More like a leaking argument than a column

Miranda Devine heads her column this week “More Like a Leaking Nuclear Reactor than an Arts Faculty”. The target of her ire is Sydney University’s Arts Faculty. I made the point a few days ago in passing that Sydney Uni has seen more than its fair share of disputatious academics – with the English Department splitting in the 60s and the Philosophy Department in the 70s (though UNSW Sociology gave them a run for their money). The rhetorical tone of all these sorts of anti po/mo decline of Western Civ rants is always bathed in the mythical and cool afterglow of an imagined pristine past of gentlemanly robed scholar-priests of civilisation strolling sandstone cloisters, perhaps with Lord Sebastian Flyte and his teddybear basking in the court to add colour. As I suggested, the truth is different. Most Australian universities were either rather utilitarian in their inception (like Queensland) or rather underpatronised in their early years (like Sydney where Classics wasn’t in as much demand for the formation of gentlemen as in England). Sydney’s later distinct contribution to philosophy was quite utilitarian in a different sense, and initially at least in the 1950s, socially and politically radical. Any decent history of English Lit teaching and scholarship will tell you that the reality was far more mundane than Tolkien like eccentrics wistfully pondering the wonders of Beowulf and Sir Gawain.

ELSEWHERE: Liam also questions whether undergrads will be flocking to the physiognomy of origin conference – maybe it depends on opportunities for hooking up? Immanuel Rant analyses the Devine Miss M’s argument and sources.

Miranda has been dipping into Tom Wolfe for reasons other than learning about hooking up. A fate similar to that of poor Charlotte apparently lies in waiting for prospective Arts students. They might be exposed to the Italian philosopher Antonio Negri, attending a conference at Sydney, and whom Ms Devine believes to be little better than a terrorist. Aside from the unlikely prospect that freshers will rush to a symposium on an Italian Marxist philosopher whose work I find quite unintelligible, for one, there’s also the issue of freedom of speech and academic freedom. But never mind, Miranda has some other disturbing new information. Sydney University Arts graduates have to have competencies and graduate outcomes. Now one might imagine that this sort of bureaucratic managerial-speak is more about the requirements placed on the University by Dr Nelson and his acolytes and about selling Arts graduates to private employers, but one would be wrong. It’s a leftist po/mo plot. BA graduates will be expected to “Work effectively in teams and other collaborative contexts”. Sounds more like a selection criterion to me. Whatever.

To pre-empt possible ripostes, yes I have an Arts degree (and a first class honours Commerce Degree and a Graduate Diploma in Business), and yes, I’ve taught in Arts Faculties (and in Business Faculties and Schools of Management). And no, I’m not a postmodernist. I believe in truth, just like Miranda. It’s just that I place some importance on actually getting to it, apparently unlike her. But then the postmodernism of the “faith-based reality” stripe seems to be gaining ground with the myrmidons (to use a good Beazley-ism) of conspicuous indignation.

About Mark Bahnisch

Mark Bahnisch is a sociologist and is the founder of this blog. He has an undergraduate degree in history and politics from UQ, and postgraduate qualifications in sociology, industrial relations and political economy from Griffith and QUT. He has recently been awarded his PhD through the Humanities Program at QUT. Mark's full bio is on this page.
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Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

ps – sorry to pre-empt you, Irant, if you were thinking of deconstructing the Devine Miss M. I just couldn’t resist.

Rafe
2022 years ago

It is disappointing to find that Miranda is one of the people who regard David Stove as brilliant. His Encounter paper on Karl Popper would get my vote as the worst paper ever written by a person who claimed to have an interest in the truth. However there is ground for concern about the content of humanities and social science courses. How many first degree courses provide a good overview of the work of Hayek and Popper? Given their achievements, can humanities/social science students claim to be educated if they do not have a fair understanding of their ideas, in the way that a science graduate would be expected to know about the double helix and quantum physics?
This is not about freedom of speech, it is about giving students exposure to the best thinking in the field.

