Monday, 09 January 2006

Do We Matter? or, Do We Even Want To? So Matt takes me to task for championing cultural studies by proxy . . . how should I respond? Should I say that, in the tradition of Brian Eno , I too took a plastic bladder to Le Centre Pompidou and urinated in Duchamp's magnum opus? Because I didn't. I've never even been to France. I've been through France. But I've never stayed there. (Which is sad, since after English and Italian and Latin, it's the only other language I know. Sure, I can read German, but reading knowledge counts for dirt.) But this post isn't about the French. (Nor is it about the brilliant terrorists who kidnapped a French man and said they wouldn't release him until France recalled all the troops they haven't deployed to the country they haven't deployed them to. Can you imagine the horror that hostage felt? Not only was he held hostage . . . he had to stomach the fact that his terrorists like to hump doorknobs.) I'm digressing. Like compulsively like. All I want to say is that the idealist in me still believes that examining popular culture pays cognitive (and potentially political) dividends. Teaching students how to "read" the shows and films and music they fetishize should be among a teacher's first priorities. When anti-intellectual critics complain about university professors teaching courses on contemporary rap I can't help but think "Isn't that the role of the intellectual? Shouldn't we concentrate on the materials our students confront daily?" Instead we insist on introducing them to unfamiliar material about which they cogitate for our courses but don't think about daily. Yes Yes Yes this is the old debate about whether we should uplift our students' understanding or teach them to think more good about the shit they think about anyway. (Yes Yes Yes intentional and for effect.) Since this question is more often avoided than answered I thought I'd re-re-re-re-repose it here. What should we be doing? Teaching them to "read" Titanic intelligently or teaching them to appreciate Joyce? (Because these options are mutually exclusive, see. They can't coexist, see. It's one or the other, see.)

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