Saturday, September 25, 2004

Guardian Unlimited Books | Review | Writing to the moment: Tom Paulin Remembers EWS

Guardian Unlimited Books | Review | Writing to the moment

Paulin hears Edward's voice in reading his sentences. There is a lot of truth to this, for his cadences were unique and memorable. Perhaps Paulin should have said more about Edward's intellectual toughness. He was not only implacable but angry, would learn as well as assert.

I like very much Paulin's citation from Orientalism as an instance of Edward's affection for Hazlitt, something no one else seems to mention. Once, Spanos taught me something about old Hazlitt, too. Such figures are intellectual references almost no more. Who recalls, for example, Hazlitt on 'gusto' as an important critical moment?

Friday, September 24, 2004

The New York Times > Opinion > Op-Ed Columnist: Bush Upbeat as Iraq Burns

The New York Times > Opinion > Op-Ed Columnist: Bush Upbeat as Iraq Burns: "If you spend more than a little time immersed in the world according to Karl Rove, you'll find that words lose even the remotest connection to reality. They become nothing more than tools designed to achieve political ends. So it's not easy to decipher what the president believes about Iraq."

Saturday, September 18, 2004

EWS and Criticism's Engagement with Life and Politics, Paris Paper

Paul A
Here is a very sketchy outline of a longer paper. I would have read this in Paris next week if I might have traveled there. Comments more than welcome. PAB

Paul A. Bové

1354 Royal Oak Drive

Wexford, PA  15090


Edward W. Said and Criticism’s Engagement with Life and Politics

Edward Said clearly preferred Vico to Descartes in the classical period’s battle of giants.  Why was this?  Above all because Descartes denigrated the knowledge of human action and the value of languages.  Philosophers, of course, discriminate carefully between Vico’s and Descartes’ methods and theories and make major efforts to clarify Vico’s historical relation to Cartesian thinking and method.  Indeed, Vico’s admiration for and concern over Descartes’ geometrical method stands out as a turning point in modernity’s conception of the human and the proper means to knowing that strange creature.

Said’s most extended treatment of Vico is the final chapter of Beginnings, but rather than set out on my own remarks from that early and difficult piece, I prefer to recall another moment in Said’s remarkable body of critical writing, namely his pronounced denunciation of deconstruction, especially of the American academic variety. 

In “Reflections on Recent American ‘Left’ Literary Criticism,” a paper delivered in 1978 to a boundary 2 conference, Said rebuked contemporary critics, especially the younger generation, for failing to produce a single revisionist work of literary history.  His point was simple but far-reaching:  within a system of institutionalized rewards that encouraged refined theoretical rather than detailed historical work, academics reinforced the liberal consensus that they claimed to ‘subvert’ or ‘overthrow’ by their defeat of metaphysics.  American academics will insist that they took up Said’s challenge and say that in the practice of New Historicism, the adaptation of cultural studies, and the development of post-colonial studies they examined power, its relation to the state, and escaped the self-imposed if profitable confinements of refined theoretical work.

