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May 09, 2006

Comments

Anthony Paul Smith

"Well, at least you got the distinction."

Don't make me quote from you.

Hardly see what Adam does as theory and since you won't show how his work is theory I'm guessing you're just using this as a rhetorical trick without it having any real substance behind it. Unless you think that anyone influenced by Heidegger is a theorist, which wouldn't be too bizarre considering all the other strange things you've had to say.

Adam Kotsko

Rich,

"Continental philosophy" is not a value judgment. It is a term with a certain history that has come to have certain connotations, without me or Anthony or John or you being able to do much about it. If the point of your idiosyncratic way of deploying the term is to argue, "John's critique of Theory can't be a veiled critique of continental philosophy, because he himself does continental philosophy" -- well, I'll just say that I see the first half of that point, but I think you're putting far too much weight on the second half.

In the past, I have overexaggerated the extent to which John's opposition to Theory is also opposition to continental philosophy (in the sense of philosophers from Europe within a particular trajectory), due to a bias in favor of analytic philosophy. Now I see that I was incorrect about that -- not because John is "a continental philosopher" himself (thus producing a logical contradiction that automatically makes me wrong), but because he is far from being an analytic dogmatist. He can defend what analytic philosophers do, but he doesn't do a lot of that himself, strictly speaking. So it just doesn't make much sense that he's some kind of Trojan horse trying to push formal logic on the English department (which is of course an exaggeration of my own previous position).

So in short, you might want to give up on this project of redefining "continental philosophy" in order to prove me wrong. (Although I will grant you that if your idiosyncratic understanding of the term is the standard, then I do in fact have a fundamental misunderstanding of the field. Thankfully, then, your understanding is not the standard.)

John,

Zizek's writing style is obviously haphazard, but he really does seem to me to be quite consistently "orthodox" Lacanian and to maintain a very consistent reading of Hegel. The Marx and Kierkegaard would also follow quite naturally from his commitment to Hegel. There just seems to me to be something quite different here from what the lit theory hack does with deploying random authorities who are correct by virtue of their Europeanness.

jholbo

Adam, I don't think that 'Higher Eclecticism' = hackishess derived from randomized cites of authorities, although the bottom of the barrel certainly looks like that. It wouldn't really be very interesting to critique 'Theory' if that were all there was too it. Of course the way the bottom of the barrel looks is an important clue ...

Rich Puchalsky

Adam, I'm glad to see this understanding of what my argument is and is not about. Though I still think that you're not getting some important things.

1. "So it just doesn't make much sense that he's some kind of Trojan horse trying to push formal logic on the English department (which is of course an exaggeration of my own previous position)."

I would give you more credit than that: that isn't really what I've seen of your position, though it is a large part of certain other peoples' positions. This goes all the way back to the first Theory's Empire threads -- the presumption that criticisms of Theory must be coming from the same place -- to combine the favorites together, perhaps I might call this the Horowitzian dupe analytic philosopher jealous fury hypothesis. The point is that *if* you accept that the word Theory has some meaning in describing a contemporary academic constellation, then of course people will oppose it for all sorts of different reasons. Blurring all of these people together in a "side against Theory" doesn't work. Saying that they are creating the term "Theory" by their opposition also doesn't work, because of the many other contexts in which it's used.

In particular, harshing on John for the real or imagined problems of everyone else "against Theory" means that first of all, you never learn anything from reading his stuff, and second, you never get to the real criticisms of his stuff (i.e., maybe his category of Higher Eclecticism was a bad idea, but you're only now starting to understand what he means by it well enough to say what's wrong with what he's written rather than what's wrong with what you think he's written.) This confusion is clearly not due to inherent inability on your part, it's apparently because of a problem with your mental model of what's going on.

2. "Although I will grant you that if your idiosyncratic understanding of the term is the standard, then I do in fact have a fundamental misunderstanding of the field. Thankfully, then, your understanding is not the standard."

Well, I didn't write that wiki page, and I think that it conforms to what I take to be the standard understanding of what "continental philosophy" is. So my misunderstanding, if that's what it is, is not so idiosyncratic as all that. It took some arguing to get people to agree (if they did) that Kierkegaard was both a continental philosopher and, as an object of textual study, part of continental philosophy; now I'm trying to argue that method, the next fallback, similarly has a broader range within continental philosophy than in the somewhat more restricted tradition that you seem to primarily read. That means that criticism of Theory can come from within continental philosophy itself, at which point it makes no sense to frame the entire thing as analytics not understanding continentals.

Jonathan

One of the things I'm finding amusing here is the apparent tacit agreement between the disputants as to the existence of the "lit theory hack." Here's what I propose: on average, any scholar housed in an English department who has published something using the work of one of figures under discussion here knows at least as much about it as anyone commenting here, "trained in phenomenology" though you be. (I probably would exempt Wittgeinstein here vis-&aagrave;-vis John, but only just.)

Adam Kotsko

Rich,

You are right that it is unhelpful to lump all "anti-Theory" people together and that I have over-hastily conflated John with certain less appealling opponents of Theory. And it is certainly right that a continental philosopher (whether an actual European person or else an Anglophone philosopher who would be recognized by the title "continental philosopher," neither of which John is, by his own testimony) could very well critique a lot of what goes on under the name of Theory, primarily in literature departments. Many have. Zizek -- who is at least an ambiguous case here, in my opinion -- has seriously critiqued Judith Butler (surely a better and less ambiguous exemplar for Theory properly-so-called than Zizek is), for example.

I was relatively unreceptive to many of John's criticisms of Theory precisely insofar as they seemed to be veiled attacks also on the strains of continental philosophy with which I am most familiar (which also happen to be the strains most associated with "continental philosophy" as an academic field in the Anglophone world). In the early days of this debate -- and I've been following it since John's consideration of Just Being Difficult, probably over two years ago by this point -- he actually was much more cavalier than he is now about critiques of the sources of Theory. Now he seems to have backed down on that, so there is more of a chance to see what he's after with his primary target.

So seriously -- this thing with proving John is a continental philosopher so that you can show that it's contradictory that he is criticizing continental philosophy as such, it really is a blind alley. At best, you're going to come up with a very strained sense in which an article by John is "continental philosophy," so that you can show up a logical contradiction in a position that I don't actually hold at this point.

If you want to score that victory against "Adam Kotsko of three months ago," be my guest. You win! That victory is yours. I totally concede. But it's irrelevant to what is actually going on now. I'm allowed to change my position in the course of a discussion -- in fact, there would be very little point in joining in a discussion if I was not at least open to the possibility. I've never been trying to win some kind of debate or to defend a really well-defined Kotskonian orthodoxy -- much of my hostility toward you comes from my perception that you're reading me as if I am and that you're really aggressively attacking something that isn't really there in the first place.

Doctor Slack

If Adam is starting to understand what John means by "the Higher Eclecticism," would he mind sharing? I've been a spectator to various iterations of the term in a number of threads, and I have to admit I can't figure it out. (His latest comment seems to imply he thinks it roughly interchangeable with Theory -- in the Theory's Empire sense? -- but maybe he doesn't mean to give that impression. Or perhaps this has all been explained succinctly somewhere and I've simply missed it, which is entirely possible.)

Jonathan says: One of the things I'm finding amusing here is the apparent tacit agreement between the disputants as to the existence of the "lit theory hack."

I don't think there should be any dispute that the lit theory hack exists per se -- I've certainly known a few -- but I have to admit I do see rather too much of people falling over themselves to gain distance from "theory" and "what goes on in English departments" in some of these debates. EngLit does face some challenges, to be sure, but the tendency among some to speak of it as a kind of poor relation among the humanities is unwarranted.

Adam Kotsko

If the lit theory hack didn't exist, he or she would have to be invented -- by Sokal.

jholbo

Jonathan, the average 'use' of Wittgenstein by an English professor will be the result of days, or possibly weeks of study. He is a quotable fellow, is our Ludwig. If the years I spent dissertating have put me 'only just' ahead in terms of 'knowledge' - and only 'probably' at that - then I am indeed an intellectual incompetent. (What was all that study for? For nought, I should say.) Would you agree?

To put it another way: did you really mean it to come out like that? (And if not, then what did you mean it to come out like?)

Doctor Slack writes: "Or perhaps this has all been explained succinctly somewhere and I've simply missed it, which is entirely possible." Yes, I think I'll have to go with this. The other one doesn't make sense to me at all.

Adam Kotsko

Let me try it:

In discussions of the Higher Eclecticism, I am reminded of nothing so much as Wittgenstein's famous dictum: "Wovon man nicht sprechen kann, darüber muß man schweigen."

