Re: elite/elitism (fwd)

Marcy Bauman (marcyb@UMD.UMICH.EDU)
Fri, 11 Oct 1996 11:34:07 -0400

OK, I've been out of touch for most of this discussion because I've been
away, so please forgive/ignore me if these points have been brought up,
but I have two problems with Pomo Theory.

First, Mike says, by way of encapsulating common ground, that lots of
literature profs are not "willing to look at them [their
assumptions] critically in the way that pomo theory asks anyone to become
aware of the foundational ground upon which their pronouncements stand."
I want to be clear that I'm not taking issue with Mike; I want to
question the (true, to my mind) description of pomo theory here. How can
anyone really be aware of the foundational ground upon which their
assertions rest? I keep asking this, over and over. My way of stating
the case is that it's a bit like expecting people to see their
backsides. It _can't be done_. If I configure that line right, I can
always get a laugh at a party, but I never seem to get an answer. How
can we know our own assumptions? We never see them unless they're played
out against some set of competing assumptions, which means we never see
_all_ of them, anyway; and lots of them are perfectly functional and
don't give anybody any problems whatsoever. It may be useful and
necessary to examine assumptions in certain circumstances where the clash
of assumptions is causing problems, but how on _earth_ can that
examination be useful as the Highest Good (which is what pomo theory
makes it)? This argument will deconstruct in five seconds . . .

And second. Mike says, as a way of refuting Nick's notion of "elite":

> rhetoric courses?--but then, that's just the point. Most English
> courses--of whatever literature--often have only one real purpose: to train
> an elite, to prepare a priesthood, to expand the literary club, to make
> students replicate the teacher. And the kids get the message real soon, as
> they learn to "give back what the prof. wants," whatever the ideology of
> the course. The problem, at root, is in the whole concept of authority in
> the teacher-based, lecture-based, "I know more than you" elitist classroom,
> where the priest dispenses culture and the masses are "washed" in the right
> way to think.

-- but maybe what's "elite" isn't specific viewpoints or people who hold
them or even contexts of authority. Maybe what's "elite" are certain
conversations which take place at certain moments in time . . . and
they're "elite" because they're perceptive and they push the envelope and
they're ephemeral. (I'm sure Eric has said that already.) Maybe by the
time ideas get "canonized" into English department debates, the horses
have already left the barn . . .


Marcy Bauman
Writing Program
University of Michigan-Dearborn
4901 Evergreen Rd.
Dearborn, MI 48128

Web page: