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Happy Trails to You

What’s an Encyclopedia These Days?

Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Intimate Enemies: What’s Opera, Doc?

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

Feynmann, John von Neumann, and Mental Models

Support Michael Sporn’s Film about Edgar Allen Poe

Philosophy, Ontics or Toothpaste for the Mind

Nazi Rules for Regulating Funk ‘n Freedom

The Early History of Modern Computing: A Brief Chronology

Computing Encounters Being, an Addendum

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

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The Nightmare of Digital Film Preservation

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Nick J. on The Valve - Closed For Renovation

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Norma on Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

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William Ray on That Shakespeare Thing

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Friday, December 16, 2005

Critical

Posted by Miriam Burstein on 12/16/05 at 08:13 PM

[X-posted, with some edits, from The Little Professor.]

I'm not exactly the most theoretically-inclined professor in contemporary academia; my interest in theory, with or without capital "T," is at best wholly pragmatic.  And so I'm not altogether the best person to respond to Lindsay Waters' article in the CoHE (sorry, reg. req.).  But perhaps other readers will share in my bemusement, befuddlement, or whatever be- you'd like to call it.   What follows is not so much for Waters or against Waters--just an attempt to work through what he's saying. 

Waters lays down the law in the very first paragraph:  "Trying to figure out what's up with American literary scholarship — I mean the writing coming out of colleges that relates to literature — is difficult. This stuff cannot be understood by the norms of healthy literary criticism as it has been practiced from Aristotle to Helen Vendler."  At the risk of sounding like Ophelia Benson (not, I'd add, that I consider that at all a bad thing): "norms"? Which "norms"? What sort of historical narrative easily encompasses everyone from Aristotle to Vendler? (This generalization treads dangerously close to the dreaded Michener School of the Looooong Historical View.) And what's the relationship between "criticism" and "scholarship"?  In any event, it's not yet clear if, by "healthy," Mr. Waters simply means practical criticism, rhetorical criticism, or something else entirely.

Luckily for all concerned, the next paragraph makes things somewhat more specific: "Ever since it became professional and, for the most part, lost touch with the readers who have fostered the little-magazine criticism that reaches back to The Spectator, today's academic scholarship has become separated from its grounding: It is no longer connected to the very medium that gave it rise, literature."  Sort of luckily, anyway.  It's a bit of a stretch to describe The Spectator as a "little magazine," and surely no-one would describe any of the truly influential 19th-c. Anglo-American periodicals as such. Moreover, the slip between "criticism" and "scholarship" is back, even though literary scholarship has never looked much like periodicals-based criticism; it's not clear that Wood's An Essay on the Original Genius of Homer, Dunlop's History of Prose Fiction, or Warton's History of English Poetry, to take three random examples, would qualify as "healthy" under Waters' apparent definition of the term.  In any event, though, we're back to a standard-issue complaint: nobody cares about literature anymore.

Or, to be more precise, nobody cares about it in the right way: "Literary criticism no longer aims to appreciate aesthetics — to study how human beings respond to art. Do you get dizzy when you look at a Turner painting of a storm at sea? Do certain buildings make you feel insignificant while others make you feel just the right size? Without understanding that intensely physical reaction, scholarship about the arts can no longer enlarge the soul."  I'm a little baffled by Waters' choice of examples here, since most literary critics do not, indeed, primarily study either Turner or architecture--and surely one might wonder if "dizziness" normally results from an evening spent reading Bleak House. More to the point, though, Waters seems to confuse the acquisition of taste and/or the experience of beauty with the cultivation of morality.  (Before you object that "morality" is not inherently linked to "enlarg[ing] the soul"...well, wait until you see where Waters takes his argument.)  Personally, I'm all for cultivating taste, experiencing beauty, understanding the workings of form, and so forth; it's just that these seem to me to be goods that exist independently of anything related to "the soul" (and there are those out there who would argue, from a theological perspective, that emphasizing the aesthetic may be at best neutral in relationship to "soul" and at worst actively detrimental to it).  This line of thinking treads close to elevating art to a form of religion, and one doesn't have to be a theologian to ask if this is a viable, let alone valuable, project.    

Be that as it may, Waters' generalizations about our obsession with "ideas" don't quite seem to conform to the historical record.  Art, Waters warns us, has no "meaning"; we've abandoned the study of form for "the meaning-mongering of interpretation for its own sake."  From the perspective of a young-fogeyish literary historian, this claim is somewhat bizarre.  First of all, in academic scholarship, hermeneutics didn't displace aesthetic criticism; hermeneutics displaced old historicism, biographical criticism, philology, theological criticism, and--oh yes--plot summaries, with aesthetic criticism on the side.  Waters dates the incursion of meaning back to 1948, in the form of Richard Weaver's Ideas Have Consequences, but "ideas" were alive and well in academic scholarship long before then.  (As anyone who has ever slogged through nineteenth-century book reviews soon discovers, they were also alive and kicking in "criticism.")   In British studies, most of the pioneering work on second-, third-, fourth-, and fifth-rate authors was done in the first half of the twentieth century, well before feminists and postcolonialists started walloping the canon around.    And, to be honest, the quality of "aesthetic" speculation in early 20th-c. academic scholarship tends to be pretty embarrassing; when, in The Novel and the Oxford Movement (1932), Joseph Ellis Baker finds William Sewell's Hawkstone to be a more ripping yarn than Lady Georgiana Fullerton's Ellen Middleton, it's not exactly clear what aesthetic criteria could possibly underpin that conclusion.  (They're both pretty dreadful, but--death by rats aside--Sewell's novel hits more spectacular heights of ineptitude, especially when it comes to dialogue.) 

Even if the Gentle Reader disagrees with this historical narrative, there are still two pesky problems of an empirical nature.  Problem #1 is that Waters apparently doesn't do much reading in the area of Restoration & 18th century studies, where formal studies remain hot, hot, hot.  (G. Gabrielle Starr's Lyric Generations [2004] is an intriguing recent example; Howard Weinbrot's Britannia's Issue [1993] is a more self-consciously epic endeavor.)  Problem #2 is that studies of effect and affect have apparently moved into work on pop fiction; for example, a lot of scholarship on the romance, whether based in empirical reader-response studies or not, explicitly emphasizes how romance narratives and tropes generate emotional, even erotic, responses.  There's the body for you!  (It's doubtful if Waters would actually welcome the work done under the auspices of #2, even though it qualifies as "aesthetic" according to his loose definition of the term.  Someone more attuned to current philosophical trends in aesthetics might want to weigh in.)  The reader may object that this doesn't absolve all those other scholars who aren't doing such work, which is fine; I merely point out that Waters' polemical intent is leading him to over-generalize. 

