Do not silo or cloister

Someone remarks regarding Zizek: I will say that Zizek did not strike me as particularly incisive. I’ve spent a lot of my life listening to Eastern European intellectuals bloviate, so perhaps I my tolerance for their tendency to exaggerate is not what it should be.

I can tell you why I don’t find Zizek to be particularly interesting. First, let’s dispense with his accent. Perhaps because I speak a Slavic language, perhaps because I spent a lifetime in polyglot, I don’t find his accent particularly difficult to discern. I think that he has a complete command of the English language. He writes like someone with a degree in English. In fact, he writes TOO MUCH like someone with a degree in English. He’s a Cult Stud, an academic who espouses what is nowadays called “Cultural Studies.” The people involved with Cultural Studies are, generally speaking, not interested in dialoguing with people outside of their group. Their group is small, self-contained, and incestuous. That is, they, generally speaking, only quote other Cult Studs in their essays. They want to ‘dialogue with’ other Cult Studs like Adornoists or Frankfurt Schoolers. They are not interested in engaging people like me or you. They would call me a “liberal scoundrel,” and thus worthy of nothing but contempt. You, however you identify yourself, are not one of them, and perhaps not worthy of equal contempt, but certainly not worthy of intellectual engagement. Of course, such people can be fine in person. I have close Cult Stud friends. They are as likely as anyone else to be good, decent people. It is just that there is little point in engaging in a rational argument with people who do not share the same premises. There must be a common set of axioms for any real argument to exist. I have no common ground with Cult Studs. For this reason, I am not particularly interested in ‘dialoguing’ with them, at least not with the true-believers like Zizek.

William: I felt like I totally “got” where you are coming from in your original remarks and I think you have very valid reasons to see “groups” in the way that you describe with their “target audience.” I remember one or two tutors who were the “target audience” of one or two renowned contemporary scholars. All I had to do, for example was make the mistake of mentioning the word “history” and it was like there was this little button on the tutors forehead marked HISTORICITY (do not touch!) and immediately that tutor would go into passionate gyrations uttering jeremiads and excoriations against the mere existence of the word historicity. A different example is the times when I would socialize with some people at the heart of the Hare Krishna movement. I would try to compare something with early Buddhism and accidentally press the “MAYAVADIN (do not touch!)” button on their forehead and they would go into similar passionate jeremiads. [Their particular Vaishnav sect, and there are many various Vaishnav sects which differ greatly, stress that everything is REAL, and it is meaningless to speak of maya, illusion appearance.] The only point I am trying to make is that you are accurate in describing such speakers who have groups, followers, target audiences (and with whom meaningful dialog from an outsider is impossible because it would stray from the paradigm that they have sanctified.) I suppose it is also like young Jung with elder Freud. I have a book about their friendship and breakup “Years of Friendship Years of Loss” which grew out of a thesis by a scholar at NYU. Freud SO CHERISHED his original theories and methods that he was hand picking Jung as a non-Jew (realizing the atmosphere of Antisemitism). Jung was possibly head and shoulders above the unquestionably brilliant Freud. They did not see eye to eye about one of Freud’s cherished theories (I would have to dust off the book to remember.) And I would like to conclude by mentioning my OWN unfortunate prejudice in the 1960s. One day I was looking at the coffee shop bulletin board at a list of books for sale which included EASTERN things like the Bhagavad-gita. Someone who knew me walked by and sneered at me, saying “You think all those books are a bunch of crap.” I agreed that only the Western canon could possibly have value and legitimacy. Little did I know that years later I would come to value such Eastern books equally. We should always remain open minded and not silo or cloister ourselves only with those like-minded. I know a conservative who is a cool, bright, reasonable, fair, honest person who bends over backwards to accommodate those with different leanings who cordially seek his association.

I think we are always in danger of falling under the sway of “buzz words” and sacred paradigms of understanding. Different but related topic: I am going to pull my copy of Sartre’s “On Being and Nothingness” off the shelf because I remember something from the translator’s introduction. That translator is Hazel E. Barnes of the University of Colorado. She writes: “It has been interesting to run through what William James called ‘the classic stage of a theory’s career.’ Any new theory, said James, first ‘is attacked as absurd; then it is admitted to be true, but obvious and insignificant; finally it is seen to be so important that its adversaries claim that they themselves discovered it.” [Footnote: William James. Pragmatism: A New Name for Some Old Ways of Thinking. New York: Longmans, Green, and Co. 1949. p. 198] … It is interesting to note, by the way, that William James was the last of the great pre-Freudian psychologists (at least in the eyes of some scholars.) I quote this to demonstrate how it is human nature to pass through fads of disdain and idolization. When I was in 7th grade, I decided I wanted wire rim glasses because they looked practical. No one else was wearing them (circa 1963). The optometrist said “All the kids will laugh at you because only old veterans and nuns wear these.” I basically said that I could give a crap about what those wastrels think and feel and they despise me anyway so I want those glasses.” After the Beetles/Hippie era commenced various and sundry wastrels would approach me and say “Oh, I see you want to be a fashionable hippie” and I would explain that I started wearing these back when only old WWI veterans and nuns wore them (in the days when nuns dressed like a Muslimah and sported no decolletage.)

Listen to Noam Chomsky’s open-mindedness in his view of the Tea Party, Palin, Rush Limbaugh etc.

Chomsky probably qualifies as a “group stud” and has his own following and his own leanings (and he stubbornly asserts the universality of linguist recursion in the face of the Brazilian rain forest PiranHA speakers who have no number, color or recursion.) And yet Chomsky chooses to TRY to see the other side and see the good in it. I think that a liberal like myself and a conservative are able to be open-minded precisely because we spent 4 years in a program where harpsichordists had to study Ptolemy and Appolonius and math mavins had to listen to Bach and read War and Peace.


One Response to “Do not silo or cloister”

  1. jollyblog Says:

    I like the button on the forehead image. Luckily, some people have their buttons in other places. 😉

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