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Pilgrimage plus

Hi folks!  Guess where I was this weekend!


One hint:

Whan that aprill with his shoures soote
The droghte of march hath perced to the roote,
And bathed every veyne in swich licour
Of which vertu engendred is the flour;
Whan zephirus eek with his sweete breeth
Inspired hath in every holt and heeth
Tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne
Hath in the ram his halve cours yronne,
And smale foweles maken melodye,
That slepen al the nyght with open ye
(so priketh hem nature in hir corages);
Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages,
And palmeres for to seken straunge strondes,
To ferne halwes, kowthe in sondry londes.

And from every shires end . . . you know where those folk wend.  To this place:


Had I ever been to Canterbury before?  Nope.  I’ve never been to England, period.  It was great, even though I arrived at 8 am on Friday and left at 10 am on Sunday.  I was giving the Journal of American Studies Lecture to the British Association of American Studies, and those of you who remember last week’s virus-related woes will understand that I came this close to cancelling—and leaving the BAAS without a Saturday evening plenary address.  (In which case they would have had to go straight from the afternoon’s last panels to the dinner and disco!) Twenty-four hours before my departure late last Thursday afternoon, I honestly didn’t think I could get on a plane—and didn’t think any of my fellow passengers would want me to get on a plane, either.  But everything went very smoothly, with only a bit of coughing here and there.  Once again, and with feeling, thank you, prednisone.  But also thank you cough syrup with codeine, which is most useful for helping a body negotiate jet lag while suppressing the odd cough here and there.

I pretty much lost all of Friday, because the Obligatory Squalling Infants (two of them!) were stationed only two rows behind me on the flight over, so I slept for only 90 minutes on an overnight flight.  Instead, I read almost everything for the remaining two weeks of my seminar, including Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, which is just as good the second time around.  (We end the course with it.  That was a good idea, I think.) But on Saturday I got a chance to walk around the town and take a few “holiday snaps,” including this one of some of that barbaric British jargon:


Please do not leave donations outside the shop when we are closed because it will be fly tipping. “Fly tipping,” of course, is a British term of art for illegal waste disposal, and the sign should probably read, “because it will be regarded as fly tipping.” Then again, performative utterances can do whatever the hell they want, because they’re performative:  it will be fly tipping, because it just will, even if you think of your little donation as an act of charity. 

My favorite Furren Sign is a notice I saw on a bus in Brisbane, Australia in 1999 as I was going to watch my first-ever rugby game (the locals beat Balmain 42-10):  Scholars and children are asked not to occupy seats whilst adults are standing.

Speaking of scholarly things:  I vow not to rest until my books are available in airport vending machines.  Here’s the book-dispensing contraption in Gatwick that gave me the idea:


If you look carefully, you can find the ubiquitous Dan Brown occupying two spots in the upper right corner—and you can also see Arthur Golden’s Memoirs of a Geisha amid the mystery and thriller crowd, James Patterson, Tess Gerritsen, Jodi Picoult, Dean Koontz, etc.

And now for the “plus” part of this post.  When I returned to the States, I found that Eric Lott had written to the Nation in response to Russell Jacoby’s review of Lott’s new book, The Disappearing Liberal Intellectual.  Always a dicey enterprise, writing to defend one’s book from a hostile review in a forum where the reviewer inevitably has the last word.  And I’ll be dealing with Eric’s work in my own inimitable fashion a bit later on, when I begin My Next Project in a few weeks.  But for now I simply want to note that Jacoby, in his reply to Eric’s letter, writes as follows:

To praise his book is to surrender thinking for hype and jargon. Here is an example of thought à la Lott: “As Linda Zerilli observes in a remarkable diacritics essay, universalism’s comeback follows the perceived political inadequacy of postmodern theory—with its focus on subject position, difference, and new social identities—to draw up any account of any overarching collective or united front.”

Actually, I do see irony—another English professor who cannot write English—but no thought.

OK, so here’s the deal.  I hereby announce the First Annual Good Reading Contest, in place of Dennis Dutton’s famous Bad Writing Contests of the late 1990s.  Readers are invited to try to improve on the efforts of the perspicacious Mr. Jacoby, and paraphrase the sentence, “universalism’s comeback follows the perceived political inadequacy of postmodern theory—with its focus on subject position, difference, and new social identities—to draw up any account of any overarching collective or united front.” It’s not really very hard!  All of the words in the sentence are, in fact, English, though admittedly some of them are polysyllabic . . . oops, I mean big.  So let’s all try to figure out just why universalism has made a comeback lately!  And remember, if we can all agree on how best to explain universalism’s comeback, then universalism wins—which means we all win.