Andrew Norton
Andrew Norton
2022 years ago

Most universities have these lists of attributes their graduates are supposed to possess. So far as I am aware they don’t have any operational significance. The only tests of general attributes as opposed to specific subject knowledge are the self-report questions about generic skills on the Course Experience Questionnaire. Unsurprisingly, the universities have resisted objective testing to see what skills their graduates actually have; I had a spat in the media with the Dean of Arts at Sydney 12 months ago about this, after he made baseless claims about the generic skills an Arts degree provides.

I don’t doubt that Australian Arts faculties generally are disaster areas, having been assaulted for years by intellectual suicide bombers. But these graduate outcomes and competencies won’t make it any worse (or any better).

Irant
2022 years ago

How could you not resist? It was a column rife for the picking. Of which I will do later. I won’t comment on Stove’s attempts to pop Popper but Stove’s articles on evolutionary theory (even though I am not a big fan of sociobilogy) were pretty poor.

Rafe, I am not sure why it is disappointing to find that Miranda finds Stove brilliant. She is only parroting from the Quadrant Quorum list of acceptable intellectuals. It is to be expected.

Stephen Hill
Stephen Hill
2022 years ago

Considering all this managerialism – I was always a fan of the Just in Time Management when it came to handing in assignments. You don’t want a couple of thousand words clogging up the inventory unnecessarily.

Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

Andrew, they can have operational impacts. I would suspect that the one I’ve quoted would imply something in the area of assessment – probably a component of group assessment. UQ now requires each course profile to contain subsidiary objectives which are complementary to these overarching ones and they thus have an impact on course design.

QUT has also set particular goals in the area of Indigenisation and internationalisation of the curriculum which are also taken seriously in terms of major and subject design/revision.

As to Arts Faculties being a disaster area, as I’ve said before, to the degree that people equate this with some trends in theory that they dislike, in my fairly wide experience, these are normally confined to Schools and Departments of English, Media and Cultural Studies, and to a lesser degree Philosophy (where analytical philosophy is still dominant in most Australian universities). People seem to extrapolate from that. Certainly postmodern theory has had very limited dissemination in Politics and Sociology programmes in which I’ve been involved. I made the point on an earlier thread that several of my Lecturers at UQ in History (and a number in Government I’ll now add) were of a conservative political persuasion. I just don’t buy it – I think it’s an unwarranted import of American arguments which don’t apply in the same degree.

Rafe, I studied Popper and Hayek. As to whether particular theorists or philosophers ought to be taught to everyone doing an Arts degree, that’s really a function of whether there is any “core” to the programme. Certainly, if like me, you did major studies in Politics and Political Economy you would expect to encounter them. It’s less easy to see why someone majoring in (say) Indonesian history and language would. There was an attempt in the early 1990s when I was a student rep on the UQ Arts Faculty and Academic Boards to introduce a common core to the Arts degree but it failed basically because the larger departments would have done the lion’s share of the teaching and thus receive a corresponding resource advantage. That was regrettable in my view.

michael carden
michael carden
2022 years ago

I find that when someone like Miranda Devine sounds off about postmodernism, they clearly have no understanding of what it is they decry. I suspect that with the fall of the ‘communist threat’, postmodernism, causing as it does a lot of contention amongst academic circles, has been chosen as the new bogeyman. It’s a handy cathcphrase, no more. (“Eek, the dreaded postmodernists are loose corrupting our kiddies”) Although, ironically, by decrying po/mo, MIranda is lined up with much of the Marxist left, particualrly the sectarian variety, for whom po/mo is also a dirty word.

Irant
2022 years ago

Jeez a day is a long time in the blogoshpere. Now Micheal is pre-empting one of my thoughts. I still have a few left but if they’ll survive till I get home I don’t know.

liam hogan
2022 years ago

The criteria Devine quoted in the article didn’t exist four years ago, but they’ve quietly made their way onto the course outlines of most of the courses in Arts. I agree that they’re meaningless, so do most people who read them and even most of those who write them.
Why? Because ‘outcome centred learning’ is the Department of Education’s idea, not a Faculty one, and certainly not one that has come from staff.
Incidentally, until a few decades ago Sydney Uni historians used to have to sit a ‘general knowledge’ exam at the end of their degrees, testing them on *anything* taught in the History Department, whether they’d studied it or not. It was abolished because it was a particularly frustrating and pointless exercise.

