24 October 2009

Foxes roaming free

One of the treats of teaching at UC is seeing the occasional fox walking through the mist or - as recently - haring after a plump rabbit. After reading Edward Carr's piece on polymaths which laments that
Isaiah Berlin once divided thinkers into two types. Foxes, he wrote, know many things; whereas hedgehogs know one big thing. The foxes used to roam free across the hills. Today the hedgehogs rule
I was reminded of the 1980 NYRB letter by John Bowman examining Berlin's use of a fragment from Archilochus for his 'The Hedgehog and the Fox' and acceptance of Berlin's metaphor.
As quoted by Berlin, Archilochus is saying: "The fox knows many little things. The hedgehog knows one big thing." Berlin then proceeds to compare Tolstoy, the "fox," to Dostoevsky, the "hedgehog," and before he is through the Archilochus epigram seems to be saying that there are two different ways of approaching or knowing reality—put quite simplistically, the way of the far-ranging generalist and the way of the concentrated specialist.

As I admit, that is oversimplifying Berlin's subtle arguments, but it is not my intention to accuse Berlin of anything. I do not even know who is responsible for the translation of the Archilochus that he uses. My point is that it is this reading of the Archilochus epigram that has held sway since Berlin used it many years ago: when people refer to "the hedgehog and the fox" these days, they are usually referring to this contrasting approach to the world. Furthermore, there is a general disposition to favor the way of the fox—although this may be entirely my own bias. For instance, the reviewers of Berlin refer to his "pluralism" and other aspects of our Western-liberal tradition that Berlin so epitomizes in a way that suggests we all are better for knowing a lot of things.

Again, that may be my own prejudice. At the very least we may allow that Berlin's translation — and his thesis — award equal status to these two animals. Yet when we look closer at the original Archilochus, or rather at some other translations, the issue is not so clear. To begin with, "thing" tends to become "trick," and the "one big thing" that Berlin's hedgehog knows is how to curl itself into a ball to escape its enemies—including, presumably, the fox. There is thus the implied, if not explicit, suggestion that although the fox knows many tricks, it is the hedgehog with one "big trick" that ends up defeating the fox. In this reading, Tolstoy and Dostoevsky would not just be taking different routes to reality: they would be in conflict — and Dostoevsky would outfox Tolstoy!

This version of the Archilochus is given its most committed translation by Guy Davenport (Carmina Archilochi: The Fragments of Archilochus: University of California Press, 1964) when he first translates the original with what he states are the literal seven words: "Fox knows many / Hedgehog one / Solid trick." Davenport then provides an alternate translation that he claims expresses the true thrust of the original: "Fox knows / Eleventythree / Tricks and still / Gets caught: / Hedgehog knows / One but it / Always works." Not all translators go this far, but others do imply that (1) the hedgehog's trick is superior to the fox's many tricks, and (2) the hedgehog's trick may actually defeat the fox.

Nor is that the end of the problem. It has been suggested by at least one (hedgehoggy? foxy?) student of this matter that although the hedgehog may roll itself into a ball to elude the fox, it has been observed in nature that a fox may roll said hedgehog down a slope into water, where the hedgehog will either drown or be forced ashore to be killed by the fox. Your reviewers of Berlin may be hinting at this when they write that "an ironist would remark" that the one big thing that the hedgehogs of this world know is "that there is not, or should not be, any hedgehog's thesis about human affairs to expound." (Note that it is the fox's way, again, that is being favored.)
William Harris' commentary on Archilochus [PDF] includes the epigram
No man is praised by his citizens or greatly honored when dead.
We rather follow the favor of the living while we are alive,
and the dead always get the worst part.
Harris states that
This telling line has been so often quoted and perhaps misquoted, that no comment should be necessary, other than to note a personal preference for the staying qualities of the hedgehog who is still peering out of his burrow while the farmer hangs the body of the fox on the barbed wire fence as a reminder of the fate of being a smart aleck.
Poor foxling sharp-ears.

