Fraudulent journalist, c’est moi
In January 1995 I published a little essay that almost nobody liked. Eh, that happens sometimes. It was a review essay on the then-recently-published work of a couple of African-American public intellectuals, and I wrote it quite simply because the New Yorker asked me to. I was a newly-tenured associate professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and I was surprised by the request; to this day it’s the only time I’ve written for the New Yorker. And then, within about three months of the thing’s appearance, a whole mess of people decided to weigh in on the work of a couple of African-American public intellectuals. Many of those people came to the conclusion that I had done a pretty piss-poor job of writing about the recently-published work of a couple of African-American public intellectuals; the general verdict was that I had basically written a press release, a puff piece on a bunch of lightweights and/or sellouts. But some of those people weren’t responding to me at all; they had much more important figures to go after, like Cornel West. And it wasn’t just my little essay they were responding to; my essay was bad enough, sure, but it was compounded by the appearance, in the March 1995 Atlantic, of a much longer essay by Robert Boynton. That essay was about the work of a couple of other African-American intellectuals, and, like my essay, it drew a loose analogy between contemporary African-American intellectuals and the New York intellectuals of yesteryear, so clearly there was some kind of conspiracy afoot.
By the time Leon Wieseltier had taken to the pages of The New Republic to thunder that Cornel West’s work was “noisy, tedious, slippery . . . sectarian, humorless, pedantic and self-endeared,” indeed, “almost completely worthless,” and Adolph Reed Jr., doing his usual contrarian thing, had shot back in the Village Voice that Wieseltier’s essay was a “right-for-the-wrong-reasons attack,” I could see that there was a bona fide pile-on in progress. As even the leftist Adolph Reed Jr. says about Leon Wieseltier’s essay in Even The Liberal New Republic. . . . And so, uncharacteristically, I decided to stay mostly out of the fray—until Sean Wilentz published “Race, Celebrity, and the Intellectuals: Notes on a Donnybrook” in the summer 1995 issue of Dissent. At the time, I was a little bit pissed off that Wilentz accused me of “liberal racialism,” and a little more pissed off that he wrote,
in 1963, it was possible to open the New Yorker and find Dwight Macdonald there descanting thoughtfully and at length about The Other America. Now in place of Macdonald there is Michael Bérubé celebrating Race Matters and works by the other new black intellectuals—a case of misjudgment, no doubt, but also a sign about more general trends in intellectual reportage. Whereas Harrington could count on tough remarks and rebuttals as well as praise, especially from his closest associates and friends, West and many of the other prominent black writers have been treated (at least until recently) to the sort of tumultuous acclaim that suffocates their better intentions.
the hype has been picked up by writers for the national media and turned into more disturbing forms of celebrity mongering—the latest example of a trend that has gripped almost every field of artistic and academic endeavor. And some of the mongering has managed to slip into some unexpected places. The grandest puff appeared last winter in a group review by Michael Bérubé that turned up in the New Yorker. . . .
Now, I admit that I have a funny reaction when people sneer at me like this and ask who let me into the club; I usually extend my hand to them and say, “it’s such a pleasure to meet you—I’m your replacement, and I have to ask you to leave.” So part of my reply to Wilentz in the fall ‘95 Dissent included my Deeply Considered Opinion that his essay was “half pot-shot, half rehash, wholly inadequate to the task,” and it closed by asking Dissent “how Sean Wilentz’s piece managed to slip into your pages.” (In the following issue, Martin Kilson chipped in, writing, “I do not think the Sean Wilentz article . . . warranted publication in Dissent.” I liked that.) But seriously, I did think it was a bit rich for me to be accused of celebrity-mongering in an essay that included passages like this:
“The proper starting point for the crucial debate about the prospects for black America is an examination of the nihilism that increasingly pervades black communities,” [West] writes in Race Matters. This is a risky position for any progressive social critic, and particularly for any black social critic who appeals for the remediation of black poverty but does not wish to present poor blacks as, yet again, passive “targets” for social reform or as participant-victims of a dysfunctional culture. West wants to generate concern about the black poor without pathologizing them (or construing the black middle class as greedy wannabes); at the same time, he wants to defend “traditional morality” and traditional institutions, like churches and schools, from that dread culture of consumption without simply reciting the neoconservative mantras— religion, family values, private associations—of our day. It’s a tricky double play, and he doesn’t always pull it off. The fact is that it’s often difficult to distinguish between conservative and progressive critiques of the social corrosiveness of consumer capital. For one thing, both points of view tend to rely on the idea of some once unalienated human community that has been violated by modernity: leftists can look back at precapitalist gemeinschaft and conservatives can long for the agrarian pastoral with more or less the same ardor. It’s remarkable but altogether fitting that West’s work turns out to make some common cause with that of the cultural conservative Daniel Bell—who “in stark contrast to black conservatives,” West writes, “highlights the larger social and cultural forces, for example, consumerism and hedonism, which undermine the Protestant ethic and its concomitant values.”
