Sunday, 14 October 2007

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I Dream The Lameness Heroic This post concerns an Umberto Eco essay published in the Spring, 1972 volume of Diacritics entitled Or perhaps this post was an excuse to publish the title of article as printed in the Spring, 1972 volume of Diacritics. (As the Jews say: dayenu.) This essay's been on my mind since I read Scott McLemee's "Good Grief" (about Eco's "The World of Charlie Brown"), as evidenced by the following two dreams: Dream #1: The Lamest Mutant Power Ever Namely, the power to create and pop corn kernels with my mind. Attempts to propel myself into the sky on an ascending slide of popping corn (a la Iceman) failed. My attempt to stop a large object (a Buick) with a wall of popped corn met with similar "success." When my friends disappeared—presumably off to fight real criminals with their real powers—I amused myself by hitting the street and creating, then popping, corn kernels in the mouths of unsuspecting pedestrians. I took great pleasure in watching their faces contort to the tune of bug-in-my-mouth, then relax when the kernel hit their tongue. They had no clue where this popcorn came from, and only one or two broke stride to search for a potential source. The dream didn't "end" so much as "stop" when I became bored with the endless iteration of the same, or what Eco calls "a typical high redundance message [which] informs us of very little and which, on the contrary ... keeps hammering home the same meaning which we have peacefully acquired upon reading the first work in the series." (Or, in my case, from popping the first kernel in the mouth of a stranger.) I took comfort in the known and sated my "hunger for redundance." My complacence prevented me from realizing the potential my power held. Like Superman, who "carries on his activity on the level of the small community where he lives (Smallville as a youth, Metropolis as an adult)," I ignored everything outside the borders of the dream city in which I lived. Because I couldn't fight crime, I felt impotent. The fact that I could conjure food stuff from thin air disappointed me. Not only did I not want to feed the world, the thought never even occurred to me, because "the only visible form that evil assumes is an attempt on private property." Eco pegged the lameness of my unimaginative dream-hero. Dream #2: The Lamest Article Ever Contrary to the claims of Dream #1 and Eco, the Superman myth concerns issues other than the protection of the propertied classes from miscreants who place illegitimate claims on their stuff. In point of fact, the latest big-screen iteration, Superman Returns, is Bryan Singer's allegorical critique of the neoconservative movement generally and the Bush Administration in particular. Such, at least, was the argument I forwarded in an article published in n+1 at times, American Literature at others. As explained to the audience attending my talk, in the article I argued something about planes falling from the sky...
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Absolutely, Positively the Last Words I'll Write about KC Johnson or Durham in Wonderland KC Johnson's obviously a dogged researcher and responsible scholar ... when he wants to be. When he doesn't—that is, when facts flatter his agenda—he either brandishes his liberal credentials or boldly dissembles. Johnson rebuts those who would associate him with David Horowitz: "Indoctrination" is a concern of some right-wing academic critics, especially David Horowitz. Yet, since Piot claims to have read the blog closely, he knows that I’m an Obama supporter who backs gay marriage and abortion rights. This statement is evidently more meaningful than the fact (as Rich discovered) that Johnson has contributed no less than seven articles to Horowitz's various publications. As Adam noted earlier: KC has to be blind if he doesn't see how his book feeds into the larger right-wing narrative about academia, which for convenience one calls "Horowitzian." Johnson's not blind. He knows what he's doing. He knows the people he must align with to do it. This isn't to claim Johnson's ideas are coterminous with Horowitz's, only that they appeal to the same people for the same reasons. Witness his commentariat. Better yet, since he distances himself from the racism and sexism so prevalent among some of its numbers, witness the meat Johnson tosses to them: This article represents what passes for a scholarly publication in [Charles] Piot’s field [cultural anthropology]. Indeed, it is listed as a "representative publication" on Professor Piot’s CV. Johnson may not agree with Horowitz, but he certainly appropriates his style. Piot's article is dubious. I grant Johnson that. (Just as I've granted him his due from the get-go.) And were Johnson to stop with the facts before him like any responsible scholar we wouldn't be having this conversation. Instead, he makes a leap as grandiose as the one which motivates the second half of Until Proven Innocent. To wit: Charles Piot's article represents what passes for scholarly publication in his field ... ... because Charles Piot lists it as a "representative publication" on his CV. Unless the field in question is "Charles Piot Studies," Johnson's argument is a sloppy attempt to discredit the work of hundreds of scholars through a flip rhetorical gesture. I suspect that when he reads this post, Johnson will correct his "mistake," thereby cementing his readers' belief in his integrity. I'm not buying it. He's too smart to not be this savvy. He makes statements hoping that no one notices them, because it's a win-win proposition. If no one does, his pack feasts upon the meat he's thrown it. If someone does, he plays the role of the judicious pack-leader, and his pack respects him all the more for his honesty ... but only because they've already stuffed a little meat down their gullets. Rhetorically, it's as brilliant as it is dishonest. And it is dishonest. I refuse to believe so thorough a researcher as Johnson wouldn't have performed a cursory examination of the field he dismissed in its entirety and learned that Transforming Anthropology is not among cultural anthropology's flagship journals. I refuse to...

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