Monday, October 01, 2012

Looking forward to Babel Santa Barbara / Critique as Mansplaining

by KARL STEEL
Alsatian Santa Barbara, 1470-90, Met Museum of Art
Two unconnected thoughts:

Many folks have shared their Babel 2012 experiences. They've been brilliant. Look on this blog, of course, but also look at The Material Collective, Steve Mentz, Dan Onion's music, Chris Piuma's Facebook Note, which may or may not be public (if not, go here), and MIT, the little school that could. It's unlikely that I'll make more time to recollect (a great word) my wonderful experience than to say that no session received more intense attention from me than the one with 4 panelists and only 5 audience members. Bravo to Julie Orlemanski for her activism in the academy session, and bravo to the audience (me included) for, essentially, the 5-minute responses each of us had to offer when the presenters--in true activist style--asked us to step up and participate. I've never before kept my mind so well tethered at a conference. Bravo!

I'll look ahead to Santa Barbara, where the theme, I'm told, is beachy. I'm already anticipating putting a panel together called On the Beach, named in homage to a post-Apocalyptic novel that blew my mind when I was 14 or so and fully expecting Reagan to end us all, what with watching Threads and The Day After, and reading Revelations and Ezekiel a little too intently.

In 2012, and if I make it to 2014, I'm interested in the question of Why Bother? What's the point for the arts scholars when we're amid a massive extinction event, and perhaps the end of everything for us, or certainly the enormous increase of misery for everyone else? When we as a species have such an intense desire NOT to know (as Zizek says here), which means we're bound to continue till the thick air and rising oceans take us.

Why carry on? In literary terms, of course, the Middle Ages has a lot to offer for eschatological worriers like me, but is that enough to propel me onward, shuffling deckchairs on the Titantic--as I've clichéd elsewhere--for a better view of the doom that's going to take us all?

Look for me to share y/our doom with us in 2014.

POINT THE SECOND: CRITIQUE AS MANSPLAINING

In my Intro to Lit Class today, I explained "mansplaining." A delicate balance, not mansplaining while I did it.

The context: I decided a few days back that the Intro to Lit course shouldn't just be a march through my idiosyncratic representative works (Marie's Lais, Perceforest, Utopia, The Blazing World, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, and Songs of Innocence and Experience), but also a forced march through basic ways of reading literature in academia.

Today I wanted to talk about The Paranoid Style. Gesturing towards Sedgwick, I explained that the Paranoid Style of Critique always suspects or knows. It's sure the text is up to something. And when the text comes to us and wants to impress or thrill us or seduce us, or to confide in us, or to tell us its troubles, we let it go on for a bit, because texts do tend to go on, and then we cut it off and tell it about its Real Problems. We're the ones who know better, no matter what the text knows.

The Paranoid Critic, I explained, is basically a mansplainer.

Pause for laughter. None's coming.

Okay, who here knows what a "mansplainer" is? No hands go up.

So I mansplain explain it to them, because I guess my students are not familiar with all Internet traditions.

I do think I might accomplish a lot if I can convince my students--and me too--just to listen more patiently and lovingly and to be happy to be taught something, even from the most unexpected places. If only--and here I gesture towards Jane Bennett's BABEL plenary--I can encourage them to allow themselves to be drawn by sympathy for the texts that come our way.

(the limitations of what I'm saying are obvious, I know, since I'm just about to teach Perceforest's version of "Sleeping Beauty," which is, well, a date-rape story. Hard and perhaps foolish to be patient with that one. Still, maybe I'm onto something?)

1 comment:

Karl Steel said...

To begin to answer my first question ('why bother?'), you might start here: "Science Can't Do It Alone."