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Liberal Thursday II

Readers are demanding to know why I haven’t said anything on the blog about Alan Wolfe’s New York Times review of Liberal Arts. “Michael,” they say, “we come here for snark and raillery and nasty, indiscriminate mockery, and you’re not delivering. Why is that? Is it because you’re a wuss, or is it because you’re a wuss?”

The real reason, dear demanding readers, is that I am a wuss.  I was also immensely relieved by the review.

Yes, relieved. Because although I think that Sam Tanenhaus is an exceptionally smart fellow (his long August 6 review of Richard Hofstadter’s life and career was quite good), and that he’s done wonderful things with the Book Review’s coverage of contemporary fiction and (especially) poetry, I know that there have been some very strange review assignments lately. By this I mean that some books by liberal-progressive writers have been given to reviewers manifestly incapable of filing a reasonably substantive review. I honestly don’t know how or why this kind of thing happens; the Book Review is a complete mystery to me.

And because it is a mystery, once I got the very very good news that the book would, indeed, be reviewed by the Times, I began slaughtering chickens in my back yard each morning at dawn, chanting “owa owa tagu siam,” which, loosely translated, means “please don’t let my book meet the fate of Katha Pollitt’s Virginity or Death! when it was reviewed by Ana Marie Cox, or Daniel Dennett’s Breaking the Spell when it was reviewed by Leon Wieseltier. Please, please, O spirits, let not my poor little book be crushed like a bug by sneering incomprehension.”

You laugh at me, sure. You call me a superstitious old fool. You ask (as Janet asked) whether I cleaned up after each beheaded and gutted chicken. But the simple fact remains that my spirit-propitiatin’ hard work paid off. Sidney Blumenthal and Lewis Lapham thought I was a fool: “what a fool that Bérubé is, slaughtering chickens and chanting,” they said. Well, just look what happened to their books last Sunday. I rest my case.

So I’m not going to complain about that review.  Not at all!  I’ll leave the complaint department to the formidable Ophelia Benson, who composed one of her acid, savage, and acerbic posts about the review two weeks ago.  That Ms. Benson certainly is feisty!  I hear she’s working on a feistesgeschichte, or “history of spiritedness,” and I can’t wait to see the results.  Me, I’m just grateful that Alan Wolfe said some very nice, very generous things about the book and about the kind of teacher I might be.

Instead, I’ll just point to two moments that are kind of, how you say, mistaken.  Just to keep the record straight about what What’s Liberal About the Liberal Arts? does and does not say, you understand.

Moment one, in which Wolfe attributes to me the claim that

There is “more than a grain of truth” in the charge that Middle Eastern studies departments are generally biased against Israel.

I don’t actually say this.  The phrase “biased against Israel” does not appear in the book, and I don’t make any sweeping generalizations about Middle Eastern studies programs.  That’s partly because I don’t know enough about them to do so, and partly because I wouldn’t paint Middle Eastern studies with such a broad brush.  In the book, anyway.  Here on the blog, as you all know, I am not averse to using a big wide paint roller now and then.

So what do I say about Middle Eastern studies in the book?  I don’t remember.  You’ll have to check for yourself!

Moment two, in which Wolfe writes that my arguments against David Horowitz “do not reassure” him:

It is instructive to learn that anthropology is not a discipline composed entirely of like-minded people because left-liberals do not always agree with poststructuralist Marxists, but this hardly addresses the widespread perception that cultural anthropology has little room for those who might believe that America’s presence in a third-world country might bring about some good.

OK, there are actually two problems here.  The first has to do with anthropology itself, a discipline with regard to which, I admit, I have not considered the importance of scholars’ positions on American foreign policy.  But then, the last four anthropologists I’ve spoken to work on (a) rural Ireland, (b) immigrants in New Jersey, (c) contemporary Japan, and (d) the social meaning of prenatal testing in the United States.  I don’t know what any of them thinks about America’s presence in this or that third-world country.  I imagine that when Wolfe thinks about anthropology, he’s not thinking about any of the anthropologists who might be working elsewhere than in the third world.  But who knows what Professor Wolfe was thinking in this paragraph? 

Not me—because, as it happens, my book never says anything about left-liberals and poststructuralist Marxists in anthropology departments.  So when Professor Wolfe says “it is instructive to learn that anthropology is not a discipline composed entirely of like-minded people because left-liberals do not always agree with poststructuralist Marxists,” I have to imagine that he is thinking of some book other than mine in which it is instructive (though, finally, not reassuring) to learn this.

