Friday, 26 August 2005

On the Indexical, Literally; or "Running-amok, 368" Some signs that your career in academia is well-chosen are easily recognized: loving sleep deprivation and its epiphanic stupor; wishing Figure X, Y or Z were more prominent so that others might admire the thoroughness with which you trounce him; considering afternoons spent unwriting pages of meticulously crafted prose "productive" and need I even continue? But one sign out-signifies all the rest. I speak, of course, of having a favorite index. You know you do. There's that one index out there that you read like a novel and cherish like a dead parent. Don't deny it. So today I step out onto this ledge of a limb and introduce you to my favorite index: The "Index of Topics" in Kenneth Burke's The Philosophy of Literary Form. If you want to know where Burke discusses "Accepting (by one name), Rejecting (by another)," all you need do is consult the index. If you were more interested in "'Beauty,' via tonal disguise of the repellent," "Catharsis by 'electoral obscenity,'" or "Destruction (of natural resources) poetically interpreted as 'advance,'" consult the index. If you want to anticipate John Guillory's argument in Cultural Capital: The Problem of Literary Canon Creation by a robust 57 years, consult the index then read about "Education, as working capital of Intelligensia." The depressed can take comfort in his account of the "Emptiness (of failure, of success)," "Expectancy, the 'arrows' of," "'Medicine,' Hitler's" or "Humanitarianism, and Debunking." The aesthete can bask in the "'Aesthetic Sense,' Special" or ponder the conflict of "Aesthetic, vs. Anesthetic." The blunt can read of "Frankness, not 'distinterested curiosity'" and complain of it with "'Four-letter Words,' transformed." The socialist can learn where to find "Laughter, 'Capitalist,'" but lest he dive into his doldrums, he can also discover the "Mythic Hero, recipe for" and the "Magic Formulae, 'outraged'" required to cook Him or Her up. (Then he can discover arguments about "'Prolitarian Literature as 'Pastoral'" and put his outraged Magic Formulae to good use.) The overconfident can undermine their own arguments by reading "Opponent, Unanswerable," "Perspectives, Theory of (to transcend rival perspectives." The strict formalist can try (and fail) to verify his intuitions by turning to Burke's discussion of the "Poem, not identical for writer and reader," but if his delusions get the best of him, he can "succeed" by "Summarizing Term, as 'god-function.'" Freudians can avoid the ubiquitous "Unanswerable Opponent" by asserting that the "Universe, becomes 'guilt-laden'" and denying that the "Symbolic Act, in neurosis as distinct from art." (If that fails, they can commit "Symbolic Suicide, as assertion.") [Note: The rest of the index is available below the fold.] Page 6: Page 7: Page 8:

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