Friday, November 25, 2022

The politics of insecurity is snobbery.

Makdisi is writing for and lecturing a white audience, and ignoring the protests of the workers themselves.

Dr. Ussama Makdisi is Professor of History and Chancellor’s Chair at the University of California Berkeley. He was previously Professor of History and the first holder of the Arab-American Educational Foundation Chair of Arab Studies at Rice University in Houston.  During AY 2019-2020, Professor Makdisi was a Visiting Professor at the University of California at Berkeley in the Department of History. In 2012-2013, Makdisi was an invited Resident Fellow at the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin (Institute for Advanced Study, Berlin).  In April 2009, the Carnegie Corporation named Makdisi a 2009 Carnegie Scholar as part of its effort to promote original scholarship regarding Muslim societies and communities, both in the United States and abroad.  Makdisi was awarded the Berlin Prize and spent the Spring 2018 semester as a Fellow at the American Academy of Berlin.
"Exaggerated Ambitions"
The history Guillory sketches – and, for all its fecundity, it is a sketch, remaining at quite a high level of generalisation – throws several currently contentious issues into sharper relief. Noting the anxiety and defensiveness that criticism’s never wholly successful claim to professional status has generated, he links this to the grossly exaggerated justifications that tend to be offered for academic literary studies. He notes that the tendency to overstate the significance of the discipline has in our time taken the form of exaggerating the political effects of teaching English literature. As academic scholars in the humanities feel increasingly vulnerable in societies governed by the imperatives of global capital, so they seek to ratchet up their ‘relevance’. The main form such claims currently take, particularly among professors of English in the US, is to argue that their pedagogic and scholarly work is, at bottom, a kind of radical political activism. This does not mean teaching Marlowe and Austen in the day job and then also having a role in radical politics: it means treating one’s teaching and writing about Marlowe and Austen as a form of radical politics in itself. Guillory is severe on this particular form of professional self-delusion.

These various forms of exaggeration are, fundamentally, expressions of a lack of confidence rather than its opposite. Guillory wants quietly to remind English scholars – his characteristic tone is quiet, even though the effect of his writing is both conclusive and devastating – of the value of their basic activity: that of extending knowledge and understanding of English literature. ‘The study of literature is a rational procedure for what can be known about an object’ (the literary work). This is a cognitive enterprise, and it centres on the study of writing that is ‘sufficiently wrought’ for the writing itself to be of interest. Put in that simple way, this may seem to beg all the important questions, yet it also points to an intellectual achievement that should not be disregarded. This doesn’t settle anything, for, as we know, justification is a never-ending game – ‘Yes, but why is that important?’ – but exaggerating the political consequences of what we do does not terminate that endless chain of questions and answers any better than any other claim.

One of the main determinants of the vulnerability of literary studies, and hence of the compensating over-ambitiousness of the justification offered for it, is the mismatch between literature’s suitability as a subject for teaching and as a subject for research. It is not hard to provide a persuasive account of the value of the pedagogy, something indirectly attested to by the subject’s popularity with students (until recently, anyway). But it is much harder to say what ‘research’ in English should look like and why it is necessary (a similar tension dogs philosophy). There may be thousands of teachers of English literature who can successfully help students navigate their encounter with, say, King Lear, but hardly any of those teachers will be able to produce an extended critical analysis of the play that could come close to matching some of the magnificent readings offered by a handful of major critics in the past. Nonetheless, the current form of professionalism requires publication as an indicator of academic worth, and so teachers of English are driven down lesser paths: they provide ever more detailed contextual material relating to major works, or they undertake elaborate scholarly studies of minor works, or they write introductory guides for students. None of these is an ignoble activity, but the result can be a mismatch between the high-toned justifications, which almost invariably focus on the supposedly transformative effect of encountering major works of literature, and the actual daily practice of academics, which revolves around more limited enterprises, the majority of them like the empirical work done in adjacent disciplines such as history. 

"(a similar tension dogs philosophy)" and the academy itself. 

Academic café revolutionaries and academic institutionalists: the same blindness

"Political scientists seek to understand politics, not engage in politics." 

The Monty Hall problem, Wikipedia, and Blackburn's Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy 

A decision problem associated with the American television game show host Monty Hall. Contestants are shown three closed curtains. Behind one is a prize, behind the other two are lemons. They pick a curtain. Monty Hall (who knows where the prize is) then pulls one of the other curtains, revealing a lemon, and contestants are asked if they would like to switch to the remaining curtain, or stay with their original choice. There seems to be no particular reason to switch, yet in fact switching doubles the chances of winning: your chance if you stay with your original curtain is what it always was, namely 1/3; the remaining curtain has a probability of containing the prize of 2/3. The problem was the subject of a minor scandal when several distinguished statisticians failed to see how this could be true. In fact it is true because there is now a significant difference between the curtain originally chosen, and the other one on offer, namely that Monty Hall avoided the second. 


humanprovince is good on Makdisi, less so elsewhere, retweeting a HRW rep while ignoring their history on Palestine.

She's always hated Joseph Massad.

I remember the fights over Desiring Arabs, and I just found this by Sultan Alamer: "The Arab and Muslim Evolution of ‘Deviance’ in Homosexuality"

In the Middle East, today’s understanding of gay relationships as abnormal or unnatural relies on concepts invented less than a century ago.

Massad was accused of arguing that homosexuality was a colonialist import to the Middle East, but the better way to describe his argument is that heteronormativity is a western concept, so the self-conscious rebellion against it, as queerness, is western. It connects to arguments that the "Jewish nose" is an anti-Semitic myth, when the concern itself comes from the fear that looking like an Arab, not being white, meant you were ugly, resulting in anti-Semitic self-hatred: the origins of Zionism. 

And this is HRW again This Alien Legacy: The Origins of "Sodomy" Laws in British Colonialism

This 66-page report describes how laws in over three dozen countries, from India to Uganda and from Nigeria to Papua New Guinea, derive from a single law on homosexual conduct that British colonial rulers imposed on India in 1860. This year, the High Court in Delhi ended hearings in a years-long case seeking to decriminalize homosexual conduct there. A ruling in the landmark case is expected soon. 

I'd forgotten about some of this: Khaled El-Rouayheb, Before Homosexuality in the Arab-Islamic World, 1500-1800

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