Dave Ricardo
Dave Ricardo
2022 years ago

“She is only parroting from the Quadrant Quorum list of acceptable intellectuals. It is to be expected. ”

Well, Devine is on the Quadrant Board, so it certainly is to be expected.

“having been assaulted for years by intellectual suicide bombers”.

That is a very tasteless metaphor, Andrew. And it even doesn’t make sense on its own terms, since the standard Quadrant-esque critique is that the very same intellectuals, far from killing their careers no matter what they say, are impervious to outside forces (like a metaphorical bomb blast).

And as for this Negri character (who, I am ashamed to admit, I had never heard of before reading Devine’s column) if he is even half as bad as Devine claims, you can bet London to a brick that he won’t get a visa to enter our fair country, and Miranda won’t have to worry her pretty self that he will infect the intellectually virginal Arts students of Sydney University.

(Miranda herself is a product of suburban Macquarie University, not so much red-brick as grey-concrete, so perhaps her angst about Sydney Uni reflects a kind of ivy-envy. I will leave that to others to ponder.)

Rafe
2022 years ago

Thanks Mark, illuminating comments as ever, however my point is that some appreciation of the achievements of Popper and Hayek should be the common property of all educated people, like the work of Watson and Crick in biology. Maybe that means looking at the HSC curriculum.

I appreciate that you have studied P and H but how many graduates can say the same, and give a concise summary of the main themes and implications of their work? This is not a fair request given your thesis committments, but of course I am really interested to see your statement on their main themes and implications:)

Perhaps it would be easier if I compile a multiple choice test.

1. Popper and Hayek were born in (a) Australia (b) Austria (c) Norway
2. Popper’s first significant book was (a) Logik der Forschung (b) The Importance of Being Really Seriously Earnest (c) How come no bastard takes any notice of what I am saying?
3. Hayek left London for Chicago because (a) he wanted to take up ice skating (b) he needed the money (c) Frank Knight asked him really nicely.

to be continued

Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

Rafe, writing multi-choice tests is always fun. Here’s a topical one:

25. Kinsey argued that sexual behaviour can be represented as:

a. A choice between heterosexual and homosexual orientations
b. Defining social identity
c. A continuum where people vary between entirely heterosexual and entirely homosexual orientations
d. Resulting from innate biological differences

The answers to yours are (b), (a) and (c).

James Farrell
James Farrell
2022 years ago

As Andrew said, graduate attributes are being introduced everywhere. Hostility to the idea, as exemplified above, is widespread, and is a complete puzzle to me. I think every teaching institution should articulate what kinds of generic skills, values and attitudes it wants its graduates to have. The Sydney University ones that Miranda and her ‘disgruntled academic’ are trashing, all make perfect sense to me.

For example, it is conceiveable that a student might never have to write an essay or make an oral presentation if particular subject coordinators chose not to include them as tasks.

It’s true the ‘attributes’ are hard to implement, but that’s not a reason not to work them out. The real problem is when university managers try to impose them through ad hoc, blanket rules about assessment and so on. Academics lose interest in teaching when they treated like automata. It’s much more constructive to make them aware of issues and methods through staff development programs.

Rafe, I can echo mark in saying that I learnt about Popper and Hayek in my humanities degree. But I didn’t become a devotee, so I guess that proves I didn’t get enough exposure.

wen
wen
2022 years ago

Submissions called for here:

http://www.arts.usyd.edu.au/departs/rihss/origin.html

“In conversation with Negri and Cavarero, this conference reflects on the question of the physiognomy of origin. What forms does the concept of origin take as it progresses and changes? How does its changing character affect the constitution of life? What are the historical and (bio)political conditions of the transformation of origin? What are the sites of precariousness and potentiality to which this progression gives rise? How does the materiality of the origin disclose its inner character? And how does the concept of origin inform a conception of the human, in both its material and normative modes? Does embodiment necessarily entail a return to origin, or does the genealogical focus on conditions of emergence allow for alternative ways of understanding embodiment? In what ways can a democratic politics configure the social body to allow for diversity to take shape and qualify the powers of origin?”