The only time I speak about the plurality of intellectual perspectives in anthropology departments, I refer to the well-known (and, in some cases, profoundly debilitating) divide between cultural anthropologists and physical anthropologists:

English is not, despite its reputation, uniquely fractious:  in my eight years of involvement with humanities institutes, I’ve had ringside seats for fights between Latin Americanists and Iberianists in Spanish departments; digital media designers and oil painters in art departments; cultural theorists and archaeologists in anthropology departments; and analytic and Continental philosophers in philosophy departments.

That’s on page 99.  So now you know.

My general point, of course, is that tracking the party registrations of professors tells you relatively little about their intellectual commitments as professors.  But the argument about left-liberals disagreeing with poststructuralist Marxists is a lousy argument, precisely because it doesn’t address conservatives’ complaints that the “diversity” in college faculties consists of a diversity of “left” positions.  And that, dear friends and demanding readers, is why I didn’t make that argument!  I’m sorry for giving Professor Wolfe any impression that I did.

But some good might come of this little misunderstanding in the end, because from this point onward, whenever you run into someone saying, “Michael Bérubé says that there is no liberal bias on campus because the anthropology department includes left-liberals and poststructuralist Marxists, and therefore Michael Bérubé is either a knave or a gull,” you’ll know they haven’t read the book! It’s that simple! 

For example, Wolfe’s line about anthropology departments has been picked up by conservative writer Mark Judge, who writes:

Berube pointing to the “diversity” between left-liberals and poststructuralists [sic] Marxists isn’t exactly an advertisement for a comprehensive and diverse education. . . .  Berube admits that universities are liberal reeducation camps; furthermore, when he does offer a defense, Wolfe pounces, writing that it “hardly addresses the widespread perception that [university courses in] cultural anthropology [have] little room for those who might believe that America’s presence in a third-world country might bring about some good.”

And Judge’s review has been commended in turn by Erin O’Connor at ACTA Online, who calls it a piece of “thoughtful criticism” and proposes it as a standard for future discussions:

those with the most immediate cachet are not always those with the best arguments, and Berube doesn’t draw anywhere near as much thoughtful criticism as he might. An exception may be found in Mark Judge’s review of Alan Wolfe’s New York Times review of Berube’s book, which, Judge notes, loses its analytical edge in the inexplicable manner of so many of Berube’s admirers. . . .

Though Berube’s admirers are already pre-emptively mocking readers who might disagree with his argument that there is no problem with political bias in higher education, those readers should still read the book, and they should still formulate and publish opinions on his arguments. Defenders of the academic status quo don’t want to be argued with, and they go to great lengths to shut down such argument in advance. But that’s all the more reason for substantive debate.

(And yes, that hyperlink in O’Connor’s post will lead you to Chris Clarke’s graphic novel “version” of my book—about which all I can say is, if Chris was trying pre-emptively to mock readers who might disagree with my argument that there is no problem with political bias in higher education, he will fail, fail miserably, partly because I don’t make that argument, and partly because at least one conservative critic is already wise to the fact that I do.)

Now, once upon a time, smart conservatives didn’t go around applauding the “thoughtful reviews” of people who hadn’t bothered to read the material ostensibly under review, while casting aspersions on “defenders of the academic status quo” who “go to great lengths to shut down such argument in advance.” I am deeply nostalgic for those days myself.  Accordingly, I’m all for substantive debate; I second Professor O’Connor’s call for it, and I thank her for recommending my book to people who might disagree with some aspects of it.  But I’ll say this much in advance—if someone tries to give me a hard time for my defense of left-liberals and poststructuralist Marxists in anthropology departments, and my refusal even to entertain the possibility that these professors are shutting out the “America can bring about some good in third world countries” faction of job-seeking anthropology Ph.D.s, then I’m just going to keep quiet for a bit and wait for a substantive debate with someone who disagrees with arguments that I actually make. 

After all, as I argue in chapter six, the valuable thing about the Habermas-Lyotard debate is that it compels us to think about how best to engage in debates with people with whom we fundamentally disagree.  And as I note at the end of chapter four, you’re free to disagree with me about that, too.

Posted by on 09/28 at 02:45 PM
  1. Look out!  You’ve just confused archaeologists and physical anthropologists!

    Posted by  on  09/28  at  04:51 PM
  2. Oh, jeez, I’m in for it now.

    My only hope is that they’re all poststructuralist Marxists and will forgive me.

