo on 04/28/06 at 12:09 AM | Permanent link to this comment

"Because Derrida quite often acknowledges that Theory means 2, but then dismisses anyone who dislikes 2 as necessarily resistant to 3. Which does not at all follow.”

Where?

“It’s just not legitimate.”

What?

“And surely I must be about done with Higher Eclecticism as well.”

I doubt it. Hasn’t the complaint been that you haven’t really begun? Honestly, who is this ‘critique’ aimed at? It seems that the online world has shown that those who are automatically inclinced to agree with you will and those who aren’t won’t, but I haven’t seen anyone swith sides. You really must realize that you are threatening the only stronghold for a certain kind of philosophy. Or is it that you really have no respect for this philosophy and have to root it out wherever it may hide? Or you just don’t consider it philosophy at all? Either way, you shouldn’t be suprised when people fight like animals for their little piece of land. It seems to me it wouldn’t be all that hard to avoid this little area and go about your business.

By on 04/28/06 at 12:52 AM | Permanent link to this comment

"Leiter hates Contiental philosophy even more than Holbo”.

Actually I’d say Leiter IS a continental philosopher ( one of those very rare philosophers who is both.)

By on 04/28/06 at 01:08 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Adam: “But this “Higher Eclecticism” thing drags the tone down whenever it comes up.  Some (like maybe Rich) might say that that’s because of those Long Sunday people and Kotsko, who come over here and behave badly.”

Gosh… really?  Why would I think that?

Perhaps I’ll answer Craig this time, since Adam has stated that he isn’t replying to me.  Craig, you write:

“Two points: (1) taking both comments together, it seems to be the case that “Higher Eclecticism” is reserved for higher ranking thinkers (especially Butler and Spivak—anyone else?) and (2) if you can have “Theory” without “Higher Eclecticism”, can you have “Higher Eclecticism” without “Theory”?

The point, of course, is that “Higher Eclecticism” remains—as far as I can tell—merely a fancy way of dismissing Butler, Spivak and whoever the hell else it is that merits the collective hatred of John, Scott and Rich this week. “

Now, Craig, if you really wanted to find out what the Higher Eclecticism is, I gave a handy list of links earlier in this thread, and recommended that people read them before yet another round.  And those sources have been there for quite a long time, really.  Why not try them?

If you did, these questions of yours wouldn’t be such a puzzle.  Then you wouldn’t have to do things like imply that the “Higher Eclecticism” is a way to dismiss, oh, Butler and Spivak specifically.  (I wonder why you chose that particular pair? Well, I’m sure there was no ulterior motive.) You might know, say, that John has critiqued primarily Eagleton and Zizek at this point.  And you might understand that this concept of the Higher Eclecticism is intended to be an analytical, nay even theoretical, category, not merely a way of dismissing whoever our collective hate focusses on this week. (And wow, the word “projection” suddenly came to mind—I’m not sure why.) You might even notice that including me in the dismissive-hate roster is a bit odd, considering that I explicitly rejected using the concept of the Higher Eclecticism to dismiss Spivak, whose work I argued against.

By on 04/28/06 at 01:18 AM | Permanent link to this comment

[I’m a little behind, but after hitting the GWRBI for the Derridevils, I feel vindicated in my absence.]

Adam, I don’t for a second believe that higher eclecticism is a synonym for Theory, in large part because I’ve listed a number of prominent theorists who do not, in fact, fall prey to the sins of higher eclecticism.  As I noted--and as I see Rich noted--I wouldn’t count Derrida among them. 

I sense, though, that you’re being incredibly dishonest here, since you’ve addressed none of the features I identified as characteristic of this particular eclectic strain.  Yes, you note that the Jew didn’t quite understand the Parable of Doubting Thomas.  That had already been pointed out to me off-line, and I’d intended on correcting it later tonight anyway.  But thank you for proving, yet again, that Jews know very little about the New Testament.

