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RE: November 1997
Charlotte Allen's "Spies Like Us: When Sociologists Deceive Their Subjects" [November] misrepresents my 1995 article in The American Sociologist. Allen says I argued that, "if the deception doesn't hurt anyone very much and the payoff in data is high, covert research is worth doing." In fact, I have never made any such claim, nor have I ever attempted to defend the use of covert research methods. Allen's claim that I did so "in defiant and provocative language" is simply fiction. Furthermore, she misconstrues the tone, purpose, and context of my original statements. I did not "proudly" compare myself to confidence men or "boast about" reinventing my persona.
Rather than read my article carefully, Allen was content to quote Kai Erikson's initial comment that I engaged "in a degree of deceit that is more widely known in espionage than in social research." However, Erikson subsequently withdrew this statement and agreed that he had mischaracterized my research role. In fact, he and I came to enough of an understanding that we co-chaired a session on the role of deception in social research at the 1996 American Sociological Association meeting.
Lest anyone be deceived by Allen's representation of my research role, let me emphasize that: (1) The police interrogators I studied knew my identity as a graduate student at UC-Berkeley; (2) They knew the nature and purpose of my research, as well as my intent to write a dissertation and then a book from the study; (3) I obtained their informed consent prior to entering the field; and (4) I never lied to any of them. It is both ironic and distressing that Allen's article on deception in sociological research is so misleading.
RICHARD A. LEO
DEPARTMENT OF CRIMINOLOGY,
LAW, AND SOCIETY
UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA,
Allen's article kicks down a door already opened wide by several sociologists, including Carolyn Ellis. Professor Ellis has led the sociological profession in rethinking deceptive research practices. Although her book, Fisher Folk more than fulfilled the research protocols of its era, Professor Ellis has since questioned its ethics herself. Not only has she called attention to these issues by writing about them, but she has created alternative research protocols that champion and model an ethic of "do no harm." Ellis is a courageous, forthright, and ethical sociologist. Why is she singled out in Allen's article for disapprobation and scorn?
DEPARTMENT OF SOCIOLOGY
OHIO STATE UNIVERSITY
Charlotte Allen replies: In his 1995 article in The American Sociologist, Richard Leo wrote: "To establish rapport [with the Laconia police] and gain observational access [to the rooms where they interrogated criminal suspects], I misrepresented my real persona; I conned the detectives into thinking I was someone other than who I really am; in effect, I intentionally manipulated my research subjects." He added that to have done otherwise "would have blocked my ability to penetrate the code of secrecy surrounding interrogation practices inside Laconia's CID, and thus would have prevented me from acquiring the kind of data I was seeking. In some environments, strategies based on impression management and deception may be necessary in order to obtain hidden and dirty data."
That sounds to me like an endorsement of the principle that, "if the deception doesn't hurt anyone very much and the payoff in data is high, covert research is worth doing." Furthermore, Leo explicitly and extensively compared his personality reinvention to the tactics of a confidence man, even quoting from another social scientist's interview with a con man: "Work their hatred. Everybody has hates. Just find out what it is they hate and agree with them. When the heart takes over instead of the brain, the sucker is beat." That sounds to me like "defiant and provocative language." My averment that Leo "boasted" about his tactics seemed a reasonable inference to draw from such diction.
To my knowledge based on my reading of Leo's extended exchange with Kai Erikson in The American Sociologist and a telephone interview with Erikson himself Erikson never "withdrew" his initial criticisms of Leo's conduct or said that he had "mischaracterized" Leo's research role. Erikson did sayas I reported in "Spies Like Us"that Leo's tactics ranked relatively low on the scale of social-science deception. I regret that I failed to indicate that Leo's relations with Erikson have remained collegial and amicable, despite their opposing points of view on the deception issue. However, I did take pains to point out that Leo did not actually lie to the police about his views, that he was always aboveboard about the nature and purpose of his research, and that he had cleared his project with UC-Berkeley's Human Subjects Committee.
In reply to Laurel Richardson: Far from singling out Carolyn Ellis "for disapprobation and scorn," my article took note of her "admirable candor."
THE PINKER INSTINCT
Though I found the article on Steven Pinker fascinating ["Darwin on My Mind," November], I was a bit nonplussed by his disparaging and ill-informed remarks about "deconstructionist, postmodern Marxists" and about Freudian theory. Pinker apparently fails to see the numerous affinities between his work and that of Marx and Freud. He unfortunately relies on Thomas Sowell's simplistic division of the landscape of political thought into realists and romantics, and from there he makes the somewhat bizarre assertion that "the standard Marxist theory of human nature has probably been refuted by many sources of evidence...including the anthropological record and Darwinian theory."
If Pinker wants to be taken seriously by those of us in the humanities, he needs to avoid making such ill-informed statementsand to read Freud and Marx. For starters, he might take a look at Civilization and Its Discontents: In the footnotes Freud makes numerous Darwinian arguments for the development of various elements of the psyche. If Pinker had read Marx, he would know that from his early work in the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts through Capital, Marx sees human nature as contingent on social and historical forcesa view quite compatible with evolutionary theory. If in his busy schedule Pinker has no time to pore over the dense nine-hundred-plus pages of the first volume of Capital, he might at least open the title page. He probably would be surprised to discover that Marx dedicated his seminal work to none other than Charles Darwin.
JEFFREY M. HORNSTEIN
DEPARTMENT OF HISTORY
UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND,
Jay Fielden's tale of the two Raskolnikovs who may have murdered a randomly chosen passerby at the University of Rome to exercise their notion of the "perfect crime" ["Et Tu, Professore?" November] is horrific. It illustrates the elitist selfism prevailing on far too many first-world campuses. Is this yet another abandonment of ethics to be credited to the revival of Nietzschean relativism?
DEPARTMENT OF ENGLISH AND AMERICAN LITERATURE AND LANGUAGE
RE: October 1997
SEX AND THE CITY
Caleb Crain's "Pleasure Principles" [October] provides a powerful, levelheaded, and insightful overview of highly charged political struggles within the gay and lesbian community.
Sex Panic's rhetoric is riddled with conflations and contradictions. It equates sexual liberation with promiscuity and gay and lesbian identity with transgression. To claim that liberated same-sex desires ought to occur in any specified form or with any particular frequency smacks of the very politics Sex Panic's leaders oppose. These positions should not be dictated by a narrow queer politics any more than by a narrow far-right politics. Moreover, the vast majority of lesbians and gays wish to live their lives not as marginal sex radicals charged with the obscure poststructural, Foucauldian task of "nonidentity" but rather as full citizens granted the same social and sexual rights as heterosexuals.
Sex Panic also conflates safer-sex guidelines with antigay morality. To be sure, Sex Panic leaders are right to examine the antigay, sex-negative logic embedded in some HIV-prevention programs and anti-public-sex campaigns. But not all attempts to regulate safer sex fall into those categories. Sex Panic fails to adequately distinguish Gabriel Rotello and Michelangelo Signorile from the likes of Anita Bryant and Jesse Helms. When gay activists raise concerns over the renewed institutionalization of unsafe sex practices in public spaces, their efforts cannot be justly reduced to homophobia or self-loathing. On the contrary, such activists are responding to the real and sustained threat of HIV.
ADAM ISAIAH GREEN
DEPARTMENT OF SOCIOLOGY
NEW YORK UNIVERSITY
QUEER AND PRESENT DANGER?
Caleb Crain's admirably evenhanded account of the current battle between queer theorists and gay journalists left me feeling both angry and dejected ["Pleasure Principles," October]. Each camp seems as promising a candidate for leadership in the realm of queer thought as Regan or Goneril does in the lands of King Lear. And yet I find myself--a gay man and graduate student in literature--uncomfortably drifting toward the journalists, if only because it is ultimately impossible for me to indulge in Foucault's great erotic beautiful lie (one uncritically endorsed by Sex Panic) that we can, and should, go back to bodies and pleasure, as if we could disentangle sex from all the forces that intersect with it.
Granted, the notion that New Yorkers would permit a new zoning law to "close an estimated 85 percent of [the city's] 175 adult businesses" is almost terrifyingly intrusive enough to transform me into a Foucauldian. As Sex Panic realizes, the domineering attempt of sanctioned powers to regulate sex has wide-ranging implications, and not just for homosexuals.
