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John Holbo - Editor
Scott Eric Kaufman - Editor
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Amardeep Singh
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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

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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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Sunday, October 01, 2006

The Trouble With Diversity: A Prelude

Posted by Scott Eric Kaufman on 10/01/06 at 06:57 PM

As a prelude to next week’s discussion of The Trouble With Diversity, I’m providing some links to recent articles by and about Walter Benn Michaels and the conversaions they elicited.  I’ll follow those with links to scholarly articles about the two books from which The Trouble With Diversity draws its arguments, Our America: Nativism, Modernism and Pluralism and The Shape of the Signifier: 1967 to the End of History.

Articles by Michaels concerning The Trouble With Diversity:

Commentary on The Trouble With Diversity:

Articles by Michaels concerning The Shape of the Signifier:

Commentary on The Shape of the Signifier:

Articles by Michaels concerning Our America:

Commentary on Our America:

I would’ve included more on these lists, but I feared overwhelming contributors and commenters alike.  By no means must you read all those links—many of which are available only through subscription—to comment on The Trouble With Diversity.


The University Diarist has an interesting observation about the book’s conclusion, which is all about Michaels himself:

He ran out of things to say but he had a book contract, so he’s filling up pages… with cultural self-flattery. In that particularly repellent mode UD calls KISS ME I’M HONEST. Says he’s got an enormous household income but wants much more because he wants to be the super-rich he envies in the pages of the NYT ... that the homeless guy outside his house pisses him off rather than inspires him to become Albert Schweitzer… that he thinks he has better taste than other people…

When Michaels tells us, in a book about the economic greed, blindness, and insensitivity of American elites, that he himself’s an invidious grasping sort, it doesn’t humanize him or interestingly complicate the redistribution problem.... If indeed he “does not feel rich” even though he’s hugely affluent, one can only conclude that it’s because of people like Michaels that we’re in the cruel winner-take-all fix he himself deplores.

I’m not sure I can go along with that final comment, but I certainly resonate to the KISS ME I’M HONEST branding. As it happened, the conclusion is where I happened to open the book after I’d retrieved it from my mailbox. I started reading it and promptly blew my stack.

What’s so very curious is that I’d come to associate that sort of mea culpa with the identity-burdened thinking that Michaels has been undermining for the past decade. When a good post-modern academic writes about oppressed people it’s common for said academic to offer up his or her own identity either in expiation or as a token of self-awareness and its vicissitudes. So, what’s Michaels doing making that same moi-centric move—in spades too! for he devotes 12 pages to himself? Is it out-of-control vanity or is it something else?

I’m attempting to argue for something else. Not sure I’ll succeed. It’s an up hill struggle at this point.

By Bill Benzon on 10/01/06 at 07:59 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Thanks Scott.

Not being in the liberal arts, I’d heard about WBM but not actually read any of him, so it was nice to read the Critical Inquiry piece, and get some sense of what his original arguments were like before seeing the more popularized version.  The fact that I could feel that I got a decent grasp of his argument with only a modest background gives me some understanding of why I’ve heard such praise…

...but I couldn’t help thinking - all this discussion about Robinson’s Mars trilogy, and rocks on Mars and whether they’re speaking, and whether people can speak for Mars or what that even means - all of this and no mention of the deliciously bizarre radical geologists that blow stuff up in an attempt to stop the terraforming and save the landscape?  How could he restrain himself?

By pdj on 10/01/06 at 09:52 PM | Permanent link to this comment

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