Because the funny thing was that my little essay was not, in fact, totally bereft of “ideas.” OK, they weren’t very great ideas, and yes, I admit that I opened the piece by writing “Cornel West is Teh R0xx0r Intellectual Of All Times!!1!1”—but even there, I think I deserve some credit for being the first person to use “Teh” in the New Yorker. (Dwight Macdonald was actually the first to write “R0xx0r,” though few people remember this today.) But I did try to suggest a thing or two along the way, like this, for example:
What Marxism was to Lionel Trilling, Clement Greenberg, Philip Rahv, and company, black nationalism is to West, Gates, hooks, et al.: the inspiration, the springboard, the template, but also the antagonist and the goad. Just as the postwar Jewish intelligentsia largely abandoned radical politics but remained committed to rethinking America’s progressivist traditions (often by delivering scathing critiques of radical politics), the black intelligentsia of our fin de siècle has largely abandoned cultural nationalism while remaining committed to refiguring forms of African-American collectivity (often by delivering scathing critiques of cultural nationalism). But the new intellectuals have a markedly different relation to the vernacular of their time. A major part of what the New York intellectuals represented, in cultural politics, was a collocation of the politics of anti-Communism with the literature of high modernism–something that required its inventors to erect a cordon sanitaire protecting “real” culture from contamination by the kitsch, dreck, schlock, pop, and camp that surrounded it. One cannot imagine, given the past decade’s controversies over black popular culture, the new black intelligentsia adopting the same cultural politics.
Because non-black audiences are still the ones that have the power to put black artists at the top of the charts, African-American intellectuals’ uneasiness about black commercial and professional success stems in part from the long-standing fear that “crossing over” must entail selling out. It’s what leads to hooks’ attack on [Spike] Lee—the unstated suspicion that any critical or commercial success with white audiences is, de facto, political failure. [hooks had argued that “Lee’s work cannot be revolutionary and generate wealth at the same time,” so that he is confined to “reproducing conservative and even stereotypical images of blackness so as not to alienate that crossover audience”; specifically, she insisted that his version of Malcolm X “has more in common with Steven Spielberg’s representation of Mister in the film version of The Color Purple than with real-life portraits of Malcolm X.”]
So if black public intellectuals are legitimated by their sense of a constituency, they’re hamstrung by it, too: they can be charged with betraying that constituency as easily as they can be credited with representing it. On the one hand, they have an unprecedented opportunity to speak from, to, and for a public, since their professional bona fides depend not on their repudiation of vernacular African-American culture but on their engagement with it. On the other hand, they inhabit an intellectual tradition of extreme sensitivity toward the issue of who represents what to whom—a tradition in which the weightiest term of disapprobation is that familiar bludgeon “Uncle Tom.”
And, finally, this:
Nor is fluency in popular culture a guarantor of popular influence. In the preface to Making Malcolm, Michael Eric Dyson recounts that when he quoted Snoop Doggy Dogg during a United States Senate subcommittee hearing on gangsta rap he was told by a young black admirer that “for a guy your age, you really can flow.” He’s right to be pleased by the compliment. An intellectual generation that responds broadly and sympathetically to popular culture has numerous advantages over an intellectual generation that defines itself against popular culture. But for cultural critics the danger of popular acclaim is that it can tempt them to pay more attention to the responses of young admirers than to the deliberations of Senate subcommittees. And it can tempt them to pull their punches, as when bell hooks, in an interview with the rap artist Ice Cube that appears in Outlaw Culture, sounds uncharacteristically tentative about Cube’s misogynistic lyrics and declines even to ask him about his role as a pitchman for St. Ides. Intellectuals need not be so arrogant as to claim to occupy the cultural vanguard, but in renouncing that role they need not settle for the role of fan, disk jockey, or press agent. . . .
The overwhelming irony here is that black public intellectuals are doing their work—at colleges, in churches, and on cable TV—at a time when the very idea of “the public” has become nearly unthinkable in national politics. Such has been the signal achievement of the New Right, whose religious wing has built its organizations on the bedrock of home, school, and family while attacking the realm of the public in the name of the people. Public housing, public education, public health, public ownership, public welfare—to much of the American electorate these terms signify that which is not in the public interest. Black public intellectuals like West or hooks may have a large public following, but the paradoxical conditions under which they operate dictate that they will have to revivify the nation’s faith in the “public” if their work is going to have broad political consequences. The measure of their success will be the degree to which they help generate a sense of the public as elastic and capacious as their sense of the intellectual.
Controversies over Snoop Dogg and St. Ides! Ah, it was another time, you understand. A long, long time ago. And more than a decade ago, I gave all this stuff its very own file in my office file cabinet, stuffing in all the essays by Sean Wilentz and Leon Wieseltier and Adolph Reed and Ellen Willis and Jon Weiner and Michael Hanchard and then later academic essays by Henry Giroux and Herman Gray and even bell hooks’ reply (she wasn’t very pleased either), and I haven’t looked at it since.
So why am I looking at it now? Because, dear reader, I recently came across an essay in the Blackwell Companion to African-American Studies, edited by Lewis R. Gordon and Jane Anna Gordon and published in 2007. It’s Hazel Carby’s “The New Auction Block: Blackness and the Marketplace.” And guess what? Part of the essay is yet another attack on Ye Olde New Yorker Essay of 1995, written by me. And this time, my essay isn’t just celebrity-mongering and grand-puff-daddying. It’s also “paternalistic”—and worse!
