Thursday, 04 August 2005

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Daily Dissertation DetritusTM or Fear Crowds of Incorrigible Masturbators Many comments must and will be addressed. For now you'll have to settle for another installment of Dissertation Detritus.TM Today's examples come from early (1899-1901) issues of the American Journal of Sociology. First: A singular example of mental perversion, an absurd and immoral custom tenaciously held fast in mob-mind, has its genesis in the partisan zeal of athletic spectator crowds. I refer to the practice of organized cheering, known in the college argot as "rooting." From every aspect it is bad. It robs the athlete of his due meed of honest praise. The spontanteous burst of emotion is discounted by the artificial clamor. At best, it must be rated as a cunning suggestion intended to start contagious and irrational applause in the hypnotized mass of on-looks. It is a trap for the emotion of the unwary. (Howard 1912) Do you like the sounds of disgruntled high school juniors standing outside pep rallies? I do. Why else would I have spent countless hours I listening and producing them? Speaking of adolescent trauma: When many children are crowded together, the contagion of masturbation is much to be feared. One child insturcts another in this vice, and a few bad spirits are enough to infect a whole school among the pupils who are ignorant of the terrible and dangerous consequences of masturbation. (Morel 1899) What are these consequences? Readers of the AJS would have to have waited an entire year for the answer I can provide right now: Inclination and skill for physical exercises, as well as study, vanish. Disposition to idleness and to strange fancies arises, and while an ill founded self-esteem increases, the individual grows suspicious, unfriendly, and inclined to judge censoriously the demeanor of everybody toward himself. (Marro 1900) The always polite Antonio Marro then provides advice on how to eradicate the contagion of masturbation: Avoid too many eggs, and still more venison, aromas, truffles, drugs and all other such alimentary substances, which have the tendency to excite the sexual organs. What if I want to climb trees? In climbing trees it is useful to bring the most strain upon the soles of the feet set against the trunk of the tree, so that, the greatest pressure being in this direction, the danger is avoided of pressure against the thighs. Can I still drink coffee? One must also avoid coffee and alcoholic drinks, which have the bad effect of exaggerating the dispositions, already natural in such an age, to excitement of the nervous and circulatory systems. Build castles in the air? Young people should not be permitted to stay alone and give themselves over to building castles in the air. The first danger of such a habit lies in the improper formation of mental formations. Building castles in the air deteriorates itself the regular mental process of making associations. What happens if I become an incorrigible masturbator? When the impulses are more strong and unrestrained, as in individuals of vicious heredity, the cold hip-bath, sufficiently repeated, promises to check them....
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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...

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