Friday, March 31, 2006
Leavin’ on a jet plane
I’m still in a copyediting frenzy, and my plane for State College leaves in two hours. I finished the page proofs for What’s Liberal about the Liberal Arts? last night, having spent the entire day slogging through the first copyedit of Rhetorical Occasions. But I had the odd experience of copyediting a book for the University of North Carolina Press in the offices of the University of North Carolina Press, surrounded by the people who’ve been working on the book for the past year. That was cool. Also extremely efficient. Whenever I ran into a snag, I would just holler randomly down the hall: “hey,” I hollered randomly, “is ‘cohort of theorists’ singular or plural”? This launched a learned debate about whether “cohort” implies the kind of collectivity and loss of individuality one associates with “herd,” since of course “herd” is singular. It was finally decided by a 17-12 vote that “cohort” is plural, which suggests that the staff of the UNC Press are a cohort rather than a herd. Then there was the question of whether Right and Left should be Capitalized Throughout, and the question of whether “sic” should be italicized if “ibid” is not. All of these questions were answered within seconds, thanks to my hollering and my strategically central location at a large work desk that faced six offices at once. In return, the staff asked me if I knew what “seditty” meant, and that gave me a rare and valuable opportunity to recite all the lyrics of Grandmaster Flash’s 1982 hit “The Message.” Which is not bad for an ofay.
I now think every academic-press author should be required to edit his or her book in the offices of their publishers.
Anyway, I’ll have a real post on my NC sojourn a bit later on, and in the meantime, here’s one of the paragraphs I was copyediting yesterday. From “The Utility of the Arts and Humanities,” forthcoming in Rhetorical Occasions:
I sometimes think this is why the cultural right has urged us so often in the past two decades to return to the eternal verities of the fine arts: it’s part of a two-step plan to eliminate the arts and humanities from any serious social or curricular consideration. For when it comes to defending the utility of the arts and humanities, the cultural right is every bit as and ambivalent and divided as is the cultural left, yet far more coordinated: one bunch of conservatives—we could call them the Allan and Harold Bloom Consortium—wants us to return to the canon, to aesthetics, to the pursuit of beauty, leaving behind all this queer theory and multicultural pabulum. These are the conservatives one finds clustered around the New Criterion and the Hudson Review, the ones who line their shelves with volumes from the Loeb Classical Library and decry the mediocrity of contemporary American theater. The other bunch of conservatives—let’s call them the Tom DeLay Gang—doesn’t see any reason why taxpayers should support public universities, or why parents and trustees should support private universities, in which faculty and students fritter away their time pursuing pointless things like “beauty” when there’s important work to be done and people need to see a return on their college investment. These are the conservatives who, in alliance with economic libertarians, declaim from the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal that the “important work” to be done consists of eliminating estate and capital gains taxes, gutting workplace regulations, and shredding environmental standards. They like to have a few Allan Bloomers around to talk about the cultural superiority of the West and the depravity of Western academic intellectuals, but as long as those estate taxes are repealed they really don’t care whether college students are reading Cicero or comic books. The two-step plan, then, consists of this: the first group will urge arts and humanities faculty to return to beauty, whereupon the second group will come along and cut all funding for the frivolous aesthetic pursuits of the arts and humanities.
Oh, and one more thing before I grab my cab. If you want to make wingnuts’ heads explode this week, just propose an illegal immigrant amnesty program in which immigrants become naturalized citizens if they agree to take jobs away from liberal professors.