Sunday, October 10, 2010

GS: in which a quantity of crow is eaten

My understanding of physics is that Newtonian physics covers the vast majority of our everyday experience, but when you get to the outer edges-- say, approaching the speed of light, or temperatures approaching absolute zero-- Newtonian physics cease to apply, and Einsteinian physics comes into play.  (I don't think physicists use the term "Einsteinian" but if I know the right term, I can't remember it.).  But once you understand Einstein's theory of relativity, etc., it changes the underpinnings of how you understand everything, even the apple falling from the tree and conking Newton in the head.

So, that's how I'm coming to understand theory.  99% of life happens just fine without knowing anything about Saussure or Greenblatt or Althusser.  But once you get it, it changes everything.  So I'm there.  I was wrong; or at least I was wrong in the same way that Newton was wrong, which is to say, not exactly wrong in context, but still, wrong, or at least naive, in the larger scheme of things.  (good grief, did I just compare myself to Newton?  *shakes head*)  Well, OK, not anything like Newton, because Newton was beyond brilliant and came up with any number of ideas that changed the world; I'm just making my snide little comments over here from the peanut gallery about the things that I read.  What I mean to say is that some of the things I said were acceptable in their own little context (and some are just plain old wrong), but in the larger scheme of things, to say I was uninformed would be giving me far more credit than I am due.

It does seem, though, that I come down more on the side of the Europeans than the Americans-- French feminism as opposed to the more strident US version; British Green Studies as opposed to US Ecocriticism; Cultural Materialism as opposed to New Historicism.  Lord knows where that comes from because I've spent a grand total of about 3 months in Europe spread out over four different trips.  But I was reading along in Peter Barry's book Beginning Theory (and if you ever get thrown into a theory class with no prior experience, I cannot recommend this book highly enough for explaining the dauntingly obscure minutiae of the topic with blessedly readable clarity), and came across something that provided a clue.  And of course now I can't remember which chapter it was in so I can't quote him directly, but the gist of it was (and I'm mangling this enough with my own opinions that it's entirely possible he would want nothing to do with this distinction):  the Europeans see the a-ha! moments that theory provides as movements toward positive change; i.e., now that we know this, we are better informed as we move forward.  "Political optimism" was the phrase I think Barry used.  The Americans have the a-ha! moment and then react in horror to people who still think the old way. And with good reason-- the way things have been (the ideology, the hegemony) has been used to legitimate slavery and the oppression of women, to rationalize poverty, to marginalize gays-- in fact, without the examination of our biases that theory provides, we tend to suppress any kind of thought that isn't mainstream.  Because that kind of thinking still continues, the American theorists tend to concentrate on identifying it as a way of trying to root it out.

But that continual focus on rooting out every possible occurrence of the old way of thinking is enormously difficult to stomach of you're just Jane Doe from the Northern Rockies.  For one thing, it feels like it's stuck in unending, infinite analysis of the past, without offering anything constructive for either right now or for the future.  For another, it sometimes has a tendency to make those who practice it into unendurable snobs.  We've had to read two articles by this one woman critic that honestly make me feel like I'm a puppy whose nose is being stuck in my own poo.  Bad dog.  I don't often "hate" anything, but last night as I was struggling through yet another dense thicket of jargon and sneer, I thought, "I hate this woman."  Maybe she's "correct" in her ideas, but her attitude, that "I'm Right and you're Wrong" thing she's got going-- she's not convincing me.  I'd argue against her just to play devil's advocate, just to disagree with someone who is so pompously self-righteous.

Well, then.  I guess I didn't do a very good job of humbly eating crow, since I turned it into an opportunity to gripe about the people I'm supposed to be capitulating to.  (and isn't that a glaring dangling preposition, but I'm leaving it there because dang it, this is my blog and I can be bourgeois if I want to.)  You notice I didn't say a "large" quantity of crow, just a quantity.


  1. I admit a certain reactive, "Aw, take the cork out of your ass," attitude when confronted with the smug.

    It's The Enlightened--as our circle of friends calls them. You know, the people who [insert expensive form of therapy, education, activity] and consider themselves absolved from acting like a decent person.

    Like the people who buy cruelty-free cosmetics made from renewable resources with recyclable packaging; go to hot box yoga three times a week; only eat gluten-, soy-, glucose-, dairy-free foods; drives a hybrid; and only wear natural fibers while living in a house with low-VOC paint and wool rugs (and is more than happy to tell you about it)--but won't pick up after their dog, treat service people with respect, or be mindful of anyone except themselves.

    Wow. That was one hell of a sentence. Dang.

    I'm with you on the European model of discovery, and moving on with the new information. I wonder if that missionary zeal with new ideas hearkens back to our Puritan beginnings?

  2. You know, I was driving home last night thinking about exactly "those" people-- the ones who try to distance themselves from the rest of us by doing things exactly right according to whatever their schtick is. I think at one point when I was much younger, this kind of thinking appealed to me. But a) I never had the persistence to stick with it very long (low road resident here), and b) I suspect that it doesn't really do any good in terms of long-term change. I do think a kind of puritanical zeal feeds into it, which is probably (given my past) why I have such a knee-jerk reaction to it-- I don't care what your point is, if you're up on that soapbox, I want to disagree.

    there were a couple of enormo-sentences in my post, too. :-)