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Past Valve Book Events

cover of the book Theory's Empire

Event Archive

cover of the book The Literary Wittgenstein

Event Archive

cover of the book Graphs, Maps, Trees

Event Archive

cover of the book How Novels Think

Event Archive

cover of the book The Trouble With Diversity

Event Archive

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

Event Archive

cover of the book The Novel of Purpose

Event Archive

The Valve - Closed For Renovation

Happy Trails to You

What’s an Encyclopedia These Days?

Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Intimate Enemies: What’s Opera, Doc?

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

Feynmann, John von Neumann, and Mental Models

Support Michael Sporn’s Film about Edgar Allen Poe

Philosophy, Ontics or Toothpaste for the Mind

Nazi Rules for Regulating Funk ‘n Freedom

The Early History of Modern Computing: A Brief Chronology

Computing Encounters Being, an Addendum

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

Symposium on Graeber’s Debt

The Nightmare of Digital Film Preservation

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

Bill Benzon on Whatwhatwhatwhatwhatwhatwhat?

Nick J. on The Valve - Closed For Renovation

Bill Benzon on Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Norma on Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

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

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

William Ray on That Shakespeare Thing

Bill Benzon on That Shakespeare Thing

William Ray on That Shakespeare Thing

JoseAngel on That Shakespeare Thing

Bill Benzon on Objects and Graeber's Debt

Bill Benzon on A Dirty Dozen Sneaking up on the Apocalypse

JoseAngel on A Dirty Dozen Sneaking up on the Apocalypse

JoseAngel on Objects and Graeber's Debt

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Thursday, November 17, 2005

So, is this a masculine space?

Posted by Miriam Jones on 11/17/05 at 07:24 PM

Not completely, obviously. But the XX share of the collective burden and privilege of writing and commenting here at The Valve is being shouldered by relatively few. I count myself as more of a shirker, these days, than a shoulderer, btw.

So, what about it? Are there women reading and lurking, but not commenting too often? Or not commenting at all? Are there women who visit less frequently than they once did? If so, would anyone be willing to suggest why? It can’t be demographics, not any more, when graduate programmes in literary studies more or less seem to have achieved gender parity, and women are well represented in the lower ranks, at least, of the professoriate. Is academic discourse, the academic discourse of our discipline(s) in particular, still masculinist? Is it a question of subject matter? Or tone? Or the resoundingly male company hereabouts?

Inquiring minds, etc.


Comments

When I polled my readership a few months back, I was shocked to learn that it was almost 50% female; I assumed some read-to-comment ratio held, but obviously I assumed wrongly.  I think there may be a bit of gender politics to comment sections, esp. when they’re frequented by trolls who call any woman who replies a c**t (or some amalgamated worse).  It may also be--and I’m stating the offensive here--that female readers feel more comfortable commenting on posts written by females.  (Please, prove me wrong.  Regularly.  And with vigor.) A quick scan through the John & Belle archives bear this out: women frequently respond to Belle, but only rarely to John, even when they both post “cute kid” stories. 

And females frequently contribute to the comment threads on Dr. B.’s site; then again, since many of those topics don’t relate specifically to academia, but to general issues of political import, I think she has a wider pool to draw from.  I’m resisting the urge to say something foolishly essentialist in order to pull our female readers from the shadows to denounce me . . . and I’m still resisting it, so instead I’ll ask:

Do you think the culture of the Valve is one which, for whatever reason, has become hostile to female readers?  (I snuck some essentialism in there: “What do you mean, ‘hostile to female readers’?  What exactly are you dishing out that your informed, intellectual female readership is chromosomally incapable of taking?") Alright, I blather, but I wonder whether the regular comments self-identifying feminists like Dr. B. get from females isn’t just another sign of the atomization of the academy.  Feminists frequent feminist sites the same way historicists like to cite other historicists, &c.

By Scott Eric Kaufman on 11/17/05 at 10:07 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I lurk all the time and comment occasionally. I’m a woman, but you wouldn’t know it if you just saw my name and didn’t click through to my blog. My field is rhetoric/composition/technical communication, not literary studies, so I only comment under posts whose topics I’m qualified to comment upon. Actually, with my literature background (B.A. and M.A.), I’m qualified to comment on anything here, but there’s no way I’m going to have time to haul off and read articles and books far afield of my research just to be able to comment about them on a blog.

But to your question, Scott and Miriam. Look at all the posts on the front page of the Valve. I’m here every day, so I can say with some confidence that the most recent posts are representative of the kind of stuff that’s typically here. How many of the critics and authors (artists) mentioned are women? Two: Judith Butler and Nella Larsen (thanks Scott!), but they’re only mentioned in passing, not substantively engaged. Scan the names here: Walter Benn Michaels, Derrida, Freud, to name the heavier-weight critics, but even the brief, news-y articles posters link to that prompt discussion tend, almost always, to be written by men.

I bet if more women scholars and artists were really taken seriously here, more women would comment. It’s not as simple as “Fie! We sha’n’t do any of that identitarian-political pandering!” (Not that anyone here would make such a remark.) It’s not necessarily atomization, either. Representation plays a considerable role in setting the tone for inclusivity. It’s possible that some women who are literary scholars might, for whatever reason, study more literature authored by women than by men. In those cases, I suspect that’s treated far more often as identity politics and the unwarranted politicization of literature and aesthetics than cases in which men read and study texts by other men. It harks back to that homophily argument.

So let’s have some discussion of Le Guin, Russ, Dickinson, Behn, Woolf, Lessing, Stein, and more.

By Clancy on 11/17/05 at 10:56 PM | Permanent link to this comment

That might sound more incendiary than I meant it to be. I’m only making a recommendation, not saying that women always and have to read and write about other women. And I’m not trying to suggest that you (anyone here) should write about something you’re not interested in just because a woman wrote it.

I’m curious to hear what other people think.

By Clancy on 11/17/05 at 11:06 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Clancy, I lurk your blog, but that’s only because I’m interested in the comp./rhetoric material but don’t feel I have the qualifications to speak to it.  And I’ll be front and center at your panel...but to defend my own contributions here, as well as those of others, I don’t gender ideas.  I think ideas are ideas are ideas (not that I want to discuss Stein), but your post actually makes me wonder why I didn’t x-post my hagiographic treatment of Octavia Butler here...or why I haven’t written about Le Guin--whose novels I love but whose implicit criticisms of New Deal policy I find distressing--here even though I’ve written four essays about her work.  And to be honest, I would love little more than to do nothing but sing Joan Didion’s praises, but I fear people would tire of that after a while…

...so Miriam, I may follow your post up with a post of my own on this topic.

By Scott Eric Kaufman on 11/17/05 at 11:13 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I certainly don’t want to devalue any contributions anyone has made here. Far from it. And to be clear, I don’t find the Valve to be a hostile atmosphere. I’ve never been ripped up here before, though right now would be the time, if it’s ever going to happen, heh.

I do think it’s good to brainstorm about anything that might draw more women into the conversations, which it’s obvious to me that all the Valve authors want to do.  What I was trying to say, in my coltish manner, was that one thing to try would be to discuss more women artists and critics. But it might not work; I could very well be completely wrong on this.

By Clancy on 11/18/05 at 12:03 AM | Permanent link to this comment

You know, maybe once women start writing some decent novels or poetry, we’ll talk about them, but I just haven’t seen that kind of high-quality output.

(For the sake of clarity, that comment was sarcastic.)

By Adam Kotsko on 11/18/05 at 12:21 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Thanks for clearing that up, Adam.

By on 11/18/05 at 12:58 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Funny but true: when I first read this, I thought “Yeah, there was a post recently about inviting more people to write for The Valve.  They should invite whoever does that scribblingwoman blog, that’s pretty good.” Oops!

By on 11/18/05 at 01:00 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Thanks, Rich! Though you can certainly be forgiven for not noticing me here because I have not been much in evidence of late. Mainly because my home life has been time-consuming, in a difficult way, all this term and I am so behind with marking that I am in danger of being shot whenever I appear on campus.

Clancy’s point is excellent. I work mainly on women and should certainly be able to manage more posts, myself. But then there is Scott’s interesting admission that although he has done significant work on some women writers, he does not tend to post on them here, to let them frolic with Freud, Derrida, et al. That is certainly food for thought.

By mj on 11/18/05 at 08:22 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Honestly, the comment culture on the Valve is so brutal that it turns me off. And, this doesn’t have to be a gender thing--the Weblog isn’t like that all neither is long sunday. But some regulars here--men-- are so thuggish that participation seems pointless.

By Jodi on 11/18/05 at 10:07 AM | Permanent link to this comment

I am female and a frequent lurker here. I spend about equal amounts of time at blogs written by women and blogs written by men. I come here for the literature talk—the chance to “hear” experts “talk” about literature and theory in which I don’t specialize. I don’t write much on women’s literature, so Nella Larson or Ursula Le Guin or Doris Lessing would be just as interesting to hear about—but just as outside my area—as Walter Benn Michaels.

I don’t post much anywhere I lurk because I am untenured. Period. And in this regard, perhaps there still *IS* a demographic aspect to academic female blog silence. Sure, women have achieved parity in numbers in English departments (although *I* have never been in an English department where this is the case), but the experience on the ground feels like: Look, this is historically a new phenomenon, and it could be reversed any time, and everyone has the (wildly inaccurate)perception that English is an overly feminized field anyway, so no one really has your back. Don’t ruin it by letting everyone know how much you read blogs. Come to think of it, don’t ruin it by giving out excess opinions.

By on 11/18/05 at 10:46 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Is “thuggish” the term you want? I recall Sean and others having various sharp exchanges with you and some of your Long Sunday comrades in the comment threads, but I’d say that the nastiness in those was pretty well distributed--an unappealing thing to be sure, but not one that could attributed to one side’s masculinity more than another’s.

By Jonathan on 11/18/05 at 11:03 AM | Permanent link to this comment

But thuggishness of tone does have something to do with masculinity, and I am unlikely to post a comment in a thread that has already taken the turn towards brash position-bashing (or that starts out with grand philosophical generalizations about culture).  I posted something related to this at my blog recently, about my experience of reading the latest issue of n+1.  I’m not making this as an essentialist claim--I jokingly referred to n+1 making me painfully aware that I’m ‘missing’ a Y chromosome, but one of my students tactfully pointed out to me in a private e-mail afterwards that the phenomenon of alienation I described might just as well be experienced by a queer ‘male’ reader as by a female one, or by anyone else for that matter. 

I think it’s a question about what intellectual boys and girls (I’m using those terms semi-ironically, and also wildly generalizing) like to do for fun.  A lot of what happens in places like the Valve or n+1 reads to me like boy-fun rather than girl-fun.  I don’t know--I can’t quite articulate it--but I often hold up to students (graduate or undergraduate) who have written dense and difficult essays or chapters the ideal of writing for someone’s well-educated mother: i.e. a female reader (perhaps a high-school principal or a lawyer).  I think that many intellectual men underrate the extent to which female readers--WHATEVER their intellectual background and training--are put off and/or feel excluded by a certain kind of philosophy-inflected or jargon-dense prose.  I can see the Valve posters are having fun, and in that sense I wholly approve of what happens here, but it’s not the kind of fun I experience as actually enjoyable, if that makes any sense.  All right, I have rambled on for long enough; but in answer to the original question, I’d say it’s a matter of style or tone rather than substance, and that including more explicit discussion of female authors would not change the dynamic if it veers towards (for example) smart but high-minded and potentially rather self-serious discussions of writers like Stein and Woolf.

By Jenny D on 11/18/05 at 01:14 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Side note: what strikes me is that almost none of the bloggers I read (many of whom are women) who are also scholars or critics of language and literature comment here or post blog entries that respond to what goes on here.

*shrug*

By gzombie on 11/18/05 at 01:22 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Jenny--the Chronicle published an opinion piece that lamented how few grand philosophical gestures and brash posturings there were in the Theory’s Empire event. It was written by a man, however.

By Jonathan on 11/18/05 at 02:11 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I read that piece, and I have to say that my jaw metaphorically dropped!  Perspectival difference…

By Jenny D on 11/18/05 at 02:23 PM | Permanent link to this comment

One solution to this problem we’ve been kicking around is inviting Paul Deignan (http://info-theory.blogspot.com) to do some guest posting. Deignan applies the findings of information theory to political issues that have been sullied with too much “feeling” and not enough thought, as I understand it.

By Jonathan on 11/18/05 at 02:31 PM | Permanent link to this comment

No Jonathan,

The dichotomy of feeling-thinking has reorganized our political infrastructure into pale monochromes. It is the interplay in the exchange that sparks creative ideas, complex associations, and eventually, a fuller truth.

I allude to this in the Agents of Chaos post.

BTW, lovely site.

By Paul Deignan on 11/18/05 at 02:43 PM | Permanent link to this comment

My God! He’s everywhere! It’s like that age-old quesion: If a blog mentions Paul Deignan and he doesn’t comment on that blog, does the blog actually exist?

Let’s see if we can’t get PD and JB to interact with each other, like that photographer who brings small creatures together to document how they react to each other. Sometimes one will eat the other.

I’m just sayin’.

Two birds. One stone. You do the math.

By gzombie on 11/18/05 at 02:53 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Is there some kind of stone shortage I haven’t heard about?  I say, use as many stones as practicable.

By Adam Kotsko on 11/18/05 at 02:54 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Jenny D: “But thuggishness of tone does have something to do with masculinity [...]”

Before this word goes too much further, please recognize that the original use of “thuggish” in this thread by Jodi ("And, this doesn’t have to be a gender thing--the Weblog isn’t like that all neither is long sunday. But some regulars here--men-- are so thuggish that participation seems pointless.") was clearly intended as as attack on particular individuals, which Jodi is depending on the context of the thread to keep from being called on—since any response (including this one) will immediately be characterized as example of the very syndrome being criticized.  Long Sunday tends to define itself in opposition to The Valve, and statements made out of the history of this one-sided opposition do not really reflect any difference between, say, the general tone and “masculinity” of comment threads when any serious disagreement is present.

By on 11/18/05 at 02:56 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Jenny D said:  think that many intellectual men underrate the extent to which female readers--WHATEVER their intellectual background and training--are put off and/or feel excluded by a certain kind of philosophy-inflected or jargon-dense prose.

I think she is exactly right.  I would imagine that, broadly speaking, women are likely to be pretty tuned in to the power games latent in “high” discourse, and to tune it out for that reason.  Which isn’t to say individual women don’t enjoy that sort of thing in large, medium, or small doses, but that across a broad group, it’s unlikely to be appealling on a day-in, day-out basis.  Women are trained to network--and commenting is a form of networking--by building consensus and, if anything, being self-deprecating; high discourse doesn’t really allow for much of that.

By bitchphd on 11/18/05 at 03:12 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I personally try to post useful things (surveys of recent contents of journals) or odd, pleasing things (what was taught at St. John’s in 1943, the Unabomber’s scholarly interest in Pygmies). The “high discourse” stuff forms actually, I think, a relatively small percentage of what gets posted here, though it does tend to draw comments.

By Jonathan on 11/18/05 at 03:19 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Miriam,

But then there is Scott’s interesting admission that although he has done significant work on some women writers, he does not tend to post on them here, to let them frolic with Freud, Derrida, et al. That is certainly food for thought.

