[Because many of my readers are of recent vintage—not to mention the fact that your Irvine Derridevils have a double-header tonight—I present to you this blast from the past. Originally posted on May 4, 2005, "How Not to Open, Close or Anything In-Between an Academic Essay" marked my entry into big-time blogging. No, not the sort of "big-time" that would unleash the hoards of boingboing on my (limited) bandwidth—but a more modest "big-time." My readership spiked from 25 to about 70 after this post, so I have a spot for it as soft as the one I have for its subject is sore. Note the reference to the fictional "A. Cephalous" which pepper it. Also note the overwrought prose of someone who tries far too hard. Ain't the fact that I don't have to do the former no more grand? Of the latter, the less said the better.]
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. [Ugh.] The Critical Tradition clutched to my chest, I would speak to anyone willing to listen about "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." [Maybe I should've mentioned that those quotations came from the statement of purpose that landed me this swank position at UCI. And this paragraph—did it really need to be this long? No.]
[And now it isn't.] 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.) [Don't you love how I complain about tediously overwritten prose in tediously overwritten prose? I'm so ironic. And intentionally, no less.] 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. [Why didn't I take the opportunity to interlace criticism into this beastly paragraph? See the mistakes an amateur blogger will make?] 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. [But if you thought I should've stopped the sentence before that one at the word "abstract," removed the conjuctive "as" and let "It could not possibly be less" stand on its own, you would be right.] 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 ["Declaimed"? Did "cried" have a prior engagement? Was "shouted" booked that week?] 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 their cyborg identities, which deconstruct the wholeness implicit in the exclusionary principle at the heart of a binary conception of identity." I felt powerful. Who transgressed borders? I transgressed borders. Which ones? Why
the whole body of lived social relations, since their identities are "predicated on transgressed boundaries"--between such terms as organic/machinic, man/woman, nature/culture, public/private, civilized/primitive, heterosexual/polymorphously perverse--boundaries which society considers inviolable.
[Finally, a bit that works from start to finish. Only took me, what? Nine-hundred words?] Before the workings of my radical mind "all the formerly reliable oppositions/dualisms [were] destabilized and the identities constructed from them [were offered] up for reexamination." Then I discussed nouns and something I called "the historical/social ramifications of analytic desiccation." This withering analytic tatooed shudder-quotes on the shoulders of 78% of available nouns, and so when I turned, predictably, to discuss "how cyborg 'identity' in the form of 'information-processing devices' [worked] to further destabilize the 'post-colonial' environs of 1922 Sudwestafrika," is it any wonder I lost track of "what" I had "argued"? Was I still talking about "a fundamental divide (in the Kantian sense) between a human understanding of the world and a knowledge of the world as it is"? And had my "argument" evaporated before or after the chart in which I made "the implications of this situation less confusing" by categorizing everything as "Raw Sferical Data Weissmann Transcribes Exists in the World," "Raw Data Transcribed by Weissmann" and "Information Decoded by Weissmann under Wittgensteinian Dictates"?
I cannot answers these questions now, and suspect I couldn't then either. (Though I would've protested, loudly, repeatedly, loudly, repeatedly, and then rather loudly that your inability to follow my argument is your fault. Jackass.)
Why am I sharing this? On the one hand, it's because I was thinking about the vehemence of my position in the this week's discussion on the Valve. How did I come to distrust the suggestiveness of Theory? Then I remembered: A. Cephalous, you little shit, you penned "Cyborg Identity and the Destabilization of Epistemological Boundaries in Thomas Pynchon's V. and Gravity's Rainbow." What frightens me about this document (excerpts of which will now lurk the darker corners of the internet until the most inopportune moment possible) is that I earnestly believed I was saying something about something. [I still believe that I believed that, but I have spent one more year agonizing over the why and how-possibly-could-I-have.] What frightens me more generally are those occasions when I stumble across articles seemingly no better than my honors thesis in academic journals. Granted, some of those critics undoubtedly walk the walk I only talked, but since none of them really talk all that better than I did, I wonder about the quality of their walking.
One final historical note: Seven months after completing my opera mictilis I officially forswore Theory in an essay on the current state of Hawthorne Studies. Why I forswore there instead of forswearing somewhere else or appropriate even escapes me.
[Here endeth the lesson. I hope those of you who hadn't read it enjoyed it, and those of you who had didn't bother to read it again. Great concept, lackluster execution. I should really revise these things and distribute them in less ephemeral format . . . ]