Thursday, December 25, 2003


Apparently, the Wordherders are a group mind?

Ah, I see. After hunting around a bit more at the Wordherders website (and hearing from a reader who is more familiar with the uni-mind nature of the Wordherders), I see that George H. Williams and his commentators are all part of the "collective." How wonderfully Marxist of them. And as you go from one Wordherder's blog to the next, you see that they all comment on each others' blogs like the incestuous group they obviously are. And I see that Mr. Williams has helped Mr. Berube to fix his broken blog. What appears to be a united front of diverse academics is actually just the Wordherder collective.

Resistance, apparently, is futile.

How terribly, terribly silly.

Wednesday, December 24, 2003


Apparently, I'm paranoid.

George H. Williams, over at Wordherders, objects to the contents of my posting on the theory question in MLA interviews. While I understand Williams’s position, I think perhaps his own politics and his personal experiences with MLA interviews have blinded him to the fact that others might have somewhat different experiences.

First of all, I’m not saying this is going to happen—I simply worry about the ensuing conversation if it does happen. Plenty of people I have talked to about interviewing at MLA have said they’ve run into the dreaded theory question. Some departments simply want people who do theory because they consider it “sexy.” Even in the MLA job list there were plenty of job listings specifically targeting post-colonial Victorianists, or feminist medievalists, or some other combination of era and theoretical bent. The theory question is out there; you are evidently lucky not to have encountered it. It’s also possible that your politics are enough in line with those of most of the people in the humanities that you fail to notice they are being questioned. You’re quicker to notice these things when you disagree with the people asking the questions than you are when you agree with them.

As for keeping up with the latest developments, those developments fall along two tracks, at least in my field. I keep up with the serious, textual scholarship, but I really don’t care what someone is doing with their application of theorist A to my chosen field. You fail to acknowledge the fact that those with the power to hire are also those with the power to choose what exactly constitutes “the latest developments.” It’s not like this is science, where the discovery of a new theory actually means something in the real world. For example, Edward Said has not invalidated I. A. Richards. I don’t understand why people in the humanities can’t get this. Copernicus and Galileo discovering that the earth revolves around the sun is a fact that must completely change the face of science. Foucault’s History of Sexuality is an interpretation. One is falsifiable, the other is not.

For that matter, Judith Butler’s theories of gender performativity often fly in the face of scientific fact. Perhaps some of these “recent developments” in the humanities don’t deserve the status they’ve been accorded.

Williams’s post generated a few comments, to which I would also like to respond.

Chuck, one of Williams’s readers comments,

Ah, but they don’t all ask for a writing sample at this stage. I’m not sure that any of the schools I’m interviewing for have seen a writing sample yet. All they’ve seen in my CV and letter.

Then, in a second comment, Chuck states,

Uh-huh. And lots of those not getting jobs are people who haven’t bought into the theory game. The really big jobs seem to go only to those playing the theory game.

I’m so glad conservative academics have given the left a chance to ridicule their fellow human beings. I can only hope that you didn’t buy into Hillary’s vast right-wing conspiracy crap, because that would seem to indicate that you’re just as paranoid as you accuse us of being.

There is prejudice against conservatism amongst academics. I’m not positing some vast left-wing conspiracy, I’m just saying that this sort of thing happens, and those of us who lean to the right of center worry about it. Perhaps you could show a little of that compassion the left is supposed to be so famous for.

Another reader, Matt K., states,

So committees and departments are looking for someone they can stand to be around for at least six years, eh? And when the majority of the department is left, often far left (in real world, not academic, terms)? Are they going to be able to stand someone who supports the Bush Administration and its policies in the Middle East for six years? Someone who doesn’t support Affirmative Action? Someone who thinks Judith Butler is a fool? Think about what you’ve said. I know for a fact that at the institution I am presently at, there is no way in hell they’d knowingly hire a conservative. There is, in fact, not a single conservative in our English department, which has at least 25 professors. Not one.

Finally, I'll quote a comment from Jason:

Whatever. See my above comments on “the vast right-wing conspiracy” and the ability of those on the left to only see problems that affect them.

You name me a conservative who agrees with Said. Or Foucault for that matter. The fact of the matter is, much of modern theory is politically inflected. It’s difficult—if not impossible—to buy into the theory without buying into the politics.

You’re correct in saying (in a part of the comment not quoted above) that not all theory is so revealing of one’s politics. Bakhtin, for instance, is embraced by those on either side of the political fence, and I happen to like a great deal of what he has to say. But he’s not nearly as “sexy” as the more vehemently left theorists are, particularly since the 2000 election.

You can disagree with me, but you haven’t walked in my shoes. It's really amazing how many academics on the left can cite their own personal experience and the experiences of others like themselves and allow them to speak for all and sundry. So much for respecting the Other. My experience has not been your experience. Quit trying to invalidate my experience.

Tuesday, December 23, 2003


"You say you want a revolution . . ."

A reader with more time on his hands that I have (obviously, he's not interviewing at MLA, and will be enjoying his Christmas holiday) has looked up the participants of the MLA panel on labor and found some interesting information. Three of the four panelists on “The Labor Theory of Culture” panel are members of the “Red Critique" or the "Red Collective,” a group which, in their own words, was

So what we have at the MLA is the intellectual subsidization of a group of radical communists, who, unable to understand that history has proven Marxism a flawed and failed philosophy, continue to push for a communist revolution against the “evils” of capitalism. I’m not sure what the most disturbing part of all of this is. The stupidity of the participants, in clinging to a failed philosophy? The implicit backing by the MLA of a radical group whose final goal is the destruction of the United States as we know it? Or the failure of the MLA to provide a conference in which panelists actually present on matters having to do with language and literature?

My reader comments on the cute “critique-al knowledges” bit. He wonders what it might portend. Cynically, I suspect it’s just a bit of Derridean-derived nonsense, as in the recent Chronicle article ridiculing the MLA conference.