Anthony Paul Smith

Rich,

My position, which has been consistent, is that Kierkegaard and Nietzsche are not continental philosophers in a narrow sense. The narrow sense that I thought we were talking about at that time (the sense in which it will be relevant to John Holbo being a continental philosopher). I'll say it again - continental philosophy means many different things (regardless of what wikipedia says)! You're very bad at this.

Scott Eric Kaufman

Jonathan, we all know such hacks exist, but what with us not being anonymous, we're rightfully loath to name names.

Matt

I'll just second what Jonathan and the good Doctor say (and ask).

Some of the best work, in the "continental" vein, with or even without Heidegger, is certainly done in English lit. departments, in the US and elsewhere.

I likewise still have very little idea what John Holbo means by "Higher Eclecticism," beyond some rather common-sensical criticism of conceptual sloppiness, or whether the critique is either accurate or helpful (as John construes it, and the concepts - or as Rich would undoubtedly have them, "jargon.") (The best critique of jargon, it (still) seems to me, should really be able to first demonstrate - and preferably better than the jargoneer hirself, which, if she be using jargon for jargon's sake alone, should not be all that difficult - an understanding of the jargon, or its gestural intent, in the most generous possible manner (generous to the meaning, not the person). So as to defeat and overcome by love, as it were. An analytic impatience with such standards is surely understandable, though it doesn't work, as they say, to just turn them into yet another (psychological, or scholarly) indigtment against "Theory." At the end of the day, one just has to sit down and read, charitably and at length, in order to dismiss.)

And of course, yes Rich, there have always been more and less responsible, and more and less dogmatic ways of critiquing anything, "Theory" included, which has surely, by now, after four decades of contention, defense and largely opportunist slander (plus some more reasonable, and patient critiques) more than earned its "scare" quotes, and possibility of a future in improved form (and not just in a clever cage).

Matt

Adam mentions Sokal.

Jonathan

John, you read my comment as insulting your expertise, whereas I'm concerned about the insult to this hypothetical English department scholar's expertise, who can't defend herself against weeks-and-days slanders. I dispute that, and the larger claim that this kind of indiscriminate syncresis I imagine you to be thinking of routinely occurs in the work done in English departments. Sometimes? Sure. Some glaring examples, most two or so decades past? Absolutely. Routine? No.

Doctor Slack

John say: Yes, I think I'll have to go with this. The other one doesn't make sense to me at all.

Well, Adam's advice notwithstanding, I'm not prepared to assign the Higher Eclecticism to the realm of the ineffable just yet, and I'm not saying your previous attempts are completely unhelpful (including your post of 12:10). I'm just saying that if there's a particular piece of writing you think clearly answers objections to the "style of argument" critique, for example, or spells out your thinking about the relationship between "Higher Eclecticism" and "Theory," I can't find it and would sincerely love to be directed to it. (Or perhaps the forthcoming review of Zizek will cover these bases.)

Dieter Schultz


200 Pfosten Teufel-Rede. Du hörst dieses in der Hölle, rückwärts, im Anti-Rationalistbezirk, der von den gefälschten Klerikeren und von Den LIT. Clownen voll ist. Derrida ist der neue Türjunge: er übernahm von Hegel.

Scott Eric Kaufman

I'm concerned about the insult to this hypothetical English department scholar's expertise, who can't defend herself against weeks-and-days slanders.

John, Amardeep, the Berubes and I were discussing this at the MLA: the problem with criticizing poor scholarship is that in a field in which error can't be easily quantified, social networks tend to replace real organs of criticism. Michael said that years ago, he and Janet had thought of starting an anonymous journal in which people could publish Fishian reviews, or at the very least honest ones, instead of what happens now, almost without exception: books to be reviewed are assigned to people likely to admire them. (I'm thinking about American Literature, mostly.) What Michael said is that while, yes, this results in the occasional bad review, it doesn't do so in a constructive fashion. I'm tempted to agree, and it's partly why certain sub-disciplines are (and are increasingly) echo-chambers, in which one must buy seven assumptions--five reasonable, two outlandish--to be taken "seriously" in the field. Yes, I'm generalizing; but Michael and Janet were right to insist on anonymity, and we're right to insist on not naming names so long as we're writing under our own.

Finally, I propose that "fish" be the academic lit community's version of "fisk." Anyone second?

Rich Puchalsky

The last time this came up, I Googled "Higher Eclecticism", and put a list of links to every post that has ever been written about it in comments.

But you want it boiled down? John is constitutionally incapable of boiling things down, so if you ask him, you'll get a blockquote by Valentine Cunningham, an aphorism by Friedrich Schlegel, and an extended analogy to Hesse's _Glass Bead Game_. Plus he has to be concerned about people making hostile misinterpretations of anything short that he writes. But hey, I'm not concerned! So: the Higher Eclecticism as I understand it in a one paragraph pastiche:

The Higher Eclecticism is a late development within Theory, starting sometime after 1985. It began when people started to take the various methods and traditions that had all been included within the general area of Theory and combine them into a single apparatus. This allowed a powerful sense of "arguments occuring offstage" along with "manifest inadequacy of the machinery for guaranteeing significance" of these arguments. The argument against the Higher Eclecticism is therefore both intellectual and stylistic; it's something that's both trying to look like it's making an argument without actually making one, and it's kitsch. As an outgrowth of "romantic energy [...] poured into rationalist forms", it has the signature strengths of neither. To add my own bit to this Holbonic mashup, I'd say that continental philosophers who specialize in dashes between Theory-incorporated traditions -- Zizek's Hegelian-Lacanianism, say, or Spivak's Marxism-feminism-postcolonialism -- are prime candidates for examples of writings in the Higher Eclecticism.

Rich Puchalsky

Oh, yes, this should probably be obvious, but despite my calling it a Holbonic mashup, I really have no idea whether the paragraph actually corresponds to what he thinks that the phrase means. If you want something brief to shoot at, though, you can shoot at my version of it.

Adam Kotsko

Rich,

Right, because Hegelianism was a huge trend in "Theory" before 1985.

Rich Puchalsky

You might note the "Theory-incorporated" part of that, Adam. That's what happens when you only have one paragraph.

You see, the problem is not some kind of Kotskoism. It's that you don't read.

Adam Kotsko

No, Rich, you're totally right. Open up any introductory text on lit theory, and there will be this huge chapter on Hegelianism. Hegel was definitely deeply incorporated into Theory. I mean, just think of such famous Hegelian critics such as... um....

If by "incorporated," you mean that sometimes Theory people talked about Hegel, then fine -- but the attention was mostly negative. So in fact, you have made an error, which I am sure that you will now try to defend based on some vanishingly small technicality.

Jonathan

Lukacs.

Adam Kotsko

He'd be discussed in the Marxism chapter.

Jonathan

An inclusive progression of the world-spirit. Your point is sublated.

Rich Puchalsky

Adam, I have been, if you hadn't noticed, describing Theory as mostly being a branch of continental philosophy. This goes along with the defense of Theory as being mostly a branch of continental philosophy that some people have made, and avoids your "but the bad theory happens in literature departments" bit, which I don't agree with. So yes, of course Hegelianism was incorporated, directly or indirectly through Marxism: remember the beginning of this thread and the focus on who does real dialectic? Also note that I didn't say that everything that appears anywhere within the Higher Eclecticism was already incorporated into Theory before 1985; if you will accept nothing else, then Zizek himself has incorporated a version of Hegelianism into Theory through his own work.

Now, if you were interested in reading rather than pouncing on the first thing that looked immediately wrong, you might have just shrugged and substituted Marxism for Hegelianism in my example, or thought, hey that's a bad example, but I know what he means. Then I might not have had to point out these vanishingly small technicalities, and we might have said something about the Higher Eclecticism itself. Or, you know, you might have actually read the wiki quote that I quoted about "anti-transcendent skepticism", and said something like, the Higher Eclecticism is an invalid category description for the same reason that the idea of anti-transcendent skepticism as a defining characteristic of continental philosophy doesn't make sense. But no, you were too busy going through another iteration of "You quoted from wiki -- that's all I have to say".

Doctor Slack

Rich: But you want it boiled down?

Well, I'm just trying to get a sense of what the term is currently meant to signify. My current take roughly matches your brief "mashup," but like you I've no idea if it actually matches what John himself is trying to do. It certainly does seem like his usage has shifted away from the original deployment as a version of Patai & Corral's pejorative take on "Theory." But maybe not so much.

