The Faculty Forum
"Reading maketh a full man; writing, an exact man." --Francis Bacon
Vol. 8, No. 3 DECEMBER 1996
1. Keohane, Presidents' Annual Address to Faculty
2. Evans, Reply to Critics
3. Editorial (Strandberg), Zeitgeist Blues: Social Text and the Duke Connection
4. Levin, on 2020 Vision
5. A Menagerie à Trois: Ferret . . . Possum . . . Parrot
6. Ferret's Crackpots on Parade: Ernest Hemingway
7. Possum (Passim)
8. Parrot (Nabokov) & Classic Erotica (Suetonius on Julius Caesar)
9. Editorial Board & Policy
9. Note: Academic Council Minutes for Meeting of November 21, 1997 have been transferred to the following Web File, which contains the minutes for every Council meeting since 1992: http://www.duke.edu/web/acouncil/
Presented at Meeting of October 24, 1996
--by Dr. Nannerl O. Keohane
The President, Duke University
I am pleased once again to present this annual report to the faculty of the University.
I. The Continuum of Scholarship
As many of you are aware, our decennial reaccreditation is scheduled for 1997-98. Professor Philip Stewart, who will be reporting to you later today in Academic Council, chairs the steering committee, staffed by Vice Provost Judith Ruderman. The committee is preparing a background self-study on Balancing the Roles of the Research University. The emphasis is on the unique opportunities provided by a research university for participation in scholarly discovery through both research and teaching for members of the faculty, graduate and professional students, and undergraduates as well.
In principle, the broad range of academic experiences in a research university should infuse and strengthen one another. Sophomores who have just chosen a major ought to have an invigorating sense of the excitements and rewards of their new discipline, of the questions that are most basic to its enquiries and the distinctive methodologies it uses to find answers. Such a sense can be conveyed not only by professors in the classroom, but also by advanced undergraduates and graduate students, in settings where such mentors function not just as traditional TAs, but as colleagues and guides in the adventure upon which the new majors have embarked.
Professional students who have chosen a vocation ought to have a chance to talk with other professional students who have made different choices, to discuss common challenges and prepare the ground for collaboration in tackling vexing social problems down the line. Members of the house staff in the Medical Center who are encountering daunting legal and ethical questions in the profession they have chosen, or are boldly envisioning a speciality practice that will bring them patients from around the globe, ought to have a chance to talk with those who wrestle every day with thorny topics in law and ethics, or who have deep experience in the international arena. Emeriti professors should have the opportunity to share the fruits of their wisdom with first year students bewildered by the novel aspects of an academic setting. The list of what ought to be goes on and on.
Unfortunately, the demands and pressures of the contemporary university make it very difficult for scholars at different stages of their careers to communicate in these ways. We are subject to regimens which provide little time and few incentives for venturing outside the boxes in which all of us find ourselves on campus. Through our reaccreditation self-study, I hope that all of us will be motivated to think about how we might give more meaning, for ourselves and our students, to the rich continuum of scholarship that exists at Duke.
II. Research and Teaching
In my convocation address to the members of the undergraduate class of 2000, I used the theme of time to organize my points about the pressures and opportunities first-year students will face at Duke. Certainly, in addressing my colleagues on the faculty, I am even more mindful of the exceptional pressures (as well as opportunities) you face in deploying your time each day, each week throughout the year. You face multiple trade-offs in university, disciplinary or department service, community and volunteer activities, patient care or clinical or consulting work, time with one's family and friends. But I want to note especially the trade-offs between teaching and research, or among different kinds of teaching, or different forms of commitment to research. The time spent rewriting a lecture, or mentoring junior majors in their fledgling research interests, is time not spent on the laboratory bench or preparing that paper for the next scholarly conference. Yet far from being fundamentally in conflict, the two enterprises are closely akin, and spring from the same root motives and ideals.
At certain points, for many professors, a research project entails an intensity and immediacy that make it dominant over everything else in life. At other times, with a new course or a particularly exciting group of students in a seminar on a topic one feels passionate about, teaching provides the same kind of total immersion and reward. But the sense of scholarly excitement is the same in both instances, and the fruits of one kind of passionate involvement fulfill and deepen the other. And in a research university there are especially good opportunities for the two activities to blend in a rich continuum of scholarship.
Thus, although there are real trade-offs in the use of time for any scholar, there are multiple ways in which teaching and research enrich one another throughout a scholarly career. Our goal should be to create an atmosphere in which all faculty members are encouraged to take seriously both their teaching and their research. This requires more than rhetoric; it means providing the resources and incentives that make it possible, realistically, to do both well.
In support for teaching, we have created the Center for Teaching and Learning, to help members of the faculty in Arts and Sciences and Engineering think in new ways about how and what they teach, and graduate students learn about pedagogy from some of Duke's best teachers. The Provost is establishing a task force to consider how we might evaluate teaching more effectively, in order to assess it with greater confidence in our tenure and promotion decisions. We encourage chairs of departments with a well-earned reputation for supporting and mentoring all their students to share some of their strategies with others. Through financial support for imaginative and successful programs such as the freshman FOCUS program, senior capstone seminars, supervision of student research and the Faculty Associates Program, we want to make it possible for more faculty members to participate in ventures that renew one's sense of the exciting dimensions in teaching in and outside the classroom.
In research, we are encouraging interdisciplinary initiatives that may secure funding from new sources, especially from corporations. Under Charles Putman's direction, we are also expanding the support provided by the Office of Research Administration and Policy, in sharing information about funding opportunities and workshops for faculty members to improve proposal-writing skills. Along with our colleagues on other campuses, our educational associations and some new organizations such as the Science Coalition, we are working hard to remind the Congress and the Administration that sustained federal investment in science and research is crucial to our economic strength and the health and quality of life of people around the world.
I know that many of you have been involved in these efforts through your own scholarly and scientific societies. This is time well spent; these combined efforts have helped head off some of the most Draconian cuts in research support. Funding for NIH in particular, and NSF to a lesser degree, have been protected, although research in the mission agencies and the National Endowments has been hard hit. It is crucial that these efforts to make our case in Washington continue unabated; the struggle has just begun. And it is equally crucial that faculty not be discouraged, that you be aggressive in seeking extramural funding to support your research in order to sustain Duke's own scholarly endeavors.
