Thursday, 03 November 2005

Citations & The Damage Done; or, How Much Lacan Before I Resort to Insult and Violence? [Cross-posted You-Know-Where.] A critic establishes trust with his or her readers by citational proxy. Who cites and is cited by whom means everything when evaluating contemporary criticism. So when I run across an article about Nella Larsen's Passing which cites seven works by Jacques Lacan, three by Freud, ten glosses of Lacan but only five citations from the rich critical history of Larsen's novel, I hardly need to read the article to know that I do not trust this critic's ability to evaluate his or her sources. (All that talk of gazing and yet so myopic. Sigh.) A critic who don't know merde from cirage à chaussures (that sounds so much snappier in English) cannot expect the majority of readers to consider the points he or she forwards with the seriousness befitting academic discourse . . . and by "the majority of readers," I only mean "all those who don't share the critic's supremely constricted set of assumptions." It is outright unnerving to read criticism in one of the profession's flagship journals which defiantly refuses to engage the critical history of a novel written about so freqently. Does this critic suggest that only four of the 642 articles and reviews available via Project Muse and JSTOR alone even obliquely address his or her argument? (Before you ask: only four of the five aforementioned articles could be found in a database because the other non-psychoanalytic entry was the introduction to the edition of Passing cited in the article.) One certainly does. The critic's citation of it begins: Judith Butler directly engages paranoia and Passing in terms of Freud’s analysis . . . Did I mention myopia? To put it another way: Q: What are the odds that this particular scholar would not have found Passing a cornucopia of psychoanalytic conundrums?[1] A: Zero. The odds of me trusting that this critic's reading of Larsen's novel dimish with every passing Lacan . . . . because the article is not about Larsen so much as it is a recitation of ontological talking points. Needless to say, while I would rather my criticism altogether empty of psychoanalytic position statements, due to recent interactions with intelligent people I have abandoned my hard-line snickering dismissiveness. I can now handle the occasional reference to psychoanalytic concepts with fruitive effects on the literary reading. ("Leslie Fiedler!" Luther Blisset said. "Leslie Fiedler!") So yes . . . . Leslie Fiedler! But Fiedler's Freud appeared in the service of literary explication; his Freud did not function as the principle of selection behind the literature he analyzed. Selecting works which further flatter the assumptions you have committed your self and career to flattering does not incline your readers to trust you. Passing may exemplify some psychoanalytic hobby-horse, but the fact that Quicksand hardly merits mention leads this reader to believe that it fails whatever litmus test this critic applies to works before he writes about them . . . and that mode of scholarship seems outright Rovian. I feel comfortable saying...

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