Tuesday, 31 January 2006

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Sandbox Privilege; or Fingers in Ears, Vocal Cords on Repeat Next to the unsightly word, nothing about the blogosphere annoys me more than its ability to empower people to stick their fingers in their ears and yell "LA LA LA LA LA LA." Not that I have a particular example in mind. (Ignore that link. I don't know how it got there.) If someone declares "You didn't address this compendium of complaints" and someone else painstakingly addresses it, the former should not be able to say "I do not like how you addressed my points therefore I refuse to answer them" then ask another couple of questions then close the comments so as to render the latter unable to answer those questions in the forum in which they were raised. Now I know that every blogger has the playground privilege of gathering their toys and running home, but doing so violates even the attenuated conversational ethics of online interaction when someone does so after asking a direct question . . . especially when that direct question follows a thorough and diligent attempt to address a series of points one has accused another of failing to address. To wit: Jimmy: Transformers are superior to Gobots in every possible way one toy can be better than another. If they decide to bring back transforming robots, only an idiot would champion a Gobot renaissance. Billy: Gobots are so much cooler than Transformers! Look: First: Optimus Prime is a stupid truck with a stupid head and you're stupid if you think differently. Second: Cy-Kill is awesome because he has the word "kill" in his name and motorcycles go fast. Third: Rocks are so cool. I throw rocks all the time. So does everyone else. Who throws dinosaurs? No one. They're extinct. If they were so much better then why are they extinct? Jimmy: Let me address Billy's three-pronged argument which "definitively proves" his contention that Gobots are superior to Transformers. First: "[Leader-1] looks like recent vintage Michael Stipe [whereas] Optimus Prime looks bad-ass. Second: Cy-Kill is a pun so bad even these fools shun it. [Megatron] combines the Greek word for "great" (or the French for "important person") with the Greek suffix used to indicate "something fundamental." Plus it sounds an awful lot like "megaton" and Cy-Kill is a lame motorcycle and Megatron is a giant friggin' gun. Third: Some Gobots transformed into rocks. Rocks. Some Transformers transformed into dinosaurs. Rocks can't even move of their own volition. If no one is there to throw these Gobots then they barely deserve the name. Billy: I didn't say anything about Megatron or the Beast Wars! You are a terrible reader. Do you even care about robots able to become functional cars or jets or cybernetic dinosaurs? You don't. Obviously not. (sticks fingers in ears and proceeds to scream) LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA! (gathers toys and walks home) Now that I've purged that from my system . . .
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On Scholarship Old & New; or, Tedious Exercises in Rote Aggression, Part MMDCCLIX Many scholars today like to imagine a golden age of scholarship once existed. A time when no quoted Derrida . . . when no one had heard of Foucault . . . before structuralism presented itself to be posted. I refuse to buy into the myth. Nor do I think that post '66 criticism represents the nadir of human intellectual achievement. But then again I don't feel very old. Like others who haven't been tethered to this maypole long enough to become vomitously embittered, I see these compulsive acts of demarcation as tedious exercises in rote aggression. When I get in conversations of this sort, I imagine respondants moving as if through Jello . . . grasping at tufts of carpet as they make their way to their computers to confront some stranger whose point irked them from their beds. They type like drones. As their words drawl across the page they imagine revolutions in their head only to have them sag like the jeans they've worn two weeks straight: in all the wrong places but without that low-class look all the ladies seem to dig. (No one digs such slobs as these.) Or maybe I'm projecting. Needless to say I don't think there's been a golden age of criticism. Since learning that I'd be hitting the market as a Nineteenth Century Americanist I've started reading nineteenth century literature as I fall asleep. (When I'm not too busy indulging in adolescent fantasies.) That may sound like a slap across the face of nineteenth century American literature. It isn't. More often than not it keeps me up at night. (Especially Hawthorne . . . especially his short fiction.) But because the majority of my complete collection of nineteenth century American literature comes from the estate of an emeritus Americanist who passed away some time ago, all of my books are hopelessly outdated. As I read Milton R. Stern's edition of Billy Budd (1974) I'm as struck by the confidence beaming through its footnotes as I am by its disturbingly burnt orange cover. Because Melville died before completing Billy Budd, sussing out his final editorial decisions should be a difficult task . . . unless you are a sure-handed critic writing at the height of your belief in your own informed infallibility. In which case you would declare with absolute certainly that although it is difficult to know whether Melville abandoned the idea but left the notation on the page, or whether he planned an addition on this subject. Presumably he would have included it had he lived to complete a final copy. (Emphasis totally in the original.) That "presumably" works its way under my skin because I simply cannot imagine a comfortable familiarity secure enough to allow myself to presume how an author of Melville's stature would line edit his novel. I simply can't. I don't think less of Stern for trying but I do think that the sort of supposition lands well beyond the pale of contemporary scholarship. Or maybe...

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