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Warning: this is a long post, and most of it deals with literary criticism and theory and other academic matters.  No, I am not kidding.  You have been warned.

First of all, I want once again to thank Discover the Networks for giving me my very own page in their database.  Apparently, P.Z. Myers thinks that now I’m going to be “insufferable”, but folks, that train left the station many years ago.  And there’s no reason for any of you to think that my expression of gratitude is facetious: on the contrary, I am impressed that David Horowitz has changed the singular “Network” to the plural “Networks,” implicitly acknowledging that there are many varieties of anti-American intellectuals, political figures, and entertainers in the world, and that subversives like me have relatively little contact with subversives like Katie Couric and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.  Moreover, I am extremely impressed that within a day or so after I put up this post on my page, Discover the Networks revised their page . . . and I have reason to suspect that the revisions were overseen by You-Know-Who himself.

Do I flatter myself?  You be the judge. Version number one of my page claimed that I taught “graduate courses in such fashionably multicultural programs as ‘cultural studies.’” Version 2.0 says that I teach “graduate courses in such fashionably marxist-cum-post-modernist programs as ‘cultural studies.’” That’s much smarter than the original, and more accurate, too!  Likewise, the old version read as follows:

Arguing that the purpose of “cultural critics,” among whose number he plainly counted himself, was to advance economic change, he wrote: “The important question for cultural critics, then, is also an old question—how to correlate developments in culture and the arts with large-scale economic transformations.”

And this became the basis for the charge that I “[believe] in teaching literature so as to bring about ‘economic transformations.’” (Though, you know, I’ve tried twice now to bring down capitalism in the American Literature Since 1865 class with my deft reading of The Rise of Silas Lapham, and I’ve come up empty.  Maybe the third time’s the charm?) Clearly, the author of the first draft imagined that “correlate” means something like “bring about.” But look at the new version—and tell me whose blue pencil was at work here:

According to Professor Berube, “The important question for cultural critics, is also an old question—how to correlate developments in culture and the arts with large-scale economic transformations.” It is indeed an old question. In fact, in the old Marxist days for which Berube is obviously nostalgic, this used to be called the “base-superstructure” question.

Now, I don’t mean to slight the doughty crew of the U.S.S. Discover the Networks, but how many of them, do you think, know that the “old question” I invoked in my Chronicle of Higher Education essay on postmodernism and American literature is indeed the base-superstructure question?

Which brings me to something like a serious point about those old Marxist days.  Is DTN suggesting that after the fall of Communism, cultural critics should give up on trying to understand the historicity of works of art, and that people who persist in asking such questions are secretly longing for the gulag?  What a strange suggestion that would be.  And you know, I’ve always been puzzled about why there is so little “conservative” historicism in the humanities.  Why, exactly, should the division of intellectual labor have fallen out this way, in which the intellectual left says, “let’s try to understand how feudalism, mercantile capitalism, industrial capitalism, post-industrial capitalism, etc. inflected the production and reception of works of art,” and the intellectual right says, “no! works of art are timeless, timeless, timeless”?  And then the intellectual left says, “but aren’t you curious as to why some works of art survive and remain powerful for centuries, whereas others gradually drop out of sight, and still others are acknowledged only long after their creators are dead?” And the right replies, “there’s nothing to be curious about!  Some authors are great and some aren’t, that’s all.” In this as in other schools of cultural criticism, the intellectual right hasn’t brought anything to the table in decades.  Instead, they’ve met each new school of criticism and theory since the advent of structuralism by singing that immortal Groucho Marx tune from Horse Feathers, “I’m Against It.” Why they think this suffices as a mode of intellectual exchange, I’ll never know.  But as far as I’m concerned, if we’re going to use terms like “modernism” and “postmodernism”—or, indeed, if we’re going to talk about historical periods at all—it only makes sense to try to determine what makes one period distinct from another, and how art responds (and contributes) to historical change. 

I’m not going to say very much about DTN’s synopsis of this essay, since that poor little piece has been through the wingnut wringer so many times before.  But I do want to point out that the DTN reading of the essay is significantly milder than the famous claim that I equate conservatism with cognitive disability—and that because I have a child with a disability, I must therefore intend a profound insult to conservatives (Erin O’Connor), or the claim that I have advised my colleagues to treat conservative students as if they were disabled (KC Johnson), or the claim that I have been secretly controlling conservative students by means of the Imperius Curse for many years (Adam Kotsko).  I’ll just mention two small points.  First point:

In the same article, Professor Berube inadvertently revealed that, while he prides himself on the open-minded manner in which he conducts his classes, he does not appreciate being challenged by students whose political views differ from his own. When one of Professor Berube’s conservative students, inspired by a book Berube had assigned for his undergraduate honors seminar, made a comment critical of black separatism, particularly its insistence on formulations like “African-American,” Professor Berube proved decidedly unsympathetic: “I wondered just how many of my conservative white students, if given the chance, would prefer to be black at Penn State, black in the United States.”

This is an ingenious cut-and-paste (just wait!  there’s a much better one at the conclusion of this post).  But here’s what I actually wrote:

After class that day, I talked to John at some length as we wandered through the noontime campus swarms. He was insistent that membership in the American community requires one to subordinate his or her ethnic-national origin, and that he himself wanted to be understood not as an American of Russian or Polish or German “extraction,” but simply as an American among other Americans. And he was just sick and tired of African-Americans refusing to do the same.