If we take your "mashup" as a starting point... well, I've dug through enough of the past conversations to have noticed that most of what I'd find dodgy has been elucidated by others (from the very serious definitional problems of treating "Theory" as a school of thought of which HE is meant to be a "Romantic" subset, to the confusions the "style of argument" critique engenders (which Matt spells out well above), to a persistent sense that the "arguments occurring offstage" claims are often simply missing arguments occurring onstage in a quest to exoticize the material). It's not like I'm looking to drag anyone back into those debates this late in the thread.

jholbo

As to HE, I think the Cunningham passage works ok. And Rich's paragraph is ok. I could quibble, of course, but I'll accept it, after a quick read, and because I'm not really interested in writing my own. The reason I'm not really interested in boiling it down is that it's like 'Romanticism' - any boil down is going to be maybe helpful to to the totally clueless; but not really functional for any intellectual purpose. I just don't USE the notion, in abbreviated form, in my writings, so I don't need to bother to create a definition. HE doesn't get used to make arguments in my writingss. It gets used in comment threads. It evolved as shorthand that means 'what Holbo said'. So mostly it gets used as Slack and Matt use it, to say 'I don't get what Holbo said.' Well, WHAT didn't you understand? You tell me. (Some clarity, if you please.)

Jonathan, why is the days and weeks point 'slander'? It is quite common for a scholarly article by an English professor to reference many philosophical figures. No one thinks that average professor has actually studied all those figures intensively. When you reference a large number of figures, you are relying on received wisdom about what those figures mean and say. Mostly, in Wittgenstein's case, you are just saying invoking something about language-games or 'meaning as use', which may or may not reflect a deep understanding of what Wittgenstein was really doing. Many people say 'language-games', few read a lot of W. Isn't this just obvious? I didn't intend to slander anyone, nor do I think I did. I don't really think I said anything mean about English departments in the thread.

As to why I was offended by your post, it wasn't because it opened the possibility that the English department might do good work - as Matt suggests. Rather, it closed the possibility that I could do good work, as opposed to low-mediocre.

Matt says he still doesn't understand, and that I need to be more charitable. In fact, I suspect his failure to understand is itself an example of uncharitable resistance. But it isn't really helpful to say so, I realize. I guess I can try this: I have emphasized, over and over and over, that the significance of the Higher Eclecticism (if we want to use this term) is that it is a late expression of romanticism. Theory is late-romanticism, rather decadent. This isn't quite the same as 'common sense tells me this is sloppy.' No one who has been reading my stuff can really fail to notice this, I think.

jholbo

Slack: "It certainly does seem like his usage has shifted away from the original deployment as a version of Patai & Corral's pejorative take on "Theory." But maybe not so much."

Good heavens, Slack! Your confusion runs deeper than I had feared! Can you explain what you think has happened? This sense you have is far enough from being reality-based that I really can't even start to reply before finding out more about this parallel universe you inhabit. What are you talking about?

Adam Kotsko

Rather than trying to define "Theory" or "continental philosophy" or "Romanticism" or "the Higher Eclecticism," maybe we should start with something a little easier: for instance, religion.

Jonathan

"Slander" is mild hyperbole, of course, but the notion that there are routine, shallow philosophical references used in any putatively substantive way(as supporting evidence in arguments or readings) in most literay scholarship is false. I think that I've spent more time reading, say, the latest essay on The Waves or the latest issue of Poetics Today than you have, and thus I think your perception of the field is skewed towards the methodological, theory debates, where philosphical generalizations are more likely to be made. I thought this was true when we first started discussing this years ago, and it remains so.

But the main point of my original comment was to question Anthony's and Adam's ethos for off-handedly denigrating work using continental figures done in comp. lit or English departments. My faith in your knowledge of Wittgenstein is total.

Anthony Paul Smith

"But the main point of my original comment was to question Anthony's and Adam's ethos for off-handedly denigrating work using continental figures done in comp. lit or English departments."

Excuse me? Can you tell me when I did this? Though I have misgivings about things I've read, I'm not part of that circle of people and, to my knowledge, have never made a substantive statement concerning them. I do wish that those who wanted to simply do continental philosophy could do so without having to study or practice under the auspices of 'literature', but I'm not denigrating the work of people I have no contact with who simply want to do literature using Heidegger or Wittgenstein or whoever. Please retract this false statement or show me where I've made such statements.

Jonathan

Adam used "lit theory hack" on this thread, but I'm sure I've seen a similar phrase and/or sentiment from you (and him) several times before. If you always already bracketed that phrase in--nay, as-- reductio, there were supplemental slippages.

Anthony Paul Smith

"I'm sure I've seen a similar phrase and/or sentiment from you (and him) several times before."

I'm sure you haven't. I DON'T RUN IN LIT CIRCLES! I've never studied any kind of lit crit, I've never cared to and I doubt I ever will care to. That was part of my confusion when getting into the arguement with John at The Valve. Everything I've said about literature departments have been to say that I don't think people should have to hide in them to do continental philosophy. That's it. I don't know whether or not lit crit hacks exist and so I don't have an opinion on them.

I'll say it again - either retract the statement or find a place where I've said it. The last thing I need is Rich attributing to me another position I don't actually take.

Jonathan

The burden of proof is on you, I'd have to say. Some googling seems to indicate that Adam has employed this gambit more often, but then there's this.

Anthony Paul Smith

In what bizzaro-world is the burden of proof on the person accused? Are you some kind of fascist?

I'll say this again - Adam Kotsko and Anthony Paul Smith are two different people. I don't agree with Adam on everything, even if I respect him a great deal as an intellectual.

My comment at Scott's site is consistent with what I told you already. In so far as I've been told that people do shitty work in literature departments because they have to couch all their philosophical work in terms of literature I wish they weren't there. But my comment was on the supposed shittyness of their literary work, not their philosophic (which seems evident from that comment). So, again, I've never said that folks in literature departments do bad philosophic work. Even if we were to take this one comment written obviously while I was angry, that hardly constitutes an ethos of the kind you describe.

So, tell me, why are you saying this about me? What have I said in this thread that has denigrated the work of lit crit people?

Doctor Slack

John: Of course I'm more than happy to explain what I think has happened. To put it briefly,

a) HE is first invoked (by you) as interchangeable with "Theory" in a post broadly defending the editorial framing of the subject in TE*.

b) After some discussion, a clarification follows in which HE is identified as a late development within Theory (but having the same features that make Theory relatively pernicious on the whole, cf. Val Cunningham's "hotel room" witticism)**.

c) A long-running debate follows (of which I'm sure I've seen only a fraction) in which some people remain unconvinced of the basic premises underlying the categories of "Theory" and HE as you are using them (and during which, no doubt, you become heartily sick of the whole thing).

d) I arrive from an alternate Earth, demanding that you immediately clarify this Higher Eclecticism business so that I can assess its part in the nefarious plans of my antimatter nemesis***. Also, I notice that you're making noises like the Higher Eclecticism maybe isn't so bad; what's up with that? Seems like a new-ish development to my Earth-2 eyes.

(* It's a little sloppy to call what you said merely a "version" of what Patai and Corral say, particularly since they have an extra-strong slathering of culture war angst going on... so let's strike that, and amend my earlier comment to read "its original deployment in support of the core of Patai and Corral's thesis.")

(** About steps A and B, my confusion really relates to the usefulness of Higher Eclecticism as a distinct category. If there's little to distinguish it, beyond a certain "style," from a larger category of "Theory," the question then becomes what the point of thinking about writing in this way could be.)

(*** Sorry, I just had to work the "parallel universe" thing in somehow.)

Now, I guess since the Higher Eclecticism is of so little interest that it's no longer worth defining or talking about (except in that Zizek is a "paradigmatic case" of it), this is all moot and we can just talk more directly about "Theory as late-Romanticism." Fine with me. FWIW, though, my interest in the term isn't merely to beat you over the head with what I take to be its imprecision or problems with the premises underlying it. Part of my fascination with it is that, while I don't buy the Val Cunningham line on eclecticism, there's nevertheless some tantalizing potential that I can't quite identify in the notion of a Higher Eclecticism -- perhaps as a way of discussing a mode of theory rather than an epoch of Theory. Or something. I really don't know at this point.

(And yes, you're obviously quite right to ask for more specifics about what occasions my objections. I can go into that, though I'm not sure this thread is the appropriate venue.)

Jonathan

The phaneroscopic world differs.

jholbo

OK, I don't have time to be complete, but Slack has kindly replied, so I have to make a downpayment for politeness sake.

Here are some things I thought he was missing (some of which he has since recanted as comment box excess):

1) 'Theory' is not a pejorative term. This is important. It isn't like 'politically correct' that way. When Culler and Leitch and others talk about 'Theory', they don't mean it in a bad way.

2) Patai and Corral's use of 'Theory' is not pejorative. They do get a bit polemically overheated in their front matter, but the volume's reputation as polemical is undeserved. Most of the pieces aren't. It really isn't a very polemical anthology. (You hear a lot about how it's polemical, but the expanation for this is that lots of folks have criticized the volume without reading it. Because they were sure what they would find in it. But they're wrong.) It's critical. But that's ok. And, per 1, this subject, 'theory', is not an invention of its critics, for target practice.