    Posted by Michael  on  09/28  at  04:52 PM
  3. That ‘It is instructive to learn’ sentence creeps me out.  It’s that tone of supercilious sarcastic superiority.  You know that the author is ignorant and arrogant and doesn’t care.  It’s bullying:  I’m so smart you have to agree with me, don’t you see, so why not join in and we’ll both beat up on this little creep.

    I know that some people are famous for this kind of style.  But it’s just awful.  It makes me want to go wash my hands or something.

    Posted by  on  09/28  at  05:25 PM
  4. Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names insult the dignity of my people to a degree that can only be sated with blood!

    The pre-emptive mockery thing has been coming up a lot lately – or even just mockery in general. It seems to me that as much as there’s an excess of hubris in the condemnation of mockery, there’s still a cruelty in mocking. I’m tempted to think that mockery is an all around bad idea, and yet, it seems undeniably a part of being human – even fun.

    Has anyone written a treatise on the ethics of mockery?

    Posted by Central Content Publisher  on  09/28  at  05:43 PM
  5. It seems to me that the “but there are Marxists and liberals and poststructuralists who fight all the time” argument can in fact be useful, for a couple of reasons. 

    One, in points out the artificiality of the Horowitzite idea of “balance” - why ought we to balance between what Horowitz thinks are left, right, and center, as opposed to say between what Lenin referred to as left, right, and center?  (Centrist being his term for socialist parties that swung between reformism and revolutionism.) Deciding what to balance between is itself political - and so deciding that balance ought to reflect the U.S. distribution of political forces is no more or less than deciding that the U.S. consensus is basically correct.

    Two, it pokes holes in the idea that discrimination against political enemies is widespread in academic hiring.  If Marxists hate liberals, but manage not to discriminate against them, why would it be different with conservatives (who are, in the US, usually liberals by a historical definition anyway)?  There’s not enough of a consensus among various “left” academics for a conspiracy to keep out the “right.”

    Michael Bérubé is either a knave or a gull

    No.  The categories are knave and fool.  Just as Zizek, (who will also without hesitation classify Michael Berube as a fool).

    Posted by Kalkin  on  09/28  at  06:25 PM
  6. Michael,

    I hope that the chickens were free range . . .

    By the way, I wasn’t reassured by your discussion of the disputes between exegetes and philologists in medieval studies programs on page . . . wait . . . I know it’s here somewhere . . .

    Posted by John  on  09/28  at  06:25 PM
  7. No.  The categories are knave and fool.  Just as Zizek, (who will also without hesitation classify Michael Berube as a fool).

    But I used up all my allotment of “fools” in paragraph five above, Kalkin, so I switched to Twelfth Night mode for the “knave or” sentence.  As for Zizek’s classifications, I’m sure you’re aware that I prefer those of Borges.

    Posted by Michael  on  09/28  at  06:32 PM
  8. Look, you can’t just slaughter the chickens, you have to sacrifice the little cluckers. Where was your altar? Were you wearing your robes (not your bathrobe!) and did you light the incense? Shoddy ‘slaughtering’ and what do you get? You get Wolfe.

    Posted by Dick Durata  on  09/28  at  06:44 PM
  9. That ‘It is instructive to learn’ sentence creeps me out.  It’s that tone of supercilious sarcastic superiority.  You know that the author is ignorant and arrogant and doesn’t care.  It’s bullying:  I’m so smart you have to agree with me, don’t you see, so why not join in and we’ll both beat up on this little creep.

    Basically, you’ve just nailed Wolfe.  He’s an extremely petulent prima donna.

    Posted by  on  09/28  at  06:51 PM
  10. I imagine that when Wolfe thinks about anthropology, he’s not thinking about any of the anthropologists who might be working elsewhere than in the third world.

    Besides not thinking about this major shift toward first-world objects of study, he’s also ignoring or perhaps ignorant of another big trend in North American anthropology in recent decades—applied anthropology, in which anthroplogists collaborate with government and non-government offices and other organizations to “bring about some good” in the third and first worlds.

    Posted by J—  on  09/28  at  06:56 PM
  11. I’m working on a great big book on how to put your budgie down
    the history of the culture concept in American anthropology.  The political right has always targeted anthropology and the culture concept, from Madison Grant in the nineteen-teens to Dinesh D’Sousa in the nineteen-nineties. 

    One wonders what exactly they expect anthropology departments to look like since they pretty much want the field to abandon the culture concept entirely.