I replied by telling John something like this: “Your position has a long and distinguished history in debates over immigration and national identity. It’s part of the current critique of multiculturalism, of course, and to a point I have some sympathy with it, because I don’t think that social contracts should be based on cultural homogeneity.” Deep breath. “That said,” I went on, “I have to point out that the terms under which people of African descent might be accepted as Americans, in 1820 or 1920 or whenever, have been radically different from the terms under which your ancestors, whoever they were, could be accepted as Americans. You’re right to insist that you shouldn’t be defined by one’s ancestry, but, unfortunately, most African-Americans—who, by the way, fought and died for integration for many generations—didn’t have that option. And it shouldn’t be all that surprising that, when African-Americans finally did have the option of integrating into the larger national community, some of them were profoundly ambivalent about the prospect.”

I didn’t press the point that Reed’s novel is itself profoundly ambivalent about that profound ambivalence; I thought that we were now on terrain that had little to do with the textual details of Mumbo Jumbo, and I was simply trying to come to an understanding with a student who clearly felt very strongly about one of the social issues raised in class. We parted amicably, and I thought that though he wasn’t about to agree with me on this one, we had, at least, made our arguments intelligible to each other.

While I may be insufferable, I’m not so insufferable as to give students a hard time for criticizing the term “African-American.” For the record, John did not object to that term.  He actually objected to the Republic of New Africa’s demand that they be given five Southern states as partial reparations for slavery.  I have no problem with that objection, and said so at the time—but I added that you need to understand 1960s black nationalism if you’re going to understand the function of anachronism in Ishmael Reed’s novel.

And there’s that nasty historicism!  Oops, I did it again.  But thanks to deconstruction, we’ve learned that every repetition carries with it a little bit of “difference,” so it’s not exactly the same thing this time.  Thanks, deconstruction!

Second point:

Later in the semester, the same student took issue with Professor Berube’s certitude that the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II was an unmitigated evil. Assuring the student that he was “quite mistaken,” Professor Berube informed him that the U.S. internment camps were “outrageous and indefensible.” Having assigned Richard Powers’ 1988 novel, Prisoner’s Dilemma, which is highly critical of the U.S. internment during World War II, Professor Berube was evidently unprepared to entertain alternative viewpoints. The appropriate question raised by Powers’ novel, in Professor Berube’s judgment, was “whether it is right to fight a totalitarian enemy by employing totalitarian tactics.”

Um, no.  Here’s the question I posed to the class:

I mentioned that Powers has been criticized for apparently establishing a kind of moral equivalence between Nazi concentration camps and U.S. internment camps—since the latter, however outrageous and indefensible they were in a putatively democratic nation, were not part of a program of genocide. I asked the class what they thought of that critique.

I know, I know, this question is so pre-Malkin (I taught the class in fall 2001), but doesn’t it anticipate the Dick Durbin Show Trial quite nicely, in retrospect?  And the bit about whether it’s right to fight a totalitarian enemy by employing totalitarian tactics comes straight from the novel, folks.  I didn’t make it up.  Though I imagine that David Horowitz and I would have rather different answers to that question.  That’s OK, though—my class is all about alternative viewpoints!  Feel free to defend the Japanese-American internment camps anytime you want, my conservative friends. 

Oh, and don’t forget to check out how I punished this student for his remarks in class.

OK, next item.

As Professor Berube himself acknowledges, his literature classes often have little to do with literature. For instance, a class that Professor Berube has taught for years, “Postmodernism and American Fiction,” is merely a forum for the professor to dilate on the “antifoundationalist philosophy” of radical philosopher Richard Rorty. “In the class,” Professor Berube wrote in the Chronicle of Higher Education in May 2000, “we talk about what it means to be an ‘antifoundationalist’—that is, one of those sane, secular people who believe that it’s best to operate as if our moral and epistemological principles derive not from divine will or uniform moral law, but from ordinary social practices.”

Leaving aside the question of whether it would be a good idea to teach a course on postmodernism without dilating on the antifoundationalism of “radical” (ho! ho! that’s a good one) philosopher Richard Rorty, I have to say that this is a really mean thing to say about a course in which, as I note in the third sentence of the essay, “I usually assign a range of contemporary novelists, from well-known figures like Thomas Pynchon, Kathy Acker, and Toni Morrison to relatively unsung writers like Richard Grossman (author of The Alphabet Man and The Book of Lazarus) and Randall Kenan (A Visitation of Spirits).”

And what about the part of the course that doesn’t deal with literature?  Uh, well, that would be the “postmodernism and” part, and it looks like this:

In the class, we talk about what it means to be an “antifoundationalist”—that is, one of those sane, secular people who believe that it’s best to operate as if our moral and epistemological principles derive not from divine will or uniform moral law, but from ordinary social practices. My students and I look at Richard Rorty’s antifoundationalist philosophy, a pleasant kind of enterprise in which people converse about the good and the true without thinking about whether their claims can be grounded in something that is not merely another claim. We argue about whether antifoundationalism is any different from shallow moral relativism. We linger over postmodernism’s critiques of Jurgen Habermas’s theory of communicative reason, debating whether any critique of reason can be cogent or persuasive unless it, too, implicitly relies on some norms for communication. Then we debate what counts as legitimate debate, and what happens when debaters disagree so fundamentally and violently that they can’t even find the words in which to disagree.