As for your assertion that “Derrida did not intend to do ‘theory,’ nor did Foucault, nor did Lacan, nor did Kristeva, nor did Irigaray,” well, I’d say that’s preposterous.  Lacan certainly imagined himself a theorist of the highest sort, as did Irigaray.  Foucault and Kristeva are interesting cases, however, but since you’re determined to make sweeping and inaccurate statements, I suppose I’d have to lump them in too.  Even though I wouldn’t.  Even though I just demonstrated, via a particular essay, that there are certain modes of thought, certain rhetorical feints, certain methods of citation that I consider central to a definition of higher eclecticism but absent from a definition of theory/Theory. 

Roger, glad to be of service.  I half-commented more on Tansey earlier, but then realized it’d be buried beneath the rest of it.  So I’ll post a little something about him later, as he’s (along with Caravaggio, actually) is one of my favorite painters. 

Craig, I think it strange you think I hate Spivak or Butler, because I don’t.  I’ve actually had civil conversations with both.  I disagree, strongly, with their methodology; and I see similarities between their methods and their rhetoric, but I hate neither of them.  This, I think, is the sad psychologizing which characterizes these debates.  Methodological disagreements become hatred-fueled feuds and what-not, when, in fact, they’re nothing of the sort.  To be frank, I’m upset that you’ve decided to characterize my potentially legitimate objections to Spivak’s method as evidence that I simply hate Spivak and will find anything in her essays I can to justify that hatred.  For one, that’s entirely wrong; for another, it’s just plain anti-intellectual.  To claim that one cannot take issue with someone else’s methodology, that one must instead hate the person one criticizes, well, that’s to buy into some sad cult of personality, in which arguments about content become arguments about insufficient love and/or exorbitant hatred of content-producers. 

Another way to ask this, Craig, is simply thus: Why do you assume that when I take issue with a number of points Spivak makes, the way she makes them, and the audience to which she addresses them, that I’m merely evidencing some hatred for her?  Is it not possible that I, as a rational, relatively open-minded individual, read her essay and took issue with her mode of argumentation, methodology and rhetoric?  To be frank, I’m at wit’s end here, because people are accusing me of doing something which I manifestly did not do in the very post in which these indictments are made.

Do you want me to admit that the things I identified and quoted in the essay I read, what, simply don’t exist?  That I’m inventing them to satisfy my vanity or as the fulfillment of some insidious plan?  That through mysterious means I managed to convince Jon to suggest this particular essay because I knew it contained the evidence I needed to destroy Spivak once and for all?  Do you realize how paranoid the assertion seems?  Isn’t it more reasonable to assume that I read the essay and identified in it a specific set of characteristics...and then, instead of attacking my character or imputing false intentions, discuss the examples I found in the article Jon thought would best befit the needs of this discussion?

By Scott Eric Kaufman on 04/28/06 at 01:52 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Anyhow, sorry about the Christian-baiting.  Jews, by virtue of tradition, know very little about the NT, and what they do know they learn via reading, and so aren’t keen to the theological nuances of particular parables.  The rest, however, holds.

By Scott Eric Kaufman on 04/28/06 at 01:58 AM | Permanent link to this comment

"As for your assertion that “Derrida did not intend to do ‘theory,’ nor did Foucault, nor did Lacan, nor did Kristeva, nor did Irigaray,” well, I’d say that’s preposterous.”

Jesus, are you guys ever going to have clear terms here? Lacan, the formerly practicing pyschoanalyst, is a theorist? In the same way that Spivak is? In the same way that Foucault is? God, that is preposterous! It borders on jingoism. Christ, we’ve already had a demonstration of Sokal group think that is so prevelant on these kinds of blogs, how is “Higher Eclectism” not the newest, freshest way to decry Contiental philosophy?

“Actually I’d say Leiter IS a continental philosopher ( one of those very rare philosophers who is both.)”

Well then, you’d be wrong. This must be very hard for you. I can’t for the life of me figure out why you would think that. Do you consider John a Continental philosopher as well?