But before we get to the worse part, let’s explain the “paternalistic” part. It has to do with Carby’s belief that Robert Boynton and I claimed to have discovered black intellectuals for the first time in all of recorded history. The lead-in goes like so:
Marketing the field has led to a preoccupation with the “newness” of African-American Studies, an arena in which scholars continually make “discoveries” erasing the history of any previous engagement with these texts (124).
In the next few years the media would become obsessed with the newness or novelty value of African-American Studies and the originality and rarity of their “discovery” of black intellectuals. . . . The “traffic between culture and authority” would be apparent in the 1990s, when contemporary black intellectuals were “discovered” and in the process authenticated by the New York literary establishment. Media investigations into African-American Studies and the role of black intellectuals read like journalistic sorties into the colonial wilderness of the academic outback. (125)
OK, so by this point I’m a member of the New York literary establishment, hacking his way into the colonial wilderness of the academic outback. All the way from central Illinois. And then comes the bit about how my essay didn’t talk about any, you know, books and ideas:
Bérubé’s review, instead of being a review of this work, of books and ideas, turns out to be a review of these authors; they are paraded like models on the catwalk of the latest academic fashion shows. (125-26)
But of course it is not intellectual history that is at stake in this story, it is marketing. The point is to erase history and to deny an organic relation between contemporary black intellectuals to a past of collective struggle. (127)
Well, I’m used to this sort of thing by now, so I’m thinking, “yeah, yeah, I didn’t discuss West and Dyson on black nationalism or hooks on feminism, or the relation between contemporary black intellectuals and black popular culture, or the relation between cultural politics and public policy. And even when I suggested some kind of organic relation between contemporary black intellectuals and a past of collective struggle, I got myself accused of ‘liberal racialism.’ But I knew all that already! Where’s this ‘new action block’ I heard about in the title?”
Oh, wait, here it comes:
Bérubé’s and Boynton’s “discovery” of black public intellectuals in 1995 was a fraudulent journalistic invention that ranks with the historical recording of the “discovery” of America by Europeans as if the peoples already in residence were incapable of conceptualizing their own material existence. Their claims of discovery, the assertions of the newness of black, public, intellectual life, allow them to tell and sell their stories. Boynton wonders how substantial the legacy of his group of black public intellectuals will be, as if he did not already know that two centuries of substantial work by black thinkers in the Americas already exists, and then he questions whether this legacy “will be compromised” by their media popularity: “As public intellectuals gain greater access to mainstream culture,” Boynton asks, “do they become more important thinkers or only better known?” But while Boynton speculates about the ways in which the work of black public intellectuals could be compromised by the culture industry, he and Bérubé remain totally unselfconscious of the ways in which they are trading in “blackness” in the journalistic marketplace with their newly “discovered,” designer-brand black intellectuals. (128)
Trading in “blackness”—but not in the manner of the old auction block, see. The new auction block involves people like me and Boynton unselfconsciously engaging in fraudulent journalistic inventions in order to tell and sell our stories. OK, so now that’s all cleared up.
Well, I don’t know. I think Boynton’s question about public intellectuals and mainstream culture is a pretty good question for public intellectuals of any color, tint, or stripe, and I’m not seeing how it erases any history. In fact, I might note that Carby addresses a version of the very same question later in her essay: “In an era in which ideas are of little value, the only possible ‘public’ role for intellectuals is circumscribed by the extent to which they can perform for the market” (132-33). And I have to say I think Carby’s characterization of my essay as the Second Coming of Columbus is a teeny bit harsh, seeing as how my essay actually says things like this:
Of course, there have been black intellectuals on these shores from 1619 or so, and Frederick Douglass, Anna Julia Cooper, and Ida B. Wells were about as effective in their day as any nineteenth-century public intellectual could hope to be. What was lacking, until very recently, was a black public sphere of commensurate size. Even in the nineteen-twenties, when writers of the Harlem Renaissance set out to theorize about the relation between lumpen black folk and what Zora Neale Hurston wryly called the “niggerati,” black intellectuals were playing to a small crowd indeed. As Langston Hughes put it, “The ordinary Negroes hadn’t heard of the Negro Renaissance. And if they had, it hadn’t raised their wages any.”
Until the nineteen-sixties, America’s nationally known black intellectuals tended also to be its nationally known black novelists—the triumvirate of Richard Wright, Ralph Ellison, and James Baldwin, two of whom eventually chose exile over life in their native land. Meanwhile, within the tiny public arena bounded by segregation, African-American intellectuals like Oliver Cromwell Cox, W. E. B. Du Bois, James Weldon Johnson, Alain Locke, J. Saunders Redding, and Carter G. Woodson were creating African-American history, sociology, and literary criticism in black colleges, black journals like Phylon and The Crisis, or black newspapers like the Pittsburgh Courier and the Afro-American (published in five Eastern cities). But as long as segregation prevailed in higher education and in the publishing world it was quite easy for white Americans to believe that—Wright, Ellison, and Baldwin aside—the most important books on race in this country were written by white Americans.