My objections so far, then, are two.  First, Waters appears to be conflating two different activities: scholarship (which, to my knowledge, is rarely first and foremost about aesthetics) and criticism (which may or may not be).   Second, his understanding of the history of specifically academic literary scholarship and criticism doesn't quite mesh, to say the least, with my reading in that area.  But OK. Let's flash forward to his example of aesthetic criticism:

A criticism devoted to aesthetics might take a novel like Theodore Dreiser's Sister Carrie and note how its main character, Caroline Meeber, again and again finds herself in front of sheets of glass — store windows, mirrors — that seem to beckon her in. The question would not be whether her vanity or love of material objects is good or bad; it would be how Dreiser invites all of us to fall through the glass with Carrie, to become a part of the story and experience ourselves as vain and frail and ambitious. Contemporary meaning-mongers would emphasize how Dreiser is commenting on the materialism of a market-driven society: Whether arguing that he is endorsing or condemning it, they would just want to know the bottom line.

As anyone familiar with the history of Dreiser criticism is well aware, this is a rather loaded example--not least because, as is so often the case with novel criticism, readers have generally responded to the novel's, er, morality and meaning.  (And, of course, many readers find Dreiser less than aesthetically appealing.)  It has historically been very difficult to talk about fiction in a purely aesthetic mode, without discussing "meaning"; poetry, especially lyric poetry, tends to be far more conducive to this sort of approach.    Even Oscar Wilde had to admit that The Picture of Dorian Gray had a pretty obvious moral (perhaps despite his own best intentions). Waters would no doubt argue that, as he claims later on, asking readers to "experience ourselves as vain and frail and ambitious" is a matter of producing meaning, whereas "emphasiz[ing] how Dreiser is commenting on the materialism of a market-driven society" is simply assigning meaning to the text, ratcheting it down to the "bottom line."  To which I might respond that, well, Waters' alternative seems a trifle unsatisfactory: why presume that the imagery is supposed to make us identify with Carrie? In what world do adjectives like "vain and frail and ambitious" escape moral judgements like "good and bad"? Why make it sound as though the novel is operating at the level of allegory?  And whatever happened to the specificities of Dreiser's relationship to naturalism, a literary mode that involved rather a lot of "ideas" (some of them, to be sure, not very good)?  Well, perhaps when Waters gets around to writing his article...

Now, Waters' actual proposal--let's talk about the production of meaning, integrating form with content, etc., etc., etc.--sounds just fine and dandy to me.  (At least he doesn't refer to it as a "call.") Similarly, I also object to reducing art to "politics and virtue," even though I happen to spend most of my time writing about people who reduce fiction to, well, politics and virtue.   I only wish that he had made it to his point without some of the weirder accompanying claims. For example, "[w]hat the theory wars really did was convince literary critics that fretting about how meanings get constituted in art is dilly-dallying — in a word, 'French.'"  Actually, I would have thought that the whole problem was that most "theoretical" interpretations did not, in fact, seem to be "fretting about how meanings get constituted in art," but that's no doubt a personal opinion.    Similarly, Waters' attempt to read the purported revolt against things French--what is this, freedom criticism?--as "intellectual isolationalism" misses the far more important point that most American "theory" never engaged with European thought, French or otherwise; an article in the CoHE itself some years back noted that American literary critics appropriated French thought only piecemeal and often well past its actual expiration date in France.  (We won't even go into what some philosophers actually think of our attempts to draw on philosophy, let alone postmodernism.)   Moreover, American academics, like Americans more generally, usually stick to what's available in English, which makes the cosmopolitanism of our turn to European theory somewhat suspect. 

I also wonder if Waters' claim that "[d]espite the much-quoted charges that the humanities have been taken over by the left [...] I believe that what we're really seeing is a reactionary tilt — away from the rebellious, destabilizing, liberating aspects of art" is as helpful as he seems to think it is.   (Calling Dan Green!) One of the submerged problems in Waters' essay--hinted at by his use of the indefinte pronoun "you" near the beginning--is that he keeps moving back and forth between the critic's aesthetic response to art (something approaching Walter Pater's arguments in The Renaissance) and claims about what art itself does.  That is, who experiences art as "rebellious, destabilizing, liberating"? And can we really separate "sense" from "idea," as Waters does in his reading of Whitman--"That kind of experience embodies the experience of the new democratic order that Whitman was celebrating, gives us a sense, not an idea, of that order"?  We might not get "ideas" from the poetry, to borrow from E. M. Forster's "The Machine Stops," but we're hardly going to get a sense of "the new democratic order" from an aesthetic experience eo ipso.  For starters, we need to know what a new democratic order is, and we need to know that Whitman is celebrating it. 

In other words, I'm in the somewhat odd position of agreeing with the basic thesis, but disagreeing with large chunks of the execution.  Other responses?

 


Comments

I think it’s an exciting article, if a confusing one. Like you, I agree with the basic thesis - perhaps I have fewer bits of execution to disagree with but I know what you mean.

A few questions and point:

Do you think it makes it any clearer, his point, to establish WB Michaels as the bad guy in the piece? I really think it does… I get what he’s talking about when the “reactionary tilt away from the rebellious, destabilizing, liberating aspects of art.”

Do you think there’s a difference between “formalism” you find in 18th century studies and the “aesthetic” attention he’s describing?

The thing that I disagree with the most is his (to my mind) too hasty equation of “aesthetics” with the body. As if that’s the only way - or even the way most appropriate to literature - to go about it.

In a certain sense, I think he’s talking about getting back to / retaining what makes the study of literature unique, what makes it what it is. And the surprising (and surprisingly obvious, though we’ve all forgotten) argument here is that theory - especially first hand theory and not simply mechanical theorism - was often involved in just that.

It’s no coincidence that Waters has been involved with the big Benjamin translations of the last few years - the selected works and the arcade project. I actually think here, in this piece, he’s calling for a more Benjaminian mode of work, and that would be all for the good. WB was no sterile rationalizer - no dreary materialst (or historicist)...

Anyway, sorry for the incoherence of this response.