On this count, then, guilty as charged.

Next, DTN turns to an essay I wrote in 2002 in response to various jeremiads about the decline and fall of literary study:

Conceding that English departments had been steadily losing students over the years, Professor Berube was impatient with the notion that the blame for this measurable paucity of interest rested with the leftwing character of the departments themselves, and their jettisoning of the traditional literary canon in favor of modish political subspecialties going under the guise of “theory” of one kind or another.

While I’m glad that DTN changed the spelling of “loosing” to “losing,” I have to insist that they’re still missing the point.  As the essay argues in some detail, there has been no enrollment decline in English over the past 25 years. Incredible . . . but true!  From the December 2004 Digest of Education Statistics, published by the National Center for Education Statistics, which appears to be some kind of national center for education statistics:

English B.A.s in relation to all degrees awarded

1980:  3.50 percent, 32,541 degrees
1993:  4.82 percent, 56,133 degrees
2002:  4.115 percent, 53,162 degrees

Wow!  A 63.4 percent increase in English degrees between 1980 and 2002.  Who knew?  And here’s what I say about this in the essay: while I’m not “trying to mask the disciplinary crises of English by claiming that everything must be all right if we still have paying customers,” I am pointing out that “if you start either from 1950 or 1980 rather than the mid-1960s, there has been no significant enrollment decline in English at all.  Quite the contrary.  It follows, of course, that post-1980 phenomena such as theory, feminism, queer folk, politicization, jargon, solipsism, and postmodernism cannot plausibly be blamed for a decline that did not happen on their watch—though they cannot reliably be credited for the increase in enrollment numbers, either.”

And now, finally, my favorite paragraph in my DTN page—the last one.  Although most of the closing paragraphs of the original entry have been deleted, this gem remains:

In a 1998 essay called “The Abuses of the University,” Professor Berube described the university as “the final resting place of the New Left,” and the “progressives’ only bulwark against the New Right.” Critics of this definition—in particular those who failed to regard “feminist or queer theory as a legitimate area of scholarship”—were only perpetuating “ignorance and injustice,” he wrote.

I had no problem identifying the phrases in the first sentence; they’re from the opening paragraph of my essay, and they represent my synopses of other people’s characterizations of the university.  For as it happens, “The Abuses of the University” is a review essay, and it starts like so:

Four new books on the state of the academy, and not one of them elaborates a line of argument that bisects any of the others.  One gets the eerie feeling that this kind of intellectual noncoincidence is no coincidence, that one could review 20 new books on the state of the academy (if one could take the necessary time away from one’s “normal” academic work) and discover the same result:  the contemporary university is so amorphous that it can be described as the research wing of the corporate economy, the final resting place of the New Left, the last best hope for critical thinking, the engine room of global technological advance, the agent of secularization and the advance of reason, the training ground for the labor force, the conservatives’ strongest bastion of antifeminist education, the progressives’ only bulwark against the New Right, the natural home of intellectual isolates, the natural home of goosestepping groupthinkers, and the locus of postmodern skepticism and fragmentation.  Perhaps Clark Kerr, whose influence on David Damrosch and Bill Readings seems to me one of the few common threads in the books under review, put it best when he remarked, in a phrase as felicitous as it is cynical:  “I have sometimes thought of [the university] as a series of individual faculty entrepreneurs held together by a common grievance over parking” (qtd. in Damrosch 56).

The books in question, by the way, were The University in Ruins, by Bill Readings (Harvard UP, 1996); The Academic Postmodern and the Rule of Literature:  A Report on Half-Knowledge, by David Simpson (U Chicago P, 1995); We Scholars: Changing the Culture of the University, by David Damrosch (Harvard UP, 1995); and Antifeminism in the Academy, edited by Vèvè Clark, Shirley Nelson Garner, Margaret Higgonet, and Ketu H. Katrak (Routledge, 1996). 

Now, what about that “ignorance and injustice” being perpetuated by people who don’t agree with me that the university should be a bastion of leftism?  Here, I have to admit that initially I drew a blank; I couldn’t find those words anywhere.  But then I discovered them in the final pages of the essay, where I argue that although I’m sympathetic to critiques of antifeminism in the academy, still, the notion of

“antifeminist intellectual harassment” is simply unenforceable. [Annette] Kolodny quotes, for instance, the late Peter Shaw, one of the founders of the National Association of Scholars and a once fertile source for good troglodyte sound bites (or “troglobites"):  “what I truly believe,” Shaw said in 1994, “is that second-rate traditionalist scholarship is ultimately more valuable to the country than first-rate feminist works” (5).  Now, does this qualify as behavior that creates an environment in which feminist work is devalued?  Absolutely.  Is there anything we can do about it except to protest its ignorance and injustice?  In a free society, absolutely not.

