The Faculty Forum

"Reading maketh a full man; writing, an exact man." --Francis Bacon

Vol. 8, No. 5 FEBRUARY 1997


1. Van Alstyne on Academic Freedom

2. Vesilind on Zealotry

3. Editorial on Unsound Method

4. Sexpert Says

5. Faculty Deconstruction

6. Archives: Williams on Tannenbaum

7. A Menagerie à Trois: Ferret . . . Possum . . . Parrot

8. Ferret's Crackpots on Parade: Sigmund Freud

9. Possum (Passim)

10. Parrot (Faulkner) & Classic Erotica

11. Editorial Board & Policy

Note: Academic Council Minutes for Meeting of January 16, 1997 have been transferred to the following Web File, which contains the minutes for every Council meeting since 1992:

Academic Freedom and Tenure

by William Van Alstyne (Law)

Editor's Note: With the tenure review process attracting strong interest on campus, the FF believes the following excerpt from an eminent law professor and former AAUP president worth close attention. He speaks of a Problem for All Seasons:

"Whether in a new university or an old one, it has been frequently observed, it is still obvious that someone or some group must in the first instance decide what is worth studying, who is best qualified to provide instruction, and what lines of research or publication are most suitable to pursue. The faculty usually claim the main prerogative on these matters, based on a superior claim to knowto know the relative promise or lack thereof of a certain proposed field of study, and to know who may be most promising to provide useful insights that might be brought to bear. Even supposing it is the faculty (rather than the administration, trustees, students, or someone else) who tend to make the greater number of these decisions, however, and even supposing they -- the incumbent faculty -- strive for what they deem to be detachment in making judgments of academic worth, they will still be operating according to some embedded views of their own as to what good work consists of, and what criteria of competence and of professional relevance count. But, if so, what inevitably must any such system tend to produce? The recurring radical critique is that any such system simply tends to perpetuate an entrenched status quo, disfavoring the unorthodox and the new, and defeating the very notion of the idea of a university where intellectual diversity and new ideas may germinate in the culture of academic freedom.

The observation offered in this critique is that the installation, promotion, and tenuring of only those satisfying only such criteria as characterize the incumbent faculty's judgments of what counts as "relevant" work and what counts in being a "competent" candidatemake the system self-sealing (literally self-proving of its own criteria). The incumbent faculty was itself selected and advanced by prevailing notions of "relevance" of subject matter interest and prevailing notions of "competence" to do suitable work. Accordingly, each succeeding generation of faculty may tend to be quite indistinguishable from the last generation. The structure of the system itself thus makes it more or less impervious to change."

William van Alstyne, Introduction to Freedom and Tenure in the Academy (Duke Press: Durham and London, 1993), ix.

Zealotry And Academic Freedom

Book Review: Zealotry And Academic Freedom by Neil Hamilton, Transaction Publishers, New Brunswick NJ 1995

by P. Aarne Vesilind (Engineering)

Neil Hamilton suggests that since I am a professor, I am a spineless wimp. He stereotypes professors as caring more about their scholarly work and careers than about academic freedom. He believes that professors will not stand up for principles of truth, honesty and integrity, and that we will cave in to pressure from anyone with a loud voice. Can he be right?

Unfortunately, stereotypes must have some truth at root. We have to admit, for example, that most fraternity members drink too much, and that most Republicans care more for individualism than for altruism. Is it then also true that most professors are wimps, afraid to stand up for what they believe, scared that somehow their opinions will harm them and their careers? Could it be that the professoriate is not nearly the fine, upstanding, moral heroes that I like to think we are?

In this excellent book Neil Hamilton presents a historical and legal perspective on zealotry as practiced today in academia. He defines zealots as those people who cannot conceive of the possibility that they might be mistaken. He shows how zealotry has a long history in the United States, including ultra-patriotism during WWI (where many Americans of German ancestry changed their names to escape the inquisition), the years of communist witch-hunting that we now call McCarthyism in the 1950s, the student left peace movements in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and then the political correctness movement in the mid 1980s and early 1990s. The diversity of these waves of zealotry makes it impossible to predict where the next wave will come from.

All of these waves of zealotry have common features: anyone can be accused without need of proof, and one is guilty unless proven innocent. The effort that is required to mount such proof of innocence is overwhelming, and even if successful, seldom prevents a loss of prestige, career, or even health. Accusation, humiliation and ostracism are enough to suppress dissent.

