Volume 10, No. 5                                                                                                           January 1999


Editorial on Surplus Theory

Duke Masters: Poem by Elizabeth Cox

Kelley on the Job Market

Ferret's Deconstructions (The Annual Bad Writing Contest)

Parrot's Recitations (A Senator's Legacy)

Possum's Random Readings (Strange Interludes)

Editorial Policy

Web Sites:

   1.Provost Strohbehn on Duke at the Millennium
    See complete document on the web at

   2. Note: Academic Council Minutes of December 3, 1998--and minutes of all meetings
      since 1991--are located at



                           "English Department at Duke Dissolves in Anger"

                                            --Headline in New York Times (11/21/98, page 1)

    If I had felt the inclination at the MLA convention in San Francisco last month, I might have sauntered over to hear Panel Number 747 ("Postmodern Site, Prose Medium: Gender, Sex, and Money on the Net"), in which Presentation No. 3 promised to disclose "How My Dick Spent Its Summer Vacation: Internet Sex Diaries by Tourists Returning from Thailand." For those underprivileged colleagues who were unable to make it to San Francisco, similar moments of professional enlightenment are widely available via the elite university presses. There is, for example, this recent offering of the Cornell University Press that was cited by Frederick Crews in The New York Review of Books (10/8/98, 56):

"In [Thomas] Dumm's. . . cutely titled united states (1994). . . a typical moral question is whether or not he should 'buy a nationally known brand of junk food from a multicultural corporation that is inevitably implicated in the politics of oppression' (p. 142); a philosophical question is whether 'Deleuze's zone is not the anus but the vagina' (p. 133); and a historical question is whether George Bush unconsciously harbored a 'wish to be fucked by Ronald Reagan' (p. 50)."

    Although I am temperamentally reluctant to use the foregoing expletives in these pages, citations of this can sort serve a genuinely educational function for our present purpose. Now that the Duke English Department has hit the front page (I say the front page!) of the New York Times, people far removed from academe, including long lost college and high school chums, have been asking me what the hell's wrong. As an old department hand (since 1966), I feel both well-positioned and responsible to venture an answer, part of which will involve the above-mentioned specimens of our present academic culture. (Additional specimens grace the last page of this publication in Ferret's Transgressive Deconstructions column--The Annual Bad Writing Contest.)

    Of course there are tales that, though greatly relevant, cannot be told. In addition to the cloak of professional confidentiality that shields my department's past, I consider it a ruling principle of my FF editorship to avoid, as far as possible, naming names or otherwise embarrassing specific individuals. Within those constraints, however, a reasonably candid analysis may yet be undertaken. Toward that end, I shall classify our English department problems under three related headings: Governance, Lomperization, and the Cultures Market.

                                                                I. Governance

    Academically, as well as politically, I am a democrat. Under the old regime, before Stanley Fish took over, rank meant everything. The full professors monopolized power to such an extent that the teaching schedules featured a 3-2 arrangement for them and 3-3 for their underlings, even though their untenured colleagues obviously needed the released time more than anybody. And back then only the full professors participated in hiring new faculty. When I eventually ascended into the top rank, however, the batch of publications that put me there never precipitated [in me] a sudden surge of wisdom about department affairs that might justify this monopolization of power-­and I have never witnessed such an intellectual apotheosis in any colleague. So I was deeply gratified, circa 1986, when Stanley Fish's first act as chairman was to democratize the English department, limiting the privileges of rank to the minimum level stipulated in the Duke Faculty Handbook.

    It turned out, however, that the form of democracy did not always catch its spirit. My first lesson in this respect occurred when our personnel committee, charged with culling a number of applicants for a top position, presented the department a single candidate for us to choose between. From my perspective it appeared that an Important Person (other than Fish) fervently wanted this candidate, and so the business was arranged to minimize competition from other candidates. Although that crude power play was not repeated, the Important Person mode of governance has continued to exercise what I consider grossly undue influence. In the recent past, a 15-2 vote in favor of a new hire came to nothing, apparently because one or more Important Persons cast a veto with the Administration. Conversely, a lopsided vote against retaining a colleague was overridden by the Administration, again apparently at the behest of a few Important Persons. Although I did not mind the latter outcome-­I had abstained from that vote--I believe we lost a great opportunity in the former instance.

