Monday, 03 December 2007

Most Pretentious Blawg [Sic] of the Year The minds behind the Cultural Parody Center have announced the finalists for their Parody Oscar Nominations. I'm flattered by the nomination, if a little confused as to why they think Acephalous is a blawg. I suppose I do require legal assistance a little more than the average blogger ... but my point is this is another award I want to win, and this time Chris Clarke ain't around to scuttle my dreams: Most Pretentious Blawg of The Year The Poetry Sewer ( For overdosing on neoRomanticism; for maintaining Oxford-branded snobbery whilst having no sense of humor whatsoever. The Unmarxist Unsupernanny ( For his insidious attempts to throw rivals into the syntaxic grid. For inspiring blog debates without having the guts to lose them. The Decapitated ( For selling word salads as high-culture literary theory. I credit them with stealing my joke—all my best critics steal my material—but am stumped by how the actual voting works. They say "send in your votes via the comments box," but like every other post on the Cultural Parody Center, the comments to this post consist entirely of "jonquille do camembe" and "parodycenter" masterfully feigning intelligence. The meta-parody involved is breathtaking. (I'm not even sure whether I'm nominated for parodying pretentious legal blawgers or for being one myself.) Consider the second "vote": I finally watched all of ‘IT’S A MAD MAD MAD MAD WORLD’ for the first time I saw it with my brother in Cinerama in Nashville, Tennessee. And I didn’t understand it all that well at that age, but now I understand that I am very much like DICK SHAWN and Dr. Fossey is like a mild-mannered version of my ETHEL MERMAN mother, for whom I’ll do anything. I am more devoted to ETHEL MERMAN than even I am to SCARLETT O’HARA!!! "Word salad"? These two know of what they speak ... though not necessarily what they write. Somehow or another, Kugelmass is "seriously challenged" by Y. T. in a category which I'm not even nominated for. (Or maybe I'm so special as to transcend mere ballots?) So vote for me! Only not over there, as it would be a shame to ruin a perfectly good echo chamber by introducing other voices.* *Young wolfson once outdid me in all of a sentence, but apparently the folks behind the Cultural Parody Center aren't fans of pithy demolitions, as the comment is nowhere to be found. I contacted wolfson to see if he remembered what he'd written, but alas, while my unfunny paraphrase "sounds plausible as something I might have said [...] I don't specifically remember doing so." He then went on to answer an email I sent him two years back.
Get Out Your Red Pencils: a Dissertation Abstract Awaits For those curious as to what literary historicists do (Anthony) and those convinced I do absolutely nothing at all (Emerson), I present my dissertation abstract. Behold! Everything I've slaved over lo these many years, condensed into five paragraphs ... thereby ensuring that what I've written makes absolutely no sense. See, I've been over this thing so many times—made so many piddling changes, emphasizing so many stakes here, dropping so many arguments there—I can no longer read the words before me. I don't know what they mean. So invested am I in the history of its revisions—the agonizing decision to delete this, the writhing that accompanied the diminishment of that—I'm unable to judge whether it even makes any sense. Are the stakes of my argument apparent? Can you tell how necessary my corrective is to the health of the discipline? Does it even make any sense? (Note: The final version of my dissertation contains a chapter on Twain which is, at the present moment, too excreable to include in the abstract. Also, my fifty-five page intellectual history of evolutionary theory at the turn of the last century will likely become my first chapter, thus necessitating the writing of an introduction which resembles my abstract and, you know, talks about literature.) Maximal Diversity Non-Darwinian Evolutionary Theory in Realist and Naturalist Fiction, 1895-1910 “Maximal Diversity” examines the influence of applied evolutionary theory on American literary realism and naturalism. Arguing against the tradition of literary critics who, following Richard Hofstadter, consider “social Darwinism” the ascendant evolutionary influence on fin de siècle literary and popular culture, I demonstrate how the continued presence of non-Darwinian evolutionary theories informed popular opinion about evolution and manifests in the works of writers traditionally interpreted in light of Darwinian notions like “survival of the fittest.” Writers like Mark Twain, Edith Wharton, Jack London, and Silas Weir Mitchell have long been thought to traffic in the deterministic evolutionism Hofstadter presented in Social Darwinism in American Thought (1944). Intended to justify interventionist New Deal social policy, Hofstadter’s account of the influence of applied Darwinism ignores what Stephen Jay Gould calls the period’s “maximal agnosticism and diversity in evolutionary theories”: Edward Drinker Cope’s kinetogenesis, Theodor Eimer’s orthogenesis, and James Mark Baldwin’s organic selection may be forgotten today, but as the twentieth century began, their Lamarckian accounts of development were as, if not more, reputable than their Darwinian counterparts. Whig historians of the Darwinian Revolution, publishing after the establishment of the Modern Synthesis in the 1930s and 1940s, applied to the development of Darwinian theory the very thing the theory itself denies: a teleological and linear progressivism. Literary scholars followed suit. In 1957, Sherwood Cummings could approvingly cite Hofstadter as an authority, as he did in “Mark Twain’s Social Darwinism.” When historians like Richard Bannister and Peter Bowler began revealing Hofstadter’s selection bias in the 1980s, literary scholars should again have followed suit. They did not. Journals as prestigious as American Literature continue print articles asserting “for a long cultural moment at the turn...

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