Monthly Archives: February 2007

What Troops Should Say to Reporters

Now that the House of Representatives opposes the Iraq war, the military has provided guidelines on what troops should say to reporters.

Commanders advise their soldiers that they should talk about the things that they know,” [Christine Wormuth, a defense analyst with the Center for Strategic and International Studies] said. A truck driver, for instance, might be on solid ground talking about the need for spare parts, vehicle armor and better protection against roadside bombs. “But talking about whether it was a good idea to invade Iraq might be out of their lane as a truck driver.”

The corollary here is that ordinary citizens are not qualified to opine, either. If I am not mistaken that runs counter to the sense of every Founding Document we have.

The current Administration can kiss my pointy head.



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Literary World Systems

From one review of a book I want to read:

[This] work amounts to a radical remapping of global literary space–which means, first of all, the recognition that there is a global literary space. [Its] insights build on world systems theory, the idea, developed by Fernand Braudel and Immanuel Wallerstein, that the capitalist economy that has emerged since about 1500 must be understood as a single global system of interlinked national economies. Some of these economies belong to the ruling “core,” others to the dependent “periphery,” but none can coherently be studied as a discrete entity. [The author] argues, convincingly, that an analogous literary system, a “world republic of letters,” has gradually taken shape since around the same time. In her analysis, a core group of nations–France, England and the founders of other “major” European literatures–having built up large reserves of “literary capital” over the past several centuries, control the means of cultural legitimation for the countries of the global literary periphery–a region that, as in the capitalist world system, has grown ever larger over the past two centuries with, first, the rise of European nationalism and, second, decolonization, as nations without previous literary standing, and writers from those nations, have sought international validation.

For it is an ongoing source of shame that so many of the finest exponents even of our own literature were acclaimed in Paris while still virtually unknown in London and New York…Joyce, though already recognized within the avant-garde, was unable to find a publisher for Ulysses until the book was taken up by the great French translator Valery Larbaud…It was also through France that much of English literature found an international audience…This isn’t true just of English literature, of course, but of all literature, which is why Paris has been the capital of literary exiles for the past two centuries. And it is also why Paris is the answer to the question of where translated writers “come from.” Borges and Kundera are just two of the many authors who became known in the English-speaking world–and the world in general–only after being consecrated by Paris.

How did this state of affairs come about? [The author] traces the emergence of an international literary sphere to Joachim du Bellay’s 1549 essay “The Defense and Illustration of the French Language,” which amounted, as she puts it, to a “declaration of war against the domination of Latin.” Over the ensuing century and a half, France built up its “literary assets” through, among other means, the translation and imitation of classical models, linguistic standardization and purification, and the refinement of poetic forms and meters, so that by the reign of Louis XIV–the age of Pascal, Molière and Racine–French had accomplished the unthinkable, displacing Latin as the language of literary classicism. As a consequence…English and other national literary identities emerged in competition with France. Finally, with the awakening to consciousness of nations like Germany–nations that, unlike England, Spain or Italy, had no literary heritage such as would allow them to compete with France on its own, classical terms–a new means of accumulating literary assets emerged. This was the path first articulated by Herder, the eighteenth-century German philosopher and great champion of folk culture: Instead of deriving from classical antiquity, literary capital would now originate in a nation’s unique soul or “genius,” as expressed in its traditional oral culture–an idea that would prove crucial not only for the emerging nations of Europe during the nineteenth century but for the postcolonial world today.

Whatever the terms under which it was conducted, however, it was this rivalry among national literatures that led to the creation of an international literary space. Indeed, it led, one might say, to the creation of literature itself–literature as an autonomous realm–for it was, paradoxically, through this same struggle that literary values were asserted independently of national political and moral agendas. By constituting a transnational sphere in which literature could be judged on its own terms, this rivalry enabled writers to appeal beyond their national publics, with their invariably conservative values. It made possible, in other words, the creation of an avant-garde. (And it is because of its unique hospitality to the avant-garde that Paris has endured as the world’s literary center.) Here is where [the author] parts company with the historicism that has swept literary studies over the past two decades. Rather than tying literary phenomena to underlying social and political developments, she charts an autonomous history for literature itself. The world republic of letters is governed by its own rules, keeps time by its own historical clock, partitions the world according to its own map and features its own economics, its own inequalities and its own forms of violence.

That was William Deresiewicz writing in The Nation on Pascale Casanova, The World Republic of Letters.

The other person to read on literature as system is, of course, Antônio Cândido, who looks at literary works not as forms of individual expression but as events of a more sociological nature.

Finally, a piece related to the question of literary world systems and markets which I would like to read more detenidamente is V. Barrera Enderle’s Entradas y salidas del fenómeno literario actual o la “Alfaguarización” de la literatura hispanoamericana (Sincronía, primavera del 2002).


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Thorstein Veblen

Today I discovered in my files a printout of Thorstein Veblen‘s The Higher Learning In America: A Memorandum on the Conduct of Universities By Business Men (1904-1918).

From the 1916 preface:

In its earlier formulation, [my] argument necessarily drew largely on first-hand observation of the conduct of affairs at Chicago, under the administration of its first president. As is well known, the first president’s share in the management of the university was intimate, masterful and pervasive, in a very high degree; so much so that no secure line of demarcation could be drawn between the administration’s policy and the president’s personal ruling. It is true, salient features of academic policy which many observers at that time were inclined to credit to the proclivities of Chicago’s first president, have in the later course of things proved to belong to the impersonal essence of the case; having been approved by the members of the craft, and so having passed into general usage without abatement. Yet, at the time, the share of the Great Pioneer in reshaping American academic policy could scarcely have been handled in a detached way, as an impersonal phenomenon of the unfolding historical sequence. The personal note was, in fact, very greatly in evidence.

