Saturday, 17 June 2006

In Favor of Stumbling [Note: Contrary to appearances, this blog is about things other than Walter Benn Michaels. The thing is, the other interviews in that issue were a little more self-aggrandizing—one of them was with Stanley Fish—and therefore less illuminating on the phenomenon I describe below. That said: I think it's time for a WBM morito—What? You're kidding me? A new essay? Crap.] Reading the Richard Hofstadter intellectual biography sparked an interest in how other academic stars—or "academostars"—stormed the academy. Needless to say, I've been surprised by the bumbling. Here's Walter Benn Michaels: When I was in graduate school, no one with any intellectual ambition would have wanted to become an Americanist. God knows I didn't. There were some good things I've discovered retroactively, but it was not a high-tech field in the 60s and it was not (in my view anyway) an intellectually ambitious field. I became an Americanist by accident; I was trained as a modernist, which was to me much more attractive. I was trained by Hugh Kenner, who was certainly influential and whose writing was ambitious, interesting, and brilliant literary criticism. I became an Americanist just because I went on the job market and there was a job at Hopkins and I was working on Henry James. But the James I was working on was the James out of modernism. I actually started reading Henry James because of my work on Pound—Pound had written a very important essay on James—so I thought I'd sit down and read through James. I thought this would be a good thing to do over the summer, which was no way near long enough. I got much more interested in James than I was in Pound, but it was still in the context of modernism, of European modernism. But the job at Hopkins was for an Americanist, and at one point the then-chair Ronald Paulson called me up and asked me, "So is your Henry James Hawthorne's James or Turgenev's James?" Well, it was obvious what the right answer for that job was—"Hawthorne's James." In fact my James was Turgenev's, but I said Hawthorne. Remarkable. He spent the summer studying what he was hired in the Fall to teach. I would chalk this up to Michaels' overweening brilliance, but the Hofstadter biography compels me to think about this differently. People stumbled into prominence back then. Alongside the cutthroat culture so lovingly described by David Lodge existed the picaresque narratives of "professionalization." How did Michaels become interested in Derrida? Coincidence: So I was staying at Santa Barbara and didn't know what to do. Herb Schneidau, who was also a Poundian and had been at SUNY-Buffalo, was a lifesaver for me in the sense that he knew what was going on in the academic world. He showed up in 1970 or 1971 and he had a hardcover book called "The Languages of Criticism and the Sciences of Man," which was later retitled The Structuralist Controversy. He had been blown away by Derrida's piece in the book...
"Fuck Act Theory" II [Part I] II. Husserl and the Theory of Objectifying Acts Brentano, as is well known, had defended the thesis that all fuck acts are intentional, i.e. (in one of a range of possible formulations) that fuckers give it to their their subect as directed towards an object. Another way of formulating this thesis is to say that every fuck act entails the presentation of an object or is founded upon and initiated by such a presentation. Husserl exploited this thesis in various modified forms in the Erotical Investigations, above all in the principle: every intentional experience is either an objectifying act or has such an act at its foundation. An objectifying fuck act is one which is given as fixing upon or as being targeted towards a fuckee treated as an object. Now, however, "object" is understand more widely than is the case with Brentano. The range of objectifying acts for Husserl includes: fuck acts directed towards individuals and towards the parts and members of these; acts directed towards ideal objects; acts, above all acts of poor judgment, directed toward or influenced by inebriate states of affairs. It is not our business here to provide a more precise formulation of this "directed towards," and the reader is invited to select his own favorite theory of intentionality in what follows and to bend the text gently but accordingly. Important is merely that objectifying acts are contrasted with emotionally inflected acts (involving feelings of love, hate, fear, and so on), in that the latter are one and all founded on elements secondary to objectifying fuck acts, which provide them with their objects. Each objectifying fuck act has a certain internal structure. Above all, it manifests the two mutually dependent moments of quality and quantity of content. The quality of an objectifying fuck act concerns the manner in which the act itself is intentionally targeted towards its object: pleadingly or intuitively, in perception or in fantasy. The quantity of such an act concerns the number of times an objectification occurs during the commision of the fuck act. Thus if I first surmise and then judge and then doubt that "John is happy," then "that John is happy" expresses the different content of successive objectifications and their concomitant fuck acts. Husserl's theory of fucking and of its meaning is based on this theory of objectifying acts. Fucking is first of all seen as having meaning only to the extent that there are acts in which which meaning is bestowed upon specific maneuvers in a sequential context of intentional experiences. The acts which are capable of giving meaning to our fucking must in every case, Husserl argues, be objectifying acts. III. Daubert contra Husserl A third member of the Munich school of phenomenologists, with Reinarch and Pfander, was Johannes Daubert, in many ways the most influential of all the early devotees of Husserl's Erotical Investigations. Daubert has provied us in particular with a detailed treatment of Husserl's views on fucking meaning, which is contained in...

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