The present wave of zealotry, according to Hamilton, is unique in that it is rooted in the universities and is a combination of postmodernism and the political correctness of diversity. He suggests that the core belief of postmodernists is that there is no accurate representation of reality, that objective knowledge is a myth, merely stories or narrative devised to help us make some sense of the world. Most importantly, all concepts of good and virtue are artificial and biased. This philosophy, combined with the notion that all people can be described as belonging either to the oppressed or the oppressors, (somehow) leads to the conclusion that all dissent with the oppressed is wrong, harmful and immoral.

To oppose these views requires courage--the kind of courage that most professors seem to lack. Consider the story of a professor who cast a lone dissenting vote in an English department against the formation of a special concentration in ethnic and third world literature. He became an outcast in his department, did not get invited to faculty meetings or social functions, and received hate notes in his mail. One colleague called to express his sympathy but added that he had "a family to think about and so I have to ask a favor. Please don't stand in my doorway and talk to me when other people are watching."

Neil Hamilton's book is an excellent and disturbing study of such cowardice. Read it at your own risk.

(This review first appeared in the Ethics Center Newsletter, Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH.)



(The First of Three Parts)

"Do you," said I, "call it 'unsound method?'"

"Without doubt," he exclaimed hotly. "Shows a complete want of judgment. It is my duty to point it out in the proper quarter."

I. Transparency

Edward Gibbon, Charles Darwin, Bertrand Russell--it would take a brash academic to deny the these figures their high place in the hierarchy of intellectual achievement. Beneath their divergent interests, what they hold in common is their lucid accessibility to educated people everywhere, even though their innovative ways of thought might have proved a barrier to widespread understanding. Since the rise of the American university system a century ago, most academics--except for users of a specialized language like math or physics--have maintained that tradition of open discourse until about a generation (twenty five years) ago. The great names in a field wrote books that enlightened their professional peers while also appealing to literate readers everywhere.

Examples crowd the mind. To begin around the turn of the century, there were William James's classic volumes Principles of Psychology, The Varieties of Religious Experience, and the essays in Pragmatism. In 1929 Sir James Jeans likewise lured hordes of readers to astronomy with The Mysterious Universe. For classical studies, Edith Hamilton did similar service with The Greek Way to Western Civilization. At Harvard, George Lyman Kittredge put out his landmark studies in Chaucer and Shakespeare. At LSU, Cleanth Brooks and Robert Penn Warren changed American academe's way of approaching literature with scholarship that extended into textbooks with sales in the millions. In New York, Edmund Wilson put out his brilliant study of modernist writers, Axel's Castle, and his indispensable study of the origins of the Bolshevik Revolution, To the Finland Station. One could go on, but the point is clear that first-rate professional scholarship could and did appeal to a wide non-professional audience throughout many college generations.

Then an odd thing happened. Along about the 1970s, academics in the humanities and social sciences began to court unintelligibility, not as by-product of powerful original thinking but as an objective in its own right. By the 1980s the failure to comply with this requirement typically carried a dire penalty. To demonstrate this fact, I shall offer a minor episode in my own career as a literary scholar. Shortly after Joyce Carol Oates published You Must Remember This (1987), certainly one of her finest novels, I felt inspired to write an exegesis about the interplay of "Sex, Violence, and Philosophy" in the novel. When I sent the essay to a scholarly journal which had previously published my writing, it was rejected without comment. The next journal, where again I had previously published, also rejected it, but with a very revealing handwritten commentary (herewith Exhibit A). Although my (anonymous) reviewer found my essay "convincing and interesting," it seems that both Oates and I had committed the mistake of being too clearly understandable. For her part, Joyce Carol Oates had failed to heed the contemporary "critical prejudice against transparent texts, particularly in the realist/naturalist tradition." (So much for Dreiser, Twain, Hemingway, McCullers, and Bellow.) And writing about Oates consigned me equally to the party of unsound method: "The prejudice against transparency, of course, applies equally to the reception of critical texts" [as well as to novels]. But not to worry, this was an easily solvable problem. All I needed to do was relate myself "to the ongoing critical conversation."

