Wednesday, 24 August 2005

Socialism, Evolutionary Theory & the Solipsism of the Dissertator Were Scott McLemee to cast his current project back a couple of decades, his usefulness to me would shoot up exponentially.[1] Sure, his bi-weekly Intellectual Affairs column somehow never disappoints the considerable expectations with which I anticipate it. Certainly, the standard he's set for blogging about academic matters is one all academic bloggers should aspire to meet. But answer me this: What has Scott McLemee done for me lately? Nothing. Except for the occasional edification. And clarification. And elucidation. Not to mention all the incidental detenebrations about alembicated over-subtilizations. (Rips sleeve off shirt. Tourniquet staunches learned but labored logorrhea. Spits. Appears overly pleased by own inscrutability. Arm of Angry God stretches from offstage left. Fingers roll into Infallible Fist. Angry God shakes Infallible Fist. Scott laughs heartedly, dies ironically.) My highly rational point is that the only value all people who are not Scott Eric Kaufman have for all people who are Scott Eric Kaufman resides in the catalytic potential of their thought and the possibility that it will assist all people who are Scott Eric Kaufman in finishing his damnably unfinishable dissertation. That said, were I not nearly blinded by myopic visions of completed chapters I would no doubt be incredibly interested in McLemee's current work. He's addressing many of the same issues I am only more directly, by which I mean "not alembicated through refined literary filters like my work will day be." Of course, since popular and literary cultures are often indistinguishable in the period in which I work, my focus on the literature may allow me to address these issues with a confidence McLemee will never acquire, what with the rise of radio programs destined to fade unrecoverable into the ether. (If ever you wanted to excavate my insecurities, the previous sentence would be an excellent place to begin, e.g. "What ate at Scott day-and-night for months-upon-months was the possibility that somewhere out there, in an "archive" consisting of the collapsed basement of a soon-to-be-demolished house, awaits an article providing incontrovertible evidence of Jack London's position on...") All of which is only to say that I believe I have to systematize my account of the relation of socialist thought to evolutionary theory. Right now it's currently more an account of what idiosyncratic socialist thinkers (like Jack London) considered a reasonable bridge between these two diverse bodies of thought. I have a hunch (based on three years of research) that the majority of thinkers wouldn't fit neatly into any recognized body of evolutionary or socialist thought, and that London's eclectisim is thus far more representative than one might think. Still, since socialist doctrine was far more routinized after the establishment of Communist Party liasons in the C.P.U.S.A. and evolutionary thought would be closer to the establishment of the Modern Synthesis, there's a good chance that both may've been far less adventurous than they had been at the turn-of-the-century. But I can't say that with any certainty. I had intended this discussion turn to the incompatibilities of "social...
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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