    Posted by  on  09/28  at  08:41 PM
  12. I hate Alan Wolfe. So does Franz Boas. Wolfe is the David Broder of academics, except he lacks Broder’s sharp edges.

    Posted by  on  09/28  at  08:47 PM
  13. Hey, I just ordered the book. You mean I don’t even have to read it to discuss it and critique it? Damn, now you tell me. No wonder Cliffs Notes insulted me.

    Posted by  on  09/28  at  09:01 PM
  14. Just wait ‘til Wolfe finds out what the Marxists really think of the poststructuralists. 

    Anyway thanks for clearing that up.  These inventions—there must be a clever psychoanalytic term—are useful glimpses of people’s mental maps of the world.  Anthropologists should be quite used to living in other people’s dreamspaces.

    Posted by  on  09/28  at  09:32 PM
  15. Now, now, good people.  Wolfe spent the second half of the review being quite generous and pleasant, actually.  I have reason to be grateful for that.  The last time I found my name under his byline, it was in the New Republic, where I was described as “advocating class struggle within the university”—because of my support for graduate student unions.  Not long after that, I was badly beaten by private security forces.  So it could have been much, much worse.

    But yeah, I did forget to sacrifice the chickens.  Damn this agnosticism of mine!  It leaves me without crucial resources in times of need.

    Anyway, the really annoying thing is how Judge and O’Connor have tried to seize on this “argument” about anthropology.  It wouldn’t have been all that hard for them to flip through the book quickly, just to see if there really are any foolish lines about left-liberals and poststructuralist Marxists in it.

    And jpj, I believe there is an important branch of right-wing anthropology, epitomized by the book It Takes a Family—Not a Village!  We’re Against This Whole “Village” Thing, Including the Village People.  For those of you who missed it, D’Souza’s attempt to attack Franz Boas in The End of Racism is really remarkable. 

    Posted by Michael  on  09/28  at  09:35 PM
  16. Kai Kassai, Bérubé!

    Three paragraphs. And David Horowitz, Alan Wolfe, Erin OConnor, and Mark Judge are all disarmed and stunned…

    Not even Matthew Yglesias is such a master of snark!

    Posted by Bradford DeLong  on  09/28  at  10:12 PM
  17. I honestly don’t know how or why this kind of thing happens; the Book Review is a complete mystery to me.
    Well, now i see the future.  One of the 2007 Bérubé books already in the making will feature dilating on the Book Review reviews of the last 50 years.

    Anthropologists should be quite used to living in other people’s dreamspaces.
    Aaah yes, this was my thought exactly.  My years hanging around, and in, that department were filled with efforts to find the best entheogens (and the appropriate rituals) that produced the quality shamanic transcendent transformations; no clue about the conflict between post-structuralists and marxists.

    But yeah, I did forget to sacrifice the chickens.
    This is unclear; either you didn’t eat the chickens (take this, this is my body) and thus sacrificed the meal, or you did eat the chickens and thus sacrificed them for the sake of food rather than ritual.  You sacrificed somewhere along the line, elsewise the ritual propitiations would not have manifested the glorious revelations of the wolf.

    Posted by  on  09/28  at  10:42 PM
  18. I did miss it actually. But after reading a few reviews of the “The End of Racism"… I wish I had kept missing it. Is it fair to judge someone based on a few reviews?

    Posted by Central Content Publisher  on  09/28  at  10:48 PM
  19. Having analyzed the smear campaign against Patricia Williams back in the mid-’90s and being surprised to find out that she was unaware of the connections among her hostile reviewers and critics when I showed her a copy of the essay years later, I understand the need for vigilance and rapid response with your new book(s).  But, dammit, your ABFF later today had better follow up on your Credocrats idea from last week.  And try to get in a V for Vendetta reference if you can while you’re at it.

    Posted by The Constructivist  on  09/29  at  01:28 AM
  20. My general point, of course, is that tracking the party registrations of professors tells you relatively little about their intellectual commitments as professors.  But the argument about left-liberals disagreeing with poststructuralist Marxists is a lousy argument, precisely because it doesn’t address conservatives’ complaints that the “diversity” in college faculties consists of a diversity of “left” positions.

    Major universities have become increasingly bureaucratic; and bureaucracies are inherently conservative. While the ivory tower crowd may not have to wear IBM blue suits and skinny ties to work, in many ways they “toe the corporate line” more readily than employees of any Fortune 500 company. It’s difficult to conclude that universities are bastions of “liberality,” when most professors wouldn’t jeopardize their shot at tenure by engaging in truly original thought. I’m not referring to the holding of “outrageous” political opinions--which is one’s right--and a value judgment in any case, but rather to the doctrinal constraints that have existed within certain disciplines over the years that one does not dare challenge if one hopes to advance in one’s field.