He provides some more quotations from the "Red Collective/Red Critique" website:

I would hope my last posting would serve to deflate this little leftist illusion: the media (which includes the publishing industry), in this country and others, leans far leftward. Perhaps not far enough for our radical friends, however, for whom anything short of revolution reeks of compromise. Thank God for the real radicals, who deliver papers at the MLA conference and publish manifestos on their website. “Viva la revolucion!”

These “intellectuals” have apparently forgotten the lessons learned from the twentieth century experiences with Marxism. Totalitarianism, anyone? Human beings have not evolved to live in Marxist regimes. We are competitive creatures, and we work for rewards. Take a hard look at why the Soviet Union was not able to compete with the United States during the Cold War. I suggest reading Heaven on Earth: The Rise and Fall of Socialism. It’s always nice for budding little communists to read an account of someone who actually lived under a communist regime. Milan Kundera’s The Joke might also help these little Bolsheviks understand that their utopic visions of a Marxist state are just that—visions.

I’ll leave today’s posting with a few quotes from some friends of the Red Critique. We’ll start with Uncle Karl:

“The alteration of men on a mass scale is necessary.”

Of course such alteration is necessary. The only way human beings can exist in a Marxist state is through such alteration. We would have to be something other than human in order to live as Marx would have us. I’m sure the Red Critique would say that Marx would have us be something “better” than human. I’m not going to debate this here. What I want to stress is that Marx would have us be something other than what we are. The question is, what are we to do with those who cannot “rise” to Marx’s expectations? Oh, right. Lenin, Stalin, Pol Pot, Castro, Il Jong and the rest have answered that question. We eliminate them.

Maxim Gorky wrote, “The working classes are to Lenin what materials are to the metallurgist.”

Ah, so even the laborers are just there to forward the aims of the revolution? Does this mean that Marxism might be guilty of seeking to manipulate the minds of the working class in order to forward its own aims? In order to consolidate its hold on power? Certainly not! The realities in Cuba, China, and North Korea serve to reveal that . . . oh, yeah. They serve to reveal that Gorky understands a fundamental truth of human nature that serves to demonstrate the evil of Marx—human beings are cogs in the machine, far more than they were in the industrial revolution Marx was so emphatically against (and with which Engels was intimately involved--an involvement that lined Uncle Karl's pockets).

Mao Zedong (a hero for our foolish friends, who learned nothing from Julia Kristeva’s experiences in Red China), said

“It is on a blank page that the most beautiful poems are written.”

Our friend Mao was speaking of human beings. If Marxism is to succeed, human beings must be a blank slate upon which to work; human nature, in a biological sense, must be rejected if the individual is to cede his or her will to the State. The Marxist utopia cannot exist if things like greed, desire, and selfishness are part of the human genome. The utopia can only be achieved if these are socially learned behaviors which can be weeded out of society. Is this the road our professoriate wants us to take?

There are, of course, only two ways to implement this weeding process. I’ll let you all figure out what those are.
(I should also add that I'd like to thank Steven Pinker for pointing out many of these Marxist quotations in his book, The Blank Slate, which has a link in the right sidebar.)

Thursday, December 18, 2003


MLA Interviews and the Theory Question

As anyone in academia will immediately understand, I have been thinking about the MLA interviews pretty much around the clock. The question I am most concerned with is the dreaded Theory question. Obviously, I’m not a big fan of theory. Oh, it has its uses. I would never debate the use of postmodern theory to understand, say, the postmodern novel, the same way I would use existententialist philosophy to read something like Hemingway's "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place". But I’m not so sure about using postmodern theory with Homer or Chaucer. It might produce an interesting reading—or utter B.S.—but it often has little to do with what either Homer or Chaucer set out to do. It’s historically irresponsible, and places the critic over the author in determining the text’s meaning. A typical move for the inflated egos in our profession, but one which shows little or no respect for the mind that produced the work being studied.

At any rate, I don’t mean this to become a tirade against theory.

What I mean this to be is an important question regarding the theory question at MLA interviews.

According to “the rules,” potential employers aren’t supposed to be able to ask you about your politics. But, given the highly politicized nature of theory, how can the theory question not constitute a question about politics? If I start talking about I. A. Richards’s influence on my work, I reveal myself as a literary conservative. And if I talk about A. C. Bradley’s influence on my reading of Shakespeare, I think that makes me a literary paleo-conservative. Whereas if I mention Foucault, or Said, or Derrida, I’m a fellow traveler. In many ways, the answer to the theory question reveals the candidate’s politics, or at least the candidate’s politics in terms of literary scholarship (though the two generally go hand-in-hand, in my experience).

Does the theory question constitute a political litmus test? I know it will in my case. I can either lie, and pretend to espouse a highly politicized way of looking at texts that, in many cases, runs counter to everything we know about reality and the human mind (yes, I prefer the answers of science, not the empty hypothesizing of postmodernism), or I can tell the truth, and probably blow my chances of getting most of the jobs I’ve been called to interview for. (My C.V. plays it cagey, by the way.)

One reader tells me of a job he lost by telling the committee of his fondness for Northrop Frye, an indication of his literary conservatism indeed. I imagine he got the same look that I received when I complained to the director of composition at my current institution that there were only heavily left-leaning readers on the approved list of textbooks. “Ah, an evil Bush-voting bastard.”


No Liberal Media?

A reader sent me this link. This is quite unbelievable. The quotes appear to be real and undoctored; for some there is even video footage (you'll need a fast connection to view).

Check it out:

Media Research, Notable Quotables 2003

Some of these examples are just blatantly biased, but the ones that scare me are the ones that subtly inject bias into what purports to be straightforward reporting.

We did a unit on this in my composition class the quarter, after students started citing talking heads as sources of "credible" information. And yes, before any lefties complain, by talking heads I mean some of the rabidly conservative bozos on Fox as well. Partisanship is partisanship, and news is news. It seems all the twain do anymore is meet, unfortunately. This explains why your average college freshman can't tell the difference between a news piece and an editorial.