Sounds fascinating to me..;)

Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

Wendy, yeah, I made a similar point about Negri’s prose in a comment at Liam’s place:

“I don’t know too much about Negri’s political past, but suspect that Miranda probably has it wrong. In any case, he’s entitled to freedom of speech.

I’ve had to wade through “Empire”

Andrew Norton
Andrew Norton
2022 years ago

“”having been assaulted for years by intellectual suicide bombers”.

That is a very tasteless metaphor, Andrew. And it even doesn’t make sense on its own terms, since the standard Quadrant-esque critique is that the very same intellectuals, far from killing their careers no matter what they say, are impervious to outside forces (like a metaphorical bomb blast).”

Dave – I meant they were killing the discipline, not their careers. Publishing nonsense is not an obstacle to academic success. I don’t want to exaggerate how good Arts faculties were in the past. They have always been pretty mediocre. But things have become worse even since I did a BA in the 1980s. English is a particularly tragic case, taking young people who enrol for their love of the language and literature, and up writing jargon-infested essays about theorists. You’d be better off just reading through the classics on your own.

Dave Ricardo
Dave Ricardo
2022 years ago

“I meant they were killing the discipline”

Well I don’t have the benefit of an Arts education so I’m not really in a position to judge. However, I strongly suspect that the same critiques are being made of what is taught in faculties of architecture, law, and probably in the science-based faculties as well. (“Call that a proof?! In my day, maths students had to learn how to rigorously prove theorems.” Etc)

Everybody always thinks it was better in the old days, and not just just in academiia. (“Laver was a better player than Federer”)

Rafe
2022 years ago

Hello James, I am delighted to hear that you learned about Popper and Hayek. Would you like to have a go at listing their leading ideas,as you recall them?
It is admirable that you were sufficiently critical and independent to avoid becoming a devotee. To help other people who might be tempted to read my website, can you warn them of the major defects their doctrines?

liam hogan
2022 years ago

Ahh, the classics. I agree, Gilson & Zubrzycki’s Foreign Language Press In Australia 1848-1964 should be compulsory reading for all educated Australians.
What, nobody knows G&Z?

Rob
Rob
2022 years ago

Dunno why you guys are so down on Quadrant. I write for that mag periodically, but Troppo is still the second blog I visit every time I log in (Tim Blair is first, sorry.But that could change).

My thoughts on postmodernism are here –

http://www.quadrant.org.au/php/
archive_details_list.php?article_id=919

– in the dreaded journal of the RWDBs. Shameless self-promotion, I know.

Revisionists forever!

John
John
2022 years ago

Rob on’t you think Windschuttle has undermined his own case against postmodernism? When was the last time he found a fact he didn’t like?

Irant
2022 years ago

Echoing John above, as much as the right decry postmodernism as a bastion of lefty thought, postmodernism is an essential component of the creationism/intelligent design arguments as well.

derrida derider
derrida derider
2022 years ago

I’ve never heard of Negri, but based on that abstract he sounds more like Hegel before Marx turned him on his head than a modern Marxist.

He’s a terrorist, alright, but not in the way Miranda means. He inspires terror amongst lovers of clear writing.

Rob
Rob
2022 years ago

I don’t think it’s a question of whether postmodernism is right or left but how well it is applied. Postmodernism has broken exciting new ground in its time but has fallen into the hands of very indifferent practitioners. Every philosophy has to know its limits or boundaries or else it is danger of becoming solipsistic. PM’s signature slogan – ‘there is no such thing as objective truth because truth is determined by the direction from which you approach it’ – is an example of a philosophy sliding into solipsism. Umberto Eco in his ‘Limits of Interpretation’ defined where the boundaries ought to be for postmodernism. As the writer who invented the term ‘the role of the reader’ (one of Eco’s books) he was at pains to say that he never dreamed his ideas would be taken to mean that the reader ‘reconstructed’ the book regardless of the meaning intended by the writer.

Sorry, this is getting way too heavy. I’ll get out of here now.