    The issue of “liberality” in higher education wouldn’t even merit discussion if that twit Dinesh D’Souza weren’t paid roughly $1000 per page for churning out pseudo-intellecutal propaganda for The Philanthropy Roundtable, exposing this covert threat to young people.

    Posted by  on  09/29  at  05:29 AM
  21. Three paragraphs. And David Horowitz, Alan Wolfe, Erin OConnor, and Mark Judge are all disarmed and stunned…

    Not even Matthew Yglesias is such a master of snark!

    Well, thanks, Brad, but I was just straightenin’ out the ol’ textual record.  And you know, if the liberal Marxist postleftists in anthropology departments thing hadn’t been repeated by three people, I probably would’ve let it go.

    I understand the need for vigilance and rapid response with your new book(s).  But, dammit, your ABFF later today had better follow up on your Credocrats idea from last week.

    What is there to say, Constructivist my friend?  We used to be a country that tortured people secretly, and now we torture people openly.  To their credit, many Credomats spoke up in almost precisely the terms I suggested last week (minus the “anti-American” part).  Problem is, they are too few, and they don’t control anything.

    Posted by Michael  on  09/29  at  07:58 AM
  22. No disrespect meant to this “over 4652238 served” blog, but one phrase that struck me in Erin O’Connor’s “review” was her description of this blog as immensely popular. Just what are the standards for “immensely popular” these days? Have they declined since the ‘60s? Is its use legitimately relative? Should it be interpreted differently when appearing on website that is “immensely unpopular”?

    With Mei Ling and Chanterelle otherwise engaged, I was forced to do some research myself. Results are incomplete but it does appear to that “immensely popular” is currently used both as an objective descriptor and as a hyperbolic idiom. A sample of items so described follows, classification of usage and determination of degree of violence being done to the language left as an exercise for the “vast array” of readers of this fair blog.

    - The marvellously titled Marvels of Things Created and Miraculous Aspects of Things Existing (first item returned by Google. A genre of classical Islamic literature that was concerned with ‘mirabilia’ or wonders of creation. - well, it was immensely popular back in the day.)
    - The Mean Joe Greene Coca Cola commercial
    - this blog
    - the Thickburger at Hardee’s
    - Camel Races in the Persian Gulf States
    - iPods
    - Trance music
    - the Gauguin in Tahiti exhibit.

    Posted by  on  09/29  at  09:36 AM
  23. I have no business here. I am old and not all that smart. Too much of what I think I used to know came from the pre-referential era; poststructuralist anything doesn’t ring a bell.

    So tell me, is lovin’ “America’s presence in a third-world country” a right-wing thing or a left-wing thing? Does this change with hemlines? Must I postcontextualize the context?

    Also, Michael, it’s da feets. The juju is in the chicken feets. Does college teach anything practical nowadays?

    Posted by David J Swift  on  09/29  at  09:44 AM
  24. Michael,

    My local Borders is supposed to have your book stocked this weekend-they ordered two of them.  You are gaining a beachhead in Poway, CA (northern San Diego County), a community that votes Republican every, single time.  That’s why I haven’t read your book yet, but I might get deja vu sensations when I start to read it this weekend, especially after viewing Chris Clarke’s cool graphic version.

    Anyway, when right-wingers attack “leftists” at “universities” in my presence, I always ask, “Which departments do you mean?” For they can’t mean, I say to them, the Economics and Business departments of most universities, which are little more than corporate whore factories.  Those departments often and systematically weed out, for example, anyone who thinks that (a) the New Deal was an effective series of programs; (b) Michael Harrington’s analyses of macroeconomics has a great deal of merit; (c) metrics are not a substitute for information; (d) the private sector does not inherently have greater efficiencies than the public sector; and (e) if there is no “free lunch,” because someone always pays, why do economists speak so often of the “free” market, “free” trade, and “free” enterprise, as if there are no costs paid by others for that supposed “freedom”?