In this context, I have had many a chuckle over the word "conversation," which has typically introduced a one-way dictatorial monologue in my experience. No one in this discourse has ever inquired what my opinions might be regarding critical practice, as an actual conversation would entail. Instead, the rules of the game have forcibly imposed a set of decrees handed down from on high--decrees lifted mostly from European gurus whom I consider pompous and inarticulate windbags, irrelevant to my interests and unbearably boring. But it is certainly true that they solve the problem of transparency. As Exhibit B, I herewith offer a perfectly typical specimen of their handiwork, transfused into the work of a young American scholar whose need for tenure required--to redirect a phrase my reviewer put to me--his work being "contextualized with current criticism." The subject of this scholar's book is a story by Sarah Orne Jewett, "A White Heron," which describes a girl's coming of age in the Maine countryside. So here it is, purporting to shed light on Jewett's elegant tale--a perfectly representative two-sentence sample of the "current critical conversation" in the 1980s:

"Such criticism thus constitutes a virtually endless praxis as opposed to a theoretical propaedeutic. It requires continual lateral procrastinations, a critical-methodological catachresis that (self-)destructs revisions of canonicity by means of formalist self-demystifications (Frye), Oedipal totalizations (Bloom), antioedipal detotalizations (Deleuze and Guattari), and ideological Jetztzeiten or the hypostases of literary texts within an ‘arrested moment of time forced to its revolutionary crisis.'"

It is easy enough to shrug "Who the hell cares?" or perhaps to release a hoot of laughter at this monstrous afterbirth of the Deconstruction/Critical Theory (hereafter DeconTheory) movement, but its larger implications are dishearteningly serious. Not only has this sort of passage, multiplied a millionfold over two decades, displaced meaningful scholarship within our best-pedigreed professional journals and presses, it also represents a tragic mishandling of graduate education and thereby a waste of young people's careers within our most prestigious research universities. In the most recent Modern Languages Association convention, "Trained in Theory, Hired in Literature" was one of the few Program titles that engaged my attention, mainly because that title reflects exactly the reckless disregard for our young scholars' well-being that Exhibits A and B above exemplify.

At bottom, the "ongoing critical conversation" has displayed a contempt for the free intellectual market that our graduate students must eventually cope with when their chance arrives to teach undergraduate classes. Except for required freshman writing courses, undergraduates at most institutions are free to choose courses according to their own interest. Here at Duke I have found them greatly interested, to their credit, in gaining a better understanding of complex writers like Faulkner, T. S. Eliot, and Herman Melville. Whether they, or indeed anyone at all, would want to invest time, intellectual energy, and tuition money in the sort of discourse that I have italicized above is a greatly more dubious proposition. Graduate students are unlikely to find a market for this kind of merchandise, and it is a disgrace to the profession that for many years this worthless gobbleygook was purveyed to them as necessary to their future careers.

So how did this kind of discourse come to dominate my discipline and correlative fields of study for several decades? Ideological fanaticism, professional opportunism, gullibility, intellectual timidity, and the herd instinct are answers that cynical-minded traditionalists are likely to offer. But while these motives doubtless did have some influence, they fail to comprehend the social forces fueling this curious phenomenon. Demographics, I believe, are an important key to the puzzle. When my Depression-born generation of scholars hit the job market, humanities departments were desperately competing to find teachers to handle the baby boom expansion, so we had no need to cultivate an inner priesthood of jargon experts through whom to seize control of the job market..

As that market tightened in later years, the DeconTheory enterprise performed a winnowing process similar to that of calculus and foreign languages in the training of medical doctors. It enabled the graduates of the elite universities to claim an intellectual distinction that would give them an edge in the newly Hobbesianized job market. This is not to say that the foregoing jargon-mongers--the teachers of these graduate students--were acting in bad faith. It is rather to say, as the Marxists were fond of putting it back in their heyday, that the ideals of the educators who promoted DeconTheory were largely a mere "epiphenomenon"--a surface feature that prevented their seeing the "deep structure" which actually obtained in the case. Somewhere within the professorial unconscious, that deep structure of selfish interests (ego inflation, professional advantage, empire-building, turf protection) underlay the allegedly liberationist DeconTheory movement. Which is to say that in their mixture of idealism and self-interest, these were academics like any others except for their mishandling of the true needs of their students.

And so, to return to the book about "The White Heron," it was not the young man's fault that he was obliged to genuflect to the critical dictates of the hour. In fact, his book is excellent once he gets to shake off DeconTheory so as to discuss Jewett's story in its own terms. Unfortunately, like his young peers in the profession, he could not risk his future career with too open a show of independent thinking. With regard to my essay, I was luckier: thanks to my tenured status, I could afford to dismiss the DeconTheory approach my reviewer tried to force upon me on pain of non-publication. After the two rejections noted above, I went to a less prestigious journal that had not been conscripted into the current critical conversation, and the essay was promptly accepted. Its publication brought me Exhibit C--an unexpected note of appreciation from Joyce Carol Oates, who thought she understood her own book better after reading my essay (which a friend of hers had mailed to her.)

