Tuesday, August 05, 2008

On the same basic lines of my post below

A recently, an episode of the "PhD Comics" webcomic was published that depicted fictionalized versions of some members of my department. The folks depicted were pretty pleased with the comic, and I suppose publicity for the school (since the program has been conflated with another program here, either to protect the anonymity of the folks in the comic or by mistake) is a good thing.

You can read it here.

However, as much as people seem pleased with the comic, I must really, really take issue with the way that my discipline is depicted in this cartoon.

There are a bunch of things I don't like, but right now I'd like to single out the way my colleagues are apparently quoted as saying that, in humanities scholarship, there are "many truths." This sort of simple, pluralist line reinforces what I think is an important mis-representation of what we as humanities scholars do (or at least should be doing, in my opinion).

To say that doing humanities scholarship is about showing that "there are many truths" is like saying that doing environmentalism is about showing that there are many species. Yes, there are, but that is not the point. The point is what is happening to those truths and species under the systems of power at work in contemporary capitalism. Namely, they are being tossed into its gaping maw, shredded, and shat back out as commodities.

And what about the wonderful, snowflake "truth" that our smirking jock-boy conservative ass-clown depicted below lives in? Is it important for us to understand that it exists? Oh yeah. Does that mean we respect it as a co-equal member of the smiling community of truth? Hell no. Our duty is to confront it, to challenge it, to limit the effects of its toxicity where ever we can.

And that means our job is to reach conclusions, to take stands, and to advocate for some truths and not for others. Not because they are the sole truth, but rather quite the opposite, because what truth will prevail is always at stake.

1 comment:

Gavin said...

Andy, you may be interested in speculative realism, a recent (brand-spanking new in the parlance of consumerism) philosophical tendency among a few thinkers to reject a lot of postmodern relativity in favor of something classic yet very unfashionable: realism/materialism, the idea that, no, there are so objective truths out there (but without succumbing to vulgar positivism). I don't really know too much, since I am not much of a philosopher by training, but I'll forward some links:

http://www.urbanomic.com - Collapse, the main journal of speculative realism
http://speculativeheresy.wordpress.com/ - 'nother blog.

A couple points on materialism: What better way for thought to address the current ecological crisis (that's right, the crisis has already happened, now it's about preventing collapse) than to affirm that, yes, the environment is real, no language games can fuck with how much CO2 is in the air. Look how easily the right co-opts postmodernist tactics to fight against any sort of sane look at global warming: "OUR scientists don't see anything, so we can't know for sure, so why do anything." Basic intellectual argument for political apathy that we are all familiar with at this point.

Materialism gives way to the linguistic turn/post-structuralism at a time when certain materialist philosophers of color (and feminists) become important (Fanon springs to mind) to decolonization, almost ripping the idea of literal material struggle and resistance out of their hands so we can go Foucault and focus on how "everyone" (even white bourgeoisie! oh noes!) is disciplined. Not saying Foucault was wrong about a lot of things, but ever wonder what happens to race/class in his analyses?