    I would also venture to say that, before the Republicans decided to attack science in the past several years, one found plenty of Republicans in the engineering department and various science departments.  Plenty of them!  These days, though, I sense a change, from my outside-of-academia station, because the distinguishing factor I find among people these days has more to do with “rational vs. irrational” than “liberal vs. conseravtive.” I have even met people in these parts who would normally define themselves as “conservative,” but shake their heads at the antics on FoxNews and at the current occupiers of the Congress and White House.  They also express dismay and outright contempt at the leaders among the so-called “religious right” who believe zygotes and embryos have to be saved at the expense of curing diseases for the rest of us or who think Darwin has been completely “proven” to be “wrong.”

    Posted by MItchell Freedman  on  09/29  at  10:13 AM
  25. God Michael, I love your snark.  It is just perfect with a strong coffee in the morning!  Please excuse my naivete, but what is the deal with people “reviewing” books if they haven’t bothered read them properly?  And how much gall do you need to comment on a text based purely on a shoddy review? 

    I agree with Ruthie about the inherent risks of original thought for non-tenured professors.  Those who attack the apparent liberal bias of American universities never take into account the reality of universities today.  The glut of over-qualified Ph.D.s is almost every field in the humanities practically guarantees there will be very little original (and dare I say radical?) thought presented in future classrooms.  It is extremely difficult to be openly provocative when you have NO job security.  Adjuncts have no benefits, almost no voice in departmental or administrative matters, and can be fired at a moments notice.  There will always be another recent grad ready to fill the slot to teach survey, after survey, after survey.  I have many colleagues who are doing top research in my field (art history) and yet they are still denied tenure and cannot find positions as full-time professors.  The most popular job description is “non-tenure track” and we’re lucky if these positions lasts more than 3 years.  I know I’m repeating myself bringing up the adjunct issue, but this hits close to home.  I was very happy to see that Michael addresses it in WLATLA?  For hard-core academics like myself it is extremely frustrating to teach and write when the return on years of financial and emotional investments can be so meagre.  Thanks to writers like Michael and others, including the commenters on this blog, I can shake off my cynicism and keep going.

    Posted by  on  09/29  at  11:12 AM
  26. Well, I just finished WLATLA and I think all this talk about postwhatsis anthropologists will fade away as attention is turned to Michael’s nasty and unprovoked assault on magic dolphins on p. 291.

    You’ve done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last?  Have you left no sense of decency?

    Posted by  on  09/29  at  11:24 AM
  27. Man, when you don’t take somebody on the results can be devastating for that person.  I shudder to consider what happens when you do engage.

    Posted by mrgumby2u  on  09/29  at  11:44 AM
  28. I’m troubled by comments such as Ruthie’s (#20) about “the doctrinal constraints that have existed within certain disciplines over the years that one does not dare challenge if one hopes to advance in one’s field” or Fiorentina’s (#25) that “It is extremely difficult to be openly provocative when you have NO job security.”

    I don’t want to dispute that pre-tenure faculty play it safe in many ways.  But I do want to dispute the assumption that good research/teaching is necessarily a “challenge” or “openly provacative.” This understanding of scholarship-as-agon disturbs me.

    I see my work in much the same way as Bernard of Chartres did:

    “. . . we are like dwarfs sitting on the shoulders of giants in order to be able to see more and further than they can, not because of the sharpness of our own sight or the height of our own bodies, but because we are lifted up and carried high on their huge elevation.”

    My research builds on what has come before, correcting it in some aspects and confirming it in others.  I don’t understand why it merits a label of “conformist” or “quietist” (not the terms used by Ruthie or Fiorentina, but terms I’ve often seen elsewhere) simply because I don’t sell it as a storming of the scholarly barricades.

    Timothy Burke has already said much of the above better:

    “Even the humanities could use something of the sort. There is, even in those fields, something of a bias against claims which are modest or subtle, which I take to be one of the reasons why so many historicist literary critics and others hitched their star so strongly to claims about the political importance or efficaciousness of their work . . .”

    As a pre-tenure historicist who is more than happy to “publish” in what Timothy calls “The Journal of Humble Arguments,” I can only concur.

    P. S.  I realize this is a bit too earnest a comment for the “most popular” of dangeral studies blogs, Michael, but I feel the need to defend my fellow assistant professors.

    Posted by  on  09/29  at  12:18 PM
  29. No comment is too earnest, Rob.  Thanks for gracing this humble blog with an eloquent defense of humble arguments.

    But Fiorentina has a point about adjuncts—and I was especially pleased that I managed to convince Alan Wolfe that their position in this debate is worth taking seriously.  Speaking of which:

    how much gall do you need to comment on a text based purely on a shoddy review?