And yet, I am perhaps more disturbed by Sex Panic's idealization of the culture of sex clubs and anonymous sex to the exclusion of other kinds of sexual--dare I say romantic?--experiences. Sex and the desire to have it constantly (and randomly) may be fundamental human drives, but so is the desire for intimacy and sustained companionship. Anonymous sex may indeed be, as Michael Warner asserts, "transformative," "world making," and fueled by "utopian longing." But even as keenly intelligent a theorist as Warner seems unwilling to acknowledge that some of us feel deeply alienated by the inherent impersonality of sex-club culture. It is dishearteningly clear to me that queer theory's most attractive characteristic--its blending of distinct, even dissonant voices--may no longer exist.
Crain imputes to "ivory tower" queer theorists a total disregard for "community norms" and "ethics" while implying that gay journalists actually speak for "the lesbian and gay community." However, Crain never stops to notice that Signorile and Rotello's "community" might really consist of a mere market segment buying magazines. Meanwhile, Sex Panic is addressing issues of concern to New York City--especially to constituencies whose interests are not represented by the lesbian and gay press. Many, if not most, queer academics involved in Sex Panic live, work, and have friends and lovers in New York. Their activism is very much about community, whereas Signorile and Rotello are merely attempting to sell their books.
Folks like Signorile and Rotello seem to consider the communities associated with Sex Panic too unsavory for words. Sound familiar? It should to anyone who knows anything about pre-Stonewall U.S. history. Shame and blame are much more the critical provenance of gay journalists than of queer theorists. Sex Panic works against the very dangerous notion that we have to purge our ranks not only to gain acceptance but also to survive.
ASSISTANT PROFESSOR OF ENGLISH
UNIVERSITY OF PITTSBURGH
The developers of the Doomsday Argument are probably working under the assumption that their intelligence is at the top end of the human range ["Hypotheses," October]. However, it's statistically unlikely that any random individual's intelligence will be at the top of the population's range; therefore, I feel justified in assuming that their actual intelligence is only about average. In fact, a little below average.
Maybe this has happened to you: At a party, somebody starts telling a joke, one of those worn-out chestnuts that circulate endlessly at gatherings where nobody knows anybody very well. Everyone is listening quietly and tolerantly, preparing to laugh politely, when one spoilsport pipes up with "No, no, no! You've got it all wrong. That's not how it goes at all." The joke teller tries to ignore the remark and goes on telling his joke--but the spoilsport will not be satisfied, and an argument ensues. The party is ruined.
That's what's been happening in the academy between Hans Walter Gabler (jokester) and John Kidd (spoilsport). Like every joke, Ulysses has its variants, which are told over and over again by academics, each convinced that his telling is the best. We the audience have been robbed of the denouement; we're left hanging without our rightful catharsis because everyone has forgotten the punch line.
Maybe Robin Bates's enlightening and humorous article "The Corrections Officer" [October] will make it obvious how funny the original joke would be if anyone would let anyone else finish telling it. What I am saying is simply that Ulysses is funny and should be enjoyable to read. The scholarly debates about it are funny, too, but in ways sadly incommensurable with the wit of the book itself.
Someday in the distant future, a tipsy associate professor will nudge his colleague at a cocktail party and murmur, "Hey, did you hear the one about Stately, the plump Buck Mulligan?" and hope against hope that for once somebody besides Random House and Norton and the Joyce estate will finally laugh. In the meantime, we can be thankful that the archaeological erudition of such scholars as Kidd & Company generally keeps them away from such gatherings because, dammit, you can't take these people anywhere.
IS FOLKLORE FINISHED?
Although we take issue with John Dorfman's conclusions regarding the alleged demise of folklore ["That's All, Folks!" October], his point that folklorists have failed to take the initiative in clarifying the subject matter and methods of their discipline is well taken. We welcome this opportunity to elucidate.
A good place to start might be by asking why graduate students continue to devote their professional careers to a field so poorly understood, and hence so easily maligned. Surely we could instead be attending Ph.D. programs in anthropology, literary studies, dance, sociology, linguistics, musicology, psychology, history, art and architecture, semiotics, popular culture, or cultural studies. However, we understand that the value of folklore is precisely that it incorporates the wisdom of all these and other disciplines--wisdom folklorists enrich with their unique focus on human traditions. Folklore explores cultural and artistic continuity across time and place, an enterprise for which other branches of the humanities and social sciences have historically demonstrated little interest or imagination.
Given that the overwhelming majority of the cultural and cognitive products of the world's peoples remains beyond the reach of canonical history, we feel that the eclectic study of social and cultural lore is uniquely equipped to reveal the rich tapestry of human experience. Many of us also consider it our responsibility to recognize and contextualize postindustrial cultures as contributing not the only, or even the most significant, but some colorful threads to the ongoing construction of the traditional, continuous story of what it means to be human. We recognize that we cannot afford to view these goals as mutually exclusive.
LIZ LOCKE, INDIANA UNIVERSITY
(AND EIGHTY OTHER GRADUATE STUDENT SIGNATORIES)
Thanks to Dorfman for his informative and instructive article. He describes the folklore crisis accurately and without bias. The situation at Penn is worrisome, and the absorption of the UCLA department also raises questions.
I'd add that "World Arts and Culture" may be a more precise summation of what we study than "folklore." As a Judaic folklorist, I will most likely never work in a Jewish studies department (where I am probably needed most), because my diploma reads "Folklore." If it said "Judaic Arts and Culture," I have no doubt it would inspire more positive associations among Jewish studies faculty. Given the state of the folklore market, my professional options lie almost entirely in other disciplines where folkloristic theories and fieldwork techniques are appreciated.
JUDITH S. NEULANDER
There isn't a folklorist working today who would equate vernacular culture, as Dorfman does, with the qualities of locality and orality. Nor are folklorists who "co-opt" contemporary theory acting out of desperation. Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, Amy Shuman, and other folklorists cited by Dorfman have made meaningful connections between folklore and contemporary theory. They are studying a variety of cultural productions that would never fall under the very constrained and passé notion of folklore that Dorfman uses as the premise for his premature eulogy.
In his failure to listen closely to what his "informants" were telling him, Dorfman has committed the most grievous methodological error in fieldwork, one that we warn our beginning students about as they start their research: He draws conclusions about a group (in this case, an entire discipline) without understanding the context in which the information is provided.
Lingua Franca is complicit in this reductive misrepresentation of folklorists: Although Dorfman rightly suggests that folklorists suffer from an image problem, since "the term folklore' connotes things like fiddles and quilts," what image was chosen to accompany his article? Why, a photo of a quilt, of course. Is it any wonder folklorists can't get any respect?
ROSEMARY V. HATHAWAY
DEPARTMENT OF ENGLISH
UNIVERSITY OF NORTHERN COLORADO
At the risk of being pedantic, I'll point out that, intentionally or otherwise, Flaubert was transforming the color of Emma Bovary's irises, not her pupils [Inside Publishing, October]. Or are we being invited to examine Daniel Zalewski's article in the same way that Sutherland examines nineteenth-century fiction?
RE: September 1997
AS NASTY AS THEY WANNA BE
Taking a look at today's academic novels is a fine idea, but Adam Begley's "The Decline of the Campus Novel" [LF, September] slants the evidence to fit its thesis. The academic novels steadily appearing through the 1980s and 1990s are just about as nasty (and enjoyable) as their predecessors. This includes those by Russo and Smiley, though Begley draws from an awfully narrow reading list. He should have looked at Robert Grudin's Book, Edward Allen's Mustang Sally, Cathleen Schine's Rameau's Niece, and Howard Jacobson's Coming From Behind, among many others.
Even Begley's quotations don't prove his point. When Russo proclaims that being promoted at West Central Pennsylvania University "was a little bit like being proclaimed the winner of a shit-eating contest," this is supposed to demonstrate a lack of satiric bite? Perhaps Begley means that the academics themselves are basically decent--in which case, why does Smiley make the central metaphor of her novel a bloated pig with an insatiable appetite?
As a fan of academic novels, as well as the author of one, I'd welcome some savvy analysis of this genre. Unfortunately, Begley's piece doesn't offer much.