The picture is complicated still further by Greta Gaard’s account of antilesbian intellectual harassment, Mary Wilson Carpenter’s essay on ageism and antifeminism, and Elaine Ginsberg and Sara Lennox’s analysis of antifeminism in scholarship and publishing.  For one thing, the perpetrators of antifeminist intellectual harassment in each of these contexts can be women:  whether it’s a senior female administrator who refuses to regard feminist or queer theory as a legitimate area of scholarship, or the Sommers-Paglia-Roiphe crew dismissing nearly every kind of feminism since 1848, “intellectual harassment” here can present so many different symptoms that mere “sexual” harassment looks, by contrast, as easy to diagnose as chicken pox.  When Ginsberg and Lennox introduce the concept of the ”pars pro toto variant of antifeminism, in which attacks appear to be directed only at particular feminist approaches or topics,” we’re in quite dangerous territory, since, as Ginsberg and Lennox admit, “those approaches or topics may likewise be subjects of intense debate within feminism” (174).  How then to discern—let alone enforce—the difference between a legitimate “intense debate” and a ”pars pro toto antifeminist assault”?

I’ve bolded the phrases that DTN cut-and-pasted, not because I think they’re so clever but because they’re so damn hard to find, in context.  But once again (with a difference), let’s not quibble about things like context—that’s so old-Marxist.  In fact, forget my dang essay.  Forget the random-access citation style of DTN.  Let’s cut to the important part of the chase. Are feminist and queer theory legitimate areas of scholarship? Remember, people, this is not a question about whether you like Jane Gallop or Judith Butler or Martin Duberman.  It is a question about whether feminist and queer scholarship should be done at all.

If you answer “no,” so be it: you can call yourself the kind of humanist who believes that nothing human should be alien to you—except for that feminist and queer stuff, which has no place in a university.  That’s a perfectly plausible answer, of course, though it puts you in something like . . . hmmm . . . something like . . . ah, I know!  It puts you in something like a “network” with people like Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and the Ayatollah Khomeini!  And you know, those folks are big fans of internment camps, too.

Still, I don’t want to sound ungracious about all this.  Discover the Networks went to great trouble to read all these essays, and I do appreciate the time and effort.  I am surprised, however, that they missed the passage in which I wrote that “the time has come for the wretched of the earth to rise up against Amerikkka’s global reign of terror” and form “revolutionary worker’s councils” that will “return the fruits of labor to the people from whom they have been stolen.” There’s only one catch—I’m not going to say which essay contains this passage.  They’re just gonna have to read them all.

Posted by on 06/28 at 09:49 AM
  1. See? Thoroughly insufferable.

    Although it is going to be fun to see if Horowitz hops to it and edits the entry in response to this. You could be the liberal tarpaper that bogs him down in endless, obsessive rounds of Bérubé-bashing!

    Posted by PZ Myers  on  06/28  at  11:56 AM
  2. Michael,

    I especially like the part where Da Ho reprints a QUOTE from your essay and attributes the sentiments contained therein to YOU.

    How Coulteresque of him.

    Posted by  on  06/28  at  12:01 PM
  3. Self absorption is so interesting, could we please have more?

    Posted by  on  06/28  at  12:34 PM
  4. Well, PZ, you figured out my “tarpaper” strategy.  It’s working, too!  I have reason to believe that Discover the Networks is in its last throes.  Another five, six, eight, ten, twelve years or generations of this, and we can begin to think of moving on to other things.

    And Mr. Carroll, it wasn’t precisely a quote—it was a paraphrase.  But what’s really strange is this: the idea that the university “is the final resting place of the New Left” happens to be Horowitz’s idea.  Curiouser and curiouser, you might say.

    Mr. Park:  No.  That’s all you get for now. 

    Posted by Michael  on  06/28  at  12:41 PM
  5. The references to “You-Know-Who” and the Imperius Curse are leading me to believe that Horowitz is Voldemort to your Harry Potter.  I don’t mind referring to Horowitz as “He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named,” myself.

    Posted by  on  06/28  at  12:53 PM
  6. Thank you for reminding me of the Marx Brothers movie, Horse Feathers. I need to go rent that someday.

    The rest of the post was good too, but frankly I have the attention span of a 27 year old video game addict, so I kinda dropped out after the song “I’m against it” got stuck in my head.

    Posted by Mark  on  06/28  at  01:03 PM
  7. The intellectual Right? Surely an oxymoron.

    Posted by  on  06/28  at  01:08 PM
  8. The intellectual Right? Surely an oxymoron

    Not necessarily. S. Johnson strikes me as an intellectual rightist.

    But wait. Many months ago I got into it with some other grad student, a “conservative” (whatever that means these days), over at Pandagon. He namedropped Derrida, I impugned his right to do so, he sent me a pdf of a lecture on/against D. and others—so, okay, he’s capable of being in the academy—but, get this, his argument essentially wanted us to look for the authorial pen, intent, the moment of creation, and so forth, isolating this as the moment when ‘meaning’ is created. Sound familiar? I threw back MacBeth: dramatic text. What we have is a probable record, if I remember this right, of some abbreviated performance. Which moment with a work that’s by genre intended to be performed many times and is in textual flux according to the needs of the performance counts as the originary moment? Blah blah blah.

    So, uh, maybe there is an intellectual right. But we’re always going to fall back into the same ground. One side is empathic, thinks that no man is an island, etc.; the other side isn’t (i.e., Damn Right I’m a Historicist even if you can’t tell that from my Diss.). And so the other side, no matter how many bon mots their amanuensis records, fundamentally denies themselves the tools to do good analysis.