Several parts of the university provide crucial academic resources for both research and teaching, including the library, and information technology. (Parenthetically, since this is the first meeting of Academic Council for that new Librarian, I want to make sure that all of you have a chance to meet him, and to welcome him at the reception after Academic Council David Ferriero.) We are aware that Perkins Library needs to be rethought and reconfigured to make it more user-friendly and to deal with the present pressures on space. And we have received a planning grant for 1996-97 designed to help all of us at Duke think more boldly about the use of information technology in teaching, to share ideas and develop new resources.
The magnificent recent gift by Anne and Bob Bass is designed to honor members of the Duke faculty who manage to pull it all together, to excel in both teaching and research. There are many such professors, in every school, and we want them and everyone else to know that they exemplify what Duke most values. These chairs will be held for a term of five years by associate or full professors who teach undergraduates in any discipline, chosen by a committee which is now being formed. The chairholders will gather occasionally in the Bass Society of Fellows to talk about issues in undergraduate teaching and research, and invite others who care deeply about these topics to join with them.
The generosity and creativity of the Bass's $10 million gift allows us to challenge potential donors of chairs by matching their funds with $1 for every $3 they donate. Each chair will bear the name of the specific donor. Three chairs have already been pledged by enthusiastic Duke supporters, and we expect to name the first chair holders within this academic year. Since most of the chairs will be held by current members of the Duke faculty, a significant portion of the salary funds released by the new professorship endowments will be used to support some of the initiatives for improving undergraduate education that I sketched out above.
Dedication to imaginative teaching has been one of the hallmarks of this university across the years. In my conversations with alumni, I am struck by how frequently they mention specific professors they remember with affection, nostalgia and a kind of awe. This is true of all colleges and universities to some extent, but I believe that it is especially powerful at Duke. We have a rich heritage of great and dedicated teachers who helped define this university, and it is our responsibility to continue this tradition.
John Franklin Crowell, president of Trinity College in the late nineteenth century, spelled out an interesting ideal for teaching in this university. Although he presided over a college still focused almost entirely on its duties to rural North Carolina and the church, he foresaw a university that would build upon and transmute those strengths into something broader. This is part of his description of his vision, expressed in 1891:
This new university is to be a teaching university in the fullest sense, in and out of its walls. It proposes to itinerate, to carry the university to the people if the people do not come to the university. It may be a joyous hope to hear that no age, sex or condition will debar anyone from being aided by this institution in the pursuit of knowledge at their own firesides or in their own villages.
The felicitous combination of reference to Methodist itineracy and a forward look to what we now call distance learning makes this an especially creative vision for his time, one that we are only beginning to think about how we might actually realize in our own. That will have to be the subject for another talk.
A later president of Duke sketched out a more traditional, but equally bold vision in one of his addresses to the faculty. In 1979, Terry Sanford said:
I believe that every Trinity classroom, (no matter what the discipline or what part of the discipline, who is teaching it, or for what purpose) should be led by a teacher who is a living example of a liberal education. ... Each classroom experience should provide an example , by its teacher, of what a liberal education is.
It is not easy to define what is being exemplified when a faculty member succeeds in doing this. One of the best definitions of a liberal education was given by William Johnson Cory at Eton in the nineteenth century, and quoted in a Duke Bulletin of Undergraduate Instruction in the mid 1960s:
You go to a great school not so much for knowledge as for arts and habits; for the habit of attention, for the art of expression, for the art of assuming at a moment's notice a new intellectual position, for the art of entering quickly into another person's thoughts, for the habit of submitting to censure and refutation, for the art of indicating assent or dissent in graduated terms, for the habit of regarding minute points of accuracy, for the art of working out what is possible in a given time, for taste, for discrimination, for mental courage and mental soberness.
That is a demanding ideal, yet I believe we should embrace it for our own time in Duke's history, not only for undergraduate education, but in its basic principles for all schools of the university. And we should do so confident that a liberal education for undergraduates in a great university cannot and must not be divorced from first-hand involvement with true scholarship. At least at certain moments in each course, students should become aware of the great adventure of scholarly discovery, through the personal experience of their professor made available in terms appropriate for them. Through our teaching, they should catch a glimpse of the larger world of scholarship that stands behind any lesson plan, any lab experiment, any textbook or seminar discussion, which gives learning its essential meaning across the generations.
III. Financial Concerns and Strategies
Having enunciated such a lofty goal, I will come back down to earth and deal with the thorny issue of finances, of the real challenges we face in trying to realize our ambitions.
One of the issues on the minds of many of you is the disparity between the announcements in the papers of the "surplus" in our budget for 1995-96 and the stern dictates of your deans, particularly the Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, about the financial exigencies we face. What is the situation, really, and what's going on in the Allen Building that we get such conflicting messages? A similar question has been posed for the Provost to answer in Academic Council, but I think it is important for me to address it as well, in the context of this report.
The first fact to keep in mind is that Duke, like many of our peers, is a highly decentralized university. Under our formula budgeting system, each tub is not completely on its own bottom, but very nearly so, as far as resources and expenditures are concerned. Almost all sources of revenue come directly to the schools tuition and fees, gifts and endowment income, grants and contracts. There are some unassigned resources and "transfer payments" within the university to fund academic support activities like libraries and computing, as well as central administration and university priorities; but these are modest compared with the financial transactions in the schools.
Thus, when you read that Duke University had a $13 million surplus last year, this does not mean that $13 million in unrestricted money was there for the taking, for any purpose we might choose. The Provost will discuss this in more detail, but a large portion of these funds about $6 million came from performing better than budget in a few academic units of the university, principally in the School of Medicine and the Fuqua School of Business. These funds have been allocated to the reserves of these areas for capital projects and new initiatives.
The funds that were truly available centrally were committed for specific high-priority needs. $3 million was deposited in a special endowment to support the operating costs of the LSRC. This is part of a $13 commitment which will principally benefit Arts and Sciences, beginning with next year's budget. Other funds were used to complete the East Campus Union project, and to address pressing water and sewer issues at the Marine Laboratory. As far as Arts and Sciences is concerned, instead of looking at a "surplus," the Dean had to draw down on reserves by $1.2 million in order to balance revenues and expenses. Most of this withdrawal was part of the budget plan for Arts and Sciences, but about one-third of the total came from an unexpected decline in indirect cost recoveries from sponsored research. Again, the Provost will be discussing these matters further.