I think there’s some process of selection which speaks to what everyone’s mentioning that dictates what I do and don’t x-post here.  For example, when some topic compels me to write about it--say, my annoyance with a certain kind of brazenly myopic scholarship--it strikes me as a topic worth x-posing.  The Octavia Butler Appreciation Festival--only one post, but still--started as an afterthought to my post on Lacanian citational logic and how an author establishes trust with his or her readers.  (I trust Deffeyes, via McPhee, as well as McPhee, the same way I trust Butler...so much so I’ll even read a book about vampires.) Now, I can think of one differences between those two posts: the one on Lacan and citation is, relatively speaking, rigorously written; the one on Butler is silly and contains anecdotes about Anne Rice’s annual Halloween party...and it was really an appreciation more than an analysis.  I could have analyzed the book, but that’s not what I wanted to do in that post.  (I could also post bloggified excerpts from my work on Le Guin, but that means re-reading it, and my prose at the time was, well, let’s call it “a tragedy” and not think about it anymore.)

Jenny,

...a certain kind of philosophy-inflected or jargon-dense prose.

I don’t want to be difficult, but what “certain kind” is that?  Analytic philosophy-kind?  Because the feminists I know are as steeped in philosophy-inflected, jargon-dense prose as any other academic; and they’re willing to debate the merits of their methodology with as much vehemence as any other academic.  I don’t mean to sound reductive by affirming that this claim sounds reductive, but it does.

By Scott Eric Kaufman on 11/18/05 at 03:35 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I used the term thuggish deliberately, in part to explain why I don’t comment here very often. Yes, I have particular people in mind. That seems appropriate since I’m using a rather harsh term.

But I don’t think the disagrement can be reduced to one between Long Sunday and the Valve or to one of ‘serious’ disagreement. There are serious disagreements and arguments at Long Sunday, and between Long Sunday contributors, that don’t become thuggish. In fact, I would be shocked if any regular long sunday contributor were interpellated by the term ‘thuggish.’ Of course, there have been some very hostile exchanges at Long Sunday. So, hostility is present (one that I have in mind was between men and seemed to get personal). But I don’t think thuggish would accurately characterize this exchange. Finally, I say thuggish because of responses to me, personally, on this blog, when I’ve tried to engage in an exchange (specifically regarding Zizek and Sorel). That was not about Long Sunday at all.

By Jodi on 11/18/05 at 04:27 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I read every day, but I don’t think I’ve ever commented before, and I’m female.  Maybe I’ll try to comment more in the future!

By Katie on 11/18/05 at 04:28 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Jodi, I find your concern with “thuggishness” rather rich.  I lurk here a few times a week, and while I can’t honestly say I find every post interesting and engaging, I don’t see a lot of what I would consider “thuggishness” in the comments here.  When I do find a post interesting, I don’t comment because I don’t generally have time to devote to a thoughtful comment or response.

As you may remember, I am the poster child for “incommensurability” who used to comment on your blog.  I can recall being mugged, in pretty thuggish fashion, by a commenter with a male name who responded not by engaging *anything* I had to say but by attacking me personally and in a sometimes sex-specific and offensive fashion.  Far from being concerned about his thuggishness, however, you seemed to suggest that I had provoked him—*not* by being abusive and uncivil but, presumably, by the fact of my “incommensurability.”

You can do what you like with your own blog.  But why should the Valve be held to standards of non-thuggishness that you don’t seem to honor on your own blog?

By on 11/18/05 at 05:33 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Ladies and gentlemen, we are truly on the verge of a thread-hijacking of epic proportions.  Will Jodi respond?  Will others pile on against her or against the unnamed male commenter at Jodi’s site?  Stay tuned!

By Adam Kotsko on 11/18/05 at 05:46 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I’m not trying to hijack the thread.  I was just extremely put off by Jodi’s more-enlightened-and-less-thuggish-than-thou tone.  The commenter was Patrick J. Mullins.

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

If anyone wants to know specifically who Jodi is accusing of thuggish discourse, it’s Sean McCann in the thread here, which includes typically thuggish comments from Long Sunday contributors CR and Matt, and in which Jodi’s second sentence was a declaration that Sean didn’t have the slightest idea of what he was talking about ("The post doesn’t have anything to do with Zizek, Foucault, or Sorel, as far as I can tell.")

I really agree with bitchphd’s mention of there often being “power games latent in ‘high’ discourse” (not so latent in the above-linked thread). The problem with Jenny D’s assertion that women “feel excluded by a certain kind of philosophy-inflected or jargon-dense prose”, though, is that The Valve has a particular focus on using philosophy to talk about literary theory.  If Jenny D is right, then there’s basically nothing that can or should change, unless The Valve wants to start focussing on some other topic.

By on 11/18/05 at 05:49 PM | Permanent link to this comment

To say that the post didnt have anything to do with Zizek, Foucault, or Sorel wasn’t dismissive. Sean was explicit that he was interested in a book by one Michael Tratner:

“Let me reiterate, I’m not particularly interested in Zizek.  The point of my post was to mention Michael Tratner’s book and to note that I had been reminded of it by what strikes me as the common Sorelian premises in contemporary literary academic attitudes.”

Kate Marie might have noticed that I didn’t refer to I Cite as an exemplary space; rather, I referred to Long Sunday and The Weblog. Although I wouldn’t use the word thuggish myself, I doesn’t surprise me that she characterized her treatment by PM on I Cite in that way. As far as I’m concerned, that interaction is between the two of them. I blocked (but ultimately eliminated the block) Kate Marie from I Cite for a while in an effort to try to keep conversations on I Cite on a particular track, one particular to my interests and concerns (namely, I don’t see it as a place for debates about Republicans and Democrats, or a place for defenses of conservatism, etc; folks who want those debates can find interesting and valuable ones elsewhere).

I’ll add as well that I think Kate Marie raises an interesting point: people don’t agree as to what they find thuggish.

By Jodi on 11/18/05 at 06:41 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Jodi,

No, you didn’t refer to I Cite as an exemplary space.  I wonder, then, by what rubric The Valve should adhere to your notions of an exemplary space—or should be castigated or criticized for failing to do so?

By on 11/18/05 at 06:55 PM | Permanent link to this comment

You do realize your name appears on the recent comment sidebar, don’t you Rich?  What a funny guy.

Have you ever considered not dominating a thread, Rich?  (But then, someone must cover for the relentless McCann!)

Well said, Jenny D.

By Lindsay on 11/18/05 at 07:00 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I read this site and I’m female.  I’ve never posted a comment because—well, it isn’t so much that the comment culture is “thuggish,” but that a small group of people seem very comfortable talking to one another in the comments in nearly every discussion; they always have plenty to say to one another, and can keep going back-and-forth for long periods without getting bored, apparently.  I think one of the fantasies of the Internet is that you can set up a community of people on the basis of an abstract interest, and the people drawn to the community will only send their abstract interests and leave their personalities offline.  It just isn’t true.  When these things work, they work by coincidence or because the terms of discussion are very strictly defined, or because the necessary role of personality is taken up by some sort of authoritarian blog manager.  I’m not a political theorist and I don’t know how well this observation squares with what, I’m sure, are a zillion studies of online communities and democratic discourse and so forth.  The fact that this site has turned into a *relatively* closed circle is no surprise to me.

Well, but, why are most or all of the circulators men?  The thing is, of course, that on a weblog no one is male or female: we’re all text.  That’s not to say that gender doesn’t play a role in interactions, but it doesn’t play the role you might think it does, and it’s never particularly productive to ask the men posting all the posts and writing all the comments why they don’t include more women.  Same with canon formation, same with tons of other things.  Everyone looks at their trousers for a moment and says, well, hmm, how shall I write so I am more inclusive of women, or of men?  Regardless of who these men are, or women, who might be included or not.  Again, you have an abstraction, and you are trying to import it from the world of people into the world of text, but that isn’t how things work.  I’m sure it’s equally unproductive to point out how complicated things are, but I hope at least it’s honest.

Nonetheless, Dr. Jones’ post prompted me to comment, as no previous post had.  Why?  It seemed like a question specifically *not* directed to the usual group of commenters, posed by someone who might appreciate my input.  I’ll be surprised if anyone, particularly any of the usual commenters, posts any follow-up to what I have to say, and that’s why I don’t bother commenting—I don’t have the knack for continuing argument or debate that other people, male or female, seem to have.  Usually once I feel ready to say something, it’s because I’ve argued it out in my head and gotten it to a point of dialectical resolution.  I don’t tend to work things out in discussion.  And I honestly wonder if there’s any gender component to that: it certainly seems to me that women do much more of their theoretical thinking privately, or in dialogue with books and papers, than men do.  I could count on one thumb the number of discussions of literary theory I have had with other women.  With men, hundreds.

This also seems clearly not to be good.  Dialogue is critical to establishing a community of knowledge and a common tongue.  If it’s really true—and to be honest I find the thought sort of appalling—that women aren’t interested in complex philosophical arguments or drawing wide conclusions on the fly, but they’ll just let the men do it if they *are* interested, then we’ll continue to have a segregation of knowledge and understanding and competencies that everyone in the field needs.

You ask if this is a masculine space; I think it is.  I don’t know how it could be otherwise.  There doesn’t seem to be any deeply-felt internal dissatisfaction among the male posters and commenters with the lack of female voices, or whatever, and there’s really nothing wrong with that: this site is not “literary critique” and the male participants are not “masculinity” or “the patriarchy.” They’re a bunch of people.  Correct me if I’m wrong.

By withheld on 11/18/05 at 07:07 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I think the culture of discussion at the Valve could be better than it is, though I hesitate to prescribe a straightforward solution.

Discussing more women writers and critics might be a start. Reading these comments I went back and looked at my own posts, which have sometimes fit the bill: 8 out of my 34 posts here have primarily engaged woman writers or critics. (23 percent: not a very impressive ratio, I know.)

Many of those posts got few or no comments. And a couple of them (for instance, my post Azar Nafisi) resulted in such (thuggish) vituperation that I rather wished I hadn’t bothered.

Neither fact is dispositive… But it might be worth going back through the Valve’s general archives to see if posts by women Valvesters or about women writers/critics led to a) no response; b) dismissal of the validity of the subject tout court (to say nothing of the substantive claims); or c) comments that had to be closed because they got so nasty.

My instinct is that you’ll find a mix of the three.

By Amardeep on 11/18/05 at 07:10 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I find it a bit amusing that Rich links to that utterly embarassing Valve thread as proof of Long Sunday thuggishness(!).  I’m no expert in either blog really (and you are free to discredit me at your own leisure), but from the little I do know...that particular thread does not reflect too well on its author, shall we say.  To the extent that it reflects a general trend here, however… maybe very appropriate. 

Why don’t the folks with penises just abstain for a full week?  I dare you.

By Michelle on 11/18/05 at 07:17 PM | Permanent link to this comment

All I know is, I am more conscious of my gender (and my non-Americanness, for that matter) here than at any other place I hang out on the internet.  But why?  It’s not just being in a minority.  There are some things about the place that don’t appeal to me, like this bringing up of old conflicts, but I find it hard to believe they are a product of gender imbalance.  I doubt any of us here would subscribe to the idea that women and men can be separated along gender lines on their intellectual preferences.  Or, if they can, according to some old notion of gendered behaviour (say women are less likely to seek out adversarial encounters and confrontations) then The Valve is exactly the kind of gathering where you’d expect those preconceptions to be seen through and discarded immediately.

This is a hard topic for me to discuss without turning it into self-criticism.  It’s true I haven’t posted much here but that’s mainly because I don’t think what interests me is going to appeal at all to the folks who come here for Zizek-bashing.

I’ve been trying to post the kind of stuff that I would enjoy reading myself, but if The Valve is meant to be about “using philosophy to talk about literary theory,” and that’s fine of course if it is, then I doubt I’ve much to contribute.  Scott’s comment at 2.35pm speaks illuminatingly to the question of what is considered appropriate here (rigor) and what is best corraled in one’s own blog (silliness.) I think I agree with him.

By on 11/18/05 at 07:20 PM | Permanent link to this comment

And a couple of them (for instance, my post Azar Nafisi) resulted in such (thuggish) vituperation that I rather wished I hadnt bothered.

http://www.livejournal.com/~commonplacebook/109146.html

http://this-space.blogspot.com/2005/08/reading-nafisi-in-west.html

http://this-space.blogspot.com/2005/09/more-reading-in-west.html

Thuggish?  Or did you mean The Notorious Troll of Sorrow, who also pesters Long Sunday?  Just wondering.

By Matt on 11/18/05 at 07:27 PM | Permanent link to this comment

The Weblog might be a more exemplary space in terms of mutual love and edification, but it’s not especially noteworthy in terms of gender parity among commenters.  It is better than The Valve on that front (and what blog isn’t?—I’m sure that if _Maxim_ had a blog, it would have higher female participation than this page), but I’d like to do better. 

I’ve been trying to recruit a regular female writer for some time.  If anyone’s interested, contact me—I have a (mostly) open door policy on guest posts; you just have to send in your first proposed post to me (akotsko AT gmail DOT com).

(Now THAT’s a thread-hijacking!)

By Adam Kotsko on 11/18/05 at 07:43 PM | Permanent link to this comment

First, an anecdote:

During the feminist pedagogy section of UCI’s “How to Teach” class, we read an essay which I can neither find nor track down in which the author proposed that each student be given a penny and that they had to pay to speak.  The idea was that everyone else would have a chance to speak before loud mouth would be allowed to say anything again.  I hated the idea in a classroom setting because I go to great lengths to democratize conversation--e.g. I keep a mental ledger of who’s spoken and call on those who don’t volunteer; am a vigorous proponent of what I called, this quarter, “Brazen Displays of Leadership,” i.e. student-led discussions; &c.--but it may be a better practice on a blog.  That said, I do appreciate the regular commentary I get from people like Rich, John Emerson, &c., and wouldn’t want to discourage them from commenting. 

Laura,

It’s true I haven’t posted much here but that’s mainly because I don’t think what interests me is going to appeal at all to the folks who come here for Zizek-bashing.

We wouldn’t have asked you to contribute if we didn’t like what you write.  I read your blog regularly, and it’s not entirely silly stuff.  I love what you’ve written here on film and literature, as have others...so why not do that more often?  One way to think about the purpose of the Valve would be that it can be a cheap and easy way to peer into other sub-fields.  I wish Amardeep would cut-and-paste what I read on his blog over here more often; not that I have much to add to what he says, or that I can comment on it, but because I learn something, quickly and painlessly, from someone I trust represents it well.

Michelle,

Why don’t the folks with penises just abstain for a full week?  I dare you.

Blogging is an addiction.  You might as well dare a heroin addict to keep clean for a week for all the good it would do...that said, weeks do go by when I don’t post anything here, so I may take you up on your offer. 

Withheld,

There doesn’t seem to be any deeply-felt internal dissatisfaction among the male posters and commenters with the lack of female voices, or whatever, and there’s really nothing wrong with that: this site is not “literary critique” and the male participants are not “masculinity” or “the patriarchy.”

