Monday, 08 August 2005

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Anti-Thoughts about the Anti-Desires of the Deeply Stupid, or Ideas Obscured by Assumptions So many points to make. So little desire to organize. The debate about the debate about the debate about the debate about Theory rages on. (Much, much more below the fold.) I had completed half a post last night in response to this by Jodi Dean: The Right promises a transgressive thrill of racism, sexism, nationalism: enjoy excluding! enjoy 'returning' to the true values, the true text, before it was corrupted by all these women and ethnically identified or figured people, when it was really English and American literature. The point would have been that she psychologizes the reasons people must not "do Theory." "You don't read Zizek," I would have had her say, "you must be a closet conservative and crass careerists enraged by your inability to master these difficult works. What other explanation could there be?" I would have then followed with a list of my complaints that would've demonstrated the reason she didn't read any of the articles on which she presumably based her diagnosis is that she already knew what everyone would say (even though she didn't) and already knew why they would say it (even though she doesn't) and that the only way she could continue to write, think and do Theory is if she ignored the fact that legitimate complaints about its usage and purview exist. Then she had to go be polite and reasonable in her response, so I'm not going to write it in the same way Cicero avoided calling attention Quintus' philanderings by informing everyone that he intended avoiding the topic of Quintus' philanderings. Actually, I'm not going to not write it that way either. I'm going to write it as an example of why I think debates about Theory are so often side-tracked: everyone believes everyone else is intellectually dishonest to the limited extent people so deeply stupid can be intellectually dishonest. I know, I know, I'm not breaking new ground here. Here's the thing: I think we're right. All of us. I think we are all intellectually dishonest (to ourselves and others) and deeply stupid when it comes to thinking about Theory. Consider this comment to Jodi's post: Excellent post, and far more gracious than I would have been if I had time to read the related posts, I'm sure. I just have no patience for graduate students, and especially professors, who profess their desire, or anti-desire, for ignorance. Why get into the profession, why claim to profess, if one doesn't want to challenge one's thought, one's way of being? Why not just do the authentic thing, and become a bureaucrat? This is one intellectually dishonest, deeply stupid comment. Its author--who no doubt considers himself as open-minded as critical thinkers come--assumes that anyone who would question the self-evident importance of Theory desires, er, anti-desires ignorance. (Wouldn't an "anti-desire for ignorance" be a desire for knowledge? Nevermind.) Although this professing machine has yet to answer Jodi's latest comment, I wonder how he'll react to this statement: Yet, I am against...
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Bulwark Against an Actual Empire, or another Maginot Line? I would like to inform everyone that Timothy Burke has christened me "Scott the Merciless." Really. He did. No he didn't. You caught me. He said: The deeper problem here is something Scott has been pretty merciless about at his own blog and The Valve: a meaningful reading of alliances made and alliances broken requires fidelity to those tools of analytic social science and historicism that theory (poststructuralist and otherwise) mostly abjures or uses in a mood of romantic bemusement. [...] What I'm referring back to is Scott's remarks about the mobility of a cultural studies/theory sense of the politics: its "left" is not any kind of socially incarnated left (save the social habitus of the constituencies drawn to the writing and consumption of theory, which is semi-effaced in the writing of such work). Its sense of left-ness is derived from a mutable, shifting search of representational space for transgression, liminality, culture-war, contestation, whereupon sides are taken, tents are pitched, and a left posture affirmed. Funny how anytime Burke says something it sounds so much more eloquent than when I do. But he has a point: I do think that. This whole conversation has me reliving the week I spent reading nothing but back issues of Critical Inquiry in preparation for the Theory's Empire event. As I moved through them, I found myself attracted to the theoretical stylings of that earlier generation of theorists, none of whom seemed stricken with the unthinking commitment to irrational positions I observe in contemporary theorists. For this reason, Alphonse van Worden's accusation struck me as willfully ignorant and particularly absurd: This may have something to do with rational, good old fashioned Discerning Consumption's loss of market share to faddish Theory. Poor shopwindow display. She describes "Discerning Consumption," a neologism whose wit sags with every flat iteration, as a desire for a return to something "rational, good old fashioned." Given my oft-stated position on Derrida (articulated in the essay to which I had linked once and mentioned linking to two other times in that thread) you would think someone interested in condemning it would bother to learn what it is. She didn't. The quickness to condemn despite a dearth of evidence and her determination to remain ignorant of the evidence despite my proferring it is what I've come to expect from self-identified theorists. Others have recently caused me to question the validity of this expectation. But even they sometimes slip into bad habits. Case in point: the current (and ongoing) conversation between Sean, Rich, Jodi and Matt in which I figure as someone who, contra Sean, attempts to take seriously the claims of all participants. Only I'm not "contra Sean." It's unfair to Sean to ignore his recent (and forthcoming) discussion of Derrida's apocalyptic thought, in which he engages with the text as seriously as Adam praised Abrams for engaging with Derrida's earlier work. Now, as Adam pointed out, there are problems with Abrams' interpretation of Derrida, and there may well be problems wtih Sean's....

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