Just don’t resort to any unfamiliar terms, and please don’t leave slabs of jargon in the comments.  That would be fly tipping.

Posted by on 04/24 at 08:00 AM
  1. You can’t fool me.  Those photos were taken in Istanbul.

    Posted by  on  04/24  at  09:38 AM
  2. My paraphrase, in plain speech: “The fuzzy dog chased the orange cat, while the little boy ate a cookie.”

    Posted by Adam Kotsko  on  04/24  at  09:53 AM
  3. "I’m a uniter, not a divider.”

    Posted by  on  04/24  at  10:03 AM
  4. And the little boy stands for postmodernism, and the cookie represents the new social movements, right, Adam?  Good one, but John’s is more straightforward, less allegorical.  Really catchy, too.

    Alek, do they have fly tipping in Istanbul?  I’m sure they have Dan Brown. . . .

    Posted by Michael  on  04/24  at  10:11 AM
  5. Truly a tourist when this blog wanders into Lit-Crit and lacking a serviceable phrase book, I volunteer a baseline reading: the Person Zerilli astutely writes that absolutist Philosophy U is regaining popularity because relativist Philosophy P, consistent with its relative approach, fails to spark a functioning popular consensus.

    Serendipitously, I was just last night reading Prof Kenner on sarcasm and irony, a distinction pointed out to him that sarcasm was <paraphrasing> inferior for its superiority, that irony knows otherwise not better </paraphrasing>.

    Posted by black dog barking  on  04/24  at  10:18 AM
  6. So that’s the book Jeff Goldstein has in his lap as he sits cross-legged at the hookah.

    My guess: “I’ve cleared things up.”

    Posted by David J Swift  on  04/24  at  10:31 AM
  7. My paraphrase:  Universalism has come back because we supposedly got tired of everyone having a different point of view; it’s so much easier when we all think the same way.

    Can’t we just all get along?

    By the way, I’d like to point out that ol’ Chaucer up there takes 18 lines to utter one sentence (well, depending on where modenrn eds. but the period) and I don’t hear Mr. Jacoby complaining about *his* being incapable of writing in English.  Sheesh, you’d think the man had never met a subordinate clause before.

    Canterbury, btw, looks remarkably like York.  I swear, all English towns look alike.

    Posted by Dr. Virago  on  04/24  at  10:40 AM
  8. Oh good lord, that parenthetical statement was supposed to have said “depending on where modern eds. put the period.” Talk about irony and English professors who can’t write (or at least type)!

    Posted by Dr. Virago  on  04/24  at  10:42 AM
  9. “As Linda Zerilli observes in a remarkable diacritics essay, universalism’s comeback follows the perceived political inadequacy of postmodern theory—with its focus on subject position, difference, and new social identities—to draw up any account of any overarching collective or united front.”

    Let’s see—the Linda Zerilli in diacritics credit goes in a footnote.  The rest could be rearranged to include all the same words with what I think is the same meaning, but with a more (boring or readable, take your pick) sentence structure:

    “Postmodern theory is perceived to be politically inadequate in drawing up an account of an overarching collective or united front.  The focus of this theory on concepts such as subject position, difference, and new social identities leads to the comeback of universalism.”

    There may be an implied difference in causation between “follows” in the original and “leads to”.  Maybe “precedes” would be better?  But maybe this sentence structure unpacks the ambiguous claim of causation, which is one of the worst flaws with the original thought in any case.

    If you wanted it to be more readable than that, you’d have to start replacing words.  It’s hard to tell out of context whether Eric Lott previously spent time describing to his readers what he means by “postmodern theory”, or “universalism” for that matter, out of the various meanings they could have.  But to put it in the simplest bromides possible:

    “Politics requires a united front.  Postmodern theory’s focus on ideas of difference makes it appear politically inadequate, so universalism returns.”

    Posted by  on  04/24  at  10:58 AM
  10. "I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together.”

    Posted by corndog  on  04/24  at  11:10 AM
  11. If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.

    Posted by  on  04/24  at  11:27 AM
  12. OK, here’s my try:

    “As Linda Zerelli correctly notes, the renewed popularity of political visions built on the common humanity of all is in part a response to the failure of postmodern theory, which tends to focus on the particular identities of smaller groups and thus impairs attempts to build larger political alliances.”