                                                             II. Lomperization

    As a practical man, I understand why the Administration accords special favors to Important Persons. Indeed, I myself must confess to having sometimes cast a vote against my better judgment for their benefit. A problem arises, however, when Big Names come into conflict with each other, as, in time, they are certain to do. (Up at Yale, for that reason, they had to give English professor Harold Bloom his own one-man department after he turned into a Name.) In that case all that is needed to precipitate something serious is an act of Lomperization: that is, the dismissal of a younger colleague whom a near-majority of the department judges very well qualified to stay here. (The noun derives from the Tim Lomperis case of the early 1990s, the most controversial tenure denial in Duke history.) Only a very strong candidate can be Lomperized, not a weak or mediocre one. Because to a near-majority of colleagues the candidate appears to meet every standard that can reasonably apply, a residue of mistrust and resentment unavoidably lingers over the aftermath, even assuming that the judgment is rendered with all the honesty and wisdom that each voter can apply.

    It now appears that the Stanley Fish era, if extended a few years before and after his chairmanship, began and ended in an act of Lomperization. About two decades ago, when the Affirmative Action laws were instituted, my department's denial of a strong candidate for tenure put the Administration in a difficult position. Had the candidate been a white male, like Tim Lomperis, he would have had no recourse, but a woman or person of color could now ask a federal judge to examine whether equitable standards had been in play. As with Lomperis, that might have proved an awkward question for my department to cope with, especially in light of its nearly all-male composition. A second such episode soon thereafter brought a new broom into play, namely Stanley Fish, who promptly made our department a campus leader in female appointments.

    The Fish era did not preclude renewed Lomperization, however. A defining moment in our present time of troubles, as I see it, occurred several years ago, after Fish had stepped down as chairman, when my department again dismissed a young person whom a near-majority credited with admirably high achievement and bright promise. Very regrettably, one of our most eminent Important Persons resigned from the department soon after this incident, at least in part because of it. Though it overstates the case to say "Duke English Department Dissolves in Anger," this instance of Lomperization contributed a large thrust, in my opinion, toward our present circumstance.

    The divisive effect of that episode, compounded by tales that cannot be told, came home to roost when an outside review committee came to interview department members last spring. When the committee in turn relayed the harsh noises it heard to the Administration, the Dean of Faculty took the action that found its way to Page One of theNew York Times. So it's deja-vu all over again: once more a Lomperized department brings on a new broom, first in the appointment of an associate dean (a botanist) to oversee our affairs, and second in the insistence that our next chair must come from outside the university. The lesson, I suppose, is that a narrow majority needs to think hard as to whether a Lomperized department is worth its aftermath. By all means, let the majority rule, but with an eye for unintended effects thereafter.

    My chief regret in our present interim arises from our sudden, dangerously unjustified loss of democratic structure. Until this summer, the department elected three of the five members of the Chair's Advisory Committee, which oversees all our affairs. Now we elect no committee members, which (given the right appointees) increases the efficiency and harmony of our governance but decreases its legitimacy. For the Administration, this maneuver was understandable. With some forty departments to look after, the Dean's office could not be expected to lavish its entire stock of attention on just one of the forty, and my department did seem to present a Gordian Knot in need of cutting. But I remain a democrat, convinced that wise governance requires the largest available base, not the narrowed one that obtains at present--to the added advantage of Important Persons-style governance. To understand how we arrived in this place, however, as well as how to get beyond it, some thought must be given not only to the foregoing miscues of governance but to the larger cultural matrix that has shaped contemporary academic thinking.