By on 04/28/06 at 02:26 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Yes, actually, Lacan would be a theorist in the same way that Spivak is.  In the same imperious, assured of their own genius way; unable to admit the possibility of error or brook the idea of dissent way; in the same utter lack of intellectual flexibility way; in the same “try to pass off rearticulation of currently held positions as new ones” way.  Really, Anthony, if you look at the way Lacan ran his seminars and consider the way Spivak runs hers; if you look at how both respond to any question which fails to conform to and/or further confirm the ideas they entered the room with, &c., you’ll see that there’s a distinct difference between an inflexible ideologue convinced of his absolute correctness like Lacan and a man who--despite knowing that retrenchment would be the best way to assure himself of a coherent legacy--but who was honest enough to change his thought when he felt critiques of it cogent enough like Derrida or Foucault.  The problem is that there is in fact this notion that they all belong to the same team, and that to critique one is to, necessary, critique ‘em all.  That’s the problem I have with the eclectic roster in the first place: I don’t consider all those thinkers lumped under the category of “theory” equal in stature or intellectual honesty, and yet when I critique one, I’m forced by, what, commonly held opinion, to critique them all?  Sorry, but nope, I disagree.  I think it perfectly legitimate of me to point out the characteristic flaws in Spivak’s method; I shouldn’t be forced to also critique the philosophical project of Derrida just because you want me to.  To attack one is not is not is not to attack “them” “all.” The only reason it seems like that’s the case is because the very sort of canonical eclecticism people claim doesn’t exist actually does, and it teams these eclectic thinkers such that a criticism of one seems, of necessity, to apply to them all. 

Also, I find it funny that you think my part in this is to decry Continental Philosophy.  I’ve stated on countless occasions that it isn’t.  I understand why you think my criticisms part of a larger project, one determined to invalidate the traditions you hold dear, but I would appreciate it if you would grant me the courtesy of being an individual whose problems with certain thinkers are, well, my own.  I share some of my concerns with John, but I guarantee you that I differ from him and Sean on the subject of Derrida.  (And I can offer evidence in the form of arguments had in this very forum.) I really don’t know what else to say, other than to note that there’s barely enough intellectual generosity left in this room to stop us all from kicking the first paraplegic orphan we encounter…

By Scott Eric Kaufman on 04/28/06 at 02:45 AM | Permanent link to this comment

[I know I’ve said more than once that I’m done, but just on this tangent...]

To be fair, I asked Adam for guidance on the story of Doubting Thomas.  So I took his comment to be putting me right, not you, Scott.  And, for what it’s worth, I probably should know better.  I come from a longish line of Christian theologians.  Although more could be said about the Thomas story, no doubt, elsewhere.

(I’m fully apostate now, of course.)

And if anyone’s interested, I’ve expanded somewhat on eclecticism here.  Where, in passing, I mention how much I dislike Tansey.  Perhaps for being a “higher eclectic”?

Anyhow…

By Jon on 04/28/06 at 02:50 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Anthony, as you well know it’s standard to regard Nietzche and Kierkegaard as ‘continental philosophers’. It is also standard to regard post-Kantian German idealism as ‘continental’. I study these philosophers, so it isn’t really unreasonable to say that I study continental philosophy. (I also study Theory, which is a sort of offshoot of continental philosophy.) If you have some non-standard understanding of continental philosophy that excludes these figures and elements, you might consider making it explicit. My ‘good heavens’ comment was directed at your ‘John Holbo hates continental philosophy’ remark, by the by. I find this sort of thing wearying, frankly. What’s the use of it? Calm down, would be my advice. If you are just mad at me and want to be abusive - well, I’d rather you didn’t. If you want to talk philosophy, that would be preferable. You might also consider yelling at Pica a bit more softly, or not at all.

Where does Derrida make the equivocation I point to? I can only find one example within 18 inches of my keyboard. It’s on pp. 7-8 of life.after.theory. It’s an interview:

“‘Life.after.theroy; I’m not sure, from the very beginning, that I understand what this title meant, the ‘after’ ... Now, I never use the word ‘theory’ in the way that you do here; I don’t usethe world ‘theory’ after you, after the Americans and the English speakers. So, I would translate this into French as ‘life after philosophy’, after deconstruction, after literature and so on and so forth.”

Now this isn’t the worst equivocation, because it’s really quite explicit - and it is in an interview, so allowances for off-the-cuff. But the fact that ‘theory’ isn’t a synonym for ‘philosophy’ or for ‘deconstruction’ means that Derrida’s translation attempt is just wrong. And this causes the interview to not be very clear. That is, Derrida clearly understands that there are distinct terms floating around - how could he miss it? - but he then trades them in ways which muddy the stakes in the debate. He says similar things elsewhere.