I don’t see how this amounts to a claim to have “discovered” black intellectuals in 1995, and I don’t think Carby does either—as she acknowledges in an aside: “Later in [his] article Boynton is forced to admit”—by whom? one wonders—“just as Bérubé conceded in his review, that contemporary black intellectuals are not, of course, the first generation of black public intellectuals” (127). So I guess you could say that at some point in her essay Carby is forced to admit, or merely concedes, that Boynton and I did not in fact claim to have discovered black intellectuals. But it didn’t prevent her from leveling the charge of “fraudulent journalistic invention” anyway.
But hey, I understand what’s going on here. As it is in blog comment sections, so it is in the world of serious scholarship: the person who comes very late to the pile-on has to take the invective to the next level. So it’s not sufficient, any longer, to accuse me of starry-eyed celebrity-mongering. Now I have to be accused of crimes that rank with the historical recording of the “discovery” of America by Europeans as if the peoples already in residence were incapable of conceptualizing their own material existence—and, oh yeah, the auction block. Well, ain’t that a shame, since I learned some of what I know about Ida B. Wells and Anna Julia Cooper as black public intellectuals from reading and teaching Carby’s Reconstructing Womanhood back in 1990-91, and I’ve been an admirer of Carby’s work ever since. But Professor Carby has indeed re-set the bar at the next level, and perhaps in another decade or so I will learn that my little New Yorker essay was the journalistic equivalent of distributing smallpox-infested blankets to the editors of Phylon and The Crisis. Only worse, for being totally unselfconscious.
I have no idea what to make of this essay. Perhaps there is something deep and subtle going on beneath the surface,* but it sounds to me like you are whining to your blog audience that the kids at school are picking on you and it’s so unfair.
You spent over three thousand words (including quotations) making the arguement that—what exactly? that an essay you wrote fifteen years ago is way better than everybody says? That your critics are poopy-heads, especially Hazel Carby?
I really think you’re better than this. Or I’ve completely missed the point**.
*I have no pretentions to depth or subtlety.
**See first footnotePosted by on 05/14 at 09:26 AM
I think the point has to do with the question of whether a review essay on black intellectuals really ranks with the fraudulent discovery of America by Europeans as if the peoples already in residence were incapable of conceptualizing their own material existence. Sorry if that wasn’t clear.Posted by on 05/14 at 09:32 AM
I have no idea what to make of this essay
Or I’ve completely missed the point
Let me put it this way: MB was recently accused in print of using “journalistic fraudulent inventions” for the purposes of “marketing” black intellectuals on an “auction block.” I’m not sure responding to that is really evidence of “whining.”Posted by John Protevi on 05/14 at 09:39 AM
Yeah, it’s not every day I’m accused in print of using fraudulent journalistic inventions in quite this way, so that was a surprise. But I’m also surprised by the “recently” part; I thought the sell-by date on this debate occurred sometime in 1996.Posted by on 05/14 at 09:47 AM
I thought the sell-by date on this debate occurred sometime in 1996.
Many minds were scrambled in 1996. Who can blame them, with these top-10 songs?
1. Macarena (Bayside Boys Mix), Los Del Rio
2. One Sweet Day, Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men
3. Because You Loved Me, Celine Dion
4. Nobody Knows, Tony Rich Project
5. Always Be My Baby, Mariah Carey
6. Give Me One Reason, Tracy Chapman
7. Tha Crossroads, Bone Thugs-N-Harmony
8. I Love You Always Forever, Donna Lewis
9. You’re Makin’ Me High/Let It Flow, Toni Braxton
10. Twisted, Keith Sweat
Twistedly, JPPosted by John Protevi on 05/14 at 10:19 AM
Cooties, it’s about intellectual cooties. Bérubé writes this piece in which he says, as the cliché would have it, these black intellectuals are stuck between a rock and a hard place.
So, Wilentz reads it and reacts: “Cooties, it’s full of cooties. Get rid of them. Out damned spot.” And so forth.
Some years later Carby writes about that old essay: “Cooties, it’s full of cooties. Get rid of them. Out damned spot.” And so forth.
What I want to know are, what are these intellectual cooties and how do they work? Because lots of useless argument is generated by some version of the cootie call.Posted by on 05/14 at 10:54 AM
Carby employs a brilliant rhetorical jam, let me try it:
“Despite Descartes’ unwavering preoccupation with a theory of the pineal gland, he was forced to admit the relation between Euclidean geometry and algebra which one can describe on a coordinate plane, and he had to concede the formulation of the law of refraction.”Posted by on 05/14 at 11:08 AM
According to this website, http://www.yale.edu/macmillan/lais/faculty_publications.htm, the collection of essays was first published in 2005. I wonder if you can tell by internal evidence when Carby’s essay was likely written? Given publishing schedules, I wouldn’t be surprised if she was asked to contribute something in 2003 and dusted off something she’d written five years earlier that she’d originally decided was unpublishable, with maybe a minor editing job if that.Posted by on 05/14 at 11:32 AM
Okay, first off, Grep Agni is stealing my bit with the footnotes. Second, if I type “grep agni *” at the command prompt, I find that no files in my current directory contain the string “agni”. Which I find surprising.