DEPARTMENT OF ENGLISH
UNIVERSITY OF MISSISSIPPI
Adam Begley's article is based on scarce evidence. For instance, he has considered only half of Richard Russo's novel--the comic half--and neglected the equally important issues of the serious half: the protagonist's abandonment by his self-important father, his rescue by his mother from a childhood suicide attempt, and his emotionally crippled adulthood. These developments contribute to the character's largely comic efforts to respond ethically, independently, and responsibly in a morally and intellectually bankrupt academic setting.
SUSAN HARRIS SMITH
DEPARTMENT OF ENGLISH
UNIVERSITY OF PITTSBURGH
Chris Lehmann's interesting article ["Burning Down the House," LF, September] was marred by a serious error of fact. Lehmann asserts that "Times Books, once the upmarket nonfiction division of the Random House empire, has been dumbed down into a list now dominated by crossword puzzle collections." A quick glance at our catalog will reveal that this is hardly the case. This fall, we're publishing Jimmy Carter's spiritual reflections on the Bible and Donald Trump's account of his comeback from the abyss of bankruptcy. Next year, Times Books will publish Sears CEO Arthur Martinez's story of his company's stunning recovery and former Hong Kong governor Chris Patten's speculations on Asia's future, among many other works of nonfiction.
We will continue to publish the same number of crossword puzzles as we always have (about two dozen), while the number of nonfiction titles (currently between fifty and sixty) is likely to increase. Times remains committed to publishing serious nonfiction and convinced we can do so profitably and with literary distinction.
THE SOUND OF SILENCE
I was saddened but not really surprised to learn from Adam Shatz ["The American Earthquake," LF, September] that Mike Davis's City of Quartz has not received much response from specialists in urban geography. Though academics often profess a desire to reach a larger audience, they typically maintain a professional silence when confronted with a book that has actually done so. They may talk about the book privately, but they are not likely to write about it in professional journals.
This is where the generalist reviewing media play their most important role in the intellectual life of the country, for if specialist silence is harmful, total silence is even more harmful, not least for the specialists themselves. City of Quartz was widely reviewed in newspapers and won the 1991 nonfiction prize of the National Book Critics Circle, most of whose members are newspaper reviewers and review editors. Sometimes journalism reports scholarship. Other times--and this may be one--it rescues it.
MELLON VISITING PROFESSOR OF HUMANITIES
CALIFORNIA INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY
PRESIDENT, NATIONAL BOOK CRITICS CIRCLE, 19901992
I read the article concerning the debate about T.S. Eliot's lines "I should have been a pair of ragged claws/Scuttling across the floors of silent seas" ["Shell Game," LF, September] with complete astonishment. Some of the finest minds in literary criticism and scholarship discuss the lines as if they had something--anything--to do with crabs or lobsters.
You don't have to be William Jennings Bryan at the Scopes trial (or, for that matter, Jesse Helms) to recognize a direct reference to Darwinian evolution used as poetic metaphor for Prufrock's angst. Having finished English literature grad school many years ago--and never set foot in a classroom again--I'm almost embarrassed (really delighted) to explain the lines to those who think in terms of boiled-and-broiled versus what's on toast. The "ragged claws," barely organic, hardly sentient, move blindly across the bottom of the Paleozoic ooze to emerge eons later, beginning the ascent to the creature in the rich and modest necktie who is overcome by Weltschmerz.
Each of these academics deserves an F--but I'm willing to raise it to a D minus because all of them have done good work in the past.
JACK SAWYER HARRIS
NEW YORK, NY
RE: August 1997
In Adam Shatz's article, "Strange Fruit" [LF, August], I am quoted as saying that The Journal of American History "deliberately played up a false dichotomy between blacks and whites" in publishing photographs alongside the essays of Joel Williamson's peer reviewers. My point was that many readers I spoke with believed that the author photographs were intentionally used to focus attention on racial differences when, in fact, this effect was purely coincidental. My other point was that too many readers treated the differences in the readers' reports as reflective merely of racial identity rather than of differences in political and intellectual perspectives--a point on which Shatz also concurs.
DEPARTMENT OF HISTORY
NEW YORK UNIVERSITY
In "Rain Men" [LF, August] Linda Baker writes that "In Salt Lake City, TRC North American Weather Consultants promises rainfall increases of 25 percent." In a telephone interview, I specifically told Baker that we do not guarantee any particular results. Rather, our anticipation is a 5 to 25 percent increase depending on the types of clouds present during the operational period.
DON A. GRIFFITH
SENIOR VICE PRESIDENT AND GENERAL MANAGER
TRC NORTH AMERICAN WEATHER CONSULTANTS
Michael Schudson's critique of Donna Haraway ["Paper Tigers," LF, August] raises pertinent concerns regarding the nexus between history and cultural studies and demonstrates how neglect of the past can lead to interpretive bias and error. Especially relevant here is his reference to Franz Boas who, in more ways than Schudson recounts, stands in refutation of Haraway's argument.
Schudson correctly argues that the attack on scientific racism predated the 1940s and that Boas was instrumental in that crusade. The 1920s, however, is also too late a date to fix as the embarkation point for this assault. Boas began his work in this area in 1894, in "Human Faculty as Determined by Race," an address delivered before the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Arguing that race did not determine an individual's intelligence, Boas constructed a foundation for his later critiques by cautioning that scientists could not prejudge any individual's mental ability on the basis of skin color alone. This early attack paved the way for much of Boas's subsequent work on race theory which led to the transition in racial thought, in which "science" switched sides, becoming a weapon for egalitarianism and equal rights rather than a tool for racists. Boas's contribution led directly to Gunnar Myrdal's assessments in The American Dilemma and later to the Supreme Court's evaluation of social scientific research in its landmark Brown v. the Board of Education decision.
Boas is also useful in undermining the monolithic picture Haraway paints of the American Museum of Natural History. As curator of the Jesup Expedition there, Boas was frequently caught in a web of political factionalism that spilled over into arguments over methodologies of artifact display and other aspects of museum administration. Consistent in all these intellectual skirmishes was a tension between amateur scientists and the new class of professional anthropologists, of whom Boas was the leading light. These constant battles belie the notion that everyone employed at the museum shared a common vision of the purpose and outcome of displays. Moreover, they reveal that one of Haraway's major assumptions--namely that the administrators were most concerned with how the museum depicted the relation of man to nature--was actually a point of ideological contestation among museum directors, curators, and other officials.
MARSHALL HYATT, PH.D.
THE DALTON SCHOOL
NEW YORK, NY
Schudson's critique is based on an inaccurate triumphalist history of Thirties liberalism. According to Schudson, Henry Fairfield Osborne's eugenic ideas were discredited during the Thirties, at which time liberal thought prevailed among the elites. Schudson therefore concludes that Haraway's account of the Hall of Mammals sheds little light on the role of the American Museum of Natural History after the early Twenties.
If the elites of the Thirties overwhelmingly rejected eugenics and embraced liberalism, it is hard to understand why the U.S. government turned away Holocaust refugees--sending shiploads back to Europe to their deaths--or why government officials refused to bomb rail lines to the death camps. Among the economic and cultural elite of that era were numerous public figures who were openly anti-Semitic or who praised fascist regimes: Henry Ford, Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot, Henry Luce. Also in the Thirties the Supreme Court upheld sterilization laws that spread to twenty-six states.
The sadder story is that racist views like Osborne's were not widely discredited until pictures of death-camp victims were published after World War II. Furthermore, when the museum board voted to discontinue funding for the development of Osborne's dioramas in the Forties, it was not because it repudiated Osborne's racism but because it decided that evolution was not a central area of biology! Many of Osborne's exhibits, with their ideological messages intact, were retained into the 1980s.
The death-camp movies triggered a revulsion against hereditarianism and biologism that lasted barely two decades. The return of scientific racism, the crude popularization of sociobiology, and the fetishization of genetic determinism have long since eclipsed the anthropological relativism and environmental determinism of the Fifties and Sixties. Contrary to the bright picture Schudson paints, Henry Fairfield Osborne's views--as well as many of his dioramas--live on.
ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR OF PHILOSOPHY
UNIVERSITY OF NEW HAMPSHIRE
Michael Schudson replies: Professor Dusek is right to point out anti-Semitism among influential Americans in the Forties and later. Which is all the more reason to give credit where credit is due and acknowledge that leading opinion in the social sciences had become antiracist by the Thirties. Cultural relativism dominated anthropology by then--and has ever since. Jews, higher education outcasts in l920, were significant figures in academic and literary life within two decades. As for recent days, Dusek surely would not rate Jensen, Shockley, and the like as influential as, say, Justices Warren, Marshall, and Brennan. In l940, as today, liberal pluralism had enemies, but it also had won an honored place.