Actually, there is.  I hope this isn’t too much information, but I think one of the reasons Miriam made this post are that all the contributors have been dissatisfied with the lack of female voices here.  I, for one, don’t imagine that I write for a male audience alone; in fact, when I do write something in Valve-mode, I imagine the same audience I consider when writing my dissertation...namely, an intelligent one which doesn’t know me personally.  (The expectations are slightly different for my own blog.)

Nonetheless, Dr. Jones’ post prompted me to comment, as no previous post had.  Why?  It seemed like a question specifically *not* directed to the usual group of commenters, posed by someone who might appreciate my input.

I appreciate all input, and I always try to respond to anyone who has responded to what I’ve written because I’m genuinely grateful that someone took time from their hectic schedule read, with consideration, something I’ve invested time composing.  I assume most everyone else here--contributors and commenters alike--think the same thing.  And, not to denigrate the contributions of regular commenters, but I love it when new voices emerge in comment threads, because genuinely unique perspectives on things that I’ve thought about are one of the reasons I started blogging in the first place.

By Scott Eric Kaufman on 11/18/05 at 07:45 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Matt, It did disturb me that one of the bloggers there was calling her a “fascist” based on the acknowledgments page of her book. It’s not quite thuggish, just stupid.

But actually I was referring to the comments I had to delete on the post itself.

By Amardeep on 11/18/05 at 07:48 PM | Permanent link to this comment

withheld: “I’ll be surprised if anyone, particularly any of the usual commenters, posts any follow-up to what I have to say, and that’s why I don’t bother commenting”

Well, with a dare like that ... you write: “a small group of people seem very comfortable talking to one another in the comments in nearly every discussion [...] I think one of the fantasies of the Internet is that you can set up a community of people on the basis of an abstract interest, and the people drawn to the community will only send their abstract interests and leave their personalities offline.”

Wouldn’t that fantasy of abstract interests and no personalities be what others in the thread have described as a particularly masculine style?  Compare bitchphd’s “Women are trained to network--and commenting is a form of networking--by building consensus and, if anything, being self-deprecating; high discourse doesn’t really allow for much of that.”

withheld: “The fact that this site has turned into a *relatively* closed circle is no surprise to me.”

I don’t see how frequent commenters make the site a “closed circle”.  It’s not like there is a fixed amount of space which is used up by frequent commenters, leaving none for others.  The typical feminist example in pedagogy is the class in which boys raise their hands all the time, leaving girls out, but there is no teacher here, no single focus that provides attention.

A good amount of the vituperative style that people dislike on The Valve is caused by people coming here specifically to air imagined grievances, whether it’s the Long Sunday crew (Jodi’s resurrection of her dispute with Sean being exemplary), the Troll of Sorrow, J*hn Br*ce, or any of the others we’ve come to know and love—check out the comments from “Lindsay” and “Michelle”, who I strongly suspect are sock puppets like the ones that Matt used here before.  I do that more active moderation should be considered if people at The Valve want to change this.  As I wrote right at the beginning of the blog, I think that this kind of thing is inevitable with this moderation policy.

But I don’t see how simple quantity closes the circle.

By on 11/18/05 at 08:49 PM | Permanent link to this comment

A few more thoughts (and by the way, the tone of this thread has been mostly thoughtful rather than argumentative--and I retract any claim as to the aptness of the word thuggishness, clearly I missed out on some essential backstory there--which I very much appreciate; and thanks to Miriam Jones for setting that tone in opening).

I like how Bitch PhD put it above.  High discourse--power games and all--is fine, and I’m happy to do it at work, but it just doesn’t feel hospitable to me for fun!  I think the sort of tonal variety that I find engaging is only very partially correlated with gender; and I wonder whether the regular contributors to The Valve might reconsider their self-imposed mandate.

What do I mean by this?  Well, let me respond to a couple points made above.  Scott, I didn’t mean “certain kind” of philosophical discourse in any sinister way, I was just trying to come up with a polite and more or less descriptive term for the style of writing that many of the people who post here use.  But I didn’t think your observation about feminists and theory-jargon really spoke to my basic point.  Namely, that we can be reading theory and reading philosophy and seriously engaging with the issues--and the language, of course--of what we’re reading without necessarily reproducing the tone, the vocabularies, the rhetorical modes of what we’re writing about.  Because if we do reproduce that language thoughtlessly, we may lose more than we gain. 

Rich says: “The problem with Jenny D’s assertion that women ‘feel excluded by a certain kind of philosophy-inflected or jargon-dense prose’, though, is that The Valve has a particular focus on using philosophy to talk about literary theory.  If Jenny D is right, then there’s basically nothing that can or should change, unless The Valve wants to start focussing on some other topic.” What if I am right, and what if there is something that the contributors here CAN do to vary the modes of approach here without at all abandoning the original mandate?  Putting philosophy and literary theory into play with each other is a wonderful and appealing idea.  But the way in which it usually happens over here (I realize I’m simplifying) is surely only one of, say, a dozen--or more--ways that you could mobilize the two in aid of having new and interesting conversations! 

I guess I’d like it if the tone was a bit less academic.  I can never use a word like “hegemony” or “interpellated” with a straight face, although I’m happy to converse seriously with others who can; but for that kind of conversation to happen we have to be willing to listen to what the other person is really saying, rather than making snap judgments about their intelligence or authority based on habits of thought as they are revealed in a person’s vocabulary. It’s hard to say this without sounding snarky, but the reason I don’t comment more often on posts here is partly that it would feel too much like work--I read a lot of dissertation chapters and book proposals and manuscripts and published books as part of my job, and write up critiques of them for the edification of various people including myself, and I don’t particularly want to be doing more of exactly the same thing in my spare time.  But I have been perplexed over the past months by how little I feel engaged by the discussions here despite the fact that surely I am close to the ideal reader for such a site, barring these questions about gender and tone.  I write about Locke, Hume, Burke; I have been an on-again-off-again serious reader of literary theory for almost twenty years now; I have a strong interest in twentieth-century philosophy, particularly folks like Nagel and Parfit; I love thinking about literature and culture outside of the usual bounds of my academic discipline (English); I know personally some of the contributors, and enjoy the blogs of various others; there is nothing I like more than talking about the legacies of the Enlightement, or the way that current debates around sociobiology and evolutionary psychology look different if you contextualize them with eighteenth- rather than nineteenth-century social thought, or Walter Benn Michaels on class for that matter--you get the idea.  And yet (oh, don’t be offended, I don’t mean it rudely!) I have often found the tone of the posts here, especially as topics get picked up in the comments thread, to be so off-putting as to be almost soul-destroying!  More playfulness, more listening to the voices of others, more flexibility as to thinking about what we gain from talking to others who do not share all of our basic assumptions about what’s worth talking about and what are the appropriate modes for doing so.

Thank you for your forbearance regarding this excessively long comment....

By Jenny D on 11/18/05 at 08:51 PM | Permanent link to this comment

But actually I was referring to the comments I had to delete on the post itself.

So it was the infamous Troll of Sorrow, and not anyone from Long Sunday.  Well thanks for clearing that up anyway.  As for the comment about John, I believe the term he used was “objectively pro-fascist” with some specific qualifications, was it not?  I’m sorry that is that your only response to his post.

By Matt on 11/18/05 at 09:10 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I’m confused by Rich’s comment. I don’t see how the fact that I had an example in mind an example of what I mean by thuggish is the same as coming here to air imagined grievances. The thread happened--it wasn’t imagined. It didn’t start as an airing of imagined grievances and didn’t function as an airing of imagined grievances.

More to the point of the thread, I’m interested in Jenny’s sense of the tone here. For me, as someone who also reads, writes, and comments for a living, academic language is my ordinary language, how I speak to my children (poor kids). So, what I don’t like is when a set of specific dismissive tropes are employed that prevent discussion. The most general way that I understand these tropes is in terms of good or bad faith. Some arguments are good faith efforts to understand. Others are efforts to put another in their place.

By Jodi on 11/18/05 at 09:19 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Richard has no problem conflating Jodi with John Bruce and the Troll of Sorrow; that’s just lovely, and predictable.

By Withheld on 11/18/05 at 09:22 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Withheld—Great, now you’ve given him an opportunity to further clarify (read: change) his position.

By Adam Kotsko on 11/18/05 at 09:23 PM | Permanent link to this comment

In Rich’s defence, the comments authored by “Michelle” and “Lindsay” above do indeed come from the same IP address.

By on 11/18/05 at 09:24 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Laura: I’ve been trying to post the kind of stuff that I would enjoy reading myself, but if The Valve is meant to be about “using philosophy to talk about literary theory,” and that’s fine of course if it is, then I doubt I’ve much to contribute.

Me either, Laura, and I wouldn’t have signed up for the Valve if I’d thought it was. With all due respect to the Valvists who’ve given the Valve its current rep, I like reading your posts a bit more than I like reading the posts which have given the Valve its current rep.

Maybe what freaks me out most about the current Valve situation (aside from my own lack of time) are—hmm, how to phrase this?—Valve members who post entries that seem to be just what the Valve needs to fulfill its purported mission, and just what the Valve needs to get a more varied and more welcoming feel, but who don’t post them here. It’s notoriously difficult to interpret silence, but my working assumption is that they don’t want to deal with the kind of crap (or, should you be the sort of person who enjoys it, vigorous discussion) that the long comments threads get, but would feel snubbed if the comments threads weren’t long. (Me, I think short comment threads are a badge of honor, but I may have an eccentric idea of what web publishing is for.)

Of course, these divergent reactions to “vigorous discussion” are loosely gender-associated, not strictly gender-dictated, but the gender association tends to speed the process of exclusion. Imposing though it is, even I’m much less likely to stick my nose into something that looks like a frat brawl than into a party with a normal sex balance.

The solution seems blindingly simple. To quote Takeshi Kitano from back when he was stand-up comic “Beat” Takeshi, “It’s OK to walk against the red light—IF EVERYONE ELSE DOES IT TOO!” Similarly, if everyone started posting other stuff and kept a tight lid on the flames then, um, the Valve would be different. But the hassle of intruding on what seems an established social tone may be a bit more than any individual wants to face.

By Ray Davis on 11/18/05 at 09:25 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I’m announcing my intent to delete comments from the euro-anonymizers that Matt, withheld, Lindsay, and Michelle are using as sock-puppetry isn’t going to advance this discussion very far.

By Jonathan on 11/18/05 at 09:27 PM | Permanent link to this comment

What posts have given the Valve its rep, exactly? The one I did about Pazuzu?

By Jonathan on 11/18/05 at 09:30 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Jonathan, I vigourously oppose your deleting withheld’s comments. At least, withheld with a small “w.” (Withheld with a capital “W” may well be someone else.) If the former is a sock puppet, she is a damn sensible one.

By mj on 11/18/05 at 09:33 PM | Permanent link to this comment

The sensible one didn’t post from the euroanonymizer, so I think it’s someone else.

By Jonathan on 11/18/05 at 09:36 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Here is the comment I was working on when I so rudely interrupted myself:

prefer not to say: Your points about demographics are well taken. I think, though, as you imply yourself, that numbers are less important than the extent to which women in academe have internalized long-standing (uncongenial) ways of doing things.

Jenny D. and Dr. B: I like what you both wrote. I can’t tell you how reassuring it is to have someone else admit that they don’t find some types of academic discourse “fun” or appealing. Emperor’s new clothes, anyone?

Rich: If I had been asked to contribute to a blog that explicitly had “a particular focus on using philosophy to talk about literary theory,” I doubt I would have agreed (or been invited, come to that).

withheld: You are exactly whom I was addressing with the initial post.

Amardeep: re. your comment on posts and comments: this post has received more comments than my others combined, by a long shot, even excluding all the off-topic comments.

Laura, whose blog is “not entirely silly”: “All I know is, I am more conscious of my gender (and my non-Americanness, for that matter) here than at any other place I hang out on the internet": Bingo on both counts.

Adam: “I’m sure that if _Maxim_ had a blog, it would have higher female participation than this page": Ouch! And what does this mean for the women who do write and comment here? (GZombie, you may have some thoughts?)

Now, I think I must have hallucinated a comment, because I can’t find it: did someone write to the effect that ideas have no gender? Well if someone did — or was even thinking it — I disagree vehemently. We respond to it in all manner of ways but we are each intensely gendered; how could anything about us, particularly our ideas, be exempt?

And now I have to post this comment before I check for any additions to this thread or I’ll be up all … oh, wait, excuse me.

Okay, I’m back. Ray, you are exactly right.

By mj on 11/18/05 at 09:36 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Laura writes: “I don’t think what interests me is going to appeal at all to the folks who come here for Zizek-bashing.

I’ve been trying to post the kind of stuff that I would enjoy reading myself, but if The Valve is meant to be about “using philosophy to talk about literary theory,” and that’s fine of course if it is, then I doubt I’ve much to contribute.”

Laura, please keep in mind that the quote about philosophy and literary theory is from me, someone with absolutely no status to define what The Valve is about.  I think that the statement is/was descriptively true because of John Holbo’s influence—he started The Valve, and that’s his main topic.  But since you’re a poster here, you have the ability to change that to some degree by focussing on something else if you want to.  I actually don’t think that many people really come here specifically for Zizek-bashing.

Jenny D quotes that line again leading up to: “I guess I’d like it if the tone was a bit less academic.  I can never use a word like “hegemony” or “interpellated” with a straight face, although I’m happy to converse seriously with others who can; [...] And yet (oh, don’t be offended, I don’t mean it rudely!) I have often found the tone of the posts here, especially as topics get picked up in the comments thread, to be so off-putting as to be almost soul-destroying!  More playfulness, more listening to the voices of others, more flexibility as to thinking about what we gain from talking to others who do not share all of our basic assumptions about what’s worth talking about and what are the appropriate modes for doing so.”

Well, here comes undue personalization—but again, as one of those who according to several people above engages in excessive commenting, I should say that I have no academic training in this or any related field (mine was physics), didn’t know what “interpellated” meant until Michael Berube blessedly explained it to me, am not an academic or a writer, and probably don’t really share the basic assumptions about what’s worth talking about that I think you’re referring to.  So if my comment style really does contribute to your soul-destruction, it’s not because of that.

I think it’s significant that so many of the intelligent, verbal, accomplished women writing in this thread have written some variation on that they don’t comment because they don’t feel qualified.  If there’s a generalized socialized difference between men and women going on here, I think that’s an important one.  I comment all the time despite not being qualified for anything, and so do many other guys that I know.  It’s complicated by the fact that many may have academic status to preserve, but you can after all comment under a pseudonym.

By on 11/18/05 at 09:39 PM | Permanent link to this comment

You know, Jonathan, I think I’d be pretty happy if my friends asked me “Why in the world are you putting energy into that Pazuzu site?” ‘Cause someone’s gotta have the guts to stand up to Lamashtu and say NO MORE, people!

By Ray Davis on 11/18/05 at 09:39 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Building on Jenny’s last comment as well as the “closed circle” observation, one thing I think would go a LONG way toward getting more women (and new men) here would be some outreach—simply acknowledging new contributors, both male and female. I’ve noticed that Bitch Ph.D. has done that with new folks before, just a simple “hi, I’m glad you’re here, and I appreciate your contribution to the discussion” type of comment. I try to do it on my blog, too. It doesn’t even have to be an on-thread comment—though I’d argue that public welcoming would probably encourage lurkers to de-lurk—quick emails to new posters would be very effective too. The “closed circle” remark caused me to realize that I wouldn’t be commenting here nearly as much, maybe not at all, were it not for Jonathan’s encouragement. He literally always, when I’ve made a comment, tells me he’s glad I contributed to the discussion.

