Friday, May 02, 2003

Anti-Semitism Question of the Day

Why is it always a "sinister cabal" of Jewish advisors? Or even just a "cabal?" What, these words aren't good enough to use instead (from Thesaurus.com):

bunch, cabal, camarilla, camp, circle, clan, club, coterie, crew, crowd, faction, gang, in-group, insiders, mafia, mob, organization, outfit, pack, ring, set, society

I'm pulling for more use of the word "crew;" you know, to drag anti-semitism into the hip hop era. I mean, just because someone's racist attitudes date from the middle ages, it doesn't mean that their language needs to be similarly ancient and stilted.

Or I guess it's just a play on Kabbalah, right? I mean, if you're going to insult a race based largely on religious differences, might as well get in that dig from the get-go, right? How very clever. Not.
My. Damn. Sinus.

Dear Sinus Located on the Right Side of my Forehead:

It has recently come to my attention that you might be upset with me for something I may have subjected you to in the past. As I am ignorant of the cause of your rage, let me give you an opportunity to meet with me and discuss what's bothering you, face to cranky body part. I am a reasonable person, sinus, perfectly willing to compromise with you on the issues most important to your kind--pollen, dander, perfume, and even mold and dust. In short, I am hip to the sinus jive. So, if it's not too much trouble, could you please explain why you insist on swelling, throbbing, aching and draining into my ear on a daily basis? Your next door neighbor, the Left Hand Sinus, doesn't seem compelled to mimic your behavior, so I can only conclude that you, Right Hand Sinus, are being unreasonable.

I've given you every attention, Right Hand Sinus, including enough Sudafed to fuel thirteen crystal meth labs, nasal sprays, steam treatments, and anti-inflammatories. And yet my overtures are rebuffed--was it really necessary, Sinus, to cause me to look like a stroke victim during the entirety of a very important meeting? To suddenly begin draining with the force of a fire hose during the same meeting, causing me to honk and sniff and drip and water and still look stroked out? I think not.

Frankly, Sinus, I think your continual raging against the machine is making you look bad. In fact, I have taken steps to ensure that if you do not see fit to shape up on your own, you will be compelled to do so by Allergists, Inc. Surgery is not out of the question, Sinus. I don't mean to threaten, but you have forced my hand.

Sincerely,
Your Landlord, The Head
Refreshing Quote of the Day

From Pay-Per-View only Chronicle, an interesting article by an English professor among physicists, in which he explores the differences in collaboration and collegiality between the disciplines. Reading this explained to me the faith my hard science pals had in peer review versus my scepticism about the process in the humanities. But beyond that, there's this quote:

The story of the Bell Labs physics scandal initially intrigued me because I thought it might turn out to be a scientific version of the culture wars, with scientists coming under attack from groups that help finance them. It didn't turn out that way. ... But humanists have long been embroiled in their own conflicts with the society that finances them--and one of the reasons lies in the way that we raise roadblocks and bar the world from entering our neighborhood. That's the opposite of what we ought to be doing, and it's all the more shameful because humanists are in an unusual and enviable position: The nature of our work makes it easy to open our doors and share that work.

Thank you, professor Cassuto. Part of my extreme disillusionment with the English discipline came from the desperate attempts of faculty to justify its worth by making it more "scientific" and thereby more exclusive. I believe that the worth of humanities education is in teaching subjective versus objective analysis, and in learning how to read, comprehend, ENJOY, and make cogent and accessible arguments about a text. There is value in those skills--the declining quality of debate in this country demonstrates that when the humanities give in to their insecurity and try to add "science" to their field, the students--and by extension, the populace at large--suffer.

Thursday, May 01, 2003

The Post-Modern Anti-Intellectual

Hublet and I often spend time with a fellow ex-grad student who also happens to be our "token uber-liberal friend." He's a nice guy, but the views he espouses remind me why I decided that getting a PhD in literature would be the intellectual equivalent of becoming a two-dollar whore--selling myself cheap and pretending to be whatever the customer of the moment wanted in order to survive. One of his favorite topics is the "rise of anti-intellectualism" and its pernicious effect on society. I've always disagreed with this idea, but it's only recently that my reasons why have crystallized into any sort of cogent argument.

In order to hold the position that America is a nation of anti-intellectuals, you must begin with the belief that the average American is stupid. This belief is widely held in academia--to point out to these people that professors are merely "average Americans" with degrees is a non-starter, as you will be subjected to a lengthy diatribe the upshot of which is that their intellectual curiosity is a rarity, and thus establishes them as members of the intellectual elite. It's a circular argument, and one you cannot win, but it is a useful illustration of the attitude that Den Beste points out in his recent essay: they're in the club, and they OUGHT to be in charge.

When you persist in arguing that there is no inherent superiority in being able to apply post-colonial theory to MacBeth, because the theory itself is as questionable as its application, you get the Stanley Fish answer: the theory is merely misunderstood and misapplied by rubes and enemies of the intellectual left. Never mind that the majority of the folks "misapplying" the theories are being published in journals edited and distributed by the intellectual left, or that these writers are intellectual lefties of impeccable credentials. If you point out that there is a sense of entitlement among the humanities professoriate based entirely on ephemera and circle-jerking self-congratulation, you are charged with the greatest of all crimes: anti-intellectualism!