    Posted by  on  06/28  at  01:33 PM
  9. Thoroughly insufferable, and clotted as well. Parts have, in fact, congealed and attached themselves to my cuffs. Expect a bill from my cleaners.
    I don’t understand the motive behind the shift to plural networks from a single network. Isn’t this a research failure on Horowitz’ part? Has he abandoned the Unified Network Theory of leftist academics? Mightn’t modern ‘Super String Theory’ be used to unite (knot up) the disparate networks, or am I confusing academic disciplines here?

    Posted by  on  06/28  at  01:53 PM
  10. My mistake, Michael. 

    And curioser and curioser indeed.  Why, I’d have never thought to put it that way!

    Posted by  on  06/28  at  01:57 PM
  11. The “random access” citation style that you have exposed in the work of the DTN people reminds me why Cleanth Brooks and other New Critics despised the practice of paraphrase. 

    Now I won’t say that I’d like to see a revival of new criticism as a practice of thought and analysis. . . I have to say, I think that reviving the teaching of close reading (and demanding close reading from our students) will actually go a long way toward the dissememination of truth (or at least a better representation of the world) as you’ve shown by exposing how untruthful and unethical certain people’s textual and quotational practices are when they are trying to represent an other (or paraphrasing). 

    What is interesting to me is that the new critics were a conservative bunch who advocated reading classics (more or less, T.S. Eliot, who was a devout Christian during his new critical phase would have wanted you to read the metaphysical poets and NOT those damned revolutionary Romantics).  So if close reading and a demand that the commentator or critic treat the text as a whole that cannot be represented in any other way than itself is a conservative desire, then I’d say that the DTN people are betraying their historical precedent, and undermining their own claims that it is us damnable literary scholars with progressive politics are the ones that are out of touch with reality and have no respect for “truth.” For in their own flagrant violations they have demonstrated their fundamental inability to obide by the law that says, for example, that misquotation is not a truthful representation of reality.

    I dunno, Michael, your knowledge of literary theory and philosophy is broader and deeper than mine.  Am I forgetting anything or missing the point?

    Posted by  on  06/28  at  02:21 PM
  12. You can’t serve him with some kind of cease and desist over this kind of stuff?

    Posted by  on  06/28  at  02:28 PM
  13. Anthony, why would I want to?  My salary is pegged to attacks by Horowitz.

    And Jon, that’s a great question about close reading.  In fact, you’ve actually anticipated tomorrow’s post, which has nothing to do with Horowitz, but, rather, criticizes Judith Halberstam’s recent criticism of close reading.  But two quick things:  for all his affinities with the Fugitives-who-became-New-Critics, Eliot actually took his distance from New Criticism, calling it (in the essay “The Frontiers of Criticism") the “lemon-squeezer” school of criticism—basically because it was too heavily invested in textual exegesis at the expense of evaluation.  So when Halberstam (or anyone else) associates close reading simply with High Church Anglicanism and other crimes against humanity, they’re being kind of reductive.  As you point out, close reading involves a kind of ethics, particularly when compared to the practice of paraphrase.  Now, the New Critics were primarily concerned with paraphrasing poetry, and you can imagine why ("OK, in this poem Keats is talking about the autumn, right, and things like the harvest, but there are overtones of mortality and death and stuff, see. . .").  But I think the problem of the ethics of reading extends to every genre, and that’s one of the things my postmodernism class discusses when we discuss Habermasian norms of communication.

    Posted by Michael  on  06/28  at  02:48 PM
  14. What’s the best strategy when you’re in the belly of the beast? Ya just keep agitating.

    Posted by  on  06/28  at  02:49 PM
  15. I forgot about your salary thing.  Good point.

    Posted by  on  06/28  at  03:18 PM
  16. Michael, I love you man, but when are you and David gonna quit the dancing around and get married already? I’m sure there’s some state that would bless the union of two people who are so deeply committed to each other! And think of the talk-show opportunities: “He Said/No I Said Something Completely Different” with Michael and David Berube-Horowitz, tonight on MSNBC.

    Posted by Dustin  on  06/28  at  03:30 PM
  17. I can *comment* on this website? That’s wonderful! HEY EVERYBODY LOOK AT ME!

    I wish I had something to say.

    Posted by Rory  on  06/28  at  03:44 PM
  18. I’m sure there’s some state that would bless the union of two people who are so deeply committed to each other!

    [sob.] No, Dustin, I can’t think of one.  [sniff.] Maybe Hawai’i?

    And what should I wear, since I can’t wear white?

    Posted by Michael  on  06/28  at  03:49 PM
  19. And what should I wear, since I can’t wear white?

    Take your pick.

    Posted by Chris Clarke  on  06/28  at  04:21 PM
  20. In Religious Studies you come across the same question concerning the way in which one is going to read the text.  I find that most Right-wing religious studies folks have the same basic approach to scripture as those in English departments do to “great works”.  They don’t want to know the history behind the work because history is contingent and this contigency stripes scripture of the ulitmate authority they believe it to have.  Do you think there is some kind of parallel with Right-wing English profs?  Is it a similar obsession with authority?

    Posted by  on  06/28  at  04:26 PM
  21. I think Da Ho just posts stuff about you so that you’ll waste a lot of time writing HUMUNGOUSLY LONG posts that cause your faithful readers to be INEFFICIENT and LAZY at WORK. Thus destroying the left, slowly, one post at a time.