                                                     III. The Cultures Market

    During my academic lifetime, which began in the 1950s, three fashions of literary study have appeared in dynastic succession: first, the old Historicism, which developed the background context of study; then, the "New Criticism," which focused on the internal dynamics of literature (metaphor, plot, characterization, theme, style, tone, allusion, etc.); and last, our currently reigning monarch of thought, Theory, which assesses the ideological value of cultural artifacts, including literature. Of course the great critics/scholars of the ages have drawn upon all these approaches along with every other realm of human knowledge that might unlock the full measure of literary value. Robert Penn Warren's 100-page essay on Coleridge's The Ancient Mariner is a classic example of this critical eclecticism, despite Warren's mis-identification as a mere New Critic; and Edmund Wilson is equally large-minded in Axel's Castle despite his mis-classification as a Marxist ideologue. The true subject of literature, as these men well knew, is the full complexity of human experience, which no ideology can capture.

    Unfortunately, the present state of academe works against this wide scale of vision. Although it is obvious that our intellectual responsibility encompasses both tradition (who else will preserve it?) and innovation, in our current practice only innovation matters. When the Fish-Jameson axis lifted our literary program into renown in the mid-1980s, earning front-page luster in the New York Times Magazine, every one of their new cohorts was a Theorist, with no traditional scholar among them. A dozen years later, with our senior faculty heavily invested in Theory and younger colleagues intensively trained in it, a kind of orthodoxy has come to prevail: in my department's current hiring search, I have observed that every candidate must pass muster as a Theorist or be out of the running.

    The epiphenomenal motive for this stance is noble. Under the high-minded banners of Theory--Feminism, Marxism ("the dominant discourse," they used to call it), Race & Ethnic Studies, Queer Theory, anti-Colonial/Imperialism-­the study of literature might serve the ends of social justice and liberation, casting off its historic role as a mere aesthetic enterprise. For many people with similar social aims, however, those aesthetic values should merit more friendly consideration. Because the gay-friendly feminist Camille Paglia speaks for thousands of like-minded folk in the following excerpt, I cite it at length from SALON magazine (10/21/98). The occasion is a letter to Paglia by a 41-year-old "former academic" from "the South" (from Duke, maybe?) who says he'd "rather be boiled in oil. . . than ever pimp for a job by using the word 'patriarchy,' 'post-colonial,' or 'white male gaze' in any writing where my name was involved. . . . " This is Paglia's (abridged) reply:

    Thank you very much for your cri de coeur from the politically correct wilderness. The destruction that has been wrought over the past 25 years by "theory"-- feminist, poststructuralist, postmodernist and postcolonial -- is incalculable. Graduate students of great promise have been systematically driven out of the profession by the pedestrian theory addicts, who have created an academic climate utterly antithetical to appreciation of literature and art.

    The problems are pandemic. Liberal arts graduates even of the "best" schools these days have neither a wide nor deep knowledge of the humanities. An appalling amount of the students' time is taken up with reading fifth-rate, grotesquely overpraised contemporary critics. But the college years are already too short for study of the full range of major world art.

    The professoriat -- betrayed by that gaggle of geese at the Modern Languages Association -- is responsible for the shrinking prestige of the humanities in the U.S. Why should we be surprised that conservatives constantly threaten to slash or abolish the National Endowment for the Arts, since those in the universities who should be guardians and defenders of the arts have advanced their careers (and enriched themselves) by vandalizing art in the name of "politics"? The irony is that, with rare exceptions, current lit crit types are naively ignorant of actual political history, to which they were first introduced by the unlearned, rigidly schematic Michel Foucault (whose ideas were borrowed from Durkheim, via Dumézil; from the solipsistic Saussure; and from innovative Americans like the sociologist Erving Goffman, a major figure for anyone awake in the 1960s).

    A very ill wind is blowing -- one that will have grave and long-lasting consequences for American education. Parents who scrimp to pay up to $30,000 a year for their children's education must inform themselves about the quality of humanities instruction at their chosen institution. "Theory" is a decaying corpse, but its stink will linger on for another 20 years unless the glaring spotlight of public attention is turned on the incestuous mediocrity of the faculty recruitment process (scandalous in the Ivy League).

