Wednesday, 04 May 2005

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An Undisciplined Discipline? or Fun with Valves! Why am I reproducing Sean McCann's post about the conversation Jonathan Goodwin and I were having over at The Valve in its entirety? Am I intent creating the dullest trackback ever? Might "Shameless Self-Promotion" be a shamelessly unironic category? No. I reproduce it in its entirety (and append to it responses by Y.T. and Some The Real Canadian Guy) because some readers of this blog don't read the Valve. Difficult to believe, I know, but some readers insist they have coursework, grading, cooking, cleaning, bathing and a number of other terribly unimportant chores which prevent them from reading it. So for the benefit of some readers who will, I hope, take this gentle admonishment in the spirit with which it is made, I present McCann's initial post: A few days ago in a thread that followed one of my posts, Jonathan and the admirable A. Cephalous got into an interesting debate about disciplinary distinctions. (See their posts here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.) Though the issues got a full and frank airing, I think they’re too significant to let them just fade away amid a pretty much unrelated discussion. So this is my bid to resusciate the disagreement and open it to other players. (Sorry guys. I don’t mean to be poking a stick in a hornet’s nest or anything. I thought it was an interesting conversation.) The gist of the debate comes down to the question of what weight to give disciplinary boundaries. Jonathan’s position appears to be that we should begin with the presumption that they’re invidious. As he puts it, “The disciplines in the humanities and social sciences are only administrative conveniences.” A. Cephalous argues that a lot of what parades as “interdisciplinary” work is substanceless. Quite often, he suggests, it doesn’t depend at all on an effort to bring together the knowledge and perspectives prevalent in different academic specialties. He sees rather cherry picking, or one field scoffing at the other in the guise of critique. Props are due the headless one--along, of course, with his interlocutor--for commenting so seriously about what is, I agree with him, a big problem for literary study. It’s not hard to see some merit to both positions here. Jonathan is surely right that academic disciplines are professional associations with built in interests in defending their turf--and that patrolling those boundaries easily can become narrowing and even irrational. But Aceph is also surely correct that not all such complaints are merely credentialism. There are bodies of knowledge and wisdom built up in academic disciplines that, even as they may need stirring up, can’t reasonably be treated with cavalier dismissal. I think Acephalous is on surest ground when he suggests that the problem that concerns him is not so much a lack of expertise as it is a sheer lack of interest. If, e.g., Gayatri Spivak invokes psychoanalytic accounts of human psychology, but can’t be bothered to explain why they’re superior to, say, behaviorist arguments, then the problem isn’t so...
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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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