It strikes me that an important irony emerges from the story of turmoil at the New School ["Nightmare on Twelfth Street," LF, August], one rooted in the students' embrace of "identity epistemology." We owe a great debt to the feminist scholars who have reminded us that we are embodied, situated beings. But to acknowledge the impact of identity on our thinking is quite different from insisting that the content of our thought is wholly determined by our placement in the physical and cultural world.
It seems to me that the requirements of teaching, and the very idea of the university, resist the implications of identity epistemology. Teaching requires an accessible space for free discourse. I do not see that there is room for such a space, even as an ideal, within the identity movement. University teaching also seeks to initiate students into fields of study by imparting certain assumptions, methods, and rules of engagement that are dictated by the disciplines themselves--not by the identities and interests of their practitioners. Successful teaching allows students to revisit these assumptions as they come to understand their own roles in their disciplines. But this questioning is possible only if we can think beyond the confines of identity.
ST. JOHN'S COLLEGE, ANNAPOLIS
I do not condone all of the Mobilization's proposals for change at the New School, nor its offensive attacks on individuals like Nancy Fraser. However, if the New School administration is as unresponsive to student concerns as it has been to those of part-timers, I can understand the students' frustration. I am a contract instructor offering courses in the on-line DIAL (Distance Instruction for Adult Learning) program. As an "independent contractor" I am barred from listing myself as a member of the faculty or as an affiliate of the New School. This bit of legal legerdemain allows the school to avoid paying social security, let alone pension or health care. Already, it pays some of the lowest part-time wages I have encountered, $965 per course. Moreover, we have been told that we should not expect raises because the adult division is designed to subsidize the other--presumably more important--academic divisions. Nevertheless we are told how lucky we are to teach at the New School, where we can offer the courses we choose. Despite our low wages and lack of job security, our love of teaching and our dedication to our work are supposed to justify sacrifices no tenured academic is asked to make. If tenured faculty at the New School are sympathetic to legitimate institutional reforms, they should demonstrate their commitment by working toward a living wage and decent benefits for part-time faculty.
RE: June/July 1997
THE THIRD MAN
In "Stranger Than Ficción" [LF, June/July], Matthew Howard writes, "The influence of [Norman Thomas di Giovanni's] translations on Borges's international reputation, and the public exposure they gave his work in the United States, was enormous: Although Grove Press, New Directions, and the University of Texas Press had published collections of Borges's writing...for the first time a major press [Dutton] was committed to publishing almost all Borges's work." First, during Borges's time Grove Press and New Directions were far more influential in the literary world than Dutton, which was beginning its downward spiral just at the time it first published Borges. Furthermore, Borges's literary reputation was already of international stature. It was the translator Anthony Kerrigan, well before di Giovanni, who discovered Borges for English-speaking readers. Because he died a few years ago and cannot himself respond, Kerrigan goes unmentioned in Howard's article as well as in James Woodall's recent biography of Borges. Such examples of intellectual dishonesty are common in the academic world, but this is unacceptable in a magazine that takes pride in identifying sham. Ironically the title of the article makes reference to Ficciónes, the 1962 volume (edited and introduced by Kerrigan, who was its principal translator) that launched Borges's reputation and for which Barney Rosset paid Kerrigan a meager flat fee rather than royalties (which would have made Kerrigan's last years far more comfortable).
PROFESSOR OF ENGLISH
UNIVERSITY OF NOTRE DAME
Matthew Howard responds: Of course Borges had an international reputation prior to the di Giovanni translations--why else would he have been invited to give the Norton lectures at Harvard, where he met di Giovanni in the first place? But only selected volumes of Borges's work had appeared in English translation when Dutton undertook to publish a dozen books corresponding to the Spanish editions. The project was distinguished by its scope and by Borges's collaborative role, not by Dutton's influence in the "literary world." Kerrigan's early translations were indeed important in establishing Borges's reputation, and had I not chosen to focus on the story of Borges's collaboration with di Giovanni, I might have given them a fuller reckoning.
The title of Pamela Burdman's essay on the University of California and affirmative action, "The Long Goodbye" [LF, June/July], implies that UC is abandoning a long-standing policy. It isn't. I have taught at UC-San Diego for more than twenty-four years and can tell you that, in contrast to the tone of many comments by faculty and regents in that article, affirmative action was never practiced in large parts of the university. Faculty recruitment throughout the Seventies and into the mid-Eighties on this campus regularly ignored affirmative action rules, and administrators went along in the name of hiring faculty of "distinction." The total pool of African-American and Mexican-American faculty at UC-San Diego is no larger, and may actually be smaller by one or two members, than it was when I arrived in 1973.
The same can be said about affirmative action and student recruitment. It was done haphazardly during the Seventies and early Eighties when it was done at all. I recall one scandal on campus in the late Seventies, when the federal government discovered that funds for recruiting minority graduate students had been used to fund UC's overall recruiting budget.
Time has passed, and so everyone has forgotten that affirmative action was a conservative Sixties solution to the pervasive legacy of racism in our nation. Liberals accepted it rather than rewrite all work rules and all admission standards--tasks that, among other things, would have abolished job seniority (maybe even tenure?) had the Civil Rights Act of 1964 been rigorously enforced. Now, we have the worst of both worlds. Racism is still an everyday fact, but we are told that affirmative action is no longer necessary. UC will enter the twenty-first century just as it did the twentieth, indifferent to the real social consequences of racism and perpetuating the advantages of the already privileged. The Sixties will have to be fought all over again.
DEPARTMENT OF HISTORY
Pamela Burdman writes that SP-2, the UC regents' resolution barring the use of race and sex as criteria in employment and contracting, has had "little impact" because it is "largely overridden by federal affirmative action statutes."
The claim that unidentified federal affirmative action statutes override the regents' policy is puzzling. It is clear from SP-2 that the use of racial and sexual criteria is permitted only if their use is "strictly necessary" to secure or maintain eligibility for federal funds. But as the general counsel to the university has pointed out, there appear to be no federal requirements that race or gender be used as "positive factors in employment selection practices." The general counsel has also advised UC's president, Richard Atkinson, that "race [and] gender should not be a factor" in any university program. Unless and until federal agencies issue explicit directives to the university to the contrary, SP-2's prohibition against the use of race or sex as a criterion in hiring and contracting practices remains in full force.
Burdman also writes that the regents' vote revealed that a large number of faculty members had grown "strongly impatient with affirmative action." The evidence she cites, where it is not confined to anecdote, is based on the results of anonymous mail ballots on three UC campuses. This evidence is interesting. But it needs to be treated with some care, since the mail ballots were primarily referenda on the regents and the way they handled the issue rather than on affirmative action as such.
Recent polling data, which Burdman fails to cite, shows conclusively that racial and gender preferences lack political legitimacy even inside the academy. A survey of faculty at all nine UC campuses, which was sponsored by the California Association of Scholars and designed and conducted by the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research in December 1995, found a plurality of faculty favoring a policy that is virtually identical with the regents' resolutions. A similar, nationwide Roper Center survey in October 1996, which was sponsored by the National Association of Scholars, found that almost two-thirds of American professors would support a ban on preferences at their institutions similar to California's Proposition 209. (Further details on these surveys, which are arguably the least publicized findings in higher education in the last several years, are available on the Web at www.calscholars.org/roper.html and www.nas.org/roper/exsum.htm)
THOMAS E. WOOD
CALIFORNIA ASSOCIATION OF SCHOLARS
FOUND IN TRANSLATION
Reading Matthew Howard's piece on Borges's translator Norman Thomas di Giovanni ["Stranger Than Ficción," LF, June/July], I was struck by how many of di Giovanni's editorial corrections actually clarified and improved Borges's work. That this Spanish-language author's first literary language, so to speak, was English seems to me irrelevant to the judgment of his translator's efforts. After all, editors customarily speak the same language as the writers they edit, even if some of those writers are loath to admit it.
