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Wednesday, 22 March 2006


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Scott Eric Kaufman

I may've oversimplified this grossly. If so, I apologize. All day was spent grading--last night's post was one I decided I ought to sleep on before posting lest I say something unspeakably offensive. I probably should've done the same for this one . . . so let it be said that the only point I make here is context matters.

N. Pepperell

I can't help it - there's something very funny in seeing these random, disassociated comments... Nothing like agonising over something you've posted, only to be bombarded with... whatever this is... (You seem to have been getting hit a bit lately - does typepad offer some spam filtering options?)

If it helps, though, I didn't find the original post offensive...

Scott Eric Kaufman

N.P., I'm glad you didn't find the original post offensive. I assume the reason the spam has marshalled its forces on my borders tonight is because I wrote about something "timely." However, because the combination of "their" names is "Smart-tay," I'm disinclined to delete them. After all, the post "they" are commenting on is sorta kinda about the random generation of meaning.

That said: yes, Typepad has spam filters that worked fine before I approached 600 hits per day. I think I crossed some threshold. Spammers can "see" me now, whereas before I was beneath notice. I don't mind it so much, actually, but that's because it's only started happening since you pointed it out . . . HEY! No, nevermind, I don't blame you. I would, only I'm a fair and just man 90% of the time and I've caught you on a day I'm not an outlier.

But seriously, I'm often tempted to "spam" my own site with ads for "penis enshrinkments," "r0und tR1p f1rst c1a5s tik3tz to 3l33te local3s" . . . but then I remember I don't want to encourage "them."

Scott Eric Kaufman

Mildly amusing? Yes. Enough to deal with its lagomorphic rates of reproduction? No.

N. Pepperell

I'm finding it interesting watching spam strategies evolve (hmmm... Lamarckian? Darwinian? Lamarckian, I think...). My public site doesn't get hit often (*sniff* are there no spammers who think their products would appeal to my audience *sniff* - I've always thought Habermas was a very sexy topic... Actually, that sounds a bit off even to me...). My admin email, though, is a different story... I'm not quite ready to adopt the strategy of requiring approval for a first-time emailer, but I'm close...

N. Pepperell

We all have our standards... ;-P

Rich Puchalsky

"Short of granting the existence of a psychoanalytic unconscious which reveals itself through such slips, I can't see how someone would ascribe ill-intention to them."

I think that your aversion to psychoanalysis goes too far in this kind of case, Scott. There is a folk psychoanalysis that seems to work pretty well for such cases that doesn't involve buying in to the whole Freudian scaffolding.

This folk-psychoanalytic theory would explain by events by something like "When engaged in an anxiety-producing activity like public speaking, there is a tendency for slips to produce the embarassing word that you least want to produce." The speaker may not have a psychoanalytic unconscious in the Freudian sense, but does have a lifetime of racist conditioning, bringing up "coon" as an association with the euphemism African-American. At that stage of the speech, the unconcious brings up this association, the anxious speaker thinks "don't say that!" at some level, and as a result that is what is said instead of "coup".

This isn't evidence of ill-intention, no. If there were ill-intention, there would be no anxiety around the association, and no slip. But the slip is most easily explained through either ill-intention or folk psychology. Lenihan probably, given the reference to his "show", doesn't often make such slips. Saying that he unadvertantly revealed a part of American society that he didn't want to reveal in himself is an answer that people might understand better than a pure slip. But of course people don't want to accept this either -- so they fall back on demonizing the speaker, thus casting out that part of themselves. See, I'm back to folk psychology again...

Rodney Herring

Rich: "This isn't evidence of ill-intention, no."

It seems Rich is pretty much on-point here. "Intention" is precisely the wrong word. What the slip reveals, more likely, may be desire, but it isn't a desire intended to be articulated.

But to take this further, is such an event not evidence for a Freudian unconscious -- or at least of Lacanian fantasy? To consider the latter, just think of F/X's new show "Black. White." that has gained some attention as being racist for the stereotypes it reinstantiates in each episode. Bruno, the "white" guy "passing" as “black," says he is "waiting for someone to go "Hey, nigger!" and later Brian, the black guy passing as white, notes (with some attention to Bruno's [enjoyed?] [re]iteration of the epithet), "I think that most white people would love to say 'nigger' in the presence of blacks and not have any repercussions." Does this not reveal the articulation of racism as the object of the racist's fantasy and, thus, an exposure of the racist's racism, even when s/he isn't aware of or willing to admit h/er racism?