Our formula budget system works in a highly decentralized fashion. It provides incentives and imposes constraints on each school, for seeking revenues and spending them wisely. The system accomplishes these goals quite well. But there are continuing questions about whether the base assumptions of the system are well aligned with our academic priorities and needs, and questions also about the meager provisions in the system for funding any new initiatives from the center, or even providing sustaining support for schools that face significant financial tradeoffs that may threaten fundamental quality. Such funds are simply not easily available in Duke's financial structure.
The administration and the President's Advisory Committee on Resources (PACOR) are reviewing the formula budget system with an eye to fine-tuning it to address these issues. We have also identified the root causes of the "structural deficit" that constrains Arts and Sciences, and are working on strategies to solve it. You will be hearing more about this from the Provost later on this afternoon.
[This address will be concluded in January.]
--by Lawrence Evans (Physics)
The response from the authors of The Golem: What Everyone Should Know About Science to my critique raises three issues, of which the most important is this:
In The Golem we point out that historical accounts of scientific discovery are often distorted by the effects of hindsight. Evans misses the crucial significance of this point...
Of course the effects of hindsight are important in historical accounts of any human activity, including science. And I did not miss the point; I simply do not accept that reevaluation or reconsideration is the same as "distortion." In science, as in most human attempts to understand things, revisiting past evidence is routine. But authors Collins and Pinch (C-P) decided to write a book, the theme of which was that in talking or writing about past evidence scientists regularly engage in covering up their messy history and presenting to the public myths of perfection. That dishonest practice, they say, is "what everyone should know about science." In my essay I argued that, on the contrary, the dishonesty or myth-making chronicled in The Golem is the work of C-P themselves.
In response, C-P chided me for not mentioning the quotes from "very real scientists" they cited in The Golem as evidence of misuse of hindsight. The chapter on relativity I discussed has two such quotes, consisting of a few sentences taken from books written for the general public by eminent scientists. Let us look at those snippets now and see wherein lies the distortion.
The first quote is a statement from Hawking's A Brief History of Time that in their famous 1887 experiment Michelson and Morley (M-M) found the speed of light in directions parallel and perpendicular to the earth's motion to be "exactly the same." C-P seize on the word "exactly" as showing Hawking attributing to M-M in hindsight an accuracy not justified by the data. They also assert that he "presumably" meant to convey to his readers that this exact equality of speeds was demonstrated "directly, non-controversially, and in and of itself." Hawking, who knows better, obviously meant no such thing. Suppose he had written a bit more cautiously "exactly [within experimental errors] the same." What then? Every scientist would supply the bracketed words for himself, and Hawking's editor would probably have excised them as unnecessary. Hawking surely never suspected that any reader would infer the absurd interpolation added by C-P.
Then there is a quote from The Evolution of Physics, by Einstein and Infeld, which says that solar eclipse data, including Eddington's of 1919, showed "conclusively" (the offending word) that a gravitational field bends the path of a ray of light. Observation of this bending was an important test of relativity, special or general: by combining special relativity's energy-mass equivalence with Newton's law of gravitation one predicts that starlight just grazing the sun's edge will deflect by 0.875 seconds of arc; general relativity predicts twice that deflection. C-P insinuate in their book that Eddington carefully culled his data to fit the latter prediction, and they regard the Einstein-Infeld quote as an example of revisionist enhancement. However as C-P do not dispute the experiments were quite conclusive on the only point made by Einstein and Infeld: starlight was observed to be deflected by the sun's gravity; about that there is little doubt. So who is distorting what?
What should we conclude? Scientists writing brief books for the layman make necessarily brief references to two historical experiments. These references are misinterpreted or misread by C-P to support their book's agenda. Rather than revealing scientists at work building by hindsight a myth of the logical perfection of science, their book merely shows a pair of non-scientists at work constructing, by distortion and for their own reasons, a malicious fiction about scientists.
Next, responding to my objection that they left out numerous experiments supporting relativity, C-P explained that they had no interest in studies carried out during the second half of the twentieth century since their stated aim was only to show how scientists' views of relativity evolved in the first third of the century. (Why that qualifies as something everyone should know is beyond me.) But in fact they ignored important earlier experiments as well. Before 1925 there were several attempts (such as the 1903 Trouton-Noble experiment, which did not involve the behavior of light) to find evidence of the earth's absolute motion, all of which, like M-M, produced [within experimental errors] null results. But perhaps the most convincing support for special relativity before 1925 came from data on the energy and momentum of an electron as its speed increases. The theory provides well-known formulas, and data closely supporting the formulas were obtained as early as 1909 for speeds up to 70% of the speed of light. Strong additional experimental support came from the Compton effect in 1923. None of these supporting data are mentioned in The Golem. Instead the reader is encouraged to believe that the acceptance of special relativity among physicists after 1925 was a case of scientific group-think.
Throughout their book C-P miss or choose to ignore a central feature of the process of scientific discovery, that the ultimate importance of a pioneering experiment often becomes clear only later after other experiments have been carried out and a theoretical framework has evolved. Rarely is a single experiment paramount; rather the cumulative effect of evidence collected in various ways and at various times gradually leads to a scientific consensus. Organization of scientific knowledge thus frequently requires retrospective looks at earlier work in the light of later findings. It surely takes a special frame of mind or a special agenda to find in this normal and inevitable process evidence of conspiracies or coverups.
Finally, I found especially strange C-P's defense of their characterization of the Challenger episode as a "failure of science." They took me to task for repeating the news media account of the argument that morning at Morton-Thiokol, in which some of the engineers said they had warned about the effect of cold weather on the O-ring seals but the management gave its endorsement to the launch anyway. This is another myth of hindsight, C-P crowed at some length, and Evans is doing just what we said scientists do. Ironically, the night before C-P's reply to me appeared in this publication, one of those engineers spoke at Duke, recounting exactly the version I stand accused of perpetuating as a myth. But none of this speaks to my main point: the Challenger explosion was in no sense a failure of science. Engineering practice has the same relation to science as accounting practice has to mathematics. Blaming the Challenger misfortune on a failure of science is like blaming inability to balance a checkbook on a breakdown of the laws of arithmetic.