    Leaving aside its misunderstanding of literature, which has always promoted social justice (think of Isaiah, Euripides, Dickens), my own problem with Theory has been that either it proves untrue, by falsifying actual experience, or it tells me something I already knew: in essence, that sexism, racism, and homophobia are bad. To the point of tedium, the founding texts of Theory have been largely discredited for these reasons. The biggest losers, by reason of their vast influence, have obviously been Marx and Freud (along with their latter-day disciples), but there are also Thomas Kuhn, whose seminal The Structure of Scientific Revolutions has been expertly disassembled by Nobel physicist Steven Weinberg (see "The Non-Revolution of T. S. Kuhn" in the New York Review of Books, 10/8/98); Jacques Derrida, whose obfuscations and sophistries got skewered in John Ellis's Against Deconstruction; and Edward Said, whose vastly influential Orientalism has been forcefully rebutted by Keith Windschuttle in The New Criterion (1/99). Countless other examples could be cited, of course, but suffice it to say that the triumphalism that accompanied Theory at the beginning of the Fish era has given way to a new sense of embattlement at the era's end.

    In view of this flux, what, then, is the value of Theory? For all its failures elsewhere, perhaps in this instance a little Marxist theory (with no literary pretensions) may help with the answer. Following Marx's example, we shall ignore the epiphenomenal motive for Theory-­noble social ideals--in favor of its "deep structure." Which is to say: aside from the ideological value assigned to it by true believers--subjective and therefore not contestable: "false consciousness" in Marxist jargon--Theory has acquired its high place in academic life as a result of capitalist market forces.

    The market in this case deals in intellectual capital, but in academe that is the same as financial capital, commanding access to jobs, perks, and power according to the law of supply and demand. As with any capitalist marketplace, it is the creation of demand that keeps the system functioning, and for a research university­-especially if it aspires to elite status­-the task of the faculty is to create demand by generating (salable) New Knowledge. In the humanities, however, it is especially difficult to develop New Knowledge about classic works of literature that have been thoroughly plowed over by previous generations of scholars and critics. That is why, for a quarter-century now, Theory has been a welcome guest in elite English departments, producing what passes for New Knowledge wherewith to refresh an exhausted tradition of literary study. (Never mind that the New Knowledge may have little literary relevance.)

    In retrospect, Theory appears to have followed a familiar pattern of new-product dissemination. The first step, about a quarter-century ago, was to "deconstruct" traditional literary value so its space could be occupied by the successive waves of Theory previously referred to: feminism, Marxism, postcolonialism, multiculturalism, Queer Studies, and so forth. With each such infusion of New Thought, hundreds of institutions would be obliged to cover these fields of study by hiring the trainees in Theory produced by the elite graduate schools, which in turn would strengthen the whole Theory movement. By 1986, the president of the MLA was celebrating the near-monopoly attained through the "immense proliferation of activities associated with [theory]. . . courses, essays, books, . . . new journals, old journals transfigured, handbooks, guides, critical-theory groups, . . . conferences, symposia, new positions designated for theory, new publishing programs, and so on" (PMLA, May 1987). The Fish era put Duke at the forefront of these exciting prospects.

    During the subsequent decade, however, a typically capitalist overproduction of the commodity in question has brought about the problem of Surplus Theory. Duly furnished with Theorized young faculty at last, those hundreds of English departments no longer need our graduate students. Proclaimed by a comfortably tenured professoriat, Theory itself seems facile in view of the proletarian despair denoted in our front-page essay on the job market. Meanwhile, efforts to cut back graduate enrollments have been overmatched by relentless downsizing of faculties hit by budget tightening. At Duke the shrunken graduate program, in turn, has been an important factor in the end of the Fish era. Several eminent colleagues have gone to larger schools (NYU, U of Illinois) or stronger ones (Yale, Harvard), and another has mostly abandoned both Theory and graduate teaching here at Duke.