It might interest your readers to know that Viking USA is preparing a three-volume English edition of Borges's work. Alastair Reid and John Coleman are translating a large selection of Borges's poetry, and the nonfiction is in the capable hands of Eliot Weinberger and Suzanne Jill Levine. Retranslating the prose fiction, however, has proven to be a knottier business. There have been substantial problems with the early translations, and Margaret Sayers Peden has been hired to make substantial revisions. Borges fans can only hope that Peden, best known for her translations of Isabel Allende, is as good as di Giovanni was: As Viking has the exclusive world English rights, this will be the only English edition of Borges available for some time to come.
AFTER THE SHOCK
Buried on the fourth page of James Surowiecki's profile of Jeffrey Sachs ["Dr. Shock," LF, July] is a telling admission that does damage not only to Sachs's shock-therapy treatment but, implicitly, to economic thought in general: In its Bolivian practice, Sachs's "program...brought about higher unemployment, wage freezes, and a sharp rise in the price of heating oil." That these results are passed off as mild discomforts whose acknowledgment won't do any real damage to the theory is a damning indication of the lousy state of economic thought. Where, oh where, are the economists whose first years out of high school were not spent visiting Europe but instead flipping burgers, shoveling horse shit, or caring for the elderly? For people with jobs such as these, reward is tied directly to the state of the economy, and unemployment, wage freezes, and higher utility bills aren't just theoretical inconveniences to be suffered by faceless proles. Equally telling is Sachs's comment that "Russia's tragedy is that no investment banker's Christmas bonus has ever depended on Russia's financial stability." The statement is rather ironic since I'm sure Sachs's own fees never rely on the selfsame proof of any country's financial stability.
STAR PRAIRIE, WI
IN DEFENSE OF DIFFICULTY
Pardon me for calling this Borgesian. But how else might I understand this? A magazine like Lingua Franca, committed consistently to the commonsensical (which it sometimes conflates with the popular), publishes for a change, in a story coincidentally on Borges, a fine defense of the difficult, the ambiguous, and, indeed, the academic ["Stranger Than Ficción," LF June/July]. Where Matthew Howard returns again and again to Borges's blindness and insight, we confront writing as an unequal and somewhat skewed practice of representation. This, whether by editorial writ or not, I'm happy to note, is a small but sustained obsession in the pages of the June/July issue. We see it in Emily Eakin's report on Derrida's curatorial effort, Memoirs of the Blind, in which we learn that to write is "to create a self-portrait and to risk blindness." And even in Daniel Zalewski's Field Note on Randy McLeod's Portable Collator--a device that allows the scholar to "see" a book precisely by looking at it upside down.
I remark on this theme not to be pedantic but to note its absence in Pamela Burdman's cover story on the retreat from affirmative action in the University of California system--or, more accurately, in Governor Pete Wilson's and Regent Ward Connerly's repeated invocation of the term "colorblind," a usage that presumes a world from which the difficulties of reading race and class have been or can be erased.
This, too, is Borgesian. Wilson and Connerly ham-fistedly invoke a rhetoric of blindness in order to render all difference invisible and make the daily struggle with it meaningless.
In such a context, I'm not satisfied with Lingua Franca's argument that affirmative action proponents do not have a "unifying theory" behind them. That's not the point! Social difference is irreducible to a packaged formula, and an admission of that difficulty, and of the difficulty of representation in general, can only be the starting point for a more honest discussion.
Assistant Professor of English
University of Florida
RE: April/May 1997
TRUTH AND FANTASY
There's a line in M.G. Lord's article "Pornutopia" [LF, April/May] concerning my book, Bound and Gagged: Pornography and the Politics of Fantasy in America, that needs correction. No, it's not the one about me "gushing," which--although there appears to be a certain metonymic slippage between me and my subjects (I admit to having written of errant bodily fluids on occasion)--at least makes me grateful not to have been described as writhing, moaning, or bucking.
The line is about Daniel DePew, the man imprisoned for thirty-three years for sexual fantasies. Lord writes, "DePew, who confessed to having botched abductions in the past, was convicted by an Alexandria, Virginia, jury of conspiracy to kidnap." The word "confess" here is wrong or, at best, misleading. DePew never confessed in any legal sense of the word, as the sentence seems to imply. He never said anything like this under oath or in an official statement to the police, and, in fact, his refusal to confess remorse to the judge was one reason he was handed such a draconian sentence.
What he did do was this: In the context of lengthy, drunken, sadomasochistically oriented, fantasy-based conversations with two undercover cops who goaded him on, he told a story about a violent incident with a man he'd had sex with years before in Greece. According to DePew, though, he made the story up; the man never existed. The linguistic context DePew thought he was operating in, at least initially, was one in which violent fantasies are traded as part of sex play. The government introduced DePew's stories as evidence of his intent to carry out a snuff film scheme invented by these undercover cops, one that DePew was lured into solely to obtain a conspiracy conviction. (The cops, who, by the way, made similar "confessions," are, needless to say, still walking the streets.)
The argument of my book is that the erosion of the fantasy-fact distinction has had pretty dire social consequences, legitimating entrapment cases like this one (not to mention perpetuating these endless debates over pornography). If DePew had ever committed nonconsensual violence, there'd be no point in my writing about the case. The whole point was that he hadn't: This was a case of violent fantasy. DePew may have been guilty of massively bad judgment about contexts, but fantasizing about playing a role in a snuff film isn't the same thing as intent to enact those fantasies in the world, and there was no evidence he took any action to carry them out. DePew will spend most of his life in prison because fantasy and intent were treated as indistinguishable, and Lord's use of the word "confession" to describe a fantasy has the (surely unintended) effect of uncritically taking the government's position in the case.
For DePew's sake, I'd like to see this error corrected, but there's a larger issue as well. Treating fantasies as legal evidence is an enormous abridgment of basic freedoms, and assenting to that abridgment without even a protest is nothing less than disastrous for all spheres of expression, even those far removed from pornography or sexual speech.
Department of Radio-Television-Film
EAT, DRINK, MAN, WOMAN
In "Does Man Eat Man?" [LF, April/May], Lawrence Osborne quotes me as saying that Timothy White's analysis of data from the Anasazi Indian site at Mancos is "the best scientific work ever done on cannibalism by anyone." I'll stick by that, with the emphasis on scientific, since there are other ways one might proceed. Archaeology can sometimes tease amazing clues about cultural context out of the flimsiest remains, from tiny teethmarks to organic dust. White is as good at that as anyone. However, hard evidence of cannibalism does not necessarily constitute evidence of customary consumption. Mancos may represent nothing more broadly based than a case of survival cannibalism, despite the number of individuals involved as probable victims (twenty-nine). White's work does not allow us to say--as White makes clear and Osborne does not--that the cannibalism at Mancos was customary Anasazi behavior. The Mancos experience might be no more typical in the culture of its time than was the famed Andes plane crash that offered an opportunity for a starving and frozen rugby team to commit its desperate acts. Opportunity and need sometimes make strange dinner companions.
Professor of Anthropology
The most striking fact in Lawrence Osborne's extremely informative article about the cannibalism controversy is the genesis of William Arens's notion that cannibalism is a myth: While doing fieldwork in Tanzania, Arens learned that Africans believe Europeans are cannibals.
My question: Why did it never occur to Arens that Africans are correct in their belief? In the West, we routinely harvest blood, bone marrow, and organs from one human body to be ingested by another--as good a definition of cannibalism as any. Our culture views this practice as necessary and beneficial to health and life, though it is horrifying to those who live at our margins. (Central America, for example, is awash in rumors that kidnapping rings steal children there to furnish U.S. hospitals with organs.)
Why does it seem so unlikely to Arens that any other culture might have similarly believed that the absorption of parts of one human body by another is beneficial? In his essay on cannibals, Montaigne was primarily interested in what the cannibals could tell him about Europe. But Arens and too many other cultural critics inadvertently perpetuate the imperialism they so deplore by their continuing failure to acknowledge that those outside the West can tell us something about ourselves.
New York, NY
Lawrence Osborne's article "Does Man Eat Man?" [LF, April/May] unintentionally revealed two of the great secrets of anthropology: Cultural anthropologists tend to believe everything they hear, and archaeologists tend to believe everything they think.
All archaeological evidence is to a degree ambiguous, and results remain opinions. Little or nothing is ever definitely proved in archaeology, despite the statements of Timothy White and Peter Robinson in your article. If the patterns presented as evidence of cannibalism (whether from the prehistoric American Southwest or the European Neolithic) reveal anything, it is a common belief shared by the archaeologists involved that they're dealing with "limited or simple" cultures exhibiting little variability of behavior. In this situation cannibalism may be a logical conclusion since other possible explanations, such as warfare-related corpse disfigurement, domestic abuse, or ritual bone cleaning and secondary burial, are not even considered options.
