Thursday, 29 June 2006

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An Unusual Footnote & A Few Words on Form In the article abstracted this evening, I found the following footnote. See, I'm a fan of footnotes. I sometimes read them before the rest of an article in order to determine whether it's worth my time. And I've read a lot of them. So imagine my surprise when I found this beauty at the tail end of the first: Megan Glick’s undergraduate thesis, ‘‘‘Written by a Ghost of Their Time’: Locating the Civil War in Elizabeth Stoddards’s The Morgesons,’’ is one of the first works to notice the extent to which Stoddard borrows structures of thought from the commercial world to explain the domestic one; her analysis of The Morgesons and Enlightenment definitions of contractual obligation intelligently observes the porous border between domesticity and law (Northwestern University, 2002). (726) An undergraduate thesis being cited in American Literature? Amazing. Were someone to cite mine, the shame would drive me underground. On another note, tonight I wrote a far shorter, more abstracty abstract. I'm no more satisfied with it than I was with its overlong cousin–or with the fact that both fail to grab the general reader. These two failures are not unrelated; both are the product of my poor form, and both will be rectified with a little practice.* Also, I'm appending a few general notes to the end of each abstract. Most of these will concern technique–from sentence-level wit to large argumentative structure–and are there because I belong to the writing-as-perpetual-apprenticeship school. The only way to become a better writer is to imitate better writers, to work their prose over and under until you know it inside and out, and then to appropriate their techniques into your prose. *As White Bear and N. Pepperell noted, a little practice can be a dangerous thing–but I don't think that logic holds here. (By "think" I obviously intend "hope.")
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New Data Effortlessly Adhere to Old Certainties; or, Freud as Unreliable Narrator [Note: This post is composed of all natural American prose. Un-American "wits" with poetic souls must seek their solace elsewhere.] Brace yourself: Frederick Crew's Follies of the Wise opens with an anti-psychoanalytic screed. A couple of them, actually. It should come as no surprise that I'm sympathetic to his systematic dismantling of psychoanalytic claims to truth or continued relevance. (Note to Jonathan: I've already linked to that site.) What I find odd is that someone with the reputation I have has been asked to review this book for a decidedly pro-psychoanalytic journal. Does the editor believe that the narrative I share with Crews will reduce my review to the banal prattlings of the also unindoctrinated? Or does he believe Crews characteristic vehemence is something I'll rightly shy away from given the esteem the humanities afford psychoanalysis. What about neither? I'm undecided. But I must admit that reading Crews has been an enlightening stroll down memory lane. How so? I'm glad I asked: Way, way back in the long, long ago, the Little Womedievalist and I worked at a used bookstore directly off the LSU campus. That "directly" is no empty modifier, you see, because the close of each semester inaugurated The Great Influx of course materials the campus bookstore refused to repatriate. I gobbled up those discarded course books like canned-fruit on the eve of nuclear winter. No potentially useful pamphlet, tome or pamphlet-quality tome escaped my clutches. I read them all. And I did so with a criminally uncritical eye. I took it all at its face as only a 20 year old, budding intellectual can. The best days of my life–stop giggling, I mean it–I spent in cornershop cafés reading and re-reading Freud and Lacan while the Little Womedievalist studied Sanskrit. It was a moment of remarkable freedom, both economically and intellectually. We were working in a used bookstore, spending our money on books and coffee, and preparing to go to our respective graduate institutions with the enthusiastic naïveté of prospective graduate students. On the days we didn't work, we would drive to a deserted coffee hut, hunker down and spend seven or eight eager hours devouring the material we thought we'd have to master. Life was good. We had the shakes but our faith remained intact. Mine did, at least. The Little Womedievalist had a healthy skepticism about psychoanalytic truth claims from the get-go. (Do you realize how many subsequent arguments I could win were she unable to play that card?) The point being: Crews is right. My infatuation with Freud resembles honest intellectual work as much as my marriage resembles my first infatuation. I possessed a shallow but empowering knowledge, what Crews calls "instant depth." Psychoanalytic thinkers imagine bland positivism the only alternative to psychoanalysis, but I question their familiarity with those alternatives. For that matter, I question my own. But I don't consider my ignorance convincing proof of that argument. I was duped, plain and simple, and reading Crews reminds me of the pain accompanying...

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