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Arbitrary but fun Friday:  Nancy Fraser edition!

We open this Arbitrary but Fun Friday with a federal report and a beer ad.

First, the report:

Women Gaining on Men in Advanced Fields

AP Education Writer

WASHINGTON (AP)—Women now earn the majority of diplomas in fields men used to dominate—from biology to business—and have caught up in pursuit of law, medicine and other advanced degrees.

Even with such enormous gains over the past 25 years, women are paid less than men in comparable jobs and lag in landing top positions on college campuses.

Well, this is certainly a mystery, and it looks like we have two possible avenues of research into it—once we correct for the liberal bias of academe, of course.  The first would involve a study of the evolutionary psychology of women, to try to determine the biological mechanisms they have developed, over millions of years, that lead them to forego power and money in exchange for intellectual achievement.  The second would involve interviewing a handful of undergraduate women at Yale, to find out if they plan to have babies and raise families, thereby accounting for the “lag” in the power-and-money department.

OK, now for that beer ad.  Readers will surely recall Amanda Marcotte’s recent guest post on the new “man law” announced by Miller Lite—you poke it, you own it—and the explosion of antifeminist (and/or pro-ad) bloggolalia that followed her original post on the subject. 

There’s no correlation between the two, of course—it’s not as if stupid beer commercials are responsible for salary disparities between men and women, or the strange scarcity of female administrators on American campuses.  And it would take a virtuoso form of patriarchy-blaming to see these two things as part of a seamless garment.  Besides (to save the most obvious point for last), the federal study is “important,” and the beer ad is not.

But there’s a critical principle at stake here, and that’s why I want to follow up on one or two of Amanda’s guest posts.  It’s not just that I agree with her that (a) Go Fug Yourself is scathingly funny in a not-antifeminist way and that (b) “you poke it, you own it” is a gratuitous, smirking, juvenile piece of work.  With regard to (a), when Amanda writes, “I’m going to weigh in on this debate on the side of ruthless mockery,” she is both politically and theoretically correct, for as Karl Marx famously put it in an 1843 letter to Arnold Ruge, “it is all the more clear what we have to accomplish at present: I am referring to ruthless mockery of all that exists, including celebrities with unfortunate dress sense.” And with regard to (b), it’s worth keeping in mind that at the Budweiser-Miller level, beer advertising is not supposed to sell beer.  It’s not even supposed to raid a few beer drinkers from the other guy’s camp.  It’s almost purely about brand image, which is why Miller Lite’s self-parodic “Dick” ads of the late 1990s caused such a shitstorm in the advertising industry (as James Poniewozik pointed out at the time, while describing the ads like so: “This 1997-98 campaign, presented as the work of ‘Dick,’ an advertising ‘genius’ shown in a thick-sideburned yearbook photo, played off stereotypical beer-ad promises of sex and charisma, associating Lite with ugly, Dadaist images: fat, sloppy drinkers, a pitchman licking a Lite bottle in gruesome close-up”).  While it’s true that approximately 95 percent of beer ads are stupid (according to an independent study conducted by me during last night’s Sabres-Hurricanes game), there really is a world of difference between the stupid of the “Dick” ads and the stupid of the “Man Law” ads, and it’s perfectly legitimate for any cultural critic—even the Sacred Order of the Shrill feminist kind!—to say so.

But, again, my agreement with Ms. Marcotte is not the point.  The point is that the federal report seems to speak to “real” politics, the kind that involve money and power, and the beer ad seems to speak to merely “cultural” politics, the kind that involve offended sensibilities and deliberate or unintended slights to large or small fractions of the general human population.  And whenever someone unloads (what Amanda calls) the “I’ll give you something to cry about” counterargument in response to a critique of something like the Man Law ad, they’re basically trying to trump someone’s “merely cultural” concerns with something more real, more substantial, more about power and money (or health care, or abortion rights in South Dakota, or women in Afghanistan).  That is, if they’re being the least bit serious, as opposed to merely trollish.

Well, on my end of the campus quad, we spent most of the 1990s trying to hash these things out.  (Those of you who’d like to take this opportunity to use the Internets to read Judith Butler’s 1997 essay, “Merely Cultural,” can do so right here.  Not that she’s the last word on the subject, but she’s responding to a whole array of mid-1990s complaints that the American left had given in to identity politics and forgotten its, er, “common dreams.”) Some of you may remember those innocent days, when we campus humanists were merely Stalinist PC clones rather than objectively pro-Islamofascisterrorist dangeral types.  Depending on where you got your news, cultural politics were a distraction from the country’s massive shift rightward—or cultural politics held the key to understanding that shift and how to reverse it.  Cultural politics were the legacy of the new social movements of the 1960s and 1970s, from race and gender to sexuality and disability, and they represented either a challenge to or a fulfillment of the (long-betrayed) universalist promises of the Enlightenment; or cultural politics were the dirty-bongwater residue of 1960s counterculture delusions, in which merely money/power politics were rejected in favor of focusing on the deeper, more psychosociostructural foundations of social inequities. 

Late in the 1990s, Nancy Fraser attempted to referee the proceedings by jettisoning the rhetoric of “cultural” versus “real” politics and proposing, instead, the terms “politics of recognition” and “politics of redistribution.” Recognition harms, Fraser argued, could have redistributive effects, but they were not to be reduced to their redistributive effects; they were to be understood as recognition harms on their own terms, whether they consisted of ethnic slurs, jokes about the short bus, or nasty remarks about someone’s appearance.  At the same time, however, Fraser insisted that priority be given to recognition harms that do have redistributive effects, because hey (and I think I’m quoting here), there just isn’t world enough and time, everybody.

OK, so you can see where that last move just might set the cat among the pigeons.  As I put it in a 1999 review essay on Richard Rorty’s Achieving Our Country,

the cultural conditions in which gays and lesbians, or people with disabilities, or ethnic minorities live in the United States can be dehumanizing in ways that have nothing to do with taxation, federal spending, private investment, and the minimum wage, even though strategies of dehumanization may have broad implications for the distribution of goods; and surely any left worthy of the name should mount opposition to strategies of dehumanization without regard to their economic implications.

My point, obviously, was that people of good conscience shouldn’t have to consult the Power/ Money Chart, or wait around for some measurable economic or political fallout, before objecting to ethnic slurs, jokes about the short bus, or nasty remarks about someone’s appearance.  (Or stupid beer ads.) On the other hand (for we are nothing if not fair and balanced on this Libran blog), Fraser was merely trying to establish a “relevance” criterion for recognition harms, and though she doesn’t nearly have Amanda Marcotte’s sense of humor, I like to believe that she’d be OK with some ruthless mockery here and there, too.  After all, a left that goes around objecting to every single possible recognition harm in this sublunary sphere will quickly find itself way too busy with things that really are trivial in the grand scheme of things (and I should know, because I have the Grand Scheme of Things Chart on my wall right next to the Power/ Money Chart)—and it might find itself becoming kind of dour and humorless, too.

For example.  I happen to think that the “you poke it, you own it” ad is qualitatively different from, say, the Axe body spray ads, which are positively cringe-inducing, far beyond any hope of being read as hyperbolic self-parody.  (Perhaps Spin magazine could say to the Axers’ media buyers someday, “you know, we’re running a serious pop-music magazine here, and unlike some other pop-music magazines, we have almost no covers that feature scantily clad women.  We don’t see why we should be insulting our male readers by running ads about how your smelly product will induce five women to take showers with them.”) Part of the smirkiness of the “Man Law” ad lies in the fact that it’s not explicit, and that it scores relatively low on the dehumanization scale: it is, for one thing, completely bikini-babe-free.  But I was a 13-year-old boy once, and I can tell you precisely what’s going on here: part of the juvenile-giggling “fun,” in designing the ad, involved waiting for women to respond with outrage.  It’s as if you managed to get away with saying “who’s Dick Hertz?” on national TV, dude!  Even better, the women who object to the “you poke it” bit get cast as the Schoolteachers with the Terminal Hairbuns, rapping their rulers on the desk and saying, “Dick Hertz?  ‘You poke it you own it?’ If that’s your idea of humor, young man, you can explain it to the principal,” and off we go down the hall to the principal’s office, laughing all the way.  Get it?  The secondary “humor” is our mockery of the “humorlessness” of the women who picked up on “poke it”!  Good one, dudes!

So yes, even as beer ads go, this one’s deliberately annoying.  But I have my recognition-politics limits too, and I’ll close with a counterexample or two.  Here in my wing of the disability community, we’re acutely aware that no one knows what to call anything (remember “physically challenged” and “differently abled”?), and we’re especially wary of being casually stigmatized and dehumanized.  There are people who object strenuously to the term “Down’s syndrome,” preferring “Down syndrome” on the grounds that the possessive “s” makes it appear as if J. Langdon Down owns a segment of the population, sort of like “Jerry’s Kids.” (And I’ll assume you know how much the disability community hates the telethon phenomenon and the locution “Jerry’s Kids.") Personally, I could not care less about Down and Down’s.  As I said in Life As We Know It back when Jamie was five, I cared more about whether Jamie could say and understand a possessive “s” than about whether he was marked by one.  Likewise, every few years someone tries to recalibrate the official terminology across the board.  Most of us go by “people first” language, in which we say “a child with Down [or Down’s!] syndrome” rather than “a Down syndrome child.” (And both are better than “a mongoloid idiot,” which, back in the day, was entirely common parlance.) The rationale is that a person is a person first, and not a syndrome or a disease.  But recently, I’ve heard people argue that phrases like “a person with autism” regrettably suggest that autism is all a person “has,” and that “an autistic person” is more indicative of the adjectival nature of the autism and its relation to the human being it modifies.  The first (and second and third) time I heard this argument, I wondered just how many ways the deck chairs on the Titanic could be arranged—and in writing this, I do not mean to demean the people making those arguments, or, indeed, to demean any Titanic-Americans reading this blog.  I’m merely saying, in a merely cultural kind of way, that we all have different (and sometimes conflicted or internally contradictory) standards for what kind of recognition harms we consider significant, and what kind we consider trivial—regardless of whether those recognition harms conceivably have any redistributive effects.

So this Friday’s arbitrary but fun challenge, Nancy Fraser edition, is this: how or where do you distinguish between trivial and nontrivial slights to our common humanity?  And how or where do you allow for the ruthless mockery of everything existing?

Posted by on 06/02 at 09:47 AM
  1. Well, you know me. I loves me the mockery. But I do have a line—I don’t try to cause innocent people pain.

    Posted by Roxane  on  06/02  at  12:06 PM
  2. Sheesh. Best damn question I’ve heard in months.

    The high school teacher in me starts with identifying any possible stereotypes or false assumptions behind the thrust or “humor” of the slight and going from there. Stereotypes are nontrivial.

    Myopic, perhaps, but that’s where I start. From there? Hell, I don’t know, but I do know that I allow for ruthless mockery of everything when I’m camping/hiking.

    Posted by Trout  on  06/02  at  12:15 PM
  3. I must confess, the first time someone told me they were looking for friend, had I seen an African-American walk by recently, I bit my tongue rather than saying “I saw a black guy, but he didn’t say anything so I couldn’t tell if he was African-American or African-Canadian or African-British or from the Caribbean.”

    Words do matter, but it is usually foolish to think that changing terms will shield the new terms from gaining negative connotation.

    Posted by  on  06/02  at  12:25 PM
  4. About distinguishing the trivial from the non-trivial (in the operational sense of non-trivial as that which I respond to): I don’t think I can put it into words. It depends on how it feels at the moment, and that depends on a whole mess of variables: who said it, when, in front of whom, with what body language, tone of voice, waggle of eyebrow, twinkle in eye, how tired or energetic I feel that day, what else I have to do that day, and so on. Sorry if that’s not much help.

    But as far as mockery goes, I guess I like that which afflicts the comfortable and comforts the afflicted, and not the other way around.

    Posted by John Protevi  on  06/02  at  12:41 PM
  5. I apply the Jim Rome test:

    “As soon as you use someone’s race [or other immutable characteristic] to demean them, meet your new friends: John Rocker, Marge Schott, Bob Feller, Dan Issell...” The idea is that some immutable characteristic about a person is inherently negative, and therefore that negative applies prejudicially to that person, is where the problem begins, and why perpetuating stereotypes is a problem. And really, that’s why these sorts of ads ACTUALLY annoy me, because they extend the dumb man stereotype I am so exhausted of.

    As far as the beer commericial, I didn’t totally miss the innuendo, but it was nowhere in my head, either, which is why Amanda first came off as hypersensitive, even though I can see point, at length.

    Posted by  on  06/02  at  12:43 PM
  6. I hadn’t seen Butler’s piece previously, but I find it amusing that the chief, if somewhat hidden, motivation for it seems to be her resentment at the fact that Sokal’s parody put him on the front page of the New York Times, something that has been denied to Butler despite her preeminence within a minute academic cult.  Just to remind folks of what the Sokal business was all about (or, for the young’uns, to put them in the picture), here is my own article on the subject for the Encyclopedia of Science, Technology and Ethics (MacMillan).  Of course, I was an insider from the day Sokal first hit upon the notion of writing a parody, so my piece presents the absolute and incontrovertible truth of the matter.  By the way, Butler, in her fury, fails to note that the enormous publicity received by the hoax came as a stunning surprise to Sokal and all his pals.  At most, we were expecting one or two ‘graphs in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

    Substantively, Butler’s piece looks like more of the same old shit.  Its disdain for the merely empirical and its conviction that hoked-up babble that fades to silence before it gets two inches outside a seminar room is somehow of primal political significance shows that as a political theorist, she ranks well behind Paris Hilton.  Give me the Dixie Chicks any day!

