[ilds] baboonism

Bruce Redwine bredwine1968 at earthlink.net
Sun Jul 8 07:20:37 PDT 2007

I'm a dinosaur all right.  Michael is the mammalian order, I think.  Saber-toothed tiger?


-----Original Message-----
>From: James Gifford <odos.fanourios at gmail.com>
>Sent: Jul 7, 2007 9:35 AM
>To: ilds at lists.uvic.ca
>Subject: Re: [ilds] baboonism
>I once heard a creationist say that dinosaur bones were planted by the 
>Devil -- that makes me think that palaeontologists must be a crazy 
>bunch. It's best to disregard what they say... (tongue in my cheek). 
>Isn't that form of reasoning precisely what Bruce and Michael are 
>offering us right now though? They find one thing problematic, so it's 
>therefore best to disregard everything that doesn't fit their view -- I 
>know both of them have minds with more queries than that, so let's avoid 
>those grand dismissive gestures. They credit neither the discussion nor 
>the author who pens them.
>-- case in point; when we take the responses to the Times to define our 
>notions of postmodernism, we may be confusing apples and oranges.
>Andrew M. Chisholm (his last name nicely coincides with a theorist in 
>the department I completed my PhD through...) defines postmodernism 
>using a similar slippage (a messy word if I ever heard one). For 
>instance, by using the quotation posted by Michael (provocatively 
>without his censure or tacit acceptance -- did you mean to erase the 
>author there Michael, which is still you through the traditionally 
>author-killing technique of pastiche and/or Burroughs-ish cutting?), we 
>find it "folds in on itself" (that's an allusion to some postmodern 
>stuff I don't buy into). Is my last sentence postmodern enough in it 
>syntactic convolutions?
>Mr Chisholm makes the seemingly reasonable comment:
>Postmodernists believe there is no knowledge or truth, only “discourse”. 
>However, they also tend to hold that modish left-wing views are 
>absolutely true and that anyone who opposes these should be persecuted.
>We've moved from the universal to a tendency here: implicitly (all) 
>postmodernists believe X yet they *tend* to believe Y, which is 
>contradictory, so we should disregard X. In other words, I make a 
>universal claim and then reject it as utterly wrong because of a 
>tendency -- I'm not even saying his universal claim is right, but his 
>reasons seem awkward.
>Pamela then rebuts this in a classically pragmatist manner (a modernist 
>philosophical move, I might add...), which I'll admit I'm drawn to. I 
>like pragmatism in many respects. In other words, we should focus on 
>useful discussions as well as our uses for a text or a particular 
>reading. Just what postmodernism *is* matters little in comparison to 
>how it functions and is used by many critics.
>And besides, academic skepticism (the skeptical view that there is no 
>knowledge, which is itself a statement from a position of knowing) is 
>not a postmodern idea, so the "no knowledge" claim is off. The focus on 
>"discourse," however, is spot on for historicism. By moving away from 
>TRUTH to competing narratives or discourses, we open up many ways of 
>approaching historical documents, even those for which there are no 
>competing narratives (hence, they *must* be true, right? Irony again). 
>To leap from that to leftism (and which leftism, pray tell), is a jump 
>indeed. My hunch is that Mr. Chisholm isn't particularly fond of notions 
>of discourse but he's dead set against leftism (I wonder, would that 
>include libertarian anarchists, who I should think actually have a 
>tremendous amount in common with die hard capitalists, who would 
>typically be called modish right-wing values).
>That said, many "postmodern" authors are notoriously difficult to read 
>or to pin down to a single meaning. That's partly the point, partly the 
>problem of translations, and partly just plain poor writing. I typically 
>focus on the ideas and try to steer my classroom discussions away from 
>'definitional excursions' into the meaning of words like "modernism" or 
>"postmodernism," for which there are so many variant meanings and 
>interpretations for them to be almost useless apart from popular slang 
>to identify that thing we all know about but just can't describe... I'd 
>rather focus on the traits of the specific thing being discussed or the 
>specific meaning in a specific context rather than how I define it 
>within a poorly defined movement.
>But, what does this have to do with Durrell?