    Posted by  on  04/24  at  11:28 AM
  13. "I’m a decider, not a divider.”

    Posted by Crazy Little Thing  on  04/24  at  11:29 AM
  14. Michael,

    Not to go all Dave Barry on you, but can I use “Obligatory Squalling Infants” as a band name?  You can play drums if you want to.

    Posted by corndog  on  04/24  at  11:42 AM
  15. Would a Bad Reading Contest be more fun?  For the most egregious example of attempting to garner some cheap anti-elitist street cred by claiming to find some sentence written by a professor to be impenetrable, when it fact it’s not that hard to understand?

    Posted by Sean Carroll  on  04/24  at  11:50 AM
  16. What Sean Carroll describes (in #15) is perhaps better termed a Bad-Faith Reading Contest.  Truly impenetrable academic prose certainly exists. And inelegant, but otherwise understandable, academic writing is also worthy of criticism. But the kneejerk tendency by some reviewers to declare perfectly comprehensible academic prose to be jargon-filled and thus unworthy of a substantive reply is worse than lazy.

    Posted by  on  04/24  at  12:00 PM
  17. universe = me!

    Posted by  on  04/24  at  12:01 PM
  18. One of my favorite signs was in a London tube station in 1987.  It said “NO BUSKING.” I was worried that I might be busking and not even know it.

    Posted by  on  04/24  at  12:03 PM
  19. Round about 4am at The Canal Room, we overheard bespectacled minx Linda Zerilli griping to bee-stung Scarlett Johannsson in the powder room: “Universalism? Hot. Postmodernism? Not.” Too bad, Linds, we dug the pomo too back in the day.

    Posted by  on  04/24  at  12:07 PM
  20. Actually, Emily, you’re busking right now.  If you were to play music in public, however, you’d be safe.

    Corndog:  yes.

    Dr. V.:  I don’t understand a thing Chaucer writes.  When the man learnes to write good English (and to spel!), let me know.  And don’t Canterbury and York play each other in the All-England Archbishop Playoffs?

    Ben, Rich, Sean—yep, postmodern theory emphasized variety, difference, and even fragmentation.  It did so using terms like “subject position” (and “incommensurability”!  note that Eric didn’t even resort to that one, preferring instead the quite lucid “difference” and “new social movements"), which tended to stress the multiplicity of perspectives—and even to suggest that no universal perspective was available or desirable.  But because postmodern theory didn’t seem capable of motivating people to organize collectively in a “united front,” universalism has made something of a comeback.  That’s my version, anyway.  Actually my version can be found in chapter six of What’s Liberal About the Liberal Arts?, and I do use the word “incommensurability.” Can’t wait for Russell Jacoby’s review!  Or perhaps he’s written it already.

    Posted by Michael  on  04/24  at  12:18 PM
  21. I have to admit to philistinism — I find that sentence unreadable too, not because it’s actually linguistically incoherent, but because my eyes glaze over before I get to the end of it.  I had to read it about ten times, forcing myself to go slower and slower each time, to figure out what it was about.  But I think that’s just the peril of reading technical writing in a field other than one’s own.  Hell, even technical writing that is in my field is sometimes hard to focus on for long enough to understand it.  I don’t know whether to be ashamed of my inadequacy as an intellectual or dismayed by the difficulty of the whole business.

    Posted by  on  04/24  at  12:27 PM
  22. I don’t like your theory. I call do over.

    Posted by julia  on  04/24  at  12:41 PM
  23. The sentence is legible--for me--and is easily paraphrasable, but it’s still bad. And I say this as a fan of Eric Lott. I don’t like the passive “perceived,” or the wordy “draw up any account,” or the repetition of “any” in the space of four words. But the main issue, I think, is the construction “the inadequacy of [noun] [inf. verb],” which is not only awkward, but is split up into two parts by a long parenthetical. It tripped me up because “inadequacy of...” led me to expect a prepositional “to” rather than an infinitive.

    Should’ve been split into at least two sentences. But, no, this complaint does not constitute a valid critique of the book’s argument.

    Posted by  on  04/24  at  01:04 PM
  24. The Amazon.com page for the Lott book includes a review from Publishers Weekly which makes a fairer point about Lott’s writing:  “Such dense writing decrees that Lott’s book will have little resonance outside academe.”