    There have, indeed, been thinkers who have succeeded in linking deep cultural currents to political action and to the struggle for actual power.  Think of Mozart (Le nozze di Figaro), Verdi (Nabucco), and (for the bad guys) Wagner (Parsifal).  (Of course, our generous bloghost will, by his own confession, have a hard time with these references owing to his own limited familiarity with deep cultural motifs! wink ) But that requires not only a mature sense of the human condition, but a willingness to come to terms with a wide audience--beyond, say, the pack of intellectual deadbeats one runs into at “politics of culture” conferences.  That entire herd, after three decades of ostentatious brain-straining, has had far less effect on actually-existing politics than one Letterman Top-Ten list!  Aspiring radical-intellectuals would be well advised to leave postmodern effluvia to one side and, instead, try to come to terms with the deep conservative thinkers—Aristotle, Machiavelli, Hobbes, Burke, Nietzsche.  Only in that harsh fire can a serious radical philosophy be forged.

    Posted by  on  06/02  at  12:46 PM
  7. Interesting.  Do you mean “distinguish” legally?

    Posted by Matt  on  06/02  at  12:46 PM
  8. Actually, Norman Levitt sort of makes the point well, though not the one he intends.

    Posted by Matt  on  06/02  at  12:48 PM
  9. Sokal Affair

    The Sokal Affair was the central and most highly publicized episode of the “Science Wars,” a fracas that roiled the academic atmosphere throughout the 1990’s. The main point at issue in these conflicts was the accuracy and indeed the legitimacy of critiques of science and technology propounded by scholars committed to or influenced by postmodern thought and identity politics. The hoax itself, as well as the volume of Social Text (no. 46/47 Spring/Summer 1996) in which it appeared, arose chiefly in response to an earlier science wars salvo, the book Higher Superstition: The Academic Left and Its Quarrels with Science by Paul R. Gross and Norman Levitt (1994), which aggressively criticized the “science studies” movement that had emerged from poststructuralist and social-constructivist doctrines.
    The squabbles ignited by Higher Superstition alerted Alan Sokal, a mathematical physicist at New York University, to the controversy. Further research nullified his initial suspicions that the book might merely be yet another “culture wars” diatribe from the right. He concluded, despite his own leftist sympathies, that postmodern and relativistic views of science epitomized the weaknesses he had already discerned in some versions of contemporary left-wing thought. It struck him that a parody article satirizing the pretensions of science studies might provoke useful debate around this issue. The resulting essay, Transgressing the Boundaries: Toward a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity, mischievously combined references to arcane physics and mathematics with laudatory citations of major postmodern theorists, ostensibly to support the thesis that postmodern dogma accords with advanced ideas in foundational physics.
    The essay was submitted to Social Text just as that journal was planning its own rejoinder to Higher Superstition. Editor Andrew Ross, himself a prominent target of Gross and Levitt, had recruited a number of well-known proponents of science studies as contributors. When Sokal’s Trojan-horse manuscript arrived, its Swiftian character escaped detection and the piece was promptly accepted because of the author’s physicist credentials, as well as his authentic leftist pedigree and his feigned detestation of the enemy camp.
    The “Science Wars” number of Social Text appeared in May 1996. Within days, Sokal unmasked his own hoax in the magazine Lingua Franca, and the episode quickly made its way into the mass media. Subsequent denunciations of Sokal by Social Text’s editors and supporters did little to staunch the widespread glee that erupted from some quarters.
    The greatest significance of the affair lies, indeed, in the very fact that it became so widely known and evoked such intense responses. In itself, Sokal’s piece was intentionally sophomoric, a transparently silly joke. It “proved” little more than that a handful of academics had been overeager to recruit a “real” scientist to their side of an acrimonious dispute. Why, then, the enormous uproar?
    The answer lies in the hostility that had been building for a decade or more in response to the pretensions and what many saw as the monopolistic ambitions of the postmodern left. Such resentment was hardly limited to scholars of conservative bent. It was widely shared by liberals and leftists who had come to view postmodern academic culture as bizarre and overbearing. Consequently, the Sokal Hoax became the symbolic center of an intellectual firestorm whose stakes extended well beyond anything directly connected to the prank itself. It brought into the open long-brewing anxieties over scholarly priorities and their effect on the academic pecking order. The myopia of Social Text came to stand, rightly or wrongly, for the pretensions of postmodern scholarship per se. Sokal’s success emboldened many long-suffering professors to decry at last the impostures of a subculture that had long cowed them with its self-ascribed sophistication. Most scientists were understandably amused by the spectacle, but in regard to what was really at issue, they were bystanders. This was, at heart, a battle fought by non-scientists.
    In recent years, the postmodern left seems to have declined, at least as the hegemonic trendsetter of the academy. For good or ill, many of its social precepts remain central to university culture, but with diminished stridency. “Theory,” as postmodernists were wont to use the term, has lost much of its power to intimidate. At the same time, many humanist scholars who once employed the vaunted insights of science studies to disparage science now affect to admire it deeply. Postmodernism and the political style linked to it certainly endure, but in a more subdued mode. The Sokal Affair was by no means the sole or even the most important catalyst for these changes, but it was timely and amazingly effective.

    Norman Levitt

    Posted by  on  06/02  at  12:50 PM
  10. Mockery is not only useful, it is fun!

    I tend to opt for gentle mockery when someone’s statement-in-need-of-mocking is the result of just not thinking.  Taking a few moments to think before spouting can be helpful, and most people recognize that if it’s pointed out in a good humored way that what they meant and what they said are likely out of alignment.

    For dumbassery that is actually calculated, though, the mocking must be ruthless.  The point is not to instruct the dumbass (who, after all, chose to be that way), but to challenge their asshat claims.

    I suppose this means the right place to draw the line has something to do with how great or minor the perceived mismatch between what (charitably interpreted) a speaker must have meant and what a sensible person might read from his or her statement, as well as how much energy you have to spend on being ruthless.

    Posted by Dr. Free-Ride  on  06/02  at  01:14 PM
  11. Norman: 


    Posted by Matt  on  06/02  at  01:19 PM
  12. Mockery, I’m not a big fan--like you point out in the beer ad’s mockery of those humorless feminazis who can’t take a joke, mockery doesn’t indicate any larger point, it has no particular connection to reality.  The western tradition of “humor as the test of truth” (which itself is a twisty maze; thanks, Shaftesbury) is built on the realization that wit/humor/comedy/jokes require serious cognitive investment by the laugher, a reexamination of facts in a new light (however briefly or trivially).  Mockery, by contrast, only requires that we engage our monkey-brain and join in the laughter against the out-group to take our valuable place in the in-group, and is frankly closer to bared-teeth appeasement displays than to anything we’d call “comic.” * It might be (aw, hell, probably is) a necessary element of “higher” forms of humor, but mockery is ad hominem all the way down.

    Which isn’t to say there aren’t valid uses for mockery--there are persons whose actions call for ostracism, or whose influence is so pervasive and destructive as to make the shortcut of ad hominem mockery necessary.  The genius of GFY, to me, is that while its mockery of fashion victims is both mild and even-handed (tweaking both the loathsome and the merely clueless), this is merely a pretense allowing the satirization of some of our hollowest cultural values as well as serious, ruthless mockery of those whose cruelty have brought it on themselves.

    Mockery is tough to pull off without looking nasty: it’s easy to dismiss as ad hominem and is frequently abused by people who have nothing but ad hominem in their arsenal (all those “wooden Algore” “jokes” ho ho ho).  So unless it’s being wielded very skillfully (as by GFY), it rarely accomplishes anything other than making the mocker look like a total dickhole.

    * Yeah, half-assed ev psych etiology.  Comedy gold!

    Posted by  on  06/02  at  01:25 PM
  13. Anyone overly pompous and self-involved is fair game for ruthless mockery. Likewise, anyone whose primary motivation is to assert his or her will over others is also fair game.

    Mockery that aims to make the mocker feel superior to the mockee is usually out of bounds.

    Posted by  on  06/02  at  01:38 PM
  14. Mockery that aims to make the mocker feel superior to the mockee is usually out of bounds.

    But what if you ARE superior?

    Posted by Roxanne  on  06/02  at  01:42 PM
  15. “look at me, NL is so cool (signed NL)”
    sorry… that just slipped out.

    If the beer commercial were not part of the larger theme portrayed in BK, Ford, Axe, Wendy’s, and the rest of those “it’s a man’s world” advertisements, it wouldn’t seem near as offensive as it does.  That gets to the heart of yesterday’s National Spelling Bee.  Disney, buying (?) the rights to it, chose to portray it as a sporting event, broadcasting preliminary highlights during ESPN sportscenter and other programming, announced by its sportsbroadcasters (all of whom were men, until Robin Roberts participated in the final round prime time lineup).  They even did the “up close and personal” thang, as well as backstory and asking those tough sports questions (to last year’s 2nd place boy, who went out in 6th round: “so now how are you going to get ready for next year’s competition?"--as the poor kid was sobbing and striken). 

    When did spelling become national sport? This of course doesn’t mention that it was also advertised with the same male semiotic that is exemplified on ABC/ESPN other sports programming.  The only redeeming quality, for me, was that unlike the previous dozen or so events, a young girl came out first, followed by girls in second (Canadian) and third place. 

    to demean any Titanic-Americans reading this blog.
    This may have happened while you were playing golf, but the last Titanic victim died a couple or so weeks ago.  thus none would be reading this blog (unless you are referring to those who may have been conceived on the voyage, or shortly thereafter). 

    Also, whilst the name Jerry’s Kids does have many things going against it, there were two bands with that name, one East Coast and one West Coast, that were quite good.  I preferred the PaloAlto version because “they” (captcha) were, well, Bay Area friends mostly.

    Posted by  on  06/02  at  01:44 PM
  16. Oh, and regarding the 31-flavors-of-offensive Axe campaign: I am convinced, convinced, that some junior ad exec has decided to subvert from the inside.  Or he has gone blissfully insane, like in that Dudley Moore movie.

    Posted by  on  06/02  at  01:55 PM
  17. Thus Sith JD, Prince of Intellectual Deadbeats:

    “This is all rather sad, don’t you think? For poor Sokal, to begin with. His name remains linked to a hoax–"the Sokal hoax,"–as they say in the United States–and not to scientific work. Sad too because the chance of serious reflection seems to have been ruined, at least in a broad public forum that deserves better.”

    So now the late JD is an expert on the question of density of roots of chromatic polynomials in the complex plane.  Just like he was an expert on Relativity 30 years ago (as his remarks still insist).

    Why the hell did Matt (whoever the hell he is) post a link to this piece of crap?  To prove that there are even bigger assholes than Judith Butler?

    Posted by  on  06/02  at  01:55 PM
  18. Did you know, the male G-spot is actually located in the asshole.  You might consider showing some respect.

    Sorry, Michael.

    Posted by Matt  on  06/02  at  02:10 PM
  19. Not to interrupt the pedanto-fest or anything, but to get back to the question at hand, I try to keep three things in mind when preparing to mock.

    1) Try to make fun of what people do, not what they are.

    2) Similarly, if it’s something someone can’t change, it’s probably not fair to make fun of it.

    3) A little self-mockery really helps leaven the sourdough.

    However, when it comes to our current President, all my scruples evaporate and it’s hamsters and elderberries time.

    Posted by corndog  on  06/02  at  02:22 PM
  20. Michael, I’m going to take this as a test case of how to respond to a provocation. (Not quite “a slight to our common humanity,” as you ask us to consider above, but still, a provocation.) In #17, Norman Levitt has insulted the memory of Jacques Derrida, and by extension the intellectual honesty of those of us who have written on him, by calling him “the Prince of Intellectual Deadbeats.”

    I will not respond with invective to this insult. I will instead ask NL whether he hasn’t hastily over-generalized. Let’s assume that in 1966 in response to Jean Hyppolite, Derrida said something about Einstein that was nonsensical. Let’s also assume that what he said in passing here and there about Goedel was also nonsensical. Is this sufficient to warrant NL’s epithet? I don’t think so. Let me just use two examples of cases where Derrida has made a real contribution to philosophical scholarship.

    (1) With regard to Husserl, we have Derrida’s MA thesis from the early 50s entitled The Problem of Genesis in Husserl’s Philosophy, his 1962 Introduction to Edmund Husserl’s “Origin of Geometry”, and his 1967 Speech and Phenomenon. The standard work on the Husserl - Derrida connection is Leonard Lawlor, Derrida and Husserl: The Basic Problem of Phenomenology (Indiana UP, 2002).