And why is it that Al Gore thinks the news media is a conservative fifth column?


the Madness of "Literary" studies in Academia

Time for another look at some MLA panels and papers. I received an email from a reader who says he never even looks at the program anymore, because he has borderline high blood pressure. Well, so do I, actually, and I'm drinking a five shot latte right now, so if all of a sudden I pull a Castle Arrrgghh, you'll know why.

Here's a nice one to start with:

Session 600: The Labor Theory of Culture

1. "Merely Reading: Cultural Criticism as Erasure of Labor," Robert Faivre, Adirondack Community College
2. "Family Labor: Caring for Capitalism," Julie P. Torrant, SUNY Albany
3. "Eating Empire: Labor and New Maps of Consumption," Amrohini J. Sahay, SUNY Stony Brook
4. "'Ground Zero' and the Geography of Labor," Kimberly DeFazio, SUNY Stony Brook

There's really only one thing I can say about this panel--what does this have to do with the study of language and literature? Are these people in literature departments? Why is this a panel at the MLA?

Here's a nice one, boiling over with anti-American sentiment:

Session 618: The New Patriotism: What's Literature Got to Do With It? (My answer: not much)

1. "Patriot Games: Globilization, the Transnational, and Cultural Citizenship," Ramon Saldivar, Stanford University
2. "Writing the Self: Reading United States Imperialism," Cynthia Ann Young, University of Southern California
3. "Patriot entre acts," Alisa Solomon, Baruch College, CUNY
4. "Patriotism, Inc.," David C. Lloyd, Scripps College

Sigh. The imperial, war-mongering United States, forcing people around the world to watch our movies and television programs and wear Levis. I seemed to have missed the panel on the imperialism of fundamentalist Islam. Can someone direct me to the session number?

I remember driving home once from a mini-conference with three other academics in the car. We passed a house that was flying the American flag and had some red, white, and blue streamers hanging from the window sills. On the drive in, one of my fellow academics said, "Oh my God, will you look at that?" On the way back, she snorted and said "Can you believe that?" or something to that effect. I was finally compelled to remind her that the day before had been Memorial Day. You could hear her mind backpedalling. But her response was something like "Still . . ." (This was Memorial Day of 2002, by the way.)

I'd like to drop kick some of these people into the heart of Saudi Arabia. I'm sure they'd be very, very happy to return to the United States.

Oh, and again, what does this have to do with language and literature? Hmm. I'm going to have to set up a macro for that question.

Ah, here's one that's just blatantly political. Nothing to do with literature or language at all.

Session 704: From the Rosenburgs to Mumia Abu Jamal: Writing Against the Death Penalty

1. "Race, Rape and the Death Penality," Lillian S. Robinson, Concordia University
2. "Not in My Name," Helen Margaret Cooper, SUNY Stony Brook
3. "Mumia Re(de)constructed: On Derrida and the Death Penality," David Brenner, Kent State University

First of all, here's a nice link for the friends of Mumia: Read and understand the lies you have foolishly swallowed for two decades now. As for the Rosenburgs, these panelists might want to look into the Venona Documents. Not everyone sentenced to death is innocent of the charges brought against them, kiddies. Oh, and once again, what does this have to do with language and literature (to be asked in a tired voice)?

Too much of this program reads like a political rally. Isn't there some other venue for this sort of thing?

Anyway, that's it for the MLA program. This has just made me tired and sad.

Monday, December 15, 2003


Welcome a New Blogger to Winston's Diary

I'd like to extend a warm welcome to someone I hope will become a regular guest blogger here at Winston's Diary--a close friend of mine who will be going by the screenname "Julia." She has promised not to betray me to O'Brien, and I have promised the same. I'm reasonably sure our friendship can withstand even Room 101.

I'll be blogging a bit less over the next couple of weeks. I have landed a few interviews at MLA, and am dissertating like a madman. I also have to finish my grades and deal with the ESL/plagiarism case I discussed below.

Anyway, I hope you will all welcome Julia to Winston's Diary. I've put a link to her email address underneath my own.

Saturday, December 13, 2003


ESL Woes

I don't want to be too specific in this posting, as I am referring to a real student and a real case here.

I've taught at a number of colleges and universities, and the problems I've had with ESL students have been the same everywhere. Quite simply, universities in the United States do very little to assure that international students have mastered the English language adequately enough to be able to attend courses in English and understand what they are being taught. This seems to me a tremendous disservice to these students, even if they are planning to return to their native countries and never speak a word of English again in their lives (which has been the case for at least three of my own students).

I have had, quite literally, students who could not understand me when I asked them to join a group to work on study questions regarding an essay the class had read. I have had students whom I have asked to see me regarding problems with their writing (I generally ask students to write something in class during the first week, whether it's a composition class or a literature class) not understand what it was I was asking them to do.

Whatever their major is, they cannot be understanding the content of the class, if it is being delivered in English. How much are they really learning?

And when they turn in papers, how much are they actually writing themselves? This term, not for the first time and probably not for the last, I have discovered an ESL student who is having a "tutor" translate his papers for him from his native language into English. Since this is a composition class, the work of the course is being done by someone else. And from questioning the student, it has become clear that it isn't just the language that is being translated, but the phrasing of the essays as well--while some core ideas in the paper may actually belong to the student, the expression of them and the sophistication of that expression belong to someone else.

Obviously, this is a plagiarism issue, but that's not my point. This student has been robbed of part of his education because of the language barrier that exists between him and his professors. Why is this allowed to persist?

I place the blame on two factors.

The first is the greed of the American university system. This student and others like him are paying a premium price to attend public universities in the United States. They are provided with ESL classes that are, frankly, a joke. Every student passes these classes, and is "mainstreamed" as soon as possible. The university doesn't want to slow them down too much, because they might decide that a U.S. education isn't worth it. So they wind up in classes they are linguistically unprepared for. And no one really seems to care. I have actually been instructed at several places to use a different standard to grade these students. Pass them along, give them their piece of paper, collect their extra tuition. There is a serious ethical problem here.