By on 12/16/05 at 11:16 PM | Permanent link to this comment

My reaction was multistage:

1) Hooboy, another set piece of polemic controversialism to stir the pot.
2) But this is a remarkably poorly argued farrago, and generally confused (as you note).
3) In fact, so much so that it must be a spoof.
a) Buzzword/catchphrase salting, check
b) Vagaries of meaning with repeated use of terms, or even standalone, check
c) Intimations of deeper meanings and strong moral posturing, check
4) But no, it doesn’t rise to that standard, it’s just bullshitting:
a) As such, it borrows certain tropes from corporate communications theory (capitalize as you might)
b) (Military analogies are alway a good fallback when sports aren’t serious enough)
c) Put examples of the marketplace of ideas in the context of service economy, customer identification, new entrants, difficult environment ...
d) Get back to basics, identify core competencies—we should form a committee! Compose a mission statement!
e) Marketing is value-added meaning, packaging enhancing the consumer experience—it’s all aesthetics. Just imagine the leverage we can gain by utilizing these techniques internally.

Sorry about the presentation of the above, but your CommentBox doesn’t accept PowerPoint ...

(btw, Scott found the freelink in his post Tuesday)

By nnyhav on 12/17/05 at 01:12 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Spare the “sorry for the incoherence”, CR, what do you really think?

Actually, it’s pretty apparent from your comments on Long Sunday. A quote:

“And, just to flesh out my version of the stakes here, this piece hits someone like Sean squarely between the eyes. Just decks him. The posture that he and fellowthinkers take - that they’re saving literature from the theorists - just doesn’t make sense when you look closely at the way literature functions in their work.

(Actually, while I’m at it - this essay also speaks to what McCann and Holbo have in common… What is John’s stake in messing with literature departments? Does he really want to take over my Modern British Novel class? Absolutely not. Criticism for criticism’s sake… No interest in literature at all. None. Xcept xtremely cheezy sci-fi garbaage.”

And there you have it, a stew of resentment, hauteur, sullen grudge-holding, imagined choosing of sides, territoriality, and most of all, aggression.  All of which was clear enough from the characterization “no rationalizer - no dreary materialst (or historicist)”, but is more explicitly stated. 

CR, why not try to imagine that you’re going to be a professor someday?  And imagine writing an actual criticism of someone else’s ideas rather than this playground nonsense.

By on 12/17/05 at 12:35 PM | Permanent link to this comment

”... and fight and bite and fight! It’s the Itchy and Scratchy Sho-o-o-o-w!”

Anyway, thank you for writing and posting this, Miriam. You’re a terrific critic’s critic.

My pre-Miriamed reaction to the Waters piece was disappointment, but in a friendly way, more along CR’s lines than nnyhav’s, just based on a certain amount of shared sadness about how institutional debates and assembly lines can efface the interesting thinkers who purportedly fueled the engine. But his essay certainly strays.

By Ray Davis on 12/17/05 at 01:43 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Sorry, folks. Sometimes my personal archivist, Rich, forgets his manners and does stuff like porting my work from one website to another, explaining what I “really think” when it’s not so clear, etc…

Promise I’m not playing itchy and scratchy, especially not underneath Miriam’s fine post.

By on 12/17/05 at 03:27 PM | Permanent link to this comment

CR,

I think he’s talking about getting back to / retaining what makes the study of literature unique, what makes it what it is.

You repeat one problem Miriam identified (and which I had with it too) here when you say “what makes it what it is.” What is “it”?  I think the appeal to what literary studies “was” (or really “is") entirely rhetorical; to regain or return to something imagined to be valuable makes for a better story, but it’s still a weak position.  The study of American literature, for one, has been about ideas from at least the turn-of-the-century (the earliest date I can cite with authority)...which makes his invocation of that moment in Sister Carrie especially bizarre: everyone knew the popular philosophical ideas Dreiser and Norris and London were incorporating into their novels.  All three of them frequently put those ideas in their characters’ heads via that instinctual version of free indirect discourse beloved by self-style naturalists: “His instincts told him to blah blah blah.”

Academic criticism of American literature, starting with say Parrington and moving forward through the founding of American Studies, obsessed over the representation of American ideas in its literature.  All of this happened alongside the development of Jeffersonian Agranianism into New Criticism into post-structuralism...and I’m ignoring the fact that what would become post-structuralism had its roots in a response to rampant industrialism by a group of disaffected former and adopted Southerners.

All of which is only to say that I think the position you and Waters advocate would be better served by articulating what it is and why it’s important instead of manufacturing a lineage and appeal to some Grand Old (but Imagined) Tradition.

Do you think it makes it any clearer, his point, to establish WB Michaels as the bad guy in the piece? I really think it does… I get what he’s talking about when the “reactionary tilt away from the rebellious, destabilizing, liberating aspects of art.”

I don’t think Michaels fits the role Waters casts him in, in large part because he confuses Michaels’ current work for the sum total of his output.  Yes, Michaels writes polemics that don’t deal with literature and yes, if you think literary criticism should deal with literature and you instead encounter ideas about literary theory, then you’ll be disappointed with his readings.  But that’s a category error: Waters wants Michaels to be writing about literature, but that makes no sense.  Michaels writes in an accepted mode of literary critical production, i.e. the book about criticism.  I don’t hear the same complaints about Michael Berube’s work on the role of theory in literature departments or Gerald Graff’s work on the history of the profession...or the work of any other literary theorist who works in an English department.  The reason he’s singled out Michaels is because Michaels has the audacity to say that people need to think through the consequences of their arguments, esp. when they claim those arguments have political potency. 

Also, these conversations going on in multiple places drive me batty.  I want to have one conversation in one place.  So now I’ve made one: 

I call it: The Long Valve.  See what one can accomplish with airport wi-fi and a three hour delay?

By Scott Eric Kaufman on 12/17/05 at 06:46 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Scott, I don’t think you can’t honestly say that *The Shape of the Signifier* is a “book about criticism,” and so accuse Waters of making a category error.

What literary critics does Michaels discuss?  Paul de Man.  And Judith Butler, though she’s not a literary critic.  And Michael Fried, though he’s an art critic.  That’s it, right?  What literary artists does he discuss?  Susan Howe.  Leslie Silko.  Octavia Butler.  Toni Morrison.  Steve McCaffrey.  Samuel Delany.  Art Spiegelman.  And others.

