Sunday, November 11, 2012

Lit Crit as the New Jazz

I have written before about a group of people who infest the world of literary and cultural appreciation. In University arts departments around the richer and freer world, there are parasites on the world of real understanding and discovery.

People like Gayatri Chakravorti Spivak, Susan Gubar, Sandra Gilbert, Homi Bhabha, Edward Said, K.K. Ruthven, Henry Louis Gates, Judith Butler, and many more, and the ones who started it all- Barthes, Lacan, Foucault, Derrida… et al., as well as other, minor figures, some of whom I know personally because they have them in our University here, too.

This is not a phallus
I also know, personally and through their writings, many people whose knowledge and study of literature and other arts genuinely illuminate the works they discuss, clarify the background and context, and seek the deeper meanings and motivations of the writer/artist, adding to our understanding and enjoyment of them. I’m not knocking the arts or those who study them, but those who disseminate their own nasty, ignorant opinions by prostituting the object of study, and ignoring truth entirely.

These academics and soi-disant intellectuals who make their living, and who largely craft their own identity, by producing tendentious, prejudiced, under- or un-researched, barely coherent tracts about literature criticism, post-colonialism, anti-racism, equality theory, feminism or whatever happens to be their gig (any ground sufficiently fertile to allow them to be applauded by their brethren for calling other people names), make the mistake of comparing themselves with scientific researchers, and their opinions with rational truth. Others make the mistake of taking them seriously, which is what they want, of course.*

The people who produce this kind of rubbish have no conception of the gulf that separates them from real thinking, real analysis, real reasoning, real logic, real thought, real results, real truth. They genuinely believe that what they do is comparable to real academic work, and think that the contempt they receive from people who know how to think is due to ignorance or prejudice. They cannot understand the truth, and they could not accept it if they did understand it.

They themselves would not accept what I am about to say, because it detracts from their importance, but it is probably a better way of interpreting the stuff they produce:

It is not truth, in the sense of being a representation of reality. It is an expression of how they perceive something at a particular time, and words, distributed in accordance with the way they feel their idea must be expressed, are their medium. To search for truth or reason in the result is to misunderstand the work.

We do not expect a painted portrait to tell us anything much about human facial anatomy or even precisely what the subject looked like unless we are fairly certain that the painter had both the intention to produce a near-perfect likeness and the technical competence to carry out the intention. Very frequently neither of these things is true, and so we interpret the painting in accordance with other criteria, and are happy to do so. It makes sense to do so. But when we see what looks superficially like a reasoned argument, and is presented as one, supposedly containing premises, facts and logic and arriving at conclusions that may be thus identified in some way as true, we treat it on these terms, and are baffled by the fact that patent nonsense, lacking any form of reason or analysis, is treated as truth. We dismiss it.

We do not see this as a kind of riff on the writer’s feelings, which is what it is. Even so it may well have little or no value, but at least we could understand why it exists. But those who produce this stuff lie to themselves and to us about what it is, because they want to be taken seriously. And so no one knows what’s going on.

Picasso and Lucien Freud, for example, would not insist, in the face of the most manifest evidence, that what you are looking at would be useful to the police in their search if the subject went missing. But that is what lit critters do.

Their disconnected witterings are art. Good art, bad art, every man his own critic, of course. They are a form of self-expression, no more, no less. They satisfy the artist’s urge to say something in a particular manner. They are not a search for truth.

*Anyone who thinks I exaggerate should Google some of those names. Unless you've had to deal with them, as I have, you would not believe such rantings could exist in serious universities. Because these are among the star names, they are not selected outliers. Their business, as you will see, is not truth but indoctrination, the very opposite of what higher education is supposed to be for,

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