    Across the field, other symptoms of trouble appear. Anxiously striving to postpone the moment when its New Knowledge is no longer new, Theorists devote our leading professional journals to increasingly far-fetched arguments: e.g., that Mark Twain was gay (evidence: some of his friends were gay), that All the King's Men is a racist novel (evidence: the book's lack of black characters); and that Faulkner was a dedicated Cold Warrior (evidence: letters exchanged between Allen Tate and New York intellectuals). Given the space, I could assemble compelling evidence to the contrary in each case­-as I have already done regarding Faulkner, come to think of it (FF, 3/97). Other new ways of Being New include the tactics exemplified in my opening paragraph, where an elite press puts out juvenile talk about President Reagan sodomizing his successor (subtext: "Look at me! I'm being transgressive! I'm a bad boy!"). Elsewhere it is a new technology that offers a way of Being New: the aforementioned MLA talk on "How My Dick Spent Its Summer Vacation" required perusal of tourists' diaries on the Internet. Meanwhile, the turgid style exemplified in the Bad Writing Contest (see Ferret, last page) -- the old-fashioned way to be New -- is unlikely to win enthusiastic young converts.

    To reckon up the fault with Theory, including Camille Paglia's scorching excerpt, is not to deny its achievement, most notably the self-esteem, -understanding, and -empowerment of social victims. It  was a noble enterprise in its way, but not primarily a literary one. And if the production and marketing of Theory has hit its downside, it might be wise to anticipate the post-Theory period by rethinking the balance between innovation and tradition in the curriculum. After Marx, Heidegger, and assorted French gurus have run out their string, there remains the classic appeal of literature as a value in its own right. In my own practice as a competent but not vastly talented teacher, I get hundreds of students every semester who hunger for the one thing I can promise them: that if they take the class seriously, they will leave it with a substantial understanding of Moby-Dick, Absalom, Absalom!, or The Waste Land. Given the potency that lies forever on tap between those pairs of covers, there we have a Cultures Market that will never fail.

    Speaking of which, I could sure use some help with those hundreds of students every semester. With job prospects dim, our graduate students--if deTheorized a little--might relish the idea of serving that market, and our undergraduates might appreciate less frustration vis-a-vis closed courses. In time, we could merit a headline not likely to appear in the New York Times: "Duke English Department Gets Its Act Together."

DUKE MASTERS:  Elizabeth Cox

EdNote: Elizabeth Cox, whose novel Night Talk won the Lillian Smith Award last year, has been a member of the English department since 1985. I had expected to publish her short story "Old Court" in this issue, but unusually lengthy Academic Council minutes used up the space. We hope to publish the story in a future issue. Meanwhile, the following poem illustrates her exquisite gifts of language and empathetic imagination.

                                     The Minister's Daughter

                                        They tell me

                                         the minister's daughter

                                         is beautiful. Men call to her

                                        from the road. She answers

                                        back, pinned to her chair,

                                        fluffing her hair in the light,

                                        her dress undone at the waist.

                                        She will not walk in her sleep,

                                        or in her own lifetime.

                                        She stares down the long valley,

                                        and admits to herself, she wants

    `                                    to do the most outrageous thing,

                                        in the number of years she has left,

                                        to lift one heavy foot and put it

    `                                   like a fist into the ground.

                                        She wants to stop the old couples

                                        from coming into the house,

                                        stop them from bringing loaves,

                                        handling them like small

                                        birds about to be crushed.

                                        When she goes in to dinner,

                                        her body is carried, her legs

                                        hang over her father's arm,

                                        not like a lover,

    `                                   not with a promise of something to come,

                                        but proper, 1ike an ant,

                                        carrying another ant's head.



EdNote: The following article, cited from the Higher Education Supplement of the Times of London (12/18/98), was written by Mark Kelley, the president of the Graduate Student Caucus of the MLA and a PhD candidate at the City University of New York. (The Modern Languages Association is the leading professional organization of about 30,000 professors of language and literature.)

    By the end of the year, in addition to completing my PhD coursework and taking written and oral exams, I will have taught seven introductory English courses at three campuses. My income from teaching, before taxes, will be about $16,500, a wage somewhere between a half and an eighth of a full-time faculty salary.

    The MLA recently reported that placement to tenure track positions declined between 1994 and 1997 from 45.6 per cent to 33.7 per cent, while placement to non-tenure-track part-time posts increased by 18 per cent to 38.7 per cent. At the same time, the number of PhDs awarded to job-seekers rose by 31 per cent. Facing a progressively grim job "system" and the probability of continued economic privation and physical exhaustion, I began to wonder what is going on behind the walls of our "profession".