    Posted by  on  06/28  at  04:32 PM
  22. also- could you send him over a clearer picture of you. The one he is using could be any white guy. I think He’d really like the one where you look like Deiter in front of the orange flag things. Very leftist

    Posted by  on  06/28  at  04:36 PM
  23. Sorry about the inefficient-and-lazy effect, SFA.  I hoped the warning at the top of the post would scare off all but the most hardcore of my faithful readers—the fraction who can actually slog through a 3000+ word post and say to themselves, “why, that scalliwag Horowitz completely missed Michael’s point about English enrollments!  A pox upon him and all his dastardly enterprises!”

    Posted by Michael  on  06/28  at  05:50 PM
  24. I don’t get why you posted this.  Horowitz has you up on the Web as a verrryyy dangerous man, a smiling twister of young minds, a devilish distributor of unclean, unAmerican ideas, a vortex of infernal mysteries and twisted thoughts.

    I could go so far as to say, a “young girl’s fancy and an old maid’s dream”, as all the good revolutionaries were.

    Your wife wouldn’t recognize the rakish hellraiser painted by the good people of DTNs, would she?  Why the hell would you want to set the record straight? Don’t you want people to think that you might well replace Che Guevera as the T-shirt shadow of rebellion?

    I wish I had somebody to go through the trouble of building a web history like that around my life, so I wouldn’t have to spend my old age lying to my grandchildren about my athletic, sexual, professional or whatever achievements I’ll have to make up to convince them I wasn’t a meaningless dot among 300 million other mostly meaningless dots.

    But you blew it.

    Posted by  on  06/28  at  06:48 PM
  25. Bravo.  What a magnificent performance.

    I had to stop and read parts of it out loud and say to my husband, “what’s so maddening is, I can see exactly how he’s doing it, but I couldn’t for the life of me do it myself.”

    Posted by bitchphd  on  06/28  at  07:16 PM
  26. Thank you for pointing out D. Ho’s and his minion’s interesting use of how to cite another’s words.

    Did you notice that our Secretary of War ... Defense said on Sunday, “We’re not going to win against the insurgency. . . “

    Why has Rumsfeld become such a defeatist?

    Posted by  on  06/28  at  07:22 PM
  27. Oh, man-- I’ve gotta start getting up earlier in the morning; we owlish West Coasters are certainly at a disadvantage there.  Most of the good quips have been taken, and it takes twice as long to slog happily through a wildly entertaining MB post and the thigh-slapping slew of canny comments. 

    All in all, it’s the best correspondence course ever.  Quite the little network you’ve got stoked here, Michael.  Thanks for having time for us-- and maybe you should just settle for a civil union?

    Posted by  on  06/28  at  07:52 PM
  28. Bummer about your failures with Silas Lapham. I really wonder where we are going with this “attack the academy” game. In Wisconsin, not only did the Democratic governor cut the system budget again, but the Republican legislature cut it further. And in today’s paper they are saying that some Republicans in the Senate still find the finished budget too large and are thinking of slashing the University further. Nothing else, just the University. This inane Horowitziana strikes me as effective in the same way that a nasty rumor is: you always wanted an excuse to think badly of the person, and here is finally a suspicion that allows you to do so. As long as you don’t critically examine it, leaving it at that “someone else told me about it” level.

    I also note this revealing set of quotes from the Horowitz’s blog at Frontpage Magazine: Horowitz opines that “beyond the shallow façade” celebrated Senator “Dick Durbin” [perhaps ironically?] “is worse than a Nazi”! Then he says that “college teachers who have any semblance of integrity and independence and teach the truth”—a group you would think he would support—“should be removed”! Shocking.

    Posted by  on  06/28  at  08:28 PM
  29. Horowitz has you up on the Web as a verrryyy dangerous man, a smiling twister of young minds, a devilish distributor of unclean, unAmerican ideas, a vortex of infernal mysteries and twisted thoughts.

    How I wish, a different chris!  Actually that page has me up on the Web as a hectoring hypocrite and all-around jerkoff.  I thought it was more important to my image on the Internets—and more accurate a representation of my actual non-virtual self—to post this reply, which should cement my reputation on the right as a dangerous, wild-eyed lunatic who flies into psychotic rages at everyone who disagrees with him. 

    Posted by Michael  on  06/28  at  08:33 PM
  30. You’re right.  It’s long.  I’ve just printed it out so I hope you don’t mind comments a day or two from now.

    Posted by  on  06/28  at  08:42 PM
  31. Not at all!  It is long.  Comments on all posts are welcome for up to thirty days after the post goes up.

    Posted by  on  06/28  at  10:06 PM
  32. It’s cherry season here in the Pacific NW, but the DTN crew only plucks mutated specimens.  Among hundreds of my politically neutral photos to use, their pick:


    Posted by  on  06/28  at  10:22 PM
  33. a dangerous, wild-eyed lunatic who flies into psychotic rages at everyone who disagrees with him.

    Are not.

    Posted by Chris Clarke  on  06/28  at  11:44 PM
  34. I’m sure there’s some state that would bless the union of two people who are so deeply committed to each other!

    [sob.] No, Dustin, I can’t think of one.  [sniff.] Maybe Hawai’i?

    All is not lost—now there’s Canada! Perfect for francophonically-named folks that love hockey, too!

    Posted by Dustin  on  06/29  at  04:09 AM
  35. I’m hoping for commentary from Eric over at Wampum


    on this story


    Looks like the incredibly weak common law principle of *laches* has been applied. I love that Anglo-Norman word-stock in the Common Law: Michael, the Reggie Jackson of Typists at the National Legal Research Group, and I (the Roberto Clemente of proofreaders) used to have to convert “laches are” into “laches is” over and over again.

    But it is a sad day. Indian land has been siezed by NY state in many other instances (my great-uncle Chief Clinton Rickard of the Tuscarora (who are members of the Iroquois Confederacy along with the Cayuga who lost in the case cited above)fought Robert Moses’s hydro project, in which NY State condemned 1/3 of the Tuscarora land in order to build a hydro project.

    All 6 Iroquois nations--Onondaga, Cayuga, Oneida, Mohawk, Tuscarora, and Seneca--have had land condemned or siezed in contravention of treaty.

    As *The Iroquois Struggle for Survival* points out, especially since 1945 it was popular to do this to build hydro projects (remember Buffy Saint-Marie singing against the Kinzua Dam? I’ve been there and it’s a bad vibe since they flooded it, after they took that Seneca land).

    Posted by  on  06/29  at  08:59 AM
  36. Dear Professor,

    I would like to offer you speaking fees of one third of my monthly income (I won’t tell you how much this is, but let’s pretend it’s a *lot* of money, because to me it certainly is) if the next time you come to Seattle you phone me and we can talk about stuff for an hour. I’d give more if I could. I could even arrange to have friends come over and we could have a “roundtable” (I have three chairs! and I do actually have a round table, though it is very small and might not suffice) discussion about, oh, anything.

    I not only ask because I’m lonely and don’t have interaction with anyone but my home care worker, but also because your field of study is so interesting and I think quite a bit about some of which you’ve written about and I’ve longed to have a conversation with anyone in academia about these areas of study.

    I’m not learned, but I’ve been told I’m smart. That was before I started losing my mind, but I still have a few zingers left in me and I’d like to have the conversation of my dreams before I lose the capability to have any kind of rational thought at all.

    If you can’t make it, feel free to pass this on to Judith Butler.

    I continue to wish for you the best life has to offer and perhaps a whole Network of your own with pages and pages dedicated to you and your no-good liberal sleeper-cells of which I consider myself a sleeper in the traditional sense of the word.

    Much love,


    Posted by Hanna  on  06/29  at  09:16 AM
  37. Interesting link, drm. The land involved in the Cayuga suit surrounds the territory where my mother’s family comes from, and much of it isn’t far from where I started school way back in the Neolithic.

    My grandmother, who I loved dearly but who was not particularly possessed of refined philadelphic sensiibilities, would regularly go off on rants about the “damn Indians trying to take everyone’s land away.” (That’s when she wasn’t complaining about the Amish, who’re buying up a lot of the farms in the area.) She died a year ago Monday: the thought that I won’t get to hear her fulminate on this decision fills me with a very strange feeling, equal parts regret and relief.

    Posted by Chris Clarke  on  06/29  at  09:32 AM
  38. You tried to end capitalism with Silas Lapham?  That never works.  You should use McTeague.  That book totally ends capitalism, at least it did here in CU. 

    Too bad you can’t figure out a way to put excerpts from the Horowitz page on your MLA badge. That would be really cool.

    Posted by  on  06/29  at  09:57 AM
  39. You should use McTeague.  That book totally ends capitalism, at least it did here in CU.

    Great, Stephanie.  Now you tell me.  Better late than never, though!  I was going to try A Hazard of New Fortunes next, so thanks.  And congratulations on totally ending capitalism in CU!  No wonder it was so peaceful and happy when I visited in February.

    Hanna, thanks so much for your kind invitation.  Next time I’m within shouting distance of Seattle I’ll be sure to let you know.  My speaking fee for talking to friends is in the low zero figures, but perhaps I can bring over some of that Copper River salmon I’ve heard so much about.

    And Anthony, sorry to leave your question hanging all day.

    I find that most Right-wing religious studies folks have the same basic approach to scripture as those in English departments do to “great works”.  They don’t want to know the history behind the work because history is contingent and this contigency stripes scripture of the ulitmate authority they believe it to have.  Do you think there is some kind of parallel with Right-wing English profs?  Is it a similar obsession with authority?

    Basically, yes.  Anything that puts “too much” (or, sometimes, any) emphasis on history and contingency is a distraction from the genius of the author.  Or it’s a foregrounding of the background, or it’s an inappropriate fixation on “conditions” rather than the work itself, etc.  But I still don’t get it.  To such people—who aren’t too numerous in English departments these days, but can be found pretty much everywhere else in the culture—I usually like to cite Lionel Trilling:  “To perceive a work not only in its isolation, as an object of aesthetic contemplation, but also as implicated in the life of a people at a certain time, as expressing that life, and as being in part shaped by it, does not, in most people’s experience, diminish the power or charm of the work but, on the contrary, enhances it.”

    Sometimes you just gotta go to the Old School in such matters. 

    Posted by Michael  on  06/29  at  10:13 AM
  40. Anything that puts “too much” (or, sometimes, any) emphasis on history and contingency is a distraction from the genius of the author.

