The End of the Trilogy

Chapter 3. (And I still had some items I wanted to examine from the fuss over ‘Hear the Silence’ – some of the odd assumptions behind the rhetoric – but that’s such a long time ago now. I’m just not speedy enough, clearly.) Because there is still a little more. And it really is quite interesting, how very defensive and righteously indignant the defenders of the ‘professional discourse of the humanities’ get. As if people who tease them were committing lèse-majesté, invading the Temple, polluting the inner sanctum. Why? Why do they take themselves so very seriously? Why is a joke (and a damn funny one at that) seen as an outrage? Why are professional discoursers so deaf to humour on this subject? Is that an occupational hazard? If so, it would be an interesting research topic to discover why. Something for a social psychologist, perhaps, or a sociologist of work.

Along with the humour-deficit there is an odd sort of professional gigantism – an unwarranted assumption (as I mentioned yesterday) that all intellectuals are academics, that only academics are intellectuals, and that to tease ‘the professional discourse of the humanities’ is to attack intellectuals. There is something very sinister and unpleasant in these two ideas: one, that academics have a monopoly on intellectualism, and two, that non-academics are forbidden to criticise ‘the professional discourse of the humanities.’ So they have a double monopoly, and the rest of us are doubly excluded. We’re not intellectuals ourselves, and we’re not allowed to tease the people who are. It really does sound very like the medieval priesthood, that used Latin as a fence to keep the people out.

Now, of course, the people who complained that the Chronicle article was a jihad against intellectuals may well not have meant such an implication – but in that case, their clumsiness with language doesn’t give us non-intellectuals out here in the cold much confidence in their highly-trained ability to be aware of their own discourse, does it.

One more thing. Among the several excellent things McLemee said was this –

by all means say hello at MLA. Just do me a favor. If I ask you what papers you have heard that are interesting, please don’t translate my question. What happens every year is that people respond by saying: “Hmmm, what’s ‘hot’ this year?” And then they proceed to tell me what is “hot.” They dilate upon what is “trendy.” I do not care at all what is hot and trendy, and would never use such terms in my writing without displaying conspicious levels of sarcasm. Talk about what you found interesting, important, an addition to the conversation. I’m as concerned with the actually developing substance of scholarship as any of you are. After all, I spend at least as much time as you do reading it. But if you do insist on talking about what’s hip, hot, and happening, I will regard you as part of the nominating committee for next year’s Provokies.

Regular readers may remember that I’ve talked about that very maneuver of translating, many times. I’m interested to see that I’m not the only one who’s noticed. No indeed, interesting is not the same thing as hot or hip. I wonder if there’s some connection between excessive defensiveness and pomposity and humour-deficit, and ambitions to be hip and hot and happening and edgy. That would be ‘ironic,’ wouldn’t it?

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