    In the humanities, the job "system" is in large measure controlled, not by a free-market dynamic independent of outside forces, but by interlocking social and political forces. These forces have produced a two-tiered employment structure run on an artificially increased number of exploitable PhDs and graduate students and an artificially restricted number of full-time jobs for PhD holders. Graduate students and adjunct faculty teaching lower-level courses at grossly exploitative wages are part of that job system, as are the shrinking percentage of tenure-track faculty. The MLA argument that there is an "oversupply" of PhDs is spurious; if all college and university teaching were performed by degreed full-time faculty, we would be facing an undersupply of PhDs.

    To suggest that an ethical challenge confronts the profession is to understate the matter. Those tenured professors who enjoy the privilege of specialized teaching at the graduate level and who pretend that abuse does not exist sustain a parasitic relationship to the underpaid, marginalized part-time faculty members and graduate students. It is deeply discouraging to read all the latest criticism in the field while realizing that the authors and teachers of this criticism, these arbiters of intellectual freedom and equal opportunity, participate in exploitation.

    One of the seven courses I taught this year was on "business communication", which no full-time English faculty member wished to teach. I recall the deflating sense, as I prepared for the two-hour discussion on how to write a non-offensive memo that might also sell something, that I was never further away from my reason for being in English. In its present weak, balkanized configuration, the humanities are primed for corporate takeover. We can expect an even more rapid decline from an arena of critical engagement to one of rote learning in preparation for the capital world.

    Moreover, the president of the MLA has repeatedly advised that graduate students prepare for "alternative careers" such as screen-writing as a way of resolving the issue of the proclaimed oversupply of PhDs. Even at its best, such a conversion of the academy will take many years to achieve. The MLA's focus on "alternative careers" at the expense of transforming academe's exploitative employment structure leaves this generation of graduate students nowhere. We need active leadership now because we cannot wait until the new millennium.

    Yet there is a bright side to this. If we begin to understand ourselves as participants in a job "system", we can change that system. We can modify the nearly 50 per cent part-time employment in the humanities by working together to create a more ethical, humane employment system, under which graduate students and part-time academic workers obtain a share in the future of the profession. To this end, we should push to make a university's ratio of full-time to part-time staff a fundamental part of the professional and public discourse about the quality of a university, just as important as students' median SAT scores and faculty publications. An annual publication presenting departments' levels of compensation for part-time teaching, along with a list of departments that fail to respond (tantamount to admission of poor performance), would be a key step in bringing this crucial issue into the public discussion of what constitutes academic quality and integrity.

FERRET: Transgressive Deconstructions

EdNote: Several Duke colleagues sent the following item to FF from the Internet. The prefatory comments are by the Bad Writing Contest judges.

    We are pleased to announce winners of the fourth Bad Writing Contest, sponsored by the scholarly journalPhilosophy and Literature.

    The Bad Writing Contest celebrates the most stylistically lamentable passages found in scholarly books and articles published in the last few years. Ordinary journalism, fiction, departmental memos, etc. are not eligible, nor are parodies: entries must be nonironic, from serious, published academic journals or books. Deliberate parody cannot be allowed in a field where unintended self-parody is so widespread.

    Two of the most popular and influential literary scholars in the U.S. are among those who wrote winning entries in the latest contest. Judith Butler, a Guggenheim Fellowship-winning professor of rhetoric and comparative literature at the University of California at Berkeley, admired as perhaps "one of the ten smartest people on the planet," wrote the sentence that captured the contest's first prize. Homi K. Bhabha, a leading voice in the fashionable academic field of postcolonial studies, produced the second-prize winner.

    "As usual," commented Denis Dutton, editor of Philosophy and Literature, "this year's winners were produced by well-known, highly-paid experts who have no doubt labored for years to write like this. That these scholars must know what they are doing is indicated by the fact that the winning entries were all published by distinguished presses and academic journals."