As to why I keep talking about this stuff: well, I find it sort of philosophically interesting.

By John Holbo on 04/28/06 at 06:17 AM | Permanent link to this comment

John, He’s trying to translate it into the French context, from what I can tell.

You and Scott are insisting on this equivocation w/r/t the word “Theory”—you count both the Americans and their sources as “Theory,” then claim that because Derrida isn’t an example of “the Higher Eclecticism,” therefore “Higher Eclecticism” isn’t a synonym for “Theory.” It seems like it’s at least very close to being a synonym for “Theory (2)” in my scheme, though—and it should be clear that I regard the application of the word “Theory” to category 3 to be improper.

Scott, And now you’re equivocating between theory (1) and Theory (2 + 3).  Yes, Foucault is coming up with “theories” of how prisons are the model for society, etc.  It’s pretty clear he’s not doing what either Butler or Spivak are doing, however.  Nor is Lacan.  Nor is Derrida.

From now on, for the sake of clarity, I will use the following terminology:
1. theory (lower-case, meaning critical thought)
2. Theory (Theory properly so called, the American phenomenon)
3. “Theory” (Theory improperly so called, the European sources for the Americans)

Doing Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, et al., in an analytic context is doing history of philosophy.  There is a certain style that goes along with “doing continental philosophy,” which you do not do (not that you necessarily should).

By Adam Kotsko on 04/28/06 at 09:48 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Scott, Since you’re basing your post on classic paintings where Judas does touch the wounds, I think it’s safe to say that the text is ambiguous and can be read either way, rather than that Jews are somehow constitutionally incapable of understanding it.  I would also say that the majority of Christians are probably unfamiliar with the “textual nuances” of that story, as of most other stories.

By Adam Kotsko on 04/28/06 at 09:51 AM | Permanent link to this comment

"Yes, actually, Lacan would be a theorist in the same way that Spivak is.  In the same imperious, assured of their own genius way; unable to admit the possibility of error or brook the idea of dissent way; in the same utter lack of intellectual flexibility way; in the same “try to pass off rearticulation of currently held positions as new ones” way.”

So, now theory is about being arrogant? Wow. Maybe you guys do need more Quine!

From what I understand Lacan did change his position numerous times responding to critiques. Daniel Smith has written on this in the context of Anti-Oedipus. I’d say you’re psychologizing Lacan (which is kind of funny, if you squint).

“To attack one is not is not is not to attack “them” “all.” The only reason it seems like that’s the case is because the very sort of canonical eclecticism people claim doesn’t exist actually does, and it teams these eclectic thinkers such that a criticism of one seems, of necessity, to apply to them all. “

This is completely and utterly wrong. I’m tempted to think you’re saying this knowing full wrong that it is wrong, but hopefully you aren’t. Higher Eclectism was a critique of Theory during the Theory’s Empire event. Theory, according to you and John, includes everyone from some prof in your department I could care less about (it’s the literature thing) to Derrida and Foucault. This equivocation was your doing and I think you’re the one who believes in this canon of Theory more so than, say, myself.

John,

I don’t think Derrida is saying what you’re having him say here. Better example?

“as you well know it’s standard to regard Nietzche and Kierkegaard as ‘continental philosophers’.”

No, it’s standard to study them in Contiental philosophy departments, but they’ve taken their place in the mainstream canon that constitutes the History of Philosophy. Leiter proves this since he is a Nietzsche scholar (I can’t wait to read his new paper that he did with the one philosopher who went out and asked people questions in Central Park!). So, no, I don’t think you can in good faith say you do Contiental philosophy anymore than I could say I’m an analytic.

“As to why I keep talking about this stuff: well, I find it sort of philosophically interesting.”

Above you said the opposite. Or is that you find it philosophically interesting since it isn’t philosophically interesting?

By on 04/28/06 at 10:34 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Actually, I was inaccurate here. Kierkegaard and Nietzsche had their place in the history of philosophy before the split between analytic and Continental philosophy formed in the early 20th Century.

[Edited]

By on 04/28/06 at 10:57 AM | Permanent link to this comment

This is all very funny.  Lol.