By Clancy on 11/18/05 at 09:40 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I don’t know where this philosophy business came from. John’s a philosopher, so that informs his stuff. The Wittgenstein event was, I suppose, philosophical in orientation, as you might suspect. Where the rest of the philosophy is, I have no idea.

By Jonathan on 11/18/05 at 09:43 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Great, another gratuitous swipe at Zizek.

By Adam Kotsko on 11/18/05 at 09:58 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Those are excellent points, Clancy.  I feel as though this thread is clearing the air.  It’d be great if any lurkers (of either gender) who’ve made it this far down this comments thread felt like stepping in for a moment to say hello.

By on 11/18/05 at 09:59 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Hey Adam, I don’t mind Zizek at all - I’ve gotten a lot out of his stuff on Hitchcock.  So there.

By on 11/18/05 at 10:01 PM | Permanent link to this comment

How do you figure that’s a swipe at Zizek?

By Jonathan on 11/18/05 at 10:22 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I don’t think the point is that one can’t talk about philosophy or literary theory without being jargony and formal.  Look at Michael Bérubé.

By bitchphd on 11/18/05 at 10:31 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Although Zizek has been a frequent topic of conversation here, you didn’t mention him when you listed off the philosophy that has been discussed.  By implication, then, he’s not a philosopher.

It was intended as a light-hearted comment, to inject some levity and good-spiritedness into the conversation.

By Adam Kotsko on 11/18/05 at 10:33 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Well someone pointed me over here, for God knows what reason.  I am delighted to agree with Bitch Ph.D.

By Matt on 11/18/05 at 10:56 PM | Permanent link to this comment

So it’s settled.  The Valve: biggests sausage party on the Internets! 

Seriously, though, I am a guy and I wish there weren’t so many posts about SciFi and Fantasy Lit.  That stuff bores me to tears! 

I like the posts that are about Literature, or Literary Theory, Academia, or Culture, and I especially like the posts that take a particular point of view and advance some position that I can wrestle with and decide whether to agree or disagree with. 

I hate the long-winded posts that never actually settle on any particular position and just sort of talk around a particular issue.

One suggestion:  it may help if the posters at The Valve start linking to other related blogs and start joining other relevant discussions that are going on.  One of the features of successful, popular blogs is that they tend to be integrated into a network of other like minded blogs.  This could help make The Valve less insular, and to the extent that women feel unwelcome, linking to female bloggers may help extend a welcome mat of sorts.

By on 11/18/05 at 11:01 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Again, as uneducated commenter, I certainly don’t think that the talk about philosophy and literary theory here is any more jargony or formal than at Bérubé’s when he writes about similar subjects.  Given that Jenny D’s original comment was supposed to apply to The Valve, I don’t really see how you could still write about these subjects and be much less jargony or formal.

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

Rich: I do want to clarify something, though I know I am going to regret this the moment I post it!  You wrote above: “I think it’s significant that so many of the intelligent, verbal, accomplished women writing in this thread have written some variation on that they don’t comment because they don’t feel qualified.  If there’s a generalized socialized difference between men and women going on here, I think that’s an important one.  I comment all the time despite not being qualified for anything, and so do many other guys that I know.” Ah, I think you have misread me.  (I am not sure if your last sentence is tongue-in-cheek, deadpan or just plain descriptive--I haven’t been reading the comments threads here long enough to get a sense of individual posters’ personalities/voices.) It is not usually my style to assert my authority by naming qualifications--it seems to me obnoxious and generally unhelpful--but I simply can’t let this one go.  I never suggested that I don’t feel qualified to participate in the conversations here.  I am at least as well qualified as anyone else contributing here to enter the conversation.  I have Fancy Ivy League Degrees, a tenure-track job in a Fancy Ivy League Department of English and Comparative Literature, two books published (one with Fancy University Press, one with impeccably indie-alt small press) and two more well underway, Fancy Nationally Recognized Fellowships, etc. etc.  (I could name names if you’d like; I blog under my own name, and would like to think that nothing I post on my own blog or in the comments section of someone else’s would be likely to damage my academic status.) In fact it is precisely BECAUSE of my impeccable academic credentials (and my personality, and possibly my second X chromosome as well though I can’t really speak to that) that I have the confidence to SAY here that I think this site periodically has way too much steam and not nearly enough circulation!  Bitch PhD’s invocation of Michael Berube as an exemplar in terms of clarity and accessibility, and of the phrase “Emperor’s New Clothes” as a warning, is helpful here.  (Let me add, too, that lots of individual posts at this site are enjoyable reading on their own; it’s the cumulative effect that seems somehow to exclude certain readers, and the tone of the comments threads in particular.)

By Jenny D on 11/18/05 at 11:21 PM | Permanent link to this comment

And I for one am grateful for---if not awed by---your presence here.

By Jonathan on 11/18/05 at 11:35 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Jenny D, I’m sorry about misreading, and I certainly didn’t mean to suggest that you didn’t have actual qualifications.  I was thinking more about comments like the two below, which I quote from near the top of this thread --

Clancy: “My field is rhetoric/composition/technical communication, not literary studies, so I only comment under posts whose topics I’m qualified to comment upon.” (Note: the next sentence by Clancy includes a statement that she really is qualified, but I was trying to get at statements about how people felt, not those about actual qualification.)

prefer not to say: “I come here for the literature talk—the chance to “hear” experts “talk” about literature and theory in which I don’t specialize.” ("prefer not to say” is untenured but apparently at an English Department, so she also is really qualified.  It’s also complicated in that she said she doesn’t post because she’s untenured.  If you’re still reading this, “prefer not to say”, there are many long-term pseudonymous commenters here.)

My statement about not my not being qualified for anything literary or philosophical was intended to be really literally descriptive.  But despite explicit attempts to shut me up because of this, such as Adam Kotsko’s “I see no value whatsoever to your contributions to these debates—unless, of course, you have an extensive bibliography under your belt of which I am not aware”, I seem to have no problem in continuing to rattle on regardless about topics in which I am interested.  Since people here have already started to speculate about generalized male vs female socialized traits, I think it’s OK for me to say that my observation suggests that this may be a more general socialized male trait than a purely personal one.

(To complicate matters, I suppose that I should mention that I’ve been explicitly trained to rattle on regardless.)

By on 11/19/05 at 12:31 AM | Permanent link to this comment

I think you have to admit, Rich, that you’re sensitive about people questioning your qualifications. Could young Kotsko have unironically written such a thing? I dispute it. I must dispute it.

By Jonathan on 11/19/05 at 12:37 AM | Permanent link to this comment

He was in a bad mood at the time, I was trying to think of an illustrative example and the thread happened to be right there from before.

By on 11/19/05 at 12:59 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Judging by the subsequent comments, I suspect I was the only one who burst out laughing upon reading Adam’s comment of 8:58 PM.

By eb on 11/19/05 at 03:46 AM | Permanent link to this comment

On “thuggish:”

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thuggee

By Bill Benzon on 11/19/05 at 05:14 AM | Permanent link to this comment

According to Wikipedia, then, thuggishness has impeccably masculine origins.

I would have disputed it, having been on the receiving end from a couple of little girl thugs in elementary and middle school, respectively (and a big hello to Yvonne Richardson and Dora Campbell, if you’re out there), but must now of course defer.

By Miriam Jones on 11/19/05 at 10:08 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Amardeep: “But it might be worth going back through the Valve’s general archives to see if posts by women Valvesters or about women writers/critics led to a) no response; b) dismissal of the validity of the subject tout court (to say nothing of the substantive claims); or c) comments that had to be closed because they got so nasty.

My instinct is that you’ll find a mix of the three.”

Well, this is one of those questions that is subject to actually being answered, so I went ahead and did the first part (posts by women Valvesters).  Taking the “women Valvesters” to be Laura, Miriam B, and Miriam J (though really I wouldn’t know it if one of the other posters were a woman using a male pseudonym), there have been 26 total posts, not counting this one.  Of these, only two were primarily concerned with “women writers/critics”.  None had any comments that I noticed dismissing the validity of the subject; none had comments that needed to be closed.

Of the 26 posts, ten had 10 or more comments, twelve had 2-9 comments, and four had 0-1 comments.

By on 11/19/05 at 10:12 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Of these, only two were primarily concerned with “women writers/critics”.

Some might take this to mean that the other 24 posts were primarily concerned with men, and that is not the case.

Of the 26 posts, ten had 10 or more comments, twelve had 2-9 comments, and four had 0-1 comments.

That is only meaningful when compared with the rate at which readers comment on the other posts.

“(though really I wouldn’t know it if one of the other posters were a woman using a male pseudonym)"

No, we all had to sit on a knock-off Eames chair with a hole cut in the seat, while John Holbo lay underneath in a lab coat with a clipboard and pen.

By Miriam Jones on 11/19/05 at 10:22 AM | Permanent link to this comment

I second these sentiments from blah:<ol><li>Long-winded posts without a clear point are off-putting. (And from my perspective, long-winded posts in general are off-putting on blogs.)</li><li>Getting involved in conversations taking place on other blogs is a good way to involve more voices.</li></ol>

Miriam J asks if I have any thoughts about Adam’s comment re: Maxim. Uh…

By gzombie on 11/19/05 at 10:50 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Miriam J: “That is only meaningful when compared with the rate at which readers comment on the other posts.”

I hope this isn’t a setup to laugh at how stereotypically male-numeric I’m being ... but OK, for all of the “men Valvesters” (clumsy, but I’m keeping Amardeep’s phrasing) other than Holbo and the guest commenters, there were 224 posts, 10 of which had 0-1 comments, 102 of which had 2-9 comments, and 112 of which had 10 or more comments.  That’s 4%, 46%, and 50% respectively, as compared to 15%, 46%, and 38% for the women.  I don’t think Holbo is representative, but if you want to add his own posts in, he has made 92, 9 of which got 0-1 comments, 41 of which got 2-9, and 42 of which 10 or more, or 10%, 45%, 46%.

Anyone who wants their own individual vanity count can Email me.  Scott (for I know how vain he is) may be interested to know that in terms of number of posts and distributions of posts by number of comments within these bins, he is an exact clone of Sean.

I certainly didn’t mean to imply that the posts that were not primarily about “women writers/critics” were primarily about men.  Again, I was trying to answer the question that Amardeep asked.  Miriam, due to the difficulties of tone over the Internet I’m not sure if you were offended by the last comment you quoted or not; I just wanted to point out that while some people on the site might actually know the posters, I don’t.

And if anyone wants someone to go through the site and answer the other half of Amardeep’s question (about discussions of women writers/critics), please, ask your grad student to do it.

By on 11/19/05 at 11:22 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Rich: wow, how stereotypically male-numeric ... sorry. It wasn’t a setup, and I certainly didn’t expect you to do all that work.

Actually, the numbers are interesting. The three of us women post considerably fewer posts than the men, on average, yet receive roughly the same proportion of comments, though significantly lower at the top and bottom of the scale. Comments aren’t everything, of course — I can imagine, at the most fantastic reaches of my imagination, a post so perfect that any comments are superfluous — but they are one marker of reader interest.

And no, I wasn’t offended by your last comment. And I hope aficionados of modernist furniture are not offended by my comeback.

I don’t know what others think but I have been finding this thread extraordinarily helpful. Thanks to everyone for commenting.

By Miriam Jones on 11/19/05 at 12:12 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I thought the Eames chair comment was hilarious.

By bitchphd on 11/19/05 at 01:35 PM | Permanent link to this comment

"I think it’s significant that so many of the intelligent, verbal, accomplished women writing in this thread have written some variation on that they don’t comment because they don’t feel qualified.  If there’s a generalized socialized difference between men and women going on here, I think that’s an important one.  I comment all the time despite not being qualified for anything, and so do many other guys that I know.”

I think Rich is on to something here. And I want to say that while this *IS* a real trend *IT IS NOT* a product of women just being skittish and self-doubting and needing to get over their innate urge to be so darn nice. It *IS* a product of decades and decades of trying to assert myself as an expert, and being greeted with condescension and dismissal at every turn. Not by fundamentally evil men—just by men who have thoroughly internalized the culture’s tendency to attribute authority to men, and not recognize authority in women.

So—when you, Rich, start playing expert in fields in which you are not the expert, it’s fun—you get to play with ideas, make grand statements, wait for someone to challenge you, plot how you are going to parry that challenge. That’s cool. I see why that’s attractive.

And I *am* an expert in my given field, and I *know* that I’m an expert, even though I will never have Jenny D’s impeccable credentials. Still—it’s not so much fun for me to play at being an expert. It’s not so much fun for me, because I’ve spent probably 72% more energy trying to establish myself as an expert than you have, because I clearly have the wrong sort of voice and body to actually BE an expert according to the culture. Imagine walking into a restaurant and asking for directions, and then having someone respond to the man you are with, rather than actually speaking to you, the driver. Multiply that by a million, all over your personal and professional life, and consider what sort of expectations you’d have about how “fun” it would be to “pretend” like you’re the expert.

I realize the internet is supposed to be the medium that frees us from the cultural baggage that comes with bodies and voices, but the problem is I’m still me, and I’ve still lived through this experience—I’m still the same person who is exhausted by how hard I’ve had to work to communicate my expertise to folks who, culturally, are trained NOT to recognize me as such.

So - I don’t think it’s that women aren’t posting because they feel alienated by philosophy or theory. I don’t think women aren’t posting because we’re innately more interested in personal life than abstractions. Or even that we don’t like a good fight. I love a good fight. But man, most of my life has been a good fight. I think mostly women aren’t posting because we’re worn out.

By on 11/19/05 at 03:40 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Prefer not to say, everything you write makes complete sense. But it still does not explain why although there are gazillion women bloggers and/or blog readers/commenters out there, there are not all that many right here. Perhaps there are many, many women who feel as you do, for as has been pointed out elsewhere, there may be fewer academic women who blog than men, or at least, who blog as consistently about their work or work-related issues. Hell, I’m one of them; my blog is all over the map. Maybe that’s why I post less often here: it is more of a strain to colour between the lines (that’s “color” to most of you).

By Miriam Jones on 11/19/05 at 04:00 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Rich,

Scott (for I know how vain he is) may be interested to know that in terms of number of posts and distributions of posts by number of comments within these bins, he is an exact clone of Sean.

I.  Am.  Not.  Vain.  (But Sean’s a clone of me, thank you very much.)

Prefer Not To Say,

I would wager that the ones with 20/25 or more are, exclusively, the Theory brouhahas.  At least, all the threads of mine are.  And I would also bet you that the sustained, attentive readings of literary texts like say this one on Baumbachs old and young and all of Amardeep and Ray’s brilliant posts fall into the 10-or-less categories.  One way to encourage more such posts (and I say this to chide myself more than anyone else) would be to post a brief comment that it’s been read and appreciated; you know, positive reinforcement of the sort Clancy spoke of earlier, only for contributors as well as commenters.

By Scott Eric Kaufman on 11/19/05 at 07:25 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I would hate to think that my Y chromosome condemned me to being aggressive and over-confident.  I too have been horrified by some of the rudeness on this site.