    (2) With regard to Aristotle on time (from book 4 of the Physics), the key text of Derrida’s is “Ousia and Gramme,” from the 1972 Margins: Of Philosophy. I will immodestly recommend my own Time and Exteriority: Aristotle, Heidegger, Derrida (Bucknell UP, 1994) as a secondary source here.

    None of these works rely upon, nor even to my recollection mention, either Einstein or Goedel. Is it that case, then, that for NL these works are invalidated by the 1966 comments? Is it that case that the 1966 comments are so egregious that Derrida warrants the epithet “Prince of Intellectual Deadbeats,” and that Lawlor and my work also falls into the category of “deadbeat”?

    There. How’s that for a measured response to a provocation? I think it fits recognized standards of academic discourse quite well, but I’d be happy if someone could show me where it fails.

    Posted by John Protevi  on  06/02  at  02:49 PM
  21. When you mock to identify warped thinking, you are doing Good Work.  But when you mock to keep someone down, that’s the problem. 

    I got smacked in face a couple weeks ago with cultural differences in connotation and possible mockery as I described a bad date to a friend of mine.  “Is he . . . Hispanic?” asked the friend, delicately.  “Well, he’s Mexican,” I responded, a little confused as this friend knows I’m the only white girl living here in a two-hour radius.  The friend paused again (bless him) and followed up, “But do they get mad when you call them that?” Just what have y’all been up to north of the border that makes him think “Mexican” might be an insult?

    I have had this in my mind as I’ve been following these interesting posts on feminism/language/beer commercials.  I live in a place where the majority of the women in the rural areas can’t read and often married by age 16.  I ask myself, is this type of arguing and mockery going to be of any help to them?  My first instinct said no.  However, I’ve been following these posts in conjuntion with my own work with these women on the weekends on a clean-water project and I’ve changed my mind.

    Mockery and jibes are wrong only when they affect your ability to interact with society at large.  The ladies at GoFugYourself regularly and ruthlessly mock Chloe Sevigny, but will this prevent her from being treated as a funtioning member of society?  Will the folks at HBO suddenly toss her over because of an unfortunate fondness for deconstructed formal wear?  I doubt it.  However, when mockery acts to fence in or limit a group or person from fufilling their full potential this isn’t funny (to me) and--well--sucks.  A stupid beer commercial isn’t really affecting my interactions and if it does, we’ve got much deeper problems, so I can let it slide.  But a film industry churning out movie after movie for exportation where the heroines are almost always being rescued and aren’t happy without a man, now we’ve got a fight on our hands.  The weapon of choice is snark.  The women here are fighting for more schools, clean water, and adequate pre and post natal care but they can’t do much on the big cultural fronts being churned out mostly by the US.  They are too busy with backyard problems to start a campaign against mysogynistic cultural events.  But they are still affected by them as globalization shrinks the planet.  Feminists in the first world (and boy, do they love that designation round here . . .) do have the time, the money, and the resources.  Obviously, the women here would like it if you shared some with them, but we’re all fighting on our own front, ¿sabes?

    The people I’ve been working with know that things are diffrent in the States for women (at least I haven’t recently been to a US wedding where they showed the bridal sheets like the one I went to last week.) But at the same time, the “cultural” products they see on the trips into town don’t show anything significantly different from the roles women have here.  I don’t think this reflects reality these movies and other cultural products and the people involved with them deserve to be mocked.  The best snark come from pointing out flawed logic.

    Posted by Caro  on  06/02  at  02:55 PM
  22. Actually, it was forty years ago that I made that nonsensical remark to my friend Jean Hyppolite, and I never spoke about physics again.  Alan Sokal had the good sense to stop obsessing about it, but this Norman, I believe he is, how you say, deserving some ruthless mockery for his shameless overreaching.

    I am just saying.  And with that, I forge my signature to this comment.  Where?  There.


    Posted by  on  06/02  at  03:21 PM
  23. First, thanks to Amanda and Lance for some really great reading over the last month… That said, welcome back, Michael!  What a great post.  So much more light than heat that I write this in sunglasses and a sweater.

    As for distiguishing, well… I don’t think one could ever draw a hard fast line, but I should always keep the comments of Michael D (12) and corndog (19) in mind - especially his point #3 - as I mock.

    As to the federal report, a little while back the gap was the subject of Talk of the Nation: Science Friday, wherein it was stated by a panelist that in the Biological Sciences, women maintain rough parity with men up through the postdoctoral fellowship stage, after which thier numbers (in academia) drop off precipitously.  I keep meaning to try and track down the actual reference, as surely that must be where the real problem(s) lie, rather than in any Laurence Summers “two trucks” theories.

    As a postdoc myself however, I sometimes wonder if women aren’t just more sensible…

    Posted by  on  06/02  at  03:31 PM
  24. Ebert actually had an email dialogue with Daniel Woodburn, the actor who played Mickey on Seinfeld, about the term ‘midget’.

    Its an interesting read.

    Posted by  on  06/02  at  03:51 PM
  25. To J.Protevi;

    1. I am, by trade, a geometer (geometric topology, to be more precise). Suffice it to say that Derrida’s name does not resound in the corridors of the subject.  Can you point to one interesting thing the old fraud ever said about the question?
    2. In my later years I have come to know quite a few philosophers in various branches of the discipline.  I never met one who didn’t regard Derrida as a dumb joke.
    3. If you read the infamous exchange with Hyppolite in “Structure, Sign, etc....” with half an eye open it becomes clear what occurred: Hyppolite aluded to something about which Derrida didn’t know from shit, but rather than simply demurring and letting the conversation pass to other matters, JD, who was well into his infallible omniscience act by then, babbled along for five minutes, filling the hall with happy horseshit. (The audience, lacking olfactory machinery, didn’t know the difference.) JD’s sin, then, was not his misapprehension of relativity theory--a minor flaw, indeed--but his remorseless propensity for self-praise, irrespective of how much sheer nonsense emerged in the process.

    If I have hereby insulted J. Derrida, that’s just too damn bad. I freely admit that the “relativity” scandal is small potatoes--compared, that is, to JD’s vile behavior in re the de Man affair.  But you could argue, I suppose, that at least Derrida never strangled anyone--unlike Althusser!

    If you want to spend your life as a Derrida epigone, that’s your business--better you than me.

    Posted by  on  06/02  at  03:58 PM
  26. To Matt:

    A couple of days ago, I underwent a colonoscopy, but I was out like a light, so I can’t speak to the delights of being reamed.  You’ll have to make that case all by yourself.

    But perhaps you’re claiming that by artfully stroking Judith Butler, you can bring every male within 300 meters to orgasm.  Give it a try and let us know how it works out.

    Posted by  on  06/02  at  04:03 PM
  27. And how about science mocking pseudo-science mocking NYT declarations?  Is it that feminism is destroying the planet or is that there are those who would just like that to be true.

    Posted by  on  06/02  at  04:20 PM
  28. But what if you ARE superior?

    I think proper etiquette is to gloat inwardly.

    Posted by  on  06/02  at  04:21 PM
  29. Regarding Titanic-Americans, while it is true the last American survivor died last month, there are still two survivors living in the UK. Neither remembers the “Night to Remember”, as they were infants at the time. Just clarifyin’

    Posted by  on  06/02  at  04:41 PM
  30. Stepping aside from the Troll Of Ennui for a bit:

    I think that there is no objective, or reliably consensual subjective, metric by which one can determine whether mockery is revolutionary or reactionary. What’s more, I think the usual line between trivial and non-trivial slights consists not so much of the Potter Stewart rule (I know it when I see it) as the Phil Ochs Liberal rule (ten degrees to the left of center when times are good, ten degrees to the right of center if it affects them personally).

    It is for this reason that I have never once stooped to mockery of another person in teh internets,* but rather comport myself in a sober and serious fashion at all times.

    - C

    * I will grant, of course, that some of my statements have been interpreted as destructive mockery. All I can say in response is that my INTENT in writing those statements was sobersided and respectful, and that that’s all that really matters. To say otherwise is, as Eliot might say, “tedious argument, of insidious intent."**

    **In the room the women walk all mincy, talking of Leonardo DaVinci.

    Posted by Chris Clarke  on  06/02  at  04:44 PM
  31. Regarding #25.

    The question is whether you or anyone is warranted in dismissing Derrida as the “Prince of Intellectual Deadbeats,” or as you now say “old fraud,” on the basis of his 1966 remarks. I pointed to two areas of philosophical scholarship where I claimed he made real contributions, and provided the appropriate citations.

    Your reply #1 is a red herring. The question is not whether Derrida has ever contributed to geometry, but whether he has ever contributed to philosophy. Please note that Derrida’s reading of what Husserl wrote in “The Origin of Geometry” is philosophy, not geometry. 

    Your reply #2 is at best an appeal to authority. The question is not who your philosopher friends are, but whether they or anyone else can rightfully condemn Derrida’s contribution to Husserl and Aristotle scholarship on the basis of some remarks in 1966. If they can, then I would ask them to bring forth their critiques, according to the accepted academic standards of citation and argument.

    Your reply #3 is beating a dead horse. I have conceded that his 1966 remarks were nonsensical. The question is, and I’ll repeat it here, whether those remarks warrant your insults regarding his philosphical career. You have not, I don’t think, shown they those insults are warranted.

    Derrida’s behavior in re De Man would go to his character, not to his intellectual achievements.

    I stopped writing about Derrida some time ago. When I did, it was not as an epigone, but as a professional philosopher writing critically but respectfully. To judge whether my self-characterization is true would mean reading my work. But that would be a question as to whether your characterization of me as an epigone was warranted, and that is also off-topic, as the original question was your warrant in calling Derrida the “Prince of Intellectual Deadbeats” on the basis of the 1966 remarks, despite what else he did in writing on Husserl and Aristotle.

    Posted by John Protevi  on  06/02  at  04:47 PM
  32. To me it’s important to take issue with slights (trivial and non-) that are part of a pattern. I like Spyder’s point that “If the beer commercial were not part of the larger theme portrayed in BK, Ford, Axe, Wendy’s, and the rest of those “it’s a man’s world” advertisements, it wouldn’t seem near as offensive as it does.”

    I also dig Corndog’s point: “Try to make fun of what people do, not what they are.” I understand this is basic parenting--"you’re a bad boy” can be psychologically detrimental and even less effective than “brandishing a knife and asking daddy for money hurts his feelings.”

    Surely mockery can be effective in taking issue with slights to humanity, so you don’t have to trot out Judith Butler to take issue with beer commercials (Norm: this isn’t necessarily an endorsement). For example: You poke it, you own it, eh? Is that why your mother cooks and cleans for you? (Oh snap.)

    That’s right: a ‘your mom’ joke meant to destabilize patriarchy by evoking anxiety over incest taboos. This is something I call “taking the system down from the inside.”

    Posted by  on  06/02  at  05:14 PM
  33. Since beating a dead horse is one of my favorite things, let me take up NL’s penultimate paragraph of #25, which I fear I slighted in my #31. The question is not whether you insult Derrida in #25. Nor is it whether you insult him in #17. You have in fact insulted him, a dead man (which is why I said you insulted his “memory"), when you called him the “Prince of Intellectual Deadbeats.” My question in #20, which you do not answer satisfactorily in #25 (I detail the problems with #25 in my #31) is whether you were *warranted* in that insult. I claim in 20, 31, and now here, that you were unwarranted in #17.

    Posted by John Protevi  on  06/02  at  05:40 PM
  34. “brandishing a knife and asking daddy for money hurts his feelings.”

    Worked with my son.  Then again, he’s only 2…

    Posted by  on  06/02  at  05:44 PM
  35. Hey, Chris, in the edition I have the couplet reads like this:

    In the room the women poke and pinch me
    Because I said it was da Vinci.

    Posted by Jeremías  on  06/02  at  05:47 PM
  36. The secondary “humor” is our mockery of the “humorlessness” of the women who picked up on “poke it”!  Good one, dudes!

    Interestingly, this also seems to be the unspoken rationale behind terming the Sokal affair a “hoax” ("C’mon, it’s harmless, like Bigfoot or Time Cube.  You got PUNK’D!") rather than, say, the more accurate “fraud.”

    Posted by  on  06/02  at  05:56 PM
  37. My rule ... which I surely violate more than I know.
    Certain laughter originates within the blackened heart of our fear and weakness. Passed off as mirth, it actually stands the place of pathetic cries of relief: “It’s not me! It’s not me!” This is the laughter of the 1st grade class when a kid wets his pants. It is probably elicited to some degree by any mockery, but if it is the dominant reason that something you say or write is “funny”, be assured that you have crossed into asshole territory.

    Posted by  on  06/02  at  06:34 PM
  38. Aside: I wonder if our friend NL thinks little not only of Derrida but also of philosophy as a whole.

    As per mockery, I’m generally with Micheal D. (that is against it). It’s something I’ve thought quite a lot about since reading a post defending it by jedmunds on Pandagon. (That post isn’t archived for some reason, but it was from December of last year.) I love Pandagon, and Amanda (and jedgmunds and Pam); they’re extremely insightful and readable and their humor is a large part of what makes them so. But in that particular post jedmunds advocates not just the use of humorous mockery, even of the rather vicious variety, of some people and ideas, but smug contemptuous mockery of those people and ideas, and that I just can’t get behind. Smugness is never justified and always alienating; it offers no insight, and instead seeks a weak victory by invoking and exploiting us/them anxieties in the worst way. Any “points” I might win with smug contempt, I’d rather lose.