But from the other side of the political fence (sort of) there are those who make the acquisition of the English language a political issue. It is not our place, I have actually been told, to force English upon these students. So when too big a deal is made out of the under-performance of ESL students in English classes, the post-colonialists pop out of the woodwork and start lamenting the terrible conditions in these students' home countries that have forced them to come to the U.S. to seek a "quality" education and that we should not practice linguistic imperialism in forcing these students to learn the English language and possibly lose their culture in so doing. We must respect the "linguistic choices" of these students, and read the papers they submit to us for their ideas alone, regardless of whether those ideas are truly being communicated.

But, regardless of which side you decide to listen to, you wind up with students with whom you cannot communicate.

Isn't this robbing them of at least part of the quality education they came here for in the first place?

I would appreciate thoughts on this matter, regardless of whether you agree with my assessment of the causes or not. How do we solve this problem?

Wednesday, December 10, 2003


Money from Nigeria

My "Winston Smith" email account has been active for a total of five days, I believe, and those generous Nigerians (although sometimes they're from Rwanda) wanting to deposit money in my bank account have already discovered it.

Are there reports of anyone actually falling for this scam? I guess some people must, or they wouldn't keep trying.

Tuesday, December 09, 2003


Pushing Me Rightwards

Conservative English Major makes some interesting points in his recent blog about the ability of the academy to push moderates further to the right.

I'll provide a little history about myself. I was first able to vote in a presidential election in 1988. I voted for Dukakis. In 1992, I voted for Clinton.

By 1996, I had changed my tune somewhat, and voted for Dole. This was not so much a rightward turn as it was a vote against Clinton. There were simply too many questions about his character, questions of character that were, in my opinion, relevant to his position as POTUS. I was also put off by the poltically motivated reaction of those on the left to questions regarding Clinton's character, particularly among feminists who were forced to turn a blind eye to Clinton's own behavior, though they had come out so strongly against Clarence Thomas only a few years prior. I guess I was beginning to see the double-standard in action.

Being surrounded by the left--I was an adjunct in the Fall of 1996--I was given a front-row seat from which to watch the double-standard in action. This made me start to question pretty much everything that was going on in the humanities, and I began to see the huge disparity between what people preached and what they actually practiced. The department's resident Marxist, for example, lived in a palatial home in an extremely wealthy beach community. The resident feminist--of the Steinem variety--moved from one abusive relationship to another, and seemed to take out her frustration against the men in her life on the dead, 18th century men whom she studied. She also "empowered" herself by occasionally sleeping with students.

This was also about the time that I started noticing the myopia problem. The resident Marxist was a fine reader of texts, but all the readings were essentially the same. That was fine when we were talking about the depiction of the labor movement in William Dean Howells, but didn't always work well with other texts. There was also the little matter of the practice of Marxism in the real world, and the things that were being learned in the wake of the collapse of the former Soviet Union. Surely, as an intellectual, he would adjust some of his beliefs given the new knowledge that was being obtained? No, he would not. And was it proper of him to teach only one way of looking at literature in introductory courses? Wasn't the beauty of the new paradigm in literary studies supposed to be the multiplicity of meanings that could be found in a text. The imposition of a single reading onto all texts was not what this whole project was supposed to be about.

I had also learned a great deal of theory by this point, and while I had not yet completely abandoned theoretical approaches to literature--the paper I used to get into the Ph.D. program, for example, remains theoretically grounded--I was beginning to see how the penchant of theory for deconstructing the socially constructed fabric of the world around it allowed it to be hoisted on its own petard. Nothing, it seemed to me, was more socially constructed than theory itself. It was a way of looking at the world that had no real basis in common sense--at least the variety that is practiced outside of the academy--but one which the community had agreed to accept as reality. It was also about this time that the Sokal hoax took place, and I could not understand why the basic response to it was to simply ignore it. Serious doubt had been cast upon theory--how could this be ignored? The hoax had been successfully perpetrated.

But, I stray from the rightward push. Sort of. It was this ability to ignore any and all information that didn't fit with theory that started pushing me, not rightward exactly, but away from the left. I began to see the left as more insidious than the right, because right-wing wackos are easily spotted and generally identified as such by the mainstream media. Left-wing wackos are far more clever at hiding the extent of their extremism, and too often get a free pass from the media, because they are seen as being progressive.

Then came the 2000 election. The blinding hatred for Bush I was witness to on campus was enough to make me very cautious about the left. Like the Conservative English Major, I do not agree with all of Mr. Bush's policies; I would actually rather have seen McCain get the Republican nomination. I also do not like Al Gore. Like Clinton, he's just too much of a political animal. I just don't trust him, because I don't think you can really know who he is or what he is about. Today's endorsement of Dean, for example, is problematic, and smacks of political calculation.

At any rate, it was the behavior of my colleagues in the crisis following the election that finally pushed me over the edge. It should be obvious to any observer that both Gore and Bush played the system as best they could in order to claim victory in the election. I personally felt that Gore's methods were a little more underhanded than Bush's, but part of that is my own perception of Gore as having felt like he was entitled to the presidency. Regardless, both men pulled out all the stops in trying to win, as might well be expected.

In academia, however, Bush was an evil bastard who was trying to steal the election from Gore. There was no other way to read it, and nothing that Gore did was questionable in any way. This sort of blindly partisan thinking, and the continued references--even up to today--to a stolen election, Governor (not President) Bush, the Selectident, etc. made it impossible for me to maintain continued respect for the majority of my colleagues as critical thinkers, able to see through the rhetoric of partisanship to a more objective account of the situation.

So, from being a left-leaning moderate, I moved to being a right-leaning moderate. The blind hatred of the left pushed me away.

I am not a right-wing wacko, despite the accusations of others. For example, I support the right of a woman to choose, but I believe that the choice must be made while the fetus is still a conglomeration of cells. (I make exceptions, of course, if the physical health of the mother is endangered). I don't think that a compromise position on abortion should be so hard to hammer out, and I would gladly add say $100-$150 to my yearly tax bill if it guaranteed every woman immediate access to a morning-after pill. I would also happily see someone who murdered a doctor who performed abortions sent to death row. (Yes, I am for capital punishment.)