Now about the tone of my essay. It may be that in characterizing C-P as "academics on the make" I pushed the bounds of civility. Perhaps I should have been more restrained, but I could find no other explanation for putting out a book that tries to make so much by distortion out of so little. In their response C-P returned the favor, hurling at me the usual stuff about "evident lack of awareness of the wider relevant literature" and "taking quotations out of context," etc. They also try to put me and all other scientists in our place with this peculiar dictum:
Natural scientists ... are not usually well-equipped to study the historical processes that lead to the establishment of the authority of a particular experiment.
Let me see if I have this right: people whose careers often require them to decide whether new experimental data should be believed are not "well-equipped" to look at the question retrospectively, so the matter must be left to people who have never been within a quarter-mile of an actual scientific experiment. Does anyone outside of science "studies" really believe that?
In any case the bounds of civility must not keep people in universities from calling schlock scholarship by its name. In the many years I have been here I have watched repeatedly while our productive and hard-working faculty grumbled but, partly on grounds of civility, kept silent as scarce university resources were siphoned off from already undernourished mainstream departments to fund new initiatives of dubious intellectual value and certainly of secondary importance. Many of these schemes were agreed to, and a few even pushed by, an academic administration apparently endlessly susceptible to anything with a sufficient quotient of interdisciplinarity, or which has the support of a politically active group advocating a "progressive" social agenda. I have concluded that the only way to combat this increase of academic entropy is for those of us who object to do so publicly and vigorously. If this be incivility, make the most of it.
Finally, let me comment briefly on the long piece by Arkady Plotnitsky concerning the quote from Derrida. I make no apology for smiling at Derrida's tangled comment about "the Einsteinian constant." But Dr. Plotnitsky, asking us to be tolerant and try to find some sense in what Derrida said, gives the context in which the comment arose and makes his own attempt to give it meaning.
Life is too short to spend time worrying about the intentions
of someone who habitually communicates obscurely. Steven Weinberg was asked
to respond to the charge that he had used the same Derrida remark out of
context. I invite readers to look at the 3 October 1996 issue of The
New York Review of Books for details. Weinberg's conclusion, after
he read and reread the whole transcript of the incident in which the remark
arose, was this: "It seems to me that Derrida in context is even worse
than Derrida out of context."
ZEITGEIST BLUES: SOCIAL TEXT AND THE DUKE CONNECTION
"The key to every man is his thought. Sturdy and defying though he look, he has a helm which he obeys, which is the idea after which all his facts are classified. He can only be reformed by showing him a new idea which commands his own." --Ralph Waldo Emerson, "Circles"
The Faculty Forum would be remiss to allow 1996 to pass into history without due observance of a highly significant Silver Anniversary. In January 1971 a man who later became a Duke professor published an essay that both embodied and facilitated a profound change in the Zeitgeist. The essay was "Metacommentary"; the journal was the PMLA (Publication of the Modern Language Association), arguably the most prestigious name in the whole field of literary study; and the author was Professor Fredric Jameson, director of our Program in Literature and a world-renowned figure--one could say force--in the field of "Critical Theory" (aka "Cultural Studies" or "Cultural Materialism.") In turn, the enormous impact of Critical Theory throughout my discipline is what leads me to write this unusual critique of a campus colleague.
In two respects, "Metacommentary" comprises an astonishing cultural artifact. The first feature of note is Professor Jameson's extreme iconoclasm regarding the nature and purpose of literature and literary criticism. "In our time," reads his opening sentence, "exegesis, interpretation, commentary have fallen into disrepute"and so, he goes on to declare, have the classic literary devices by which, according to traditional criticism, artists have attempted to communicate their meanings. Nowadays, Professor Jameson says,
"the concept of a symbol, . . . along with. . . irony and point of view, . . . all too often encourages the most irresponsible interpretation of an ethical or mythical and religious character. . . . No wonder we feel symbolism in the novel to be such a lie: no wonder Williams' attack on metaphor came as a liberation to a whole generation of American poets!" (9)
As a professor of literature who recalls the original appearance of this essay, perhaps I should pause to explain what still seems astonishing about such statements. Not only was Professor Jameson herewith taking on a formidable proportion of the critical establishment, heavyweight scholars who would say "count me out" of the "we" who consider interpretation to be in disrepute, who regard ethical and religious criticism as irresponsible, and who feel symbolism and metaphor to be a lie. Far more audaciously, he was also contradicting assertions and examples set forth over the millennia by the greatest names in the so-called canon.
Regarding metaphor, for example, Aristotle declared in Chapter 22 of the Poetics that for the poet, "the greatest thing by far is to be a master of metaphor. It is the one thing that cannot be learned from others; and it is also a sign of genius." In A Defence of Poetry Shelley said "poetry awakens and enlarges the mind. . . [through] vitally metaphorical [language which] . . . marks the before unapprehended relations of things." And, closer to our own time, Robert Frost in "The Constant Symbol" said that "Poetry is simply made of metaphor. Every poem is a new metaphor inside or it is nothing."
Along these lines, I confess to puzzlement regarding Professor Jameson's phrase about "Williams' attack on metaphor." If the reference is to Raymond Williams, the British Marxist, his "liberation of a whole generation of American poets" needs supporting evidence. Or if, as seems more likely, the reference is to William Carlos Williams, Professor Jameson needs to account for this poet's habitual use of metaphor in pursuit of his ambition (in "A Sort of Song") "through metaphor to reconcile/the people and the stones." Likewise, the other literary devices on Professor Jameson's blacklist could benefit from additional explication. Probably Faulkner, Joyce, and Henry James, for example, would argue that point of view approximates psychological truth with demonstrable efficacy. And irony, particularly in twentieth-century literature, seems too powerful and ubiquitous a presence to require vindication.