Set aside Said’s later open dissatisfactions with dominant US forms of cultural studies, post-colonialism, and the jargon of “advanced criticism,” to consider that in the late 1970s (and after) he worked tirelessly against the forms and political consequences of Cartesian criticism.  Said thought the dangers of Descartes’ disregard for languages and materially textured sets of affiliations in ways that reveal its persistence in two forms—one apparent, the other not.   The obvious form includes those theoretical or systematic lines of approach to texts and culture that believe themselves to supersede history in sophisticated apprehensions of the true, the real, or being in mechanistically reiteratable terms.  In the 1970s, in the US, the clearest example of this obvious Cartesianism was de Manian deconstruction, which Said identified as an ideological expression of the academic humanists’ commitment to powerlessness and irrelevance.  Literature, de Man told us, could not be deconstructed because it always already understood the instability and fictionality, the literariness of its own existence—in sharp distinction to those supposed areas of positive expertise in which skeptical doubt had no place.  Literature unlike philosophy or physics knew itself always as disillusioned.  “The literary work for [de Man] stands in a position of almost unconditional superiority over historical facticity not by virtue of its power but by virtue of its admitted powerlessness; its originality resides in the premise that it has disarmed itself ‘from the start,’ as if by having said in advance that it had no illusions about itself and its fictions it directly accedes to the realm of acceptable form.”[1]  Whatever power resides in this knowledge is the power of irony, which rests not upon a Kierkegaardian revelation about the need to master irony’s corrosive negativity, but upon the endless repetition of the consequences of one banal insight.  Literature’s relation to the world, Said claims for de Man, “can only be understood . . . by means either of negation or of a radically ironic theory, as severe as it is consistent, whose workings depend on the opposite propositions that, if the world is not a book, then too the book is not the world.”[2]  What results from the superimposition of negative awareness upon a commonplace?  Endless refinement, technical mastery, and cowardly self-delusion.  While Said graciously insists that de Man’s thinking and critical work are too important for this extremist caricature to encompass his value, Said nonetheless risks the outline because de Man emblematizes a successful ambition for career and revolutionary pathos. 

The more obscure form of Cartesian indifference to the elaborated and affiliated relations between the state and human life takes the form of agreed upon social talk about “culture,” “identity,” and “materiality.”  In the US in particular—and we should never forget Said’s insistence on his place within the American university system—the literary academy moved seemingly in step with a series of essays Said wrote against deconstructive and theoretical routinization, toward a more ‘historicized’ set of ‘positions’ on a continuous scale of authorized practices that formed the academy’s common sense.  Above all, at the time of Ronald Reagan’s electoral victory in 1980 and thereafter, an entire generation of critics moved “against theory” to deliver the academy over to various forms of Greenblattian ‘cultural poetics,’ which not only mistook its own enunciations for fact but reinforced the virtual liberal consensus that Said’s 1978 lecture had indicted.

In other words, as Said’s last writings on democracy and criticism make quite clear, changes within the American academy have not corresponded to his call for reform in the late 1970s or early 1980s.  The movement against theory does not involve Said whose own work remained heavily influenced by such deeply theoretical intellectuals as Adorno while refusing the conceptual limits that result from the academic focus upon ‘representation’ and ‘culturalism’ of various sorts.  Said’s late 1970s call for attention to the state or for revisionist historical literary study remains unfulfilled in a US academy so preoccupied, especially during the Clinton years, with its culturalist agenda that it could not see and did not imagine it important to engage with the development of a right-wing attack that efficiently scooped up the putative left’s shallow critique of the liberal state to promote its own anti-liberal, violent form of anti-democratic populism.  In essence, then, the US humanistic academy remained firmly planted in the policy of refinement that Said described.  Moreover, as the New Historicism makes clear, the so-called critique of the dominant liberal culture and political arrangements in the US were thoroughly symbiotic, putting in place untroubled academic rewards for those “subversive” ‘post-‘ scholars whose work ignored and continues to ignore the transformative emergence of a political reaction that endangers American democracy itself.

Without making many verbal changes to account for different circumstances, one can quote Said’s preemptive summary of academic irresponsibility and accept its congruence with recent US intellectual life:

In acting entirely within this [professionalized] domain, then, the literary critic effectively confirms the culture and the society enforcing those restrictions; this confirmation acts to strengthen the civil and political societies whose fabric is the culture itself.  What is created as a result is what can reasonably be called a liberal consensus:  the formal, restricted analysis of literary-aesthetic works validates the culture, the culture validates the humanist, the humanist the critic, and the whole enterprise the State.[3]