Waters’ point is that you can’t tell the difference between WBM dealing with a literary critic, a novelist, a poet, a comix artist, a philosopher, a think tank political scientist, a right-wing journo nutjob, or a left-wing social activist.  As you write, Scott, these different texts are all simply “arguments” and all arguments have “consequences” (’tho “consequences” isn’t the right word, because WBM never attends to real world consequences of arguments but rather to possible logical implications, if this then that sorts of things).

Waters’ argument seems to be: what world are we in when all uses of language are simply “messages” to be uncoded, when all forms of literary art are simply nicely gift-wrapped packages with the “real goods” inside (so you can just toss out the wrapping and the box and be glad you got—wait for it—a fruit cake!  Hooray!). 

[I’m not saying this is an accurate representation of WBM’s practice; just trying to get at Waters’ representation itself.]

Michaels’ reply, I imagine, would go something like this: scholars are people who make, and debate the validity of, propositions.  Propositions must be about the state of an object in order to be open for debate.  Only propositions about *meaning* can be stated as propositions about the object.  Once we get into the world of “experiencing” a work of art, no one’s right and no one’s wrong, so we cannot debate.  If Shakespeare’s tragedies make me laugh uncontrollably, that’s as valid a response as any other.  So if I write about viewing *Hamlet* and laughing uncontrollably at Hamlet’s plight, who’s to say I’m wrong?  One may reply that my laugh is not the “right feeling” to be having, that my response is not in sync with the work itself.  But then we’re back to “meaning,” which is simply whatever the artist intended.  So if I write about the emotional or aesthetic responses I believe the artist intended, then we’re back on safe ground.  (But of course, that’s not what WBM does, either).

Waters screws up there.  The work he champions in his final paragraph—such as Ngai’s *Ugly Feelings*—is not solely about *the critic’s* experience but rather an attempt to (a) examine the types of affect readers have experienced; (b) to compare these to other forms of artistic affect; (c) to make an argument about the social and historical conditions for shifts in affect.  All of that is safe from WBM’s meaning/experience binary, right?  So Ngai and WBM would basically agree, while Waters mistakes Ngai’s work for the sort of freewheeling “Here’s what happened last night between me and *The Cantos*” criticism he’s calling for.  The question is: is Waters wrong about how he characterizes WBM’s critical practice?

By on 12/17/05 at 09:34 PM | Permanent link to this comment

LB, another way to say what I said about The Shape of the Signifier would be to say that the stakes of its argument aren’t about particular interpretations of particular works of literature but about particular critical methodologies.  He makes those points through the literature, but he’s not concerned with say the interpretive history of American Psycho so much as what Ellis’ novel can tell us about contemporary theory...and so I think he does make a category error. 

Michaels’ reply, I imagine, would go something like this: scholars are people who make, and debate the validity of, propositions.  Propositions must be about the state of an object in order to be open for debate.  Only propositions about *meaning* can be stated as propositions about the object.  Once we get into the world of “experiencing” a work of art, no one’s right and no one’s wrong, so we cannot debate.  If Shakespeare’s tragedies make me laugh uncontrollably, that’s as valid a response as any other.

That sounds like an accurate assessment of his hypothetical reply.  The elephantine presence that keeps disappearing is the slide from literary theory to theory.  Michaels attacks the latter by undermining the validity of the former (hence his point about the logical congruity of Bush and Butler’s positions).  If we were simply arguing about interpretations of Shakespeare, that’s one thing; but readings of Shakespeare now double as readings of the state of the world and inform the politics of the academic making the argument and his or her colleagues and his or her students.  As politics, WBM would argue, these positions are untenable.  How does he know?  Because they lead to both Bush and Butler. 

He also attacks the bad faith with which many of his targets argue: Theorist X objects to Theorist Y’s claim by appealing 1) to the interpretive quality of Theorist Y’s claim and 2) the infalliability of Theorist X’s.  If X attacks Y on the basis of the experiential/interpretive/differential quality of Y’s claim, X shouldn’t be able to do so by referencing an nonexperiential/uninterpretive/nondifferential meaning.  And yet that happens all the time. 

I don’t have Anderson’s book with me in Houston, but she makes the same complaints against the same theorists.  There’s a bit of annoyance with the circumscribed canon of acceptable authorities X can cite in both Anderson and WDM, and I think that a legitmite complaint as well.

I haven’t read the Ngai, but if your characterization is accurate, I’d say he and WBM wouldn’t come to blows.  (Sorry if this is a bit scattered.  I’ve been travelling all day.)

By Scott Eric Kaufman on 12/17/05 at 10:17 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Scott,

All of which is only to say that I think the position you and Waters advocate would be better served by articulating what it is and why it’s important instead of manufacturing a lineage and appeal to some Grand Old (but Imagined) Tradition.

Point taken. But I think Luther B. beat me to the articulation of “what it is and why it’s important”: 

Waters’ point is that you can’t tell the difference between WBM dealing with a literary critic, a novelist, a poet, a comix artist, a philosopher, a think tank political scientist, a right-wing journo nutjob, or a left-wing social activist.  As you write, Scott, these different texts are all simply “arguments” and all arguments have “consequences” (’tho “consequences” isn’t the right word, because WBM never attends to real world consequences of arguments but rather to possible logical implications, if this then that sorts of things).

Waters’ argument seems to be: what world are we in when all uses of language are simply “messages” to be uncoded, when all forms of literary art are simply nicely gift-wrapped packages with the “real goods” inside (so you can just toss out the wrapping and the box and be glad you got—wait for it—a fruit cake!  Hooray!).

Very nicely said.

By on 12/18/05 at 12:11 AM | Permanent link to this comment

On the topic of literary criticism, politics, and proper interpretation:

From over at Crooked Timber, Henry writes:

Chinese whispers
Posted by Henry

I’ve been quite skeptical in the past about the power of the Internet to change politics in authoritarian states. If this Washington Post story bears out, I may have to change my mind.

In Memory of Ms. Liu Hezhen,” which Lu Xun wrote in 1926 after warlord forces opened fire on protesters in Beijing and killed one of his students, is a classic of Chinese literature. But why did thousands of people read or post notes in an online forum devoted to the essay last week? A close look suggests an answer that China’s governing Communist Party might find disturbing: They were using Lu’s essay about the 1926 massacre as a pretext to discuss a more current and politically sensitive event—the Dec. 6 police shooting of rural protesters in the southern town of Dongzhou in Guangdong province.

In the 10 days since the shooting, which witnesses said resulted in the deaths of as many as 20 farmers protesting land seizures, the Chinese government has tried to maintain a blackout on the news, barring almost all newspapers and broadcasters from reporting it and ordering major Internet sites to censor any mention of it. Most Chinese still know nothing of the incident. But it is also clear that many Chinese have already learned about the violence and are finding ways to spread and discuss the news on the Internet, circumventing state controls with e-mail and instant messaging, blogs and bulletin board forums.

This shouldn’t be overestimated – it sounds as though discussion is only confined to a smallish elite, and in any event, contra blog evangelists, argument over the Internets is not in itself a major political force for change. But it’s something new, and perhaps something that’s going to become more important over time.

By on 12/18/05 at 11:48 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Well, I hope I never get between the eyes by anything heavier than that featherduster.  Miriam and nnyhav are right.  The essay’s a farrago.  If CR’s also right, as he seems to be, and the piece’s specious arguments are motivated less by the sweeping cultural diagnosis it proposes than by a desire to cast out one book, then all the worse, I’d think.

fwiw, I also share Miriam’s and nnyhav’s ambivalence.  Who couldn’t sympathize with Waters’s complaint against a literary academy seemingly indifferent to or inept about aesthetics.  But such complaints have been standard issue for as long as there’s been literary criticism or scholarship.  That doesn’t mean such complaints are baseless--only that it’s unlikely that the problem is rooted in any particular theoretical premise.  Wooden unresponsiveness is just an occupational hazard of criticism and scholarship. The only serious question, I think, is whether even so they produce enough value to justify their existence. 

For the record, I don’t think I’ve ever said I wanted to save literature from Theorists.  If I did, it was a mistake since, a few minor exceptions aside, I don’t think Theory has had the slightest impact on literary creativity.  On the other hand, I wouldn’t mind if the academic study of literature could be spared some bad ideas and worse writing. But to my mind, literary writing and academic scholarship really are independent genres.

I think it’s a weakness of Waters’s perspective that it cuts against this assumption. I think Scott’s right and Waters really doesn’t understand Michaels very well.  (For one thing, Michaels loves De Man, and to my knowledge he’s not in the slightest opposed to theory in the ways that anyone around here is.) But to my mind the more basic problem is the assumption that meaning and beauty are ultimately incompatible.  It’s not hard to see how romantic aesthetics can take you toward this ultimate end, but as far as I’m concerned that’s one of the flaws of romantic aesthetics.  Maybe it’s unfair to see things this way, but it doesn’t seem surprising in this light that, while Waters’s meaning doesn’t seem particularly coherent, neither is its expression very beautiful.  You wanna say: if you’re gonna defend the critical appreciation of beauty, the least you could do is write very well.  But, if you want to write a polemic and you really think a concern for meaning runs counter to a concern for aesthetics, why bother?

By on 12/18/05 at 11:30 PM | Permanent link to this comment

No one here’s opposed to theory. Or Theory.

By Jonathan on 12/19/05 at 12:27 AM | Permanent link to this comment

You know what would be a really interesting thread? A discussion of the term “aesthetic” when applied to literature. I don’t think there’s a term I have more trouble with than that one. What would “a renewed focus on literary aesthetics / the aesthetics of literature” really mean? What could it mean?

Waters, as I noted above, goes a bit narrow for my taste - aesthetics as physical feeling, affect.

Is there anything we can do with the aesthetic other than “appreciate” it? I’d like to think so, but it becomes difficult to say just what it is that we’d like to do with it. The term seems stuck (for me/today) between leaden banality ("That’s real, real purdy"), formalist abstraction ("Let’s look down underneath the hood, to take a close look at the intricate German engineering..."), and airy amorphousness ("Lets talk about it as if we know what it means when we really don’t...")

But I dunno. There’s something beyond these three. Beyond literature as emfrendunging pedagogy, beyond a reified “aesthetic effect” that the marxists have (helpfully) marked out, beyond formalist schematic fulfillment, there’s something else there, something perhaps we lack the vocabulary to discuss, it seems to me…

It requires stepping back a bit from our usual perspective on things…

What sort of beauty, exactly, is literary beauty?

Sorry to ramble. But it’s an important question.

By on 12/19/05 at 12:53 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Sean’s post largely makes sense to me, though there’s one passage that troubles....

[But before I get to it, I just want to mention that one book that should have been mentioned for a short list of to-read books for college bound high school students is Eagleton’s After Theory, which it seems he might even agree may be more accurately titled, In the Wash of Theory – or even more accurate, In the Wash of Cultural Theory – or better yet, In the Wash of Literary Cultural Analysis. Regardless of the title, it’s not a book to be missed, in my opinion, for gaining an important view into the field.]

To the troublesome and I think fertile passage in Sean’s post:

“For the record, I don’t think I’ve ever said I wanted to save literature from Theorists.  If I did, it was a mistake since, a few minor exceptions aside, I don’t think Theory has had the slightest impact on literary creativity.  On the other hand, I wouldn’t mind if the academic study of literature could be spared some bad ideas and worse writing. But to my mind, literary writing and academic scholarship really are independent genres.”

I think literary “theory” that manifests itself as a type of quite abstract philosophy and/or quite abstract cultural criticism is likely always to have a rather limited, if not invisible, impact on the more concrete forms of imaginative literature, novels, in particular. On the other hand if “theory” is meant to refer largely to highly concrete in addition to highly abstract cultural criticism, including the widest variety of realms of critical focus – as it seems Eagleton for one would have it – then its influence may be considerably more significant. Imaginative writers themselves have traditionally written this sort of wide-ranging criticism, both in non-fiction form and implicit and explicit fictive form (also poetic form, etc.) – and this sort of critical work, a type of scholarship, has been enormously influential (implicitly) and evident (explicitly) in the imaginative literature that is novels, poetry, theater and so on.

Much of the liveliest imaginative work has a pointed strong and even shaping and pervasive critical edge. Likewise much of the liveliest most illuminating critical work seems to unfold as if in the grip of some narrative or some sort of other aesthetic sweep. The best work doesn’t get lost in the ether, fundamentally. E=mc2 may be mind-boggling but it’s not lost, obscurant. Better to be unbrilliant and understandable than to be brilliant and obscurant. Most exciting to illuminate in such a way that the brilliance is in the afterglow, not necessarily the buildup.

And so while it can be said that aesthetic or imaginative “literary writing” and “academic scholarship” are in certain apparent ways independent genres, this division may be, in many cases, more artificial or more of a stereotype than the reality of at least some of the most innovate and illuminating works. In any event, it doesn’t follow that scholarly works do not influence imaginative works (e.g., novels) [or vice-versa], as seems to be at least implied by quoted paragraph. Very many imaginative works (novels) depend on historical and other nonfiction critical works that may or may not be works of scholarship, themselves influenced potentially by other scholarly works and efforts. Surely the influence may be very direct, or very indirect.

But I think there is a problematic institutional divide between “scholars” and “imaginative writers” in the academy, as James Wood, for one, has pointed out in a recent article.

At universities there are clear positions fed by training tracks for, say, novelists with their characters (also poets, with their inversions), just as there are clear positions and training tracks for scholars with their footnotes. But it doesn’t seem that the positions and training tracks are that clear for those who do a little of both and not much of either yet produce some of the liveliest, most insightful, and relevant work.

More and more students however are cross-training, and that’s due to the rise of the MFA and other creative writing programs, the “creative” PhD degrees and so on. An MFA degree, let alone a PhD creative degree essentially ensures cross-training.

For example, for my (three-year) MFA degree, in addition to creative workshops, we were required to take about fifty percent traditional scholarly lit courses, including a required “form and theory” course, plus a required written critical exam (a 24 hour comp.) based on a reading list that included in part required books of criticism and/or theory, plus an oral exam based on our creative “thesis” – a novel, or stories…. 

In a sense there is no comparison with the MA degree. MFAs do virtually everything the MAs do and more - the more is all the creative work (plus an extra year). Of course, the MFA is considered to be a terminal degree, and the MA isn’t. I don’t know exact PhD requirements but it seems that PhDs also do not work as diversely as MFAs do in a lit/MFA program. It seems mainly that PhDs do a lot more of what MFAs have also done, the scholarship, and of course they do it a lot more intensely, at greater depth and greater variety.

Even in MFA programs that have few critical or scholarly requirements, students almost invariably have done a lot of critical or scholarly work as part of whatever undergraduate degree they may have picked up. On the other hand, if a student goes the straight scholarly route, they may never write so much as a short story or experience a single workshop. That seems like a loss to me. It’s also a loss that MFA degree students miss out on having MA/PhD students in their workshops. Remedy that double loss to a greater extent (and maybe PhD creative programs increasingly address this) and make room for more “creative” “cultural” “theorists” in between and around the imaginative writers and the research scholars, and I think everyone would benefit, become more interdependent, and potentially become more integrated with the larger society and culture as well.

“Nature abhor[s] sharp breaks as much as it does vacuums.” –Eagleton, After Theory

In any event this seems to be the trend - genre diversification leading to more fertile integration.

Unfortunately this doesn’t appear to me to address the problem much larger and more crucial by far, that of the essentially depoliticized academy (much noise to the contrary). Chomsky has recently noted that in a country like Turkey, where he spent some time fairly recently, it just basically goes with the terrority, a sort of activist academy pushing for social change. Maybe this greater loss has to do with Eagleton’s Prefatory note, below, to After Theory...and/or maybe it has to do with a simple failure to act.

“This book is largely intended for students and general readers in the current state of cultural theory. But I hope it will prove useful to specialists in the field, not least because it argues against what I take to be a current orthodoxy. I do not believe that this orthodoxy addresses itself to questions searching enough to meet the demands of our political situation, and I try to spell out why this is so and how it might be remedied.”

By Tony Christini on 12/19/05 at 03:09 AM | Permanent link to this comment

CR- If you don’t mind a voice from way outside academia, the question’s one I’ve given some time to over the years. Not that I’m offering an achieved definition, just some thoughts toward it.
Literature may be the externalized workshop of the brain’s reconfiguring of the bits of world it gets through the senses. A prosthetic collective re-imaging of where we are. Like what the brain does with bicameral vision and sound. And memory. Out of the disparate sense-impressions comes a relatively accurate, functional and adjustable picture that we can use.
Every art has its origins in little mock-ups of the real.
Add in the profound brevity of individual living and there you go.
Literary beauty would then be the harmonic recomposition of lived beauty - lived, or experienced, beauty having all those ineffable qualities that disappear from rational conversation at the slightest unfaithful touch. Like any other exploration of the beautiful, it can get talked away by infidels; but then so can the solidity of matter, which as we know now is mostly nothing, or supposedly mostly nothing.
It’s there, beauty, recognizable by children and the unsophisticated in its simpler forms, but it won’t go under the scalpel or the dissecting lens and stay whole; being taught to doubt our own aesthetic responses as nothing but subjective, culturally-determined opinion has something to do with the problem, too.

By on 12/19/05 at 03:28 AM | Permanent link to this comment

"There’s something beyond these three. Beyond literature as emfrendunging pedagogy, beyond a reified “aesthetic effect” that the marxists have (helpfully) marked out, beyond formalist schematic fulfillment, there’s something else there, something perhaps we lack the vocabulary to discuss, it seems to me…”

As far as I know, no one has come up with the “generative grammar” of aesthetics, so to speak. I assume it exists. Though it may be permanently beyond potential human grasp. There must be 50 and more landmark books on aesthetics, and thousands and thousands more on the subject, of course. If interested, read the landmarks and find a niche, or break the “field” open, and report back. Wouldn’t it be interesting?

“Literature may be the externalized workshop of the brain’s reconfiguring of the bits of world it gets through the senses.”

Novels organize thinking. I read a statement akin to that about a year ago. For some reason it struck me as illuminating and evident, simultaneously. The top of my head lifted off, as Dickinson says is the effect of a great poem. Why? (That is, why my reaction?) I’ve wondered ever since. I don’t know if it has anything to do with aesthetics. I also don’t know why I don’t feel inclined to understand my reaction, only to make sure to note it.

By Tony Christini on 12/19/05 at 03:47 AM | Permanent link to this comment

"Another distinguished critic has agreed with Gide--that old lady in the anecdote who was accused by her niece of being illogical. For some time she could not be brought to understand what logic was, and when she grasped its true nature she was not so much angry as contemptuous. ‘Logic! Good gracious! What rubbish!’ she exclaimed. ‘How can I tell what I think till I see what I say?’ Her nieces, educated young women, thought that she was passée; she was really more up-to-date than they were.” (EMF, _AN_, ed. Oliver Stallybrass (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1976) 99)

I found that here:

http://emforster.de/hypertext/template.php3?t=thread&thread=145

By Bill Benzon on 12/19/05 at 08:36 AM | Permanent link to this comment

EMF = E M Forster
AN = Aspects of the Novel

By Bill Benzon on 12/19/05 at 08:37 AM | Permanent link to this comment

I don’t know if this is the right place to post this, but it doesn’t seem unrelated, especially - though not only by far - for the imaginative writers who read some of these threads.

In a thread that explores the question, Where to, critical writing? it seems appropriate to think about this in light of the challenges of direction facing imaginative writers as well.

James Wood has accurately and thoroughly shredded much that may be found in the novels of Tom Wolfe, showing many of their large weaknesses. And Wolfe’s reference below to the work of Sinclair Lewis may not be the most useful, but in this overall excerpt from his 1989 article in Harper’s “Stalking the Billion Footed Beast,” I think he gets to a key challenge facing imaginative writers (and maybe critics) too often overlooked: the importance of “material.”

Also he just barely touches on, almost implicitly, the importance of having a purpose, or many, as a writer. A purpose, or three, one would think that might address some real need in society, culture - though Wolfe is careful not to go too far in that so-called political direction:

“I will now reveal something that practically every writer has experienced—and none, as far as I know, has ever talked about. The young person who decides to become a writer because he has a subject or an issue in mind, because he has ‘something to say,’ is a rare bird. Most make that decision because they realize they have a certain musical facility with words… As he grows older, however, our young genius keeps running into this damnable problem of material, of what to write about…”

But Wolfe has gone far enough over the years - just, it seems to me, by merely hinting at the need for more social engagement in literature - to draw sharp verbal wrist slaps from other prominent establishment, status quo writers - Updike and Mailer, recently. It’s a bit odd since Wolfe himself seems to me to be a writer entirely of the status quo himself (whereas of course Mailer has at least had some progressive moments in the past in his fiction, though not a lot).

Wolfe would never go nearly so far as to say what Kenneth Burke does in “The Nature of Art Under Capitalism”(1941):

“[This essay] will attempt to set forth a line of reasoning as to why the contemporary emphasis must be placed largely upon propaganda, rather than upon ‘pure’ art…. Since pure art makes for acceptance, it tends to become a social menace in so far as it assists us in tolerating the intolerable. And if it leads us to a state of acquiescence at a time when the very basis of moral integration is in question, we get a paradox whereby the soundest adjunct to ethics, the aesthetic, threatens to uphold an unethical condition. For this reason it seems that under conditions of competitive capitalism there must necessarily be a large corrective or propaganda element in art. Art cannot safely confine itself to merely using the values which arise out of a given social texture and integrating their conflicts, as the soundest, ‘purest’ art will do. It must have a definite hortatory function, an educational element of suasion or inducement; it must be partially forensic. Such a quality we consider to be the essential work of propaganda.”

Nevertheless, Wolfe apparently goes too far for the political/literary comfort of one of the dominant mindsets in literature today:

Tom Wolfe, “Stalking the Billion-Footed Beast,” Harpers, excerpt (1989): “That task [of writing accomplished (social) novels], as I see it, inevitably involves reporting, which I regard as the most valuable and least understood resource available to any writer with exalted ambitions, whether the medium is print, film, tape, or the stage. Young writers are constantly told, ‘Write about what you know.’ There is nothing wrong with that rule as a starting point, but it seems to get quickly magnified into an unspoken maxim: The only valid experience is personal experience.

“Emerson said that every person has a great autobiography to write, if only he understands what is truly his own unique experience. But he didn’t say every person had two great autobiographies to write. Dickens, Dostoyevski, Balzac, Zola, and Sinclair Lewis assumed that the novelist had to go beyond his personal experience and head out into society as a reporter. Zola called it documentation, and his documenting expeditions to the slums, the coal mines, the races […] notebook and pen in hand, became legendary.”

“Was it reporting that made Lewis the most highly regarded American novelist of the 1920s? Certainly not by itself. But it was the material he found through reporting that enabled Lewis to exercise with such rich variety his insights, many of them exceptionally subtle, into the psyches of men and women and into the status structure of society. Having said that, I will now reveal something that practically every writer has experienced—and none, as far as I know, has ever talked about. The young person who decides to become a writer because he has a subject or an issue in mind, because he has ‘something to say,’ is a rare bird. Most make that decision because they realize they have a certain musical facility with words… As he grows older, however, our young genius keeps running into this damnable problem of material, of what to write about… He tells himself that 95 percent of literary genius is the unique talent that is secure inside some sort of crucible in his skull and 5 percent is the material, the clay his talent will mold… Finally, you realize you have a choice. Either hide from it, wish it away, or wrestle with it. I doubt that there is a writer over forty who does not realize in his heart of hearts that literary genius, in prose, consists of proportions more on the order of 65 percent material and 35 percent of the talent in the sacred crucible.”

“…one last point. It is not merely that reporting is useful in gathering the petis faits vrais that create verisimilitude and make a novel gripping or absorbing, although that side of the enterprise is worth paying attention to. My contention is that, especially in an age like this, they are essential for the very greatest effects literature can achieve….”

“Philip Roth was absolutely right. The imagination of the novelist is powerless before what he knows he’s going to read in tomorrow morning’s newspaper. But a generation of American writers has drawn precisely the wrong conclusion from that perfectly valid observation. The answer is not to leave the rude beast, the material, also known as the life around us, to the journalists but to do what journalists do, or are supposed to do, which is to wrestle the beast and bring it to terms.

“…If fiction writers do not start facing the obvious, the literary history of the second half of the twentieth century will record that journalists not only took over the richness of American life as their domain but also seized the high ground of literature itself. Any literary person who is willing to look back over the American literary terrain of the past twenty-five years—look back candidly, in the solitude of the study—will admit that in at least four years out of five the best nonfiction books have been better literature than the most highly praised books of fiction. Any truly candid observer will go further. In many years, the most highly praised books of fiction have been overshadowed in literary terms by writers whom literary people customarily dismiss as ‘writers of popular fiction’ (a curious epithet) or as genre novelists… Leaving the question of talent aside, [such novelists] have one enormous advantage over their more literary confreres. They are not only willing to wrestle the beast; they actually love the battle.”