To be frank, I’m at wit’s end here, because people are accusing me of doing something which I manifestly did not do in the very post in which these indictments are made.

Get a grip Scott.  You haven’t yet said much of anything; so that part does seem true. 

(I do see your fanbelt is all agogo. Between Sean McCann’s “bravisimo,” and Stephen number one’s, “the best post in the entire Spivak event,” I’m literally laughing myself sick here (right after spitting my coffee out the window).  Sorry to be cruel, but it’s the truth.)

As Jon says in his thread, Spivak’s essay is made practically an incarnation of the “higher eclecticism” in your post.  Tell me, Scott, did this post seem “inappropriate earlier” because you were afraid Spivak herself might see it, or because you didn’t wish to join with fresh company, or what...? 

But the fact that ‘theory’ isn’t a synonym for ‘philosophy’ or for ‘deconstruction’ means that Derrida’s translation attempt is just wrong. And this causes the interview to not be very clear. That is, Derrida clearly understands that there are distinct terms floating around - how could he miss it? - but he then trades them in ways which muddy the stakes in the debate. He says similar things elsewhere.

Yes, Derrida’s diligence and care regarding his own words, and especially the words he repeated, for instance, or affirmed (speaking of Nietzsche, if you prefer), is quite *philosophically* interesting.  It seems to me that he hesitated to employ the word “theory,” in a manner that could quickly be used to conflate Theory with “Theory” (using Adam’s terms - which, as far as I can tell, from now on *everyone* should do or be forced to justify themselves immediately, lest they prefer to be known as proud sophists).  In other words, he choose to affirm the latter, for reasons that should, by now, and for God’s sake, be fairly obvious.

As for Brian Leiter, well...no comment.  Anyway…

By Matt on 04/28/06 at 06:35 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Adam: “Doing Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, et al., in an analytic context is doing history of philosophy.  There is a certain style that goes along with “doing continental philosophy,” which you do not do (not that you necessarily should).”

Hmm.  Holbo writes pieces about contemporary continental philosophers’ ideas (e.g., _On Trilling and Zizek_), with nary a logic table or thought abstracted away from the historical conditions in which it was produced to be found…

By on 04/28/06 at 06:53 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Sigh, Anthony. You obviously want to fight with me. I, however, do not want to fight with you.

But I will - straining courtesy to the breaking point - respond to your points before signing off (again). Feel free to respond, so long as you can tone down the personal insults, but I probably won’t make any further responses (if I can keep my resolve strong). First, regarding analytic philosophy/continental philosophy. I really don’t like this distinction at all and was - no really - trying to be agreeable in admitting talk in these terms. Because, in general, I try to be accommodating in discussion. At any rate, the claim I was disputing was not that I did continental philosophy but that I ‘hated’ it. Now, this really irritates me. You (and Craig) have evolved this mode of arguing against Scott and I by deciding what we must ‘hate’, by fiat. How you think you know ... I really don’t know. But, be that as it may, someone who appreciatively studies Nietzsche and Kierkegaard, so forth is not a good candidate for ‘hating’ continental philosophy. (I just finished rereading Heidegger’s Nietzsche lectures, by the by. I mostly didn’t agree with them.)

You say that continental philosophy starts in the 20th Century. Fine, fine. Whatever. Obviously this term can be batted around, and that’s one of the reasons not to like it. The point is: it would only be in a debate with Holbo that you would bother to derail the discussion by balking at the anodyne proposal that continental philosophy might be regarded as starting with, say, Hegel. (Do you think I can’t perfectly well defend the Hegel point? I come up with it because Russell and Moore are anti-Hegelian. Also, because it’s quite clear to me that the way to read Derrida is as dually engaged with Hegel and Heidegger. Does that help?)

What bothers me, Anthony, is that you are now - so it seems to me - so hostile to me that you are determined to balk at every point at which you perceive me trying to advance my argument, whether that point is reasonable or not. You are (per your own comment upstream) ‘fighting like an animal for your little patch of land’, or what you perceive to be that little patch. But I think this is actually an inappropriate way to conduct oneself in a philosophical discussion. I’m not interested in trying to debate anyone who behaves this way. What would be the intellectual point? (Why do you yourself find it interesting? If the point is just to defend your turf, animal-like, then closing your ears would do as well.)