It is not anti-intellectual to question the truths held to be self-evident by the PoMos. It is not anti-intellectual to hold theories of education up to rigorous scientific investigation; in fact, it is classical intellectual investigation. The only objections the PoMos consistently raise to standardized testing, to the teaching of the Western Canon, and even, in society at large, to what are considered "traditional" values, is that they might be offensive or discriminatory. Instead, the enlightened view goes, we must replace these old offensive and discriminatory ideas and practices with new ones--which are equally offensive and discriminatory, but only to the average (read: stupid) American. When there is an outcry, when the real damage being done to the minds of our young people by failing to insist upon excellence is pointed out, they go underground, hijacking textbook approval panels and inserting their agenda behind the scenes (thanks, Jim, for pointing out that article). Because they know best, after all.

If anti-intellectualism means standing up to smug, insulated, self-righteous intellectual hacks with weak theories and even weaker defenses of those theories, then by all means, call me anti-intellectual. A post-modern anti-intellectual, in fact.

Wednesday, April 30, 2003

A Day in the Life

So, I'm just sitting around, having a beer or three with Irony, and listening to her sob story about her lack of name recognition when there's a knock at the door.

Me: Who is it?

Person Outside: Ohmigod! Like, let me in! I am totally exhausted beyond the ability to tell it! My world is ending in a fiery cataclysm! You've got to DO something! I'm at my wit's end!

Me and Irony: It's Hyperbole!

Irony: Don't let her in, okay? I am just not in the mood. Really.

Me: Oh, come on, Irony. She's obviously distressed.

Irony: So she says. She's HYPERBOLE, for crying out loud. It's not outside the realm of possibility that she could be, oh, I don't know, exaggerating.

Me: (sigh). Come on in, Hyperbole!

Irony: (rolling eyes) Gimme another beer.

Hyperbole: Ohmigod! It's a total jungle out there! Have you HEARD?

Me: Sit. Have a beer. Breathe in, hold it, release.

Irony: Or, you could just continue holding it. That might be fun.

Me: What's up, H?

Hyperbole: It's this whole free speech dissent thing! I mean, I've done some big jobs in my time, but I usually have time to prepare! Presidential elections give me at least a couple of years off--but this! Everyone in the whole world is speaking at once, and they are totally wearing me out--like, to a frazzle! I'm mostly dead!

Irony: We could only hope.

Hyperbole: You know, bitterness is not your best feature, Irony. Look, it's this whole McCarthyism thing all over again. Chill winds, crushing of dissent--and the whole bicoastal aspect is just wearing me out. What time zone am I even in?

Me: Yeah, we know you're working hard, H. Why don't you sit down and take a load off?

Hyperbole: I can't! I have to apply duct tape to Martin Sheen and buff his cross at noon! Then I've got to sit in with the Dixie Chicks, I've got a 2:30 with Daschle to prep for his press conference and--dammit! I hate pagers!

Me: Who--

Hyperbole: Oh, for the love of God! WHO gave Tim Robbins my beeper number? He's such a freaking hack--chill wind, indeed. I told him grandiose imagery needs to be original, but nooooo! He wanted to go classic "chill wind." What. Ever. Why even call me if you aren't going to take my advice? I'm a professional, and I don't have to put up with this crap!

Irony: Oh, cry me a river, you vapid tramp. I've been working the same jobs you have, and not only am I tired, I'm not even getting any credit. Subtlety is never appreciated.

Hyperbole: Subtlety is soooo 19th century. Maybe if you actually got OUT more, you know, combed your hair or bathed or something...

Irony: Bring it.

Hyperbole: I am so gonna kick your ass!

Me: HEY! There will be no figurative or literal ass-kickings in my living room! Sit. Drink. Then go out there and do your jobs. Irony? You're appreciated. See? Look at all the pretty bloggers out there--they recognize your worth, and I have it on good authority that all bloggers are not only intelligent, they're also thin, good looking, and way superior to everyone else in the world. Hyperbole? You're just gonna have to grit your teeth and bear it a while longer. I have a feeling the majority of your abusers are about to hit critical mass, implode, and vanish.

Hyperbole: Then can I go to San Cristobal?

Me: Yeah, whatever. Look, this has been fun, but I have a life to get back to.

Irony and Hyperbole: Okay, fine, we can take a hint.

Me: Good. Now go. And if I hear that you've been fighting again...

Irony and Hyperbole: What?

Me: I'll sick Metaphor and Similie on your asses.

Hyperbole: I can never tell those two apart.

Irony: Color me surprised.

Me: OUT!

Monday, April 28, 2003

Reality 100 - A Remedial Course for Professors and Administrators

Reality 100 seeks to address the cognitive dissonance experienced by many of today's college professors and administrators when faced with modern student protests against their policies or instruction.

The majority of class discussion will focus on the conundrum faced by many who spent their college careers railing against the status quo created by those over thirty, only to find themselves both over thirty and in the position of defending their own status quo. Topics covered will include:

  • Those miserable ingrates--don't they realize that we're trying to save them? A primer for dealing with professorial frustration.

  • No, see OUR parents were wrong about everything, not yours; we FIXED all that--guiding Gen Y through the rebelliousness of youth with an eye toward accomplishing the glorious revolution we dreamed of.

  • Dealing with in-class dissent without showing up on NoIndoctrination.org.

  • Damn you, Reagan! DAMN YOU!--A weekly therapeutic roundtable for addressing the root causes of the malaise affecting today's youth.


Reality 100 is a for-credit course only, as the administration feels that grades are an abitrary and restrictive tool of authority, and thus counterproductive to freedom of thought and creative expression. Power to the people!