How wonderful the world would be if only things were so straightforward and easy. How secure White, Robinson, and the others mentioned in your article must be in their belief that it is.
PETER Y. BULLOCK
MUSEUM OF NEW MEXICO
M.G. Lord's "Pornutopia" [LF, April/May] fails to give a balanced view of feminists who oppose pornography. I am a feminist scholar who opposes pornography, by which I mean most American pornography, which is male-oriented and misogynist.
If this male porn (Playboy, Penthouse, Hustler, etc.) were really so subversive, do you think the ruling class would allow it to be sold on every street corner in the U.S.? If Hustler allows working-class and poor men to dump their rage on working-class and poor women, how is that liberating for the women?
My current view of this male-oriented pornography is that it is actually pushed by the ruling class because it acts as a drug on men. It gives them a false sense of superiority over women and deflects them from looking at their economic problems. And it keeps women feeling inferior and depressed. Along with other prevailing forms of media, it suppresses unrest and dissent.
The phenomenon of feminists embracing this male-oriented pornography reflects the moral and political bankruptcy of some segments of academia. Humanists ought to be championing ideas and expressions that promote the dignity and worth of the human being, male and female.
JUDITH A. RANTA
WHITE PLAINS, NY
I find two things particularly striking about Scott Sherman's article "Fighting Words" [LF, March] profiling Northwestern University political scientist Adolph Reed Jr. First, the failure of those like Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Cornel West to confront the primary arguments developed in Reed's April 1995 Village Voice essay exemplifies the kind of evasion of conflict and engagement among so-called black public intellectuals. Furthermore, for all of the finger-shaking about Reed's penchant for personal attacks, Gates, West, William Julius Wilson, and Manning Marable paint Reed as a reform-school escapee who is "smart" yet saddled by lots of unfulfilled potential. West, for instance, suggests Reed's early work was promising but that, "owing to whatever it is-insecurity, intellectual laziness-he just ended up doing this flat journalistic stuff." Unsurprisingly, discussions of Reed's essay within academic circles have mirrored these evasive maneuvers, characterizing his article as motivated solely by jealousy and bad feelings, while largely ignoring his analysis.
Second, I am unconvinced that Reed has as much in common with his critics as Sherman and others assert. Sherman, like others (most notably Marable in the New Politics exchanges), finds it noteworthy, if not downright puzzling, that Reed would be going after those who are "left-liberal" when there are so many on the rabid right with whom to contend. Black public intellectuals' support for the Million Man March offers a perfect illustration of the distance between Reed and the intellectuals in question, however. West, Marable, and Michael Eric Dyson busied themselves with explaining to their "liberal" allies how things were so dismal for blacks that they were compelled to jettison their feminist and anti-anti-Semitic sensibilities in the service of community progress. All of this tortured logic aside, however, Louis Farrakhan's program for black Americans is the same type of retrograde, self-help, conservative politics supported by Newt Gingrich and the Democratic and Republican right. Where critics find Reed sectarian and "out of touch with the black masses," I find him ideologically grounded, principled, and consistent.
NIKOL G. ALEXANDER
DEPT. OF POLITICAL SCIENCE
Your report on the quarrel between members of the University of Chicago's philosophy department and its dean concerning promotion criteria was very welcome to me ["Peer Pressure," LF, March]. It helped illuminate why, like Professor Howard Stein, some colleagues and I have always objected strenuously to any policy that automatically gives lesser weight-or, as in this case apparently, no weight at all-to invited publications than to those that have appeared in refereed journals that follow blind-review procedures.
However, your reporter's suggestion that Chicago administrators might have been "chary about promoting someone who didn't have a conventionally credentialed curriculum vitae" because the philosophy department's National Research Council ranking had slipped over the last fifteen years raises a different issue that needs to be addressed. The implicit assumptions that these rankings are thoroughly objective and highly meaningful and that university administrations are expected to forgo independent judgment and rely on outside rankings are very disturbing. These assumptions are particularly pernicious for the discipline of philosophy, which thrives on raising questions about whatever is conventionally regarded as objectively true, at any given time, both in the world at large and within the discipline itself.
WILLIAM L. MCBRIDE
PROFESSOR OF PHILOSOPHY
"The University of Chicago might have let [Wittgenstein] go"-so one reads in the article "Peer Pressure." That is striking. And the thought is imputed to me: "At least that's how it seems to Chicago professor Howard Stein...." That, it seems to me, is artful. The article does not say that I expressed that opinion, and I did not. Nor do I in fact think the University of Chicago would have denied tenure to Wittgenstein. But would any reader receive the impression that your reporter is merely attempting to read my mind? Does not the statement, on the contrary, rather strongly suggest-although without expressly stating-that she is paraphrasing my words?
Your article seems to put in my mouth an opinion that I consider both false and unjust to the dean and the rest of the administration, one that is certainly calculated to do exactly what I wished to avoid-namely, inflame the dispute. The disagreement involved is serious enough. I think it a disservice, not only to the disagreeing parties but also to the public that may have an interest in these events, to depict it in heightened colors.
Let me add one thing. The article refers to my announcement that I had requested a demotion from the rank of full professor as more shocking still than my objection to the standards I was protesting and goes on to ask: "What could make an academic philosopher sacrifice his rank?" My own view of that point is quite different. I do not regard my reduction in rank-nominal, as it is; formal, as I requested it be-as any sort of "sacrifice" at all. I did of course intend the "demotion" as a protest and, at the same time, as a demonstration of my own view that (in contrast to the question of tenure, which is a matter of obviously deep importance for a professor and for the university) the use of distinctions of rank as a source of prestige in research universities is really a deplorable one.
I do not think my standing with my colleagues, or with anyone whose opinion matters to me, depends on my rank. Indeed, in the letter to the provost in which I requested the reduction I also remarked that "my view of such things has tended to be the proverbial one of the demobilized World War II veteran: 'Call Me Mister.'"
PROFESSOR OF PHILOSOPHY
UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO
The editors reply:
The allusion to Wittgenstein was intended to help clarify Professor Stein's disagreement with University of Chicago administrators over promotion criteria for candidates in philosophy. We did not intend to imply that Professor Stein necessarily believed that Chicago would have refused Wittgenstein tenure. But we do think the analogy was apt.
LOST IN TRANSLATION
Perhaps the best comment on the allegation that the Iroquois Confederacy influenced the formation of the U.S. Constitution ["Tribal Lore," LF, March] came a few years ago from a docent at Sir William Johnson's mansion in upstate New York. Johnson, a white land speculator married to an Iroquois woman, served as a superintendent of Indian affairs during the mid-eighteenth century. While visiting the mansion in August 1994, I asked a docent what he thought about the controversy regarding the Iroquois and the Constitution. He hadn't heard of it, and I briefly outlined the claims in the case for him. His response: "They modeled the Constitution on the League of the Iroquois? They didn't do a very good job, did they?"
WILLIAM A. DOBAK
RE: February 1997
In his celebration of "slow-motion scholarship" in your February issue ["In the Franklin Factory"], Jack Hitt finds it hard to understand why the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) no longer gives top priority in its grant making to projects to annotate and publish the papers of the Founding Fathers. Let me help:
When historical records are in jeopardy all over the country; when the NHPRC has only $5 million annually with which to do something about it; when it finds itself spending 23 percent of its funds to pay for just eight "founding era" projects to annotate and publish documents, most of which are already safely preserved; and when most of those projects, which are collectively less than half completed after twenty to fifty years, will not finish until well into the next century, the NHPRC cannot afford to give them top priority.
We are trying to help institutions nationwide preserve all kinds of historical material and open it to scholars. If our appropriations hold up, we will be able to do that and still help finance the annotation and publication of such material as the long-term Founding Fathers editions.
EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, NHPRC
Did my eyes deceive me or did this article claim that automobiling in An American Tragedy ["Dreiser's Holiday," LF, February] was nothing but carefree? Your writer misstates her case in trying to prove that Dreiser departs from his contemporaries on the cultural meaning of cars. In fact, it is noteworthy how similar this novel's use of the killer automobile is to Fitzgerald's in The Great Gatsby. The downward moral spiral of Dreiser's protagonist can be seen as resulting from his role as a passenger in a hit-and-run car collision that kills a girl. He turns tail and runs away, leaving the child dead on the road. Not exactly carefree motoring.