3) My own writings on the subject predate the TE book. I'm still revising that stuff, and staging the event shaped my thoughts. But I deny that Patai and Corral have personally been a big influence on me. It isn't true. In fact, my opening post for the TE probably overemphasized even my independent agreement with them. I was sort of boosting the book a bit too much with that post. I should have taken a more critical tone, which in fact I did a bit more later in the event.

4. In that post I do sort of equate HE with Theory, and that was probably misleading. But I think it's clear that the concern is that HE is Theory's bad tendency. I'm identifying how Theory goes characteristically bad. I'm emphasizng one big thing that bothers people about it. Also, since then I have stated on a number of occasions that I obviously don't think that every single work of Theory will exhibit this tendency. I didn't mention that in the actual TE intro post. But I'm not an idiot. So people might have inferred that I wasn't saying something clearly idiotic.

5. As to the usefulness of thinking about 'HE'. I guess it's on a par with the usefulness of 'what Holbo said'. Namely, it's useful if you know what it means. But I'm not under any special obligation to have a brief thesis statement which exhibits sufficient nuance to capture the collection of genealogical, formal and functional aspects of 'Theory' I'm concerned with; and also functions as a portable proof of its own validity as a category. If you want to criticize what I've written, criticize it. Lord knows I've written several things. You can try to poke holes. I will try to reply to serious criticisms. My point, again, is that I don't use HE in such a way that I am obliged to define it. I never say 'Butler is Higher Eclectic, therefore Butler is bad,' which would admittedly be unsatisfactory, and would warrant demands that I define that term I used a bit more precisely.

And that's all I have time for just right this second, thanks for asking.

ben wolfson

Rather than trying to define "Theory" or "continental philosophy" or "Romanticism" or "the Higher Eclecticism," maybe we should start with something a little easier: for instance, religion.

I recommend Jonathan Z. Smith's essay "God Save This Honourable Court".

Adam Kotsko

It seems strange to me that literature, alone of all disciplines, would be completely bereft of lazy scholars (also known as "hacks"). My point in using the category is often to gain some common ground ("Sure, the people at the bottom of the barrell produce some shoddy work"), so that I can then contend that such people are not worth critiquing in such an extended fashion.

But insofar as I have used it to differentiate lit departments from philosophy (or religion) departments, with lit departments being bad, I have been unfair. I recant and repent.

jholbo

This thread has attained escape velocity and has seceded from John & Belle. It has attained self-consciousness, in fact, and will never die.

Jonathan

Here's what the oracle (Dialectic of Enlightenment): has to say:

The more universially the modern industrial system requires everyone to bind himself to it, the more everyone who is not part of the ocean of "white trash" into which the unqualified employed and unemployed pour, will tend to become the smalltime expert, the creature who has to fend for himself. (107)

On the facing page we have, "Under Fascism, holidays are enhanced by the phony collective euphoria produced by radio, slogans, and benzedrine"

Thus spake the sortes Horkheimeriana.

Adam Kotsko

This reminds me of a comment I left at The Valve, quoted only in part:

When I publish this blog post, Long Sunday will die. The Valve will die. The entire blogosphere will collapse in on itself—it will be like the Infinity Gauntlet series, with me as Thanos—and then some Silver Surfer will come along, asking in all innocence, “Why did you do that for a blog post? Why not go for a line on your CV?” Then I will collapse into a blackhole, a singularity, from which shall spring the universe, afresh—the same universe as before, only a little different, a little off-centered, everyone somehow knowing in the back of their mind that something tremendous has happened to them, something beyond all reckoning, all blame, all forgiveness—the impossible possibility.

There are some who contend that this has already happened—that the overpowering density of my arrogance is the singularity from which the Big Bang radiated. Scientists will one day decode the message in the “background radiation”—uncannily, it will be ASCII code, with HTML tags… “My God man—some kind of—can we bear to say it?—some kind of comment thread—a comment thread, this terrifying expedient, this God sacrificed himself—who could credit it? [wie man’s glaube]—out of love, out of love for the debtor!”

Adam Kotsko

And I repeat my original mistake: the German in brackets should be "sollte man's glauben."

Rich Puchalsky

John writes: "Here are some things I thought he was missing"

See, points 1-5 are defenses, which I both purposefully and necessarily left out. Necessarily, because a paragraph has no room for them; purposefully, because I thought that it would be a good illustration of why being specific and brief is not exactly rewarded in this context. Given that the ratio appears to be have been confirmed via experiment as one paragraph of text to five paragraphs of denial of ill intent, I'd say that given how much John has already written, the resulting discussion should peter out sometime in September.

Matt

It really isn't a very polemical anthology. (You hear a lot about how it's polemical, but the expanation for this is that lots of folks have criticized the volume without reading it. Because they were sure what they would find in it. But they're wrong.)

Of course Simon Jarvis might not agree.

jholbo

I think you are conflating 'polemic' and 'unconstructive critique', Matt. Jarvis' complaint is that the anthology does not propose constructive alternatives. I guess it depends what you mean by 'polemic', but the usual meaning in these contexts is something like 'sacrifices nuanced argument for the sake of aggressive attack'. I think that fits the editor's own frontmatter but, by and large, it doesn't fit the volume contents. (Have you read the volume, or any significant portion of the contents, by the by?)

Matt

John, a proposed review may focus on Umberto Eco, with some Solzhenitsyn thrown in for good measure. It's quite a mash-up, really. Care to help?

A near-significant portion would seem to be available here. You're probably right about a good portion of the contents (some of which are rather old and tired).

Naturally, any review that neglected to assess the orienting concept and framing - i.e, the reason for the anthology (or for that matter, blog archive) itself, most likely would not work.

Talk about shaving it fine though. Polemics coming in all flavors of nuance, alas.

Matt

My point in using the category is often to gain some common ground ("Sure, the people at the bottom of the barrell produce some shoddy work"), so that I can then contend that such people are not worth critiquing in such an extended fashion.

Precisely so; I likewise repent.

Doctor Slack

John, thanks for your response. It was indeed very helpful.

- But I deny that Patai and Corral have personally been a big influence on me. It isn't true.

I stand corrected.

- Patai and Corral's use of 'Theory' is not pejorative.

Perhaps Patai and Corral have been misquoted in contending that the Theory world is intolerant of disagreement, or that proponents of Theory on the whole don't respond to their critics with reasoned argument? If not, then maybe we're working with different senses of the word "pejorative."

In any case, I don't want to seem like I'm taking such apparent posturing about "Theory" too seriously. (Indeed, if the ranting about "stable identities" and "stable meanings" has been quoted accurately, there are pretty strong hints that some of what's really going on there is -- or at least parallels -- a long-running dispute between theory camps, identitarian essentialists vs. their nemeses, the "postmodern" anti-essentialists.) And I should not have spoken about Theory "in the Theory's Empire sense" as though all the pieces in it must be parroting the editors' obsessions (which would seem unlikely from a volume that contains everything from journalists to philosophers to well-known theory names like Todorov, Perloff, Kermode and Marks). My bad. Rest assured it does sound like a very interesting anthology in several ways, and I will be making time for it.

- But I think it's clear that the concern is that HE is Theory's bad tendency.

It is now. Thank you.

Also, since then I have stated on a number of occasions that I obviously don't think that every single work of Theory will exhibit this tendency.

Ummm, I wasn't imputing quite such an ambitious claim to you. To do so would be clearly idiotic, & c. What's interesting about a formulation like "Theory is late-Romanticism" is fairly obviously whether it works on balance, not whether the author can be said to think it applies to every single case.

Re: definition, God knows I'm not expecting you to manage anything as insane as a thesis statement about HE that functions as a portable proof of its own vailidity as a category. Evidently my confusions about the usefulness of the usage would need fleshing out to enable a proper response, as we've both noted already. (And I think that realistically, that's going to have to wait for another time.)

I do have to say, though, that I'm finding the resistance to the idea of definition per se a little bit strange. Definition hath its limits, obviously, but if HE is Theory's bad tendency, and it seems to you that such-and-such Butler text is an example of it (which would be different from saying "Butler is bad"), might at least a contingent act of definition not be helpful in fleshing out and strengthening the case?

Rich Puchalsky

doctor slack: "I do have to say, though, that I'm finding the resistance to the idea of definition per se a little bit strange. Definition hath its limits, obviously, but if HE is Theory's bad tendency, and it seems to you that such-and-such Butler text is an example of it (which would be different from saying "Butler is bad"), might at least a contingent act of definition not be helpful in fleshing out and strengthening the case?"

Wait for the book. Doing such a thing in this context leads to the syndrome already seen, right? You'd never even get to an explanation of why this would be different from saying that Butler is bad; first you'd have to deal with the Horowitzian dupe analytical philosopher jealous fury hypothesis. No, sorry, you used Butler as an example: before you even got to that, you'd have to deal with people saying that criticism of Butler's work was due to her gender and sexuality. All these routes have already been pursued.

jholbo

Sorry, Matt, I'm not sure what kind of help you are looking for. It looks to me as though you've made up your mind to think badly of the anthology because you are reasonably sure that what it contains must be bad, although whether because it is hot and polemical or old and tired - you aren't sure. That's fine. But what does this have to do with me?

Dr. Slack, I don't deny that Patai and Corral say all these angry things about 'theory'. Indeed they do. My point was: that doesn't make it a pejorative term. Compare: someone says 'analytic philosophy is just mind-numbing syntactic twiddling'. That is rather a negative judgment. But the term itself isn't pejorative because many other people say things like 'analytic philosophy is the best'. Likewise, with theory. The term rather neutrally - albeit vaguely - picks out a subject, and then people disagree about it. We got a lot of resistance to the very use of 'theory' during the event, but that's like neocons telling people that there are no neocons. It's just a way to prevent criticism.

As to definitions, one thing that makes me think it wouldn't help is that you - in particular - don't seem to think you have any idea what I am talking about, even in a vague sort of way. That is, you seem to be saying: I've looked at this stuff, and it doesn't look anything like that Cunningham passage, so I'm just baffled as to why anyone would anything like 'eclecticism' was an appropriate label for what is going on. Is that accurate? Because I think that's rather strange and I'm not sure what to make of it.

Doctor Slack

John says: I don't deny that Patai and Corral say all these angry things about 'theory'. Indeed they do. My point was: that doesn't make it a pejorative term.

No, of course not. It makes their usage of it pejorative. And to the extent that other usages accept their basic contentions (or mount similar ones), it makes those usages similarly pejorative (though the style and flavour of the delivery will vary). Not that there's anything wrong with being pejorative from time to time, mind you... so long as one is also being accurate.

Those who do not share those kinds of concerns or buy into those constructions of "Theory" will obviously use the term differently. And if so, such people may take issue with attempts to treat such constructions as usefully definitive of something called "Theory," and it's just possible they might even do so in the interests of accuracy and genuine descriptiveness rather than just trying to "prevent criticism." And I'm sure that in saying this, I'm not telling you anything you don't already know.

That is, you seem to be saying: I've looked at this stuff, and it doesn't look anything like that Cunningham passage, so I'm just baffled as to why anyone would anything like 'eclecticism' was an appropriate label for what is going on. Is that accurate?

Not really. I think there's plenty of eclecticism going on, in some schools of theory more than others. What I don't grok is what's particularly compelling to you about Cunningham's (excerpted) criticism of it. The interchangeability of eclecticism with "genteel amateurism" seems (or I've had the sense that it seems) obvious to you in a way that makes Cunningham's point ring true; the practice of using ideas from one or another thinker without adopting their outlook and commitments wholesale seems commonplace to me in a way that makes Cunningham's point seem trivial and superficial, at least as a criticism of 'theory' on more-or-less the whole.

Which is not to deny that it's possible for eclecticism to function poorly or not at all. But I've had trouble seeing why this should be seen as particularly distinct from what Matt refers to as "conceptual sloppiness" above. The style in which the sloppiness is sometimes delivered, perhaps? There seems another Wall of Obvious there between one person's compelling reality and the other's perception of triviality.

I should hasten to add that this isn't a static perception on my part. I can, for instance, see some potential in your discussion of Zizek for a demonstration of why the Higher Eclecticism (or whatever term we use) should be a compelling concern.

I would try to tie this all back into "definition," but it's one in the morning. Later.

Ari Krupnick

Look, Dr. Slack, what Holbo is saying (I'm pretty sure) is that neither he nor Patai and Corral use the word 'Theory' in such a way that it is true by definition that there is something wrong with Theory.

They use the word 'Theory' in such a way that it is true by definition that Theory is the kind of writing produced by such and such people, e.g., Butler, Spivak, Zizek, etc. (or something roughly like that). And then they argue that that kind of stuff has something wrong with it. And thus that Theory has something wrong with it.

Just like those who criticize analytic philosophy presumably do not use the term 'analytic philosophy' in such a way that it is true by definition that there is something wrong with analytic philosophy. Rather, they use the term in such a way that it is true by definition that analytic philosophy is the kind of writing produced by such and such people, e.g., Frege, Russell, Quine, Lewis etc. (or something roughly like that). Then they go on to argue that there is something wrong with that kind of stuff, and thus that there is something wrong with analytic philosophy.

So if one wants to deny that 'Theory', as Holbo uses it, applies to anything, one has to deny that there exists a particular kind of thing produced by Butler, Spivak, Zizek, etc. Similarly, if one wants to deny that 'analytic philosophy, as its critics use the term, applies to anything, then one has to deny that there exists a particular kind of thing procued by Russell, Frege, Quine, Lewis, etc.

Now one might deny, in both cases, that there exists such a thing. Perhaps the writings of Butler, Spivak, Zizek, etc. do not share enough important features for one to truly say that there is a particular kind of writing that they all produce. And perhaps the same is true of the writings of Russell, Frege, Quine, etc..

Now since I actually know something about Russell, Frege, Quine, etc., I feel confident in saying that it would be pretty unreasonable to deny that there is a particular kind of thing produced by Russell, Frege, Quine, etc. That is, I think it is pretty unresonable to deny that there is such a thing as analytic philosophy, as its critics, and supporters I presume, use the term. I know next to nothing about the writings of Butler, Spivak, Zizek, etc., so I will not say anything about how reasonable it is to deny that there is a particular kind of thing produced by all of them.

I just wanted to clarify what it means to deny that there is such a thing as Theory, if one is using the word 'Theory' in the way that John uses it.

Doctor Slack

Okey-dokey. This is a bit long, sorry.

Back to 'definition' for a second... where was I going with that? Oh yeah: my point is not that any possible definition would necessarily answer the objections and confusions of someone like me (which are somewhat involved). But I think, for instance, a definition that at least clarified what distinguishes "Higher Eclecticism" from the vulgar "bad writing" critiques of a common mode of incurious anti-Theory would be plausible, and wouldn't go amiss. (The Spivak discussion Rich links to above provides, I think, a pretty good example of why.)

Ari says: They use the word 'Theory' in such a way that it is true by definition that Theory is the kind of writing produced by such and such people, e.g., Butler, Spivak, Zizek, etc. (or something roughly like that). And then they argue that that kind of stuff has something wrong with it. And thus that Theory has something wrong with it.

Well, I could see this as a plausible characterization of what John is doing with Higher Eclecticism, rather than with "Theory."

However, from what I can tell**, Patai and Corral can't be said to be doing anything like the above. Theirs is a specific (if at points seeimingly confusing and contradictory) set of propositions about the behaviours of people working in the field and the illogic and intellectual dishonesty of the work they assume to be dominant in the field. At the outset of the Theory's Empire event, some of these propositions were set forth and held to be basically accurate (and even proposed as reasons for the necessity of the anthology) by certain people promoting the book, Mark Bauerlein being perhaps the clearest example.

Now, those propositions are really of interest here only insofar as they or anything similar to them are still part of John's assumptions. (I have no idea to what extent this is true; to judge by some of his comments here I may have been doing him an injustice.) They're also relevant in identifying just what construction of "Theory" people were responding to in 'the event;' it strikes me as simply wrong to claim that what was going on was just an anodyne exercise in the textual analysis of a small subset of theorists.

(* I'm working at second hand here, so please take anything I say about Patai and Corral to be prefaced with big, flashing disclaimer phrases: "if my impressions are accurate," "if they are being reported accurately," "if those who claim to agree with their propositions are providing an accurate renditions of them" and so on.)

So if one wants to deny that 'Theory', as Holbo uses it, applies to anything, one has to deny that there exists a particular kind of thing produced by Butler, Spivak, Zizek, etc.

No. It's perfectly possible to contend that Butler, Spivak and Zizek do a particular kind of thing without needing to call that thing "Theory." The term "Theory" was originally meant (by John) to signify a specific cluster of academic practices or cultural formations that have dominated the field, more or less, since 1965 or so. One doesn't need to deny that there was a burst of activity in the field around 1965 to see a certain problem with contending that a single school of theory can be judged usefully representative of four decades of an extremely vast field of intellectual endeavour, one characterized moreover by non-trivial conflict and competition between extremely different schools of thought... and also by continuities that tend to get forgotten in contests over "Theory" which frequently turn out to be versions of the old "postmodernism" polemic.

