Re: language: a plea for tolerance!

Tom Maddox (tmaddox@WELL.COM)
Wed, 16 Oct 1996 23:36:55 -0700

In a continuing discussion, Steve Krause <krause@MIND.NET> wrote [and so
did I; my words follow >> below]:

>Whoa! I would suggest that you keep in mind the issues of judgement and
>esthetics (sp?) as you raise them here, and that you further remember my
>mantra of mantras, context is everything. Faulkner can be "beautiful"
>language (though it can also be "incomprehensible" and "racist"
>occassionally). But Foucault is a "beautiful" writer too. So is Derrida.
>So is Booth. So is S. Crowley. So is L. Faigley. So is J. Berlin. So is
>Barthes. So is Cixsous. So is Kristava. So is-- well, you fill in the
>blank here.

This might be a manifestation of what I think of as the incommensurate
realities problem. In reality, these folks are the esthetic equals of
Faulkner; in mine, the idea is preposterous. I'm not sure there's any
coordinate transformation between these competing worlds.

>>If that works for you, fine, but a great many people with considerable
>>influence would have us believe that these theories are more than useful to
>>some folks some of the time--they are essential. I should also note, in
>>fairness, that much of what I despise comes not from the Big Hitters
>>(though I do believe Lacan was a bit of a charlatan, and Baudrillard is
>>just silly much of the time) but from their acolytes, who manipulate the
>>language borrowed from the B.H.s like novice magicians mimicking the
>>master's incantations, complete with nasal whine, cigarette cough, and
>>Kentucky accent.
>Ha! You mean like all the fiction writers in the workshops I was in who
>tried to imitate Hemingway and Carver?

Indeed I do, if they don't get beyond that, and especially if not getting
beyond that is *what they do*.

>And to simply dismiss "theory" as "gibberish," well, there's no real
>response to that, now is there? I might as well say all poetry is
>gibberish, or all tv is gibberish, or all politics is gibberish, etc., etc.

I did nothing of the sort. I said, "I sometimes feel that all theory
aspires to the condition of gibberish." A literary allusion, actually, to
Pater's "All art aspires to the condition of music." A tiny joke, but with
the point that it's not that all theory *is* gibberish but that it highly
values the same (or *valorizes* it, as I might say without irony if
brainworms had eaten my frontal lobes).

>>I should also add that I will be teaching students who will not receive
>>grades, who are free to walk out of my class and take another, who can
>>develop pretty much any kind of individual or group project they wish, and
>>who will write self-evaluations and be evaluated by me in the most
>>straightforward prose I can manage. I am concerned that they set and
>>pursue their own goals within the very flexible limits of this class--not
>>that they fulfill any agenda of mine--and this certainly could include the
>>intense study of pomo-ismus in whatever form.
>Hmmm... me thinks that the student who writes about Derrida might be

In other words, I'm lying? What reason do you have for that implication?

>All I'm saying Tom is that you seem to me to be awfully dismissive of this
>stuff, which, imho, ain't gonna wash most of the time. You can't say that
>most theory is just "butt ugly" writing without talking about specifics in
>a setting like this.

It washes just as well as your unsupported acceptance of "this stuff." And
actually, I can, in a setting like this or any other, be as dismissive as I
wish with or without specifics.

But it so happens that I ran across the following just today:

As the developmental logics of contemporary architecture are built more
and more for the mediation of audiovisual information than
for the the en-framed location of speaking groups of co-present bodies, a
mode of built environment as referentially big as the dataspaces which they
ground, is mimiced [sic] globally.

Which is very much the sort of thing that I have in mind. I can multiply
such citations at will, but let me instead ask if you can bring in
"beautiful" language from theory to demonstrate the wrongness of my
"butt-ugly" claim.