Lee Siegel, in TNR, points out, "At one point, Brian corrects Bruno, telling him that no one is going to call him a 'nigger' because prejudice is further below the surface and more carefully insinuated nowadays--the word, he believes, has been retired as a term of abuse and humiliation." And yet, what constitutes this "below the surface" if not an unconscious, but real (Real?) racism?

Indeed, even if, as when in Slate's review of the show Troy Patterson notes, "The idea of having the slur flung at him is a recurrent fantasy of Bruno's, a bit of masochism rather like Catherine Deneuve's Belle de Jour daydreams of being pelted with dung," is such masochism not an "ultimate American paranoiac fantasy" to quote Zizek? (Scott, feel free to modify the link so as to maximize your click-through dollars!)

Rich Puchalsky

"But to take this further, is such an event not evidence for a Freudian unconscious -- or at least of Lacanian fantasy?"

I think that *some* kind of unconscious is a good explanatory theory for the incident, but not necessarily a Freudian or Lacanian one. If you're committed to the idea of Freud as great scientist, then I think that the best way to look at him is as someone like Newton. Newton's work taken as a whole isn't wrong, but it isn't right. Most of it is perfectly good for certain ordinary cases despite being "wrong". In the case of someone saying coon instead of coup in this context, followed immediately after by "I am totally, totally, totally, totally, totally sorry" and being fired with general righteous approval, I think that there's most likely more going on than in Scott's account of possible simple tongue-tripping. However, there may also be less going on, or something somewhat different going on, than what Freud or Lacan might say.

Rodney Herring

"However, there may also be less going on, or something somewhat different going on, than what Freud or Lacan might say."

Oh absolutely. I don't think the station manager theorized his position with any kind of reference to psychoanalysis anyway.

In fact (and this too may have a psychoanalytic valence), his motives seem to be revealed in what Scott quotes: "There is enough hate. We certainly are not going to fan those flames. That is not what we're about." In which case, we may find it useful to ask: In what sense is Lenihan a scapegoat? And what's being concealed in "revealing" Lenihan as a "hateful" "flaming" racist?

Scott Eric Kaufman

I think "unconscious," structured or otherwise, isn't necessary in this case. As soon as Lenihan said "African-American," his anxieties were both mobilized, on the tip of his brain. I wouldn't be surprised if he was consciously thinking "don't say 'coon' don't say 'coon' don't say 'coon' don't say 'coon' don't say 'coon' don't say 'coon' don't say 'coon'" when he said it. (I realize this is what Rich said, but it's also what I meant to say above re: "new figures.")

Rodney, I hadn't heard of "Black. White." but I must say I'm intrigued (and not just because, as I mentioned earlier, Light in August is my favorite Faulkner novel). I often find myself in the so-anti-racist-he's-racist category, i.e. I don't believe race to be biological truth but social fiction, &c. so I'm more perversely thrilled than your average perverse thrill-seeker when I hear about social experiments like these. I suppose I shouldn't be, and also shouldn't be saying as much, but it aligns nicely with Rich's point above about "folk psychoanalysis," which certainly exists.

Only unlike the belief in the biology of race--itself the product of folk wisdom a.k.a. common sense--I think there's an actual link between the thing itself and its folksy variant: namely, that the reason we have a "folk psychoanalysis" is because actual psychoanalytic concepts have attained the status of "common sense." Take sibling rivalry, for one; or repressed memories, for another. Woody Allen films don't even make sense without a bare-bone familiarity with psychoanalysis. In other words, I sort of disagree with Rodney about whether the station manager theorized his decision with reference to psychoanalysis, because I think he did, if only twice-removed from actual psychoanalytic theory.

Rodney Herring

Scott: "I think 'unconscious,' structured or otherwise, isn't necessary in this case."
+ "In other words, I sort of disagree with Rodney about whether the station manager theorized his decision with reference to psychoanalysis, because I think he did, if only twice-removed from actual psychoanalytic theory."

