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February 23, 2005


William S

I don't know, it seems to me like it is ok in that it is a way of stylizing the resistance that the boundary presents. Of course, if someone is a crap stylist with no gift for language, then it will seem silly. Perhaps this is the real problem, that in order to make these words work, you have to by a good stylist. That lit crit is especially prone to conceptual hyperbole. This seems to be the motive behind the little professor's list. Remmber when she said she didn't want to read Cryptonomicon (or was it another of his?) if it wasn't well written? What sort of intellectual conscience is that?

Rich Puchalsky

The problem with "interrogate", "transgressive", and so on is that their intent is political in nature, yet their use is inherently bad politics. Try

Doug M

Yeah, I don't know what it is about boundary-interrogating that makes it the favorite trope of the crit crowd. I find it annoying too, e.g. a post of mine from last year: "What this painting is doing, it's questioning the boundaries ... between boundaries, and questioning. I mean, it really puts into question the boundaries of the whole question of boundary-questioning!"

Adam Kotsko

You should have a scene where they bring in a really tough interrogator: Slavoj Zizek. He could repeatedly ask his rhetorical "IS NOT...?" questions, and when the suspect answers, "No, it's not!," out comes the tazer.

ben wolfson


A. Random Physicist

Speaking of languague in the humanities, what's the deal with "hermeneutic"? It's a word I don't see anywhere except in the prose of academics. Does it have a technical meaning (in the sense that terms like "work", "energy" and "force" have technical meanings in physics) that is different from its dictionary definition of (from dictionary.com) "Interpretive; explanatory"? Why is it so popular?


AARP--that word is godless.

I don't like people ganging up on "interrogate" all of a sudden. If you accept that a text can "do" things, why not use exotic verbs to describe this mystery?


It's a leading indicator of something bad.

My favorite: The Other Fifties: Interrogating Midcentury American Icons

Just give me ten minutes alone with Howdy Doody, and I'll break him!

joe o

Acording to this page


Hermeneutics is the theory of interpretation.

Kip Manley

Yes, but the more viscerally honest "fuckin' around wit'" just doesn't have the same... dignity.

Adam Kotsko

It originally comes from biblical studies, where exegesis is the science of getting at the "original" meaning of the text and hermeneutics is the science of applying the text to today's world. Both enterprises were necessary once the Enlightenment rendered many of the supernatural claims of Christianity untenable; thus, "direct" application of the Bible could no longer be convincing. Techniques that originally developed for apologetical ends in biblical studies were then applied to other texts as well; the name itself is a holdover from the original biblical context and thus, perhaps ironically, an acknowledgement of the continuity of certain branches of contemporary literary studies with certain aspects of a tradition of biblical interpretation that many literary critics would disown.

In short: they call it "hermeneutics" instead of "interpretation" because people who came before them called it "hermeneutics" instead of "interpretation." I regard such gestures toward tradition as salutary and necessary, rather than as an arbitrary imposition that simply obscures understanding. In fact, sometimes using apparently "clear" and immediately understandable language can be a way of obscuring understanding -- though this is by no means an attempt at apologetics for over-jargony academic discourse, etc.

ben wolfson

And the people who came before them called it hermeneutics 'cause they were down with Hermes Trismegistus, bitch!


In the UK, ‘interrogate’ like ‘intervene’ (= ‘say something’) goes back to the Marxist-structuralist 1970s. (The moment of ‘Screen’, early Eagleton etc.) Such words marked off Our important intellectual activity from Their mere chatter. They assured today's seminar of a permanent event in the history of discourse. (Clio was taking minutes.)

But a technical vocabulary is always nice. Some of us thought (and think) that common language in criticism is infinitely richer and more subtle than any technical vocabulary. It's risky, though. As my friend Wil Sanders used to point out, if you write clearly in ordinary words there is always the threat of the reader over your shoulder – the Dilbert equivalent is the garbage-guy – the person without the PhD.

PWPhD: You’re all wrong about that – you’ve forgotten the death scene.
YOU: Oh yeah, he dies - right.

Oh but theory? Well, the difference in vocabularies might be a useful way to distinguish theory from criticism. The critic must take for granted much more shared experience than the theorist ever can. Barthes was right to say that beyond a certain point (fudge, fudge) the theorist-critic is doomed to perpetual irony. S/he ceases to be a whole-hearted participant in any culture whatsoever. Not so much the view from Nowhere IMO as the view from purgatory.

Then again, as theory since the 90s shows, you can have your cake and eat it too and also juggle with it. Ha! but to do that, ‘deconstruction’ e.g. must be re-labelled a ‘useful tool’. The revenge of the Common Noun.



Let me go on the record as having no particular problem with 'hermeneutics', used responsibly. (But I prefer the term 'pee wee hermeneutics'.)


You're a loose cannon, Holbo!


How about an academic paper: "Transgressing the boundaries of public propriety: The interrogation of Pee Wee Hermeneutics."


aww, man, how many times has John's department head said (while threatening to pull his badge and take him OFF THE CASE): "you're a loose cannon, Holbo!" lemme tell you. often.

Dave Librik

If this sort of language sounds strange in philosophy and literary criticism it is utterly bizarre in the sciences. I recently received a book entitled "Challenging the Boundaries of Symbolic Computation: Proceedings of the 5th International Mathematica Symposium."

Let's challenge some boundaries!
"What is your name?!"
"What is your quest?!"
"To limit symbolic computation."
"What is the airspeed of an unladen swallow?!"
"That's numeric computation, not symbolic ... AAAAHHHHHH!!!!"
Mission accomplished -- good work, symposium!


If you have to interrogate, you can't afford to.
-- Firesign Theatre, Waiting for the Electrician or Something Like That


this sort of language sounds strange in philosophy and literary criticism it is utterly bizarre in the sciences. I recently received a book entitled "Challenging the Boundaries of Symbolic Computation: Proceedings of the 5th International Mathematica Symposium."


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