So why am I looking at it now?
Because I posted that comment about Cornel Mustard being at Harvard in the latest ABF thread. You’re welcome.
I’m vaguely grateful**, in the midst of all the catty infighting and misrepresentation going on in my Natural Philosophy of Life and Matter department, to be provided with these snapshots confirming that yes, other disciplines remain full of this sort of thing, too.
Though perhaps adoption of scientific publication style would help in these cases of breathtaking misinterpretation. An abstract that stated clearly, “This is not to say that the very concept of ‘black intellectuals’ sprang Athena-like from my brow this very moment” might be helpful. Or “For what it’s worth, I totally disapprove of the genocide of Native Americans, which is comparable to the further mainstreaming of an insular intellectual tradition only if you have suffered repeated sharp blows to the head.” Because who has time to read the entire article? Check out bits and pieces of Results and Discussion, skim Materials and Methods if it’s your field, and check the abstract for mentions of genocide. Oh, and see if you’re cited in the references.
Hmm, Professors Carby and Denning were both at the CCCS during the directorship of
the lateStuart Hall. Coincidence?***
Anyhoo, would you like me to jog down the hill and scold Professor Carby? I wag a finger with exceptional high dudgeon.
*The first asterisk is a wildcard character, not a footnote marker.
**And by grateful, I mean “reduced yet again to cringing despair for humanity.”
***Yes.Posted by on 05/14 at 11:46 AM
Bloix: a quick Google turns up “The New Auction Block” as a lecture at a couple of places—Hopkins in 2007, Northwestern in 2003. The essay ends with a discussion of Rushdie’s novel Fury, published in 2001. FWIW.Posted by on 05/14 at 11:53 AM
And mds, ixnay on the ingerfay-aggingway. That’s not how we handle these things in the humanities. If I ever decide I want to respond in kind, I’ll simply write an essay someday in which I show that Carby’s essay reinscribes the hierarchies it seeks to critique. That gambit always works like a charm.Posted by on 05/14 at 11:58 AM
Dude, you discovered Cornel West? That’s so cool.Posted by on 05/14 at 12:20 PM
*POUT* Can I still call her a splitter?Posted by on 05/14 at 12:20 PM
you discovered Cornel West?
Indeed! All I had to do was to turn left at Greenland, and there he was.Posted by on 05/14 at 12:26 PM
BTW, this article seems to me to imply some sort of Godwin’s Law corollary - once a participant in an academic debate accuses someone of being a slave trader, the discussion is over.Posted by on 05/14 at 01:06 PM
The same impossible tension around representation that you discuss in the original essay surrounds the essay once it becomes a cultural object. But I guess that’s obvious. There’s a larger point possible about the way race or anything racially-inscribed becomes an impossible object and/or more generally about moments when it’s impossible to be heard.
I like the point about imaginations of lost Edens as a rebuke to the modern and have been curious about the influence of Daniel Bell on a range of people—F. Jameson makes repeated reference to him; he’s like the grain of sand in the Jamesonian oyster. At the same time Bell et al., in my reading, make a culturally conservative move that’s a lot more politically dangerous and powerful, because it’s a racially-excluding claim to teh high western culture that can have real consequences for people. I have more sympathy when West or Jameson pull the lost-Eden thing because it’s more transparently allegorical.Posted by on 05/14 at 01:09 PM
Come one, come all, and observe as Michael Berube discovers that literary critics sometimes tar other people’s writings while using them as starting points for vicious cultural critiques almost entirely unrelated to the actual content of the material they’re allegedly critiquing!
Ok, that’s a little mean, but honestly. There was a period where I was pretty convinced that this was actually the entire point of literary studies as a discipline. I’ve become a bit less strident and started to recognize some of the good parts of the field, but yeah…
Welcome to the humanities.Posted by on 05/14 at 02:56 PM
The same impossible tension around representation that you discuss in the original essay surrounds the essay once it becomes a cultural object.
Yeah, and the funny thing is that if I’m to be accused of anything in this regard, it was excessive self-consciousness. About the lost-Eden thing, Bruce Robbins has a very nice discussion of this in Secular Vocations, though I don’t remember whether it addresses Daniel Bell.Posted by on 05/14 at 03:28 PM
This entire kerfluffle* strikes me as a standard disingenuous rhetorical leveraging (not on our host’s part, but on the other part) most likely to be experienced dans les blogs.
*prescribed automatic usage generated by posting algorithmPosted by Pinko Punko on 05/14 at 04:43 PM
thanx for the reference Michael.
captcha hell as in, hell.Posted by on 05/14 at 06:41 PM
I thought the sell-by date on this debate occurred sometime in 1996
My observation is that the academic discussion of certain topics seems to follow the short form of the Laws of Thermodynamics:
You can’t win. You can’t break even. You can’t even get out of the game.Posted by on 05/14 at 06:43 PM
Pshaw. I discovered Cornel West way back when he was still playing RKCNDY in Seattle. Sub Pop hadn’t even signed him yet.Posted by Martin on 05/14 at 08:51 PM
Hazel V. Carby is professor of African American Studies and of American Studies at Yale University. She is a marxist feminist.