And just then, presently, that Strong Man’s life was brought to a close. So that it would unavoidably have seemed a breach of decorum to let these observations seek a hearing at that time, even after any practicable revision and excision which filial piety would enjoin. Under the rule of Nihil nisi bonum, there seemed nothing for it but a large reticence.

But swiftly, with the passage of years, events proved that much of what had appeared to be personal to the Great Pioneer was in reality intrinsic to the historical movement; so that the innovations presently lost their personal colour, and so went impersonally to augment the grand total of human achievement at large. Meanwhile general interest in the topic had nowise abated. Indeed, discussion of the academic situation was running high and in large volume, and much of it was taking such a turn — controversial, reproachful, hortatory, acrimonious — that anything in the way of a temperate survey should presumably have been altogether timely.


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Bright Light

And now, via Slaves of Academe, we have an interesting article on the differences between academics and intellectuals. It posits three:

1. An academic has and wants an audience disproportionately made up of teachers and students, while an intellectual has and wants teachers and students in his audience only in proportion to their place in the general educated public.

2. An academic is a specialist who has disciplined his curiosity to operate largely within a designated area, while an intellectual is a generalist who deliberately does otherwise.

3. An academic is concerned with substance and suspicious of style, while an intellectual is suspicious of any substance that purports to transcend or defy style.

I am not sure I would rather be a generalist than a specialist – although perhaps I solved that problem at the beginning by being cross-disciplinary. However, the identification of an academic/intellectual split clarifies my malaise and culture shock.

I always thought being an academic was a day job for intellectuals. That is to say, you got paid for being an academic specialist, but in the rest of life you were an intellectual. I did not realize that you could be an academic specialist and not be intellectually oriented otherwise.

Of course, this fact has been staring me in the face for years, but I had not decoded it. The decoding explains a great deal.



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Evade Military Propaganda

Dick Cheney shot a man who did not die, and has now been bombed but left unscathed.

The Pentagon has collected a database on more than 25 million 16 to 25 year olds, which is updated daily and distributed to Armed Services for recruitment purposes.

Here is information on how to have yourself or your child removed from this database and protected from recruitment efforts at school.

LaVena Johnson was recruited at school. Her death was scandalous. How to support the troops, American freedom, and all of that: help Johnson’s family fight the DoD.



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From Our Correspondent…

One of my far flung correspondents – someone I am actually trying to convince to guest blog here – has a question and a comment. Does anyone have answers, responses, or repartee for these?


Do you know why procrastination is so prevalent in academia, as compared with other professions?


The university has become a gray area: what is knowledge worth? how should that knowledge be transmitted? to what end? I read an interesting article relating to the “democratization of data” to familiarize myself with some marketing vocabulary I need. It was about making statistics accessible for manipulation by different fields. I couldn’t help thinking of interdisciplinary and cultural studies. These marketing web pages are interesting in the university context – eerie almost.



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Antics Serious and Not


“There is absolutely no attempt on the part of the Army or this agency to deny soldiers any disability benefits or to push them off on the VA,” said Col. Andy Buchanan, the agency’s deputy commander.


When a vampire expert allegedly seduced a tipsy UC Irvine student four years ago, he inadvertently set off a chain of events that now jeopardizes the school’s control of a dead philosopher’s prized archives.

The story came to light after UCI announced last week that it would drop a lawsuit against the widow and sons of philosopher Jacques Derrida, the acclaimed founder of deconstruction…



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Silver Dazzle

Paul Dresman’s The Silver Dazzle of the Sun is a brilliant book of very well distilled poetry, with Southern California as one of its major backdrops.

Today we have what we call “California weather,” meaning 75 dry degrees in a cloudless sky with high, bright white light. On a winter day back home the sun shines silvery just like this, and the sea turns gold.

I thought of Los Angeles and its odd pleasures as I drove out to lunch, seeing the sun glance off the asphalt and dazzle the cars.

There and also here on a day like today the sky is so transparent you see straight to Oxalá as you pick up a fried pork chop, peas and greens from a jaunty and unpretentious stand.


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Kiri Davis

I had been searching for Kiri Davis’ video A Girl Like Me, and now I have found it. This classic text demonstrates, among other things, why the claim to “colorblindness” is a pure and absurd luxury.



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Joanna Russ, Christine Delphy

From the new Feminist Reprise, now freed from both Blogger and WordPress, a key quotation of Joanna Russ:

As Christine Delphy [the French feminist sociologist] says, first comes the fact of exploitation; then come various kinds of oppression to keep the exploited weak, miserable (and busy), and hence exploitable. Then (both logically and chronologically) comes the ideology that justifies the oppression and the exploitation in order to pacify the consciences of the exploiters and to muddle the common sense of the exploited, thus mystifying the situation of exploitation and oppression so that the exploited will accept it as natural, God-given, nobody’s fault, morally correct, and inevitable.

As Delphy puts it, There is no mystery; we are oppressed because we are exploited. What we go through makes life easier for others.

Feminist Reprise has more posts on Joanna Russ. Here is Yer Daily Joanna, and here is Joanna Russ, Again. And here is another pithy quotation:

The crucial idea that all women’s experiences are equally valid has been supplanted by the new and totally muddling idea that all women’s opinions are equally valid, a piece of mystification that accepts almost anything a woman says or does as “feminist” simply because it was a woman who said or did it.


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