Ultimately, Professor Jameson's essay subsumes these unconventional views under his thesis about the dual function of literature. The work of art, he says, "obeys a double impulse." Ostensibly, it "preserves the subject's [i.e. reader's] fitful contact with genuine life," but its hidden function accomplishes the opposite purpose, which is what the literary critic should devote himself to exposing. It is on this subliminal level that symbolism, metaphor, irony, and point of view accomplish their pernicious work of distracting the reader from a proper comprehension of reality:
". . .[the work of art's] mechanisms function as a censorship whose task is to forestall any realization on the part of the subject [i.e. the reader] of his own impoverishment; and to prevent him from drawing any practical conclusions as to the causes of that impoverishment and mutilation, and as to their origin in the social system itself." (17)
Which is to say, with religion having lost its credibility and relevance, it is literature that now functions as the opium of the people. And in case you were wondering which social system causes the reader's impoverishment and mutilation, it is revealed throughout Professor Jameson's subsequent career to be capitalism, typically accompanied by the adjective "late," sometimes by the word "bourgeois."
The portrayal of literature as the enemy of society is not a new idea. Plato banished most poets from his Republic; the Roman Catholic Index proscribed even the Bible; and the Post Office in twentieth-century America took on the duty of preventing Ulysses and Lady Chatterly's Lover from polluting the American libido. Unlike these precursors, Professor Jameson has not called for censorship, and obviously he is much too sophisticated to intend his unorthodox pronouncements in a simple-minded way. Even so, his remarks appear incongruous coming from a professor of literature. Most importantly, one must suppose that serious artists around the world would unanimously resist their consignment to the role of accomplices to exploitative, mutilating social forces rather than honored members of Shelley's unacknowledged legislature of the world.
If it seems curious that a professor of literature would propose so negative a view of his merchandise, another aspect of his essay seems even more surprising. Although unorthodox opinion should surely be welcomed periodically as an antidote to stale thinking, one would not expect an organization representing tens of thousands of professors of literature to designate "Metacommentary," with its foregoing view of literature, as the best essay of the year in the organization's journal. Nonetheless, the award committee's choice of this work as winner of the William Parker Riley Prize for 1971 proved prophetic of the extraordinary success of Jameson's career.
One sign of immediate success was the Presidential Address given by Louis Kampf at the annual convention of the MLA on December 27, 1971, which summoned the organization's entire membership ("an intellectual proletariat," he called them) to enact a decidedly Jamesonian agenda. "Literature is a diversion," he said, "a triviality" or "a game," unless it correlates directly with political action:
"The schools cannot be transformed unless we change the priorities of the society they serve. Given the imperatives of industrial capitalism, this means changing the social system. . . . Those who would transform the institutions in which they work must seize control of them. And this can only happen within the context of a wider movement for radical social change. We should become part of such a movement" (PMLA, May 1972, 377).
From that moment to the present, the MLA leadership has enacted Kampf's agenda in large measure, taking an active, partisan, and markedly leftist role in both academic affairs and the national political scene on the theory that to have no politics is to propagate the right-wing politics of the status quo. And during this interlude, this politicizing fervor has swept through every area of academe, producing correlative critiques in art, history, literature, sociology, law, writing courses, and now even the natural sciences.
Given the expansive influence of his career, Professor Jameson arrived at Duke a decade ago with an enviable reputation. One colleague, a member of his search committee, was reported in the Duke Chronicle as saying that this was the finest appointment ever made in the Humanities at Duke--a monumental tribute for a faculty that has included the likes of Wallace Fowlie and Reynolds Price. In conversation with me, Professor Jameson's former associate director of the Program in Literature, the eminent Renaissance scholar Annabel Patterson, called him "a genius"; and yet another voice to be reckoned with, that of the formidably accomplished Stanley Fish, assured me that Professor Jameson's work well deserves its encomiastic reputation.
This is where, with a trace of irony, the Social Text controversy becomes relevant to our discussion. It is Stanley Fish whose defense of the magazine in the Sokal's Hoax affair has evoked commentary around the nation and abroad. But his role, as director of the Duke Press (which publishes Social Text), is primarily that of a merchant defending the integrity of his product. His allegiance to the ideology of the journal has never been defined or asserted, for the good reason that it does not exist. He is not a Marxist or a proponent of any movement that declares social change the primary task of literary analysis. Professor Jameson, by contrast, has for many years been deeply involved in the Social Text project. In 1979 he was one of three founding editors of the magazine, which they continued to co-edit until 1983, when they dissolved themselves into an "Editorial Collective" of 26 editors who have continued in that office to the present moment.
In their opening "Prospectus" of their first issue, the Winter 1979 volume of ST, Professor Jameson and his two associates announced their purview as comprising "the area of cultural and ideological practices" that are "shared by the social sciences, philosophy, and the humanities"--an appropriation of turf that notably excludes the natural sciences. (In last month's editorial, I quoted an excerpt from the Fall 1981 ST that amended this oversight in Church Militant tones.) The three editors went on to declare that "The framework of the journal is Marxist in the broadest sense of the term" (p. 3), a claim that is clarified by the volume's table of contents: "Zionism from the Standpoint of Its Victims," by Edward Said; "Gay Language as Political Language," by Bruce Boone; "Film: The Art Form of Late Capitalism," by Stanley Aronowitz; "Reification and Utopia in Mass Culture," by Fredric Jameson.
My skeptic's antennae rise at once toward the vocabulary of these titles. Does Edward Said give equal time to Zionist victims, dating back to the Great Diaspora circa the year 70 when the Romans tore them from Palestine? Is Gay Language a seriously different species from other Political Language? Will Late Capitalism still be Late 300 years from now? Regarding Mass Culture, is the analyst part of the Mass? But of course, as with Professor Jameson's foregoing literary theory, the error was all mine: for who can resist the Zeitgeist? Throughout my discipline, for a quarter century, the new discourse--in particular, the production of "theory"--has largely triumphed, achieving dominance in nearly every citadel of academe worth having, notably including the most prestigious academic departments, journals, presses, professional organizations, accrediting agencies, and philanthropic foundations.