Vanessa Friedman in the Financial Times meanwhile quotes the characterisation of Goldman Sachs as a "great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity". Mixed metaphor (Nosferatu meets Alien?, but I get the picture.

Kafka's Law

After an era where vade mecum's included kitty litter such as God is My CoPilot (the big guy's presumably flattered to share the joystick) and the Business Secrets of Attila The Hun (the latter was presumably a hit at Bear Stearns) it was nice this morning to encounter 'In Search of Heimat: A Note on Franz Kafka's Concept of Law' by Reza Banakar in 22 Law and Literature (2010) on SSRN.

Banakar asks
Are Franz Kafka's descriptions of law and legality a figment of his imagination or do they go beyond his obsessive probing of his neurosis, reflecting issues which also engaged the social and legal theorists of the time? Does Kafka’s conception of law offer anything new in respect to law, justice and bureaucracy, which was not explored by his contemporaries or by later legal scholars?
He uses Kafka's newly-fashionable "office writings" - Franz Kafka: The Office Writings (Princeton: Princeton Uni Press 2009) edited by Stanley Corngold
as a starting point for re-examining the images of law, bureaucracy, hierarchy and authority in his fiction; images which are traditionally treated as metaphors for things other than law. It will argue that the legal images in Kafka’s fiction are worthy of examination, not only because of their bewildering, enigmatic, bizarre, profane and alienating effects, or because of the deeper theological or existential meaning they suggest, but also as a particular concept of law and legality which operates paradoxically as an integral part of the human condition under modernity. To explore this point Kafka's conception of law is placed in the context of his overall writing as a search for Heimat which takes us beyond the instrumental understanding of law advocated by various schools of legal positivism and allows us to grasp law as a form of experience.
Banaker examines
Kafka's "rhetoric" while paying special attention to his day job as an insurance lawyer and a bureaucrat and to his legal and clerical writings, which show he borrowed material from the cases he was involved in to develop some of the characters, settings and images in his fiction. Joseph K. and his inexplicable experience of the law in The Trial were, for example, born out of an actual legal case, while Gregor Samsa and his bizarre transformation into an insect in Metamorphosis were inspired by Kafka's daily work experience. Would Kafka have thought the way he did, constantly striving "to interpret discourse that looks like one thing but might well be another" – often its opposite – had he not been leading a dual life, practicing law during the day and producing fiction during the night? His day job as an insurance lawyer and his nighttime preoccupation as a fiction writer both involved creative writing, one belonging to the world of modern work, the other to art. In Kafka's fiction these two separate worlds merge to uncover the inner contradictions of modernity. ...

The legal aspects of Kafka’s work do not, admittedly, explain his "linguistic imagination", but throw new light on the link between law and his images of legality. They also challenge some of the previous readings of Kafka's work that emphasize the theological, psychoanalytical, ontological, historical, metaphysical and existential interpretations of his fiction at the expense of exploring the role of law in his narratives. It might indeed be true, as noted by Albert Camus, that Kafka's novel The Trial is "the diagnosis", while "The Castle imagines a treatment". This should not, however, distract us from also considering the significance of Kafka's choice of criminal proceedings when making "the diagnosis", and private law when searching for a "treatment". Is Kafka's choice of law arbitrary or does it resonate a concern with the rise of modernity which engaged legal and social theorists of the time? More importantly, does Kafka offer an insight into the complexity of the relationship between modern law, justice and bureaucratic forms of organization, not explored by his contemporaries or by later legal scholars?
I wonder about assumptions regarding modernity, law and bureaucracy (irrational, indifferent or otherwise), given the omnipresence of law and procedure in steam age writers such as Stifter, Balzac, Fontane and Dickens.

Meanwhile, after coffee with Bill, I'm doing a fast re-read of The Big End of Town: Big Business and Corporate Leadership in Twentieth Century Australia (Cambridge: Cambridge Uni Press 2004) by Grant Fleming, David Merrett & Simon Ville before looking at How Terrorism Ends: Understanding the Decline and Demise of Terrorist Campaigns (Princeton: Princeton Uni Press 2009) by Audrey Cronin.