What I suggest is that the intellectual sin that left power unchallenged in the 1970s in the US has divided itself into at least three forms that continue the status quo.  First, historically antagonistic theoretically refined critical discourses that are themselves machines for critical reiteration remain pleasantly ensconced in the academy—grounding themselves in “epistemological, moral, and ontological” claims to finality.  Second, various forms of post-theoretical ‘engaged’ criticism continue a symbiotic relation with not only the established categories of literature and knowledge, but expansively add formerly marginal and suppressed areas to their reproductive mechanisms.  Third (and perhaps not finally), misguided judgments that what matters professionally matters to the polity that funds it infuse academics with a sense of hopelessness; they insist, consequently, either that repetition of the already known is the sole intellectual pedagogy or, the more powerful, who have a sense of parousiacal ambition, provide new grand narratives to refuel the institutions apparatuses to continue their repetitions.

The American situation in the last 20 years is a case in point.  Vichian criticism, as we see it in Said and very few others, produces work that not only studies how texts and events eventuate but also how they belong to, emerge from, and stand with or against civilizational forces large and small.  In the US case, during the two decades of Reaganism and Clintonian neo-liberalism, US literary academics swung themselves in line with the big-lie politics of the Reagan state by dismissing both literature and the careful techniques for its study as cultural capital belonging to the oligarchic illiterates who, as we now see, rule the country.  Above all, they committed themselves to a project happily embraced by the American right, namely the discrediting of humanism as part of a populist political movement intent on either neo-liberal or the even more horrifying neo-conservative intellectual agendas of recent decades.  Rather than, as it were, taking seriously the secular accomplishments of high intellectual work in the humanities and sciences, academics merged themselves into the ‘liberal’—now faux populist—politics that dismisses knowledge, study, and rigor as unnecessary forms of elitism.  For the academic ‘left’ that believed it worthwhile to charge elitism against the tendencies of advanced knowledge and technique, the populist right found a lumpen-like audience waiting to agree that intellectuals are elitist egg-heads who condescend to the problems of oppressed people.  That the academic left thought a significant difference existed in its desire to support the race, class, and gendered oppressed against privilege, matters not a whit to the reaction that absorbed that ideological reduction into the anti-modern resentment of culturally and economically displaced majorities in the US—those same folks who insist on their powerless state even as their representatives hold firmly all institutions of American power.

It is not merely that American academics erred in their political romances with the under-represented and forgot to examine the fullness of US politics and culture, but their errors intensified in their radical commitment to faux intellectualism.  Rather than continue, for example, the difficult effort of learning and writing that historicists such as Vico, Auerbach, and Said elaborate, the American academy approved (and profited by) a simulacrum of study.  The New Historicism became the leading edge in the continuing disengagement of US academic culturalists from both the largest intellectual and political forces of their time but also the situated displacement of study by formula.  Other critical movements followed in its wake within the university.

Said’s 1970s essays established a contrast between system and culture and opted for culture against the systematicity of psychoanalytic, ontological, or epistemological models of human life and cultural work.  It is not easy to explain why this important differentiation proved an error in Said’s thinking, but, after the fact, the dualism was not sufficiently rigorous.  Emblematically, US academics moved to forms of cultural studies following the death of theory and so seemingly onto the terrain that Said denominated as culture.  Of course, Said had painstakingly clarified that certain critics stood in appreciative and defensive positions on their national cultures.  The clearest example of this was, no doubt, Said’s great Columbia predecessor, Lionel Trilling, of whom Said says that Americans looked to him for “nonideological assurances that style, humanism, and values really mattered.”[4]  By contrast, the great philological critics not only stood against Cartesian disregard for knowledge of human work (and languages), but also against the certainties of national culture, ideological certainty, and the filiative obstruction of needed critical elaboration.  To put it in shorthand, Said substituted a Gramscian figure for both the de Manian systematizer and the Trillingesque defender of national cultural legitimacy.

