Saturday, December 06, 2003


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.

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