As a voice of the Zeitgeist, sequential volumes of ST have shown Professor Jameson to be an ongoing presence, the subject of several interviews and the author of various essays and reviews. In 1984 he was the central focus of a special issue of ST entitled The 60s Without Apology, in which his own essay, "Periodizing the 60s," included a surprise attack from the left upon a group that is normally demonized by the right: "the establishment of the Trilateral Commission will at least symbolically be a significant marker in the recovery of momentum by what must be called 'the ruling classes'" (205). (I have never been convinced that the Trilateral Commission exists, but if it does I consider it a bunch of self-aggrandizing fat cats at whom I too would just as soon chuck a spitball from my centrist position.)
Given this background, there can be little doubt about the affinities between the Social Text of 1996 and the revolution in cultural attitudes that "Metacommentary" called for 25 years ago. So there exists for me a sense of deja-vu regarding the two publications separated by a quarter century. My incredulity toward Professor Jameson's PMLA essay in 1971 now finds an echo in the disbelief of natural scientists regarding Science "Studies" in Social Text.
Whether Sokal's Hoax bespeaks a new turn of the Zeitgeist or simply another voice to be flattened by it remains to be seen--though there is now a noticeable accumulation of evidence that, as Stanley Fish predicted a decade ago, "theory's day is dying." As for me, thanks to the protection of the tenure system, I have never saluted theory's sunrise. From Day One--in January 1971--I judged the apostles of Late Marxism guilty of confining literature in their Prison-House of Ideology. For this reason, though I honor Professor Jameson's prodigious achievements in scholarship and admire his reputation as a greatly helpful mentor to his colleagues and graduate students, I have never possessed the tiniest flicker of belief or interest in his approach to literature.
Nevertheless, in so distinguished a colleague, it is a matter of interest to learn how he came, in Emerson's phrase, to "the idea after which all his facts are classified." Apparently, the pilot who first took charge of his intellectual helm was the subject of his dissertation--later his first book, Sartre: The Origins of a Style (1961); and Sartre in turn pointed the way to an even greater Thoughtmaster, as Professor Jameson later reminisced in a tone that mildly suggests a conversion experience:
"I came to Marxism through Sartre. . . . What happened was that a Time-Life-reading student of the Eisenhower era could work through Being and Nothingness . . . [and] stumble across peculiar and alien references to taboo realities--sudden digressions about the 'proletariat,' . . . allusions to Marx (of whom we had been taught that his economics was completely disproven and out of date), to 'surplus value,' 'commodity reification,' etc. . . . Later on, these become mysteries to explore, as one begins to shed one's local Americanisms." (DLB, 67, p.180)
Given Sartre's malice toward Harry Truman's America--to which he preferred Stalin's Russia--I cannot be sure that Professor Jameson's shedding of "local Americanisms" was altogether salutary, particularly in light of the Europeanisms that he and his intellectual peers (Derrida, Marcuse, de Man, et. al) have hauled ashore to supplant our local yokel bourgeois culture. But we in the Humanities inhabit a pluralistic world, where anyone who thinks the Jamesonian perspective efficacious can and should by all means go on doing so. All I want from the Critical Theory movement is a reciprocal pluralism--which is to say, the privilege of dismissing the bulk of its discourse as a deadly bore that has no bearing upon my interest in literature.
What is my interest? For starters, you might say it includes a most irresponsible interpretation of an ethical or mythical and religious character, complete with exegesis of symbol, metaphor, irony, and point of view. Over the years, my thousands of students--here and abroad, graduate and undergraduate--have found it viable, as have the readers of my scholarship. Reciprocal pluralism will have arrived when the professional credentialing process permits people without tenure to share with impunity my luxurious freedom of thought.
Whether scientists can be pluralistic about their study of the realities of nature is another question. I have no answer to that question but I do have a philosophy for dealing with it. On the Silver Anniversary of an occasion that I still find mystifying, I relegate Professor Jameson's ideology, as I did that of ST a month ago, to the status of a religion--a set of overbeliefs that can be described but not usefully debated. So it follows that when the ST editors subordinate science to their vision of a better society, or Professor Jameson subordinates literature to his, I think it a waste of spirit to dispute these articles of belief. What we need instead is a larger overview within which those beliefs may be comprehended. To that end, their anomalies--like my own--are best referred, I think, to the generous wisdom of a voice that is safely beyond the whimsy of the Zeitgeist:
"Although all the special manifestations of
religion may have been absurd (I mean its creeds and theories),
yet the life of it as a whole is mankind's most important function.--William
James, cited from G. W. Allen's biography William James (415)
--by Ed Levin (Psychiatry)
The question arose, what to do until retirement? Here it is almost 1997 and I'm 42 years old. What is the best way to contribute for the next 23 years, until I retire? Then, it came to me, a clear lucid thought, 2020 vision. Here it is almost 2000. All the projections had marked this as a magic date by which the future would come. Modernity had progressed and accelerated, defining ours as a special time, uniquely different from all of history and headed to a climax, the year 2000, or was it 2001? In any case, all would be different, whether it would be angels descending or rocket ships blasting forth, something would have to change. All this acceleration had to reach a goal, or at least crash into something.
However, the something that changed was not the world, but us. We became overstuffed with progress and we attempted to aid our indigestion using postmodernistic thought like an after dinner mint, trying to comfort ourselves with the bromide that the pain in our gut wasn't really our fault, because we were forced to eat and it was just saccharine and olestera anyway. It was either that or the purging fundamentalism attempting to return to the good old days before dinner when we were still hungry.
But perhaps, in response to our twentieth century binge, we shouldn't just react by swearing at or swearing off the food of progress. Rather, perhaps we should catch a glimpse of the time beyond and realize it won't be all that different from the time before, or now, and realize that we are a part of, not apart from history, and re-enter history with the knowledge that we can help make it. With 2020 foresight, we can dream about what we would like for the world and make the decisions and take the actions needed to accomplish those dreams, so that by 2020 we can pass along the world without regret.
A Menagerie à Trois: Ferret . . . Possum . . . Parrot
THE ASSIGNMENTS: Putting to use his late-night habit
of random reading, POSSUM will try to entice the faculty away from their
overspecialized regular diet for a few tastibits of general education.