I also think that the current distribution of wealth is uneven and unfair, though I think that the Green Party's idea of everyone making $30,000 is ridiculous. A brain surgeon should make more than a burger-flipper, but perhaps we could reduce the ratio a bit, so that the brain surgeon is still rewarded for both the importance of the work and the difficulties involved in becoming a brain surgeon, but also so that the burger flipper makes enough money to live on (by which I mean the burger flipper can afford the necessities of life, plus some extras).

Simply put, I abhor extremists. I paraphrase my favorite pop-culture icon: "You've always been one for logic. I'm one for rushing in where angels fear to tread. Reality . . . lies someone in between."


A correction.

Mr. Berube is correct in stating on his website that he did not call anyone stupid at Joanne Jacob's website. That was not a lie on my part, as Mr. Berube accuses, but a mistake. The "Michael" posting over at Joanne Jacobs was doing such a good job of posting for Mr. Berube that some seemed to be responding to him as if he were Berube. When Berube personally emailed me this morning, responding to the same conversation that was taking place in the comments section, I put 2 and 2 together. Unfortunately, this time they did not add up to 4. I also proceeded on the assumption that since Berube is generally in the habit of calling into question the intelligence of anyone who disagrees with him (see his portrayal of Eric Rasmussen's comments as "ignorant" on his blog entry on me), that the comments on Jacob's website could reasonably be concluded to be his. But, you know what happens when you assume. Joanne Jacobs has since informed me that the "Michael" posting over there is definitely not Berube, or at least not posting from his email address.

For that mistake, I apologize.

I have corrected the post below, to merely reference his repugnant attitude both in the email correspondence I have seen posted on various sites and his arrogant demeanor in his email to me. I would have left the mistake as is--unlike the fictional Winston, I do not work for the Ministry of Truth--but I do not wish anyone reading the post for the first time to share in my mistake and wrongly condemn Berube for a remark that was not his own.

Monday, December 08, 2003


Michael Berube

Having posted a couple of replies to a post over at Joanne Jacobs, I am now the "distinguished" recipient of an email from Mr. Berube. Having asked where he finds all the time for not only posting on his own blog but responding on others and well as emailing the bloggers themselves, I received this response:

Good question! Here are a few of the things I've written in the past six months-- on Don DeLillo, Colson Whitehead, Helen Keller, Paul Berman, Western Civ courses, aesthetics and cultural studies. There's more, but this will have to do for now. (The Berman and Keller reviews appeared this summer; everything else is forthcoming.) When you finish 'em, let me know if you want a look at my seven entries for the "New Keywords" project or my reply to Stanley Hauerwas on disability and Christianity. Enjoy! I've got to get back to teaching literature, and today I have two important committee meetings. Best, Michael Bérubé

All the essays mentioned in the email were sent along as MSWord attachments for my perusal. Is Mr. Berube really so pathetic that he needs to seek my approval this way? Am I supposed to be wowed by his prolific pen? (Though if all of these essays are of the same quality as the one published in the Chronicle, wowed would not be the word for it.)

As for the content of Mr. Berube's writing, Don DeLillo and Colson Whitehead appear to be appropriate topics for a professor of English to be writing about.

My reponse to Mr. Berube was:

Generally speaking, I have found that the people who demonstrate the greatest degree of arrogance are those who feel most insecure in their positions.

You must feel pretty damned insecure.

Mr. Berube is perhaps the most arrogant professor of English I have ever encountered, and that's saying something, because I've met some of the ones generally considered at the top of their game when it comes to arrogance.

Given his rather unprofessional behavior and his level of discourse--his emails and posts on his own site have not been particularly professorial--I suggest that readers contact the Paterno Family or whoever it is that runs the endowment fund paying Mr. Berube's salary and let them know what kind of person their money is paying for.

And this is all I have to say about or to Michael Berube.

Sunday, December 07, 2003


Center for Consumer Freedom

These are some really good ad campaigns. Some of the QuickTime files work just fine, but a couple have no sound, and I cannot find a plug-in via the Quick Time site to fix the problem. Still, I'd love to see some of these on primetime television, as opposed to the onslaught of NARAL commericals that I was forced to endure during the whole partial-birth abortion debate. Can you say "slippery slope fallacy"?

Center for Consumer Freedom

Saturday, December 06, 2003


Not Without My Daughter

I've received some very nice well-wishes via email over the last day or so, thanks mainly to the link to my blog posted by Erin O'Connor, to whom I am extremely grateful.

One email in particular was of interest, and actually inspired me to include a link in the sidebar to Amazon's page for the book Choosing the Right College.

This reader writes:

It's been 30 years since college, and since it was mostly engineering or science I rarely saw the raving lunatics. But I have sent two daughters to college and one came back so far left that she is currently a lobbyist for FCNL in DC (this is after getting a math engineering degree). Where would she be if she took poly sci?

What parents and students alike need to understand is that far too many in academia reason using the following syllogism:

(A) The job of a university instructor is to enlighten students and broaden their minds.
(B) "Liberal" thinking is the mark of an enlightened and broadened mind.
Therefore, the job of a university instructor is to instruct students in "liberal" thinking.

There are some problems with this syllogism. First off, although the syllogism may be valid, reasoning is not sound--the second premise is flawed, and for two reasons. The first reason is that the word liberal has undergone a dramatic transformation on the college campus since the 1960s. Liberalism is no longer classical liberalism, but radical leftism. But it is presented as classical liberalism--i.e., open-mindedness. So we have equivocation in the second premise, because liberal means one thing to a large portion of the population, but something altogether different when coming from the mouths of most members of the academy.

The second problem is that even classically liberal thinkers are not necessarily possessed of enlightened and broadened minds. There are certainly times when a conservative position is the mark of an enlightened and broadened mind, as most of the laws commonly accepted by all but those on the fringes of society demonstrate.