    Posted by  on  06/02  at  06:44 PM
  39. "Interestingly, this also seems to be the unspoken rationale behind terming the Sokal affair a ‘hoax’ ("C’mon, it’s harmless, like Bigfoot or Time Cube.  You got PUNK’D!") rather than, say, the more accurate ‘fraud.’"---anon

    I point out again that Sokal’s article was so transparently silly that one had to have set one’s brain on “idle” not to have caught on.  (It was field-tested on lots of ordinary citizens, who of course caught on.) If there’s fraud involved, it’s the fraudulent pretense of the Social Text editors involved to be serious intellectuals.

    “Aside: I wonder if our friend NL thinks little not only of Derrida but also of philosophy as a whole."---Desden

    I rather like philosophy (when it’s done well) which is one reason (inter alia) that I think so little of Derrida.

    Posted by  on  06/02  at  07:06 PM
  40. NL: Please address #31 and #33.

    Posted by John Protevi  on  06/02  at  07:16 PM
  41. Re: jedmunds’ deployment of smugness whist a’mocking, it’s hard not to mock the smugness of a self-declared Oasis fan.

    Posted by Dr. Free-Ride  on  06/02  at  07:22 PM
  42. I point out again that Sokal’s article was so transparently silly that one had to have set one’s brain on “idle” not to have caught on.  (It was field-tested on lots of ordinary citizens, who of course caught on.)

    You will, of course, forgive me for not taking you completely at your word.

    If there’s fraud involved, it’s the fraudulent pretense of the Social Text editors involved to be serious intellectuals.

    Stipulated that the ST editors knew (and probably still know) fuck-all about physics.  Do you assert that rigorous knowledge of the physical sciences is necessary to be a “serious intellectual”?  Do you assert the same about the social sciences, arts, or humanities?

    Posted by  on  06/02  at  07:25 PM
  43. You weren’t asking me, but:

    Do you assert that rigorous knowledge of the physical sciences is necessary to be a “serious intellectual”?

    Hell yes.

    Do you assert the same about the social sciences, arts, or humanities?

    Hell yes.

    captcha: hell

    Posted by Chris Clarke  on  06/02  at  07:47 PM
  44. CC: As long as the answers to all are “Hell yes,” we are in hearty agreement.

    There’s more than a whiff of anti-humanities sentiment (as opposed to a generic anti-ignorance sentiment) in this whole Sokal fraud, hence my curiosity about the perfesser’s take on what constitutes Being Smrt.  Which you knew, of course.

    Posted by  on  06/02  at  07:53 PM
  45. From way up in comment 3: 

    I must confess, the first time someone told me they were looking for friend, had I seen an African-American walk by recently, I bit my tongue rather than saying “I saw a black guy, but he didn’t say anything so I couldn’t tell if he was African-American or African-Canadian or African-British or from the Caribbean.”

    Words do matter, but it is usually foolish to think that changing terms will shield the new terms from gaining negative connotation.

    Possibly, Mo, if you’re talking about “black” over against “African-American,” it’s foolish to think that the terms determine social realities.  But those terms weren’t about avoiding the negative connotations of racial epithets; they grew out of debates about the distinctiveness of “black” identity and its relation to the African diaspora (among other things).  For instance:  some (nonblack) people resisted “African-American” because they didn’t like the further hyphenation of “American” identity and the assertion of a kind of mild Afrocentrism; but those people were apparently unaware that back in the day, some black American folk adopted “black” precisely because it had no “American” in it at all (as opposed to “Afro-American,” which competed with “black” as an alternative to “Negro” and “colored").  Anyway, as your anecdote suggests, there are clearly times when “black” is simpler and more appropriate—see, e.g., Shani Davis, the first black athlete (as opposed to the first African-American) to win a gold medal in an individual Winter Olympics event. 

    But as to your larger point:  yes, sometimes changing the terminology is changing the arrangment of the deck chairs on the Titanic.  All the same, would you rather live in a world where “Mongoloid idiot,” “kike,” “spic,” “wop,” etc. are used in casual public discourse, or a world in which they aren’t?

    Posted by Michael  on  06/02  at  08:54 PM
  46. Not to be in any way unfriendly to the humanities, nor to take any sides in this debate, but if the “ST editors knew (and probably still know) fuck-all about physics”, then shouldn’t they have declined to publish the article??

    Posted by  on  06/02  at  08:58 PM
  47. Not to be in any way unfriendly to the humanities, nor to take any sides in this debate, but if the “ST editors knew (and probably still know) fuck-all about physics”, then shouldn’t they have declined to publish the article??

    Probably so.  Maybe they shouldn’t have even attempted to bridge the widening social/intellectual gap between the hard sciences and the rest of human knowledge.  Their crime, if you want to go that far, was an idealism about the causes of the cultural rift between physics and lit crit, and the notion that that rift could be remedied merely by an opening of dialogue.  So they solicited material (for a special issue) that they were not only patently unfit to review, but that they declined to subject to peer review from other physicists, trusting that no hard scientist would deliberately deceive them. 

    So, on one side, some hippie bullshit from a clutch of lit crit wankers.  On the other side, a deliberate misrepresentation to an academic journal purely for the sake of humiliating said journal and implicating fully half of the academy in a nonce conspiracy to dumb down America.  I know whose tenure I think should be revoked.  Take whatever side you choose.

    Posted by  on  06/02  at  09:28 PM
  48. Being a sometime editor with no expertise in physics or the correspondence of American historical figures and sitting at home with both dinner and a deadline hanging over my head*, I’m uncertain whether to just openly admire the thrilling Monroe quote under the Saw-Wielding Young Professor photo or to ask if it’s for real.

    *Bad place to keep boudin blanc and asparagus and cheese grits waiting; certainly in more urgent need of action than a mere deadline.

    Posted by Ron Sullivan  on  06/02  at  10:01 PM
  49. I very much appreciate some of the criteria put foward initially in this thread, even if they strike me as somewhat provisional, or, that is, as regulative as opposed to normative, maybe. 

    And while I admire those who maintain their purity above the fray - as we all must do, sometimes - maybe there is something also to nuisance-value (and what else are blogs, you may ask, than a thorn in the side of, well, oppressive governments and their imposed horizons, after all–provided they are to aspire to more than chattering-class self-therapy, or internal, endless (and future-less, one might add, drawing on Derrida) bickering).

    Generally, I see the work of satire/mockery (and maybe this begins to mark the difference between the two) as two (or several)-fold, with the second step being the far more difficult, noble, and generally neglected.

    That is, once a hard-blown balloon has been pricked, there are two very obvious roads to travel.  One can be ugly, and rub it in the other’s face, thus betraying the entire project (for instance, if I were to respond to Norman’s delights), or one can seek to care for the space that’s now been, er, as it were, opened up. 

    (So the second step might involve something more akin to ‘persistent critique’ then, but with a certain kind of - dare we say it - messianic, or at least redemptive thread.  Some people might prefer to call it (the future’s futurity, say) a “principle” worth fighting for and protecting.  And perhaps, these amount to much the same.  Not to go ponderously moralistic, but after the echoes of ridicule have faded, another kind of demand would seem to take its place, no?)

    I really see no need for preemptive apologies, or for proof of not being an epigone.  Derrida is entirely germane here.  (And isn’t it amusing, how every time his name gets mentioned - esp. in the vicinity of Sokal - the two sides that emerge are predictable as rain?)

    To finish this thought, though, on some level one wonders if to even speak isn’t also to calculate and fail (or be blind and unperturbed), in one’s performance and provocation.  To be aware of such things as context, but also of habitual, or self-sustaining and self-justifying discourses..as in, you know, those that finally preempt thinking.  (A cheap or gossip-like Socratic irony, for instance, can be a wicked addiction.  Adam Kotsko’s recent post has everything to do with this, one could suggest.)

    Posted by Matt  on  06/02  at  10:06 PM
  50. Posted by Matt  on  06/02  at  10:08 PM
  51. All the same, would you rather live in a world where “Mongoloid idiot,” “kike,” “spic,” “wop,” etc. are used in casual public discourse, or a world in which they aren’t?

    Anyone care to describe, convincingly, this world they aren’t. (?)

    Posted by  on  06/02  at  10:58 PM
  52. So, while we are waiting for Professor Levitt to actually READ some Derrida and writings ABOUT Derrida in order to answer John Protevi’s thoughtful questions, I will just chime in and offer the thought that snarky humor often works best (it seems to me) when directed at those in power. 

    That is, calling the President nasty names is funny because he has power.  Calling the homeless or handicapped nasty names is not funny because they do not have power.

    Just a thought whilst we wait for Professor Levitt to formulate his devistating reply to John Protevi.  Maybe Michael could tell his golf story in the meantime?

    Posted by  on  06/02  at  11:50 PM
  53. NL: Please address #31 and #33.

    Posted by John Protevi

    Just as soon as you tell me one thing of interest Derrida ever said about geometry.

    Posted by  on  06/03  at  12:15 AM
  54. Re: 42:  No, I won’t forgive you.  I am telling you the simple truth.  I don’t claim that the test subjects got all the silly math jokes, but the sure sensed the satiric tone. 

    Does a card-carrying intellectual need to know a lot about science and math?  No, not really, but it doesn’t hurt.  But yes if she is going to pontificate about the stuff.  Social science?  Yes, with the proviso that it’s a good idea to distinguish between thought in that area worth taking seriously and fashionable twaddle.  Humanities?  Sure, as long as it is understood that the definition thereof doesn’t necessarily comport with what the academy currently finds fashionable.  Arts?  Obviously.  Note please that but for the physicists and mathematicians at your institution, the local chamber music series (or whatever) would die on the vine.  And note also that by his own admission, our generous host is quite unfamiliar with the Mozart/da Ponte operas and Der Kunst der Fuge.  Amazing!!  I can’t name a mathematician who would admit to that delinquency!

    Posted by  on  06/03  at  12:25 AM
  55. #53: Just as soon as you tell me one thing of interest Derrida ever said about geometry.

    Why do you get to set this condition? First tell me why it’s not a red herring. You insulted Derrida by calling him the “Prince of Intellectual Deadbeats.” I challenged the warrant for that insult by citing his philosophical contributions, all the while conceding that he spoke nonsense in 1966. You drag geometry across the trail in order to distract from your inability to answer my challenge. That is a classic case of a red herring. The ball is in your court.

    Posted by John Protevi  on  06/03  at  12:28 AM
  56. RE 44:
    Since Alan Sokal is married to a humanities type (genus archaeology, species classical) the answer to your question is obvious.  BTW, she was one of the civilians I alluded to who quickly spotted the sportive nature of “Transgressing ...,” which he showed her with a straight face (on their first date, yet!)

    Posted by  on  06/03  at  12:29 AM
  57. Re: 47
    My dear anon.
    Stop talking complete garbage!!  Ross, Robins and Aronowitz solicited material chiefly for the purpose of sticking knives into two miscreants named Gross and Levitt.  Read the goddam thing!  Obviously, the fact that Sokal pretended to join the lynching bee is what got the piece accepted.

    Please stop being a total schmuck!

    Posted by  on  06/03  at  12:34 AM
  58. Good God, nevermind.  I see that colonoscopy (or at least, the citing thereof) was quite decisive. 

    For someone, anyway.

    (captcha:  indeed )

    Posted by Matt  on  06/03  at  12:36 AM
  59. You insulted Derrida by calling him the “Prince of Intellectual Deadbeats.” I challenged the warrant for that insult by citing his philosophical contributions, all the while conceding that he spoke nonsense in 1966. You drag geometry across the trail in order to distract from your inability to answer my challenge. That is a classic case of a red herring.

    An excellent archaeology of the frivolous one, John.

    But I have to ask, at the risk of allowing myself to be trolled. Isn’t the introduction to Husserl something “of interest Derrida ever said about geometry,” or are we using a definition of the phrase “of interest” that I, as someone whose greatest academic achievement was a high school diploma in 1974, cannot quite fathom?

    Posted by Chris Clarke  on  06/03  at  12:36 AM
  60. Re 55
    I read the fella 12 or 13 years ago--not an experience I am eager to repeat.  Life is too short.  I’d rather go on reading the new Tim Dorsey novel (Serge A. Storms is back in form!!)

    Protevi claims to be the Derrida expert.  He also claims Derrida’s book on geometry is worthy stuff.  I’m not at all averse to philosophy of math--quite the opposite.  So maybe Protevi can tempt me to take up JD once more by relaying some insight of value discovered by the Master.

    In the meantime, he might try reading my book on introductory analysis and topology of the real line (complete with proofs of the Brouwer fixed point theorem and the fundamental theorem of algebra).  Quite relevant to the foundations of geometry, I assure you, and written for reasonably bright undergrads.

    Posted by  on  06/03  at  12:42 AM
  61. Sigh. NL: please address #31, #33, #35, and now #55.