    (Am I simply being hypersensitive to writing issues, or does the reviewer’s use of “decree” seems at the very least unidiomatic if not simply incorrect?)

    Posted by  on  04/24  at  01:13 PM
  25. “As Linda Zerilli observes in a remarkable diacritics essay, universalism’s comeback follows the perceived political inadequacy of postmodern theory—with its focus on subject position, difference, and new social identities—to draw up any account of any overarching collective or united front.”

    Hmm. I have seen clumsier constructions, but it’s not very good. I would suggest a little application of the colon.

    “As Linda Zerilli observes in a remarkable diacritics essay, universalism’s comeback follows the perceived political inadequacy of postmodern theory: its focus on subject position, difference, and new social identities means that it cannot create any account of any overarching collective or united front.”

    PS: It’s not true that all English towns look the same. Some look like Milton Keynes.

    Posted by sharon  on  04/24  at  01:49 PM
  26. Super-post combo comment = “taking a piss”

    Posted by Roxanne  on  04/24  at  01:53 PM
  27. Michael: “But because postmodern theory didn’t seem capable of motivating people to organize collectively in a “united front,” universalism has made something of a comeback.”

    Your “because” suggests that you do think he was suggesting direct causation.  In the original phrasing, the comeback “follows” an inadequacy—it’s not clear whether postmodern theory is supposed to have just left the field open for anything that included a better description of the united front, or whether postmodern theory in specific caused universalism in specific to come back.

    So, not a critique of the book’s argument, but it would be easier to understand exactly what he was trying to say if he wrote a bit more boringly.  Of course, some people in postmodern theory defend a mode of difficulty as preserving what they write about from too easy dissemination.

    Posted by  on  04/24  at  02:00 PM
  28. "If you’ve wondered recently why your newspaper is full of old farts blabbing on about the Enlightenment, it’s because the pomo kids just weren’t nasty enough”

    Posted by  on  04/24  at  02:19 PM
  29. Hey, Lee, I don’t care much for the sentence either, starting with the “remarkable diacritics essay” part, and I say this as a Friend of Eric Lott.  And I’m not stumping for the book as a whole, either.  All I’m saying is that Jacoby didn’t pick a very good example of a “jargony” sentence, and somebody needs to call him out on this nonsense before he writes yet another book about how nobody knows how to write as well as Russell Jacoby.

    And Ben, “decree” is definitely wrong.  “Suggests” or “ensures” would do the trick.

    Rich, point taken:  I do think Eric was suggesting direct causation, and “follows” doesn’t quite convey that.  I’m not going to get into the “necessary difficulty” argument, though.  Not me!

    Posted by Michael  on  04/24  at  02:40 PM
  30. Lee’s right (#23).  But bad writing is not always accidental.

    “As Linda Zerilli observes in a remarkable diacritics essay,”

    Lott wants to obscure the fact that what he’s about to say is commonplace.  Hence the opening cite and hence “remarkable.”

    “universalism’s comeback follows the perceived”

    *Of course* Lott needs the passive “perceived”! “Perceived” is the standard way to advance a proposition without taking responsibility for it.  You can see again his reason for citing Zerilli.  If one person says something banal, it’s banal.  But if you can say something banal citing someone else, who claims to reflect others, the echoes give the impression of profundity.

    “political inadequacy of postmodern theory—with its focus on subject position, difference, and new social identities—”

    Lott realizes that “postmodern theory” is too floppy a label to support his argument.  So he provides a little dashed phrase explaining what’s wrong with it.  Everything there works to insulate Lott from the obligation to provide citational support: “with its” links weakly; “focus” (a favorite term of student essayists) sounds specific but says little; and by just listing topics, you avoid having to specify what people actually say about these things.  Now he’s home free:

    “to draw up any account of any overarching collective or united front.”

    The doubled “any” gives the rhetorical impression of a strong, damning argument.  Of course, he’s just set up “postmodernism” in the previous nine words to get this point.

    Lott’s core point is a tautology: if you’re critical of univeralisms you’re critical of univeralisms.  The challenge for the writer is how to make it sound like a real argument, with reference to facts in the world. 

    There’s another whole post to be written on Lott’s invocation of “political,” but we’re already past the fly-tipping point.