But I have agreed to address your points, so on I go.

““As to why I keep talking about this stuff: well, I find it sort of philosophically interesting.”

Above you said the opposite. Or is that you find it philosophically interesting since it isn’t philosophically interesting?”

As Socratic gotchas, this seems to me to lack the decisive ‘getting’ element. Surely it is obvious that philosophers have often been interested in talking with people they think are quite deeply confused. Socrates, for example. The exercise of deeply engaging with what you take to be confusion is a standard philosophical one. It is also possible to regard something as deeply confused without ‘hating’ the people responsible for the confusion. Of course when we are frustrated with something - as I am perennially frustrated by Theory - it is fine to say that one ‘hates’ it, is aggravated by it. But that isn’t to say that I don’t try to engage it in an intellectually fair fashion. (Merely pointing out that I am hostile to it shouldn’t be an excuse to dismiss what I say, as it seems to me you are inclined to do. So that’s what really bothers me with all the ‘hate’ talk.)

As to Derrida? “I don’t think Derrida is saying what you’re having him say here. Better example?”

As to Derrida. I don’t think Derrida is not saying what I am having him say there. Better explanation of what’s wrong with my example?

Maybe this will help. Adam, above, suggests that ‘Derrida is translating the debate into the French context’. Well, yes. That’s more or less my point. Since translating it into French produces a mistranslation, for reasons Adam himself brings out. There are the things mostly American English profs (and other humanists are doing). And there are the (mostly French) roots of these things, which are repetitions of (mostly German) things further back in the 19th Century. If you start conflating this bits by making theory = philosophy = deconstruction, then you don’t get a clear picture of the genealogy. If you want another source, that piece (what was the title) ‘some post-isms’. Something like that? Something in that piece, although I don’t have it to hand. I’ll look around. My dialogue contains a catalogue of examples of the conflation, not so many by Derrida himself. But he does it as well. What I mostly mind is that theory = phlosophy blurs the distinctiveness of what we are talking about. Which is a bad thing.

And now, to raise the tone a bit, I’ll turn to address Adam. I’ve already sort of made the mistranslation point. Let me amplify it a bit:

“You and Scott are insisting on this equivocation w/r/t the word “Theory”—you count both the Americans and their sources as “Theory,” then claim that because Derrida isn’t an example of “the Higher Eclecticism,” therefore “Higher Eclecticism” isn’t a synonym for “Theory.” It seems like it’s at least very close to being a synonym for “Theory (2)” in my scheme, though—and it should be clear that I regard the application of the word “Theory” to category 3 to be improper.”

Yes, it is improper, but by translating ‘theory’ as ‘philosophy’, Derrida is licensing the improper thing. Because, after all, translation is a symmetrical relation. If you can translate ‘theory’ as ‘philosophy’ or ‘philosophy in the French context’, then you can translate ‘philosophy’, or ‘philosophy in the French context’ as ‘theory’. And suddenly you’ve collapsed 2 and 3. This is one of the major unsatisfying features of ‘Theory’ - the term. And, to some degree, Theory - the thing. This is one of the things that I, at least, am trying to sort out. But I can’t sort it out if everyone is balking at the first step. Because the first step concerns the first stage, as it were, and there is no question that the first STAGE is pretty confused. ‘Theory’ is all over the place. Articulating a notion of ‘Higher Eclecticism’ is supposed to help. The problem is that every move we make is perceived as an attempt to construct a one-size-fits-all noose for every single individual who might be in the Theory zone. This would be a bad thing, but it is not the thing we are doing. (I do think we have made that clear.) So accusing us of this really just keeps the discussion locked in at a stage where, admittedly, the term ‘theory’ is ambiguous in unsatisfactory ways. But then don’t blame US for that fact. We’re trying to get past that stage, by means of notions like ‘higher eclecticism’. Does this help? (I am really, truly trying to be helpful here.)