    Professor Butler's first-prize sentence appears in "Further Reflections on the Conversations of Our Time," an article in the scholarly journal Diacritics (1997):

The move from a structuralist account in which capital is understood to structure social relations in relatively homologous ways to a view of hegemony in which power relations are subject to repetition, convergence, and rearticulation brought the question of temporality into the thinking of structure, and marked a shift from a form of Althusserian theory that takes structural totalities as theoretical objects to one in which the insights into the contingent possibility of structure inaugurate a renewed conception of hegemony as bound up with the contingent sites and strategies of the rearticulation of power.

Dutton remarked that "it's possibly the anxiety-inducing obscurity of such writing that has led Professor Warren Hedges of Southern Oregon University to praise Judith Butler as 'probably one of the ten smartest people on the planet'."

    This year's second prize went to a sentence authored by Homi K. Bhabha, a professor of English at the University of Chicago. He writes in The Location of Culture (Routledge, 1994):

If, for a while, the ruse of desire is calculable for the uses of discipline soon the repetition of guilt, justification, pseudoscientific theories, superstition, spurious authorities, and classifications can be seen as the desperate effort to "normalize" formally the disturbance of a discourse of splitting that violates the rational, enlightened claims of its enunciatory modality.

This prize-winning entry was nominated by John D. Peters of the University of Iowa, who describes it as "quite splendid: enunciatory modality, indeed!" Ed Lilley, an art historian at the University of Bristol in the U.K., supplied a sentence by Steven Z. Levine from an anthology entitled Twelve Views of Manet's "Bar" (Princeton University Press, 1996):

As my story is an august tale of fathers and sons, real and imagined, the biography here will fitfully attend to the putative traces in Manet's work of "les noms du père," a Lacanian romance of the errant paternal phallus ("Les Nondupes errent"), a revised Freudian novella of the inferential dynamic of paternity which annihilates (and hence enculturates) through the deferred introduction of the third term of insemination the phenomenologically irreducible dyad of the mother and child.

    Stewart Unwin of the National Library of Australia passed along this gem from the Australasian Journal of American Studies (December 1997). The author is Timothy W. Luke, and the article is entitled, "Museum Pieces: Politics and Knowledge at the American Museum of Natural History":

Natural history museums, like the American Museum, constitute one decisive means for power to deprivatize and republicize, if only ever so slightly, the realms of death by putting dead remains into public service as social tokens of collective life, rereading dead fossils as chronicles of life's everlasting quest for survival, and canonizing now dead individuals as nomological emblems of still living collectives in Nature and History. An anatomopolitics of human and nonhuman bodies is sustained by accumulating and classifying such necroliths in the museum's observational/expositional performances.

The passage goes on to explain that museum fossils and artifacts are "strange superconductive conduits, carrying the vital elan of contemporary biopower." It's demonstrated with helpful quotations from Michel Foucault's History of Sexuality.

    Finally, a tour de force from a 1996 book published by the State University of New York Press. It was located by M.J. Devaney, an editor at the University of Nebraska Press. The author is D.G. Leahy, writing in Foundation: Matter the Body Itself.

Total presence breaks on the univocal predication of the exterior absolute the absolute existent (of that of which it is not possible to univocally predicate an outside, while the equivocal predication of the outside of the absolute exterior is possible of that of which the reality so predicated is not the reality, viz., of the dark/of the self, the identity of which is not outside the absolute identity of the outside, which is to say that the equivocal predication of identity is possible of the selfidentity which is not identity, while identity is univocally predicated of the limit to the darkness, of the limit of the reality of the self). This is the real exteriority of the absolute outside: the reality of the absolutely unconditioned absolute outside univocally predicated of the dark: the light univocally predicated of the darkness: the shining of the light univocally predicated of the limit of the darkness: actuality univocally predicated of the other of selfidentity: existence univocally predicated of the absolutely unconditioned other of the self. The precision of the shining of the light breaking the dark is theotheridentity of the light. The precision of the absolutely minimum
transcendence of the dark is the light itself/the absolutely unconditioned exteriority of existence for the first time/the absolutely facial identity of existence/the proportion of the new creation sans depth/the light itself ex nihilo: the dark itself univocally identified, i.e., not selfidentity identity itself equivocally, not the dark itself equivocally, in "selfalienation," not "selfidentity, itself in selfalienation" "released" in and by "otherness," and "actual other," "itself," not the abysmal inversion of the light, the reality of the darkness equivocally, absolute identity equivocally predicated of the self/selfhood equivocally predicated of the dark (the reality of this darkness theotherselfcovering of identity which is the identification personself).