FERRET will snoop, sniff, and snuffle out little nuggets of controversial
or even slightly scandalous matter. To offset her big advantage over her
two accomplices (a voice), PARROT will be limited to repeating what someone
has said without editorial comment. (If her column requires commentary,
Ferret will make it.) Anyone who wishes either to feed the beastie/birdie
with new tidbits or to wring its neck may do so with a note, letter, or
column mailed to Victor Strandberg, 315 Allen Building (90015) or sent
by e-mail to email@example.com Voicemail is 684-3976.
FERRET: CRACKPOTS ON PARADE
Ernest Miller Hemingway (1899-1961)
To begin, perhaps a plea in mitigation would be appropriate, excusing our subject's perversity by reason of the family romance. His mother, who kicked him out of the family at his 21st birthday party, routinely vilified his fiction, thereby evoking such undying hatred from her son that he chose to boycott her funeral. Worse yet, he reckoned that the domineering force of that great "bitch"--his lifelong term of endearment--was to blame for the pathetic weakness of his father, whose suicide at age 61 evoked more contempt than pity from Ernest. ("He was a coward," was the son's assessment of the deed.)
It would be unworthy of us to exploit Heminway's crazy last years, which ended like his father's in suicide at age 61. We go instead to two episodes from Hemingway's middle years, a time of high artistic success, abundant physical vigor, and apparently strong sanity. The first instance dates from October, 1949, when Averell Harriman, chairman of the FDR Birthday Memorial Committee, solicited a memorial tribute for the deceased President from the famous writer. Hemingway's eulogy follows:
"Today we are gathered together to honor a rich and spoiled paralytic who changed our world. As a person I thought he was a bore with endless ill-told anecdotes. . . . But this man that we are gathered together to honor today, while he delegated almost all of his work, reserved for himself so many tasks that he was incapable of performing correctly, that he is dead and our country is as we find it now. I do not find it well, gentlemen, and I suggest that, instead of honoring this person who never wrote a speech he made. . . , we should all rise quietly now and leave this room out of respect for the dead." --Ernest Hemingway: Selected Letters 1917-1961, edited by Carlos Baker (674)
Well, it is original thinking, in any case, and the Hemingway style is characteristically effective. (Come to think of it, originality is a common feature of Crackpot thinking, as our earlier examples--Freud's nosectomies and Jung's excremental vision--testify.) And since the Presidential butt of humor was safely ensconced in the next world, Hemingway's verbal fun threatened little harm beyond the extent of some wounded sensibilities among friends, family, and admirers. (The eulogy was of course never delivered, and it is not known whether it was actually sent to Harriman.)
Regrettably, the same disclaimer cannot be applied to our second instance of Hemingway's nuttiness on parade. As though he had not seen enough carnage during his stint as an ambulance driver in World War I, which included a nearly fatal wound to himself, Hemingway emerged from the war craving more blood. Thanks to his own testimony, as seen below, we may witness a little trap door suddenly drop open in the maestro's forehead to release a thirsty little vampire:
"A great killer must love to kill; unless he feels it is the best thing he can do, unless he is conscious of its dignity and feels that it is his own reward, he will be incapable of the abnegation that is necessary in real killing. The truly great killer must have a sense of honor and a sense of glory far beyond that of the ordinary bullfighter. In other words he must be a simpler man. Also he must take pleasure in it, not simply as a trick of wrist, eye, and managing of his left hand that he does better than other men, . . . but he must have a spiritual enjoyment of the moment of killing. Killing cleanly and in a way which gives you aesthetic pleasure and pride has always been one of the greatest enjoyments of a part of the human race.
Because the other part, which does not enjoy killing, has always been the more articulate and has furnished most of the good writers, we have only very few statements of the true enjoyment of killing. One of its greatest pleasures, aside from the purely aesthetic ones, such as wing shooting, and the ones of pride, such as difficult game stalking, . . . is the feeling of rebellion against death which comes from its administering. Once you accept the rule of death, thou shalt not kill is an easily and a naturally obeyed commandment. But when a man is still in rebellion against death, he has pleasure in taking to himself one of the Godlike attributes: that of giving it. This is one of the most profound feelings in those men who enjoy killing." --Death in the Afternoon, Chapter 19
I suppose my readers may include some folk who share Hemingway's "spiritual enjoyment of the moment of killing." In that case, get thee to a slaughterhouse, I am tempted to say. But let's say instead that this column is open to contrary definitions of Crackpot--Saint Francis? Ghandi? Albert Schweitzer? It's your call, truly great killers of the world: if you send them, I will print your cards, columns, and letters. But in the meantime, we proudly add to our display another genius-crackpot on parade in the white male mode [diversity be damned].
POSSUM (Passim): Random
Readings of a Near-Sighted Omnivore
THE SECRET OF SUCCESS (I)
"Republican candidates outspent their Democratic challengers [for Congress] by an average of five to one in this election."
--Linda Killian, The New Republic, 12-02-96 (18)
THE SECRET OF SUCCESS (II)
"Wittgenstein's stock is still as high as ever; but this is at least partly because nobody is quite sure what the man actually said. . . . [G. E.] Moore and [Bertrand] Russell, by contrast, really are as unambiguous and straightforward as they prided themselves on being. So it is much easier to find them obsolete."
Richard Rorty, The New Republic, 12-02-96 (47)
NOW LET'S HEAR IT FOR THE BOURGEOIS INTELLECTUAL:
". . . [Sartre] went into the streets to participate in rioting. . . and in other activities that in his opinion were the way to promote 'the revolution.' Paradoxically enough, this same radical Socialist published in 1972 the third volume of the work on Flaubert, . . . another book of such density that only the bourgeois intellectual can read it."
"Jean-Paul Sartre," in The Encyclopedia Britannica (on line, 1966)
ET VIVENT LES VRAIS INTELLECTUELS:
". . . among its translators for the French edition [of The Reader's Digest] were Samuel Beckett and Maurice Chevalier."
Pico Iyer, NYTBR, November 24, 1996 (7)
DIVERSITY STUDIES AT UCAL & HARVARD:
"California state representative Tom Hayden and former Speaker Willie Brown. . . lately pushed a bill through the legislature to the effect that not only must minorities be admitted to universities in numbers reflecting their ratio in the general population, but they must also graduate accordingly. The bill was vetoed by Governor Wilson. But, if the effort to manipulate standardized tests ['recentering'the SAT exams] is not halted, Hayden and Brown's mandated utopia will become law de facto. . . .