For several years, I thought it a mighty nice keepsake to have such a comment from so distinguished an author--a certified genius, in my estimation. But then again, as I later realized, what does she know--my fellow ignoramus in the party of unsound method? If she would only take lessons from the ongoing critical conversation, she might learn better than to write novels in the realist/naturalist tradition like Twain, Hemingway, and McCullers. And she might even learn how to overcome that problem of transparency. Meanwhile, our students in Faulkner and Shakespeare can hardly wait to learn about "continual lateral procrastinations, a critical-methodological catachresis that (self-)destructs revisions of canonicity by means of formalist self-demystifications (Frye), Oedipal totalizations (Bloom), antioedipal detotalizations (Deleuze and Guattari), and ideological Jetztzeiten or the hypostases of literary texts within an ‘arrested moment of time forced to its revolutionary crisis.'" Conversation, anyone? Your career could be at risk if you don't join in--and likely would have been at risk during the last twenty years.

Thankfully, change is on the way. With the aging of the 1960s-style professoriat, the DeconTheory paradigm is gradually losing its grip. As it fades into oblivion, its most lasting legacy to future generations may be its admonitory value: the "Never Again" response its example should elicit toward future instances of forced intellectual conformity such as Exhibits A and B above. A good index to the rescue of Academic Freedom from that conformity will be the general return to transparency, that ageless standard of clear thinking that has served our civilization so well through three thousand years of literary-intellectual achievement.


WHAT WAS DeconTheory? Four Answers:

To our great surprise and disappointment, the FF has elicited virtually no replies from the victims of our Gonzo journalism. So we remind our readers that the Faculty Forum is open to all points of view. We will be happy to publish arguments contrary to our position: in favor of Freud, Jung, or Heidegger, for example; or in defense of institutions like Social Text and the Modern Languages Association; or in support of ideologies like Science Studies or DeconTheory. The latter term, our contraction for Deconstruction/Critical Theory, is implicated in the following contributions that we have received from faculty colleagues. Alternative views will be published if submitted.


[Editor's Note: In his Signs of the Times: Deconstruction and the Fall of Paul de Man (page 27), David Lehman notes that though its devotees have difficulty defining "deconstruction," its critics have less difficulty:]

"Asked to characterize the deconstructionists he has known, an exasperated professor who specializes in modern British literature delivered this tirade:

'Arrogant, smug, snotty, meretricious, addicted to straw-man arguments, horrible writers who demand to be considered of the company of Jane Austen and Chaucer, appallingly ingrown and cliquish at the same time that they talk about expansiveness and new frontiers of discourse, unbelievably wooden and mechanical at the same time that they make their wooden and mechanical obeisances to jouissance and free-play, like all perpetual adolescents contemptuous of the past and convinced that by great good fortune the truth happened to be discovered just as they were hitting puberty, a daisy-chain of brown-nosers declaring their high-flown independence from the normal irksome constraints of community and continuity, who without the peculiar heads-I-win-tails-you- lose rationale of their argument -- if evidence and logic bear me out, fine, if not, we can always deconstruct them -- would almost none of them have written an essay that could stand up in a decent senior seminar.'"


One of the more amusing tenets of deconstruction is the idea that most people, being simple-minded folk, comprehend experience only within the framework of binary opposites, according positive valence to the first term and a negative charge to the second -- as in high/low; man/woman; straight/gay. A few years ago, while addressing a Duke audience for a Queer Studies conference, a British scholar named Jonathan Dollimore built an hour-long speech around the argument that the binary opposite of "pervert" is "convert" -- with, of course, "convert" having a positive meaning in the public mind and "pervert" a degraded one.

As it happens, the simple-minded folk in my home town, a rural community where Latin was still taught in high school, could have taught Dollimore something. The Latin "per" refers to the preposition "through," while "vert" derives from the verb for "turn." A pervert is thus someone who has turned through or (we would say) gone through an experience. The prefix "con," from the Latin "cum," means "with," so that a convert is a person who has gone through an experience with or under the influence of someone.