There seems something ironic in insisting that psychoanalysis isn't needed to explain the case, but that psychoanalysis is needed to explain the station director's explanation of the case. This very irony is the fact that the station director misunderstands psychoanalysis and therefore misappropriates it. Hence, the importance of insisting on psychoanalysis is that we differentiate it from its "folk" variant that is just plain wrong. (Insofar as the station manager "theorized" the firing, and I think "rationalized" is the better term here, he used bad theory; or: he was wrong.)

Is Lenihan a racist? Yes, especially insofar as he is a racialist (the refusal of which may be what lends some accuracy to Scott's implied insistence -- if that's what it was -- that Scott's not a racist) (and I'll [too] draw on the Michaels, Appiah, etc. analyses that are certainly familiar here). Is Lenihan more raci(ali)st than his station manager? Probably not. His "mistake" is simply that he revealed what is supposed to remain concealed -- the very structure of racism that absolutely persists in our culture. That said, Lenihan is probably no more racist than the average 2006 American, but that doesn't mean that his "slip" didn't reveal the very racism that the "average 2006 American" struggles continually to suppress.

So let me (mis)appropriate Scott's words about S. Weir Mitchell and say that it's not necessary to discover that Lenihan is a racist; we must strive to know what kind of racist Lenihan is. Or, in my words, how Lenihan is a racist. And we need some form of psychoanalysis to discover the answer to this subject-centered question.

Rodney Herring

Two more points and I promise to stop bombarding the site:

(1) Why must hate speech be opposed to "honest mistake"? Only because we posit intention. But even though Lenihan didn't intend to be hateful, that doesn't mean his honest mistake wasn't hateful. If I'm right above -- which of course hasn't been acceded at all -- then the honesty of his mistake makes it all the more hateful. (It is, after all and if I'm right, the bubbling to the surface of a structural raci(ali)sm.)

(2) I too will be disturbed when, doubtless, Scott's right and "this firing will become ammunition for rightwing radio to denounce 'political correctness' ad nauseam."

Scott Eric Kaufman
There seems something ironic in insisting that psychoanalysis isn't needed to explain the case, but that psychoanalysis is needed to explain the station director's explanation of the case.

That's both ironic and evidence I'm a moron with no fear of self-contradiction. I'll respond later, and less moronically, when I've marked another couple of finals. (Also, I don't fear or dislike bombardment, so feel free to bombard away!)

Rich Puchalsky

Lenihan as scapegoat for improperly revealed unpleasant truths about American society invites Biblical comparisons too, doesn't it? That's one reason that I'm not as confident as Scott seems to be that folk psychology didn't exist before psychology. I still think that Newton is a good analogy: before Newton, people had a vague sense the objects moved in certain types of ways. After Newton, educated people said "Hey, there's a science of how objects move, and now we know all the basics of it." And after Einstein they found out that they didn't really know all those basics. But "folk physics" still largely follows Newton, because, after all, Newton offered a good theory about the kinds of things that we can easily observe, and organized people's existing store of observations. Just as sibling rivalry may have needed psychoanalytic theory to make it into a phrase, but was still a highly observed phenomenon in story and history long before that.

Parenthetically, it's interesting to see which social sciences are adopted easily and which aren't. I think a Crooked Timber thread pointed out that sociology concepts like "peer group" are very widely understood, while economics ones aren't.

Rich Puchalsky

RH: "and later Brian, the black guy passing as white, notes (with some attention to Bruno's [enjoyed?] [re]iteration of the epithet), "I think that most white people would love to say 'nigger' in the presence of blacks and not have any repercussions."

I was wondering what this reminded me of, and then realized it was Patti Smith's album _Easter_ (one of the greatest and most religious rock albums of all time, btw), specifically the song "Rock & Roll Nigger". The song isn't about saying a forbidden word in front of black people, but about the supposed joy of giving up privilege and becoming the Other. "I was lost, and the cost, was to be outside society." Of course Patti Smith isn't outside society, though, and neither are the people stigmatized by the word, even if some individuals might like to be at some times. But I think that's what the supposed underlying attraction to this kind of societal infringement is about in some cases, not merely a thrill of indulging in prejudice.

Belle Lettre

This reminds me of when D.C. mayor Anthony Williams "accepted the resignation" of his financial officer David Howard when Howard's use the word "niggardly" in a speech did not go over well with his vocabularly challenged listeners. In the ensuing brouhaha, despite the fact that the real meaning of "niggardly" was told over and over again, people were really, realy offended by the use of this word. To me, this is the worst/best example of PC gone bad.