In effect, this opened a terrain that academic humanists rapidly occupied with their developed studies of ‘cultural politics,’ ‘the politics of representation,’ ‘identity politics,’ ‘suppressed knowledges,’ and so on.  In other words, critical culture studies moved rapidly into a form of professionalized repetition the jargons for which not only licensed caste participation but also reestablished the symbiosis of a liberal consensus:  negate (as in the cultural wars attacks on “Dead White European Males”) and propagate new filiations.  Academics never accomplished the tasks of elaborating affiliative connections.  Had they, we would now have a better grasp on the fully emerged threat of tyranny within US politics and we would have better descriptions, explanations, and analyses of current forces and the history of American politics and culture that makes the current reaction so strong and threatening. 

One of the most dreadful consequences of these failures, which leave a number of the most powerful academic intellectuals either incapacitated or stunned into indifference, is a turn back to the most Cartesian of models.  Although American pragmatism and New Historicism remain dominant among US academic intellectuals, their obvious insufficiency as bases for serious critique of the elaborated reaction and its institutional control stand out for a number of the more subtle minds.  Problematically, these minds decide that politics itself is the problem and decide to return to what they imagine as more foundational issues of ontological and psychological concern as both long ignored and safely outside the reach of academic consumerism’s ideological and bureaucratic professionalism.  In other words, Said’s 1970s brilliance did not quite foresee the occasion for the return of intellectuals’ fascination with geometrical and metaphoric metaphysicalism because of the putrid decay of ‘historicist’ scholarship in the simulacrum-making workshops of New Historicism and its cognates.  Most disabling, for universities, intellectuals, and society—no doubt given power realities beyond US society—is an habitual persistence in the iteration of the already known, of the same “problematic” that provided comfort and income during Clinton’s neo-liberal project.  While the academics go on doing what they do, they forget the final injunction Edward Said provided for his audience, one night in 1978:  “What is lacking in contemporary oppositional criticism is not only the perspective found in Joseph Needham’s civilizational approach to culture and society, but some sense of involvement in the affiliative processes that go on, where we acknowledge them or not, all around us.”[5]  After Said’s remarks, incumbent on neo-liberalism’s chauvinist attack on ‘imported theory,’ American academics took this last idea to mean only one thing:  align one’s work with a “new social movement.”  Representational politics seemed to work as long as the neo-liberal project shielded from view the developing neo-conservative reassertion of state violence and anti-democratic politics.  Nevertheless, attending to the elaboration of “affiliative processes” means more now, as it always did, than the romantic attachment to a marginal or repressed group’s “interests,” as these were poorly or well understood.  The truth of such politics insufficiency is George W. Bush’s powerful coalition.  In one overarching way, Edward Said, the Vichian critic, learned the value of knowledge of human action in the same way as Henry Adams, who enjoined intellectuals to “study success” as a way of grasping the forces that matter in a society’s present and that might promise a particular future or none at all.


[1] Edward W. Said, “American ‘Left’ Literary Criticism,” The World, the Text, and the Critic (Cambridge:  Harvard University Press, 1983), p. 163.

[2] Said, p. 164.

[3] Said, p. 175.

[4] Said, p. 165.

[5] Said, p. 177.

Sunday, September 05, 2004

The New York Times > Books > Sunday Book Review > 'The End of Faith': Against Toleration

The New York Times > Books > Sunday Book Review > 'The End of Faith': Against Toleration Article: Amnesia in the Garden

Amnesia in the Garden

September 5, 2004

The Manichaean Candidate sees the world only in terms of
good and evil, black and white.

He scorns gray, nuance, complexity, context, changing
circumstances and inconvenient facts. Real men make their
own reality.

Trying to match John Kerry, who roused the base at his
convention with a line bashing the House of Bush-House of
Saud coziness, George W. Bush roused the base at his
convention with a liberal-media-elite-bashing line.

