Saturday, February 03, 2007
(10:23 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
OMG! OMG!You will not believe what they're talking about at The Valve today.
This might be an occasion for some rhetorical theorizing (though I am not, strictly speaking, a rhetorical theorist). Something like "theory," as it is practiced in literature and other humanities departments, is an intrinsically -- dare I say it -- eclectic enterprise. It consists of using pieces from various bodies of thought, on the basis that these pieces will somehow prove useful or illuminating. The bodies of thought one drew on before will tend to influence the new material one will come across, but only to a certain degree -- there are always relatively isolated figures, such as JL Austin or CS Pierce, and then there are some figures who only seem to be included because they're part of a certain intellectual trajectory. Everything is pretty vaguely defined and open-ended, and people within "theory" may consider other people within "theory" to be their arch-nemeses. It's an intrinsically non-unified thing -- more of a general ethos or atmosphere.
If one wishes to critique "theory" as such, then the very nature of the thing constrains one's options. A rigorous argument is not going to be very effective, since one is arguing against a loosely associated near-cacaphony of voices. Finding contradictions within the quasi-canonical body of "theory" is also not going to work, because everyone concedes in advance that "theory" is a diverse field filled with mutually contradictory things.
The only viable option is the send-up, which John Holbo's concept of the Higher Eclecticism certainly was -- though it was somewhat hampered by Holbo's apparent belief that it was also something else. It is possible for a send-up to be "correct" in some sense. It is possible that it will persuade people -- but it is almost certain that it will not persuade the targets, especially if the send-up illegitimately presents itself as a serious argument.
One might find it instructive to recall the responses to my Theses on the Higher Eclecticism and, more recently, Prolegomena to Any Future Meta-Blogging That Will Be Able to Come Forward as a Science. Both of these, like the Higher Eclecticism itself, were send-ups -- that is, characterizations that, while perhaps "true" in some sense, are virtually guaranteed to elicit a defensive reaction from their targets -- the former being a send-up of "the Higher Eclecticism" and the latter being a send-up of something I called "academic blog triumphalism." The reaction to both was formally identical to the reaction that "the Higher Eclecticism" elicited from the "theory" fans. I expected nothing less.
As I said above, the genre of the send-up does seem to be able to persuade people in some cases, though normally not its explicit targets. At best, it can elicit in its targets the thought, "Hmm, I guess I am rather silly sometimes" -- but it is much more likely to meet with angry responses. Do those angry responses mean that something has gone wrong? Do they mean that discussion is not, on some level, happening? Or are there some situations wherein the send-up is the best option -- where calm and patient dialogue, complete with generosity toward dialogue partners, simply would not do anything at all?
I think that the answer to this last question is a decisive "yes" -- there is no one form of discourse that is intrinsically desirable for every situation. I tend more toward the forms of discourse that fall outside the "legitimate" realm of calm and patient dialogue because I object to the idolatry of liberal formalism -- the idea that if we just adhere to this appropriate and legitimate process, good results will come about. The very fact that I continue, despite everything, to successfully communicate and even occasioally to persuade shows that the liberal formalist dream of the infinite dialogue is not the only way to go.
UPDATE: In case it is deleted, please note Rich Puchalsky's latest comment:
Interesting concept of the send-up at your blog, Adam. It might work better in camoflaging the essential nastiness of what you write if you hadn’t just had a hilarious 400+ comment amateur restaging of _No Exit_, complete with various threats exchanged, and ending in a banning (that last is a model for the people here, surely).Now I'm being threatened? Yes, I'm sure it is just Anthony and me who are making The Valve such a negative atmosphere: Rich is just responding to our provocation.
The difference is that John is interested in ideas, while you are interested in flaming. It’s quite fun archiving your insults, by the way—don’t expect them to fall off the Web as you start to grow up and approach the desire to look more professional.
UPDATE(2): I've officially announced that I'm no longer participating at The Valve. Being called an asshole, being followed around in comments and harrassed for having a shitty blog, being taken off blogrolls, being yelled at, being sent e-mails telling me to calm down, etc. -- all of that is fine. I can "take it." What I can't take is participating in an online environment where someone takes it to the level of real-world threats -- even when, as in this case, I do not actually think the threats would be carried out -- and yet still being told, continually, that I am exactly equivalent to the person who takes it to that level. Being told that I am equally to blame with Rich for the situation at The Valve is a deep personal insult to me, because it implies that I am just like him. That's the kind of insult I can't take.
UPDATE(3): Dear Troll of Sorrow,
I have banned you from this blog for life. No matter what you write, no matter how relevant it is, I will absolutely delete it every time, along with any comments that respond to you. I want this to be clear, because for some reason you continue to leave comments here, apparently in the belief that they will be read.