    Posted by  on  04/24  at  02:42 PM
  31. The problem with this kind of dispute is that people tend to think that since one person is right the other must be wrong.  No—they can both be wrong, in different ways and to different degrees.  Usually a difficulty of writing complaint involves both someone who has written a poorly phrased sentence *and* someone who has picked that sentence out of context to make a larger point that it doesn’t support.

    The “necessary difficulty” bit seems a lot more clear to me: I am ideologically opposed to it at a basic enough level so that it seems almost always more wrong than whatever it’s being contrasted with, whether it’s used as a right-wing Straussian or left-wing Bulterian concept.  But we don’t have to get into it.

    Posted by  on  04/24  at  02:53 PM
  32. It is a rather snide criticism of the sentence by Jacoby. His claim that it’s full of hype and jargon doesn’t seem to be justified, and neither does his claim that Lott can’t write. The sentence could be written more clearly, but that doesn’t warrant Jacoby’s condescension.

    Posted by  on  04/24  at  03:25 PM
  33. PS: It’s not true that all English towns look the same. Some look like Milton Keynes.

    Oops, sorry, too true!  And I’m kinda weirdly proud I get that reference.  I once changed coaches in MK and finally saw what everyone was talking about.  Shudder.

    Posted by Dr. Virago  on  04/24  at  03:37 PM
  34. Actually, I think this _is_ bad writing, not because of any of the “jargon”, but because of crappy sentence structure--

    “inadequacy....to draw up” is a dreadful formulation.  Why not “inadequacy....by those wishing to draw up”?  But then “perceived” starts to seem bad.....or substitute “inability” if we want to retain that dubious conferral of agency upon everyone’s favorite abstract entity--

    but its badness is in no way specific to what goes on in English departments, pace Jacoby.  See _Just Being Difficult..._, passim.  #23’s got it.

    Posted by  on  04/24  at  04:00 PM
  35. I’m with Colin, here.  I can parse the sentence - with effort - but it doesn’t really say anything much.  How about “many people think postmodernism has prevented us from cooperating, so they’ve returned to universalism”?  Not a point that requires citing a “remarkable diacritics essay” by Linda Zerilli.

    Note that Jacoby didn’t say the sentence was illegible, he just said it was filled with “hype” and not “thought.” That seems perfectly fair to me; the ebb and flow of “postmodernism” is perhaps *the* worst hyped issue in academia, and Lott says nothing new about it here.

    To be fair, probably Lott says more in the book.  But that still doesn’t justify the obfuscatory sentence.

    Posted by  on  04/24  at  04:28 PM
  36. (Chorus)

    O! The hedgehog and the fox!
    Aw! the hedgehog and the fox!
    Hey! the hedgehog and the fox!
    Laude sing cuckou!

    Posted by  on  04/24  at  04:37 PM
  37. Isn’t what Jacoby writes, within the quotation marks, a direct unedited quote of Lott’s??? If this is true, then isn’t this exercise directed towards Lott and not Jacoby?  Or, if it is about Jacoby, wouldn’t we be served as well by posting a quote of Lott’s that is a better example of hyping jargon?  Or maybe we could steal from Stephen Metcalf’s review of the same book and call it “salacious portraiture.”

    Posted by  on  04/24  at  04:39 PM
  38. We want to know things. Postmodernists say we can’t know things. We hate postmodernists.

    Posted by Oz  on  04/24  at  05:23 PM
  39. Here is my rewrite:

    “Postmodern theory as practiced in the academic world has little to do with practical politics.  A political party’s need to create successful coalitions in order to win elections is largely a matter of strategy and tactics, not academic theory.  Political organizations tend to be more successful when they rhetorically appeal to shared desires of a larger group of people, rather than focusing on the more limited interests of smaller groups. 

    In short, we can safely ignore any supposed relationship between postmodern theory and practical politics.”

    Posted by  on  04/24  at  07:11 PM
  40. By the way, Joseph Conrad is buried in the in Canterbury.  His gravestone misspells his middle name.

    Posted by  on  04/24  at  07:21 PM
  41. It’s not really that opaque a sentence, unless you’re talking about its motive. For opaque prose you really need need Bhabha. But I agree with everyone that stresses Lott’s bad “perceived.”

    Here’s a way to rewrite it, sort of:

    Derrida, “Eating Well, or The Calculation of the Subject,”:

    “Can one take into account the necessity of the existential analytic and what it shatters in the subject and turn towards an ethics, a politics (are these words still appropriate?), indeed an ‘other’ democracy (would it still be a democracy?), in any case toward another type of responsibility that safeguards against what a moment ago [i.e., the Holocaust] I very quickly called the ‘worst’?”