    Fiorentina, ever since I ran across that evil Paul de Man fellow I can no longer distinguish between real questions and rhetorical questions.  What’s the difference?  So I have to say the answer to your question is lots and lots, especially if the commenter is trying to claim some kind of moral high ground about the importance of substantive debate.

    Well, I just finished WLATLA and I think all this talk about postwhatsis anthropologists will fade away as attention is turned to Michael’s nasty and unprovoked assault on magic dolphins on p. 291.

    I was kind of hoping you wouldn’t bring that up, jpj.  For the record, though, I do not attack all magic dolphins.  Just the poststructuralist Marxist magic dolphins—you remember, the ones who were responsible for deconstructing Elian Gonzalez.

    Posted by  on  09/29  at  12:41 PM
  30. Are poststructuralist Marxist magic dolphins the ones in Slytherin?

    Posted by  on  09/29  at  12:56 PM
  31. Very possibly, since only Peggy Noonan and Tom Riddle can talk to them.

    Posted by  on  09/29  at  01:08 PM
  32. Having wandered here from Brad Delong’s site, my first concern was that the chickens were fried after being sacrificed though it may have been a better use of time to have sacrificed reviewers and let the chickens read the book.
    Years ago, reviewers were very adept at twisting an author’s words or taking a sentence or two out of context and constructing an entire strawman. Now it appears the reviewers have done away with the need for authors since they manufacture quotations from whole cloth.  If this practice evolves so that the reviewers finally produce the books themselves, except for the author’s name, who then will get the royalty checks?
    I was just hopeful a new line of intellectual featherbedding had been discovered.

    Posted by  on  09/29  at  01:14 PM
  33. Re para 2 in #24

    Mitchell F, I understand the pleasures of hyperbole, but our response to sweepingly ideological denunciations of whole fields should not be sweepingly ideological denunciations of whole fields.  There is some room, though not enough, for dissent in econ and the smartest inheritors of the neoclassical system can still do useful and even critical things with it.  And my encounters with folks in business programs, as teachers and as colleagues, have been almost uniformly excellent.  They’re better critical thinkers than most economists, have wide sympathies, and are serious about teaching.  On questions of rigor and critical thinking they are our *allies*.

    Posted by  on  09/29  at  01:49 PM
  34. Rob, thanks for addressing my point.  I do not want to claim that *all* adjunct and assistant professors are cowed into suppressing their opinions or ideas because they lack job security.  Nor do I want to imply that “conformist” research based on previous material is not worthy in any way.  My research is much the same as yours, in fact I would be honored to be published in “The Journal of Humble Arguments.” My point was only that in order to storm some of the more contentious scholarly barricades, job security has to be considered.  Michael has an example in his book of an adjunct English professor who encounters this very problem. 

    Politics don’t surface too often in my specific field of art history (Italian Renaissance, primarily manuscripts and printed books), but I am aware of the issues Michael discusses in WLATLA? when I teach large, general survey classes.  Right now these are the focus of my teaching; fortunately my research is much more stimulating. 

    Michael, I thought so. “Lots and lots” sounds about right.

    Posted by  on  09/29  at  01:58 PM
  35. that the reviewers finally produce the books themselves, except for the author’s name, who then will get the royalty checks?

    Maybe the descendants of Thomas Carlyle.

    Posted by  on  09/29  at  03:03 PM
  36. Fiorentina, I haven’t read Michael’s book, so I didn’t know about his adjunct example.  But you (and Michael in his post) are absolutely right about the difference between assistant professors and adjuncts when it comes to job security’s relationship to teaching/scholarship.  And it’s definitely the case that those scholars (adjunct, assistant, or tenured) who do storm barricades need support from all of us in “Humble Arguments” land.

    Posted by  on  09/29  at  03:26 PM
  37. Michael, in response to #21: you did a pretty damn good job of it in F’s post!  Brilliant!

    Posted by The Constructivist  on  09/29  at  05:01 PM
  38. Re: “Well, thanks, Brad, but I was just straightenin’ out the ol’ textual record.”

    Of course you were. Of course you were. After seeing what happened to Horowitz, Wolfe, O’Connor, and Judge, I’m not going to disagree with anything you say.

    But it is nice to have a new synonym-phrase for “getting medieval on.” “Jes’ straightnin’ out the ol’ textual record"--that’s good, very good.

    Posted by Bradford DeLong  on  09/29  at  05:37 PM
  39. Nobody here but us chickens, Brad.