I think that Scott is exactly right about which posts got the largest number of comments.  I got over seventy responses to my query about which essays one would put in an anthology of excellent criticism.  But the post of which I am most proud, which was on Julie Taymor’s Magic Flute and Peter Brook’s Tierno Bokar, got fewer than five, and one of them was mine.  That may be because few people got a chance to see the Taymor and Brook productions, but I did raise some general questions about esthetics in that post.  As Scott says, it is the theory fracases that attract the largest number of comments.  But I don’t see anything wrong with that. I am very grateful for however many readers stumble into one of my posts; the numbers are far higher than at any academic journal other than possibly PMLA, and I feel very luck to be a part of this experiment.

Like Scott and Jenny D, I would love to see a few more posts focused on literature (don’t ask me to say what I mean by that; I know it when I see it).  But as one of those infrequent posters who strains from hard-bound brains eight lines a year, I have no one to blame but myself.  I myself need to be responsible for presenting my tastes and beliefs.

By on 11/19/05 at 08:52 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Scott writes:

“Prefer Not To Say,

I would wager that the ones with 20/25 or more are, exclusively, the Theory brouhahas.”

Careful, Scott.  The person mentioning the 20/25 thing is not “prefer not to say” (whose second, excellent comment I’m still considering)—but “prefer not to” seemingly using the anonymizer, who for a variety of reasons I’d guess is most likely Matt.  Whoever it is has a history of imitating the pseudonyms of commenters here (see “withheld” vs “Withheld” above).  Needless to say, such actions are destructive of community—I don’t care if people have pseudonyms, but it’s important that they have the same pseudonym throughout a period of posting, so that others can relate to them as particular individuals.  I don’t think that people at The Valve in general understand how much of the problem with the atmosphere here is due to a few people.  Look at the distractions in this thread alone—I’d rather be responding to the real “prefer not to say” than explaining why implicitly malicious (in context) recount suggestions are not really worth it.

So, Matt—if I may call whoever it is by that name—the reason that I originally chose the bins 0-1, 2-9, and 10+ is because of how Amardeep phrased his question, which was concerned with posts that got no response.  I think that any post with 10 or more comments can be said to have been fully responded to, and (as Scott says) many of the ones with large numbers of comments are really flamewars, which are not usually considered to be intrinsically desirable.  “No response” I’d really characterize as 0-1.  But of course anyone can do their own count using whatever criteria they like.

By on 11/19/05 at 10:46 PM | Permanent link to this comment

As Scott says, it is the theory fracases that attract the largest number of comments.  But I don’t see anything wrong with that.

Different venues have their hot button issues. I’m on an evolutionary psychology list and I’d say that three or four times a year there’s a long rambling discussion on something about religion, and another one on some sex and/or gender issue (the most recent of these was started off by a book examining theories about the female orgasm). For the past two weeks there’s been a pretty lively thread on whether or not anyone in the humanities and social sciences really believes something known as the SSSM (standard social sciences model). Those are important topics for the evpsych crowd.  Whatever anyone’s speciality—and I’d say that 3/4s of the posters on that list, if not more, are academic speciaists—they want to chime on in those issues.

By Bill Benzon on 11/20/05 at 07:29 AM | Permanent link to this comment

"Prefer not to say, everything you write makes complete sense. But it still does not explain why although there are gazillion women bloggers and/or blog readers/commenters out there, there are not all that many right here.”

Oops. Um, yeah. I’m a bit embarrased to have had a multiple-paragraph tantrum and not really touched on the core issue.

I guess my boring answer is that “the reason i don’t post here is the reason i don’t post anywhere much.” Including Bitch PhD and Feministe and Amardeep Singh and Michael Berube and yeah, even Long Sunday.

By on 11/20/05 at 03:28 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Well, Prefer not to say, we have squeezed several comments out of you here, and they are all worthwhile reads.

So, hah! Got ya!

By Miriam Jones on 11/20/05 at 03:43 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Well, I don’t comment much because, well, there’s the theory thing.  I’m crap at it, so don’t have much to say.  And ‘cos I’m a history type, so sometimes, I don’t have much to say.  About this. 

But on the occasions when I do, I admit that the comment threads intimidate the hell out of me.  And a lot of it is because of what Dr. B said.  One of the attractions of blogging for me is that the discourse can be brought down to a level that works for interested amateurs.  That’s just not true here.  I admit it—I don’t play where I’m not comfortable.  The funny thing is, I’ve been to lots of the individual blogs of Valve writers, and feel fine, but ...

By Another Damned Medievalist on 11/20/05 at 05:56 PM | Permanent link to this comment

"prefer not to say”, I’m glad that you “see why that’s attractive” when people play expert—not very many people do. :) I’d describe it as learning through dialogue and contributing in one’s own way and all that kind of thing so it doesn’t sound quite so bad to an unsympathetic reader, but we’re describing many of the same things.  I just wrote a long ramble about that which I would have Emailled rather than posted if you had visible Email (and of course I understand why you don’t), and would have posted had The Valve not promptly eaten it because I didn’t “enter the word you see in the image below” correctly.  So I’ll summarize by saying that yes, I do think that it is a minor form of male privilege to be able to do this without having been worn down by dealing with continual challenge in your own field.  This is the kind of thing that once you start to notice, you start to notice everywhere—for example, one of my hobbies was taking pictures of murals in L.A., and there was one incident in which a woman asked if she could pay for prints of some of my pictures.  I asked why she didn’t just take pictures of the murals herself, and she said that she’d tried, but that she got whistled at and otherwise harassed when she stood on the same street corners on which I’d stood.

That’s why I don’t think that Mark Bauerlein’s post about women being 60% of incoming freshmen and so on is really quite to the point.  Until society changes to reflect that, it’s not really what’s at issue.

I see why saying that you could get an anonymizer and a pseudonym and so on doesn’t address your point—if you feel worn down, you’ll still feel that way even if you’re not also worried about jeopardizing tenure.  I hope that you do find a way to comment more.

By on 11/21/05 at 01:23 AM | Permanent link to this comment

This thread has been totally airwolf. Yet ladylike. Thank you, Miriam. And thanks to all the new commenters who showed up in response. Hope you decide to stick around.

I’m struck by Rich’s statistics. I hadn’t run the numbers, although I had a sense, but they are stark, and suggest to me an (admittedly somewhat self-centered) reformulation of the problem.

So, is this a holbonic space? I’ve made 92 out of a total of 352 posts. What’s more, I organized the two book events, which bear the stamp of my philosophico-literary personality to a discernable degree. (That’s about 45 posts total, some by me.) Plus I sort of suspect that the runner-up most prolific posters seem more ‘like Holbo’ than the less prolific posters. I won’t bother trying to calibrate that holbo gestalt.

So we end up in an awkward position (even before the chair is deployed.) As an individual blogger, I don’t think I’m particular narrow or insular in my interests or posting. But, as 13 people go, I’m the anti-Whitman: “I am small, yet I contain multitudes”. If the Valve seems like me, I guess it must seem like sort of a punk-ass multitude.

As Ray opines some point upstream: the dynamic is self-reinforcing. Authors who were meant to provide breadth may end up drifting away, feeling like they are just providing an occasional, ornamental break from the main stuff. I have honestly been hoping our less active authors - not just the ladies - would become more active. Maybe this post will mark a shift. I would sure be happy with that.

The fact that we spawned a nemesis in the form of Long Sunday - curses, my arch-enemy has posted again! - has been a consistent drag on the tone of comments. Specifically, it has introduced a sectarian split, which is surely tedious for any outsider to navigate, and narrowing of overall content, as there is always the threat that some bystander post will get caught in some crossfire. (I know, I know, Jodi says it’s our thuggishness gnawing its sullen paws, so we have ourselves to blame. Judge for yourselves, dear readers.)

The one real surprise for me, out of all this, is that so many people find the Valve to be forbiddingly serious. I feel that we have a fairly healthy mix of somewhat silly posts. Maybe the silly ones feel like in-jokes, hence threaten more crossfire if you cross them. Couldn’t really say.

Anyway, I just adore this thread. Lo these last several months, I have many times felt that the atmosphere around the place isn’t what I want, nor what it could be. I feel that Zevon must be singing to me: 

Don’t the sun look angry through the trees/
Don’t the trees look like crucified thieves/
Don’t you feel like Desperados under the Eames/
Heaven help the one who leaves

Please stay, new commenters!

By John Holbo on 11/21/05 at 06:10 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Hmmmm . . . .

Back in the day when the theory engines were just ginning up, the traditionalists would object to the new stuff on the grounds that it was too difficultl to understand, that literary criticism should not be like that. Though I was not particuarly a partisan of deconstructionist thinking or Lacanian or Marxist, etc. that particular objection always seemed hollow to me. No one objects to physics or neuroscience because they are technically difficult subjects, why should the study of literature be any different?

The implicit assumption behind this kind of argument seems to be that the literary sphere is of such a nature that any and all commentary on a text or texts should be fully transparent and intelligible to anyone capable of reading those same texts.  Further, the readers of literature implicitly “own” the literary “territory” entirely and in full. Therefore, those who write difficult analysis and commentary are invaders who, by the very nature of what they are doing, must be up to no good. They are doers of evil and should be banished from the earth.

Poppycock.

It’s a big world and literature is deep and rich enough to support a wide range of commentary and analysis. The days when literary commentary was more or less of a piece with literature are forever gone. Deal with it.

That does not AT ALL mean that understandable, plain language, commentary, belletristic essaying, are to be eschewed. We need those modes of writing as much as ever.

What we have is an institutional problem. Where do these different modes of literary commentary belong? How do we run those institutions? What are the norms and standards?

Because the difficult and abstract commentary arose within academic departments that had heretofor done different kinds of work, it posed a particularly vexing problem for academically institutionalized literary studies, and that problem remains with us. One manifestation of this problem centers around the notion of a public intellectual. Though not specifically about literature, the case of Cornel West at Harvard seems on point. He is very prolific, but relatively little of his writing is academic in nature. Though philosophy is his nominal discipline, he is not an academic philosopher. He certainly could have been—“The American Evasion of Philosophy” is evidence of that. Should there be a place in the academy for such a thinker? Yes. But he can’t be judged by the standards of academic philosophy, nor vice versa.

And then we have the blogosphere, which doesn’t exist in that whole domain of institutional arrangements, formal and not. Anyone can show up anywhere and read anything and post anything. How do we sort things out?

Good question. 

‘Nuff said.

By Bill Benzon on 11/21/05 at 07:05 AM | Permanent link to this comment

I find this site fascinating, and I’m not surprised it fails to attract female readers – it’s informed by a curious blend of masculinity and anachronism.  The font used for the title and the shade of green (‘British racing green’) used in the layout combine with the Empson quotation to create a sort of ‘Oxbridge in the 1940’s/50’s’ effect:  Scrutiny seems to provide vital ideological coordinates. This is reflected in the combination of heads down, no-nonsense moral formalism and Zizek-bashing that characterises the content.

By on 11/21/05 at 07:06 AM | Permanent link to this comment

I thought it was “accountant’s eyeshade green” myself.

By Bill Benzon on 11/21/05 at 07:26 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Ben, I think you are conflating two issues: theory vs. plain talking, for lack of better terms, and masculine and feminine mores, again for lack of better terms. Many of the commenters here made the point that women are not congenitally incapable of or adverse to talking theory. The question seems to be how.

Your point about theory talk is an important one. I would go you one further and say that our language and references have become so specialized that even within literary studies we can’t always communicate. As you rightly point out, no-one criticizes scientists for dense, impenetrable jargon. But the problem remains, how to talk to each other? Especially in a venue like this which is intended to be an open and accessible one?

By Miriam Jones on 11/21/05 at 07:58 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Bill, I think that your comment, while in some ways true, attacks an opinion that no one here has held.  Also, maybe having “Poppycock” on a line by itself for dramatic emphasis isn’t the best choice for a thread in which people have been talking around the masculine style of comments. (I feel a need to put a smiley after that last sentence, but I am refraining—due to the masculine style of comments, perhaps.  Please take one to be understood.)

As an ex-physics-grad-student, maybe I can address the “no-one criticizes scientists for dense, impenetrable jargon” point that Miriam J agrees with.  As I’ve written here before, Richard Feynman once said something about how if you couldn’t explain quantum mechanics to an undergraduate, you didn’t really understand it.  I wouldn’t expect physicists to use impenetrable jargon in a space intended for non-physicists as well, even when arguing about physics.  Check out this argument about theory on Cosmic Variance, for example.

And I’m going to write once again that I really don’t think that this is The Valve’s problem.  I did a Google search for the number of hits on variations of the word “interpellate”, one of the words that Jenny D cited as a word not to use.  Result: three hits, with the same number of hits on Michael Berube’s blog, which had been held up as a style model.  So it’s not simply “high discourse” language, although it may well have something to do with high discourse itself.  I mean, John has his own adjective for a style of post, Holbonic, which is generally taken to mean “long” but has connotations that I associate with a kind of witty bit-of-this-and-that ramble rather than a technical tract.  (Note, by the way: an example of wittiness that suggests that this is the style can be its own impediment to non-witty commenters.)

Here’s what I think is really what the problem is about, insofar as it is specific to this site.  Speaking descriptively, The Valve was started by John as a particular academic project, intended to help change the discourse within a part of academia in certain specific ways.  Just look at the “Will Work For Whuffle” post.  In personal blogs, such as Berube’s, people disarm the forbidding aspect of theory-talk with catblogging and so on, personal stories, and posts about interests unrelated to academia—but that kind of thing is specifically what has, in the past, been said should be left on commenter’s individual blogs and not posted here.  The desire to have blogs be taken more seriously as an activity for academics wars against the blogospheric norm of personal chat as icebreaker.

And really, I don’t know if that aspect should change.  John has put a lot of work into making the site more than just his half of “John And Belle Have A Blog” part II.  While I think that a broader range of lit-topics might help, I don’t think that this site is ever going to be as “easy” in feel as a personal one.

By on 11/21/05 at 09:15 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Richard’s comment just now strikes me as an elegant and probably true theory accounting for the Valve’s masculine-orientation.  We should all chide ourselves for not thinking of it.

By Adam Kotsko on 11/21/05 at 11:57 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Ben?

You are right, Miriam, my point aboutl theory talk is completely independent of the gender issue. I didn’t mean to imply that there was any connection. Nonetheless, the issue of theory-talk has been raised in this thread, and it was that I was addressing.

I don’t know in what sense this venue is “intended to be an open and accessible one,” with the emphasis on intention. I first came here during the Theory’s Empire discussion. The nature of that issue, it seems to me, pretty much requires theory talk. The mere fact that anyone can sign-up and post here doesn’t, it seems to me, necessarily imply that all discussion will be at the most general level.

Rich, I didn’t mean to imply that anyone here has that particular extreme opinion. But people have objected to theory talk in this thread and have said they’re not interested in participating in it as such. That’s fine.

The reason I brought the issue up in such stark terms is because it has been dogging the profession for at least five decades, if not more. I think we need to be clear on the point that there are (at least) two broad categories of lit-chat and that both are legitimate. But they serve different purposes and for different audiences.

By Bill Benzon on 11/21/05 at 02:24 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Bill, not Ben; I’m sorry!