For a preview of the future, consider the recent announcement that [in the Harvard medical school in 1994] women total 53 percent of the entering class. When asked about the basis for this dramatic social change, Harvard's associate dean Gerald Foster suggested that. . . '[women] bring some life, experiences, and maturity that add to a class.' Dean Foster was silent, however, as to just how Harvard measured a student's differential possession of that apparently disposable commodity, 'life.'"
David W. Murray, Academic Questions Summer 1996 (17)
SCIENCE FOR LAYPERSONS:
I AM LARGE, I CONTAIN MULTITUDES:
"The number of E. coli cells in the gut of each person exceeds the number of human beings who have ever lived."
Stephen Jay Gould, NYTimes (E-13), 8/11/96
"Until 750 million years ago. . . , North America was near the South Pole, wedged between Antarctica and Australia on one side and South America on the other, in a supercontinent called Rodinia. After that. . . , North America went through Houdini-like contortions to escape from its partners, culminating in a 250-million-year-long end run up the west side of South America. Clearing the northern end of that continent, it faced off for the first time against North Africa, which was to become its neighbor in Pangaea."
--Tim Appenzeller, Discover 9/96 (84)
"Fewer than half of the 8700 known bird species actually sing, creating musical sounds through a kind of double voicebox that lies at the base of the windpipe, where it branches into the lungs. There, two sets of membranes and muscles vibrate at high frequencies as air is exhaled from each lung. While singing, the bird can alternate between the two lungs, even singing in harmony with itself.
The number of song types in a bird's repertoire varies from species to species. Each song sparrow has a repertoire of only eight songs on average. . . . A starling's repertoire may include as many as 67 song types, a mockingbird's as many as 150, a brown thrasher's more than 2000. . . . Studies have shown that the larger a male bird's repertoire, the greater his reproductive success."
Bill Rankin, National Wildlife 8-9/96(47-48)
"With just under 900 species, bats make up about one-quarter of all living mammals, a diversity exceeded only by that of rodents. . . . Surprisingly, the fictional vampire made infamous by Bram Stoker's Dracula predates the discovery of the blood-lapping mammal. In other words, the bat was named after its human counterpart, and not vice versa."
Howard Topoff, Natural History 9/96 (12)
LET THERE BE LIGHT:
"Up on land, on a sunny day, a tree is bathed a quintillion (a billion billion) photons per square inch per second. But researchers have found that some organisms can photosynthesize with far less. Bacteria in the Black Sea hold the record: they eke out an existence at 240 feet below the surface, where they receive only a trillion photons of sunlight per square inch each second."
--Carl Zimmer, Discover November 1966 (71)
LOOK TO THE MOUNTAIN:
"All you need to know about the North Face of the Eiger, the most feared peak in the Alps, is that an Italian climber who died there hung from his rope, 'unreachable but visible to the curious below, for three years,' writes John Krakauer, 'alternately sealed into the ice sheath of the wall and swaying in the winds of summer.' . . . By the 1970s most of the world's major peaks had been scaled. . . . Everest grew so crowded that one day in 1993 forty climbers jostled for space on its summit."
--Bruce Barcott, Harper's Magazine 8/96 (65-66)
TO YOUR HEALTH:
"On the eve of the New Deal all levels of government spent roughly $1.00 annually on health care for the typical older American. By 1965 the figure had risen to roughly $100, by 1975 to roughly $1000, and by 1995 to roughly $7000."
Peter G. Peterson, The Atlantic Monthly May, 1996 (73)
"Before the 1970s, America's greatest fortunes were rarely made by investing in financial markets. J. P. Morgan, who was not only an investor but built a large bank as well, accumulated a net worth of less than $1 billion in today's dollars. Andrew Carnegie reportedly said on Morgan's death that he hadn't known Morgan wasn't a rich man."
Jeff Madrick, The New York Review of Books, April 18, 1996 (22)
"If you can't comprehend the scope of the computer's evolution, consider this: If automotive technology had kept pace with computer technology over the last 30 years, a Rolls Royce would cost $2.50 and get 2 million miles to the gallon."
Video magazine, July-August 1996
THE POLITICAL IS BIOLOGICAL:
"Lyall Watson's book [Dark Nature: A Natural History of Evil] ends with a whimper, a hope that our uniquely intelligent species can give 'evolution the nudge it needs in the right direction.' What that direction may be, we are left to guess. 'We mustn't expect any help from our institutions,' we are warned: capitalism too faithfully reflects the ruthlessness of natural selection, and socialism 'is so out of touch with basic biology that it doesn't work at all.'"
John Updike, The New Yorker 7/22/96 (64)
"Now let us have this quite clear. What is more important to solve: the 'outer' problem (space, time, matter, the unknown without) or the 'inner' one (life, thought, love, the unknown within. . .)?"
"Whenever I start thinking of my love for a person, I am in the habit of immediately drawing radii from my lovefrom my heart, from the tender nucleus of a personal matterto monstrously remote points of the universe. Something impels me to measure the consciousness of my love against such unimaginable and incalculable things as the behavior of nebulae (whose very remoteness seems a form of insanity), the dreadful pitfalls of eternity, the unknowledgeable beyond the unknown, the helplessness, the cold, the sickening involutions and interpenetrations of space and time. . . . [But then] that slow-motion, silent explosion of love takes place in me, unfolding its melting fringes and overwhelming me with the sense of something much vaster, much more enduring and powerful than the accumulation of matter or energy in any imaginable cosmos."
--Cited from Bend Sinister and Speak, Memory (Chapter I)
Ferret-Quip: "He Was the Ablest Roman of Them All"
"But to remove all doubt that [Julius Caesar] had an evil reputation both for shameful vice and for adultery, I have only to add that the elder Curio in every one of his speeches calls him 'every woman's man and every man's woman.'"
Suetonius, The Lives of the Caesars (The Loeb
The Faculty Forum is published monthly by the Academic Council of Duke University.
Editor: Victor Strandberg (English). Assistant Editor: Sara Cohen (Trinity '97).
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