    We are now accepting wagers on the length of time it takes Horowitz to splice this sentence into Michael’s page.

    Posted by Chris Clarke  on  06/29  at  10:20 AM
  41. A couple of semi off topic points/questions.

    1.) Where did you get the data on English B.A.s?  I’d be curious to see the data from the 50’s and 60’s.  It’s totally unrelated to Horowitz, but do you have any theories about why English enrollments went UP in the 60’s?

    2.) Interesting comments about the universalising tendency of the “conserrvatives” who don’t want to look at history and contingencies.  My experience in Classics was very different.  The conservatives--and I don’t mean politically--were the philologists, and they could be pretty pedantic.  The historical context was *everything*.  The big thing in tragedy and comedy was studying these in the context of their historical performance.  I found this regime suffocating; it sucked the life out of me.  I think it’s interesting to know about the festival of Dionysus and how that audience would have understood Aristophanes or Sophocles, but I don’t think it’s the only thing.  In fact, some of Euripides later plays were written while he was in exile.  So the emphasis on the purely local, contemporary Athenian understanding seems misguided and limiting.  I don’t want to be caught universalizing or essentializing, but I do want to say that the Greeks, though very different from us, have meaning for us now.  Some of that meaning will be found in understanding how different they were, but I also think that great art speaks beyond its own time and place.

    I didn’t learn no stinkin theory in college.  So the best analogy I can come up with is this.  Historically accurate symphonic performances with period instruments are beautiful, and I often prefer them, but if you insist that Beethoven’s 9th symphon be played as it was at its first performance, then you are missing a lot.  I am told that they were very badly prepared on opening night, but more generally I think that Beethoven’s genius probably anticipated more advanced instruments.  And even if he didn’t, the 9th Symphony played by a modern symphony on modern instruments sounds is a worthwhile aesthetic experience.  That I might see something now that nobody 200 years ago did or could have is part of what makes the question of meaning in the arts so rich.

    Posted by  on  06/29  at  11:09 AM
  42. Good point about Beethoven’s 9th, Abby.  And, you know, you’re making a historicist argument, so you may not be all that different from some of the people you seem to feel different from.  Just as history shapes the production of aesthetic works, it also shapes their reception.  Which means it’s just as ridiculous to suggest that you or I could experience the 9th as did its original audience as to suggest that the 9th, when it was originally written, was not somehow embedded in its particular cultural and historical moments.

    Now, who’s up for some meade, some bard-on-the-table-stick-pouding, and some caesura-infused Beowulf chanting?  (Oh, yeah, and who’s up for worrying about whether next winter will wipe out our village?)

    Posted by  on  06/29  at  12:43 PM
  43. I’d be interested in reading the full articles from the pull-quotes in this post.  I found some online but others have been elusive.  Does anyone have any research suggestions for a teacher at a middle-of-damn-nowhere university in southern Mexico?  Thanks.

    Posted by Caro  on  06/29  at  12:55 PM
  44. Lance,

    I’m not anti-historicist.  I am pro balance, pro moderation.  I think we need to respect and encourage a lot of different ways of interpretation.  I respect philology a lot.  It’s seeped into my very marrow.  My beef with philologists is that they tend to reject hermeneutics in favor of counting words.

    Posted by  on  06/29  at  01:01 PM
  45. Caro—all the essays I cite here, in this veritable orgy of self-citation, are available on the “essays” page of this website.  Some are available online, some in .pdf files.  Thanks for asking!

    Posted by Michael  on  06/29  at  02:02 PM
  46. Fantastic!  Thanks.  I was overthinking as usual.

    Posted by Caro  on  06/29  at  02:24 PM
  47. Not to be a pest on this thread, but here’s a possible alternate picture for your DTN dossier, although its terms for acceptance would be radically different.


    Posted by  on  06/29  at  02:58 PM
  48. That’s hilarious!  How did you do that?  (And can I have a copy?)

    Posted by Michael  on  06/29  at  03:31 PM
  49. Michael,
    please, let’s do discuss the Habermasian norms of communication here some day.

    Posted by  on  06/29  at  05:45 PM
  50. Chris:
    “The land involved in the Cayuga suit surrounds the territory where my mother’s family comes from, and much of it isn’t far from where I started school way back in the Neolithic.”

    One sometimes hears about it up here (I had a student last year whose family home was involved in it). There’s an article with a timeline of the case and some more stuff of interest at:


    Posted by  on  06/29  at  07:50 PM
  51. Dale:  sure thing!  I love Habermasian norms of communication.  Just so long as we don’t confine ourselves to a speech situation oriented toward consensus.  (I am not being facetious.)

    Posted by Michael  on  06/29  at  10:06 PM
  52. I can’t believe they can’t find the accent key on their keyboard, or at the very least do a simple search-and-replace.

    Berube is a name quite distinctly different from Bérubé.

    Posted by John E Thelin  on  06/30  at  03:35 AM
  53. Michael,
    I don’t approach Habermas as an academic but as a fairly well informed citizen who has had his mind expanded by TCA and Facts and Norms (as well as several of the collections of essays). If you are saying that you prefer to write about the norms of real life communicative interactions rather than ideal ones set up for the sake of theoritical clarification, then, I am with you.

    Posted by  on  06/30  at  02:59 PM





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