    And don’t Canterbury and York play each other in the All-England Archbishop Playoffs?

    Sort of, but St David’s is always outside the match, pissed the hell off, hoping to catch one of them alone for some good Gaelic asskicking.

    For fans of Gerald of Wales only.

    Thanks MB for the Chaucer, and Kudos Dr V for the punctuation remark: nice catch on that.

    Posted by  on  04/24  at  07:32 PM
  42. Here’s a quick attempt at doing it in words of one syllable (except for the proper name, and a bit of a cheat on “po-mo"):

    “Linda Zerilli says in this mag that thoughts for all come back after po-mo’s no go—all self, each strange—it left no room to join up in one big group.”

    Posted by Brian  on  04/24  at  07:47 PM
  43. "After hanging separately, we’ll see how the hang-together thing goes.”

    I’m bitterly disappointed to learn that fly tipping is not, in fact, similar to cow tipping.

    captcha: color, NOT colour

    Posted by  on  04/24  at  08:32 PM
  44. c wins at #17

    Ben, I think that “decrees” is a dead metaphor—a dead personification, specifically—a zombie figure of speech (a figure of zombie speech? - they don’t say “urrgh,” they speak in dead metaphors). The personified Dense Writing is dictating laws about how it won’t be popular outside The Land of Academe.

    Here’s my try:

    As Linda Zerilli writes, belief in universal truths is coming back after people decided that postmodern theory could not describe large, united political movements because postmodern theory focused too much on individual perspectives.

    I know, it doesn’t work because I used those long words “individual” and “perspectives.”

    Posted by  on  04/24  at  08:37 PM
  45. Wow, vetiver’s is great.

    I’m naming my band Dead Metaphors.

    Posted by  on  04/24  at  08:40 PM
  46. Ah, to hell with allat literary crap. Isn’t Canturbury a nicely quaint touristy trap? I was there a few years back during the Chaucer Festival when the locals presented the Tales as a musical.  Mid-summer balcony seats with no air-conditioning. A Japanese tourist offered to take our picture in front of the cathedral.  Loved it.

    Posted by  on  04/24  at  10:59 PM
  47. I have no problem with that ‘perceived’ in there. 

    I’m sick of all this prejudice against the passive voice.

    As my Latin professor reminded us (nearly every class,) the passive is a perfectly good voice!!

    But I wouldn’t neccessarily call that the passive voice; it seems like a past participle functioning adjectivally.  And it does a pretty good job asserting that the inadequacy is not actual, but only exists as perception.

    Posted by  on  04/24  at  11:21 PM
  48. Cry more PoMo n00bz! u were liek “everybdy join our guild we’re uber” and ppl did, but liek, LOL, no one even went to teh same raid instance or new each othr’s character names to summon them. So when some PoMo newb aggro’ed a Uni mob in pvp it was da bomb amd uni pwned. So most PMers were like “wtf this is BS!” and did /gquit and other peeps were “WoW, GG! Uni rulz!” and joined Uni.

    Posted by  on  04/25  at  12:36 AM
  49. The trouble with Lott’s statement is not that it’s especially unreadable.  It’s merely leaden, though not quite as indigestible as the instruction boooklet for IRS Form 1040.  No, the real problem is that Lott is saying something entirely unremarkable, something that many people, both proponents and enemies of “postmodernism”, have said before.  I have no idea who Linda Zerelli might be, but if the statement is a summary of the principal point of her article, then the piece can hardly be “remarkable”. Personally, I, in my snobbish insularity, reserve that term for stuff like Grisha Perlman’s remarkable use of Ricci flows on the space of Riemannian metrics of a 3-manifold, together with surgery methods to deal with singularities, to prove the Thurston Geometrization Conjecture, and hence the classical Poincare Conjecture.  (Some dreadful prose there, of course, but that’s a taste of mathematics like she is wrote.) Lott cites Zerelli merely to make the whole business appear more earth-shaking (or is it “ground-breaking”?)

    Paraphrase is easy enough:

    The apparent failure of postmodern theory to provide a vision of progressive mass political action, let alone a practical plan for generating it, has led a large number of once-sympathetic people to abandon some postmodernist doctrines.  In particular, critics allege that the postmodernist rejection of universal values, whether ethical, esthetic, or epistemological, in favor of an enthusiastic celebration of “difference,” especially in the form of perspectives and identities supposedly incommensurable with the values of the bourgeois West, has led to a political dead end. This has prompted many leftists to reconsider universalism in a new and more favorable light.