So "convert" is more of a cognate of "pervert" than a binary opposite. The true opposite of "pervert" would be someone who has never gone through the experience of either a pervert or convert. What should go with the root "vert" in such a case is the Latin prefix "pre," meaning "before" or "prior to." Thus the binary opposite of "pervert" is actually "prevert," distinguishing someone who has gone through an experience from one who has not. It is true that you won't find "prevert" in the dictionary, but Professor Dollimore would have better served his audience by coining the word rather than wrenching "convert" out of shape to suit his argument.

"Prevert/pervert" is the binary opposite he was looking for, and it is no more ridiculous than the idea that most people are too stupid to avoid binary-opposite thinking.

--Reminiscence of the editor (V. Strandberg)


[Editor's Note: The following item, sent to me by a campus colleague, is cited from an essay by David Sexton in The Sunday Telegraph (England) of December 15, 1996 (13), titled "Dickens made difficult."]

[Jeremy Tambling's] introduction to the [new Penguin] David Copperfield is about as big an obstacle as could be put in the way of a reader about to start the book. Every vogueish critical cliche is there. It's virtually a pocket anthology of the current stupidities.

In the course of telling his story, David Copperfield tries to discover himself--it would be a hopelessly dopey reader who failed to understand that much. Professor Tambling, to quote the very first paragraph of his "introduction" at a length sufficient to do it justice, prefers to put it in this fashion:

"The book is 'about' the making (and unmaking) of identity, but 'identity' is not at all a simple term. For example, much of the recent literary and critical theory that draws on psychoanalysis, feminism and the writings of Foucault and Derrida or Deleuze has made 'identity' problematic by emphasizing that there is naturally no such thing as a single subject or single identity. The constraint so to unify the subject is an effect of the strength of those dominant discourses which have the power to form people's lives (for example, by institutionalizing them) just as much as another power within bourgeois capitalist society, and associated with modernity, pluralizes identity, de-territorializes it, makes it schizoid in character. A single-subject identity comes about through the imposition of patriarchal structure, through which the self takes up a specifically gendered position within the 'symbolic order' of language and culture. Using the arguments of Michel Foucault, identity is not just created by the subject, but produced through the power of an active and direct discourse or ideology...."

Enough? Give up? This is "theory" in all its pomp. It has no particular connection with David Copperfield and would serve equally well (equally badly) as an introduction to any other novel. It is not a way of recognising the genius of David Copperfield but of patronising and negating it. The glamour of such jargon for its devotees is that it permits them to feel that they have a technology and therefore they know more than the author they are purportedly discussing.

There are indeed ways in which we know more, nowadays. But in the important ways of human nature, we do not, and that is why the "classics" remain worth reading"reading" in the sense of allowing oneself to enter their imaginative worlds, not pre-emptively converting them into contemporary platitudes. But not knowing more cannot easily be admitted by one who sets out to lecture, and the smaller the man, the more he needs to talk big. This is why such hand-me-down theory is going strong in university literature departments, while having no currency elsewhere.

One of the losses involved is that critics of this kind no longer speak the language of their authors, as critics of a previous generation did, however ineptly. Inevitably, Tambling (who is no more than typical) prefers to talk not of Dickens but, absurdly, of "the text". Thus we are told: "Masculine identity is undercut by the text, and patriarchy also; there seem many cases in the text where the father is excluded and the bourgeois family structure is de-sexualized.'' (David's father has died before he is born, of course.) "The energies of the text", he warns us, "become directed towards homogeneity... In that sense,
David Copperfield should be read with suspicion for its complicity in bourgeois order." Suspicion!

That's not all. "The text is fascinated by women's sexuality, and by the question of their desire", Professor Tambling gravely informs us. "Sexuality, in fact, exemplifies many contradictions in the text" -- the detection of "contradictions in the text" being a recognised cause for remuneration in academic life these days. Nobody treats literature in this manner for pleasure. It's just academic job-creation. And this is the market to which Penguin is now adapting. Does it matter? Yes. For this edition will go into classrooms and bookshops around the world. Poor Dickens.

(IV) DeconTheorizing Art:

[Editor's Note: The following article, signed by "D.S.," was spotted by a Duke colleague in TLS (12/6/96, 16). Its punctuation retains the British forms.]

