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Friday, 27 May 2005

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The Real Stephen Schryer

I think you're right that some sense of group membership is omnipresent and ingrained in language. But you haven't made the leap yet between this collectivist sense and Benn Michaels critique of the notion of historical trauma. I.e., just because one is conscious of belonging to a group doesn't mean that one believes that one has been permanently marked by the history of that group in a Faulknerian or Morrisonian way. For example, I'm conscious of being a Canadian and a liberal (in the sense that I hold to liberal ideals, not in the sense that I vote for the Liberal Party, since I don't) and identify, to a certain extent, with other liberal-minded Canadians, especially in relation to those wacko gun-totin', bible thumpin' Yankees down South. But I don't think I've been permanently marked by the war of 1812 or indeed any event in Canadian history. This, however, is a bad example.

A better way of getting at Benn Michaels might instead be to just turn to the evidence of anthropology - i.e., the fact that some, but not all cultures do have some sort of notion of collective trauma or collective guilt built into their culture. It might be interesting to empirically explore the conditions under which this kind of notion does and does not arise. It doesn't seem to be just a recent identity politics thing.

A. Cephalous

I'm headed in an anthropological direction. Duranti, quoted above, is the author of this book. My overall point is that I think Michaels' polemic a useful corrective to certain political positions, but ultimately it's only polemical and only useful, as opposed to a position that could itself be sustained.

The Real Stephen Schryer

Maybe what I was just trying to get at is that there are two separate questions: 1) Benn Michaels's reductio ad absurdum on identity politics and notions of collectivist identity, collective trauma, etc., all of which seems pretty sound - kind of like marching into Salem circa late 17th c. and saying - look, folks, believing in witchcraft is stupid. 2) The empirical fact that these beliefs do exist, that belief in collective trauma is typical of certain beliefs that occur again and again in different cultures, that it fulfills certain basic needs and that probably no amount of rationalist argument will make it go away. Although maybe it might get out of literary studies; one can only hope.

All of which I think just repeats your argument, Acephalous.

Jonathan

I believe that Chomsky abandoned the phrase "deep structure" in the early 70s or so out of despair about how it was being used metaphorically.

Lyle Jenkins' Biolinguistics is a fine book, I think, and one that you might find useful if you haven't already read it.

Simstim

What about Habermas and his "Communicative Ethics"?

A. Cephalous

Jonathan,

I'll check it the next time I head to campus.

Simstim,

I actually know precious little about Habermas. Stephen, on the other hand, knows quite a bit. Care to explain, Canadian?

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