I may be wrong but I thought that the original model of the little magazine was intended to imply accessibility and a breadth of interests. Acessibility in a relative sense, obviously. But certainly accessible to a range of educated (self or otherwise) readers.

By Miriam Jones on 11/21/05 at 04:48 PM | Permanent link to this comment

The fact that we spawned a nemesis in the form of Long Sunday

Technically, this statement is untrue.  We had been discussing our “mission,” if you will, and getting to know each other for at least a month on the listserv, etc. before The Valve apppeared.  We have of course explicitly stated that we are not the anti-Valve or for that matter merely anti-anything.  I take it these are almost too obvious to bear mentioning; perhaps you were even counting on that a little.

has been a consistent drag on the tone of comments.

Long Sunday is a blog composed of 19 very different contributors.  Only a handful have ever commented here, far less with any regularity, and hardly at all recently (not counting Adam, and at least as far as I am aware).  True, we’ve often materialized when baited or insulted.  Nothing wrong with that of course, but you might not flatter yourself too much in the process of putting others down.

I’m sorry this isn’t a very upbeat comment.  I’d like to say that it’s been a mutually productive inter-blog relation.  Scott’s recent experiment might suggest a path forward in this regard, I suppose, for those inclined to work for something better.  And of course we continue to appreciate the kind comments we do receive from Valve authors.  I greatly respect many of the writers and contributors here, and am mostly saddened by the personalities and dismissive gestures that have come to dominate (or at least dominate the dominant, epic threads).  But in truth I do not feel much personal responsibility for that, and certainly nor should Long Sunday. 

Thank you for deleting my comment in response to Rich’s innacurate use of my name.  I trust this one will stand, and that will be all from me on the matter.

By Matt on 11/21/05 at 06:27 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Hmmmm, Matt, I don’t think it’s fair at all to say that ‘you have materialized when baited or insulted’. I think you just sort of materialized on your own (under your own steam, not as a function of ours.) I’m sure you showed up because we said things you disagreed with so much that we were downright annoying. But that really is a different case. It’s true that I (and others) have often argued with you after you showed up, and kidded you when we thought you were tipping over from argument into abuse, and the tone was going downhill. I’m sincerely sorry to harp on the negative, but you yourself have admitted that sometimes you just haul off and insult people in comments. True, your comments are often good, but frankly that makes the fact that they are sometimes just - erm, expressive ventilation - even more frustrating. Often your antics have contributed to threads going to hell, whose souls might yet have been saved. I honestly do not think you can point to many (if any) examples of me doing the same, and I don’t start fights, as opposed to arguments (although I have been known to participate in them, thereby dragging them out. Yes, I can get sarcastic at that point.) I think I am healthily slow to get all personal. I don’t turn hermeneutically suspicious on a dime. (I used to, in my wild youth, but I’ve changed, dear reader. And I see now it’s for the best.)

And the same goes for CR. He used to come round a lot, but not because anyone baited or insulted him. If he didn’t like the way things went, he shouldn’t have invited them to go that way. He, too, wrote many good comments and is clearly an intelligent fellow. He started out by accusing us of being a conservative front organization (not without prima facie cause, perhaps), and I bent over backwards not to get my back up in response. I answered his charge in as calm and reasoned a manner as I could humanly muster. I am sincerely sorry that our relations has since decayed. It makes rather a mockery of quite a bit of effort I invested at the start.

As to Long Sunday being the anti-Valve? Well, I stand corrected. I guess I thought this was actually part of Long Sunday’s self conception. Not that this is such a big deal. It’s your business, not mine. But perhaps you can forgive the misconception. For example, there’s a post up now - by someone who has never commented at the Valve, I believe - talking as though Valve/Long Sunday were some sort of opposition or competition. But fine: Long Sunday is not the anti-Valve. I have certainly never thought of the Valve as the anti-Long Sunday. So we’ll have none of that, and no more words about it, and things will go much better.

All this isn’t germane to Miriam’s thread, but perhaps a bit of gentle, nay irenic threadjacking can be pardoned after the 100 comment mark. (The broad theme of the thread is ‘things going better, which haven’t yet’. So file this comment under that.) Matt, let’s just agree that - if we engage in any debate in the future - we will be respectful of each other. We won’t abuse and we won’t get personal when the matter at hand is something that can be discussed without getting personal. If I am wrong in protesting my innocence to date, please feel free to point out where I started a fight - as opposed to an argument, with a little bit of grated rhetorical zest on top - and I will unconditionally apologize for being a bad boy. (You would never suspect him of it, but my colleague Jonathan successfully taught me the importance of making forthright apologies when you make the mistake of talking complete smack about someone. I’m quite adept at apologizing these days.) And then we will put it behind us and move on. And we won’t look so silly to the literally thousands of people watching us misbehave. Honestly, it’s a bloody panopticon around here. What are we thinking, picking our noses like this. Sound reasonable? (No really, I’m serious.)

By John Holbo on 11/21/05 at 11:47 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Sorry, I should clarify: I don’t mean that Jonathan is guilty of talking smack about people and not apologizing; just that he isn’t necessarily your go-to guy to pen a Miss Manners column on a regular basis. (Yet his complaints about my rhetorical excesses taught me manners, once upon a time.)

Also, why does Richard think we are guilty of ‘moral formalism’? What does that mean? And how are we Leavisites? I would have thought that Leavis, who styled himself an ‘anti-philosopher’, would not seem very Valvish, to judge by comments upstream that find us rather heavy going, philosophically. Not to be defensive. I’m genuinely curious, because I take being an Empsonian - which I rather am, thank you very much - to mean I am not just accidentally but explicitly anti-Leavisite in certain important ways. A quote from E:

“Leavis has never shown any philosophical grasp of mind, and took for granted that he could strut about on the rest of the platform without ever falling through the hole. The effect has been to turn his intensely moral line of criticism into a quaintly snobbish one, full of the airs and graces of an elite concerned to win social prestige, though this is much opposed to his real background and sympathies.”

I am of the considered view that one of the problems with Theory (I should probably use the lower-case, actually, because it’s Brits we are talking about here, not Americans: literary theory, then). Right. One of the problems with theory is a sort of Leavisite hang-over. An over-confidence that you can sort of throw philosophy terms about - using bits and pieces of metaphysics as rhetorical intensifiers, more or less pragmatically - and not fall through any holes. (Or, contrariwise, you can be sure there are holes - aporia - but neglect actually to check to make sure.) In this way Leavis is a little-suspected grandfather of the Higher Eclecticism, as I call it. The Empson quote simply hints at how that is possible. An indifference to philosophical rigor, combined with a perfect willingness to sling the stuff to suit tactical convenience. So the Leavisite line, intermingled with Continental philosophy - the phenomenological tradition, plus the Frankfurt School - gives you most of your recipe for American-style Theory. This is sort of what I’m working on (sorry to seem sensitive about being labeled a Scrutineer. I’ve been called worse, after all.)

Obviously the Empson quote just emphasizes how it can all go bad. That’s not to say that Leavis is all bad. (Empson didn’t think so.) And certainly not to say that just mashing up Leavis and phenomenology is some simple process.

Now I’ve really jacked the thread.

I’ll cop a plea to the green background. Yep. I kind of liked it because it looked sort of - faded.

By John Holbo on 11/22/05 at 01:33 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Re: The Valve vs. Long Sunday

Professor Holbo claims these two sites are in opposition, but I would suggest, apart from a few minor political differences, that the two blogs are not that far apart. Both feature an abundance of jargon; though the Long Sunday jargon tends to be a bit more thick and at least nominally marxist, the literary indulgences of The V. are every bit as are ideological anti-experiential. The citation fetish of the LS posse matches that of The V. crew; the point being that neither group seems very interested in much of anything specific--or, they are, but those specifics are all topical and present. What happened to Lit. in regards to 20th (or 19 cent) history and politics?. At least LS doesn’t feature Kawfmann too often; but then the Valve is untainted by the Kostco and Co.’s lightweight apologetics, the incessant marxist assumptions and derrida-ing, and some kudos should go to Holbo for the Wittgenstein threads and the few references to analytical phil.

By Jack on 11/22/05 at 02:13 AM | Permanent link to this comment

I’m still here, John, if not very vocal anymore. It’s not your fault that I don’t comment much anymore. To be quite honest, I’m tired of Rich and Sean, and decided my efforts are best spent elsewhere, outside blog land.... (To a certain extent, it’s the world that has decided my efforts are best spent elsewhere… busiest time ever for me...) I don’t, though, mean to make a mockery of your efforts, not at all…

By on 11/22/05 at 02:19 AM | Permanent link to this comment

As a member of what was until very recently perhaps the most thoroughly Leavisite English department outside Cambridge (I had to do Practical Criticism in my BA), I’m happy to say I don’t recognise the true leavisian strain in either of the two descriptions so far put forward.  Leavisites hate literary theory more than anybody, but delightfully it’s their refusal to articulate what they in fact are doing when they do lit crit (beyond being very hardcore about “openness to experience") which leaves the field wide open for the erection of dubious pseudotheoretical methodological principles.  Genuine Leavisites make disconcertingly taciturn teachers. I have a full run of Scrutiny, and it’s pale blue, by the way, not green at all.

I don’t think a disclaimer about troll-baiting actually means that what follows necessarily qualifies as non troll-baiting.  Just sayin’

By on 11/22/05 at 03:36 AM | Permanent link to this comment

As a graduate of what is surely the most Leavisite of all US English departments (I’ll leave everyone guessing… but I’m sure I’m right...) I have to say that Laura’s description is absolutely perfect… Just so…

By on 11/22/05 at 03:42 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Quite right, Laura, quite right.  All bait has been deleted.

By Scott Eric Kaufman on 11/22/05 at 03:48 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Well, I was valiantly going to not derail the thread, but now that it has been, I think that many of the problems of Valve discourse are illustrated in microcosm.

Let’s start here.  Whoever “richard” is (probably someone we know better by another name), this comment is a troll and should be ignored.  Yet I see first Adam mock-agreeing (why? is sarcasm really necessary?  in a thread about how masculine discourse always takes over?) then John being seriously trolled, etc.

What’s next?  Another passive-aggressive non-apology from Matt Christie, and later, one from CR.  If you look in the thread that John links to in the words “you yourself have admitted”, you’ll see Matt trying not one but two different sock puppets, both of which were much more rude than he was under his own name.  Once Matt realized that he had been detected through his IP (and oh, how he complained) we started to get comments through the anonymizer.  If you look at the anonymous comments in this thread by “Michelle”, “Lindsay”, “Withdrawn” (capital-W version only), and “prefer not to” (note: no “say"), one of the common threads that they share is vituperative attacks on me by name, and they all appeared after I answered Jodi’s claim about how no Long Sunday contributors had ever been thuggish and mentioned Matt and CR’s known history here.  John, the panopticon that you mention doesn’t cover the anonymizer.  Matt wrote in the same thread in which his sock puppetry was detected that it’s probably a safe bet you won’t see [him] around here again, yet of course we’re seeing him again.  And we will continue to.

What’s next?  Yet another comment by the Troll of Sorrow.

If I were any of the women who had previously commented in this thread about finding it difficult to comment here, I’d take a look at this and not come back.  Your choices are either to moderate more stringently (i.e. cut off comments posted through anonymizer, remove trolls when seen, etc.) or to live with it.

By on 11/22/05 at 11:26 AM | Permanent link to this comment

What “Troll” now means to Valve types: not currenly engaged in an English PhD program. Yet as Holbo indicated a few months back when he was putting forth threads which pointed to the precarious status of literary theory, and the ambiguous nature of all literature, fiction and poetry are not case studies or arguments or statements of a particular ideology or metaphysics. As semantics, literature fails for the most part:  there is no white whale, no Ahab and no Pequod, and the metaphor(s) has a very limited, if not non-existent application. Once the referential chains are removed, the literary information consists of syntactical patternings and organization, linguistic data, evidence of particular rhetorical styles, but in most cases that style is itself primarily manipulation if not “hegemony” of a bourgeois and monarchist flavor. The lit. scholar, alas, is far closer to like a museum curator for say Buckingham palace than he is to, well, Immanuel Kant.

By Jack on 11/22/05 at 11:44 AM | Permanent link to this comment

With Jack brightening the place up this point will seem dull indeed, but I should probably make it: my above correction to my original comment may still make it sound as though I mean to slight my dear colleague Jonathan’s manners, when actually I meant to praise his straightforwardness, which - given the extent and depth of our mutual disagreements on matters of substance - I have personally come to rely on as a cordially adversarial corrective to any perspectival errors I may suffer in these matters. (Still, I am morally certain he would find writing a column about it to be rather a distraction from the main event, thus existentially unsatisfying in the long run.)

By on 11/22/05 at 01:27 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Hi again, and thanks to Miriam Jones for the kind comments (and apologies to Rich for the “dare”—I phrased it poorly, but I really did mean that I’m not much good at writing open-ended, discussion-encouraging comments in general).  This has been an enlightening set of remarks, particularly “prefer not to say“‘s succinct account of gender and expertise, which I think is right on.  It suggests to me a spectrum with coherent, authoritative, nontheoretical posts (about a particular author, or subset of a genre, or something similar) at one end, and the trolls at the other.  The idea that problems in literary studies are something to get pissed or belligerent about—or should be a focus for conflict and anger in general—is, I think, extremely hard to sustain for women trying to make a full-time career of it.  (And, as evinced by the five-day lapse between my comments here, many of us also don’t have a lot of free time.) There’s a lot of pressure on female academics not to show emotion—not to be robots, but to be as calm as humanly possible as much of the time as possible.  If part of your professional training is making damned sure that you seem calm, stony-faced, supremely competent and willing to devote epic amounts of time to academic work without ever showing any sign of emotional disequilibrium at all, then long arguments about Zizek, or long threads about a wide variety of contentious topics, are not going to help you out and you probably won’t be drawn in by them.  I am one of the more contentious women I know (or so they all tell me :), and I have certainly had to tone it down professionally—but even so, what seem to be comfortable levels of tension in online argument for a lot of men quickly grow intolerable for me, although I’d be curious to hear whether any women feel differently.  This may be socially mediated, may just be a feedback loop: people are less likely to show aggression at any level around women, so women are less used to being around it unless it’s a serious matter, so it makes them more uncomfortable when they do see it.  Maybe.  I don’t know.  It may also just be ingrained behavior, but again it does bother me that so much information gets transmitted in arguments and debates that women aren’t really expected or encouraged to take part in—and then, when I read some screamingly awful theoretical paper by a woman I wonder if there’s any connection…

Still, something about “asking more women to participate” makes me vaguely uneasy—it isn’t like wishing for more medievalists.  (Or is it?) But I guess it is like wishing for more jokes like M. Jones’ line about the Eames chair, so that’s all good.  This site seems to have better reasons behind it—i.e. wanting more diversity in general and more authors of any sort—than some, but in other contexts I’ve often wondered: do you people *actually* want women to participate?  Are you sick of masculinity?  Really?  It certainly seems possible never to get sick of it.

By withheld on 11/22/05 at 06:31 PM | Permanent link to this comment

withheld: “Still, something about “asking more women to participate” makes me vaguely uneasy—it isn’t like wishing for more medievalists.”