And I'm in favor of PC. I'm in favor of hate crimes regulations, although I feel less comfortable with hate speech regulations. When speech crosses over into intimidating action, I'm more comfortable with such regulations--for example, Virginia v. Black, in which the Supreme Court upheld an anti-cross burning statute. To me, actions of property desecration and overt intimidation do not constitute free speech.

But I bring this up to show you an example of real hate speech. Real hate speech is more than a slip of a tongue. It intends to violate the other person's integrity and sense of self. I really admire Charles Lawrence's work in unconscious racism--there may indeed be a lot behind that person's slip of "coup" to "coon" and goodness knows there's a history of racism and dehumanization in that term. But I take exception to your saying that "intention" doesn't capture it. To me, it is all about intention. I do not shrug off unconscious racism--it exists, and my personal experiences tell me that it's not always innocent, and attention must be brought to it so that people realize that it's not okay to presume that all members of a certain race are lazy/stupid/insular. But here, "innocent" or not, this slip of the tongue doesn't have the tortious intent to degrade or dehumanize. It may be unconscious racism, or it may just be a parroting of a racist construct absorbed growing up, but it doesn't have the injurious force/intent of the N-word.

You'll know hate speech when you hear it. I don't think this was it. The apology was in order, but firing the man was unnecessary.

N. Pepperell

A couple of things - one just a linguistic one. It's come up a few times the notion that heightened anxiety about not saying something offensive might have triggered associations to offensive words - and therefore made one more likely to roll off the tongue in this way. One alternative (or co-constitutive) possibility that had occurred to me was that this same word could also have popped out as a "compromise" between two words on the tip of the presenter's tongue - i.e., everyone in this thread assumes that the presenter meant to say "coup". When I first read the passage, and wondered what the guy had actually meant to say, I actually jumped to the conclusion he had meant to say "boon" - and then I read further, and found out that my association is evidently an outlier... ;-P

My reason for mentioning this is that I seem to find myself frequently in situations where I'm trying to say something that could be conveyed by a couple of different words, and what pops out is an intermediate word - which, as in Scott's examples of flipped initial consonants, usually simply makes no sense, but occasionally stumble into a bona fide word that may or may mean anything vaguely related to what I was trying to say. So my thought had been that, teetering between "coup" and "boon" - particularly with the similar middle sound - the words could have blended into one another, and you got this monstrosity...

This kind of explanation is not incompatible with the notion that a tacit racism - or an offensive socialised association - was also constitutive of the slip. It could have been that ordinary, commonplace mechanisms that cause slips of the tongue were reinforced by cultural associations of African-Americans, so that this felt more "natural" to say than whatever the intended word should have been.

On another matter: I'm a little confused by the discussion of whether Scott was contradictory in rejecting psychoanalytica concepts, but then stating that the station manager was relying on them (if perhaps in a derivative, thrice-removed form) when making his firing decision. It's probably just too early for me to think properly, but I don't understand how these contradict?

I thought the issue with the station manager is that, to fire his presenter, and explain his decision publicly as he did, the guy pretty much mut be assuming that the presenter's comments were a "Freudian slip" - i.e., that they said something *meaningful* and *significant* about the presenter's views - even if the presenter would ordinarily be too savvy to express them.

It's perfectly consistent to think something like this (in fact, the common use of the expression "Freudian slip" indicates how these concepts have percolated through popular culture), but *also* to think that actual Freudian concepts are bunk.

Or is the problem that you think that Scott has said that the station manager was something like "unconsciously Freudian", while in other passages he had denied the relevance of a discussion of unconscious meaning? But this also isn't necessarily contradictory: I can note that a particular contemporary politician is, e.g., channelling Hayek without being aware of it, and not have any specific position about the unconscious in a Freudian (or other) sense.

But it's early for me, and I'm not sure that intentions, unconscious or otherwise, are all that clear to me right now...

William Rodney Herring

Belle, you're a lawyer/legal scholar, right? So of course "it is all about intention" for you; intention is the crux of almost all adjudication, is it not? It's what we need to determine (at least degrees of) guilt or liability, and especially to sentence people for their crimes. But of course I didn't say intention doesn't matter or that "'intention' doesn't capture" "that person's slip of 'coup' to 'coon.'" What I said was "'Intention' is precisely the wrong word. What the slip reveals, more likely, may be desire, but it isn't a desire intended to be articulated." Or put another way, slips reveal desires beyond intention.

