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Sunday, 07 August 2005


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Link: Acephalous. Scott responds to some current discussion. Matt helpfully provides great links through some of the discussion. Scott writes: ...why I think debates about Theory are so often side-tracked: everyone believes everyone else is intellectua... [Read More]


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I think I do more than psychologize--I prefer the broader term contextualized which brings out institutional and economic factors as well as psychological ones. And, my point is not about the choice not to engage theoretical work, it's about the politicization of this choice, the sense that this is a mighty choice, one that is part of a movement or moment.
For example, in political science departments, theory is the smallest field. Most wonder why people choose it at all. Many departments don't even have theorists.

I think there is a difference between my stance and the one you described above as Holbo's. First, mine is about a specific thinker, not a vaguely defined group of thinkers. Second, my reasons are specific to the debate around this thinker. Third, I continue to worry about trouble my reaction, suspicious of it, in a way. I don't celebrate it as crucial to a new, liberated mode of thinking.

On Zizek, I've posted at icite links to two articles on Zizek that I've written as defenses of him. They can be found in the Zizek section. Both were published in law journals. One is on Zizek and law, and it aims to show how Zizek is useful for thinking about law. The second is on Zizek's critique of democracy. Those skeptical of democracy today might find it interesting.

For the most part, though, it rarely makes sense to me to argue for reading someone in a general way. That is, what makes most sense is knowing what someone's project is, what their interests are, and then lettng them know if one's own area of scholarship might overlap helpfully. Like, I can't imagine telling a graduate student, go read Zizek, unless the student were saying something like, you know Agamben's homo sacer is really interesting, but what kind of subjectivity is presupposed in it? Is it some kind of Aristotelean or peformative subjective? or, maybe just a space or lack? And, then I would suggest that the graduate student, in addition to reading more Aristotle, look at Butler and Zizek. Conceivably, the graduate student would find these useless, and then develop a fascinating dissertation on Agamben with critical chapters on Butler and Zizek.

Luther Blissett

I think Jodi says it well above: I can't imagine trying to convince someone to read something. I don't do it with poetry or novels. I don't even do it with music any longer. There's no way of making a convincing case about why someone needs to read anything -- or read at all, for that matter. A quotation from Frank O'Hara that gets to this broader point:

"But how can you really care if anybody gets it, or gets what it means, or if it improves them. Improves them for what? for death? Why hurry them along? Too many poets act like a middle-aged mother trying to get her kids to eat too much cooked meat, and potatoes with drippings (tears). I don't give a damn whether they eat or not. Forced feeding leads to excessive thinness (effete). Nobody should experience anything they don't need to, if they don't need poetry bully for them. I like movies too. And after all, only Whitman and Crane and Williams, of the Americans are better than the movies."

That said, all one can really ever do is relate to others what one likes about a certain text (or song or movie). I've read one Zizek book -- *The Sublime Object of Ideology* -- and I enjoyed reading it. Why? Because it made me think about things I find interesting. Not because it's "right" -- I don't really think anyone will ever be "right" about the unconscious, about the relationship between politics and pleasure, about Hegel, and so on. But if you like the themes Pynchon explores you might like the themes Zizek explores: history, loving your facist. I enjoy reading people who make me think about these issues. I like Norman Brown for this reason, even if I don't ultimately buy into the entire Freudian edifice. And Zizek is frequently a quite entertaining writer. To be funny about Marx or Lacan in an un-snarky way is a true fear. And his tossed-off readings of Jane Austen or Hitchcock are better than most scholarly books. Not because they are "right" -- but because they make me re-think my take on Jane Austen or Hitchcock. Where else will you get a point-for-point comparison between Hegel's project from the *Phenomenology* to the *Logic* and Austen's novels?

I suppose I'm exactly the type of scholar that annoys you. When it comes to the Social, to politics, to culture, I don't care about empirical rigor unless the work itself wants to be taken serious on those grounds. I don't care about a thinker being right unless s/he insists on his or her rightness. I care about being interested. About having dead things come to life again. About being forced to rethink what I've thought I had settled in my own brain.

Of course, willful or ideological distortions annoy me. Factual errors irritate me. But the fact that Cornel West and Paul Gilroy misread *Beloved* doesn't annoy me. Novels aren't things I'm heavily invested in being "right" about. Any novelist worth her salt will tell you a novel's only there to make you think. To bring dead things back to life. A critic getting a novel wrong isn't the end of the world. It's just an excuse for another critic to try her hand at it.

Debra Riley

326145: Hey, does anyone know where I can find a list of gas stations with low prices in my area?

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