Also, regarding your suggestion that, in studying Nietzsche and Kierkegaard from an analytic standpoint, I am doing history of philosophy. The thing is: I’m not. First, in a sense everyone who studies them is ‘doing history of philosophy’, because we cannot but be aware they’ve been dead for some time. So you must be alleging more than that. So, second, I’m not really studying them from an analytic standpoint. I think I’m studying them from a Nietzschean and/or Kierkegaardian standpoint, actually. At any rate, these thinkers are as alive for me - as central to what I’m doing - as they are for the likes of Heidegger and Derrida. (You are free to think I make worse use of them, of course, but it is not for lack of trying.) This is actually a serious point, not just a picky objection to a comment. I’m not really a very analytic philosopher, though trained as one. This should be obvious from what I write. Thus, it seems to me that attempts to dismiss me as ‘just doing analytic stuff’ is an effort to make miscommunication, or build a wall where there shouldn’t be one; and I would, frankly, prefer such efforts to stop. It is a hindrance to good conversation.

I’m thinking maybe we need a term for the intellectual style of these comment boxes. How about ‘higher epiphenomenalism’? ‘Higher exacerbation’? Suggestions?

By John Holbo on 04/28/06 at 06:54 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I’m perfectly willing to lay down arms and enjoy the spring weather.  (Plus, you know, papers to write, etc.) Anyone else? 

We’re all busy people.  Now seems as good a time as ever to leave this particular pissing match to the vagaries of history.

By Adam Kotsko on 04/28/06 at 07:04 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Yes, there’s a lovely pink sunrise in Singapore, this very minute.

By John Holbo on 04/28/06 at 07:07 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Matt, the idea that I haven’t said anything is, well, dishonest.  If you said, “You haven’t said anything to which I’ve responded,” you’d have something.  Instead you cherry-pick details and, what, say something about how other people have read it.  An exemplary performance, Matt. 

Also, I already explained why I thought the post inappropriate after the event got rolling.  Turned out not to be focused on what I thought it would be, and since people seemed enthusiastic about taking it in that other direction and I didn’t have time to revise, I decided to be polite.  The idea that I wouldn’t want Spivak to see, what, an essay in which I criticize her style and her mode of argumentation, perplexes me.  While I’m certain that she rarely encounters that in person--at least, if the student & faculty interaction with her here is any indication--I’ve little doubt that she could handle herself in such a conversation.  Or, what?  Do you think I’d shy away from the opportunity to debate someone whose work I’d invested a couple of days reading and thinking about?  I think you underestimate the power academic celebrity has over someone who works in a climate saturated with it.  I’m more worried that my advisor will see this thread and infer the amount of time I’ve invested it. 

All of which is only to say, honestly, that I expected a little more from you.  That post contains no wild generalizations, taking as evidence only specific instances from the essay itself.  I demonstrate that the characteristics I associate with “higher eclecticism” are present, and in abundance, in Spivak’s essay, and you respond, lamely, with “You don’t say anything.” I certainly don’t say anything you want to hear or are likely to admit contains a kernel of truth, but that is far different from not saying anything.

By Scott Eric Kaufman on 04/28/06 at 07:07 PM | Permanent link to this comment

John,

How hospitable of you.

“But I think this is actually an inappropriate way to conduct oneself in a philosophical discussion.”

How is Nietzsche important to your work then? All your respect for Socrates false-niceties, but none for Nietzsche’s blatant rudeness?

I don’t really have an interest in fighting you, I have an interest in making sure that Continental philosophy still has some room even if it has to hide in literature departments and do work I’m not all that impressed with. I don’t want this discussion to always predominate any work done by a philosopher who dares to be experience before judgment, or who challenges “intellectual standards”. So, yes, of course I’m hostile to you, because I perceive your hostility towards these projects and their right to exist (or maybe I’m confusing you and Rich, I don’t know).

Hegel as the cause of the split? In so far as Russell was a Hegelian before he became an anti-Hegelian I have to say no. Of course we can begin to see things like these splits throughout the history of philosophy. Others have tried to locate it in Fichte and Nietzsche, but that seems bizarre to me as well. I take the more orthodox approach of locating it in Frege and Husserl, because it seems that here it constitutes a true break-down in communication.

Look, this is my last two questions to you and hopefully you can find it in your heart to respond: Who are you expecting to respond to Higher Eclecticism (why aren’t you capitalizing it anymore)? What do you hope will then happen in the real world (where things like intellectual standards play a very small role) of departmental politics after this critique is received?