THANKS FOR NOTHING!
Having now subscribed to Lingua Franca for six months, I regret to say that your magazine just isn't very interesting. Your Decemeber/January 1997 issue was especially bad. The fact that you devoted a long article ("Screen Test") to the computerized GRE shows just how hard up you are for good copy. Your "Tenure and Hirings, by Discipline" is nothing but meaningless page-filler. Why don't you try something interesting, like tenured professors John Mack (Harvard) or David Jacobs (Temple) who have both written books on "alien abductions" and who argue that humans are being abducted by aliens? That's controversial. As an academic who reads and publishes very widely, I'm sorry to say that your magazine just isn't very arresting.
DEPT. OF AFRICAN LAW
UNIVERSITY OF THE NORTH
SOVENGA, SOUTH AFRICA
I have read with great interest the recent profiles in Lingua Franca of neoconservative intellectuals, their careers, and their goals. Given their present influence in the cultural arena, those of us who proudly belong to the left-leaning majority of academics should welcome further informative articles of this sort.
I was disturbed, however, by the apparent lack of critical perspective in James Surowiecki's portrait of Eugene Genovese ["Genovese's March," December/January]. While Surowiecki may have intended to let Genovese's contradictions and more outrageous statements "speak for themselves," I found this attitude of ironic admiration for the "tough old bird" more troubling than even a straightforward hagiography would have been.
What seems abundantly clear is that, however insightful Genovese's work on Southern history may be, he has profound shortcomings in his more general ideas about history. Overlaying his specialized insight is an anachronistic, irrationalist "great man" theory of history. Great men are great because of the fervor and sincerity of their belief, which allows them to galvanize followers and exercise authority. Hence we can admire Stalin, Mussolini, Goebbels, and Andropov (all mentioned affirmatively by Genovese in the article) for their will and dedication, their "toughness" in the face of a resistant world. Such a view is thoroughly values-blind and atavistic in its bracketing out of the substantive content of these men's ideas in favor of a blind celebration of the charismatic energies that led their followers, Genovese himself in Stalin's case, to believe in them.
The pedagogical analogue, which Genovese also celebrates, is an authoritarian relation of teacher to class and sectarian relations between pupils. As suggested by his positive remarks about his teacher Hans Rosenberg, even lying and distortions of fact may be justified in supporting a strongly held belief.
It takes no professional historian to see the absurd, often horrific results were such a view of history and historical argumentation taken seriously. Are we to prefer Reinhard Heydrich over Heinrich Himmler because the Prague-based SS leader had none of the effete aestheticism and queasiness of his more successful rival in genocide, and to suggest that the Czech partisans who assassinated Heydrich did the right thing solely because it was the expression of their tough-mindedness and iron will? Are we also to say, too bad about the Cambodian people's dying in droves, but those Khmer Rouge were some "tough boys" who really believed in their anti-intellectual, collectivist utopia and did what it took to make a real go of it? Are we truly to credit the notion that the elderly head of Brezhnev's secret police would have been the man to lead the Soviet Union through the changes necessary for it to have survived as a political entity? Such questions, it seems to me, can be answered in the negative by any intelligent person with a reasonable amount of historical knowledge and moral sense Yet this famous, often brilliant historian appears stymied at this basic level of historical and moral reasoning.
I find it most unfortunate, however, that Genovese's wrongheaded appeal to charisma proved so contagious to the writer of his profile. Because Genovese, from all indications of Surowiecki's well-written piece, is charismatic and fascinating. Yet many of his views, and the ways he chooses to express them, are also repugnant and wrong. Surowiecki, in setting aside his critical judgment, asks his readers to yield to his fascination with this "great man."
OF COMPARATIVE LITERATURE
I read with some perplexity Eugene Genovese's apparently favorable reference to "corporatism," cited by James Surowiecki in "Genovese's March." Perplexity, because this word, as Genovese has better reason to know than most, was virtually synonymous with fascism in the Italy of the Twenties and Thirties. Palmiro Togliatti, the leader of the Italian Communist Party in the postwar period, offered this summary in his 1935 Lectures on Fascism:
1) the corporative regime is a regime that is inseparable from total political reaction, from the destruction of every democratic liberty; 2) the corporative regime corresponds to an advanced economic stage and is a form through which finance capitalism seeks to strengthen its positions in the country's economy; 3) the state form must be totalitarian so as to force the large working masses under its control; 4) the corporations are an instrument for suppressing any attempt by the working masses to liberate themselves; 5) the corporations are an instrument for the ideological propaganda of class collaboration; 6) hiding behind the mask of an "anticapitalist" ideology, the corporations represent the most reactionary organization of the capitalist regime.
Is Genovese in effect declaring his own sympathy for fascism or for certain aspects of fascism? If so, that would go some way to explaining his hostility to political correctness and multiculturalism.
PROFESSOR OF HISPANIC
LANGUAGES AND LITERATURES
UNIVERSITY OF PITTSBURGH
Rachel Shteir has written an important piece about standardized testing in America ["Screen Test," LF, December/January]. But, in describing the computer-adaptive GRE (CAT), she makes one serious error. It is not the case that students may see their scores before deciding whether or not to cancel them. As with the paper-based test, a student must decide whether to cancel the scores before he or she ever sees them. When I finished the CAT in October, my last act was to choose between two onerous little ovals. If I clicked on one, I would see my scores and they would forever be part of my GRE file. If I clicked on the other, the score would remain hidden forever, and no record of my taking the test would even exist-like theunfortunates in Catch-22, the scores would be "disappeared."
This clarification is important. Being allowed to see the scores and then cancel them would mean that enterprising people, taking a couple of years off before graduate school, could pay to take the test twenty times, and only their final, best score would matter. The rich and leisured would have an advantage unlike any that presently exists.
I would like to correct some misrepresentations in Emily Nussbaum's otherwise fair and informative account of the impact of Women's Ways of Knowing in the decade after its publication ["The Group," LF, December/January]. Nussbaum quotes me as "bemusedly" ruminating about who is to blame for accusations of essentialism. I disclaim this. Certainly I (and we of WWK) do not "blame" Carol Gilligan (after all, we dedicate our new book, Knowledge, Difference, and Power, to her). Furthermore, I do not tend to think in terms of blame, since I believe blaming only furthers the antagonisms and factionalization within feminism. When I spoke to Nussbaum, I suggested to her that the real story in the post-WWK decade is why theories about women/men/gender offered in the Eighties (whether ours or anyone else's) have become anathema to certain academic feminists in the Nineties. Why has it become impossible to talk about "women"? What has transpired in feminist thinking and strategizing over the last decade that has led to name-calling (labeling one group of theorists "essentialists," and therefore beyond redemption)? Why are we pitting ourselves (and being pitted) against one another?
Feminists need to move beyond the oversimplifications of one another's work and intentions and urge the media to do likewise. (For example, for Nussbaum to call WWK "an ode to women's intuition" misrepresents the book's message and contributes to its negative reading.)
What has been left unexamined and unexplained by the media and feminists who are preoccupied with staying on the theoretical high road is the impact that books such as WWK have had on the general public and on parts of academia. I am proud that WWK has been personally meaningful and politically useful to vast numbers of women and men of different races and classes (contrary to what Carol Stack asserts), teachers and students, community workers, and clinicians who have found that the focus on "ways of knowing" resonates with personal experience and helps name the feeling of having what you know and how you know minimized and shunted to the side. Others tell us that WWK has aided in opening up the important issues of how knowledge claims are established and evaluated on both a personal and an institutional level and why some approaches to knowing are devalued in America today.
To be sure, WWK can be charged with doing too little to address the important factors of class and race (even though our sample was ethnically and racially mixed and included almost 30 percent working-class women). In our new book, Knowledge, Difference, and Power, several essays highlight these issues.