23 October 2009

Whereof one cannot speak

Derridian, that most generous of scholars despite difficult conditions, has kindly pointed me to debate in the Chronicle of Higher Education about Carlin Romano's attack on the gnome of Todtnauberg in a review of Emmanuel Faye's Heidegger: The Introduction of Nazism Into Philosophy (New Haven: Yale Uni Press 2009). Ooh, what fun - Heidegger true believers and phobes going for it!

Romano starts off modestly by asking
How many scholarly stakes in the heart will we need before Martin Heidegger (1889-1976), still regarded by some as Germany's greatest 20th-century philosopher, reaches his final resting place as a prolific, provincial Nazi hack? Overrated in his prime, bizarrely venerated by acolytes even now, the pretentious old Black Forest babbler makes one wonder whether there's a university-press equivalent of wolfsbane, guaranteed to keep philosophical frauds at a distance.
I moved on to 'A Paradigm Shift in Heidegger Research', a review [PDF] by Thomas Sheehan in XXXII(2) Continental Philosophy Review (2001) 1-20 of the dark prince's Beiträge, complete with gems such as the
definition of Denken: "Thinking no longer appears as a faculty of the mind but as the mystery through which the sway of being sways as the counter-sway of a finite projection and a finite but always already on-going and self-sustaining forth-throw"
Sheehan commented that
The Beiträge hits us at a time of crisis when, in the eyes of many, the Heidegger establishment has painted itself into a corner. It's not just that outsiders don't understand what we're talking about; there is a growing suspicion that we don't either. Heideggerians seem to have abandoned philosophy to become glossolalics. ...

Medard Boss, the Swiss psychiatrist, reports that well into the 1930s Heidegger was plagued by a recurring nightmare in which he is back at his Maturitätsprüfung, the final exam before leaving high school. He freezes up and cannot find the right answer to the examiners' question. It's a terrifying experience ...

I imagine a similar nightmare in which all of us in the Heidegger Conference are compelled, like elementary school children, to take a standardized test in Heidegger. The bell rings out over the schoolyard - say, at my own Mission Dolores Grammar School in San Francisco. Reluctantly we leave our games and, under the watchful eyes of the Sisters of Notre Dame, trudge into our seventh-grade classroom. We slouch into our seats and whisper a desperate prayer to der letzte Gott as the stern-faced Sister Constantia hands each of us a number-two pencil and a bluebook. There is only one question: 'In plain English, define each of the following terms and relate them to one another: Ereignis, Geschick, Lichtung, Austrag, Entzug, Seyn, Sein, Sein, and Wesung'.
What would Sister Constantia think of an undergrad who assumes that John Rawls was channelling Ayn Rand (admittedly an interesting variation on announcement in one 2008 tutorial that Rawls was a Communist, presumably of the godless atheistical babies-for-breakfast and boots-on-the-table variety)?

Time to reread Sheehan's 'A Normal Nazi' [PDF] in XL(1) New York Review of Books (1993) 30-35

Responses to DNC and Speam

Direct marketing industry advocates and some pessimists argued several years ago that establishment of an Australian Do Not Call (DNC) regime was unviable because there would be no community support ... variously because consumers wouldn't bother to list their numbers on the national DNC register or that most people welcomed unsolicited contact from telemarketers.

That claim was belied by the growth of the register (over one million people signed up within a short time) and community endorsement of DNC litigation. It is also belied by comments in a 77 page report commissioned by ACMA, the national telecommunications regulator.

Community attitudes to unsolicited communications [PDF] "explores community attitudes to unsolicited telemarketing calls and electronic communications, and the awareness and effectiveness of the regimes that regulate these communications".

The report notes that around one in three Australian adults (32%) have registered a number on the DNC Register. Although all of those people have their home number on the Register, only six per cent of all adults have registered their mobile phone numbers. Arguably that is because most people are not yet aware that mobile numbers can be listed and have not become sensitised to inappropriate telemarketing (including speam) involving mobile numbers. "Awareness and knowledge of aspects of the Do Not Call Register Act and the registration process itself are generally low."

