2 Following


Currently reading

Middlemarch: An Authoritative Text, Backgrounds, Reviews and Criticism (A Norton Critical Edition)
Bert G. Hornback, George Eliot
The Magic Mountain
Thomas Mann, John E. Woods
Love in the Time of Cholera
Gabriel García Márquez
Tenured Radicals, Revised: How Politics Has Corrupted Our Higher Education - Roger Kimball From the acknowledgements page (where Kimball credits both the arriere garde *New Criterion* and the fetid Olin Foundation) to the concluding quotation of fascist sympathizer Evelyn Waugh, this text manages to get just about everything wrong. Some of the more salient problems, culled (simply for brevity's sake) from the preface and first chapter:

--Intellectual Dishonesty: Kimball claims that "the self-righteous emphasis on 'diversity,' 'relevance,' and 'sensitivity' provides a graphic example of the way in which the teaching of the humanities...has been appropriated by special interests" (3). What is fundamentally dishonest are the assertions that a) *any* education can be politically "neutral" and b) his own preferred method of humanities instruction (traditionalist, masculinist, "great books" centered, ignorant to race & class politics, atheoretical, &c.) is somehow, magically, outside of politics. There is, incidentally, no indication in the text of how an emphasis on diversity or sensitivity is an example of appropriation of humanities education by so-called special interests (eh? Is that even subject to appropriation? And, if so, so what?). Who, exactly, is the "special interest" that promotes diversity? The accusation is comically aporetic, and it is difficult to discern, even at this early point, whether this text is a parody of neo-philistinism or the genuine artifact (see Poe's Law?).

Indeed, the notion that discussions of race, class, and gender are a matter of "special interests" is likewise fairly dishonest, for, taken as an aggregate, these groups account for what approaches 100% of humanity. Kimball's preferred instruction reckons with the experience of the elite, which, for some bizarre reason, he associates with the "general interest."

--Conceptual Confusion: Kimball carps that the modern university focuses on "the canon of Freud, Marx, and Nietzsche," and is furthermore dominated by a "motley variety of avante-gard criticism based on a combination of liberal political pieties" (7). A fairly muddled formulation, this charge conflates a wide variety of thinking on both the political left and in the modern academy (the two are not identical). Leaving aside the notion that Freudians and Marxists don't necessarily get along (not to mention how Nietzsche's followers complicate things), we can topple Kimball's house of cards simply by noting that if someone is a Marxist, then that means s/he is *not* a liberal (liberals look too much like capitalists to the average Marxist, we must recall). It is, of course, manifestly erroneous to suggest that Marx, Freud, and Nietzsche get much attention in themselves--though certainly they are extremely influential. (There's a reason for that, but Kimball isn't interested in looking at the reason, but rather anathematizes them as villains.)

--Systematic Fallacious Reasoning: Kimball pooh-poohs the fact that "the products of popular culture...are given parity (or even precedence over) the most important cultural achievements of our civilization" by modern intellectuals (xiii). If I recall my own humanities training, we tend to call this type of irrational argument "Begging the Question," "Circular Reasoning," and "Tautological Argumentation"; Kimball, simply put, here assumes his conclusion: in his vainglorious effort to "prove" that the subject and method of the modern academy is bad, he posits his own preferred subject and method as "the most important." That an entire generation of scholars is attempting to interrogate precisely this issue--of what is "most important"--seems to have eluded Kimball's cognitive process. He may well be correct about what happens to be "most important," but there's nothing in this text to make that demonstration; the point therefore appears to be mere sensationalist dogma.

Other fallacies easily spotted in the preface and first chapter: a Slippery Slope (xii), at least one Red Herring (5-6), Argumentum ad Hominem dismissals galore, Appeals to Tradition (literally on every page--he needs to argue rigorously for this tradition's value, after all, rather than to venerate it childishly), and some assorted Argumentum ad Verecundiam, Complex Cause, &c. (I have removed references to Straw Man Fallacies and placed them below--for reasons that will be explained.)

--Dearth of Understanding: Kimball just can't seem to comprehend some of the basics of the object of his critque. E.g., while bashing at feminist literary criticism, he claims that proper literary criticism should be "disinterested inquiry and a notion of scholarship that deliberately strives to transcend political differences" (19). This is, of course, so far out of tune with the entire history of literary study as to disqualify the entire point; any suggestion that literary criticism has ever been this kind of apolitical utopia is both beyond obnoxious and evidence of one who hasn't done one's homework. One need only turn to such critics as Leavis, Richards, Arnold, and Eliot on the one hand, or Williams, Burke, Benjamin, and Gorky on the other in order to see some politics of literary criticism. A quick review of the relevant sections of Plato's *Republic* might suggest to even the least careful readers that literary theory has for many centuries had overt political objectives. Ultimately, it becomes an absurdity to argue that literary criticism has not been and does not continue to be a polymorphously committed field of cultural production (Kimball's own unacknowledged but highly politicized notions confirm this abundantly).

Additionally, his characterization of "the standard operating equipment of intellectual Marxists" as a tendency to "trump mere empirical evidence with the charge of false consciousness" (24) completely disregards both the position he'd just before been summarizing and the general corpus of Marxian theory; if his argument demonstrated *any* competence whatsoever, then I'd assume that he was simply distorting his opponents' positions--whether out of malice or weakness is beyond anyone's ken at this point--but since his argument gets nothing correct, it must simply be a matter of the author's own mental incapacity, and not repeated use of the Straw Man fallacy. (Is there any other conclusion?)

--Facile Interpretation of World Events: Kimball's position vis-a-vis Frantz Fanon is indicative of the whole of his text. To Kimball, Fanon is to be associated with Goering and the Nazis--yes, Kimball has the gall to make this perverse association (30)--and *The Wretched of the Earth* is merely "an incitement to murder" (30). Of course, the long process of colonial abuse in Africa, the details of Fanon's actual argument, and other sundries--all drawn from the traditional study of history that Kimball claims to prize--are to be forgotten here. This (intentional?) amnesia regarding the stated purpose indicates that Kimball is not committed to those stated principles of his book, but rather to his own rightist political agenda--much though he may otherwise posture. Part of that political agenda is necessarily reliant on a simplistic reading of history, politics, and philosophy--simplistic enough to pretty much equate Fanon with Nazi terror (if this text were published in 2002, we'd see the phrase "Axis of Evil" littering its pages, surely--for Kimball is nothing if not a supercilious, foppish jingo).

Most of us will doubtlessly hold Kimball accountable for his stunning lack of knowledge about Western Imperialism (he could attempt to refute Fanon--after all, it is a good question: is violence justifiable against a colonial invader? We'd never know that such a debate even exists if we had foolishly relied only on Kimball for this data; one can only assume that he approves of violence by patriots in the US against the forces of British imperialism, after all).

--Overall, an extremely unsound argument here--but it should be required reading for anyone who takes the humanities seriously, especially leftists who see value in late 20th century theoretical developments.