Ah pay no attention--un otra hija de La Gran Puta de Babilon---, except to the subtle colorations of the seven-headed beast....Posted by Ezra Hound on 05/14 at 10:18 PM
This is exactly why I’ve been suggesting you listen to James Brown instead of Gnarls Barkley.
“Say it Loud”Posted by on 05/14 at 11:15 PM
This blog sucks.Posted by on 05/15 at 03:42 AM
Sad. What wasted promise.
Although, now that the Prof. is being singed from right and left, he can declare himself a centrist and rule with the iron fist of Village wisdom.Posted by Pinko Punko on 05/15 at 04:09 AM
and perhaps in another decade or so I will learn that my little New Yorker essay was the journalistic equivalent of distributing smallpox-infested blankets to the editors of Phylon and The Crisis.
Or seven hundred years hence there will be a widely misinterpreted singsong nursery rhyme sung to the tune of “Ring Around the Rosie”:
New Yorker, Ba-rock
Cornel West, the auction block
Bérubé, Bérubé. Ice, ice baby.
… As compelling as that interpretation may be it does not appear that Bérubé refers to an actual slave trader, but rather to a late 20th/early 21st century fraudulent journalist named Michael Bérubé who used his influential positions at Fox News, The New Yorker and other patriarchal media outlets to disparage blacks via insulting magazine covers, pseudo-scholarly articles and the like. His enthusiasm for a barbaric sport of the time known as “ice hockey” is particularly telling. White men in arenas full of white people skated around on a blinding white surface while attempting to place a small black “puck” into the confines of a “net”.Posted by on 05/15 at 07:58 AM
His enthusiasm for a barbaric sport of the time known as “ice hockey” is particularly telling. White men in arenas full of white people skated around on a blinding white surface while attempting to place a small black “puck” into the confines of a “net”.
Historians continue to debate whether Bérubé’s infamous “action block” article came after or before the almost-certainly apocryphal Texas Rangers victory of 1994 in the Stanley Abromowitz Cup competition. Scholarly opinion has reached a consensus however that so extreme was the desire for whiteness in “ice hockey” that a technique known as “face-washing” was widespread.Posted by John Protevi on 05/15 at 08:42 AM
Although, now that the Prof. is being singed from right and left, he can declare himself a centrist and rule with the iron fist of Village wisdom.
Bwah hah hah, etc.! And my first decree shall be this: zealots on one side argue for torture; zealots on the other argue against it. It is time for the nation to come together and agree to some torture.
My second decree shall be this: Obama must not nominate extremists to the bench.Posted by Michael on 05/15 at 08:45 AM
and agree to some torture.
And only if the political ends are, like, totally worth it.Posted by on 05/15 at 09:08 AM
And in due course Bérubé formulated his First Law of Political Stasis:
For every action bloc there is an equal and opposite reaction bloc.
To which his opponents responded: Or not.Posted by on 05/15 at 09:35 AM
I think it’s all about your use of “cordon sanitaire.” I mean, that’s so recherche, n’est-ce pas?Posted by on 05/15 at 11:35 AM
I think it’s all about your use of “cordon sanitaire.”
Like any of us doesn’t clean the chicken before cooking it?
My second decree shall be this: Obama must not nominate extremists to the bench.
As it happens, Dawn Johnsen falls politically somewhere between Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III and Hazel Carby, so she would be perfect for the New Order.Posted by on 05/15 at 02:14 PM
Every time I am near a baby from here on out, I will softly sing, “Bérubé, Bérubé. Ice, ice baby.” I do solemnly swear.Posted by on 05/15 at 02:17 PM
And here I thought “cordon sanitaire” meant cleaning the ham.Posted by Michael on 05/15 at 02:31 PM
“cleaning the ham
Cue porn music at 3, 2, 1…Posted by fsg on 05/15 at 04:56 PM
Jus’ the proverbial cherchez la femmmePosted by Ezra Hound on 05/15 at 05:43 PM
In my own puddle of geoduck-filled muck, i discover i am confused by the difference between sell-by dates versus best-used before dates(except my confusion is not present when those dates reference interpersonal social relations)?? Isn’t this a better case for best-used before??
Also, the game(captcha)is afoot/afoul,more like a vacant lot filled with rubble version of king of the hill played by the playground bullies.Posted by on 05/16 at 05:22 AM
I like reading these kinds of posts because the words make my head feel kinda funny.
By the way, at the end of this circle jerk did Carby get to eat the cookie?Posted by Bob In Pacifca on 05/16 at 10:25 AM
I bet Cornel West hated the publicity...umm...hmmmPosted by on 05/16 at 01:28 PM
Michael Bérubé doesn’t care about black people.
I wish I had something serious to add to this discussion, other than, “Man, what a cheap and pathetic way to trash Bérubé on Carby’s part.”Posted by on 05/16 at 01:52 PM
Not to spoil the fun, but can we get back to serious stuff, like hockey?? I say Hawks in 7, Penguins in 5.Posted by on 05/16 at 03:16 PM
From the Halifax airport: Penguins in 6, Wings in 7. Though I’ll be quite happy to see the Hawks in the finals. Those kids are cray-zeeee.