The report comments that the Register "appears to have been very effective, particularly for those who have their home phone number registered".

It also suggests that awareness and understanding of spam is "generally high, as is use of spam filters", although email users are typically receiving 23 spam emails per week despite such filtering. SMS or MMS spam is less prevalent, with personal mobile phone users receiving an average of two spam messages per month. Awareness of Australia's anti-spam regime is low, according to ACMA.

The report indicates that
People are generally unsure who they would complain to about unsolicited telemarketing calls. Complaining about unsolicited spam messages, however, is a little clearer, with many opting to contact the telephone or internet service provider. Supporting this, nearly one in four have considered making a complaint, but have not gone through with it (mainly because they didn't know how to).
Justice Logan of the Federal Court this week imposed an aggregate $15.75 million in fines under the anti-spam regime on operators of the 'Mobilegate' speam scam noted here in August.

Mobilegate Ltd, Winning Bid Pty Ltd and three individuals were penalised for a scheme involving premium-priced SMS 'adult chat services' that leveraged numbers garnered through fake personal profiles on dating web sites. In August ACMA gained injunctions and declarations against the two companies and Simon Owen, Tarek Salcedo and Glenn Maughan for breaches of the Spam Act 2003 (Cth) and the Trade Practices Act 1974 (Cth).

Mobilegate and Winning Bid were fined $5m and $3.5m respectively, with fines of $3m imposed on Owen, $3m on Salcedo and $1.25m on Maughan. ACMA has announced that it will continue to pursue a further three respondents.

Red in tooth & claw

And speaking of the canon, a friend has pointed out that F.M. Cornford's Microcosmographia Academica: Being a Guide for the Young Academic Politician is online. Fortunately I am neither young nor an academic politician, so I can enjoy it.

It is a perspective on 'The Economy of Legal Practice as a Symbolic Market: Legal Value as the Product of Social Capital, Universal Knowledge, and State Authority', a feisty article by Yves Dezalay & Bryant Garth in 10(3) Economic Sociology (2009) 8-13 [PDF]. the article offers a point of entry to their Palace Wars book.

Dezalay & Garth comment that
Today the U.S. legal field is in a hegemonic position enabling U.S. lawyers to export prescriptions for the rule of law and to impose U.S. approaches as the best source for a renewal of the social authority of peripheral legal fields initially patterned on Europe. The basis for that hegemonic position is the complex structure of oppositions and complementarities in the United States among the various poles of legal power – scholarly, economic and political – which constitute a kind of built-in anti-cyclical device. Internal tensions and permanent competitive struggles in the U.S. legal field produce new legal opportunities and therefore renewal – as much in academic space as in the political world.
In discussing views of institutional roles they argue [citations deleted] that
relentless pursuit of growth and profit called into question the professional ideal, which had long served to bolster the social credibility of the profession, of a collegial community of equals committed to serve the public interest. This context of a return to basic professional principles helped bring new approaches to the legal profession seeking to reintroduce the political dimension – whether by emphasizing the multiple forms of engagement by cause lawyers or by insisting on the primacy of the political as the basis of the professional project. The emphasis on the political was a reaction to an economic approach considered too reductionist. Even if aspiring to a political theory of law, however, the authors of the new emphasis hold to a very restrictive view of the relationship between legal professionals and the field of political power. Political liberalism, they maintain, characterizes the essence of the history and structures of the bar. They recognize that this political project faces obstacles which slow down or prevent its realization. But they maintain that this project remains inscribed in the very nature of the legal professional model – built around the defense of the freedom of civil society vis-à-vis the encroachments of state authoritarianism. This approach echoes professional ideology, but it remains too narrow, even reductionist.

History shows that legal professionals more often than not put themselves and their expertise in the service of strong rulers (condotierri, caudillos, or political bosses, for example), or military regimes, authoritarian states, colonial powers, and the like. As Kantorowicz (1997) suggests, furthermore, one can suggest that the interventions of lawyers aiming to moderate the authoritarianism of power holders represent primarily a collective strategy of legitimation – for the power holders, and also for themselves – which leads to the role of double agent characteristic of lawyers as "guardians of collective hypocrisy".