Ari Krupnick

Wow. Well I tried my best to help clarify things a little. I know I over simplified somewhat with the definition of 'Theory' as Hoblo uses it, but I thought that the main point was clear enough. Good luck John.

Doctor Slack

Ari,

I didn't mean to come off as over-harsh or trying to shout you down. Sorry if it seemed that way.

jholbo

I have to say, Slack, I thought that Ari was being rather clear. And I agree with what he said. This is actually an object lesson as to why, in practice, it isn't a lot of help trying to define 'theory' or 'higher eclecticism'. If you produce something that is a paragraph long, it tends to be attacked as insufficient, which it is sure to be. But that is hardly to the point.

Slack writes: "No. It's perfectly possible to contend that Butler, Spivak and Zizek do a particular kind of thing without needing to call that thing "Theory."

Likewise, it's perfectly possible to contend that Russell, Wittgenstein and Donald Davidson do a particular kind of thing without needing to call that thing 'analytic philosophy'. But that is not really yet a good argument against calling it 'analytic philosophy', if someone chooses to do so, given that this is in fact what many people call it. It is, of course, reasonable to question whether the catch-all 'analytic philosophy' is useful, whether it should be narrowed. But just jumping on people for using it is not helpful. Because defenders of theory as well as attackers have this sense of a thing - 'theory'.

I think Ari is right to distinguish between defining Theory so that it turns out to be a bad thing (so that the conclusion that Theory is bad is then a tautology) and relying on a shared sense of 'theory, then saying there is something bad about it.

Well, that's all I have time for. The thread lives!

Doctor Slack

John, there's a difference between using 'theory' as a catch-all term for a discipline, and using 'Theory' in the rather specific sense that it's been deployed in some of these debates. I think I've been rather clear about which one of those practices I'm objecting to. It's not the first.

I think I've also been rather clear that I'm not holding your earlier positions to be your current ones. What I'm hoping is that this might enable you, if your views on what t/Theory is have changed or if my view of how you've been previously using the term is wrong, so simply come out and say so. I'd be fine with that.

Yes, if you define something, people may indeed attack your definition because they don't think it's supportable. The definition in itself will not be enough to answer those attacks -- that's where things like examples and supporting argument come in, surely. The mere fact that you might actually need the latter doesn't mean the former is irrelevant. Am I really saying anything that strange, here?

Doctor Slack

Or, I'll try something a little different before I knock off. Suppose I say to you that "Philosophy" is characterized by a certain sensibility we might call "analytic." (There are things we might loosely call "philosophy" that precede the analytic, but properly speaking no-one before, say, Bertrand Russell was "doing Philosophy.") How accurate does this seem to you?

jholbo

Slack, I guess I feel that my writing on the subject has contained enough examples that I sort of figured you were looking, instead, for a definition that would not only be clear but capable of a significant level of self-defense. And I was saying that I'm not sure I can satisfy that requirement. What of my stuff have you read? I'm honestly not sure now what KIND of thing you are looking for?

I don't really get the analogy you make in your second paragraph. You may be referring back to a point I made: suppose you said 'philosophy always involves some 'analysis' (which is bland enough that it's probably going to get a pass), then bootstrapped that into 'so nothing before Russell and Frege is really philosophy'. The problem is that you've switched a bland adjective 'analysis' for 'analysis' as a proper name of an intellectual movement or school, thereby investing the latter with faux exclusivity. Something similar actually happens in debates about 'theory'. In fact, it almost always happens. This is in fact a point that I have devoted much attention to. A particular intellectual style scrapes a bit of faux necessity off of the fact that 'everyone does theory'. But this point cuts in my favor, doesn't it? Namely, it cuts in favor of using 'theory' as a name for a discrete (if vague) intellectual school or style or movement, and not letting this fact fall out of view? It's rather significant that 'theory' only lost its 'of x' in about 1980. And now we have the Norton anthology of Theory and Criticism (not literary theory and criticism, or theory of literature and criticism).

I guess it really comes down to: what are you LOOKING for? You asked for a brief definition. You got a couple candidates. (They don't look too bad to me, though they are hardly sufficient.) Now you say that you really want something else. But it looks like what you are asking for is the sort of detail-rich, woolly, thick stuff that you were saying wasn't clear enough - i.e. it didn't go with any definitions. I'm not sure what is really puzzling you. Do you not understand what the scope of my subject matter is supposed to be? Or do you not understand what the content of the critique is supposed to be? Or do you not understand what the evidence for the validity of the critique is supposed to be? Or do you sort of get all this but you just think it's overdrawn? Or what?

Rich Puchalsky

doctor slack: "But I think, for instance, a definition that at least clarified what distinguishes "Higher Eclecticism" from the vulgar "bad writing" critiques of a common mode of incurious anti-Theory would be plausible, and wouldn't go amiss. (The Spivak discussion Rich links to above provides, I think, a pretty good example of why.)"

Huh? Did you actually read that discussion? It was clear that certain people wanted to make an accusation of rejection due to race/sex concerns, absent any evidence of such concerns in the writing of the people doing the rejecting. No definition would have prevented this: the people in question would have reacted to the definition as you did. No supporting arguments around the definition would have prevented it: the people in question would have reacted to them as you apparently have. (Why are you still confused about what John meant? It's pretty obvious. The same blog posts are there for you as for anyone else.) How many iterations of this should be gone through before it's obvious that people are systematically trying out every bad-faith accusation they can think of?

Anthony Paul Smith

"How many iterations of this should be gone through before it's obvious that people are systematically trying out every bad-faith accusation they can think of?"

Hmm... I surely didn't see that. Could this be the ultimate bad-faith accusation?

jholbo

Rich, I don't really think that Slack shows signs of bad faith. But I do think he needs to make clear what he is bothered by. Following up on Rich's complaint to you Slack ... regarding what distinguishes my kind of critique from the vulgar, incurious kind - I would assume my lack of vulgar incuriosity was worth something, no? (If not, why not?)

Anthony: steady on, lad. Steady on.

Adam Kotsko

One of the key features of these conversations is that it has never been definitively established that either "side" wants to -- or indeed even can -- talk to the other. Rich articulates it well, as does Anthony.

Rich Puchalsky

Well, "bad-faith accusation" is ambiguous in that it can mean either an accusation *of* bad faith or one made *in* bad faith.

But for me, yes I see this over the last year as a long game of "how many iterations?" I first saw it with the beginning of the Valve, when CR (who has since apparently changed his mind, and who I'm not trying to criticize with this comment) questioned the Valve's funding. This is a reasonable type of complaint, because there really *are* right-wing front groups out that take money simply to criticize academia. But the answer to it *in this case* is that John Holbo's blog history doesn't support the idea of him being a right-wing ideologue. It's the same with every one of these since. Are there analytic philosophers who hate continental philosophers as academic rivals? Sure, I suppose so. Are there people who despise Theory as "bad writing" simply because they dislike difficulty? Yes. Do some people dismiss Butler because they can't take any woman seriously, or any non-heteronormative person seriously? Yep. There may even be some people for whom jealous fury about something-or-other is a motivation. Do some philosophy professors who study continental philosophers just not understand continental philosophy? Perhaps there are some somewhere. But when people have gone through every one of these with no textual support, in the form of some actual cue of rightwingery / sectarianism / dullmindednes / race/sex/hetero prejudice / fury / atypical ignorance then you have to just say all right, people don't want something to be criticized, and they are looking for any possible attack they can make up to make sure that it isn't criticized.

Anthony Paul Smith

"But when people have gone through every one of these with no textual support, in the form of some actual cue of rightwingery / sectarianism / dullmindednes / race/sex/hetero prejudice / fury / atypical ignorance then you have to just say all right, people don't want something to be criticized, and they are looking for any possible attack they can make up to make sure that it isn't criticized."

What people? The long sunday people? Any references? Honestly didn't see anything of this sort, so please direct me to what posts you're thinking of.

jholbo

Anthony, are you joking?

Anthony Paul Smith

Are you?

Adam Kotsko

I really think we can keep this going, guys.

I once suggested that perhaps a reason Butler was so singled out for the "Bad Writing" thing is that she's one of those gross lesbians, but I never thought that John or Rich or anyone involved in this conversation had any influence over who receives the "Bad Writing" award.

It's been argued that sometimes I (and here I am only one example) respond to these debates in terms of "the way anti-Theory debates tend to go" -- perhaps Rich is doing the same thing in reverse in his most recent comment. "Bad faith" -- what would that even be? Heresy? Or a lack of trust in the opponent's word? Or are they the same?