These excerpts and more are available here:
http://www.politicalnovel.org/politicalliterarycriticismfull.html

What’s your material? What’s your purpose(s)? These are fundamentally important questions for imaginative writers, and I assume others as well, and Wolfe quite rightly raises them.

What are your ideals? Public, private, aesthetic, etc.... What is human nature? These are fundamental questions too - ones that I think Wolfe skimps on and which may account for much of the weakness in his fiction. These are all questions that ought to be considered strongly, I think, as imaginative writers, scholars, and others work their way forward.

By Tony Christini on 12/19/05 at 02:00 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I can’t resist. This exchange is a keeper:

CR: “And, just to flesh out my version of the stakes here, this piece hits someone like Sean squarely between the eyes. Just decks him. The posture that he and fellowthinkers take - that they’re saving literature from the theorists - just doesn’t make sense when you look closely at the way literature functions in their work.

(Actually, while I’m at it - this essay also speaks to what McCann and Holbo have in common… What is John’s stake in messing with literature departments? Does he really want to take over my Modern British Novel class? Absolutely not. Criticism for criticism’s sake… No interest in literature at all. None. Xcept xtremely cheezy sci-fi garbaage.”

Rich quotes CR. And CR blames ... Rich for ‘forgetting his manners.’ Sorry, this reminds me of a family in-joke I now have to share with you. A friend has two nephews - aged 3 and 1. The 3-year old comes up to his mom and blames the 1-year old (we’ll call him ‘Rich’. I can’t remember his name.) ‘Rich pooped in my pants.’ So that’s our family’s version of the ‘I didn’t do it’ boy. The moral of the story is: CR, would it kill you to take a little more responsibility for your own comment box messes? Sheesh. (Apologies to Rich for comparing him to a 1-year old. That is uncalled for, admittedly.)

And I’m sure that CR will object that his, er, pearls of wisdom were taken out of context. I have read the thread in question and fail to see that anything he goes on to say constitutes a justification for any of his rather strong claims. But he is free to explain himself, as always.

Apologies for dwelling on the ridiculous. This was a very fine post, Miriam. Thank you.

By John Holbo on 12/19/05 at 04:47 PM | Permanent link to this comment

"One of the submerged problems in Waters’ essay--hinted at by his use of the indefinte pronoun “you” near the beginning--is that he keeps moving back and forth between the critic’s aesthetic response to art (something approaching Walter Pater’s arguments in The Renaissance) and claims about what art itself does.  That is, who experiences art as “rebellious, destabilizing, liberating”? And can we really separate “sense” from “idea,” as Waters does in his reading of Whitman--"That kind of experience embodies the experience of the new democratic order that Whitman was celebrating, gives us a sense, not an idea, of that order”?  We might not get “ideas” from the poetry, to borrow from E. M. Forster’s “The Machine Stops,” but we’re hardly going to get a sense of “the new democratic order” from an aesthetic experience eo ipso.  For starters, we need to know what a new democratic order is, and we need to know that Whitman is celebrating it.”

Here’s something of what Kenneth Burke had to say about Whitman-type art and democracy:

“The ‘Whitmanesqe’ focuses attention upon the ‘human element’ in our patterns of sociality, the typical situations of life.... In so far as it stresses the lamentable rather than the picturesque, it is felt to move into the suspect area of ‘propaganda’....

“Much valuable art is still to be done within the Whitmanesque strategy of idealization, or humanization. But such idealization, unless corrected by a critique that moves it into the suspect area of ‘propaganda,’ can come to function as little more than a promiscuous flattering of the status quo, in its bad aspects as well as its good ones. For wherever there are people, there is something to be ‘humanized’.... Thus can the patron subsidize in the ‘applied art’ of his advertising copy the representation of commercial values that indirectly bring about the dispossession of a dirt farmer, and as a purchaser of ‘pure’ art he can buy a Whitmanesque picture ‘humanizing’ the work patterns of the dirt farmer who is to be dispossessed.... The ‘Whitmanesque strategy” will surely continue to be the favorite mode of ‘pure’ art - and recently when I heard over the radio an anouncement that an influential business organization was calling for an ‘open road,’ I realized how neatly the Whitmanesque succeeds in offering something for everybody, making the interests of piper and tune-caller identical, hence allowing the poet simultaneosly to ‘be himself’ and to act as public spokesman for his patrons, or customers.”

-"The Calling of the Tune”

By Tony Christini on 12/20/05 at 12:12 AM | Permanent link to this comment

As for the Long Sunday thread, I could have done without the genre snobbishness, and T. J. Clark‘s name adds no credibility in my household. However, I appreciated the pointer to Mark Greif’s American Prospect piece from last year. It would be hard for someone like me to resist his closing call to tongues:

The problem of theory was never the philosophy it drew on but the absence of a public forum to criticize it, expand it for intelligent adults, and correct it. The return of the linking intellectuals—adept in philosophical thought but not beholden to the academy—could restore a heritage of speaking to the public about the professors, and, more importantly, could get the professors speaking honestly and intelligibly to us.

By Ray Davis on 12/20/05 at 12:47 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Yeah, Ray, I was being a little (more) snobby (than I really am) about SF. What I want to know is what’s wrong with TJ Clark. You can’t just throw that fight song bit out there… He’s a bit of a hero to some of us.

I kinda liked Grief’s piece too.

Oh, and John: glad that I can be of service, add to your archive of “keepers.” If you like, when your kids act up, you can tell them the CR story now I guess instead of the poop at a distance tale. God knows I’m ready with lots of tales of Holbonism for my little one if she ever decides to become an analytical philosopher.

(But then again, “shes” can’t become analytical philosophers, now can they.... Something to do with the locker room layout, right...)

(Gratuitous that… Sorry...)

By on 12/20/05 at 01:11 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Yes, CR. It’s good you felt sorry about writing such a thing. But, since you then hit the submit button, there is still room for improvement. (Regarding that locker room pungency you deplore? Ask not for whom the smell tolls. It tolls for thee.)

By John Holbo on 12/21/05 at 12:48 PM | Permanent link to this comment

It should be noted that Ngai is a woman.

Has anyone read Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht’s Production of Presence: What Meaning Cannot Convey?

By on 12/21/05 at 07:35 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I haven’t read the Gumbrecht, Ken, but it looks like a worthwhile message.

By Ray Davis on 12/22/05 at 10:32 AM | Permanent link to this comment

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