22 October 2009

Wild Things

Given that Maurice Sendak's in my canon (up there with Syme, Namier, Kirby and Rawls) I was interested to see a letter from Ursula Nordstrom, his editor, about Where The Wild Things Are.
... You asked me how "revolutionary" Where the Wild Things Are is. There have been a good many fine picture books in the past. (Some by Margaret Wise Brown, and illustrated by one of two or three or four talented artists.) But I think Wild Things is the first complete work of art in the picture book field, conceived, written, illustrated, executed in entirety by one person of authentic genius. Most books are written from the outside in. But Wild Things comes from the inside out, if you know what I mean. And I think Maurice's book is the first picture book to recognize the fact that children have powerful emotions, anger and love and hate and only after all that passion, the wanting to be "where someone loved him best of all." I'm writing this in a terrible hurry, so forgive me, please. A lot of good picture books have had fine stories and lovely pictures (Peter Rabbit, the best of Dr. Seuss, Wanda Gag's Millions of Cats), and some have touched beautifully on basic things in a child's life, physical growth, going to bed, coming to terms with a new sister or brother (this is making them sound sappy but they are far from that — I'm thinking of Ruth Krauss' The Growing Story, Margaret Wise Brown's Goodnight Moon, Charlotte Zolotow's Quarreling Book, the Hobans' Baby Sister for Frances). But it just seems to me that Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are goes deeper than previous picture books. And of course his use of three consecutive double-spreads to show what happened when Max cried, "Let the wild rumpus start!" has never been done in any book.
That extract comes from Dear Genius: the collected letters of Ursula Nordstrom (New York: HarperCollins 2000) edited by Leonard Marcus.

While talking about wild things I note that SSRN offers an extract from Twining's forthcoming General Jurisprudence: Understanding Law from a Global Perspective (Cambridge: Cambridge Uni Press):
This book explores how globalisation influences the understanding of law. Adopting a broad concept of law and a global perspective, it critically reviews mainstream Western traditions of academic law and legal theory. Its central thesis is that most processes of so-called 'globalisation' take place at sub-global levels and that a healthy cosmopolitan discipline of law should encompass all levels of social relations and the legal ordering of these relations. It illustrates how the mainstream Western canon of jurisprudence needs to be critically reviewed and extended to take account of other legal traditions and cultures. Written by the one of the foremost scholars in the field, this important work presents an exciting alternative vision of jurisprudence. It challenges the traditional canon of legal theorists and guides the reader through a field undergoing seismic changes in the era of globalisation.

20 October 2009

As many passports as your bag will fit?

Sailing under two flags? (And if two, why not three, four or more?) A forthcoming article by Peter Spiro on 'Dual Citizenship as Human Right' in International Journal of Constitutional Law (2009) comments that
For most of modern history, dual citizenship was considered an anomaly at best and an abomination at worst. It has since become a commonplace of globalization. The sequence has been from strong disfavor to toleration; some states have moved to embrace the status. Could plural citizenship now achieve the status of a right?
Spiro argues that there is a case for recognising a right to acquire and/or maintain plural citizenship where an individual is otherwise eligible for the status. He bases that argument on "the optics of freedom of association and liberal autonomy values".
Citizenship comprises both a form of association and a vehicle for individual identity. The liberal state has no business obstructing alternate national ties in the absence of a compelling interest. That interest once existed, to the extent that dual nationality destabilized interstate relations, and explains the historical opprobrium attached to the status. Laws directed at reducing the incidence of dual citizenship may also unjustifiably burden the exercise of political rights.
He concludes that
Today, the material downside risks (if any) posed by plural citizens have dissipated to the point that the state is no longer justified in suppressing the status. To the extent that dual citizenship undermines social solidarities necessary to liberal governance, that is too diffuse an interest to overcome individual autonomy values.