Well, I think that Miriam J’s original question was phrased more as a request for information than a request for participation per se.  Although I think that just about any blog poster wants more people to participate in general.

I fully agree with your expansion of “prefer not to say“‘s comments, but I’ve already had my say on that.

withheld: “Are you sick of masculinity?  Really?  It certainly seems possible never to get sick of it.”

Well, within the implicit equation of “masculine” to “aggressive” in terms of style, there are special aspects to the aggressive style here and on almost all contentious lit-blogs that I’m rather tired of.  (And if people could for once neglect the tu quoque about how I write aggressively myself, I’m fully aware of my style.) It’s pretty common to have “what seem to be comfortable levels of tension in online argument for a lot of men” on any not-heavily-moderated online space.  What’s different about lit-chat is the excessive level of ambiguity used as a weapon.  It’s difficult enough to figure out what someone is saying about a technical issue over the Internet within casually written comments at the best of times.  But in lit-chat, there’s always second and third levels of difficulty: was the statement meant ironically?  Is its vagueness necessary, or there so that whatever interpretation is made of it can be dismissed as the wrong one?  Is it purposefully both ironic-sounding and vague so that any response can be dismissed as both not getting the point and as either missing the joke or seeing a joke where none was intended?  This blog features a master of the cryptic one-liner version of this technique, by the way, which has the added advantage that it doesn’t *look* aggressive.  Just imagine if Miriam J had made her joke about the Eames chair and then never said whether it was a joke or whether she was really offended at the implication of classifying posters by their “real” gender instead of their presentation as screen names.  (Thanks for answering my question about what you meant, Miriam J.) And on the other hand, any carelessly used word can undergo hostile disambiguation and be seized on to question one’s understanding. 

Which is not to imply that this is purely a Valve phenomenon.  Just look at, to take the first example that presented itself (and which is not intended as an attack on either the particular blog or the particular individuals involved), the comment thread here, in which Matt uses the word “ween”, and Alphonse von Worden replies:

“Er, jumping all over a word like “ween” - which is no mere word, but a whole condensed bit of repulsive liberal ideology, which portrays those to be ‘weened’ as infantile and dependant on some beneficient magically wealth-producing body [...] ...is this not among the the purposes of a forum like Long Sunday?”

By on 11/23/05 at 01:33 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I would like more medievalists, please. (Or at the very least, more proto-early-modernists.)

By Ray Davis on 11/24/05 at 12:05 AM | Permanent link to this comment

This is the first thread I can recall in which comment-deletion has happened more than once, both from trolls/flamers, and from Valve posters apparently deleting their own reactions to same.

There might be a good potential Borges-style short story about the Invisible Valve, that part of the Valve composed of comments that have been posted and later deleted, vowels from disemvowelled comments, comments written and then never posted (self-censored at the last minute, or lost to technical difficulties), parts of comments written and then backspaced over or block-cut before posting… what would it all look like, I wonder?  Are all of those discarded words getting up to something unusual in some kind of unseen Tlon-Uqbar space?

By on 11/24/05 at 07:24 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Rich, what a fascinating idea. They do say that nothing is lost on the internets, but I wonder if that includes an injudicious comment that someone leaves up for 24 hours and then thinks better of? (re. your other comment about me, higher up, I’m not sure whether it is a compliment or the opposite, but on the whole, I think I like being a “master,” of almost anything. So, thank you[?])

Maybe all comment forms should feature a “cooling off” feature whereby one has to wait a set period of time before being allowed to press “submit.” It would detract from the conversational back and forth, but it might make things less fractious. There have certainly been times when I might have benefited from such a restraint, both in blog comments and on email.

By Miriam Jones on 11/25/05 at 01:31 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Oh, I wasn’t referring to you as the master of cryptic one-liners, Miriam J.  I was saying that you weren’t using this technique, because you did after all explain what you meant when asked.

I’ve taken to sometimes copying my comments out of the comment box and into a text file on my PC for a while before reconsidering whether to post them.  You can’t just leave them lying in a browser window; there’s too many ways for it to self-destruct.

By on 11/25/05 at 02:39 PM | Permanent link to this comment

What!??! And why not??!!

By Miriam Jones on 11/25/05 at 03:02 PM | Permanent link to this comment

This is the first thread I can recall in which comment-deletion has happened more than once, both from trolls/flamers, and from Valve posters apparently deleting their own reactions to same.

Such are the privileges of belated self-censorship. 

I think, if it’s possible, that we should moderate the comments more rigorously than we already do; if the prospect of trolls is enough to drive some readers off, we have a problem.  Particular trolls have a way of becoming strongly associated with the sites they choose to troll; measures should be taken such that “the experience” of reading the Valve doesn’t include unpleasant associations with the irrelevent ramblings of trolls.  We don’t want our identity entangled with our trolls’ stupidity, since that reduces the odds that new readers will frequent the site. 

We need to delete trolls vigorously to avoid the impression we tolerate their puerile minds; furthermore, I think we need to put a statement somewhere on the sidebar--this is Miriam J.’s idea, not mine, repeated only because it’s a fine one--indicating, with explicatory wit, acceptable vs. unacceptable dissent.  I’ll float some “for examples” a little later today.  I am concerned that the presence of trolls prevents us from extending our readership, since such infantile behavior is the reason many serious scholars don’t want to participate in online enterprises.

By Scott Eric Kaufman on 11/25/05 at 03:13 PM | Permanent link to this comment

John,

Yes, that sounds quite reasonable of course.  I suppose we will all be judged by teh!!!1!!  blog historians one day.  Not that it matters immensely, but I believe I first materialized here in defense of a post made by Adam, one pointedly critical of the treatment Derrida received in Theory’s Empire.  We could debate that post again, I suppose.  Or any of the subsequent ones, especially those lumping together, insulting and misreading individuals (and yes, I can distinguish between these different crimes, as I can between different Valve authors and lurkers...) -individuals who were then forced to defend themselves, which did annoy me, it is true.  Though my annoyance was hardly more significant to acknowledge than was, and is, their own comments in response.  I’m sorry if you don’t feel as if there has been any benefit whatsoever to these conversations, but you cannot exactly begrudge people for defending themselves.  Suffice to say that the various problems with your unoriginal (though elaborate) attack on “Theory” have been painstakingly pointed out, to very little or no effect.  Which is not to suggest, for one second of course, that there isn’t a legitimate grievance or case to be made there as well (which, again, and from the beginning, was painstakingly pointed out).  Only the context and scope and nuance of this case (sadly and all-too-often lacking in particulars) is I suspect where we disagree (in addition to that whole bit about “a wrong philosophic turn"--but rather than debate the philosophy you again seem to prefer the popular, broadly sweeping sociological indictment (and institution-centric critique); such is your choice).  I admit, of course, that all this is a somewhat separate issue to that of my alleged responsibility for sending several threads directly to hell (and the loose implication that I am somehow the singular embodiment of every troll The Valve has ever received, which I would of course dispute), but as the two seem to be being happily conflated here it is perhaps worth pointing out, just in case anyone in the panopticon is still listening-).  I do find it odd that this sort of pseudo navel-gazing, which seems to happen periodically, seems content to float these insinsuations when the simple truth of the matter is that myself and CR, (although we are indeed different people) have largely given up on commenting in certain threads on The Valve altogether, and for some time now.  Also, Mark Kaplan and Young Hegelian and others may be British, but that was hardly the basis for the critique of your anti-Theory “events” now was it.  (You may imagine this paragraph with hypertext if you wish.)

As for the problem of maintaining the quality of a...genuinely hospitable discussion, without simply becoming a gated community, or cloistered handshake of pedigreed, hierarchized academics with various flights to catch, etc...we’ve agreed on Long Sunday to moderate comments now.  So the problem is certainly mutual.  And in that regard at least, sincere good luck.

By Matt on 11/27/05 at 02:54 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Matt writes:

Suffice to say that the various problems with your unoriginal (though elaborate) attack on “Theory” have been painstakingly pointed out, to very little or no effect.

Well, if it suffices to SAY ... then I suppose it has now been said. No, wait, what am I saying? You are not the gloss of me! (Can it really be true? Are all my bases are belong to my critics?)

I do find it odd that this sort of pseudo navel-gazing, which seems to happen periodically, seems content to float these insinsuations when the simple truth of the matter is that ...

Sigh. Against the simple truth of the matter, even the blogs contend in vain. But I’ll thank you to credit me with the capacity to contemplate my authentic navel - as opposed to some simulacrum or changeling belly button, baited and switched blog knows how.

Or perhaps it is my gaze that is pseudo? Someone stole my real eye while I wasn’t looking?

Nay, I can gaze at my belly with positively muscular force! (Can’t spell omphalos without the oomph, my motto.)

All by way of saying ... I dunno what to say.

By John Holbo on 11/28/05 at 07:58 AM | Permanent link to this comment

That’s quite ok.  It was high-handed comment with some sloppy unearned phrases, to say the least, as confessed and discussed in our subsequent emails.  Let’s move on.  I am glad to credit you with this and then some.  It would of course be wonderful if that credit were at some point returned, but I realize I may be operating in somewhat of a deficit now, as a certain well-known poet does not hesitate to point out at every turn.  Very well; I shall accept the debt and move on (though I would probably negotiate for a slightly lower interest rate, or vie for a consolidation plan perhaps).  I may still believe--and to be entirely honest hold a bit of a grudge--that others, such as Kenneth Rufo, for example, were rather short-changed.  I also happen to think the record of the discussions sort of speaks for itself on the matter, or matters, anyway.  (Purely as a side note, I see that this thread has been cleaned up a bit, but the infamous Troll of Sorrow’s comments are still standing.  Ah well.) Back to the “Theory” discussion, I’d like to think it wasn’t an entire waste of effort on either “side,” and that some bits of mutual understanding or truth(s) were allowed to sneek in, between the sexy polemics and the more tired ones, both.  In the meantime, very happy to agree to disagree, as they say.  For my part, I will try to do better in the future.  On one thing at least we shall agree (and I can only hope this isn’t taken for too much unearned self-flattery as that is not the intent):  we are not the glosses of each other.

By Matt on 11/28/05 at 09:49 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Kenneth Rufo? OK, Matt, it’s just you and me here. Let’s have ourselves a respectful discussion. No snark. Miriam won’t mind, I guess. Thread’s quieted down and I doubt it’s of general enough interest to merit a post. Let me try to sort this out. Let’s take the Kenneth Rufo case. Rummage, rummage. Find post. Here. I link to Rufo’s post here. And, for good measure, here’s his follow-up, in which he responds to my post. (Am I missing any major archival source on this dispute?)

I appreciate that at the time this kept rumbling around in comments here at the Valve and elsewhere; somewhere or other (can’t remember) I read indignant opinionations to the effect that this was just so terrible Holbo should apologize. I’m very happy to apologize if necessary. But I just don’t see it. I let it drop at the time because everyone seemed out of sorts and the stakes didn’t seem high enough to wade through all that negative affect.

So here’s how it happened. Short version. He said “Taken in the debate’s own terms, what matters is whether or not humanities scholarship should continue to fall prey to a certain seductiveness of abstract, esoteric, and purposefully difficult thinking.” I said this was totally wrong as a way of framing the debate. It misses the fact - which is the most basic fact about the debate there is - that it’s a debate between competing conceptions of philosophy, not between pro-philosophy and anti-philosophy. He made a follow-up post.

“... I got sucked in more than I expected recently, after John Holbo decided that my previous post was, shall we say, plain wrong. John seemed to take objection to the idea that “theory” provides a valuable bulwark against the empiricism and data-heavy model of education offered under No Child Left Behind. Seemed to, but he didn’t really. His actual objection was to “Theory,” a capitalized and more delimited version of theory, that is miraculously both very dangerous and very ineffectual at the same time.

I don’t need to spend too much time on this, as my inclusion in the debate was for straw-person purposes only, and my responses to my inclusion are already available in the Valve’s comments. But I do want to stress an argument I made there: the real political stakes have nothing to do with capitalized “Theory’s” success or lack thereof; rather, they have everything to do with the authority and mechanisms by which Theory is homogenized and defined as something distinct from theory itself.

As a lower-case concept, theory is simply the name we assign to the practice of reflecting on our own practices, be they writing, or reading, or watching, or playing, or whatever. To write of a need for a definition, to proffer that definition, and then to castigate the object that you yourself have defined is precisely the sort of theoretical maneuver that should be subject to rigorous questioning.

To dismiss the need for a definition, to negate or devalue some extant definitional claim, or to malign those that would attempt otherwise - these moves also demand interrogation.”

It seems to me that what Rufo is complaining about here - what the ‘malign those that would attempt otherwise’ bit comes to - is that I didn’t let him define ‘theory’, or ‘Theory’, in a different way than I thought appropriate. But my point was simply that if you are going to discuss Theory’s Empire, there’s not much point pretending it’s Philosophy’s Empire. (Talk about your ‘inclusion for straw-person purposes only’.) This is especially true if you expressly set out - as Rufo does - to discuss the debate ‘in it’s own terms’. To repeat: you can mean what you like by ‘theory’, but you can’t mean what you like and automatically have what you mean be an approximate match with what the authors of Theory’s Empire mean. Now of course there is room for arguing about whether the authors might not be sure what they mean, might be committed to things they haven’t seen. Fine. But no such showing has been made, so assumptions to that effect would be premature. And, anyway, Philosophy’s Empire is vastly vaster in extent than Theory’s Empire. Not even close. So Rufo has seriously got a long stretch before he can drag the semantic space of the latter so it even approximately covers the former.

It may be that Rufo really wants to say that the debate is nonsense. The title of Theory’s Empire is so absurd you don’t need to crack the cover. But then he shouldn’t have said ‘taken in the debate’s own terms’ if what he meant was ‘we need to scrap the debate’s own terms’. It really wasn’t unreasonable of me to hold him to the terms of the debate. It wasn’t even snarky of me. It was straightforward. Especially after Jodi seconded what he said so enthusiastically. I felt this was wrong enough to be worth objecting to.

That’s enough, as far as I’m concerned. But there is actually more, if you are interested. Rufo’s use of ‘theory’ is misleading on a few more scores. He equivocates between using it as a name for a specific intellectual grouping - “Derrida, Nancy, Foucault, Agamben”, etc. - and a general sort of term for ‘being interested in abstraction’. In ordinary contexts, its not like you need to mark this with a red pen. But when the issue at hand is ‘framing the terms of the debate’ - hell, even for purposes of breaking the frame of the terms of the debate - you need to be a lot more careful. He also writes: “the real political stakes have nothing to do with capitalized “Theory’s” success or lack thereof; rather, they have everything to do with the authority and mechanisms by which Theory is homogenized and defined as something distinct from theory itself.” I’m not sure what to make of this, but it sounds to me like something I kept hearing in threads elsewhere: namely, that Theory is a term - like political correctness - that the opponent’s of the thing have contrived to hang around certain necks like an albatross. But this just isn’t so. Theory is a term that has a certain accepted - if vague - usage. Defenders and critics alike use it. (Just ask Scott Kaufman if you don’t believe me.) Jonathan Culler, Vincent Leitch, the Norton editor. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism is not anti-Theory. So the critics of ‘Theory’ are much less responsible than the proponents for all this ‘authority and mechanism’ stuff. (Hell, I can quote both Culler and Hillis-Miller happily talking about Theory’s empire - i.e. its imperial expansionism.) Rufo doesn’t sound like he is aware of this. If he were, it would certainly make little sense to get mad at someone like me about it. Get mad at Culler and Leitch and Hillis-Miller first, if you must.