    Posted by John Protevi  on  06/03  at  12:43 AM
  62. Doing more for Derrida contra Sokalism by the second; I say, let him continue.

    Posted by Matt  on  06/03  at  12:49 AM
  63. Re #60 (which appeared after I wrote what showed up as #61): the question is about your warrant for dismissing Derrida’s entire career on the basis of what is apparently solely your reading of some 1966 conference comments. I don’t need to tempt you into reading more Derrida. You need to explain to us how you are warranted in insulting him on the basis of just those comments.

    Your credentials in geometry, which I have no doubt are excellent, are not at issue. Your warrant as to your insult of Derrida is the issue.

    Why don’t we just make this clear? Please tell us what exactly you have read of Derrida.

    Posted by John Protevi  on  06/03  at  12:51 AM
  64. Jeez, I post 2000 words on recognition and redistribution via Nancy Fraser, and now we’re going over the Sokal Hoax for the thirty-seventh time on this blog?  You know, I kinda miss the Danish cartoons.  Now, that was some good magic-trollberry thread-derailing material right there.  (I think it was Ben Alpers, comment 95, 2.10.06, who coined—but neglected to copyright—the phrase “magic trollberry.” Thanks, Ben!)

    Anyone who wants a fair and balanced account of the Sokal Hoax and its aftermath can buy this fine book in three or four months.  I’ll flog it and blog that item more assiduously when the time comes.  Until then, it’s Open Ruthless Mockery Season on everyone who takes the name “Judith Butler” on a blog as an invitation to natter on about a nonsensical remark Jacques Derrida made in 1966.

    Posted by Michael  on  06/03  at  12:58 AM
  65. Re 63:

    “Acts of Literature” way back when.  Litle sticks in my mind.  But let’s have a discussion of JD’s essay in defense of de Man, with a view to deciding whether its author has the slightest capacity for logical thought.

    I notice, BTW, that you keep ducking my question about geometry.

    Posted by  on  06/03  at  01:00 AM
  66. Re 65: I notice, BTW, that you keep ducking my question about geometry.

    Talk about ducking! After all this time, what we have is your admission that you read the 1966 remarks, and an edited collection of pieces on literature, of which you don’t remember much. And to you this is a warrant for an insult of the caliber of “Prince of Intellectual Deadbeats.”

    Regarding Derrida on Husserl (not on “geometry"), I first recommend Husserl, then I recommend Derrida, then I recommend Lawlor. Regarding Derrida on Aristotle, I first recommend Aristotle, then I recommend Derrida, then I recommend Protevi. Once you have read the basics, then we can discuss.

    Posted by John Protevi  on  06/03  at  01:09 AM
  67. Re 66:

    The “deadbeat” characterization owes far more to JD’s sleazeball antics in the de Man affair (and the subsequent fuss over Heidegger) than to the farcical relativity crap in “Structure, sign etc.” In this episode, he revealed himself as a man who had choked his intellect to death with his vanity, arrogance, mendacity, and need to dominate.  But the earlier episode, fleeting as it may have been, in itself showed what a Luftmensch he was.

    How much of Bertrand Russell have you read, by the way?  You’re the philosopher!

    Posted by  on  06/03  at  01:50 AM
  68. First, I think the flare-up between John Protevi and Norman Levitt over both the Sokal Affair and the relative merits of Derrida’s contributions to philosophy and/or Anglo-American Theory ought to end given Michael’s polite reminder that his post was about the redistribution/recognition issue and not an invitation to go round and round (again) about Sokal’s hoax or whether or not the editors of Social Text deserve to be publicly eviscerated or whether in fact some kind of status injury has been done to them that requires some form of redress, etc. etc. 

    Okay, so back to Fraser.  I admit that when I first read Thursday’s post promising some discussion of the recognition/redistribution question, I was hopeful that we would have some discussion about both axes (recognition and redistribution).  Given Fraser’s critique that a focus on recognition harms has tended to displace discussion of redistribution, it is tempting--tempting but I think ultimately wrong--to read the question ("how or where do you distinguish between trivial and nontrivial slights to our common humanity?") as yet another instantion of this larger cultural tendency.

    Okay, so having gotten that off my chest, let me address the first of the questions.  I think generally I tend to approach the issue of distinguishing between the two in much the same way as JP in #4.  What might appear to be an absolutely trivial slight in one context can, given changes in even one of the factors JP lists, move quite easily into the non-trivial.  I’m tempted to use some extension of Adorno’s concept of the non-identical here.  The simple concept of the “trivial” aims to subsume under it a whole range of particulars, each of which possesses characteristics that elude those characteristics found within the simple concept.  These resistant remainders ensure that the simple concept is never quite adequate to itself and, in some sense, prevent us from approaching the world exclusively via idealist conceptions of the “trivial” and “non-trivial.” The material element of the concept stubbornly resists the world’s conceptual closure.

    Or something like that.

    Posted by  on  06/03  at  04:58 AM
  69. With apologies to the essentially OT nature of the discussion, I’m fascinated by the way in which particular comments or beliefs of certain intellectuals are seen as disqualifying, while others are not.

    As far as I can tell, NL’s take on Derrida is that since JD said something idiotic about physics in 1966, and his response to the de Man affair was intellectually and morally questionable, none of his work should be taken seriously.  This is a fairly common view.

    Contrast this to the way in which folks hostile to Noam Chomsky’s politics often treat his linguistic work. I’ve never once heard someone say, “Some say we should take Chomskyan linguistics seriously, but his political opinions indicate that he’s so immoral, dishonest, unintelligent, etc. that I refuse to do so.” In fact, what one sees all the time is the opposite move:  “I can’t stand his political stuff, but his linguistic work is absolutely seminal.”

    To take a different example:  Martin Heidegger, Carl Schmitt, Philip Johnson, Richard Strauss, Emil Nolde, Paul de Man, Douglas Sirk, Leni Riefenstahl, Herbert von Karajan, Werner Heisenberg and Josef Schumpeter all displayed varying degrees of Nazi sympathy and/or collaboration with the Nazi regime.  But that fact is treated very differently in the way that people tend to evaluate their various achievements. 

    In a broad sense, this is as it should be.  Simply saying of each of these people “he or she was a Nazi, so I refuse to take his work seriously” is obviously crudely ad hominem. But on the other hand, the political sympathies of each tell us something about his or her character, and in a more subtle analysis than simply automatic dismissal might rightly affect our view of his or her work. Such analyses need to be very precise about both the nature of the person’s sympathy for Nazism, and its intellectual (or, in the case of the artists and musicians, perhaps aesthetic) relationship to the rest of his or her work.

    Otherwise brilliant people often think or believe idiotic, or even vile, things.  In certain circumstances—perhaps in most circumstances—one needs to take these idiotic or vile beliefs into account when one considers the larger body of their work.  But it is never sufficient—even in the case of Nazi collaboration, which is pretty much as vile as it gets—to simply dismiss the entirety of someone’s body of work on the basis of one particular statement or belief.

    Which brings me back to Derrida. Continental philosophy in general, and Derrida in particular, are often victims of this kind of ad hominem argument. I think it has something to do with the fact that analytic philosophers have had the tendency to dismiss continental philosophy tout court as nonsense (of course analytic philosophers dismiss many things as nonsense...I think it was Gil Harman who used to have a sign on his office door that read “History of Philosophy: Just Say ‘NO’").  Since they’re presumptively not saying anything at all, Continental philosophers are thus easy targets for the totally dismissing ad hominem anecdote.

    Of course all of this may be obvious.  But I’ve always valued thinkers who take other thinkers seriously, even if they might utterly disagree with those other thinkers.  I’m reminded of John McGowan’s excellent appreciation of the late Paul Ricoeur in this very blog, which focused precisely his intellectual generosity as his most important legacy.

    This might actually bring me back to the topic of recognition and respect.  I actually think I’m discussing something of an intellectual counterpart to the politics of recognition: the willingness to start from the premise that one’s intellectual opponent has something serious to say and to engage her on the merits of her case. 

    (On a different note, Michael, I believe that current law does not require me to formally copyright Magic Trollberries® in order to claim it as my intellectual property.  But rather than take this blog to court for its obvious violations of my property rights, I hearby place “Magic Trollberries” under a Creative Commons copyleft license.  Use it in good health. But, please, don’t feed the trolls.)

    Posted by  on  06/03  at  09:25 AM
  70. In this episode, he revealed himself as a man who had choked his intellect to death with his vanity, arrogance, mendacity, and need to dominate.

    I cannot be the only one who notes the intense self-referentiality of whatshisname’s discourse here.

    captcha: “himself”

    Posted by Field Marshall Stack  on  06/03  at  10:05 AM
  71. Re 69.

    “To take a different example:  Martin Heidegger, Carl Schmitt, Philip Johnson, Richard Strauss, Emil Nolde, Paul de Man, Douglas Sirk, Leni Riefenstahl, Herbert von Karajan, Werner Heisenberg and Josef Schumpeter all displayed varying degrees of Nazi sympathy and/or collaboration with the Nazi regime.  But that fact is treated very differently in the way that people tend to evaluate their various achievements.”

    The point is that the people you mention all had different relationships to the Nazi’s and, even more, exhibited different degrees of candor after the war.  Heisenberg, for instance, never liked or admired the Nazis--he was undone by his conservative nationalism, a rather different matter.  He also paid a considerable price, postwar, being ostracized by much of the physics community.  Richard Strauss flirted with the Nazis only briefly--he too was a conservative nationalist--but quickly turned against them and became an “internal exile.” de Man, on the other hand, was just a petty collaborationist; his great sin was his life-long lack of candor about this episode, which was of a piece with his dishonesty and callousness in his relations with people in general.  Heidegger was a serious Nazi for quite a while, and its not clear that he ever got over it.  He never came clean about it after the war.

    As to Chomsky, it is well known that he has gone to extravagant lengths to separate his techincal work from his political activism.  This is a prudent approach rarely taken by intellectuals, and it accounts, I think, for the fact that people unsympathetic to his politics take that approach as well.  (BTW, Chomsky’s reputation is a lot less godlike within the linguistics profession, but that is another matter.)

    Derrida, by contrast, strongly invoked his own philosophical conceits in his risible defense of de Man (and Heidegger).  One can’t make the Chomskian distinction in this case.

    Posted by  on  06/03  at  11:10 AM
  72. Thanks, Eric J-D, and thanks to Ben for the Creative Commons license.  I’ve gotta say, I’m kind of surprised that no one’s gone for the “redistribution” part of the post:  71 comments (granted, 26 of them by one guy) and nothing on the federal study of women in academe?  I suppose this is a merely cultural blog, sure enough, but still.  Doesn’t anyone want to speculate on how institutions get delegitimated by the right as they become more associated with (or dominated by) women?  (Are there any women in the house, by the way?  Lotta boys in these comments.) We in the arts and humanities have gotten used to this over the past thirty years, of course.  But I’m really looking forward to the right-wing delegitimation of business majors (the delegitimation of biology is already under way).  That one’s gonna be interesting.

    Posted by Michael  on  06/03  at  11:50 AM
  73. If you insist, Michael…

    We at the University of Oklahoma are extremely proud to have a female provost, though my understanding is that, nationally speaking, the harshest academic administrative glass ceiling lies just above that level. I’m also proud to have a stepmother who’s a college president.  My provost and my stepmoer are, however, very much the exception to the rule. 

    To be fair to the commentators, the questions asked at the end of Michael’s post concerned recognition, not redistribution.

    Finally, given that this conversation consists of one part politics of recognition, one part continental philosophy (bashing), plus a dash of dodgy political pasts, shouldn’t Alexandre Kojéve’s name come up at some point?

    Posted by  on  06/03  at  11:58 AM
  74. 1. So far, jpj (52) has the best answer to the initial question.

    2. I see how Fraser is useful for some purposes, but can someone define what precisely “redistribution” means here?  The split between recognition and redistribution seems facile.  (For one thing, power drops out of the picture.)

    3. Re (69), Ben, can you say a word on the basis for including Schumpeter in your list of Nazi sympathizers or collaborators?

    4. Thanks to John Protevi for his thoughtful contributions.  Levitt is a classic example of the intellectual allergy: he’s made up his mind without having learnt JD’s philosophical work.  The process by which one or two utterances are made to stand in for someone’s entire work is chracteristic.  It would be trivial to make a list or people who were geniuses in some dimensions and idiots in others. 

    5. And this does, in an oblique way, get back to the question of respect versus mockery.  I would distinguish between mockery that really gets into the logic of a bad argument or points out the artificiality of a pose (here’s a nice fresh example: http://www.nyu.edu/classes/siva/archives/003175.html) and mockery that is just idle name-calling, examples of which would include Norman Levitt’s invective above, as well as people calling the President dumb.  These are both analytical and political mistakes, and the substitution of random insult for critical analysis is a kind of regression.  Respect, then, has to do with what a critical utterance, explicitly or implicitly, takes seriously in the thing criticized.

    Posted by  on  06/03  at  02:03 PM
  75. I know this is a waste of time on a ruined thread, but AFAIK Schumpeter had no sympathy with the Nazis and left as soon as they took power.

