Sunday, 09 July 2006

On Gifts & Such; or, Pathetic but Purposive Meta-Blogging, Adam may pummel me with righteous wit for this admission, but honestly, I didn't know how many readers I had. I estimated that the bulk of my 700 daily hits were random folks stumbling here from Google. Now that Google refuses to index Acephalous—for reasons they refuse to share with the likes of lowly me—I have a much more accurate estimate of my audience. To be frank, I'm floored. One of you (who requested anonymity) told me to check the number of people who subscribe to my feed—that is, the number of you who read below my radar. So I did. I'm overwhelmed. I mean it. Overwhelmed. I thought I'd get a couple of takers on last night's offer. Estimated fifteen, maybe twenty, people who'd be interested. And my TypePad account can handle a couple of people downloading a fourth of a gig each . . . . . . but it can't handle 153 (one-hundred and fifty-three!) requests.* I've sent as many of you as I currently can the gift I promised. I'm thinking of trying to send the rest via my Gmail account, but that'll only fly if I'm sending it to other Gmail accounts. So if you responded to last night's post but haven't heard back from me yet, please send me a Gmail address or one I can send a Gmail invite to. Because I feel terrible, not living up to my promise. But seriously, I'm also incredibly flattered. I didn't realize there were that many of you out there. I thought my ego inflated by a Googillusion. Turns out I was wrong. Which—the burdensome guilt notwithstanding—makes this whole enterprise feel commensurate to my (continued) investment in it. * That's actually a reference to Joyce. When he moved to Paris, he sent his family letters in which he emphasized his suffering by means of clever repetition. For example, a letter to his dying mother in which he writes "Your order for 3s 4d of Tuesday last was very welcome as I had been without food for 42 hours (forty-two)." I may've added some italics and an exclamation point, but that's only because 21st centurions are innoculated against the emphasis of simple, powerful repetition.
On Not Taking the Long-Cut We all take shortcuts. We all have a couple of scholars in our pockets who, in a pinch, we feel comfortable reading what they've written about Thinker X instead of tackling Thinker X herself. Admit it. You and I both know where you learned about Ernst Bloch. There's no shame in it. (Anyway, in Scholar Heaven everyone gets to read all the books they always meant to get around to reading, so why not cut few terrestrial corners?) I say this partly in response to forgottenboy and Adam's comments in defense of Freud on the basis of established utility. As a means to local argumentative ends, i.e. stripped of its universal explanatory power, I could live with the continued presence of psychoanalytic thought in literary studies. I know—and am presently arguing with—people for whom this better-than-squat model enables them to produce incisive work. But I still question its independence. As Ken Rufo recently wrote: The splits that we see at work between so-called modernists and postmodernists, between Lacanians and Deleuzians, between all manner of methodological beasts, are in large part not splits caused by differences in reading for meaning, but rather differences in the methods by which interpretation and the subsequent production of meaning is possible. In other words, the theoretical assumptions that inform the interpretation determine the possibilities and final form that any interpretation will take. That final sentence speaks directly to my concern that even a local psychoanalytic explanation has global effects on the shape and outcome of the argument it assists. The argument may have turned another way—perhaps an equally tendentious one, but differently so—had it not adopted a set of ready-made psychoanalytic concerns. A Jamesian reading may have worked better, but the psychoanalytic has greater appeal. Why? Cultural capital, for one. Tradition, for another. Equally powerful—and equally obvious—is its status as a system of ideas with a built-in fail-safe, what Ernest Gellner calls "a self-maintaining circle of ideas [conveniently] well-equipped with devices for evading falsification." If we're going to take a short-cut, why not take the well-respected, traditional one we can expertly defend? To put it differently: We all turn conservative when we have our hand in the cookie jar. It seems natural to stuff our guilty consciences behind the most heavily fortified position available, and psychoanalysis is it. I understand the motivation, but fear it over-applied. (In some cases, "only-applied.") I'm not knocking strong ideological and philosophical convictions per se. I am, however, questioning the seriousness with which they're held when folks betray little or no awareness of the trap 1) integral to their theoretical druthers which they 2) spring with postal regularity. Why not admit it? Why insist that one is open to new ideas when the very system to which one so rigidly subscribes precludes the possibility of accepting them? If everyone else knows you play a rigged game, shouldn't you?

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