>Perhaps more than we think. In the opening of _Bitter Lemons_, he openly 
>directs our attention to his "characters" (do you call real people 
>that?) and his desire to write a book that doesn't focus on historical 
>TRUTHS but rather an "impressionistic" approach to multiple 
>perspectives. Does that mean he wants a blurry landscape or one that 
>only becomes intelligible as we allow ourselves to lose track of the 
>particulars. Doesn't this also remind us of the _Quartet_ in unexpected 
>ways? First the hermaphrodites, then multiple perspectives and a world 
>peopled only by characters...
>Well, that's sounds pretty close to postmodernism to me, at least in a 
>slang sense. It could also be described within some notions of 
>modernism, but perhaps it's best to split the difference and just say 
>some funny ideas were circulating by that point in the century, and 
>Durrell seemed to dig the flow on some level. After all, would you want 
>to call _Bitter Lemons_ "history" or "discourse"? I'd prefer the 
>tentativeness of the latter, 'cause I don't think I'd want to rely on an 
>impressionist painting and characters for a grand historical TRUTH.
>As for the "Underwear theory of History," isn't this precisely what 
>postmodernism typically attacks? By creating associations between 
>disparate things, we often reveal our own motivations more than any 
>underlying TRUTH. If we stop talking about truth so much as those other 
>factors, we might just get somewhere. After all, before we can even 
>consider the pragmatic value of a discussion of wishy-washy words like 
>"TRUE," I'd like to know better how we use them and talk about them. 
>What purposes, and whose, do those words (let alone the ideas) serve? 
>Think of the endings of _The Name of the Rose_ and _Foucault's Pendulum_ 
>by Eco with regard to false patterns. I've often wondered how much 
>Durrell's false pattern in his Quintet (overtly so, I think) influenced 
>Eco in the latter book.
>And then, Michael gives us Camille Paglia's comments (a female voice, 
>Michael, or are you ventriloquising? -- another postmodern thing to 
>"What happened was that the old bibliographical style of literary 
>scholarship had become totally enervated and dead, and then New 
>Criticism rose up in the Twenties, Thirties, Forties--and then it really 
>started dying in the Fifties--as a way to talk about the literary and 
>artistic qualities of a text. And then unfortunately that detached 
>itself entirely from any historical context, and you got a whole 
>generation of critics who came through who have absolutely no historical 
>sense whatever--they haven't been trained to think in historical terms."
>This is again slippery. Bibliography is loosing ground, and I lament 
>that. I feel the paucity of my own bibliographical training on many 
>occasions, despite my ongoing work in it. Yet, do we blame that on New 
>Criticism (which is also out of fashion just now)? The notion of close 
>reading does not lead to the death of the author, but rather it creates 
>elbow room for the reader. Also, I don't know why New Criticism without 
>History is the problem here -- it isn't a theory about anything, let 
>alone a theory of history or truth. It's a reading practice, and it 
>works wonders with poetry. It makes for a wonderfully enjoyable reading 
>experience for the reader and an enriched text as well. Think about how 
>many ways you could read the last 2 lines of Keats' "When I have fears" 
>or how long it takes him to reach that "then." Those are the practices 
>of New Criticism, and I think they enrich the text.
>That said, even New Criticism is not cohesive, with many saying it 
>anticipates the Death of the Author phenomenon (in line with T.S. 
>Eliot's "Tradition and the Individual Talent"), yet this is contradicted 
>overtly by William Empson, a founding father of New Criticism. His 
>*style* in _Seven Types of Ambiguity_ is meant to augment 
>author-oriented and bibliographic scholarship, not replace it.
>Perhaps we had best admit that our terminology for these movements is 
>generalized at best, so staying close to what is at hand may be more 
>productive. The pragmatist in me suggests it may be more useful. As per 
>Bill's comments, wouldn't it be interesting if we could explain what we 
>mean, how we mean it, and why we mean it for words like "truth," 
>"postmodern," "real," or "good."

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