    Posted by John Emerson  on  06/03  at  02:22 PM
  76. Colin,

    Although Schumpeter never publicly declared sympathy for Nazism, a combination of Germanophilia, bitter anticommunism, opposition to the New Deal, and opposition to American involvement in WWII, led him to embrace more and more sympathetic views of Nazi Germany after 1941. These views were never expressed publicly in writing, but he defended Nazi Germany (and Japan) and attacked FDR and Churchill often enough in conversation that Schumpeter (who was toward the end of a very distinguished career) was marginalized by the economics profession during the war. He was, for example, excluded from the Bretton Woods talks.  From reading his wartime diaries, we now know that Schumpeter became ever more reactionary and paranoiac. In 1945, he came to believe that the war was a “Jewish victory” that would bring about the Bolshevik domination of the world.

    For more on this see:  Bernard Semmel’s “Schumpeter’s Curious Politics,” The Public Interest no106 (p.3-16) Winter 1992. (Yes, I know it’s The Public Interest, but Semmel’s a serious scholar.)

    Posted by  on  06/03  at  02:39 PM
  77. And John E., you’re absolutely correct about Schumpeter’s feelings toward the Nazis in the 1930s.  Schumpeter’s (fairly shallow) Nazi sympathy appears to have really begun during the war.

    FWIW, I included him in my litany of “Nazi sympathizers” in part to suggest that that damning phrase correctly applies to a very wide range of relationships to Nazism.

    Posted by  on  06/03  at  02:42 PM
  78. I’m really looking forward to the right-wing delegitimation of business majors (the delegitimation of biology is already under way).

    Since certain poster(s) above wish to make single-case examples sufficient to delegitimate whole swaths of study and theory, i’ll tackle this one in the same way.  Consider Viacom, one of the three or four media hegemonic monopolies operating on the planet, that produces, under a variety of subsidiaries, all manner of propaganda.  Consider that the NYT is owned by the same company invested in Discovery Communication along with Cox (Viacom owns a stake here) and a smorgasbord of co-owned holding groups.  The NYT company also co-owns with Viacom some television stations.  Recently, one of Viacom’s companies, MTV, contracted with another one, to produce yet another (season 17) Real World.  Featured on this crew was a female, magna cum laude, award-winning, business school university graduate.  You wouldn’t have known that though, because her “reality” was edited to portray her as a hopeless drunk, bitchy, anorexic, depressive. 

    While this stands as a singular example, keep in mind that Viacom is also partners with Burnett productions that produces US Survivor series shows.  The last version of that also featured business and marketing majors, who were portrayed, through final editing, as hapless losers.  The question for me is whether these depictions are determined in the board rooms to be self-mockery or are they intended to represent the delegitimazation of the feminine in the business world.

    Posted by  on  06/03  at  02:51 PM
  79. "I see how Fraser is useful for some purposes, but can someone define what precisely “redistribution” means here?  The split between recognition and redistribution seems facile.  (For one thing, power drops out of the picture.)”

    Fraser has actually been working on the issue of power in her latest work, referring to it as “representation” to accompany “redistribution” and “recognition”. Sort of a continuation or adaptation of Weber’s account of “status, class, power” as distinct concepts. Because of this increasing attention to power, she has also been having to consider the whole issue of globalization as an important development that complicates her neatly-drawn picture, speaking of “Reframing Justice in a Globalising World”. And she has presented some of this in New Left Review and in a book that she published with Axel Honneth, Redistribution or Recognition? A Political-Philosophical Exchange.

    Posted by Alfredo Perez  on  06/03  at  02:56 PM
  80. Oh, it’s all about the buck,or the Euro, or the yen, or bonds, or gold and platinum, other people’s unpaid or underpaid labor, property inherited or stolen, fancy language notwithstanding.
    Search no further for your unifying cultural force.

    Posted by Hattie  on  06/03  at  03:30 PM
  81. Damn. My captcha’s “english” and I’ve nothing to offer as comment. Not a single goddam thing. Zip zed nada.

    Posted by black dog barking  on  06/03  at  03:33 PM
  82. So just to clarify, it is wrong in Berube-world to use “retarded” as an insult, but fine and dandy to despise in “a not antifeminist way” at women whose breasts sag, or who gain or lose weight, o who wear unatractive outfits when they run errands, or to call them “Dr. Sunkentits.”

    Posted by sammi  on  06/03  at  03:50 PM
  83. Thanks for the reference, Alfredo.  I don’t think she answers my question.

    Fraser (2000) contains a long engagement with the straw man of “identity.” Significantly, this article contains zero references, either to supporting literature or to any of the people who hold the views she argues against.  Having pinned much foolishness on “the identity model,” it’s not hard for her to come up with a richer concept of “recognition.” When she starts fleshing out “recognition” (p. 114) she begins approaching post-structuralist insights, although she still insists on thinking of categories of sexuality, gender, and race as inherent in people, and the “values” attached to them as products of institutions and regulation.  Ironically, in analytical terms her thinking is thus more identitarian than people like Butler or Spivak, and it’s not like she was unaware of Butler’s work.  And like Fraser (1998), there’s a background assumption that history has a particular logic and forward motion, driven by capitalism, which is what lets her set political claims in order of priority.

    In Fraser (2005) the vague historicism has been updated to the fashionable term “globalization,” though with no reference to any evidence for this thing.  We have another straw man, the “Keynesian-Westphalian frame.” To be clear: you could find examples of the things Fraser attacks if you tried.  But it’s again interesting that this article never cites examples of what Fraser argues against.  And she ignores work by queer theorists, critical theorists of race and gender, the governmentality literature, and so on – all folks who have been going after the notion of identity *and* after the “Keynesian-Westphalian frame” for a lot longer than Fraser, and in considerably more depth. 

    So I see little that’s new here.  The globaloney literature also loves its little straw men, and this piece happily has a go at them.  There’s a lot of recent critical work on citizenship of which Fraser seems unaware.  On “representation,” the concept may have some analytic usefulness, but her discussion seems to make a lot of assumptions about how politics works before it applies the concept.  Thus I’m not sure it’s really a way to analyze power.

    If the choice is between Fraser and a lot of popular clichés about identity and whatnot, Fraser’s better.  No question, she’s smart.  But there a raft of more critical work out there that she simply ignores.  And my question about what really grounds the split between redistribution and recognition remains unanswered.

    Sorry the above isn’t much fun!  Maybe it still qualifies as arbitrary.  Plus, Friday’s over.


    Fraser, Nancy. 1998. “Heterosexism, Misrecognition and Capitalism: A Response to Judith Butler.” NLR 229 March-April
    Fraser, Nancy. 2000 “Rethinking Recognition” NLR 3 May-June
    Fraser, Nancy. 2005 “Reframing Justice in a Globalizing World” NLR 36 Nov-Dec

    P.S. Thanks Ben for the Semmel reference.

    Posted by  on  06/03  at  04:15 PM
  84. Golly, I wonder where anyone got the idea that I banned the word “retarded.” Now that the Internets are available on personal computers, you can check and see that I wrote

    So next time you’re fed up with someone and you want to call his or her intelligence or judgment into question, remember: you might be better off with insults that speak to the performance of intelligence or judgment rather than to capacity.  This isn’t just a matter of politeness; it’s also a matter of proper English usage.  Many, many morons and retards have very good judgment about some matters, whereas many, many ostensibly intelligent people make bafflingly, excruciatingly bad decisions.  Why?  Because some of them are knaves, and others gulls, and still others hoodlums and miscreants.  That’s why.

    Hope that clears everything up!  Now back to enjoy some fine writing over at Go Fug Yourself.  ("Dr. Sunkentits” is not funny, by the way.  The missives from the young Ms. Spears, however, are.)

    Posted by Michael  on  06/03  at  04:54 PM
  85. Tara, honey, there’s a reason no one is hiring you anymore. It’s because you’re too old—and look way too rough—for teen roles, and you haven’t fixed yourself up to look like you’re suited for any kind of Rom-Com roles at all.

    Now, listen, I’ve seen you deskeezed (okay, like, maybe twice, but still), and you’re still cute! You clean up...better than one would expect! Look around! Do you see Rachel McAdams out and about dressed like she just crawled home from a foam party in Ibiza? Is your American Pie contemporary Alyson Hannigan photographed looking like she’s been styled solely using cast-offs from streetwalker’s White Elephant sale? Does Reese Witherspoon ever FLASH HER TITS? No, no, and she’d rather shoot Ryan in the kneecaps first.

    And yet all you do is complain that no one takes you seriously, and why are people so mean to you about all your partying, and why can’t you get a job? But here’s the thing: you do have a choice. You can either: a) give up on acting, retreat into semi-obscurity, socialize solely with celebutantes 10 years younger than you are, drink and tan your face completely off, and let your floo-flog hang out all over town, OR b) you can decide that you want to work again as something other than a punchline to a mean joke, and you can put on some sunscreen and some pants, spend a month in Promises, get your publicist to sell “TARA REID’S SECRET PAIN: And Her Triumphant Victory Over Low Self-Esteem” to People Magazine, start showing up places fully dressed like an adult woman, dig out your agent’s number and get to work .

    Such fine writing!  How about this:

    Not to be outdone by former pal and current archrival Kirsten Dunst, Maggie Gyllenhaal proves that her breasts can sag twice as far and her dress can look twice as much like an ill-fitting sack-—and not only that, but she will raise La Dunst thick shiny tights worn with open-toed shoes, so TAKE THAT, BROTHER-STEALER.

    This too:


    Yet all that fine writing, it makes me cringe while you laugh.

    Posted by Sammi  on  06/03  at  05:40 PM
  86. I hope Colin Danby will do those of us who are interested in pursuing further the issues raised by Fraser’s essays on redistribution and recognition the favor of providing some bibliography of who exactly Fraser (and by extension some of us here) ought to have read.  And I hope he hears in this request for bibliography sincerity rather than snarkiness.

    On the issue of what exactly grounds the distinction between recognition and redistribution, I’d say that Fraser is making a strategic distinction rather than an ontological claim for their ultimate distinction from one another.  This is done to avoid precisely the pitfalls of 1) a crude Marxist privileging of the ‘real’ injustices occuring at the economic base of society over those that emerge in the epiphenomenal realm of culture; and 2) an equally crude ‘culturalist’ inversion of this model whereby all harms done ‘really’ proceed from recognition failures occuring within the realm of culture and give rise to redistributive problems in the epiphenomenal economic realm.

    I hope that answers the question of what motivates Fraser’s distinction and strategic insistence on preserving it.  It is, of course, still possible to quarrel with this decision.

    Posted by  on  06/03  at  07:14 PM
  87. While I really look forward to the publication of Rhetorical Occasions and the chance to own still more of your razor-sharp writing, I have to ask what is up with that cover? Is there a version of “Rocket Man” in the works for the next MLA?

    Posted by  on  06/03  at  07:26 PM
  88. Dear Eric:

    Thanks much for your reply.  I think you’re right that “Fraser is making a strategic distinction rather than an ontological claim.” But if the distinction is grounded in rhetorical positioning rather than induction from the world, she is still open to the charge that her depiction of the rhetorical landscape is misleading.  *If* the only other options are crude Marxism and crude culturalism, then Fraser’s nuanced and thoughtful alternative is infinitely better!  (And I want to recognize her genuine effort to create a set of concepts with some play and flexibility, some useful distinctions, in them.  That’s clearly why our host found her framework useful.)

    I’m also not ready to let ontology go, nor am I entirely persuaded that Fraser’s claims do not bleed over into ontology.  Here is a naively ontological response to the separation between redistribution and recognition: it misunderstands economy.  Economy is not just what you get, not just an impersonal machine that doles out so much to you and so much to me.  It’s a lot of highly social, interactive processes so that “recognition” is built into it from the start.  Workers and bosses, customers and vendors, lenders and borrowers, entrepreneurs and potential buyers, consumers and producers of household services, all interact in complex ways, creating and exchanging meanings.  Think about the kinds of cultural performances you need to put on to be considered an appropriate worker in various settings, or an appropriate producer.  If I’m asking how and why some people end up with less stuff, the processes that Fraser points to under “recognition” are going to be a large part of the answer to the distributional question. 

    Moreover, Fraser’s notion of recognition also still has a lot of the weaknesses of identitarian arguments, which is that it is more interested in the self than in the tangle of relationships in which people live.  Once you start thinking in more relational terms, the split between distribution and recognition becomes even less tenable.  And note that Fraser wants to use the split as a way of sorting out different political claims—a lot rides on it.

    Now back to your first paragraph and my argument that Fraser bashes straw men.  (It would be an instructive exercise to try to fill in the missing footnotes in Fraser’s 2000 piece.) The most obvious lacuna is queer theory, given the way that sexuality repeatedly crops up as an example in her work, and given the fact that Fraser presumably *has* read Butler, given the 1998 article.  An excellent recent piece, relevant both to sexuality and citizenship, is

    Butler, Judith. 2002. “Is Kinship Always Already Heterosexual?” Differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies 13(1): 14-44.

    It’s easy to locate the rest of Butler’s works.  Some other key queer theorists are Eve Sedgwick, Michael Warner, and David Halperin.  A recent survey is

    Sullivan, Nikki. 2003. A Critical Introduction to Queer Theory. New York: NYU University Press.

