Saturday, 31 December 2005

MLA: Nary a Whimper & What the Future Holds The MLA does not end. It is escaped. By the time I was composed enough to wander downstairs the lines at the registration desk occupied a goodly portion of the gigantic lobby. People dashed about in a luggage-hampered half-clip to make the this- or that-thirty shuttle to Reagan or Dulles. Sure there were still panels to attend, but who wants to stay another day in this environment? Certainly not the man who nearly knocked me down as he darted to a gap in the shuttle line without even bothering to apologize. Three days at the MLA had turned him into a beast. Who knows what a fourth would have wrought. Despite a strong desire to process my experience here . . . to recount conversations in mind-numbing detail, reconstruct the dynamics of the best and worst panels, discuss the overwhelming depth and vapidity of this event, its importance and insignificance . . . despite that desire I think I'll refrain from making those conversations a matter of public record. I will provide accounts of panels and Q & A sessions, but not conversations had in or between bars, on the way to or from readings, or before or after panels. Interesting though they are, the expectations were that the conversations were private, not expected to be up to the standard of public performance. Not that this is true. The most illuminating conversations I had were with one-on-one with scholars in an informal setting. But I since they didn't think they were on the record, they didn't tailor their statements for public consumption. I take that back: some did. Walter Benn Michaels asked whether his answer to a question asked in the bar would end up on the Valve was answered, promptly, with a "Would you be offended if it did?" He answered in the negative, but I cannot in good faith generalize the feelings of an entire profession from a snippet of a conversation which may have lasted all of five seconds. That said, the coming weeks will see some material of interest both here and on the Valve, by which I mean "exclusively on the Valve." We have a hoard of writers--some of them bloggers, others intrigued enough to want to take the plunge--who want to become contributors to the Valve. We've already officially invited one. The next few months should be an exciting time both here and on the Valve. Our plan to have the entire editorial staff of The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism may yet come to fruition.
MLA: "English Studies and Political Literacy" Jonathan's response to Nick Gillespie's first article hits all the notes mine would have. Since Jonathan couldn't attend the "English Studies and Political Literacy" panel Gillespie addresses in his second article, I will. Some preliminary remarks: Gillespie's response contains some cogent remarks about the necessity of what I'll call "the Third Way" in composition and/or critical thinking courses. That the editor of Reason praised The Valve's Mark Bauerlein for suggesting that instructors bring Reason magazine into the composition classroom didn't surprise me. What did was that his ideological—one could almost say utopian—commitment to libertarian principles caused him to misdiagnose the etiology and symptomatology of the positions espoused by the panelists. First an example of his utopianism: Mindich's exam seems ridiculous on the face of it -- and his view of the FCC as something other than a negative force on public discourse seems positively nostalgic. Certainly, the last 20 years or so -- precisely the period in which cable and satellite services gave viewers a end-run around the FCC-regulated broadcast networks -- have seen a massive flourishing in all sorts of informational programming. The 'Net? Digital cable? Satellite radio? Yes. Yes. Yes. Corporate consolidation of the aforementioned media? The gutting of regulations designed to create diversity in local and national news outlets? A return to yellow journalism? Yes. Yes. Yes. Only people who think everyone acquires their news from the internet or expensive cable television packages thinks the 1995 Telecommunications Act had a salutary effect on American media. For the average news consumer it has been an unmitigated disaster: no more local investigative reporters; no more local reporters period; an eighty-five percent increase in the number of "canned" news stories; &c. I could on but I think I've made my point. The privilege subtending the libertarian position undermines its ability to convince me that those who propound it have thought through their statements with eyes not their own. His blindness to the needs of those who could work themselves to death but never into opportunity focuses his critique on those panelists who suggest government intervention. When he (and most libertarians for that matter) say that structural economic inequalities "hardly neccessitate a massive [social] program," the first words from my mouth are "What would?" The answer is invariably "an inequality which cannot be better corrected by allowing market forces to run their course." "Such as?" "We'll let you know when we find one." And there you have the crux of my complaint against rhetorical libertarianism. It can always invoke—sans evidence or with the ever effective feint, borrowed from Communists sympathizers, that we cannot rely on evidence because their philosophy has never been applied in its pure form—the idea that libertarianism could work better than the system we currently have. It could ... but to date deregulation rates a Far From Impressive in the game of practical politics. Wonderful rhetoric and all, but barring the appearance of proof or pudding, color me unconvinced. All of which is only to say that while...

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