    Posted by  on  09/29  at  07:03 PM
  40. I work for George Allen, and I heard you defending left-liberals and poststructuralist Marxists in anthropology departments.  And once you left a chicken’s head in the department mailbox of a Russian formalist.

    Posted by Miracle Max  on  09/29  at  08:41 PM
  41. Michael--

    Certainly. Cluck-cluck-cluck-cluck-cluck…

    Max--

    I heard it was the department mailbox of a Russian constructivist…

    In the interests of true ideological diversity, I see you gave the keys to MaxSpeak to Walmart-Lover Jason Furman and he took it for a spin. Would you be interested in the keys to the Semi-Daily Journal the next time I take a vacation?

    Brad DeLong

    Posted by Bradford DeLong  on  09/30  at  12:17 AM
  42. I’m just breaking in here to say that jpj’s typo in #11, inadvertently conflating Dinesh D’Souza with John Phillip Sousa, is causing delightful cartoons to appear in my brain and will suffice for my Friday night entertainment.

    I thank jpj and I burn a pinch of incense to the Goddess of Typoes, one of my personal patrons.

    Posted by Ron Sullivan  on  09/30  at  12:34 AM
  43. "I hear she’s working on a feistesgeschichte, or “history of spiritedness,” and I can’t wait to see the results.”

    No I’m working on a feistesfestschrift, or festschrift for spunky indignation.

    In all (or most, anyway) honesty, I did the same thing that Judge fella did and wrote a review of Wolfe’s review before I’d read the book being reviewed. I also wrote a review of that Ana Marie Cox review of Katha Pollitt’s book without having read the book. But in all (or some) fairness, I think I made it pretty clear I was reviewing the review itself, as a stand-alone piece of writing. Both reviews were just surprisingly badly written - that’s one of the most baffling things about the Times Book Review: the bad writing it sometimes (too often) lets through.

    Posted by Ophelia Benson  on  09/30  at  07:14 AM
  44. I haven’t read the other stuff, but I’d give Ophelia’s review a good review.

    I spotted Ana Marie for a scam artist right off, not that that was hard to do, but I never thought she’d rise that high. You have to wonder whether factors that it would be unfeminist to say anything about are involved. But this is certainly an indicator of the extraordinary shallowness and (quick metaphor shift) deep cynicism of our media that she was one very few people so far elevated from the blogosphere to the print media. Not Digby, not Billmon, not DeLong, not Sawicky, not Berube, and so on. (And not me!)

    I think that one answer is that at Suck (or wherever she was) she showed herself to be a team player who turned out exactly the product desired. Given different specs, she can turn out dirrerent product.

    Posted by John Emerson  on  09/30  at  05:36 PM
  45. Thenk you, John. Especially for not calling me spunky.

    I should add to that full disclosure that now that I have read the book Wolfe was reviewing, his review annoys me even more than it did before. It’s a much better book than he lets on. Why’s he so grudging about it?

    Posted by Ophelia Benson  on  09/30  at  08:11 PM
  46. Now I know why you’re being nice to Wolfe, Michael--he’s practically a <a href"http://www.tnr.com/blog/openuniversity?pid=42054">Credocrat</a>!  Pretty sneaky, Berube.  This is the guy who basically accused the post-Leo Marx generations of Americanists of treason 3 years ago, and now he’s almost sounding like Arthur Silber or something.  Not bad.

    Posted by The Constructivist  on  10/01  at  06:00 PM
  47. Stupid broken link.  That’s what I get for trying to type quietly on a Japanese keyboard so the girls stay asleep for a few more minutes while their dad satisfies his Dangeral Studies cravings.

    Posted by The Constructivist  on  10/01  at  06:02 PM
  48. feistesgeschichte…

    Could that also be called a feistschrift?

    I slay me sometimes, thereby saving right-minded individuals the trouble and expense.

    Posted by  on  10/05  at  04:17 AM
  49. After reading your blog, I am frequently tempted to hop on over to the web site of your humiliated interlocutor and post or email:

    “Note to self: try not to look like an idiot when Michael Berube is watching.”

    But, then I wonder whether of troop of not-so-clever Berube wanna-bes like myself, tromping around the internets and gloating, would dilute the valuable Berube brand.

    Actually, this first occured to me during the tight-sweater-in-front-of-Clinton affair, but I have since found that it is frequently applicable to posts chez Berube.

    Cheers,
    Mark Gilbert

    Posted by  on  10/08  at  06:32 PM
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