The difficulty of discussing this whole topic is only increased by the static of the culture wars buzzing in our ears.

Anthony Paul Smith

Adam, are you joking? Is everyone joking?! Are you guys all secretly making fun of me behind my back in on some really big joke like a bunch of jokers who are out to get me because they all hate theory and analytic philosophy and cause I'm a big fat closeted homo??!??!?!?!!

Rich Puchalsky

Adam: "I once suggested that perhaps a reason Butler was so singled out for the "Bad Writing" thing is that she's one of those gross lesbians, but I never thought that John or Rich or anyone involved in this conversation had any influence over who receives the "Bad Writing" award."

Interesting. So it's not that John or I wouldn't have singled out Butler for this reason, it's that we didn't have the influence to?

Since Adam seems to agree with Anthony's self-parody, I'll write that of course I'm not referring to some general way in which things tend to go. I'm referring to particular objections made to John's writing by particular people. Some illustrative examples are --

rightwingery: claimed by CR, since apparently retracted

sectarianism: Anthony, long-running claim including this thread, although in this thread, Anthony gave John all the credit of being a dupe rather than an instigator: "I don't care who does theory, I only care that one's criticism of theory doesn't become just another analytic power play to keep continental philosophy from doing it's work free of stupid debates that fundamentally alter it not though arguments, but through politics."

dullmindedness: one particular example would be doctor slack, this thread. Why else should John have to clarify "what distinguishes "Higher Eclecticism" from the vulgar "bad writing" critiques of a common mode of incurious anti-Theory" if this possibility wasn't somehow the most plausible?

race/sex/hetero prejudice: I already gave the link to comments by Jodi, Jon, etc.

fury: Matt, long-running claim including this thread

atypical ignorance: Adam, long-running claim including this thread. That's the whole point of the (paraphrased) "unfamiliarity with the culture of continental philosophy precludes useful critique" thing that's been posted so many times, after all.

Of course it's not that each of these are the particular province of one person; I've just picked out leading examples. But saying that you don't see them at all is -- I don't know the right word. Myopic is not quite it, because myopic people can see what's close by. Can't see the nose on anyone's face including your own?

Scott Eric Kaufman

Actually, every time I write anything on Long Sunday, John Ransom seems to forward some variation of argument Rich references above. (My criticism of a particular author is always grounded in one dime-store psychoanalytic shibboleth or another: "Scott doesn't like Lacan because he thinks sex is icky!") If there were some easy way to link to individual comments on LS, I'd do so, but since there isn't, a few examples:

az: "But this is a curious thing: any critique that points out how gender and race are deployed in order to dismiss someone as hopelessly difficult is psychologising? I'm not at all sure I claimed this reading problem was just about difficulty. Difficulty comes into it, though."

Jodi: "Interesting post, az. I'm glad that you pointed out and linked to the moments of Spivak dismissal in this 'discussion.' For me, your post suggests that difficulty is not the issue--it seems a different kind of dismissal, one possibly linked to sex and race, one that doesn't want to hear/acknowledge some voices/ As Steve Shaviro points out, the text is not particularly difficult even as it does rely on specific references."

&c.

Adam Kotsko

Rich, You misunderstand. You're the one I was primarily accusing of ignorance of the culture of continental philosophy. The debate became whether John could usefully be called a "continental philosopher," and John knew enough about the culture of continental philosophy to say, "No, I'm not." You're the one who doggedly kept at it, based on -- as far as I can tell -- ignorance of the culture of continental philosophy.

Your reading of my paragraph on the "Bad Writing" contest was just absolutely brilliant. You never cease to amaze me with your ability to put the least favorable possible spin on anything you read. In this case, however, you hit the nail on the head! As soon as I heard about the "Bad Writing" contest, I immediately thought of you and John, cursing your luck that you couldn't control the outcome to have your least favorite theorists humiliated! Either that or I was trying to say: "HEY I WASN'T TALKING ABOUT YOU I WAS TALKING ABOUT THE BAD WRITING CONTEST YOU DIDN'T HAVE ANYTHING TO DO WITH SO JUST CALM DOWN PLEASE!@!!!!!"

Anthony Paul Smith

Sectarianism? You're quite the kidder!

Thanks for the links to the sex & race stuff. I didn't see anything nearly as nefarious as you would suggest, if the claims are from left field. Then again, maybe they aren't. I don't really feel like reading John's Spivak post to see if there is any reason and I'll accord him the same charity you accord everyone else. (That would be glaring suspicion.)

Scott Eric Kaufman

Rich said in jokingly on the thread I'm going to link to, but I given how involuted this one's become, I'm inclined to agree:

I think this conversation can be more profitably continued over here, since there won't be quite so much glaring suspicion...and because it takes a good forty-seconds-I'll-never-get-back for this thread to load. So join us over there for fun, entertainment, and an eventual clarification of some of the points I made in that initial post. (I'd call myself a hit fiend, but do you know how many people search for "office+sex" daily? Of course you do.)

Adam Kotsko

Not until you change that atrocious color scheme.

Scott Eric Kaufman

Adam is Jonathan! I knew something was up, er, up I knew something was!

jholbo

Adam K, if you want Rich to stop attacking you and reading what you write as attacking him, it might be a good idea to stop gratuitously insulting him with such fearful regularity. You accuse him of spinning your words negatively. Have you ever done anything else to his? Honestly, why does Rich bother you so much? He makes arguments, and if you disagree with the arguments, you can respond to them. And Rich, being a reasonable fellow - though a bit inclined to implacableness in pursuing a point - can be generally counted on to consider your responses on the merits. Of course he has gotten rather hostile to you. But you've been insulting him for months. What do you expect?

Anthony, since you have now responded to Rich and Scott's proffered evidence that lazy ad hominem techniques are significantly employed, and since you are now explicitly advocating such lazy ad hominem techniques, i.e. you intend to keep using them against the likes of myself - can we just take it as read that Rich and Scott carried the point?

Anthony Paul Smith

John,

Yes, I've deployed nothing but ad hominem attacks against you since the beginning of this thread. I've tried everything: "John's a sexist! John just hates continental philosophy cause he's stoopid! John only thinks badly of Zizek because he's a heterosexual!" Are you serious? You really think my arguement is that you're a sectarian, since I take it for granted that you realize I never claimed you were stupid, racist, sexist, homophobic, conservative, etc. That other people did this might be silly, but I don't think it was nefarious and I don't take it as a good critique of what you have to say. Still, I think it's pretty fucking stupid and in bad faith that you're lumping me in with that kind of argument when I've made nothing of the sort! I mainly wanted to talk about why it is we can't talk! I'm making a list, you should make one as well and we can make a Ven Diagram out of them. You like diagrams, right?

Oh, and for the record, I missed Rich's original link that I saw on a repeat read. I apologize for that and wouldn't have asked for a link had I known one had already been given.

And Rich always treats an arguement on its merits as long as those merits are easily referened on wikipedia. Rich has really shown that he can read a comment and judge it by what it says, regardless of how he feels about Adam proven by the awesome reading he gave of Adam's comment above. I hate to point this out, but you seem to realize that Rich reads Adam poorly if only to say he does so because Adam was a dick to him. The point still stands that Rich reads him poorly.

Go for 300?

Anthony Paul Smith

Apologizes for language above. Was a tad angry. Still am, but nevertheless I am sorry.

jholbo

Look, Anthony, you are frequently rather personally abusive in tone. Not just in this thread. You shout at us a lot, frankly. It seemed to me that your initial skepticism about the level of bad ad hominem invective directed against Rich and Scott and myself was probably ... cheekily disingenuous. And then, when Rich and Scott bother to provide evidence, you say that this is - what? A reason to treat my stuff as badly as you say Rich treats yours and Adam's (which would be very badly indeed). Why?

Saul Rutlaffsky

Chalmers Schmalmers it's time for some blogger-banjo show-downs

Anthony Paul Smith

"Anthony, you are frequently rather personally abusive in tone. Not just in this thread. You shout at us a lot, frankly."

You come across very arrogantly sometimes, does that mean you mean to? Probably not! Sometimes I bet you're trying to be downright loveable. That's part of the medium, for better or for worse, and part of all of us having to use the written word with varying degrees of talent. I'm very sorry that you feel I've been abusive to you, but I assure you I haven't meant to (there was a couple posts where Rich had frustrated me with his complete lack of respect where I meant to). Are you really so unwilling to budge that you can't even admit that I haven't engaged in ad homs? Why?

CR

But for me, yes I see this over the last year as a long game of "how many iterations?" I first saw it with the beginning of the Valve, when CR (who has since apparently changed his mind, and who I'm not trying to criticize with this comment) questioned the Valve's funding.

