Thursday, 14 July 2005

Theory's Empire: It's The Erudition, Dumb-Ass (In case Typepad's links are still borking, if you've come from here or here, scroll down to my second comment for not-so-exciting story ... because seriously, I said it was about two people talking about cats. I hope you weren't expecting fireworks.) Few of the substantial responses to Mark Bauerlein's recent review of Theory's Empire ignored the "erudition exchange" (quoted below the fold in full). Michael Berube, sitting in the very same bus, verifies that the exchange took place and even expands upon it. Apparently this poor graduate student couldn't even spell e-r-u-d-i-t-i-o-n. Even as the Theory's Empire symposium swung into gear, I couldn't stop thinking about the way people responded to the "erudition exchange." Sure, I could point to the irony of people forwarding the review around livejournal--"Look! I know why I hate English professors: they're not erudite anymore. They only repeat what other people say. Mark Bauerlein says so. Pass it on!"--but I knew its status as a meme with wheels had more to do with something other than a lazy confirmation of other people's supposed intellectual shortcomings. And I think it is. But until I started seeing the responses to Adam Kotsko's contribution to the colloquium, I didn't know what it was. Now I think I maybe do: it's the erudition, dumb-ass. No, not the "erudition exchange," nor even what it's meant to convey. It's the actual lack of a culture in which erudition is valued as anything other than an ideal. What do I mean? As I re-read Hillis Miller's response to M.H. Abrams (whose response to Hillis Miller's earlier response to Abrams is the subject of Adam's response to Abrams) about criticism's parasitic but salutary relation to literature, I was struck (for the 91st time this week) by Miller's massive and intimidating erudition. He can jump from German Romanticism to Greek etymology to Hardy to Hebrew to Heidegger to Wallace Stevens in a single paragraph. Not only does he seem to remember everything he's ever read, he's able to contextualize it in the service of a deconstructive reading of a poem. Now, despite the evident hatred of the Right for the epistemic relativism deconstruction--at least in the Right's version--necessarily entails, I think even Alan Bloom would agree that Miller is a figure who's imbibed all his culture, Western Culture, has offered him. In short, Miller is a figure who puts to lie the conservative belief that Western Culture breeds traditional values. (Not that it's that difficult a notion to put to lie.) Then again, it's not as if the Right has had to contend with figures like Miller lately, i.e. it's not like graduate schools are producing thinkers of Miller's stature anymore, and the reason, I'm this close to contending, isn't that students backslide into the sins of deconstruction, identitarian politics or advocacy criticism. No, the reason is that it's no longer necessary to read Heidegger before reading Derrida. (Not that there's anything to profound in that statement.) But, whereas it's always been easy to...
Theory's Empire: Fact Checkin' Fukuyama, or Count Them Numbers! They's Numbers! In "Presentism," Graham Good argues that Francis Fukuyama's brilliant Hegelian work called The End of History was dismissed unread by most theorists despite (or because of) its offer of a coherent and persuasive vision of where we are in human history. If any further justification were needed for the dismissal, it was provided by the news that Fukuyama worked fro the U.S. State Department. So why bother with study, argument or disproof? (288). For reasons unclear to me then--and still murky to me now--I didn't buy it. I'd seen too many serious engagements with Fukuyama's argument for Good's claim to be true. So I did some fact-checking of the cursory but thorough sort beloved by bloggers everywhere. Here are the results: A general search of JSTOR reveals 653 citations of Fukuyama's The End of History. Limit the database to "Language & Literature," and you're left with 57. "Not bad!" you yell? (Self-congratulation is so becoming.) Considering that the "Language & Literature" is one of the four largest sub-groups in the database (63 journals to History's 57, Business' 59 and Economics' 40), that means the vast majority of citations of Fukuyama appear in other fields. So how seriously have the folks who study "Language & Literature" taken one of the most influential theories--ideological inclinations notwithstanding--of the past 15 years? Well, they're not doing too well in terms of pure numbers. But maybe the literary scholars who take the time to challenge his argument do so seriously. A quick tour: Social Text's editorial board loves to publish articles that bash Fukuyama. To wit: David Scott argues that "Fukuyama's thesis (such as it is) is simply that the changes and transformations taking place around the world today ... should not be seen as isolated, contingent events" (12). Further condemnation: "it may be felt, rightly or wrongly, that The End of History, elegant and learned as it may appear, is merely the work of the U.S. State Department ideologue and therefore hardly worth reflecting on" (14). Scott's evalution (such as it is) is simply dismissive, merely the work of a Social Text ideologue and hardly worth reflecting on. In Specters of Marx, Derrida calls The End of History and the Last Man "the grammar school exercise of a young, industrious, but come-lately reader of Kojeve" who possesses a "sophisticated naivete" and a neoconservative "evangelism" (56, 62). Judith Butler doesn't diss so much as dismiss Fukuyama as Kojeve-lite, then says this about "their" theory: "On the contrary, in a sense that will become important to interrogate, the unrealizability of the end of history is precisely what guarantees futurity, for if history were to have an end, a telos, and if that end were knowable in the present, then the future would be known in advance of its emergence, and the futrue would be always already present" (4). This is a stunningly general argument: if we know exactly will happen, then the "future" is in some sense "present." As in: if I throw a ball up...

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