And I also said that we "posit intention"-- as though doing so is a mistake. Well, indeed, perhaps it is. I'll just cite Nietzsche here: "there is no 'being' behind the doing, effecting, becoming: 'the doer' is merely a fiction added to the deed—the deed is everything." If the subject (the doer) is (at the earliest, if at all) constituted in the act, the doing, the deed, then where do we locate the intention?

Actually, let me quote Judith Butler on this point of Nietzsche's (since I’m going to come back to her in a moment): "in order to attribute accountability to a subject, an origin of action in that subject is fictively secured. In the place of a 'doing' there appears the grammatical and juridical constraint on thought by which a subject is produced first and foremost as the accountable originator of an injurious deed." (Excitable Speech, 45-46).

Speech (acts) remain(s) hateful and hurtful, and we don't need subjective intention to justify such injury.

So when you say, "You'll know hate speech when you hear it," I have no doubt you are correct, but I'm equally sure that many listeners may have known that they heard a hateful utterance when they heard Lenihan say of Condoleezza Rice, "She's African-American, which would kind of be a big coon." As Derrida effectively argued in "Signature Event Context," Austin was hasty to separate illocutionary acts off from perlocutionary acts, and as his "Limited Inc a b c..." response to Searle again demonstrated, any speaker invokes the citationality of language, speech, epithets, etc. itself any time s/he performs a speech act -- i.e., any time she speaks -- so "intention" is infinitely complicated and beyond the comprehension or accountability of the speaker h/erself. (And yet, never fear: "the citationality of discourse can work to enhance and intensify our sense of responsibility for it" [Butler 27].) But to focus on speech's intention is to attend only to the illocutionary force of a speech act, an effectively to blind ourselves to the speech act's effect, its perlocutionary force!

Dinner's waiting, but I'll perhaps return (since Scott has given me permission to bombard) to my favorite point where/because I get to talk about Althusser. As a preview: consider how the call "coon" interpellates (at least some) listeners as particular subjects. But one final point: "In Mari Matsuda's formulation, for instance, speech does not merely reflect a relation of social domination; speech enacts domination, becoming the vehicle through which the social structure is reinstated. According to this illocutionary model, hate speech constitutes its addressee at the moment of its utterance; it does not describe an injury or produce one as a consequence; it is, in the very speaking of such speech, the performance of the injury itself, where the injury is understood as social subordination" (Butler 18). There is no place for intentionality in this formulation; the effect is all. And that being the case, I don't think we can at all say that Lenihan's (unconscious or not) utterance of "coon" "doesn't have the injurious force/intent of the N-word." I think it is dangerous, in fact, for us to conflate force and intent, as though only intentional acts wield force or can injure.

N.P., I didn't exactly intend to catch Scott in a "contradiction" as much as to point out that since there's a sloppy use of "psychoanalysis" that relies on the popular notion of such things as the Freudian slip and Oedipal desire, those things as you note that have "percolated through popular culture," we ought to try to think about how such sloppiness informs the very deployment of what we've discussed as "folk psychoanalysis" (and as such ought to be corrected). (Probably, this leads in to the following:)

However, it does seem "contradictory" to me, despite your protest, that the station director would "fire his presenter, and explain his decision publicly as he did," revealing that he "must be assuming that the presenter's comments were a 'Freudian slip,'" and "*also* to think that actual Freudian concepts are bunk." How does one blame someone for doing something that one doesn't believe can be done?

N. Pepperell

Er... the same way one can personally believe that Marxism is bunk, but also believe that lots of social movements and governmental regimes took specific actions, because those movements believed Marxism to be true.

But since this point is fairly obvious, I'm guessing that we're speaking at cross purposes. I understood Scott to be saying something fairly basic - to the effect that the station manager's actions suggested that the station manager bought into some popularised versions Freudian concepts - such as the concept of a "Freudian slip". My point was that Scott could say something like this - which speaks to the motives of the station manager - while still quite consistently maintaining that *Scott himself* believes that Freudian concepts are bunk. But, as I said, this point seems so obvious that I'm guessing I'm missing either Scott's original intent, or something else that muddies the waters...

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