Lisa Jardine, who a few years ago made a modest start down the path of setting up an Index of unacceptable works of art with a denunciation of Philip Larkin as unfit for "the diversity and richness of contemporary multi-racial Britain" (see NB, December 11, 1992), has now moved on to the visual arts. Writing in the Guardian Women page (December 3), she welcomed an initiative by Oxford City Council to remove "a larger than life-size painting of The Rape of the Sabine Women" from the walls of Oxford Town Hall on the grounds that the picture is incompatible with the council's equal opportunities policy, as well as being "offensive to women who have suffered domestic violence".

Sadly, Oxford's picture ("after Pietro da Cortona") was not available to be reviled, so Jardine, Professor of English at Queen Mary and Westfield College, University of London, instead addressed Jacques-Louis David's version of the subject in the Louvre, which the Guardian conveniently printed as an illustration. According to Jardine, this picture depicts "over-muscled Roman soldiers . . . brutally attacking the womenfolk of their enemy, the Sabines". It is, she said, "violence against women graphically painted in heroic splendour, and no way around it."

Oxford City Council in the end decided to keep its picture, on the grounds that we should not apply current standards to a work that is "of its time and historical", but Jardine was not prepared to be such a patsy. "The inhabitants of David's revolutionary Paris may have become inured to the slaughter of unarmed women and children by semi-naked men, but down through history most of us have recognized such scenes as vile and despicable."

Unfortunately for Jardine, leaving aside for the moment the subtle question of whether contemplating a painting of a scene is exactly equivalent to approving the deed itself, David's painting does not depict violence against women, as several Guardian readers pointed out in the paper's letters page the next day.

The subject is not a battle, but a truce. The Sabines are attacking the Romans, attempting to avenge the abduction of their women some years previously. Hersilia, the daughter of the Sabine leader Tatius, has since married Romulus, the Roman leader, by whom she has two children. In the picture, she bravely stands between her father and her husband as they are about to attack each other. In a booklet composed for the painting's original exhibition, 1799-1805, David himself explained:

"Romulus holds back the javelin which he was about to hurl at Tatius. The general of the cavalry puts his sword back into its sheath. Soldiers raise their helmets as a sign of peace. The feelings of conjugal, fatherly and brotherly love spread through the ranks of both armies. Soon the Romans and the Sabines embrace to form one single people."

It seems particularly strange that Jardine should have so comprehensively misinterpreted the painting, because, she admitted, she once attended a lecture by a distinguished art historian at Cambridge, in which the professor gave "a lengthy account of the artistic brilliance of David's version." Perhaps she had been too incensed by the image, as she understood it, to listen closely?

No matter: advancing boldly beyond this booboo, Jardine suggested that "art specialists may have unconsciously gendered their tolerance of pain in deciding what is or is not 'good art"'. Robert Mapplethorpe's sado-masochistic photographs had caused a lot of talk recently, she observed: "Personally, I didn't actually feel particularly queasy when I looked at a Mapplethorpe penis; beautifully photographed." The Flaying of Marsyas by Titian, in which "nymphs and satyrs are graphically depicted castrating and flaying the unfortunate Marsyas", has also been found unacceptable, since it portrays violence against men. "We don't any longer routinely hang such paintings in our galleries. Mostly we pretend the great Titian never painted anything so tasteless." Such pretence is hardly necessary, in fact. The painting, from Kromeriz in Czechoslovakia, had never been exhibited before the "Genius of Venice" exhibition of 1983.

It was, however, Jardine's last paragraph, proposing a plan for future action, that was most stirring. "Perhaps it really is time we took down from the walls of our public buildings works of art, however sanctioned by the passage of time, which contain graphic representations of acts which violate, harm or mutilate anybody." Now this would help clear the decks no end. At last what so many progressive thinkers have secretly believed has been said, out loud and proud, in public.

Most of Western art would have to go, of course, notably all renderings of that grisly subject, the Crucifixion. Nor is there any reason to stop with pictures. Literature, too, could be winnowed to advantage from begining to end, from that book of blood, the Bible, to the latest crime fiction. All tragedy and most opera would vanish away too, although a few cheerful films and television programmes -- Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, The Magic Roundabout? -- might remain. Then, once the works of art had been purged, only the world itself would remain to be cleansed.

Editor's Note: We conclude our Contributions Page with the following piece of mischief submitted by a colleague who claims he got it "from the Internet."


