Wednesday, 01 February 2006

Acephalous's Index II Estimated number of books in Scott Eric Kaufman's apartment: 15,000 Estimated number of silverfish: 1,421,749 Percentage of William Gass' The Tunnel Kaufman has read: 17.8 Chance 17.8 percent is less calculation than concoction: 5 in 5 Average number of "motivational" speeches Kaufman delivers to himself on any given day: 18 Optimistic projection of how many motivational speeches he will deliver tomorrow: 0 Chance that the previous statement is unadulterated wishful thinking: 1 in 1 Number of days until pitchers and catchers report: 15 Percentage of Acephalous' readership to whom that matters: 0 Percentage of Acephalous' authors to whom that matters: 50 Chance that Kaufman will have his latest dissertation chapter finished by tomorrow: 1 in 1,000,000 Number of times he has said it will be finished by tomorrow: 1,941 Chance that he will wake up feeling dirty tomorrow: 1 in 1,000,000 Numerical representation of how much he doesn't want his advisor to read that: 9,319,218,381,39210 Number of nights per week Kaufman cannot sleep because of "The Fear": 2 Chance that he watches Batman Begins to try and tamp it down: 1 in 1 Percentage of lecture on A.J. Liebling consisting of the placeholder "there's a way in which": 58 Exact number of times Kaufman made eye contact with each of the 72 students in the classroom: 2 Chance that Kaufman thinks the phrase "eye contact" should be amended to "eyes contact": 1 in 4 Number of times a gag can be repeated before succumbing to the law of diminishing returns: 14
Illegitimate Thusiosity; or, Loosely, I Said, Loosely An excerpt from a CFP which came across the wire today: Our word religion is adapted from Latin compounds meaning, to reread and to link back. Thus, religion seems inescapably tied to the past. As you rightly suspect, that "thus" bothers me. On what grounds does the etymology of the word alter our perceptions of it? I am more keen than most on etymological trivia, but it seems I'm also more careful than most when I consider its use value. In the sentence above, the author employs the etymology in order to reinforce a fairly common idea: religion invokes a sense of tradition and history for religious folk. Nothing to object to there. But why make on etymological grounds what is better made on historical? One answer is that this pithy deconstruction bears some synecdochal relation to the justification for English scholars studying things outside of books, i.e. a stand in for the entire "linguistic turn ." Since "reality" consists of the words people think and utter and write about it, the purview of the scholar who studies words extends without limit. What can't be reduced to the words people use to cognate them? Nothing! [Were this a dissertation chapter instead of a blog post this would mark the point where I move into a history of deconstruction and discuss how much Derrida's methodology differs from the third and fourth generations of scholars who derfly use it to bludgeon works into smearable pap. Consider this a nod of my head in that general direction born of a strong desire to move along.] In this loosely deconstructive sense, the above "thus" signals an actual attribute of the word "religion," one which is recognized (if only unconsciously) by anyone who sees the word "religion" waltz across a page. Buried in the simple "thus" is the idea that the words we encounter have histories we can sense without knowing . . . much like that overly nice fellow Chester who lived across the street. The cookies he delivered hot to our front door and the clippers he offered to lend notwithstanding, my geese bumped every time I talked to him . . . almost as if I knew he was convicted serial rapist on the lam even though I didn't. That is the sense in which the etymology of the word "religion" manifests itself to those who don't know it. (What did you think I meant by "loosely"?) But there is a larger problem here, one a rigorous scholar like Derrida never would tripped over: The etymological history of the word "religion" is highly contested. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the meaning cited above ("to re-read") comes from Cicero's contention that it originated from relegere. Only the more widely accepted etymology is religare ("to bind"). Now ambiguity is the stuff of deconstruction, no doubt, but ambiguity shouldn't ground a "thus" so much as render its thusness suspect. That CFP thus neatly encapsulates an annoying feature of contemporary literary scholarship: exploiting someone else's...

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