I can’t believe (a) I was fogged in at State College for three hours and missed my 8:30 am DC-Halifax connection yesterday, thereby forcing me to take a 4 pm DC-Toronto flight and get a connection to Halifax that got me in at 11 local time, and (b) now I’m turning around 17 hours later, and, because United discontinued its afternoon Halifax-Boston route, waiting to catch a flight to Toronto that will give me a connection to Boston whereupon I will be picked up and driven two and a half hours to Marlboro. There’s gotta be an easier way to get around the northeast.
Well, here’s hoping I actually arrive in southern Vermont in time for commencement.Posted by Michael on 05/16 at 03:25 PM
erasing the history of any previous engagement with these texts
Allow me to take the invective to the next level by saying that it’s jargon like this that causes inside litcrit writing to make me want to shriek and cause expensive damage to nearby drywall.
True, I myself was engaged with a text once. But the little trollope dumped me for an Itty Bitty Book Light, and I’ve sworn off such things ever since.
(No offense to present company, BTW. Dr. Buhrooby being happily unafflicted by such tendencies.)
.Posted by on 05/16 at 04:58 PM
Ooh, somewhere Jonah Goldberg sat up and took note. Snap!Posted by on 05/16 at 06:35 PM
No, va. That would require Jonah to actually read something.Posted by on 05/16 at 09:18 PM
Never mind sit up.Posted by Thers on 05/17 at 12:43 AM
Cheer up, Michael! At least you can look forward to David Horowitz reading about Carby’s attack and saying, “Hey! Michael’s called a racist by a black writer? I guess he’s on my side now!” Then, he’ll call his friend Richard Poe and say, “Richard, delete Berube from my Commie-Islamo-Fascist list of evil professors! We have a convert to the cause!”
Seriously, the subtext of Carby’s essay is really that you, as a white guy, did not have the right to judge, positively or not, intellectuals with darker color skin. It reminds me of the infamous attack by Spike Lee on the film, “A Soldier’s Story,” because it was directed by a white guy with a Jewish sounding name--who was not Jewish. Anyone who has watched “A Soldier’s Story” know that’s a crock, and the African-American actors in the film know that’s a crock. Lee should have been shamed on that remark...Good for you to stand up to Carby’s ridiculous attack.Posted by Mitchell Freedman on 05/17 at 01:20 AM
Cornel West is a clown with a word processor.
A question for you Mike: are you paid by the word?Posted by on 05/17 at 10:14 AM
Alas, it will be a long time before anyone gets to use fin de siècle again, without seeming hopelessly passe.Posted by jazzbumpa on 05/17 at 10:57 AM
Ben, yes I think Michael pays himself by the word.Posted by on 05/17 at 11:37 AM
I think Mike missed the memo about focus, organization, clarity and concise expression. He has a few interesting thoughts but jeez, it’s like wading through a mile of mud to reach a candy bar.Posted by on 05/17 at 11:48 AM
Well, Ben, if that’s what it is like for you, the obvious question is why did you bother wading through a mile of mud? I think you missed the memo advising the candy bar obsessives to quit complaining about the mud.Posted by on 05/17 at 12:57 PM
Holy crap--I don’t like all this mud I just voluntarily waded through. And this candy bar is totally not worth all that mud-wading. I’m an idiot.Posted by Jason B. on 05/17 at 01:05 PM
Maybe I’m in the wrong world, but by any writing standard in this part of the planet, Mike has language control and precision problems. He has an interesting mind but he can’t write.
And to answer you, I don’t read through all his stuff. I try, but it really should be added to waterboarding as torture. So every month or so I stop by here to see what’s up. I usually get through a few paragraphs and then try to speed through to see if there are any ideas.
I get the impression sometimes that this is a sort of acolyte headquarters of people looking for recs, job leads, etc. I’d hoped that legit criticism might be tolerated. Hope I didn’t offend. Or over-offend.Posted by on 05/17 at 01:13 PM
Ben, can you be a little more condescending? “Mike” has just refused to write a letter for me, and I’m looking for some vicarious revenge.Posted by John Protevi on 05/17 at 01:41 PM
"I’m an idiot.”
“Maybe I’m in the wrong world”
I was sad to see the Caps collapse in Game 7 but by that point there was no doubt that the Pens were the better team. Wait til next year, Dr B.
And it’s a shame you had such a short stay in Halifax, which is a pretty little city with a beautifully restored harbor district. Hope you got to see some of it.Posted by on 05/17 at 01:50 PM
A thought that needs more than 10 words to be expressed is not worth thinking. Including this one.Posted by on 05/17 at 01:55 PM
I get the impression sometimes that this is a sort of acolyte headquarters of people looking for recs, job leads, etc.