Scientists at Duke University, in Durham , NC, have discovered a worrisome new aphid. The new bug, tagged "Aphis decanus minor" (the lesser dean bug), resembles other aphids in several ways: it eats plants (favorite: the groves of academe), reproduces rapidly, and is usually hermaphroditic. Like other aphids, adults contain babies which themselves contain babies--this is the secret of the aphid's incredible capacity to reproduce in an opportunistic manner. But "decanus" is unique in that pregnant adults contain only two young--unfortunately these young are bigger than their parent. Scientists are not sure whether this means that "decanus" is more or less or a threat to its favored food source than other aphids. Everything depends on how fast it can reproduce. Funds are being sought to study this question.

A Menagerie à Trois: Ferret . . . Possum . . . Parrot

Our editor's helpers have been assigned the following division of labor. POSSUM, our omnivorous scholar, will try to entice the faculty with a few tastibits of general education. FERRET will snoop, sniff, and snuffle out little nuggets of controversial or even slightly scandalous matter. And PARROT, to offset her big advantage over her two accomplices (a voice), will be limited to reciting 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 Voicemail is 684-3976. FAX is 919-684-4871.

FERRET: Crackpots on Parade

He must have been a genius. The Duke On-Line Catalogue lists 286 titles about him and 33 titles by him, and his collected writings number around 70 volumes. And just look at the man's Renaissance range of interests. Besides his major opus, Being and Time, there are separate volumes on Ontology, Truth, Ethics, Aesthetics, Technology, Subjectivity, Poetry, Historicism, Femininity, Humanism, Religion, Asian Thought, Philosophy, Logic, Language, Iconography, Epistemology, Pragmatism, Science, Theology, Po
litical Science, History, Anthropology, Metaphysics, Hermeneutics, the Finite, Literary Criticism. Yes sir, an all-around genius. But there is a little problem. Given his avid enthusiasm for the idea of National Socialism, which enlisted Heidegger into Nazi Party membership for the full twelve years of the Third Reich's existence, we in the Ferret camp are not too sure we'd be interested in his ruminations about Truth, Ethics, Humanism, Religion, Logic, Pragmatism, Theology, or even Literary Criticism. (The regime he supported fed books to the bonfire.)

On Heidegger's behalf, let us grant that there are gradations of degradation. The German soldier fighting for his Fuhrer might have been a Nazi but he showed exemplary courage in the battles of Berlin and Stalingrad. So too the common farmer or factory worker, traumatized by the Great Depression and further handicapped by having little education to pit against an infernally effective propaganda machine, might understandably be seduced by a political party that could raise his country from prostration to absolute mastery of Europe in eight years. And yet, in the early thirties, those unsophisticated masses outshone a certain eminent Herr Professor Doktor of Philosophy by way of political/moral wisdom: the majority of German voters never elected Hitler their leader. In the last free election for President, in 1932, Paul von Hindenburg defeated Hitler by the landslide margin of five and a half million votes, and the Nazi Party maxed out at 44 percent of the votes in the March, 1933 election, after Hitler had been appointed Chancellor by backroom maneuvering.

Which raises an interesting question: If the average German voter in 1932 was capable of resisting the lure of the Nazi party, in what deep freeze locker did the great philosopher stash his brains, to say nothing of his moral character, for the 1933-1945 duration? Or is it possible that he wasn't such a great philosopher? Granted, the ability to write seventy-odd volumes of print indicates an uncommon verbal fluency, which no doubt figured into the man's irresistible charisma in the classroom and bedroom. His seduction of Hannah Arendt, a formidably strong-minded pupil -- even if she was just eighteen, indicates the overpowering intellectual authority and self-assurance that also served to enhance Heidegger's growing popularity among academics around the world. In 1957, Arendt recalled for her confidante Mary McCarthy that Heidegger possessed "a talent so compelling that it will overrule everything else," But as Richard Rorty has remarked about Wittgenstein, perhaps Heidegger's enduring currency derives in no small measure from the fact that nobody knows what he is talking about. When he lectured at Marburg in the 1920s, he "struggled for clarity," his students recalled, but "they would often convene after class to see whether anyone had understood a word of his lectures."