But actually Leitch and Culler make the same mistake Rufo does. They conflate this recent thing with a much older, much more general thing. (Yes, I am saying it. Many defenders radically misconstrue the terms of the debate by pretending their opponents are opposed to ‘difficulty’. So they don’t hold up their end of the debate a lot of the time.) Which brings us to the final point.

Rufo’s suggestion that we should resist marking off Theory as something distinct from theory - that is, just plain reflection about things - is not good. Theory is a highly distinctive, if not entirely coherent - let alone definable - philosophical movement of the late 20th Century. There was a moment of Theory, if you like. It’s sort of over. But then again, I think it’s not. Whatever you think about whether it’s still hanging around, losing sight of the fact that Theory arose after 1965 (though it has deep roots going back to the early 19th Century at least) would be unhelpful to say the least. You gotta get the intellectual history approximately right, whatever you make of the rights and wrongs of pro and anti.

And that’s what I have to say. Are you satisfied, Matt?

By John Holbo on 11/29/05 at 07:51 AM | Permanent link to this comment

See, I make the mistake of checkin referrer logs between classes and now I feel compelled to respond.  Which is silly, but you know how compulsions are.

Let’s start with the obvious, John.  First up, you clearly misunderstand Matt’s objection.  The complaint people had was that you treated my arguments with a derision from the beginning, including the omission of my name (which at least shows an unintended honesty), which I mocked you for, a mocking that it appears others found somewhat persuasive.

Second, you’re upset with me because I won’t let you define theory - oops, Theory - how you want to, and you appear to think I’m upset with you because of the same operation.  If this was about Theory, the proper name, and who controls the ability to define it, we would just be at an impasse.  And that’s certainly part of it, but my point takes place at a slightly different level of abstraction, namely that the effort to define Theory is itself theoretical, and worthy of investigation.  I can’t locate an argument against this, which makes sense, since any argument against it would necessarily confirm it through the use of various metrics and philosophical and/or ideological assumptions.  The point is, once we recognize that no term, Theory included, is simply posited as a given, no matter your belief that the term has sedimented into a stable, ontic object, then we come to see that defining Theory is theoretical and the two terms operationally collapse in on each other. 

Your problem, John, if I can be blunt, is twofold.  First, you have a radically supercharged ego function, and it lets you make an argument with the following structure: I define Theory as X, this X is bad, people who disagree with my definition are wrong.  It’s like an odd version of false consciousness for English theory.  And I don’t entirely denigrate it.  I admire anyone who can trump entire debates with their own posturing, and do it with such certitude.  Second, you are sloppy in your debating.  I should note that I have taught debate professionally, and while your arguments are fine, your debating skill is, shall we say, mediocre.  Calling into question my willingness to debate, when you know so little about me or my work, is as stupid as your other basic assumption in the above comment, that I’m even talking about Theory’s Empire, rather than the discussion of Theory’s Empire, which, had you thought about that time honored close-reading skill, you would have sussed out without too much problem.  These sorts of inferential leaps kill you when it comes to high-paced debating, so try not to be so combative when making these mistakes.  It reflects poorly on you.

Now, that being said, I respect the work you do with this cite.  I’m glad you’re out there, like others, working to transform the intellectual landscape of the virtual world, but stop referencing me unless you have something fresher than this redundant and ill-fated, narcoleptic horse.  You have yet to respond to any of my arguments with anything other than: but Theory is different because I say so, and to occasionally sidestep fundamental questions of your own practices as author and agent.  I’m fine with you not wanting to do much self-reflection, but take Matt on his own terms and leave me out of it, as I’m beginning to lose respect and just find it annoying.  As for the apology you owe me, believe me, I consider any debt already paid in full, albeit in different currency.

By Kenneth Rufo on 11/29/05 at 03:24 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Personally, I find the tone of some of the threads on this site to be a bit off-putting. As Rich pointed out, it’s reminiscent of USENET flame wars. (I stopped reading USENET in the late ‘90s because I no longer found it worthwhile).

John Holbo has had a big influence on this site, and I am beginnng to wonder if the “‘Theory’ is ‘bad’” debate got the Valve off to a bad start, in terms of setting the tone.

I don’t find question iteself to be interesting (or even meaningful). It’s like debating whether Science Fiction is bad ... at a SF convention. Both SF and capital-T Theory contain a diverse range of stuff, some of which I like and some of which I don’t. Debating whether the category as a whole is bad seems futile. There are closely related questions that I do find interesting, but I’ve never agreed with the way John framed the debate. It seems to initiate heated argument rather than enlightening discussion.

By on 11/29/05 at 05:56 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Jumping right in...I’m confused by the above post (by Susan C).  She seems to be making a two-step argument:  (1) John Holbo set up a “Theory” straw man. (An unfair charge, I think, since one thread I remember dealt specifically with a Holbo article on Zizek, and another thread was about the book “Theory’s Empire”...so in this latter case, Susan’s ire would be better directed at Columbia UP, since they thought a body of “Theory” was coherent enough to be critiqued as a general target.) (2) This “Straw Man” model lent itself to particularly heated exchanges that are presumably (given the title of this thread) hyper-aggressive, “masculinist” in a bad way, etc. 
Well, for one thing, even if we did agree that Holbo set up a Theoryhead straw man, I just don’t see the necessary connection between step 1 and step 2 of Susan’s argument.  But, moreover, isn’t the analogy that buttresses claim number 1--i.e., the analogy between science fiction and Theory--a bad one, in that it basically grants the truth of Holbo’s critique of certain writers?  My understanding of science fiction is that it doesn’t purport to make truth-claims about the world--it is “fiction,” after all, and as Susan says, you’re either into the genre or you aren’t.  But many theoreticians (e.g., Foucault) *do* want to be taken as saying something about how our world works (even if they assault conventional truth-telling practices; Foucault may criticize conventional historians and be coy about whether what *he* writes is “history,” but he most certainly does want to make a statement about how certain sciences operate as discourses of power).  So if Susan equates “Theory” in general with “science fiction,” this seems to forfeit the whole game.  Indeed, theory is just a sort of fictional genre, not relevant to what social scientists and literary critics do.  If you’re not “into” it, it can safely be ignored.  I’m not sure I’d characterize all of Theory in this way, but given that Susan does, she should be invited onto the Valve’s editorial board.  (Although, as I’ve said, Holbo seems to me to be able to offer pointed, specific critiques of given theorists, and avoids the kind of blanket condemnation that Susan has inadvertently made.)

By on 11/29/05 at 06:53 PM | Permanent link to this comment

John, thank you for the response. 

A few very quick comments and some questions:

To reiterate, my own point was never to try to sacralize, to leap to the rigid defense of what has explicitly gone by the name of “Theory” or “doing Theory” in many institutional (largely American) contexts (and though not without revision and shift, some of them quite significant).  But I hardly deny that such a thing exists, generally, nor that much of it as championed most gregariously has indeed been all too often philistine and wretched).  Many of the first American introductions to Derrida, just for example, had some pretty significant holes in them.  Nor do I dispute the rough timeline, though I think Bérubé raised some interesting questions about that in his initial salvo.  You mentioned the Frankfurt School earlier.  Surely you see how portending to cast a net over all of Critical Theory, with this weird sort of guilt by association, by attacking the worst available examples of its contemporary students as symptomatic of a fundamental flaw within so-called “continental philosophy” and the inheritors of poststructuralism, well it might raise an eyebrow here and there?  For one thing it confuses a genuine thinker with hir every student.  True, you wrote an article on Zizek, in which you talked mostly about Kierkegaard and Trilling and attempting little charity indeed to the poor ruffian’s serious works (did you even cite any of them, I don’t recall).  In short though, you seem, John, to assume your target has already been vanquished, if not simply by virtue of the shifting political and philosophical climate (where is Derrida being taught in English departments these days?  Or even in philosophy ones?--they are harder to find than the impression all this talk of an empire gives, to say the least)--then with the help of a given history allegedly on your side.  As for “Theory” being mostly over....or not dying fast enough, or whatever....well, if you mean “Theory” as it was originally championed within academia and English departments in particular, then I agree!  The moment of cultural confrontation is somewhat over, replaced now by even more banal and vicious caricatures or what it was.  The tired culture wars have turned ugly in their never-ending death throes.  But this is not about culture war, this is about philosophical incompatibility, you say.  Well then that is a somewhat separate matter.  (There are, I think, still far too few Marxists and serious readers of philosophy in English departments, however, so maybe the time is ripe for a new manifestation of Theory to champion!) But still, there are, as always, for every handful of rotten examples, a good thing or two being done despite the philistines (good things in literature/philosophy journals like PMC, in the paltry handful of continental-friendly English and philosophy departments, on philosophy blogs...) Just saying.

But if this is all really most accurately framed as a debate between competing conceptions of philosophy (and thank you for being forthcoming on this point), then I suppose one might do well, if one wished to genuinely further the debate, to articulate the opposing conception of philosophy (and make a strong case for how it provides something better).  But instead of getting bogged down in rehashing such classic debates--you know the ones, and no doubt they would not appeal to many--you chose to continue sort of endlessly describing, waxing sociological and vindictive, the various ways in which “Theory” is bad (and without addressing--much less attempting to read with hospitality--any important representatives of this competing philosophical camp).  As CR I believe once said:  “the sooner you get to individual theorists [and not just “Theory,” like dubya’s “Terra"], the better.”

So let’s just at least agree that not all those classic debates have been entirely resolved yet; not by a long shot.  Like many I find it ammusing that such non-event ceremonies as the Sokal or deMan “affairs” are still constantly cited as conclusive proof to the contrary, but...it ain’t so.  And I tend to think the most interesting things happening now, in my modest view at least, are elsewhere than this, the endlessly re-hashed institutional bickerbatter.  If someone has something original to say about poststructuralism, or about Derrida, or Searl, or Blanchot (other than how he may or may not fit the New Critic profile, for which I might direct to the archives of the weblog, In Writing), then let’s hear it, and let’s talk about it.  Scott’s Foucault post on Long Sunday was a step in this direction, maybe.  We’re discussing Benjamin now; please feel free to join in, and also to criticize, pointedly or as you will.

By Matt on 11/29/05 at 07:12 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Please excuse typos.  And perhaps “vindictive” ought to have been replaced by something a bit more generous, such as “playful” or “chiding” (the initial choice was still bristling at a certain perceived undertone, what was it, about a something “squatting...where [John] sits”...in retrospect a comment I never really understood, perhaps.  Should it fail to come across at moments during the above, let me just make it explicit here, again, that I continue to respect John (not least of all for so generously taking the time to respond to his critics), and his various projects; thanks.

By Matt on 11/29/05 at 08:05 PM | Permanent link to this comment

That’s right, Matt and Kenneth…

When we have to play the game with the rule set Theory = not so much individual theorists, but the sclerotic, institutionalized, frozen idle talk emblematized in the 15 worst articles in PMLA over the last 25 years, yes, it’s tough to argue on its behalf.

But for me Theory is something closer to an anthology of its greatest moments, greatest to me, idiosyncratically: Benjamin on “jetztzeit,” the little chapter from Blanchot’s Infinite Conversation that spawned by dissertation, Agamben on the ad without products in The Coming Community, Marx on the dancing furniture of capitalism, Althusser’s interpellating cop, Foucault on the panoptical lockdown, Said on the hermetically sealed circularity of Heart of Darkness, Jameson’s last few amazing pieces in NLR, and so on and so on.

So, yes, the worst graduate student papers I’ve ever read are truly bad. And the institutional matrix in which many of us have found our place does have a tendency to beat the life out of thought, at times. Publish or perish, whether you’re up to it or not. And English departments, like all departments I suppose, have a tendency to elevate and then desiccate new paradigms. It’s the system, though, not the thinkers.

I’m going to continue to think about and write with and teach others to appreciate and understand my little anthology of theory listed above. I think you’d have a hell of a task ahead of you to pry these books off my shelf, suck these thoughts out of my mind.

Just to anticipate a goalpost shift that may or may not occur, I’d just say that if the goal is the eradication of bad theorism, rather than Theory itself, then I’d say that Long Sunday is headed in the right direction, while the tone of the Valve is counterproductive…

By on 11/29/05 at 11:20 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I’ve said my piece. I suggest we declare the thread dead, since Miriam didn’t really intend it to live on in this way. (Hope she’s amused.) If I decide to pick up on any of this it will be in a new post with new material in it.

By John Holbo on 11/30/05 at 12:19 AM | Permanent link to this comment

I am sincerely sorry that our relations has since decayed. It makes rather a mockery of quite a bit of effort I invested at the start.

Well, walking away the minute I show up on the scene, offer what I’d consider a good faith comment, does make rather a mockery of the effort I invested just now, doesn’t it…

I’m afraid this starts to look like a symptom of something, John. Every time we say this…

As CR I believe once said:  the sooner you get to individual theorists [and not just Theory, like dubyas Terra"], the better.

...you head for the hills. Do we have you on this point? Every time we say “talk theorists not theory in general,” you say its the institution you’re after. But when we counter, “fix / screw the insitution,” you say “No, it’s something wrong with theory itself.”

What gives? Circulus vitiosus?

By on 11/30/05 at 12:41 AM | Permanent link to this comment

CR, my sign off wasn’t in response to you, and I wasn’t intending to cut you off exactly. I just think - for a reason you yourself give: not enough appropriate material to work out our differences on right here - that continuing this very thread would probably not be productive. It’s Miriam’s thread and I didn’t really intend it to get so extensively jacked. So I was just signing off personally.

By John Holbo on 11/30/05 at 12:57 AM | Permanent link to this comment

I also hope Miriam is amused by the length and transformation of the thread.  It seemed one solution on Usenet with situations like this was to ghettoize the recurring and/or interminable arguments and politely beg contentious people to post to their hearts’ content in the ghettos—ideally without the pejorative nomenclature, of course.  Could the Valve use such a system, however it might be implemented?  Valve-squared?  Auxiliary Valve?

Ray: I agree wholly about the medievalists or early modernists, although I have no names to offer.

Rich: you do not seem aggressive to me, merely active.  Your point about ambiguity seems well taken, although the likely best practice seems to be to assume things are meant lightheartedly: never attribute to malice what can adequately be explained by wit-as-displacement-behavior, or such.

By withheld on 11/30/05 at 01:41 AM | Permanent link to this comment

withheld, you shall have the final word. (I like your idea about a separate space, too. Any chance of a wire cage somewhere out of sight, John? And yes, more medievalists and early modernists. If you are out there, please make yourselves known). In other words, I am hereby putting this thread out of our misery. I am sure I am not the only one who has watched its transformation with, yes, amusement. Incredulous amusement at times, as some commenters have gone out of their way to answer the original question in the affirmative, and without, it seems, much irony.

In the event that anyone has more to say about gender and blogging/commenting, there are two other posts, newer and relatively untried. Thank you all for your participation in this one, particularly those of you who hadn’t commented much before. I hope you hang around.

By Miriam Jones on 11/30/05 at 07:50 AM | Permanent link to this comment

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