Saturday, 06 August 2005

Theory Friday: In Which Our Hero Discusses the Merits of His Heroism What can I say? I want to be like Mike. On to the show! I can't contest Matt's claim that the introduction to Theory's Empire declares the timeliness, nay! necessity of an anti-Norton anthology with a bombast the articles it introduces can't support. But what about the introduction to The Norton? Are its sins of inflation as grievous as Theory's Empire's? On the first page, students learn: [Theory] entails a mode of questioning and analysis that goes beyond the earlier New Critical research into the "literariness" of literature. Because of the effects of post-structuralism, cultural studies, and the new social movements, especially the women's and civil rights movements, theory now entails skepticism toward systems, institutions, and norms; a readiness to take critical stands and to engage in resistance; an interest in blind spots, contradictions, and distortions (often discovered to be ineradicable); and a habit of linking local and personal practices to the larger economic, political, historical, and ethical forces of culture. Observe how the uncredited author (I'll call him/her "Andy") of the preface forces the students to make a distinction: on the one hand, there are the limited claims of the New Critics who focus solely on the "literariness of literature." Apparently Andy never read I'll Take My Stand, the New Critical/Agrarian manifesto whose authors aren't interested in the literariness of literature so much as attacking "apologists of industrialism." Denude the early anti-capitalist dimension to early New Critical thought and the rationale behind their theories concerning coherent aesthetic experiences seem awful small-minded. That said, I won't claim the agrarian movement imagined itself to be progressive; then again, many of their complaints about the excesses of capitalism can still circulate in theoretical debates today: The word science has acquired a certain sanctitude. It is out of order to quarrel with science in the abstract, or even with the applied sciences when their applications are made subject to criticism and intelligence. The capitalization of the applied sciences has now become extravagant and uncritical; it has enslaved our human energies to a degree now clearly felt to be burdensome. The apologists of industrialism do not like to meet this charge directly; so they often take refuge in saying that they are devoted simply to science! They are really devoted to the applied sciences and to practical production. Therefore, it is necessary to employ a certain skepticism even at the expense of the Cult of Science, and to say, it is an Americanism, which look innocent and disinterested, but really is not either. As a younger lad I fought to connect this strain of agrarian anti-industrialism to the contemporary critiques of capitalism. Although I never quite accomplished that feat, to this day I wonder what those who oppose capitalism on theoretical grounds imagine will happen were they their opposition magically transformed into something, I don't know, remotely efficacious. Would their vision of unalienated labor resemble that of the New Critics Andy casually dismisses in a clause? In other words: if forced to articulate a...
Saturday Morning Hatred I, in which Our Hero Hates that He Hates I've had the most intellectually taxing breaks today--some of which involved reading, some of which involved writing--so tonight I forego my nightly devotions to the Great God of Winding Down to complain about some things I hate: Kotsko-style. (Just like Hamster, only with less little arms and more bite.) I hate that everything that's been written about Jack London is so infuriating. I hate that even the most intelligent and nuanced readings suffer from a basic lack of fact-checking or the self-evident desire to white-wash his Anglo-Saxon supremacism. I hate that these critics can't just accept that London thought one thing one year and another the next and deal with it. I hate that instead of talking about the evolution of his thought, these critics instead talk about its consistency and in so doing deny that he could've thought one thing in 1904 and another in 1912. I hate that these critics seem to abide by a punk ethos that values consistency and not-selling-out-ity over all else even though it's obvious that his opinions on these issues changed because of he "expanded his horizons" or however you'd like to euphemize "sailed around the world, met other people, acknowledged their dignity and changed his views accordingly then died." I hate that I can't take these scholars to task for valuing intellectual consistency over historical contingency. I hate that it's in my best interest to be more polite than some Jungian archetype of Jeeves in my dissertation. I hate that I have to be politic if I ever want to be hired somewhere. And that's enough hatred for me. Almost. I hate how addictive hatred is. I hate that when I wash dishes listening to the old New Pornographers album that Neko Case doesn't sing lead or harmonize on every song. I hate that when I think about hatred I couch everything in terms of hate. I also hate that it's come to my attention that I hate far too many things to fit into a single post and that if I continue to think about them, the process won't be cathartic so much as a doused-in-gamma-radiation-while-sporting-purple-shorts situation, and if I rampage around the apartment again there's a good chance I won't be married come the morrow.

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