Glad to see that Rich is representin' the CR side of the argument.

But actually, no, I never changed my mind about this. Just let it drop.

rightwingery: claimed by CR, since apparently retracted

Not entirely retracted either. I don't think - have never thought - that John is "rightwing" in any globally applicable sense of the term. Just that his interests might well coincide with those who are in fact true blue rightwing.

jholbo

As might your own, CR. As might your own.

Anthony, as an experiment let me now just check what your first contribution to this thread was. Ah, it was deleted because you were swearing too much. Second contribution, then. 'Sometimes I wonder if your real beef with Zizek is the beef of an American in Paris - "Why don't the fucking speak English?!"' Is it so hard to see why I might regard you as sometimes engaging in ad hominem attacks?

As to why I don't, then, budge? Anthony, for the sweet love of primates exhibiting dominance behavior. You walked up to me, screamed and beat your chest. On some monkeys that works, on some it doesn't. Where's the mystery? On a philosophical level, the puzzle as to why I didn't budge just because you speculated that all I'm doing is expressing my ugly American-ness is really and truly a non-starter.

Of course I act arrogant and arch-ironic sometimes. It's my method for shrugging off ad hominem attacks. Can you forgive me?

CR

As might your own, CR. As might your own.

Yes, clearly, but then their "philanthropic" organizations don't send me checks to keep my website on the air. Or, OK, send checks to organizations that send checks...

Question. Do you ever wonder if being wrong about Iraq might just be a sign that things were botched from the start, that it was something other than an oopsie slipup, something other than a valuable learning experience generative of blogposts on here and on CT? Do you think it has any relationship to the way that you think, the way you think about matters academic, whether you lead with the a) well-reasoned argument or the b) image of the Iraqi child on a swingset somewhere, some poor bastard on his way home from work or whatever, caught up and quartered, eighthed, or even decimated in our teleload of Infinite Justice?

Just wondering.


jholbo

"just wondering"?

CR, is there something you want to say?

OK, I'll answer the question: no. I never wonder whether it was something more than just an oopsie slip-up because (of course) I assume it was something more. How could it just be an oopsie slip-up? How could the way I thought then have no relation to the way I still think?

Look, obviously you want to suggest that there is something specifically bad and, I would infer, morally dangerous about the way I still think. So perhaps it would be simplest if you just explained.

Rich Puchalsky

Funny -- so CR really does still think that Holbo is a Horowitzian dupe. I guess that these arguments never do get retired.

I don't even understand what Anthony is complaining about. I never wrote that he personally claimed everything on the list, I wrote that he claimed that John was either motivated by or unwittingly providing a tool for the purposes of sectarian analytic-vs-continental academic politics, which he manifestly did. As for Adam, I've also seen the "you don't understand the culture of continental philosophy" bit many times; it isn't simply directed at me. Or was that also perhaps the Adam of three months ago?

What bothers me about these arguments is primarily their laziness rather than their ad hominem quality per se. I accept that in practise, if someone anti-Theory was really motivated by rightwingery or homophobia or something, it might be a good reason to just ignore or mock what they write. Life is short and all that. I don't see why anyone should have to carefully read what Horowitz writes.

But none of these things appear to be true in this case. So all of these recurring tropes are merely anti-intellectual heckling.

Adam Kotsko

Yeah, did everyone notice this? Now Rich has expanded from speaking on behalf of everyone on his "side" to speaking on behalf of CR as well!

Maybe we should start a Theory thread in which only Rich ever says anything, representing everyone's views in his totally "reasonable" (albeit charmingly stubborn!) way. I mean, with many of these threads, we're already halfway there anyway.

So I was wrong to say that Rich should sit out on a Theory thread. Next time, I say that everyone but Rich should sit it out.

Rich Puchalsky

Wow, Adam, you're really covering new territory here. Let's see:

1. Despite such phrases as "what I've seen", "what bothers me", "I accept that", and so on, according to Adam I'm speaking on behalf of everyone on a side.

2. A (surprisingly up to date) accurate summary of CR's past argument that claimed Holbo was a Horowitzian dupe, offered as part of a description of a pattern that I've seen, means that I'm speaking for him.

Maybe that's why you rarely seem to understand what people write in these discussions, Adam. You just don't want to speak for people.

Adam Kotsko

What can I say? You've got me pegged! I'm sure that my part in this conversation will be well-handled by you, from here on out.

Anthony Paul Smith

"Anthony, as an experiment let me now just check what your first contribution to this thread was. Ah, it was deleted because you were swearing too much. Second contribution, then. 'Sometimes I wonder if your real beef with Zizek is the beef of an American in Paris - "Why don't the fucking speak English?!"' Is it so hard to see why I might regard you as sometimes engaging in ad hominem attacks?"

Yes I was swearing too much AT THE TROLL. Not you, or Rich, or anyone but the troll. My second comment was supposed to be lighthearted, as it's not a moral failing to be an American (last I checked I'm still one). I'm also pretty sure that this isn't an ad hom, even if you perceived it as aggressive. I would also think you have the skills to read the opening sentence within the context of the rest of my comment, that had nothing at all to do with you being wrong because of your Americaness. I was obviously talking about the difference in language being used by two groups claiming the title philosophy and the difficulty that this brings about. My analogy of an American in France was poorly picked, it would have made more sense to say an American in Britain or a Yankee in the South. John - you're clutching for straws here, why? I'm honestly offended that you're trying to paint me as throwing ad homs at you.

"Of course I act arrogant and arch-ironic sometimes. It's my method for shrugging off ad hominem attacks. Can you forgive me?"

No, not when you use it to avoid talking to people you disagree with under the banner of "He was aggressive - ad hom!!!!!" Now, if the problem has been that you've been reading me as aggresive then fine, I'll soft shoe everything from now on.

Rich,

Give John his blender back. Here's the deal - you completely misunderstand me so I'd appreciate it if you wouldn't sum me up - k? My beef with John's argument is not that it can be used to make sectarian rifts in philosophy, such rifts already exist. My throw away comment on it was that it worried me because I don't feel like continentalists get the time to even do work when they are constantly fighting of charges from irrationalism to scholasticism. This is a comment thread, am I not allowed to throw out "This makes me uncomfortable because..." without having to worry about you using it in some people's trial later on?

jholbo

OK, everyone go to their corners and cool off, how bout?

Anthony Paul Smith

I'm not going to cool off until you say I haven't engaged in ad homs against you, this charge being the ultimate ad hom.

Rich Puchalsky

Anthony: "This is a comment thread, am I not allowed to throw out "This makes me uncomfortable because..." without having to worry about you using it in some people's trial later on?"

Just a tossed out comment? Well, does that mean that you are disavowing the Anthony of less than one month ago? Here's a quote:

"Hasn’t the complaint been that you haven’t really begun? Honestly, who is this ‘critique’ aimed at? It seems that the online world has shown that those who are automatically inclinced to agree with you will and those who aren’t won’t, but I haven’t seen anyone swith sides. You really must realize that you are threatening the only stronghold for a certain kind of philosophy. Or is it that you really have no respect for this philosophy and have to root it out wherever it may hide? Or you just don’t consider it philosophy at all? Either way, you shouldn’t be suprised when people fight like animals for their little piece of land. It seems to me it wouldn’t be all that hard to avoid this little area and go about your business."

It's not that I have these bits bookmarked, it's that there are some bits of rhetoric that are so characteristic -- Googling on "fight like animals" "little piece of land" brings up two hits -- that it's not necessary. Anthony, you've been fighting like an animal for your little piece of land since whenever I've seen writing in these threads. And you seriously claim that you haven't engaged in ad homs, and that I've misrepresented your claims? Nonsense.

Anthony Paul Smith

Yeah, you don't represent my views very well at all. I don't know why you think you've been elected to that position. If you got to decide what I think nothing would ever change, no one would be allowed to change their mind ever!

Do you know what a question is?

Yes, I don't see an ad hom anywhere in that comment you quote. I'm sure you do, since you read everything in the least charitable way possible, but those are questions to John not accusations. They are overly aggresive, but, yes, I think I've changed my stance since then. You'll also be kind enough to notice I've been talking about this thread mainly.

"Anthony, you've been fighting like an animal for your little piece of land since whenever I've seen writing in these threads."

And you've been engaging in the smuggest possible rhetoric without any demonstration of actual knowledge on the subject since whenever I've seen writing in these threads. So, what's your point? We all know these discussions haven't been going well for however long they've been going on. I tried to suggest a way to change that direction with my second comment on this thread, but you pushed it back to the pissing contest even though, again, I'm not sure you have anything invested in these dicussions so I'm sure you don't care if you ruin them.

Adam Kotsko

300!

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