15 September 2020

Interrogative Link Sausage Platter

Really long question set-ups to keep you distracted during pre-election lockdown. Which is something that I suggest every four years notwithstanding pandemics and wildfire-caused dirty air anyway; there's always some scientific reason to stay away from the hysteria… even if this time it's worse than usual. The bottom line is that we simply can't trust politicians, economists, and "businessmen" on science… and there's two millenia of history in the West (and longer than that in China) to back that up.

  • My fashion prediction for this year is that the most popular H'ween costume this year will be the Mask of the Red Death. Oops. Masque of the Red Death (source chosen with malice aforethought), which is only marginally related to N95 masks… but closely related to the consequences of failure to socially distance, to the irresistable urge of those with too much money and privilege to party, and to the shifting English language that makes things so much fun. Edgar Allan Poe: Anti-Textualist. (For those who don't know: "Masque" = "formal ball at which the participants, or sometimes just the female participants, wear a mask for 'anonymity,' allowing them to dance with non-partners without causing a Scene.")

    Maybe we should stop pretending and just call it the Masque of the Orange Death. That mostly requires just bad hair and bad makeup, not a mask, though…

  • It really shouldn't surprise me that this story is coming from the land of "public" schools: Someone is actually trying desperately to inquire into nepotism in the arts… and fails utterly by looking at only the most obvious. The piece entirely ignores music (both "popular" and otherwise), sport (Bradley Wright-Phillips is an example of nepotism somewhat working, but the number of "children of greats" who disgraced their potential while simultaneously blocking others that I could name even before the caffeine soaks in greatly exceeds the number of verifiable voter fraud cases), the visual/fine arts — especially photography — and perhaps most egregiously the money connected to the arts. I'll give the article about a C+: It raises an initial issue and then buries it in easy answers (and not even the easiest ones).

    There actually are serious questions to consider about "nature versus nurture" and "what does 'nurture' really mean, depending upon what 'success' means" buried in here. Consider Mr Wright-Phillips for a moment — there's little doubt that at least some genetic component inherited from his father provided a baseline upon which to build. But he wasn't coached by his father, limiting any "nurture" component; and his style of play is quite different from his father's. (Aside: They've both been seriously underrated by the English football establishment… no doubt not helped by their skin color.) That last, however, shouldn't surprise anyone who is paying attention, as the characteristics that made striker in the 1980s and 1990s successful are rather different today. Similarly at the other end of the pitch, comparing Kasper Schmeichel to his father Peter: Both goalkeepers, but neither could have stepped into the other's Premiership team(s).

    The less said about nepotism in politics, though, the better. Over There has more than a few examples of that; Pitt the Elder made the American Revolution inevitable, and Pitt the Younger made the French Revolution not just inevitable but relatively successful at first. Over Here, a fleeting sideways glance at any one of Chicago, Kansas City, or Baltimore more than suffices.

    Maybe the question that should be being asked is whether children should be barred from their parents' trade, craft, or profession. That, however, would require treating children as individuals — a meme inhibited by two millenia of codified Western inheritance laws, to name the most-obvious barrier. More subtly, how does one uniformly (or at least "by default") convince parents that a divergent path taken by children is a "good" or "appropriate" one — especially dynastic families, at either the small or great level?

  • What, how, and why should literature professors teach? The obvious difficulty is that it presumes a certain open-mindedness that is historically inconsistent with the demographics of the Academy. Consider, for a moment, the misbegotten chimera called "American Literature" — which, as placed in curricula, is at least as much about political consistency with American Exceptionalism as it is about literature. Prior to Mark Twain, there is very little in the works themselves that makes them distinct from European contemporaries… except, at times, language and setting, and seldom both at once. And things get more complex once one starts imposing scientific blindness elements on reading, but that's a very long paper indeed. I'd have trouble teaching a survey course not because of what I love, but because of what I despise… and at that, I think I'm being more honest than most of those who specify and teach such courses. I suspect my department head would get very, very angry at my proposed syllabus containing no works of fiction from prior to the Second War of American Secession!

    The fundamental problem with Edmundson's thesis is that it will inevitably reify the gatekeepers of fifteen to twenty-five years before. Those gatekeepers — the ones who determined for young graduate students what constitute acceptable dissertation topics, thereby restricting the first two to five years of actual independent research by young scholars to topics sufficiently serious to "merit" a dissertation in the first place — definitely don't love anything that upsets their hegemony. There are individual exceptions, but just try getting something truly radical past a committee, especially the farther up the food chain one gets. I can see someone getting a dissertation topic on, say, feminine aspects of Afrofuturism in graphic novels, approved and taken seriously at USC or Rutgers, but those aren't true feeder programs into literature-department academia (which is much more about the "provenánce" problem in academia than anything else), and certainly not into top-rated literature-department academia. That makes it a self-perpetuation problem, especially if those writing the dissertations aren't… skilled… at suitably ambiguous titles and summaries produced prior to tenure.