By on 04/28/06 at 07:50 PM | Permanent link to this comment

"I certainly don’t say anything you want to hear or are likely to admit contains a kernel of truth, but that is far different from not saying anything.”

In all honesty, that could be said by anyone on any side of this debate. Do you really think that John or Matt or you or I are going to budge at this point?

In the words of Gizmo McElroy - *piss*.

By on 04/28/06 at 07:52 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Well of course I’m willing to budge, Anthony. I budge all the time. That’s the point of these affairs. That’s why I’m irritated by your refusal to budge. That seems to defeat the point. As to what I hope, by way of response to my points: well, I don’t have any illusions that I’m likely to set the institution’s pants on fire. I would be very pleased if things got reformed to my satisfaction, against all odds. Your point about intellectal standards, I take it, is that even if my point is good, it may be ignored. Well, yes, but that doesn’t seem to me a good reason not to make what I take to be good points. I am trying to satisfy myself, intellectually, in the first instance. And good conversations are nice, too, when one can get one. A precondition for that is willingness to budge. See above. As to capitalization. As you like it. Tall or small. I’m easy.

By John Holbo on 04/28/06 at 08:32 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I’ve never seen you budge on this issue (philosophical fictions or any of these clever parody pieces). But, maybe I’m wrong! My point concerning intellectual standards is that more goes into making departmental decisions than these kinds of arguments. And so I’m asking you to be more precise about what you mean by ‘reforms’. Do you mean that there would be a litmus test for what could be published; making sure it is neither Higher nor Eclectic? Or is it something less sinister? I’m genuinely curious.

By on 04/28/06 at 10:09 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Oh much less sinister. I’m planning on having anyone who is the least bit eclectic melted down for Soylent Green, which will then be used to color in the sidebars of the Valve. (After all, I’m into all that Trillingesque ‘liberal imagination’ stuff. J.S. Mill. You know the drill. I think it’s important to limit freedom of expression. Otherwise people would have the wrong opinions!!!!1)

By John Holbo on 04/29/06 at 05:54 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Well this makes me feel so much better about everything. That’s a well thought out reform package.

By on 04/29/06 at 10:46 AM | Permanent link to this comment

And what sort of an emoticon, exactly, is “!!!!!1)”?  Something sinister about that, I’d say.  It looks almost ... eclectic.

By Adam Roberts on 04/29/06 at 12:53 PM | Permanent link to this comment

It means, “I’m so pissed I couldn’t even keep holding down the shift key!”

By Adam Kotsko on 04/29/06 at 12:54 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Yes, its use is very precise and controlled that way.

By John Holbo on 04/29/06 at 04:35 PM | Permanent link to this comment

APS: “So, yes, of course I’m hostile to you, because I perceive your hostility towards these projects and their right to exist (or maybe I’m confusing you and Rich, I don’t know).”

Anthony Paul Smith, please leave me out of whatever fantasy you’re concocting.  I have no ability to control the makeup of academic departments, or what people in them write about.  Wait, even that is crediting your position with too much good sense.  No one has the power to make a litmus test for what could or could not be published.

And stop dignifying yourself and Adam Kotsko with this pretense of concern with your field.  You are blogfighting, nothing more: your academic fields do not need your defense, nor do the various celebrities that you identify with, and if they did, you do not defend them with your ridiculous show of aggression.  Grow up, and try to remember that you’re supposedly going to be academics some day.

Adam often starts comments here with a suggestion that I not respond, following it with a pretentious explanation of where I’ve gone wrong that invariably reveals how little he understands about the state of the discussion.  I suggest in turn that neither of you comment here any more, on any topic.  (This is just as much my blog to make suggestions about as Adam’s, after all.) You have your blog, where you can call me childish names to your heart’s content, hopefully enlivening the days of some future Ivan Tribble.

By on 04/30/06 at 12:37 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Rich, You just seem stressed out, that’s all.  Maybe taking a breather from these battles would do you good—at least as an experiment. All that aggression and outrage!  It’s hard on a person.

In any case, it’s a moot point now.  I imagine that a long break from theory/Theory/"Theory" discussions will do us all some good.

By Adam Kotsko on 04/30/06 at 03:17 PM | Permanent link to this comment

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