    Butler is also of course a key critic of identitarian notions of gender.  Other broadly post-structuralist gender theorists include Joan Scott, Wendy Brown, and Kathy Ferguson. 

    The governmentality literature includes:

    Burchell, Graham, Colin Gordon, and Peter Miller, eds. 1991. The Foucault Effect: Studies in Governmentality. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

    Dean, Mitchell. 1999. Governmentality: Power and Rule in Modern Society. London: Sage.

    On race and government:

    Stevens, Jacqueline. 1999. Reproducing the State. Princeton, N.J. : Princeton University Press.

    Weinbaum, Alys Eve. 2004. Wayward Reproductions: Genealogies of Race and Nation in Transatlantic Modern Thought. Durham: Duke University Press.

    I can extend any of these categories if you like.

    What I find useful as a political economist in these literatures is that they enable analyses of the mechanisms of regulation and governmentality through which these social relations and performances are stabilized and produce “identity” as a cultural feature of the world.  From this viewpoint economy becomes much more interesting: rather than an essentially closed discourse that boils it down to “capitalism,” “globalization,” and “distribution,” we can reopen the question of how material processes happen, of what makes them socially possible.

    Best, Colin

    Posted by  on  06/03  at  10:07 PM
  89. I have to ask what is up with that cover? Is there a version of “Rocket Man” in the works for the next MLA?

    I’m afraid not, Tom.  Interestingly, however, I did tell UNC Press that “Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only the Drummer” would be really great as a book title.  They didn’t get back to me on that one.

    To be fair to the commentators, the questions asked at the end of Michael’s post concerned recognition, not redistribution.

    I’m sorry, Ben, but where in Fraser’s work does it say that I have to be fair to the commentators?  That sounds like some kind of neo-Kantian proceduralism, if you ask me.  If it’s an ideal speech situation you’re lookin’ for, I suggest Habermas’ blog.  Though he’s kind of brutally dismissive when he discusses Paris Hilton, I must say.

    And Sammi, no one said that Go Fug Yourself is infallible or universally delightful.  I just don’t happen to believe that feminism requires one to be objectively pro-Tara Reid.  I understand and respect your distate for that kind of mockery, though.

    Posted by Michael  on  06/03  at  11:59 PM
  90. I am not pro-Tara Reid. Feminism “requires” nothing. Simply, the criticism of women for failing to be beautiful enough or smart and “cultured” enough is not feminism, it is indeed anti-feminism.  Are there ways for beautiful young women with talents to become rich without having to be famous?  Not too many.  When they fail to stay beautiful, do their careers suffer, event though the talents remain? Yes.  When women age do their breasts, faces and rear ends sag, making surgery necessary to stay a certain kind of beautiful? Yes. Does holding famous women to a very high beauty standard, punishing them if they fail, negatively affect ordinary women? Most feminists believe so.

    How Americans hate Britney Spears! To be young and pretty and talented and have the drive and work ethic to succeed in a difficult industry, without the Ivy League degrees, for that she must be mocked always and never have a private moment in which to craft any normal life.

    Posted by Sammi  on  06/04  at  12:52 AM
  91. To be fair to the commentators, the questions asked at the end of Michael’s post concerned recognition, not redistribution.

    I had rather thought that Fraser’s value premise would be equality in redistribution, obviating a debate about when redistribution becomes necessary (unless it was a debate about like unfunded mandates for making buildings handicapped-accessible?). I took this for granted; maybe it’s my own value premise and not Fraser’s; I only aspire to be a useful idiot here. But obviously, even the most trivial slights to my particular intelligence will be met with ruthless mockery.

    Posted by  on  06/04  at  02:06 AM
  92. "Part of the smirkiness of the “Man Law” ad lies in the fact that it’s not explicit, and that it scores relatively low on the dehumanization scale: it is, for one thing, completely bikini-babe-free.  But I was a 13-year-old boy once, and I can tell you precisely what’s going on here: part of the juvenile-giggling “fun,” in designing the ad, involved waiting for women to respond with outrage.”

    OK, the smart-ass in me gets the joy of the “hey, this’ll piss ‘em off” genre of humor.  But the teacher and erstwhile psychiatric worker in me gets that treating people who behave as if they’re 12 or 13 as if they truly *are* is a perfectly reasonable strategy in dealing with offensive juvenile behavior. Also, explaining a dirty joke ruins it.

    So (pitch of voice drops a third) “Michael, would you be so kind as to inform the class exactly what is so very amusing about that phrase?” (single raised eyebrow)

    I’m also going to have to question your assertion that bikini-clad-babe-free misogyny is less dehumanizing than oblique references to owning women through digital territory-marking. I find it more so, actually.

    Posted by Heo Cwaeth  on  06/04  at  06:09 AM
  93. Crap!  Re-write so I make some kind of sense. (It’s early)

    I’m also going to have to question your assertion that bikini-clad-babe-free misogyny is somehow less dehumanizing, even if it contains oblique references to owning women through digital territory-marking. There’s nothing inherently sexual or dehumanizing about women in bikinis. Some women in bikinis might be there to advertise bikinis, for instance. There is no reality in which “you poke it, you own it” is appropriate.

    And while I’m here…
    I have yet to take a dangeral studies course, so much of this discussion is going over my head.  I may need someone to explain to me why a handful of undergrads at Yale are being granted PhDs in theoretical geometry and continental philosophy so they can be the SAH parent who escorts the Smith Street Elementary’s third grade class to the philharmonic, for instance.  Seems like a weird skill set to insist upon for that task. Are shape notes coming back?

    Posted by Heo Cwaeth  on  06/04  at  06:40 AM
  94. Dear Colin,

    For reasons quite opaque to me I lost the post I just composed and now I need to go walk the dog, so I’ll have to content myself with an abbreviated reconstruction.

    First, thanks for providing both the bibliography I requested and, even more, some important issues to chew on.  There is a lot of good material in that post.

    Briefly though, while I agree that Fraser is susceptible to the charge that she has misrepresented the rhetorical situation even in her *strategic* decision to distinguish between recognition and redistribution harms, I think the more important point is the one you raise in the second paragraph.  That paragraph reads (and I hope you will take this as a compliment) much like Marx’s account of economy in its understanding of economy as a social process involving both the interaction of various subjectivities and their (re)production/performance.

    Please note this is not my attempt at an 11th hour defense of Marxism as a “science of sciences” that can, because of its status as a master-discourse, proceed on its own to address the various harms we find in the contemporary world.  Nothing of the sort.  The work you point to is important and addresses issues not covered by much of the western Marxist tradition.  Nevertheless, I am convinced that the western Marxist tradition too remains an important resource in contemporary struggles despite my simultaneously conviction that Laclau and Mouffe were correct back in the 80s to regard the contemporary scene as a post-Marxist one.  The hyphen here affirms both Marxism’s wanning as a “master-discourse” and its continuing importance.

    Okay, my dog’s bladder is demanding its own recognition so I must fly.

    Posted by  on  06/04  at  10:54 AM
  95. OK then.  Discounting a very few gender-neutral monikers, I count a hugely lopsided male-to-female ratio in this here thread.  Suggesting to me that while the boys are blowing it out their heinies about Derrida, the girls are off somewhere more fun, mocking away.  Now if we only got *paid* for making fun of the dudes, we’d run the world.

    Posted by  on  06/04  at  01:18 PM
  96. Dear Eric,

    I’m much indebted to Marx, and you can rephrase my argument to say that if we think in terms of a Marxism of questions—how does the material life we see around us work?—then the scholarship of people like Butler is an opportunity to extend political economy, not a threat to it!  That’s why Fraser’s defensive reaction is disappointing.

    I never found Laclau and Mouffe persuasive, and that “post-marxist” move slights the creative, critical parts like the 2nd and 3rd volumes of Capital.  But why phrase a defense in terms of “western” marxism?  Surely the tradition’s vibrancy owes much to figures like Ashok Rudra, Samir Amin, and Jose Carlos Mariategui, and it’s always been a global conversation.

    Best, Colin

    Posted by  on  06/04  at  01:51 PM
  97. Dear Colin,

    My agreement with Laclau and Mouffe is the very narrow one of agreeing with their determination that Marxism alone can no longer be deemed the key for understanding the present situation or the mulitplicity of struggles currently taking place and the tandem point that Marxism nevertheless remains an absolutely vital body of thought.  So I hope that clears that up.

    On the issue of framing things in terms of “western” Marxism, I can only admit that my familiarity with the work of Rudra, Amin, and Mariategui is non-existent.  My phrasing of those sentences was simply to defend the continuing importance of the body of Marxist theory with which I am most familiar (i.e. what has been termed the “western Marxist tradition") and not a proprietary attempt to say that this particular body of Marxist theory represents either the whole of the Marxist tradition or that part of it that continues to be the most relevant/useful/creative etc.

    So as a PSA, which texts/thinkers in the broad tradition of Marxist thought would you recommend first to someone who wanted to fill out her/his knowledge of Marxism?



    Posted by  on  06/04  at  02:56 PM
  98. #30 Chris Clarke: I agree with Chris on this: that mockery defies objective limitations. I would say the same about satire too. I don’t avoid mockery though; in fact, I think it’s unavoidable. As Chris points out, even when you try to avoid using it, you can’t avoid being accused of it.

    So, I grant the universe full rights to mock, satire, libel and slander me and my ilk (and I reserve the right to respond in kind).

    I think the answer to your second question is in your first question: Ruthless mockery *is* a trivial slight, and so can be applied to everything (at the mocker’s own risk of course).

    It feels strange talking about a “slight”: the word itself seems to imply triviality. Maybe injury would be better word?

    I think the question of trivial vs. non-trivial valuation isn’t easily determined by a generalized methodology. But, if I was going to wade in recklessly, I’d say I consult the following guidelines ordered from least trivial to most trivial:

    CCP’s Triviality Scale
    1) A malicious physical, material, or lasting psychological injury is the least trivial
    2) Physical, material, or lasting psychological injury (this would be the report on the relative salaries and educations of men and women).
    3) Anything which intentionally incites the above, let’s say: hate propaganda, swastikas, and the like.
    4) The rest.

    I think 3 is the most difficult. Do beer ads incite hatred of women? Can mockery incite murder, rape, robbery, and persecution? I would dare say it’s not reasonable to expect that mockery will incite abuse; or that the mocker is responsible for any crime commited in the name of that mockery.

    For example, if I was excuted by a militant woman’s group bent on taking over the world, I don’t think I could hold TeacherLady responsible just because she said “Now if we only got *paid* for making fun of the dudes, we’d run the world.” certainly this would represent a 4 on the CCP triviality scale.

    Posted by Central Content Publisher  on  06/04  at  03:13 PM
  99. “for as Karl Marx famously put it in an 1843 letter to Arnold Ruge, “it is all the more clear what we have to accomplish at present: I am referring to ruthless mockery of all that exists, including celebrities with unfortunate dress sense.”

    At long, long last, Britney lies exposed as the reincarnation of Max Stirner!  One always suspected it was so.

    To the question of drawing lines, maybe there is a sober duty to wonder, and be vigilant, about where one’s mockery risks becoming an institution, as they say, or even the complacent compass-setting of a group identity (solely to the exclusion of other groups). 

    Of course, as Derrida often maintained in his reading of Aristotle, “there can be no productive blogging without ‘minimal community’ first.”

    So maybe it’s important not to mock the very existence of such groupings–attempts which seem rather destined to only reinforce the gates, and so doom themselves to failure.  (Naturally it seems, in a community like the blogosuffix, with highly self-selecting audiences and a politics/pundits-driven economy of interest, where the flow of distracting, spinning sludge is theoretically endless (right up until the nuclear or environmental disaster), the tendency to commiserate in gated communities as fortresses–liberals who dignify this tendency with response, included–is certainly understandable.)

    Mockery may also become at worst, one imagines, a merely self-reproducing and purely self-congratulatory tick, habitually-reinforcing rather than manifesting something more untimely, or more like a ‘pathos of indignation’ (speaking of Marx if we are).  Needless to say, this blog does not usually so tick.  (And it’s a fine, and sometimes difficult line to draw, to be sure.)

    Posted by Matt  on  06/04  at  05:06 PM
  100. On another note, without further comment, here is Bill Clinton singing “Imagine”:

    unsure of the words

    And here, is the Bush version:

    pretty funny

    Posted by Matt  on  06/04  at  05:14 PM
  101. Sammi,

    >>How Americans hate Britney Spears.

    Strike that. Should be, “How Blue-state Americans hate Britney Spears.

    Most Americans are moved by, enchanted with, supportive of, will come to love Britney Spears, chunky thighs, big backside, tight thongs notwithstanding. Britney will be successful in whatever she does. She just has to use a little common sense, like strapping her toddler into a saftey seat when she gets in the car with him. Get beyond that, she will do fine; her instincts are good; she connects with us.