One would think that in the hallowed halls of higher learning, that such sloppy logic would never survive, but it actually flourishes. I have many colleagues who not only subscribe to this logic, but make it a deliberate point to try and rid their students of any vestiges of conservative or even moderate thinking that may have been instilled in them by their parents. Given that most of my immediate colleagues are graduate students, this is not surprising. Many of them are chronologically very close to their own teenage/young adult rebellious phase, and hope to inspire their students to follow in their footsteps, rejecting the traditional values of their parents in favor of the radical values of the youth culture to which they have subscribed.

And, since many professors are still reliving their own rebellious years--since academia doesn't require that one really take on the responsibilities of adulthood--it's not as if undergraduates are being discouraged from their rather mindless rebellion by the professors they encounter when they start taking upper-division courses. Often they are simply taught new ways in which to express their rebellious tendencies.

If I were a parent sending my child off to college, I would first make sure to pick a four-year college where there were no graduate students. This would not only insure that someone with a Ph.D. was teaching my child in every class, but it would keep my child's mind away from the radical notions that too many graduate students have embraced. Also, having taught at a number of institutions, I have found that where there are no graduate students, the professors actually seem to grow up a little more than they do where they are surrounded by graduate students whom they feel they need to impress with their radicalness.

Finally, if your daughter had taken poly sci, maybe she would be a little wiser in her politics than she is having picked up her politics from her peers and from professors who have no business pontificating on politics when it isn't even their field. That's not to say that poly sci isn't ridiculously left; but maybe she would have encountered some conservative or moderate political ideas as she was forced to master the material.

The reader closes the email by asking

Anyway great blog. Anything I can do to help wake up the masses to what 'higher education' (scare quotes intentional) is all about?

Yes. Tell anyone and everyone about your experiences. Be as thorough in explaining them as possible, and be certain to provide concrete examples of what you're talking about. Perhaps when these stories have reached a critical mass (a nod of the head to Erin O'Connor), the preponderance of the evidence will necessitate that something be done.

We are obviously in the midst of a conservative swing in this country. While I do not agree with everything the conservatives would like to do (I would not, for example, send my child to Bob Jones University, because I'm not in favor of that kind of brainwashing, either), it is possible that part of this swing will include taking notice of what this country's universities have turned into.

But we need to be vocal in our dissent.


Marxist Leninist Assimilation

Because I have to go to the MLA conference this year for potential job interviews, I thought I would take the time to complain about the ridiculousness of the panels that appear in the conference program, which showed up at the door a couple of months ago. Yes, parents, your tax and tuition dollars pay for professors and graduate students to deliver papers on these panels.

Granted, it's not all bad. But most of it is. I'll be posting on this occasionally between now and December 27th, the day of doom. (Yes, the conference is right after Christmas, because Christmas and family are, after all, constructs of western patriarchy. No need to spend time with loved ones during the holidays. Of course, if Derrida is there, they'll all be with their loved one.)

Example #1:

War and the University, arranged by the Radical Causus in English and the Modern Languages

Paper #1: "Imperial Classroom: Ideology and the Antiwar Struggle" by Anthony D. Dawahare at California State University, Northridge and Krista L. Walter at Pasadena City College
Paper #2: "What Can We Learn from the Teens, Thirties, Fifties? Campus Protests, Rebellion, Committment Then and Now" by Grover C. Furr at Montclair State University
Paper #3: "The 'Berkeley Mafia' in Peter Dale Scott's Coming to Jakarta: A Faculty Investigates Itself" by David Gewanter at Georgetown University

Now I haven't read the Scott poem that is the subject of the third paper--and I guess we should be proud that at least one paper on this panel has something to do with language and literature--but I have read about it, and it sounds like a typical, self-important, academic leftist work. The rest of the panel just boggles my mind. I'm not sure what to make of that first title. I would like to think that it means what it would mean if I were presenting the paper--that "imperialistic" professors are using the classroom to further their own antiwar struggle. I have grown cynical enough to doubt this, but I remain hopeful. The second paper, by Grover Furr, is what it seems to be. I've seen Furr's website, and it's pretty safe to say that he'll be taking about how to use the classroom for the purposes of "liberal enlightenment."

Example #2:

Speech, Politics, and Social Reality

I'll just cut straight to paper #3: "The Linguistic Uninhibition of George W. Bush," by Allan Metcalf of MacMurray College. Again, I'm feeling pretty cynical about the possibility that this is going to somehow present the president in a positive light. And is this sort of thing really what we expect professors to be doing? Finding complex ways to say "Bush talk stupid"? Sigh.

Example #3:

From the panel on Globalization and Gender, "Pop Nation and Strange Angels: The Extra-Ordinary Materiality of Japanese Girl Culture," by Katherine M. Mezur, from U.C. Berserkeley. I actually find this offensive, and not just because someone who teaches theater and dance is presenting a pop-culture paper about Japanese girls buying Hello Kitty backpacks. This sort of "scholarship" merely perpetuates stereotypes and divides people up into racially/culturally based groups. No doubt it celebrates this new identity it has created for Japanese girls. This is imperialism, folks. Elite Western scholar from Berserkeley defines the identity of Japanese girls.

There's also a panel on "Rethinking Kristeva." Hopefully, these panelists and their audience will recall that Kristeva rethought Marxism after her 1970s trip to China.

And here's a paper called "The Phrenology of Telling: Facing the 'Enemy.'" Now why does it seem so appropriate to me that if someone at the MLA is going to talk about science, it's going to be phrenology?

And, speaking of science, it amazes me that there are so many panels that talk about the body, but that the mere suggestion that our bodies--i.e. our genetic makeup--might have a part in determining our identity is anathema. Why do so many people in the humanities and social sciences insist on adhering to the discredited doctrine of the blank slate, worshipping fools like Judith Butler who insist that gender is mere performance? I'd like to see someone slip some large doses of testosterone into Butler and see whether or not her performance is altered. And, if biochemistry has nothing to do with who we are, why are so many of my colleagues on anti-depressants? Are they willing to admit that serotonin isn't a cultural construction?

