Thursday, 19 May 2005

How to Title an Academic Essay: Everything and Its Discontents Reading through the recently arrived copy of Theory's Empire, I stumble across John Searle's essay on "Literary Theory and Its Discontents." "My oh my!" I said to myself, "What ever does this strange title mean!" I understood the first term. Everyone knows what "literary theory" is and can define it, in its totality, in a sentence or two. But "its discontents" had me baffled. I'd never heard or read this particular infelicity before, so I thought I'd Google Scholar it and see what turned up. (One-fourth of a second later...) "MY OH SHEEP-FUCKING MY!" I said. Quietly. "The pastor told me all about modern society and its malcontents, but I didn't realize that we lived in a world of 6,090 discontents." But nothing and no one, it appears, is content with much of anything these days. Not globalization, postmodernity, sexuality, virtuality, assimilation, identity, cloning, technophilia, popular education, oligotrophication, philosophy of science, stabilization, Italy, narrative, aging, the mind, hysteria, standardization, the modern university, separation, culture, postcolonialism, paternalism, feminism, femininity, privatization, centralization, symmetry, modernization, ethnocracy, the good life, residential disinvestment, liberalism, treatment, economic growth, creativity, innovation, psychotherapy, economic nationalism, psychosocial changes, collaboration, the new historicism, electoral reform, work, family law, feminist discourse, diversity, whiteness, content, representation, realism, democratization, rationality, tourism, cultural integration, Islamic feminism, the intelligent body, the idea of community, Anglo-America, alcohol education, peace, curriculum, new urbanism, "new urbanism," expansion, biotechnology, development, "non-racialism," chartalism, multilateralism, savagism, progress, compressed modernity, secularism, ecofeminism, New Labour, geography, investigation, the Australian legend, bioprospecting, difference, public memory, cultural studies, the good life, medical authority, wish fulfilment, French civilization, physicalism, etc., etc., etc.
Friday Afternoon Office-Blogging: Curbing the Appetite for Unquestioning Belief Still reading through Theory's Empire--it's 723 pages long, so I could begin every entry with "still reading through Theory's Empire" for the next few weeks and not be called a liar--when I ran across my old tagline: Those who raise objections soon find themselves trapped in debates shaped by us versus them forensics, enunciated in an idiom of brazen philosophical avowals and insinuations about the character of adversaries. Nonconstructionists feel not so much refuted as ostracized. The humanities became a closed society, captive to a weak epistemology with a mighty elocution. (348) Before you ask, let me say that yes, I know, that's an offensively long tagline. But I liked it. And it allowed me to pick fights without having to say anything. Graduate students on the graduate student listserv to which I belong would read it, ignoring both what I'd say and what Mark Bauerlein (author of my former tagline) said and throw around some "brazen philosophical avowals" and "insinuations about [my] character." Their epistemology was weak, but fortunately for me, so was their elocution; it had all the hallmarks of mightiness but none of the actual might. Were I not the upstanding individual I am, I'd quote from those "debates" at length; but, alas, those debates are all stored on a computer which I believe is now a table, or a leg of a table, in Mrs. A. Cephalous' study. Otherwise I'd throw my moral qualms out the window...

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