Monday, December 06, 2004

criticism 3

following tangentially on the last couple days, i came across an article by rainer friedrich in Arion 11 (2003) 33-50 called 'Theorese and Science Envy in the Humanities: A New Take on the Two Cultures Divide'. it is very interesting, and he does a nice send-up (though with serious intent) of the type of obfuscating jargon that currently muddles much so-called 'postmodern' criticism (though i do not agree with his defense of the word 'deconstruction'; for the process of reducing something to an ash-heap of meaninglessness, we already have a perfectly good and descriptive word in english, 'destruction'). here is the second paragraph:


Theorese is the name of the beast. Among the justifications its apologists offer for the spawning of its neologisms, there is one that gives the game away. If there ever was an unnecessary one, it is narratology. Its cointers, apparently commanding small Latin and less Greek, must have assumed a Greek word by the name of 'narratos,' to which they unabashedly added the suffix -logy, thereby creating a linguistic monstrosity (topped only by another pseudo-Graecism, homographesis, claiming to denote 'gay writing'--which also proves that a little Greek can be a dangerous thing). Narrotology, in turn, gave birth to 'focalization,' 'focalizer,'focalisee,' 'narratee,' 'intradiegetic'--terms that fascinate for their sheer ugliness. Why these replellent neologisms when workable terms--'narrative theory,' 'perspective,' 'point-of-view,' etc.--are available? Because, as the apologists, when challenged, assure us with a straight face, 'narratology' possesses a more scientific air and sounds more recherche than unpresumptuous 'narrative theory.' This is the inadvertent caricature of a legitimate concern: like the natural sciences, the humanities need a differentiated and complex nomenclature, a technical terminology that distinguishes scholarship from belletrism. Fair enough. But we have that nomenclature already. It is an ensemble of the terminologies of poetics, aesthetics, rhetoric, and literary criticism, to be easily enriched if need be by the occasional neologism and by borrowing from the terminologies of philosophy, psychology, linguistics, anthropology and other social sciences. No need therefore of the current tidal wave of ugly and pretentious jargon words that disfigure the critical idiom.

he goes on to discuss later what he calls 'postmodern science-envy' in its linguistic pretensions, creating an odd paradox with postmodernism's characteristic ride on the last train departing from science and reason (or 'reasonicity', as they might say). he ends with a suggestion:

Here is an immodest proposal for the reform of the academy. Corresponding to the two cultures, the proposed division should be that between the Faculty of Science (in the broad sense of Latin scientia and German Wissenschaft), with its three traditional branches of the natural sciences, the social sciences, and the humanities, each enjoying as much autonomy as desired, but all united in the espousal of the notion of objective knowledge; and a faculty comprising the postmodern discourses, whose appropriate name would proceed from postmodernism's notorious scorn of the very idea of scientia: the Faculty of Nescience.

insofar as this essay is a reaction to recent trends in the humanities, it is reminscent of camille paglia's 'junk bonds and corporate raiders', also published in Arion, though i don't have the volume number/year with me.

i should also point out that i finished the auden essay, and i think it's well worth reading. he sets criticism in the context of two types of societies--the totally open (which i take to correspond, more or less, to his later discussion of social democracy) and the totally closed (which i take to correspond to his later discussion of fascist totalitarianism)--of which he gives platonic idealizations as a way of illustrating and differentiating their views of the world and of the meaning of human experience. he does not make the case that all criticism should prioritize the political or should be the expression of a political agenda; i assume we've all seen the danger that lies down that path. but he wants to give the critic a sense of his responsibility to his fellow citizens and the importance of good criticism in an open society. also of great interest in the volume (to me, anyway) was norman foerster's essay 'the esthetic judgment and the ethical judgment'.

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