You managed to pick up on that without wading through all the mud? Damn, you must “speed through” really well. Wading through the mud is like a hazing ritual that the rest of us endure for the recs, job leads, and candy from Mike.Posted by on 05/17 at 02:17 PM
BS, Benji. Berube-speak, while perhaps a bit ornate--then so are Charlie Parker solos--also has enough realist-rationalist edge to offend the usual PoMo-poodle as well ( do you want like thesis sentences underlined??). When Professor X pisses off marxist-feminists AND academic mathematicians, he’s probably doin’ the right thang.Posted by Ezra Hound on 05/17 at 02:37 PM
I smell a WAAGNFPN party needing to happen. We just need the address.Posted by on 05/17 at 03:15 PM
As I said, I just pop in here occasionally, and am not from the academic world, but these infrequent visits detect two grand theme’s to Mike’s writings, neither of which is likely intended: 1. Mike is making a strong argument against tenure; and 2, Mike is making an equally powerful argument for the teaching of his brand of “humanities”.
No matter what may be the pretextual subject, those seem to be the consistent messages sent.Posted by on 05/17 at 03:37 PM
Oh fer chrissakes. Could you elaborate a bit on the “strong argument against tenure”? I know it must be trying the patience of someone who can detect such a grand but not likely intended theme from infrequent visits to have to explain things, but can you humor us a bit?Posted by John Protevi on 05/17 at 03:52 PM
Jeez, and just when we were havin’ fun.Posted by on 05/17 at 04:09 PM
Mmmm ... mud.Posted by on 05/17 at 07:55 PM
I just want to acknowledge that I get paid $100 for every word Bennie here writes. $250 for words in which he uses apostrophe’s to warn us that a plural noun is in play.
The rest of you may pick up your recs and job leads at the usual place tomorrow at 9 am. Hollow tree, SW corner of English Department building, Penn State University.Posted by Michael on 05/17 at 08:01 PM
And Bennie? Thanks for dropping by and slogging through the mud. Though I liked you better when you were calling yourself “Chris Wilson” and “Allan Conrad,” here and at Pandagon. As Jack Horner (Burt Reynolds) says in Boogie Nights, those were some great names!Posted by on 05/17 at 08:16 PM
$250 for words in which he uses apostrophe’s to warn us that a plural noun is in play.
So you picked up on that grand though probably not intended theme in Ben’s writing, did you? A mark of your interesting mind!
Captcha: “hotel” as in “grand”Posted by John Protevi on 05/17 at 08:32 PM
I guess academic mathematicians or marxist-feminists need not apply for your jobs, Michael? It seems you may have to get rid of Ezra, as he stumbled upon the secret raison d’etre of this blog: to piss us off, highly paid word for highly paid word.Posted by on 05/18 at 01:17 AM
OK, here’s the first of this week’s leads, folks:
T/T position for Marxist-feminist mathematician. Analytic number theorist with training in the works of Angela Davis preferred, but search will remain open until a suitable candidate is found. Applicants should be able to design introductory courses in integral and differential calculus in such a way as to lead students to an understanding of conjunctural systems of oppression and exploitation, and will be expected to teach the undergraduate general education requirement in Gender, Class, and Trigonometry. C/V, dossier, and letter of approval from Michael Bérubé required by July 1. AA/EEO.Posted by Michael on 05/18 at 08:22 AM
Thanks for the super-secret ulta-exclusive leads Michael. If one comes through I’ll put your cut in the usual place: bird’s nest, 5th branch, the old oak, beyond the slough of mud and despond, 10th planet from the sun.Posted by on 05/18 at 08:37 AM
Hey M. Beb.
Can I call you that? Does Ben realize this is a blog? And does he realize that comparing writing to waterboarding demonstrates just what an idiot he is?
captcha: didnt, sans apostrophe!Posted by on 05/18 at 08:38 AM
Thanks, folks. Actually, while I’m waiting around here at lovely Bradley airport (this really is teh most convoluted trip evah), I’m going to post that job notice up top so that everyone can see it. Have to advertise these things widely, you know.Posted by Michael on 05/18 at 09:35 AM
Does Dr. Kaczynski have web access at the Denver Supermax, or whatever Fed gulag he resides in? Maybe he would be allowed to do an online sort of thing--cross curricular. He’s got that sort of background--shall we say nominal-constructivist (ah’m pretty sure the Unabomber’s no platonic-set theoretic BS artiste) with a smattering of marxist-hegelian theory.Posted by Ezra Hound on 05/18 at 11:02 AM
Alas, it will be a long time before anyone gets to use fin de siècle again, without seeming hopelessly passe.
I offer you this Angela Carter line from the 1980s, for use as needed: “The fin is coming early this siecle.”Posted by on 05/18 at 05:22 PM
Bang, bang! Maxwell’s Little Demon
Did molecules review.
Bang, bang! Maxwell’s Little Demon
Decided which got through.
(Apologies to my sense of dignity and Screaming Jay Hawkins)Posted by on 05/19 at 05:45 PM
Dear Michael Berube:
I would like to ask permission to use 16 lines from your January, 1995 essay to illustrate good editing techniques for a writing course I offer. I would like to use the sample with or without attribution. In a separate one-on-one email, may I tell you more about it?
Joan KufrinPosted by on 09/27 at 03:06 PM
Yeah, it’s great. I like to read it,it will be a long time before anyone gets to use fin de siècle again, without seeming hopelessly passe.Posted by How to Cure Vitiligo on 03/11 at 03:20 AM