Painting himself as the noble agent for "the
transformational power of liberty" abroad, he said "there
have always been doubters" when America uses its "strength"
to "advance freedom": "In 1946, 18 months after the fall of
Berlin to Allied forces, a journalist in The New York Times
wrote this: 'Germany is a land in an acute stage of
economic, political and moral crisis. European capitals are
frightened. In every military headquarters, one meets
alarmed officials doing their utmost to deal with the
consequences of the occupation policy that they admit has
failed.' End quote. Maybe that same person's still around,
writing editorials."

She isn't. Anne O'Hare McCormick, who died in 1954, was The
Times's pioneering foreign affairs correspondent who
covered the real Axis of Evil, interviewing Hitler, Stalin,
Mussolini and Patton. She was hardly a left-wing radical or
defeatist. In 1937, she became the first woman to win a
Pulitzer Prize in journalism, and she was the first woman
to be a member of The Times's editorial board.

The president distorted the columnist's dispatch. (download
a PDF of the original column)The "moral crisis" and failure
she described were in the British and French sectors. She
reported that the Americans were doing better because of
their policy to "encourage initiative and develop
self-government." She wanted the U.S. to commit more troops
and stay the course - not cut and run.

Mr. Bush Swift-boated her.

The Manichaean Candidate's
convention was a brazen bizarro masterpiece. The case to
sack John Kerry featured the same shady tactics used to
build the case to whack Saddam - cherry-picked facts,
selective claims and warped contexts.

W. took a page from Arnold Schwarzenegger's "Total Recall,"
a futuristic movie about inserting fully formed memories
into the minds of unsuspecting victims.

The president and vice president ignored all the expert
evidence now compiled indicating no link between 9/11 and
Saddam, and no Saddam threat to U.S. security. After
talking about "the fanatics who killed some 3,000 of our
fellow Americans," Dick Cheney boasted: "In Iraq, we dealt
with a gathering threat, and removed the regime of Saddam

Though the convention mythologized Mr. Bush's bullhorn
moment at ground zero, there was no mention of Osama, the
fiend W. vowed to catch that day. The speakers did not
acknowledge the brutal spiral in Afghanistan and Iraq, or
the re-emergence of the Taliban, now finding sanctuary with
our ally, Pakistan.

Mr. Cheney, king of hooey, bragged about a "Taliban driven
from power," even though just as the convention got under
way, at least seven people, including two Americans, were
killed by Taliban fighters in Kabul.

W. stormed ahead with the discredited domino theory of
democracy promoted by the neocons and Ahmad Chalabi -
ignoring the widening F.B.I. probe into alleged leaks from
neocon central at the Pentagon to Mr. Chalabi, an accused
Iranian spy, and to an Israeli lobby. "Because we acted to
defend our country, the murderous regimes of Saddam Hussein
and the Taliban are history," the president said, adding
that "democracy is coming to the broader Middle East."

The $445 billion deficit? Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney erased
it. In their inside-out universe, the economy is
blossoming, there's money to pay for Mr. Bush's to-do list
and No Child Left Behind is more than an empty slogan.

W. suddenly proclaimed himself a compassionate conservative
again, even though extra-chromosome conservatives, as Lee
Atwater called them, were in closed meetings calling for a
culture war to curb the rights of women and gays.

Mr. Bush even tried to implant in our heads that he is the
son of Reagan. He didn't give his dad a speaking slot,
though the last two Democratic presidents spoke in Boston,
and he spent more time in his speech lionizing Gip than

Inside Madison Square Garden, W. kept insisting he'd made
the world safer. Outside, the exploding world didn't seem
safe at all.
Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

Thursday, September 02, 2004 Article: Group Aims to Perform 1M Baptisms in U.S.

The article below from
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The Baptists are expanding to the Northeast, from their now stagnant base of around 19 million members.

Group Aims to Perform 1M Baptisms in U.S.

September 2, 2004

NEWTON, Mass. (AP) -- Bobby Welch wore a new Red Sox cap and
carried the New Testament in his hip pocket as he set out
to evangelize in this staunchly liberal New England city.


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