Finally, I'll just make this comment on the Lacan panel--how come so many of the psychology professors and graduate students I've spoken to have never heard of Lacan? And how come those who have generally snort at the mention of his name?

That's all I can take tonight. I should be calming down in preparation for bed, rather than building up my ire.

Friday, December 05, 2003


Rigging a court case?

Why do I have to resort to conservative news outlets in order to find out about this sort of thing?

Ted Kennedy and NAACP President Conspire to Rig Sixth Circuit Court Affirmative Action Case?

And again here:

Nothing on CNN about this. Nothing at the New York Times. Apparently, the only important Ted Kennedy news is his vehement opposition to the Medicare prescription drug bill. Too bad Mary Jo Kopechne wasn't given the chance to get old enough to be the recipient of Ted's largess.

Of course, the larger question is, what the hell is it with the leftist elite that they simply cannot get it through their heads that most Americans are not in favor of affirmative action and that it is fundamentally unjust?

I could, of course, start in on Sandra Day O'Connor, but I think I'll leave it at that.


No, there's no political bias in the academy.

While surfing through various university websites looking at course catalogs--trying to write that "personal" letter of application--I came across the following little dandy on the UCLA English Department website.

English 109: The American Political Novel
This class examines a range of texts that explicitly engage political issues and that were, in some cases, written to intervene directly in ongoing political debates. The assigned readings will range chronologically from Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852)--perhaps the most influential political novel ever published in the United States--to E. L. Doctorow's The Book of Daniel (1971) and Alice Walker's Meridian (1976). Although the books covered in the course raise many important topics, we will focus primarily upon three: race and the legacy of slavery, gender and sexism, and the American Left.

Apparently, the only American political novels out there are written from the perspective of the left. I would have thought that something like Philip Roth's The Human Stain, given the forthcoming film (or has it already been released?) and the fact that it deals with the politics of the academy, would have been a fine addition to a course of the American political novel. Of course, as that novel explicitly condemns the same sort of thinking that seems to be behind the creation of this course, I guess that might be a bit embarrassing to the professor.

I should have stopped reading at that point, and realized that I didn't really want to join the UCLA English department. But today's course catalog is really like a train wreck. Here was the next entry:

English 118: Reading Film Noir and the "Neo Noir"
This course examines the film noir genre and the literature from which it has traditionally been derived, the American detective novel. The syllabus includes classic pairings such as Raymond Chandler's The Big Sleep and the 1946 film adaptation directed by Howard Hawks. In addition, the class looks at the post 1980's trend of neo-noir novels and films that recast the noir tradition in contemporary cultural terrain, exploring dynamics of race, class, gender and sexuality. Examples include Walter Mosley's Devil in a Blue Dress and the 1995 film adaptation directed by Carl Franklin as well as James Ellroy's L.A. Confidential and the 1997 film adaptation directed by Curtis Hansen.

And there we go again. The holy triumvirate of race, class, and gender, with sexuality added to the mix. More novels read through the lens of leftist politics. I've read all three of these novels, and I seem to recall that they were far more dense that this reductive approach makes them out to be. And aren't things like setting (what we now call "issues of place," since the word "setting" might somehow resurrect the ogre of New Criticism) important in these novels? L.A. Confidential? Being taught at UCLA? And Phillip Marlowe is character of such depth, for all his stereotypicalness. Do literature classes even study the elements of literature anymore? There's more going on in The Big Sleep than naked pictures of Carmen Sternwood.

But wait! There's more:

English 177: The Myth of the American Adam and the Post-WWII Novel
When R. W. B. Lewis published his influential The American Adam in 1955, his thesis that the transplanted European functioned as a New-World Adam and the American wilderness as his Eden provided a mythic framework in which to read what the Academy then considered the American canon. In this class, we will investigate the relevancy of that mythos in a postwar era characterized by an increasingly more urban and ethnically diverse experience of America. Particular attention will be paid to novels from minority traditions that question the racial, gender, and historical underpinnings of this myth of the American wilderness. Readings will include Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita, Edward Abbey's The Monkey Wrench Gang, Thomas Pynchon's Vineland, Toni Morrison's The Song of Solomon, Charles Johnson's Middle Passage, Philip Roth's American Pastoral, Leslie Marmon Silko's Ceremony, Rudolfo Anaya's Bless Me, Ultima, and Karen Tei Yamashita's Tropic of Orange.

And again, we get two of the three holy lenses: race and gender. Also nice to see that "what the Academy then considered the American canon" has changed to reflect the need of canonical affirmative action. The quality of a work, it would seem, is relatively unimportant; what is important is that it either (A) talk about the themes of race, class and gender, or (B) can be forced to talk about these themes, either through the completely assinine "absence as presence" argument (by which critics allow themselves to say whatever they want to say about a work, whether the work (or should I say text supports the reading or not. I once listened to someone tell me that the film The Unforgiven was all about Native Americans precisely because they weren't depcited in the film, proceeding on the assumption that all Westerns must address the subject of Native Americans or be guilty of deliberately avoiding the subject. And why is there always a Toni Morrison book in these types of courses? Of course, the nice thing about Morrison is that you only ever read one of her books, because once you've read one . . . Kind of like taking a course at UCLA, it would seem.

So, three out of four variable topic courses for UCLA undergrads are about race, class, and gender. The fourth, entitled "Assembling California," doesn't provide enough of a description to tell, but the title of the course alone indicates to this recovering user of theory (or, perhaps more accurately, user--not reader--of literature) that the same cultural constructivist nonsense that underpins the other three courses will underpin this one. I'm not certain that "variable" is the correct term to be using here. A more honest course catalog would just say "Leftist Content Courses" and at least let students know what they were signing up for.

Out of the other twelve courses on offer for undergrads in the Fall, 2003 schedule, five explicitly focus on matters of race, rather than matters of literature:

English 189.3: Interracial Romance in African American and Asian American Literature
This course focuses on biracialism, passing and interracial romance in African American and Asian American fiction.

English 189.4: Theaters of Race
Seminar discussing dramatic literature and performances by African Americans, Chicanos, Asian Americans and Native Americans. The emphasis will be on contemporary solo performance and on works exploring race in conjunction with issues of gender and sexuality.

English 190: The 1992 Los Angeles "Riots" Reconsidered
This course examines the Los Angeles riots from multicultural and interdisciplinary perspectives. We will look at the event and its aftermath through the visual media, fiction, and nonfiction. Special emphasis will be placed on the interracial dynamics of African Americans and Asian Americans.

English M197A: What is the Blackness of Blackness? Constructions of "Race" and "Difference" in African American Literature
This course looks at a range of African American fiction and literary essays from the 1980s and 1990s that explore what Herman Gray has called "blackness as a sign." Rather than assuming black identity or community to be a stable given, texts such as Danzy Senna's Caucasia, A.J. Verdelle's The Good Negress and Hilton Al's The Women depict characters and personae who negotiate relationships to black identities and black communities through differences such as "race mixture," "black English" and "queer sexuality." The course will examine what Gray has called "various positions and claims on blackness" through creative texts as well as critical theory by writers such as Stuart Hall and Adrian Piper.

English M197C: Race, Memory, and Technology in Asian American Literature and Culture
This course will survey a selection of Asian American memoirs, novels, films, and stage performances, paying particular attention to the representation of media and popular culture within these works. How does incorporation into a media-saturated public sphere signal entry into normative American citizenship for Asian Americans? How does the global flow of media alter the terrain upon which Asian Americans make their claims? In this course, we will read several contemporary memoirs of famous/infamous Asian Americans (e.g., Wen Ho Lee, Margaret Cho) alongside recent fictions produced by Asian American novelists and filmmakers (e.g., Chang Rae Lee, Ruth Ozeki, Rea Tajiri). We will be examining these works in terms of their concepts of power, agency, social justice, as well as in terms of their portraits of the boundaries of bodies and body politics mediated by technology.

Do the voters in California know that this is the kind of nonsense their tax dollars are supporting? Actually, they probably don't. And neither do most of the undergrads who would be signing up for this course, from what I've seen. I know how to read these course descriptions, after years of taking the types of courses they describe. I know that they indicate that the class will be taught from a particular political point of view, and that many of them will likely attempt to alienate students from the wider culture around them by trying to convince them of its inherent evil. But students walk into these courses blind, and many of them come to believe that this is what literary studies is all about. Few learn how to closely read literature or to appreciate the fact that they are having a conversation with someone when they read a book, a poem, or a play. Instead, they learn the method of the monologue of the critic.

I think I've found a few places where Arnold can cut the budget--fire the professors who are being paid to teach these courses. What in God's name does any of this have to do with the study of literature? And these are undergraduate courses. Who teaches undergrads the reading skills they need at this highly overrated university?

Wednesday, December 03, 2003


An Opening Salvo

After careful consideration, I decided to take the name "Winston's Diary" for this blog in part to reclaim Orwell from the legions of leftists who seem to think that Orwell would somehow approve of their own totalitarian leanings because they are fighting the good fight against the supposed fascism of Bush and the Republican party. Yeah, Orwell was a socialist. But Orwell was as horrified by Stalin as he was by Hitler, and his understanding of the dangers of Marxism were spot-on. While Orwell might have misgivings about the right, he sure as hell wouldn't be out blocking the streets with the denizens of A.N.S.W.E.R. and the rest of mindless ideologues whose religious devotion to a failed ideology and desire to control the words and thoughts of the "unenlightened" is certainly closer to the aims of Oceania than the Patriot Act.

As an academic--a job seeking graduate student who will remain anonymous until tenured, rejected, or so sick of academia that I leave it--I feel an affinity with Winston Smith. I'm not a radical conservative, but I'm not a member of the academic left, and my status as an outsider is made clear to me on a daily basis. I have, on occasion, dared to speak my mind against the use of the classroom to indoctrinate students, and I have watched the faces of colleagues lose all expression as they turned away from me, writing off anything I might have to say as the ravings of a conservative--and thus closed--mind. I have not yet been punished for speaking my mind--I think the powers that be know that I would fight back, viciously--but I have been ostracized. Thankfully, hiring committees don't ask for recommendations from one's fellow graduate students, and my left-leaning dissertation director has agreed to disagree with me, a rare display of tolerance at the postmodern university. Around the rest of my committee, I just keep my mouth shut.

At least once a week, I overhear colleagues describe their plans to turn literature courses into teach-ins against the war in Iraq, and I watch composition classes turned into symposia on the holy triumvirate of race, class, and gender, with any attempt at teaching composition and critical thinking skills abandoned in the desperate fight against "facism." I have even been presented with ridiculous attempts to use Beowulf to teach students about the horrors of the war in Iraq. I won't even begin to catalogue what I've heard from the sociologists. I often think that if average Americans knew what was actually being taught in this nation's universities--and if they knew what was not being taught--universities would have a real budget crisis. Hell, I'm appalled at what my taxes pay for.

There is a definite lack of intellectual diversity in academia. I am frightened by the hegemony (to steal their own word) of the left in academia, and by their attempts to silence the voices of dissent, unwilling to entertain the possibility of real debate. I am angered by the lack of professional ethics displayed by professors, instructors, and graduate students who use their classrooms to "enlighten" their students to the truth of their so-called progressive message. There are many O'Briens in academia. They may not pull people's teeth from their jaws, but their methods of persuasion are insidious nonetheless, and they are not above punishing their students for holding the wrong beliefs.

I intend to speak out against the O'Briens as forcefully and as often as I can, both those employed in academia and elsewhere. And if those of my own political stripe seem to be speaking for the Ministry of Truth, they will not be exempt from critique. But because the academic O'Briens can put me on the street, I'll be doing it here, hopefully out of the range of the viewscreen. Big Brother is watching, but he isn't John Ashcroft.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?