Now that scene does seem to verify Heidegger's position as the most influential philosopher of the century: unintelligibility has become a conspicuous hallmark, in many cases a precondition, of academic stardom in these latter decades. Regarding that question of intelligibility, do terms like Being and Time emerge from Heidegger's seventy volumes any better defined than in Saint Augustine's brief outcry in the Confessions (XI, 23): "I thirst to know the power and nature of Time"? So far as "Dasein" or "Authentic Being" or "Blood and Soil" are concerned, one might find find more meaningful discourse reading T. S. Eliot's Four Quartets or Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury or even Scientific American. And why should Heidegger's affinity for the rural Volk, living close to the soil, represent anything more than idiosyncratic crankery, in no wise more reasonable than Ayn Rand's tribute to the New York skyline as "the will of man made visible"? This is not to question the taste of anyone who might happen to agree with Heidegger; it is only to reject any appeal to authority based on Heidegger's fame or his vapidly undefined terms of discourse.

Despite these doubts, we will concede the vast extent of Heidegger's influence, earlier in this century on Existentialist philosophy via Sartre, and more recently--we say it joyously--on Deconstruction via Jacques Derrida and Paul de Man. In fact, these latter gentlemen, we are told, derived the term Deconstruction from Heidegger's projected "Destruction" of the whole tradition of Ontology. But we digress. It is a more literal Destruction that claims our attention here--the destruction of the thousand-year old Jewish communities of Europe in particular, to which Paul de Man made his own precocious contribution as a journalist and concerning which our philosopher of seventy volumes lapsed into a most uncharacteristic reticence during the thirty years of his postwar Dasein. The Heidegger scholar Martin Zimmerman was able to find only one reference to the Holocaust in all of Heidegger's oeuvre, and this occurred in an unpublished lecture on technology given in 1949. That one reference, however, is quite a mind-boggler, as follows:

"Agriculture is now a motorized food industry, essentially the same thing as the fabrication of cadavers in the gas chambers of the extermination camps, the same thing as the blockades and the reduction of countries to famine, the same thing as the fabrication of hydrogen bombs."

It is a neat bit of thinking, if you want to put on an equal footing the blameworthy modernization of agriculture (he love the simple farm folk, remember), the Berlin blockade (blame to Russia), the newly invented hydrogen bomb (blame to USA), and the mass cremation of hapless Jewish civilians (blame the technology: it was those gas ovens that did it).

One could, perhaps, argue that Heidegger's love affair with a Jewish girl, Hannah Arendt, shows his lack of antiSemitism, but we have to consider that even Joseph Goebbels had a Jewish fiancee before he joined the Party. And as the sky darkened over German Jewry in 1933, Heidegger seemed notably uninterested in the fate of his Liebchen Hannah, who slipped quietly out of Germany in August of that year--about the same time that Doktor Heidegger completed his purge of Jews from the faculty of Freiburg University, whose rectorship he had recently inherited from a predecessor who had been fired for refusing to post the Nazis' anti-Jewish prohibitions.

Ironically, it was that cast-off Jewish mistress who provided the crucial help he needed after the war, using her substantial influence as a New York intellectual to resurrect and, it now appears, to launder his career. Concerning that career, we in the Ferret camp have just one modest request to make. For all we know, Martin Heidegger may have been the most important philosopher of the twentieth century, a major force in the Existentialist movement and in--for what it is worth--its Deconstruction/Critical Theory successor. All we ask with respect to this man is one thing: that he get out of our life and stay out. We want the name of Heidegger to never cross our line of vision again. Chances are, we long for this boon in vain, so we will settle for a more realistic alternative: we'll place him in our Crackpot parade. Perhaps it will comfort him with memories of similar parades he has seen, cheered, or maybe even marched in, with flaming torch held high--in Munich, Berlin, Nuremberg, wherever. Dasein, we call it--Authentic Being.

Ferret's sources for this essay include Tom Rockmore and Joseph Margolis, editors, The Heidegger Case (Philadelphia, 1992), 56; Between Friends: The Correspondence of Hannah Arendt and Mary McCarthy 1949-1975 (New York, 1995), 49; Elizabeth Young- Bruehl, Hannah Arendt: For Love of the World (New Haven, 1982), 48; and J. L. Mehta, The Philosophy of Martin Heidegger (New York, 1971), 37.


"The Great Illusion . . . [is] that you can seduce women. Which you can't. . .

They just elect you."

Classic Erotica:

On fire, in Eden, they forgot the tree,

God's anger, and the vacancy

That had so fretted them, and she

Knew she must make him touch her, knew

The wisest way. . . ran. He crashed through

Thickets she threaded; caught her, drew

Her arms about him, and her face

Close against his, till the cool place

Sang like a burning bough. Thus-wise

Tedium ceased--and Paradise.


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