Dr. Devaney calls this book "absolutely, unequivocally incomprehensible." While she has supplied further extended quotations to prove her point, this seems to be enough.


The next round of the Bad Writing Contest, results to be announced at the end of 1999, is now open. There is an endless ocean of pretentious, turgid academic prose being added to daily, and we'll continue to honor it. Write to: Prof. Denis Dutton, Editor, Philosophy and Literature, University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand. Phone: 0116433487928

PARROT:  Recitations--Adventures in Noble Thinking


"More constitutional amendments have been offered in the past 32 years (5,449) than in the first 173 years of our history, virtually all of them ill-conceived, trivial and politically driven. To the Senate's credit, not one of them has been approved. . . . It may seem odd, but I believe this is the Senate's finest achievement. . . .  I voted against every constitutional amendment that came to a vote in my 24-year tenure. I'll be content for that to be my legacy."

            ­-Dale Bumpers, retiring Senator from Arkansas (New York Times, 1/3/99, Op-Ed page)

        POSSUM (Passim) Random Readings &Culture Studies

                        STRANGE INTERLUDES:

                                    I: PRESIDENTIAL RAGE (FDR):

"[Joe] Kennedy [JFK's father] was to be a weekend guest of the president and his wife at their estate at Hyde Park. It is not known precisely what took place, but Roosevelt ordered Kennedy to leave. Eleanor Roosevelt later told the writer Gore Vidal that she had never seen her husband so angry. Kennedy had been alone with the president no longer than ten minutes, Mrs. Roosevelt related, when an aide informed her that she was to go immediately to her husband's office."

"So I rushed into the office and there was Franklin, white as a sheet. He asked Mr. Kennedy to step outside and then he said, and his voice was shaking, 'I never want to see that man again as long as I live. Get him out of here.' I said, 'But, dear, you've invited him for the weekend, and we've got guests for lunch and the train doesn't leave until two,' and Franklin said, 'Then you drive him around Hyde Park and put him on that train.' And I did and it was the most dreadful four hours of my life."

"Just what happened between the two men is not known, but. . . Kennedy's resignation as ambassador became official early in 1941.He would never serve in public office again."

                                              II: PRESIDENTIAL PLAY (JFK):

"The [Bing] Crosby party was the high point -- or low point -- of presidential partying. . . . As always, [JFK aide Dave Powers] became increasingly frantic in his efforts to amuse the president. He began running in and out of the Crosby house with armfuls of Crosby's suits and diving with the clothes into the pool. 'The president thought that was pretty funny -- laughed and about fell out of the chair,' [Secret Service aide] Newman told me. 'The only difficulty was Bing Crosby didn't think it was funny.' The White House later had to pay for the ruined clothes."

                            [EdNote: For "White House," read "we taxpayers."]

(cited from The Dark Side of Camelot, by Seymour M. Hersh, pages 81 and 245)

                                                III. THE TALKING DEAD:

"Working as a neurosurgeon, Rakic had become vividly aware of what a delicate map the cortex is. . . Working with Yakovlev, he realized that instead of spending his career tiptoeing around the map, he wanted to help figure out how it was made. Years later, when Yakovlev died, leaving instructions for his own brain to be sectioned and added to his collection, Rakic went to pay homage. 'I looked in [the] auditory cortex, and I [saw] pyramidal cells,' he remembers. 'And I said, "I talked to those cells."'"

                                                                            --Robert Kunzig, Discover 8/98 (64)



The Faculty Forum is published monthly by the Academic Council of Duke University.

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