NANCY RULE GOLDBERGER
PROFESSOR OF PSYCHOLOGY
THE FIELDING INSTITUTE
SANTA BARBARA, CA
Emily Nussbaum's "The Group" will, I fear, seriously mislead your readers. Questions about "women's ways of knowing" have become so inflamed in today's academy that the words themselves have become unspeakable. But this state of affairs cannot be "blamed" on the authors of WWK, or on Carol Gilligan, or, indeed, on any individual authors. What we must ask ourselves is not who used these unspeakable words, but how did the words become unspeakable? Fifteen years ago, questions about the intellectual and moral implications of gender differences in socialization provided useful and productive sites for study. In some countries (Sweden, for example), they still do. But, in late-twentieth-century America, such questions have become so inflamed that, in many places, they cannot even be asked. Not surprisingly, feminists everywhere are rushing to get out of the fire; more surprising (and certainly sadder) is the enthusiasm with which many academics (even feminists) seem wont to add fuel.
The main point, however, is that the fire itself-and not the authors of books (like WWK) used to feed the conflagration-is the cause for alarm, and, therefore, that which we most urgently need to understand. When will Lingua Franca take on its responsibility to help its readers in this need?
EVELYN FOX KELLER
PROFESSOR OF HISTORY AND
PHILOSOPHY OF SCIENCE, MIT
Emily Nussbaum responds:
I am surprised by Fox Keller's fiery letter, as our conversation dealt mostly with her frustration that WWK had led to essentialist misreadings of her own work. I sympathize with Goldberger's concerns regarding feminist infighting; nonetheless, my representation of Goldberger's comments is accurate-as the transcript of our interview confirms. Whether WWK can be properly described as an "ode to women's intuition" is question I will leave readers to judge for themselves.
SPEAKING IN TONGUES
Paul William Roberts's "My Translation Problem" [LF, December/January] is aptly titled. The author demonstrates an abysmal ignorance of language, writing systems, and scholarship. Roberts complains that because so few scholars work on certain dead languages, the scholarship in these fields goes unchallenged and unreviewed. In my thirty years of research and publication in one of the fields Roberts singles out, Sumerian studies, I assure you that I have found no dearth of colleagues who are willing and even eager to vigorously critique my work, and my friends in Egyptology would say the same.
Roberts also claims that translations from dead languages are often "arbitrary, illiterate, or bizarre" and "unverifiable." His first example is a Mandaean hymn, in which he ridicules a phrase translated as "the radiance within Radiance." Had he bothered to find out even a little about the gnostic theology of the Mandaeans, "the radiance within Radiance" would have caused him no difficulty.
His statements about the ancient Egyptian language and writing system are astounding. Egyptian is hardly "impervious to direct 'translation'" because it is "pictographic." Languages are not pictographic; scripts are. But a pictographic script does not make a language inherently more difficult to translate. We understand ancient Egyptian far better than we do ancient Ugaritic, which is alphabetically written. And it is absurd to claim a "fundamental incompatibility between hieroglyphs and modern languages." All ancient languages can be translated into modern ones; the difficulty is that we do not completely understand dead languages that were recovered (deciphered) only in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
Ancient Greek is a different matter. It may be dead, but it has an unbroken tradition of study from ancient times as well as a modern descendant. Egyptian and Sumerian have neither. This is why most Egyptologists and Sumerologists aim at providing the most accurate literal translation of the texts they publish. To compare scholarly translations of Egyptian texts to poetic translations of Aeschylus is beside the point for many reasons. There is, of course, much to criticize in our disciplines, but Roberts, it seems, hasn't a clue.
JERROLD S. COOPER
PROFESSOR OF NEAR EASTERN STUDIES
JOHNS HOPKINS UNIVERSITY
Paul William Roberts responds:
In his letter, Jerrold Cooper accuses me of ignorance regarding the "gnostic theology of the Mandaeans." In doing so, however, he only reveals his own ignorance of the subject. Having spent considerable time among the Mandaean communities in Iran and Iraq, and having studied gnosticism for twenty years, I can assure him that their proto-kabbalistic theology cannot properly be termed "gnostic." Indeed, my fieldwork convinces me that pretentious translations like "the radiance within Radiance" are simply lousy-in this case, the "limitless light" would be better.
As for the quibble over "scripts" and "languages," I'll ignore it-a script is a written language, okay? But thoughts expressed in pictures are qualitatively different from thoughts expressed in words. And therefore the pictographs of a long-dead civilization-particularly one as immersed in complex symbolist expression as ancient Egypt-are "inherently more difficult to translate." (A Web site at the University of Chicago details over a thousand ancient Egyptian words deemed "obscure" or "difficult to translate"-which is more than the entire vocabularies of some languages.) With regard to Cooper's comments on this subject in general, I quote from a recent statement by Oxford University's Griffith Institute concerning their version of translation exercises in Sir Alan Gardiner's Egyptian Grammar: "No two Egyptologists would agree on the correctness of these translations; if there is a difference of opinion, your teacher (if you are lucky enough to have one) is likely to be right. We cannot enter into discussion of these translations-life is just too short for it." So much for "all ancient languages can be translated into modern ones."
Finally, the professor refers to "poetic translations of Aeschylus" as if these are necessarily "unscholarly" and inaccurate. They are not, of course. And, while there may well be "many reasons" that my comparison is "beside the point," just one would have sufficed here.
In the end, I can only conclude that Jerrold Cooper inhabits an environment where, to paraphrase Robert Lowell, the Sumerologists talk only to the Egyptologists and the Egyptologists talk only to God. Asking colleagues in Sumerian or Egyptology to critique translations is like asking the cast members of a bad Broadway musical to critique each others' performances: You'll get comments on individual technique, but no one will admit the production as a whole stinks.
Paul William Roberts's "My Translation Problem" [LF, December/January] only recently came to my attention. As the steward of Lady Drower's scholarly archives, as the translator of a Mandaean text (The Scroll of Exalted Kingship, American Oriental Society, 1993), and as a student and scholar of the Mandaean religion for nearly thirty years, I take the strongest possible exception to Roberts's assertions about the religion and about Drower's work on it.
Roberts phoned me as he was working on the piece, and he quotes me on p. 71, evidently seeing me as one of the "drones toiling in [Drower's] Mandaean hive." He is annoyed that I would say nothing to impugn Drower's reputation. Indeed, I have the highest regard for her work.
JORUNN JACOBSEN BUCKLEY
INSTRUCTOR IN LITERATURE, M.I.T.
RE: November 1996
THE NOT-SO-NEW CLASS
I was amazed by the assertion of your otherwise stimulating contributor, Professor Robert Westbrook, in the November issue ["The Counter-Intelligentsia: How Neoconservatism Lived and Died"], that, "of course, the New Class concept was not formulated by the neoconservatives as a serious analytical tool but as a political weapon."
Professor Westbrook's jab might come under the same derisory rubric of exaggeration as the infamous charge that "political correctness" was invented by the right. However, it sends the very, very alarming signal that the American academy has completely abandoned the study of such thinkers as Saint-Simon, Robert Michels, and Vilfredo Pareto, all of whom theorized the rise of a "new class" of intellectuals that would challenge the established entrepreneurial bourgeoisie for influence over society.
In other words, these conceptions were not "formulated by the neoconservatives" but have a long and important presence in the history of modern ideas. Given the interest of post-Sixties academics in obscure figures on the left; given the publication in English of the works of Jan Waclaw Machahski, the great articulator of these matters in the Russian revolutionary movement at the turn of the century; and given the precedence of Auguste Blanqui, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, Mikhail Bakunin, and Pyotr Kropotkin in this controversy, Professor Westbrook's comment seems especially wrongheaded. These political writers saw, more than their sociological predecessors and contemporaries, the role of the state in fortifying the "new class." And they anticipated that class's potential to compete with and suppress the working class on the presumptive road of the latter to domination of society.
SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE
SECRETARY, NORTHERN CALIFORNIA NEWSPAPER GUILD, AFL-CIO
THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT
In her eagerness to criticize "legacy preference" in college admissions, Jessica Burlingame ["All in the Family," LF, November] badly misrepresents my views and wrongly implies that I am a critic of colleges that do this.
As I clearly told Ms. Burlingame, colleges that give admissions preference to children of alumni have good reason to do so: They believe this practice will help attract a well-rounded student body with a sense of loyalty to the school and its history. Moreover, these students are likely to excel once enrolled. Because college officials believe this strategy is in the best interest of their institution and have made a conscious decision to pursue it, it is completely rational, even if it does not, according to her calculations, seem economically wise.
TERRY W. HARTLE
AMERICAN COUNCIL ON EDUCATION
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