Friday, 06 May 2005

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How Not to Open, Close or Anything In-Between an Academic Essay, Part I: My Formative Years The discussion at The Valve keeps spurring memories of my erstwhile conversion to Church of Theory and Latter Day Feints in the Spring of '98. The Critical Tradition clutched to my chest, I would speak to anyone willing to listen about of "Butler's fascinating essay," presumably "Imitation and Gender Subordination," which at the time I felt "the most eye-opening thing I'd read all semester, in that the perspective it offered me [was] so different from what I assumed the 'gay' perspective to be that I [had] a distinct urge to round up everyone I know who's gay and interrogate them." Very impolitic, I know, but at the time I only knew two verbs and "intervene" didn't work either. Also, I had spent the previous paragraph "intervening in Irigaray's critique of male-dominated hegemonic practices," and too much intervention left the young A. Cephalous feeling less effective than a Clintonian Democrat. (His phrase, not mine.) And so when it came time to write an Honors thesis, I chose the topic closest to my heart: "a Wittgensteinian critique of the discursive function of the feminine and the cyborg in schlemihlhood in Thomas Pynchon's V. and Gravity's Rainbow." According to my abstract, By utilizing Donna Harraway's all-inclusive conception of cyborg identity I will investigate the realities Pynchon imposes on his characters' bodies without limiting the factual information provided about those realities to the demands on a system I impose on the text. Instead I will work with the epistemological boundaries present in the text itself, provided by the interaction of the historical details, literary allusions, and philosophical and scientific arguments. This will allow me to explicate the text's complexity without reducing it to a more palatable but less accurate representation of itself. I am most interested in how these complexities destabilize the systems which impose limitations on the text, both from within and without; prevent critical orthodoxies from establishing interpretive dominance based on the discourse at work outside the novels and the imperial regimes from establishing a hegemonic dominance based on discreet categorical entities within the novels themselves. I remember spending countless hours working on my Honors thesis, but looking back, I wonder what I spent those hours doing. Certainly not anything constructive. You would think the thesis that followed would be more intelligent than its abstract, as it could not possibly be less. You would be wrong. The thesis of my thesis, unlike my enemy's enemy, is no one's friend: Cyborg identities reveal and resist the process of naturalization that molds bodies into categorical entities whose social, familial, and sexual roles are predetermined, providing what Donna Haraway calls "a reference point for the theoretical and practical struggles against...the justifications for patriarchy, colonialism, humanism, positivism, essentialism [and] scienticism." "Look at how oppositional I am!" declaimed an embattled A. Cephalous. "Whatever it is, I'm against it!" I attacked every category of category, ranting about how, "like other cyborgs, Pynchon's have their otherness written in/on their bodies," or how "this bodily otherness is then incorporated into...
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Yes, I know, but the Lady desperately desires to know whether Aristotle's Poetics, Book II, on Comedy is among them... Below the fold is the Independent's article on the recent decoding of the Oxyrhynchus Papyri. According to unnamed Oxford University scientists, "hundreds of lost Greek comedies, tragedies and epic poems will soon be revealed." Lost works by Sophocles, Euripides, Hesiod and "other literary giants of the ancient world lost for millennia" could run roughshod over the received wisdom in Classics departments, but even more interesting will be the response of Culture Warrior partisans to this unexpected ragnasveppur* from some Dead White Males. If the works of the Greek dramatists are only canonical by virtue of the historical contingencies of canonicity, what impact will the sudden appearance of Epigonoi, or The Progeny, the latest by Sophocles, have on the interpretations of Western Civilization and <i>human nature</i> which piggyback Greek thought? Since The Progeny didn't belong to the Eliotic tradition, its inclusion in the canon could only be warranted by universalist claims about its literary merit. That wouldn't fly with folks who consider "literary merit" insufficient grounds for canonical status, you know, the ones who only grudging allow the currently canonical works of Sophocles and company squatting space because, well, they have been there an awful long time. But there's a glitch in their logic and its name is Sophocles. Most who support the expansion of the canon do so based on theoretical positions which belong, as Geoffrey Hartman says in a passage I quoted on The Valve yesterday, to "a corpus of critical, philosophical and literary texts which [the work of Marx, Husserl, Heidegger, and Freud] incorporate and revise." Freud structured the psychoanalytic notions of human development on a universalist understanding of human nature he saw at work in Sophocles' plays. Had more plays been extant, his conception of human nature could have looked very, very different from the impenetrable shitmist of what now passes for psychoanalytic thought. The next fragment of The Progeny could read: Speaker A: Obolos for your thoughts. Speaker B: (pauses) Oedipus. Speaker A: That fucktard again? Speaker B: I wonder if anyone will ever take him seriously again. Speaker A: Take him seriously? That motherfucker? Speaker B: Suppose he repented. Speaker A: Repented what? Speaker B: Oh... (He reflects.) He wouldn't have to go into the details. Speaker A: (snidely) His being born? Speaker B: (wounded) I've nothing to say to you. Speaker A: (Step forward). You're angry? (Silence. Step forward.) Forgive me. (Silence. Step forward. Speaker A lays his hand on Speaker B's shoulder.) C'mon, guy. (Silence.) Give me your hand. (Speaker B half turns.) Embrace me guy! (Speaker B stiffens.) Don't be stubborn! (Speaker B softens. They embrace.) Speaker B: I'm sorry. Oedipus is a motherfucker. Still. (stutteringly resolute.) To treat a man...(gesture towards Thebes)...like that...I think that...no ...a human being...no...it's a scandal! Speaker A: (groaning, clutching his head.) I can't bear it...any longer...the way you go on...you've no idea, guy...it's terrible...I must go...(Speaker A waves his arms)...I'm going mad...(Speaker A collapses, his head in his hands)...I can't bear it...any longer... Speaker B: Do...

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