Bikies on Burley-Griffin

The South Australian Attorney-General, as forecast, has migrated disagreement about the state's anti-bikie law to the High Court.

The Hon Michael Atkinson indicated that the SA Solicitor-General "has today filed documents appealing the decision of the Full Court of the Supreme Court in the matter of Totani & Another vs. the State of South Australia". That decision, discussed recently in this blog, saw the Supreme Court eviscerate over-sold and badly-written legislation - the Serious and Organised Crime (Control) Act 2008 (SA) - that "forms part of the Government's attack on organised crime". Organised crime is represented by 'Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs' (aka OMGs or Bikies), the sort of people you might not want to ask home for tea & sympathy from great aunt Hilda but who - like any other citizen - are not beyond the law and shouldn't be pursued in a way that erodes fundamental principles of the Australian justice system.

In Totani & Anor v The State of South Australia [2009] SASC 301 the Court noted that
the process of depriving a person of their right to and freedom of association on pain of imprisonment for up to five years, although formally performed by a State court which exercises Federal jurisdiction, is in fact performed to a large extent by a member of the Executive Government in a manner which gives the appearance of being done by the Court. But the process is devoid of the fundamental protections which the law affords in the making of such an order, namely the right to have significant and possibly disputed factual issues determined by an independent and impartial judicial officer and the right to be informed of and to answer the case put against the person.
Undaunted by the bad news last month, Mr Atkinson commented that
we are willing to test the constitutional boundaries in order to take the fight to the outlaw motorcycle gangs. So we don't feel the least embarrassed or regretful that we took the fight up to the gangs to the very limit.
His media release today announced that
The challenge is important as the Supreme Court judgment could effect [sic] the Parliament's powers powers in legislating on behalf of the people of South Australia.
Quite so: one rationale for a supreme court is to determine the constitutionality of statute law and act as a restraint on 'elected dictatorship'. Mr Atkinson went on to state that
I have been confident" in this legislation from the outset and I'm equally certain that we will prevail in the highest court in the nation.
The effort in making a special application to the High Court and persuading that court of the virtue of the SA statute might have been better invested in fixing the legislation, rather than in grandstanding that "I remain steadfast in my conviction" - everyone loves a steadfast politician - "that this legislation is necessary and appropriate to stop the violence, the drug dealing and the extortion created by organised crime in South Australia".

The SA Premier chimed in on Twitter this afternoon, announcing that
we are lodging our appeal to High Court today re our anti crime gang laws after SA Supreme Court struck out one section of our legislation
The Attorney-General's media release emphasised that the Supreme Court "held that one section" of the Act was "invalid" and "rendered only one subsection ... invalid". That is correct ... but they are key provisions of the statute. It remains to be seen whether the High Court will hold that the SA Supremes got it quite, quite wrong.

19 October 2009


Can't go to bed without commending an eloquent post by Derridian on Stalin's Willing Executioners. My recollection of Blokhin is his use of a leather butcher's apron and shoulder-length gloves when blowing people's brains out - one doesn't want to muss one's uniform, does one - and his complaint that mass murder at Katyn was giving him a callus on his trigger finger.

Silent falling of distant stars

Having survived the latest bout of Workshop (like the flu but hurts all over) I'm starting to read The Judicial House of Lords 1876-2009 (Oxford: Oxford Uni Press 2009) edited by Louis Blom-Cooper, Brice Dickson & Gavin Drewry - starting with Michael Kirby's chapter on Australia and New Zealand (pp 339-350) - and listening to a friend sing Hugo Hofmannsthal over the phone ...
Manche freilich müssen drunten sterben
wo die schweren Ruder der Schiffe streifen,
andere wohnen bei dem Steuer droben,
kennen Vogelflug und die Länder der Sterne.

Manche liegen mit immer schweren Gliedern
bei den Wurzeln des verworrenen Lebens,
anderen sind die Stühle gerichtet
bei den Sibyllen, den Königinnen,
und da sitzen sie wie zu Hause,
leichten Hauptes und leichter Hände.