    Those Blue-states, though, I don’t know. Something about a clumsy visage or profile brings out the cruelty in them. For example, remember how the Blues-staters mocked Paula Jones. You remember Paula, big nose, big breasts, big hips. Nevermind her testimony, we just had to focus on an image that James Carville proffered up; something about you don’t know what you will catch if you drag a 100 dollar bill throught a trailer park. Yeah, we know about women who look like Paul Jones. We know their morals. We know what they will do for a little atttention and lucre. Too bad for Mac Daddy Bill though; he tangled with a fragile woman named Catherine Willey. Catherine was truely a desparate case, and she needed a job too. Well, there was some quid quo pro requested for a steady salary, and this offended the poor woman. She went to the press, but the retaliatory smear campaign couldn’t work aginst her. You see, Catherine looked good. She looked like any number of accomplished, competent women we meet everday in law offices, univeristy departments, government bureaus, upper-class salons, etc. She just had that look that certain of us are comfortable and familiar with. More than one pundit made the point- I parapharse - “this one we have to take seriously.”, strictly because of how she looked.

    Well the moral of this little essay is, if you are going to get fat and ugly, get there while you are young. That way you won’t have to waste time building credit with people who aren’t worth it.

    Posted by  on  06/05  at  12:46 AM
  102. Sometimes you gotta point out that the Naked Emperor is, well, butt-naked. Bare-ass naked. Naked as a jaybird, and so aren’t all his well-paid counselors.

    And when the people next to you go “Shhh!!! Stop it! No, they’re not!” - then you gotta yell even louder, “What’s wrong with you? Do you need glasses? Here, borrow mine!”

    The grifters, the grabbers and the gropers are all enabled by the unwillingness of the Decent™ to “stoop” to such uncivil, uncivilized, perfectly horrid behavior as mockery.

    Me, I stoop to conquer.

    Posted by bellatrys  on  06/05  at  08:27 AM
  103. Caro, they really still trot out the bloody sheets at the morning-after breakfast in Mexico? How...perfectly archaic. (And are the beaming husbands/fathers all aware that bladders or sponges of chicken blood have been successfully used to fake a freshly-ruptured hymen for thousands of years?)

    Posted by bellatrys  on  06/05  at  08:32 AM
  104. Well, sammi, now you see what happens when you offer up these right-wing talking points about how Americans hate entertainers who don’t have Ivy League degrees:  a real right-wing talking point guy shows up and “explains” to you that it’s just the liberal elites in Pennsylvania and Oregon who hate Britney.  Like the liberal elitist who mocked Paula Jones—you know, that guy from Louisiana.

    Posted by Michael  on  06/05  at  11:58 AM
  105. a real right-wing talking point guy shows up and “explains” to you that it’s just the liberal elites in Pennsylvania and Oregon who hate Britney.

    And, he uses the Clenis to illustrate* his points!

    *Well, he didn’t actually draw it, but you know what I mean.

    Posted by John Protevi  on  06/05  at  12:32 PM
  106. Eric: Robert Young’s _Postcolonialism: An Historical Introduction_ (Blackwell 2001) contains good surveys of large parts of nonwestern Marxism, but I think you’d have to look elsewhere for East Asia.  Perry Anderson’s _Considerations on Western Marxism_ (Verso 1979) also gives a sense of what “western” usually means to people when applied as a modifier to “Marxism.” I think on any plausible definition, an account of the first century of Marxism would have to see it as a global conversation.

    Posted by  on  06/05  at  01:58 PM
  107. Interesting. I plow through 106 messages, and maybe I missed the one that points out what seems obvious to me: one purpose of advertising, especially “brand” advertising, is to get attention greater than the ad itself. So Al Franken considered the O’Reilly/Fox lawsuit to be a gift, the Da Vinci Code benefits from boycott publicity, and so forth.

    Which is why I will never mention the name of the beer in the aforementioned commercial, nor will I do it the favor of dissecting it, or otherwise identifying it sufficiently for its intended purpose.

    Oddly, this intersects the Sokal example, in that, while science may be fact-based and objective, the one inalterably subjective aspect of science lies in what we give our attention to. All social analysis of science should begin with that principle, yet it seldom does.

    Sending myself off on the Britney Spears tangent, I recently wrote something about “Why I Like Paris Hilton.” Hint: she has a job and pays Social Security taxes, which may make her the most productive member of her social class.

    Posted by James Killus  on  06/05  at  03:29 PM
  108. I recently wrote something about “Why I Like Paris Hilton.” Hint: she has a job and pays Social Security taxes, which may make her the most productive member of her social class.

    Interesting point.  But of course, because the United States has somehow decided to fund its only non-means tested social welfare program by means of the most regressive tax on the books, only the first $90,000 of Ms. Hilton’s income goes toward paying that tax.

    And i think you’re right about that beer ad, though I forget exactly what that was about.

    Posted by Michael  on  06/05  at  03:45 PM
  109. Ah, The Clenis. You are so right. We have a winner; the perfectly legitimate candidate for ruthless mockery, as Paula Jones so demonstrated in her deposition (amidst much giggling, I’m sure), as reproduced in Jeffrey Tobin’s book, “A vast Conspiracy”.

    To paraphrse, “Short, crooked, and thin (cross sectional width, about that of a 25 cent piece).”

    Posted by  on  06/05  at  04:49 PM
  110. Re 109: So you *have* made a drawing of it! Or is this just a mental image? Does it appear unbidden, or do you have to summon it?

    Posted by John Protevi  on  06/05  at  07:04 PM
  111. bellatrys,

    Yes indeed, virgins are still a Big Deal ‘round here.  One of the local pueblos won’t set off the traditional wedding fireworks unless the girl was “pure.” But I live in a really dusty corner of Mexico which interestingly enough has a big cross-dressing population (who knew?) Try that sheet trick in Mexico City or Guadalajara and you’ll get cut.

    I left this thread with mockery and virgins and come back to a fight about Marxism with Paris Hilton thrown in for good measure?  Truly, we live in fascinating times.

    Posted by Caro  on  06/05  at  07:08 PM
  112. Dear Colin,

    Hmmmm..it is difficult to get a proper read on the tone of that last message.  I fear that this is shaping up into some kind of manufactured quarrel when that was the last thing on my mind when I began this conversation. 

    For the record (and hopefully as a way of restoring communication) I fully agree that Marxism is and has been a “global conversation” fro very early on.  So any idea you might have that you are defending this view against an entrenched eurocentric opponent is false.  The fact that my familiarity with Marxist theory lies within the western Marxist tradition has nothing to do with some parochial belief that Marxist theory begins and ends there.  It is simply a description of my reading within that tradition to date, not a declaration of my arrival at some conventient resting place from which I have no intention of leaving.

    That there is a tradition within Marxist thought as a whole known as “western Marxism” can hardly be denied--certainly Anderson does not deny this as he has a strong interest in critiquing precisely this tradition.  However, on the subject of Anderson, I have to say I find his account perhaps a bit too neat.  While there is certainly a strong pessimistic element within certain strands of the Frankfurt school, by and large Anderson’s critique globalizes a tendency that really must be treated much more locally within the writings of the members of that school.  Even Adorno--probably the figure most commonly regarded as the arch-pessimist of the group--defies this wholesale categorization.  A fine recent treatment of some of the positive strains of Adorno’s thought can be found in Jay Bernstein’s Adorno: Disenchantment and Ethics (2001).  Finally, the charge that economics ceased to be an important issue for the Frankfurt school writers disregards the work of at least Friedrich Pollock but also denies the continuing importance that capitalist economy had for various members of the school.  While it is true that the majority of their writings adress broadly the cultural sphere, to suggest--as Anderson occasionally does--that this reveals the school’s separation from classically Marxist concerns amounts to reifying a purely (and crudely) economistic notion of Marxism.

    Now, I happen to agree with the general point that Marxist thought must keep in view issues of economy, so I hope you don’t get the false idea from this post that I am somehow a merely “culturalist” Marxist.



    Posted by  on  06/05  at  10:41 PM
  113. Dear Eric:
    I’m sorry if my last post sounded quarrelsome.  It wasn’t intended that way—I was simply trying to respond to your rather large request at the end of #97 compactly, and clarify how I used terms.  Possibly this is not the best place to start reviewing the Frankfurt school!
    Best, Colin

    Posted by  on  06/06  at  01:03 AM
  114. Ah, the right wing troll shows up with impeccable content and timing,
    almost as if he is a parodist.

    But I do not think I offer the right wing talking points. Paris
    Hilton is very rich from birth. She chose “celebrity” and she can buy
    privacy as she wishes. Britney is of the “trailer trash” class, or so
    says the “great writers” of Go Fug Yourself.  Stupid and uneducated!
    Also becoming fat! So funny for some. 

    Britney Spears had the drive and the talent to become wealthy. I do
    not care for her music but others clearly do.  Wealth through sports
    is not an option for women.  To be successful entertainers, they must
    use their looks, even when they are musicians. To use this against
    them is antifeminist.

    Posted by sammi  on  06/06  at  02:13 AM
  115. ”...to demean any Titanic-Americans reading this blog.”

    We prefer to be called “Ante-Olympians”, though I prefer “Kronosians” myself.

    Posted by  on  06/06  at  10:55 AM
  116. I started reading the Butler and was struck by these lines in the opening:

    “If I fail to give the names of those I take to hold these views, I hope that I will be forgiven. ... I presume as well that to link individuals to such views runs the risk of deflecting attention from the meaning and effect of such views to the pettier politics of who said what, and who said what back—a form of cultural politics that, for the moment, I want to resist.”

    I’m hoping that this isn’t really going to turn out to be what it appears: a rhetorical move along the lines of “I’m going to argue against a bunch of straw men and I can’t be bothered to even attach names to the straw men, because then somebody might be able to refute me, and I just don’t have time for that.

    I suppose I’ll have to read on, despite the fact that in the interests of meeting my employer’s deadlines, I ought, for the moment, to resist.

    Posted by  on  06/06  at  11:27 AM
  117. Michael,

    It’s actually worse than you say, since it’s only the first $90,000 of _earned_ income that is subject to Social Security taxes. So if Hilton decided to live off of her inheritance alone, she would not pay Soc. Sec. taxes at all. The same would be true if her main compensation were stock options.

    I’ve seen complicated arguments that Social Security isn’t a regressive program, as such, because the benefits go out according to the taxes (with some progressivity built into the lowest rungs), but currently that argument is hollow, since the Soc. Sec. income is funding part of the federal deficit. So it’s being used, along with the rest of the tax code (plus the system of banking, corporate law, and custom), as a means of removing money from lower incomes and placing it in the pockets of the highest incomes.

    Sammi, so Britney Spears is called “trailer trash” and Paris Hilton is called a “rich bitch,” yet you object to the former and seemingly buy into the latter, while believing that my appreciation of Hilton’s having a work ethic is a “right wing talking point.”

    I will bear that in mind.

    Posted by James Killus  on  06/06  at  12:51 PM
  118. I’m hoping that this isn’t really going to turn out to be what it appears: a rhetorical move along the lines of “I’m going to argue against a bunch of straw men and I can’t be bothered to even attach names to the straw men, because then somebody might be able to refute me, and I just don’t have time for that.

    Unfortunately, Grant, it is a little like that, even though Butler is intriguing on what it means to paraphrase positions she does not hold.  On a more generous reading, it could be “everyone knows I’m talking about Todd Gitlin and Richard Rorty by way of Alan Sokal, so why bother,” but I don’t like that possibility either, since I’m a namin’-names kind of guy myself.

    And thanks, James.  It is always worse than I say, isn’t it?

    Posted by  on  06/06  at  04:29 PM
  119. James Killus: I refer to the right wing troll on comment 101 and Michael Berube’s invocation of “right wing talking points” in comment 104. I do not respond to you at all.

    Britney Spears had to become famous to become rich through music. Paris Hilton was already rich; she did not need fame, she chose it. I did not call her or anyone a bitch. I did not challenge any work ethic.

    Posted by sammi  on  06/07  at  02:25 AM
  120. Sammi, I assumed you were directing your comments to me, because I mentioned Paris Hilton and message 101 did not. In fact, no one mention PH before I did, so I can’t quite agree that you “[did] not respond to me at all.”

    I paid little attention to the Paris Hilton phenomenon until I noticed how strongly her critics smelled of misogeny. Since then, I’ve paid some attention, and it looks to me like she’s a fairly smart woman who is playing a dumb bimbo on television. No doubt she likes the attention, and if someone were to call her an exhibitionist, I’d take that as an objective assessment. But I learned long ago not to take someone’s public image as truth.

    Nevertheless, performing is hard work, and Hilton choses it, despite already having money. She pays taxes that she would not have to pay if she just lived on her trust fund, and, as it happens, some of those taxes go to support people like my mother, or those in less fortunate circumstances, who would be in abject poverty without Social Security.

    I therefore find it a little creepy and unpleasant that Paris Hilton is taken as the poster child for the current debate over inheritance taxes. Here she is, working hard, paying taxes, and getting severely criticised, while those with truly massive wealth, two or three orders of magnitude greater than hers, hold back in the shadows and fund political organizations whose sole purpose is to justify making them even wealthier, less accountable, and more smug in their delusion that they somehow deserve their position and privileges.

    Posted by James Killus  on  06/08  at  02:40 PM





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