    I have, of course, tried to phrase this so as to be neutral on the question of whether the re-embrace of universalism is good or bad.  The statement is one that either a friend or foe of universalism might make as a preliminary to pronouncing his or her own judgment on the matter.  But it does state a commonplace observation, and hardly needs the authority of a “remarkable” journal article.


    Posted by  on  04/25  at  01:03 AM
  50. It’s funny you know. I think I could summarise Geroge Bush’s entire presidency as follows, he’s a divider, not a uniter. In his own words “Either you are with us or against us”. The true uniter will see the tribalism implict in that us. On the home front GWB is a divider to, notice how his speeches always set things up so that “My fellow Americans” means “The group of Americans who share my values”.

    Posted by  on  04/25  at  01:03 AM
  51. In fact Bush is such a divider that he manages to look like a uniter. The trick is simple, carve the world up and convince all the people in your camp that they are the decent people. Almost everyone thinks that the good outweigh the bad, ergo almost everyone must support your world view, only an insignficant crazy minority doesn’t, right? And they can be safely ignored, all the people who matter are right where they should be, on your side of the fence. People who think Bush is a uniter are falling for the cheesiest of republican smoke and mirrors trick.

    Posted by  on  04/25  at  01:15 AM
  52. If universalism doesn’t work universally we’ll have to try “univeralism in one country.”

    If that doesn’t work it’s on to “universalism in one party.”

    Then: “universalism with a human face.”

    Then: “universalism in one human’s face.”

    Then: “I become a transparent eyeball. I am nothing. I see all. The currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or particle of God.”

    Posted by eb  on  04/25  at  04:38 AM
  53. In response to 52 I am still trying to acheive worldwide anti universalism, so as to avoid the terror of consensus.

    Posted by  on  04/25  at  07:05 AM
  54. My paraphrase:

    “As Linda Zerilli has said, with postmodern theory, nobody agrees on any standards. This makes it hard to keep up with the Joneses, because nobody knows what the Joneses’ standards are. This is not a comfortable situation, and therefore universalism (a.k.a. Jonesism) has made a comeback.  Now we know where we all stand: right behind the Joneses, trying to keep up.”

    OK, so that is not exactly what the sentence says, but it is sort of where it’s going. The original may be a perfectly lucid thought, but it is not a lucid sentence, and therefore not accessible to the casual reader (or even the semi-dedicated reader). Was he TRYING to be obscure? Does he not want to be understood?

    Incidentally, my favourite London signs were the alarmed ones. I loved those.

    Posted by BadAunt  on  04/25  at  08:12 AM
  55. On behalf of NH, I apologize for Dan Brown. We haven’t been able to stop him from repeat-offending against literature.

    Posted by bellatrys  on  04/25  at  08:44 AM
  56. I agree completely with Timothy about the terror of consensus.

    Posted by Michael  on  04/25  at  10:55 AM
  57. Whan that Zerrilli with her shoure soote
    The droght of diacrit hath perced moote
    And bathed univers in swich combacke
    Of which perceiveth every manne a lacke
    Whan politique with his blighting breethe
    Expired hath made postmodernism seethe
    On every campus in the yonge soule
    And springe break hath her ful corse yrolle
    And full professors their halve wakynge clas
    Priken with overarchynge front, alas!
    Thanne longen folke to goon unitedly
    And meltynge potten stir polytic’ly.

    Or something.

    Posted by Ron Sullivan  on  04/25  at  05:05 PM
  58. OK, now Ron wins.

    Posted by Michael  on  04/25  at  05:32 PM
  59. Best British sign, on the Underground - “Dogs must be carried”

    Best foreign sign, in the Forbidden City - “Writing on the ancient wall is a breach of civility”

    Posted by  on  04/26  at  10:13 AM
  60. Why, thank you. I was inspired by Peter Ramus, who did it more concisely.

    Me: “Hey! Berube said I won!”
    Joe: “Won what? A hockey puck?”

    Posted by Ron Sullivan  on  04/26  at  11:47 AM
  61. Airport book vending machines = Brilliant!
    It takes junk food to a whole new level . . .

    Posted by  on  04/28  at  07:33 PM





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