Doch ein Schatten fällt von jenen Leben
in die anderen Leben hinüber,
und die leichten sind an die schweren
wie an Luft und Erde gebunden.

Ganz vergessener Völker Müdigkeiten
kann ich nicht abtun von meinen Lidern,
noch weghalten von der erschrockenen Seele
stummes Niederfallen ferner Sterne.

Viele Geschicke weben neben dem meinen,
durcheinander spielt sie all das Dasein,
und mein Teil ist mehr als dieses Lebens
schlanke Flamme oder schmale Leier.

Granted, some must die below deck,
Where streak the ship's heavy oars.
Others dwell above at the helm,
Knowing flights of birds and realms of stars.

Some lie forever with heavy limbs
At the roots of confused life.
For others are seats prepared
With sibyls and queens
And there they sit as if at home
With light heads and light hands.

Yet a shadow from those other lives
Falls into these lives,
And the light are bound to the heavy
As to the air and earth:
My eyelids cannot shed
Quite forgotten people's weariness,
Nor my terrified soul fend against
The silent falling of distant stars.

Many fates weave beside my own,
Life entangles them all,
And my part is more than this life’s
Slender flame or slim lyre.
Scott Horton's translation puts it thus ...
Many lie always with heavy limbs
At the roots of a life intertwined,
Others have seats prepared for them
With the sibyls, the queens,
And sit there as if at home,
With a giddy head and light hands.

But a shadow falls from those lives
Across and into the others' lives,
And the light are bound to the heavy
As the air is bound to the earth.

The weariness of peoples quite forgotten
I cannot banish from my eyelids,
Neither can I keep away from my terrified soul
The silent descent of distant stars.

18 October 2009

Hit and Myth

Having uploaded the slides for tomorrow's intellectual property lecture I should be 'engaging', if that's the word, with Pleading Precedents 6th ed (Pyrmont: Lawbook Co) by Joseph Azize, Peter El Khouri & Edmund Finnane but instead I've been drinking coffee, eating cake (the famous Mycaf mango & macadamia cake), reading The Myth of the Eastern Front: The Nazi-Soviet War in American Popular Culture (Cambridge: Cambridge Uni Press 2008) by Donald Smelser & Edward Davies, and otherwise skiving off.

Smelser & Davies offer a view of US reception of the claim that the Wehrmacht was uninvolved in, indeed unaware of, war crimes in Eastern Europe - reception that extends from eager students at Annapolis through to contemporary Holocaust deniers and wargame aficionados. After that it was good to encounter Barbara Ehrenreich's spirited article 'Are Women Getting Sadder? Or Are We All Just Getting a Lot More Gullible?' and What Are Intellectuals Good For? - A Crooked Timber Seminar on George Scialabba's Book [PDF].

'George Scialabba and the Culture Wars; or, Critique of Judgment' by Michael Berube in the latter work comments that Scialabba "is not altogether fair to Edward Said.
Culture and Imperialism, Scialabba writes, is an inexhaustibly tiresome book. "The writing is clumsy, stilted, verbose, imprecise, and marinated - pickled - in academic jargon"; worse still, "Said's polemical manners, here as elsewhere, are atrocious: sneering, overweening, ad hominem. Too often, he innocently misinterprets or not-so-innocently misrepresents other people's arguments."
Scialabba reportedly questions Said's dissection of an imperial subtext in Jane Austen ('Said & Sensibility', anyone?):
[Said's] interpretive strategy is bold and ingenious. How are we to assess Austen's few references to Antigua, and what are we to make of them interpretively? ... "My contention is that by that very odd combination of casualness and stress, Austen reveals herself to be assuming ... the importance of an empire to the situation at home." This is the hermeneutics of suspicion a la folie. In fact, not much more can usefully be said about the relation of Mansfield Park to the British Empire than that the former was written in the latter. "Extraordinary formal and ideological dependence," my eye. It is just this sort of grandiloquent assertion that excited so many people about Orientalism and that makes Said's celebrity so depressing.