Tuesday, 07 February 2006

They Don't Slap Scholars Anymore, Do They? Of course they do . . . only not with "wit" they once did. Reading '70s review literature on the longstanding Realism vs. Romance debate, it is impossible to mistake the grumpy old guard's contempt for the young proud and profoundly theoretical. One reviewer remarks how in his newly tenured compatriot's sealed world of romance, all reality is textual, and as theorists have taught us, when scrutinized closely textual realities unravel to reveal the void at the center, or, in some of the manifestations of the idea presented [in this book], a "discontinuously woven" text "may have no magic in its web"; an attempt at representation points to the "absence of the represented entity"; the "moment of origin" becomes the "sign of a loss"; the novel is "a record of an absence, a deferred and indirect account of a direct exposure. Nothing unusual here. A reviewer doesn't want to "do the deconstruction." His reviewee most emphatically does. All is well in academia. Only as I continued reading the review I noticed something different about this criticism . . . something I wouldn't expect in contemporary. The reviewer chides the reviewee for imputing to the authors whose works he studies an awareness of the deconstructive principle. To wit: Yet it is not the post-modernist critic who unties the twisted strands of codes and conventions . . . that compose these novels, but the romancers themselves, who, because they are deeply aware of the unstable verbal space of their texts, have already problematized the uncertain relationship between readers and writers. You're more than welcome to gawk. This reviewer complains that the book he reviews substantiates its claim via authorial intent instead of critical acumen. What world did these two men live in? One in which an awareness for the limitations of language belongs to author and critic alike . . . in which the critic finds in the words of the author evidence of theoretically applicability instead of forcing the author's words into some framework as becoming as an octogenerian in a thong. Not that the imposition is unwarranted at times. Some authors un-self-consciously larded their novels with fine critical pickings. Conrad may have thought about the implications of his dovetailed theories of race and colonialism but it took Said's perspective to snap them into place. That is certainly true. But sometimes in this field in which hyper-production has become the norm of necessity . . . and in which the path of least unproductivity contains critical jewels enough to write fifteen books . . . in such a situation the normative mode of analysis privileges the critic over the author every time. The author is the base metal from which the critic will construct the ladder he'll climb up from promotion to promotion. At least that's how it sometimes seems. Reading the same argument by the same critic in different articles about different authors will do that to a body.
Extract of a Letter, Written from Paris, containing an Account of fome Effects of the Transfufion of Bloud; and of two Monftrous Births, &c. From Philosophical Transactions (1666): In the Houfe of M. Bourdelots was fhew'd a Monfter in form of an Ape, having all over its fhoulders, almoft to his middle, a mafs of flefh, that came from the hinder part of its head, and hung down in form of a little Cloak. The report is, that the Woman that brought it forth, had feen on a Stage an Ape fo cloathed: The moft remarkable thing was, that the faid mafs of flefh was divided in four parts, correfpondent to the Coat, the Ape did carry. The Woman, upon inquiry, was found to have gone five months Child, before fhe had met with the acceident of that unhappy fight. Many questions were on this occafion agitated: viz. about the Power of Imagination; and whether this Creature was endow'd with a humane Soul; and if not, what became of the Soul of the Embryo, that was five months old. Back in the good ol' days literature mattered. Pregnant women with overactive imaginations would produce monstrous births resembling something they saw on stage at some point during the pregnancy. Not to mention those fellows had the whole abortion thing solved pat: Baby souls are either malleable or interstitial. If malleable, a woman could take in a play, transform her baby into something monstrous and demand her abomination be aborted. (Depending on the cast she may create something wholly unfit for human parturition. Her life would therefore depend on aborting the beast in her womb before it grew too large or abominable to be removed.) If baby souls are interstitial, then the thing being aborted is as human as a chicken or a cod and therefore not entitled to any special treatment. Unless the interstitial baby soul is some sort of loaner, in which case it would've been returned upon successful egression from the birth canal and is merely being returned early. They had it all figured out. Where did we go so terribly, terribly wrong?

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