James Farrell
James Farrell
2022 years ago

Rafe

I didn’t get around to this until today, and it probably still isn’t an adequate response your challenge, but here are some thoughts. (I don’t think I can easily separate what I learned at university from what I have learned since.)

Hayek was a great economist, and an erudite and profound cross-disciplinary thinker (a rare thing among twentieth century economists). His early contribution to the theory of capital and business cycles was imaginative and stimulating. There is no doubt he prevailed in the socialist calculation debate, with his remarkable insight into the function of prices as diffused information. His critique of totalitarian communism was incisive, astute and ahead of its time.

His theoretical analysis did not, in my view (which is not particularly idiosyncratic), produce a useful practical proposal for responding to the Depression (apart from doing nothing). And I agree with Stiglitz that he overlooked many issues that now form the ‘economics of information’, which identifies a wide class of market failures that invite regulation. When combined with a failure – shared by methodological individualists in general – to grapple with the phenomenon of social power, this is bound to result in an excessively benign vision of the unregulated market.

Taking all this into account I would happily rate Hayek amongst the top five economic thinkers of the Twentieth Century. But as a social democrat, you would hardly expect me to badge myself a Hayekian, and that’s all I meant in saying I wasn’t a devotee. Having said this, I admit to a certain hostility to what seems a one-eyed quest for a unified or monocausal economic pathology, and a corresponding determination to attribute most if not all dysfunctional economic phenomena – in a most doctrinaire fashion – to government regulation. If this is unfair to Hayek, the outpourings of his army of sycophantic followers certainly give that impression. This is reflected in the ridiculous antipathy on the part of these polemicists to mainstream macroeconomics; an obsession with the ‘destructive influence of Keynes’, not to mention the demonising of Marx (and even Ricardo!); and above all the conceit that everyone would agree with them if only they had been properly educated, and not denied access to Hayek’s ideas through the incompetence and/or willing connivance of ‘Keynesian’ academics.

I don’t expect you to agree with any of the last two paragraphs. But I wonder if you might consider granting a little more legitimacy to opinions opposed to your own, and harping a little less on the defects of your opponents’ education. And please don’t take anything I say personally: you seem a very nice chap. Perhaps we can save Popper for another day.

Scott Campbell at Blithering Bunny

Immanuel Rant says “the Devine Miss M’s caricature of academic life has been roundly trounced over at Troppo”.

Roundly trounced?

“The rhetorical tone of all these sorts of anti po/mo decline of Western Civ rants is always bathed in the mythical and cool afterglow of an imagined pristine past of gentlemanly robed scholar-priests of civilisation strolling sandstone cloisters, perhaps with Lord Sebastian Flyte and his teddybear basking in the court to add colour.”

Slightly amusing? Yes. Fair? Not really, no. A trouncing? No. Not even close. You’ll have to do better than that, Bahnisch.

(And yes, I teach Philosophy, and have seen plenty of the products of the Sydney po-mo scene. Not pretty).

yellowvinyl
2022 years ago

to be fair to Mark, Scott, I think he was just trying to be amusing (successfully I think) – it’s clear that he wasn’t trying to defend either postmodernism (since he said he wasn’t a postmodernist) or do some sort of mega intellectual commentary on the Devine Miss M. Irant’s interpretation of his post is Irant’s not Mark’s.

Scott Campbell at Blithering Bunny

Much as it may be nice to have Rafe Champion agree with you for a change, Mark, I’m afraid Rafe is pretty irrational about Stove. You see, Rafe worships Popper. Stove has criticized Popper. So Stove must be punished.

Believe me, I have seen Rafe pop up all over the web in the last few years when Stove’s criticism of Popper is mentioned, attempting to trash Stove. As soon as night follows day, a comment from Rafe will follow a mention of Stove’s criticism of Popper.

Only problem is, none of Rafe’s criticisms even begins to make sense, which is why I’ve given up trying to set the poor lad straight.

(Rafe’s politics I like, it’s just when it comes to Stove he loses the plot).

Scott Campbell at Blithering Bunny

>Most universities have these lists of attributes their graduates are supposed to possess. So far as I am aware they don’t have any operational significance… these graduate outcomes and competencies won’t make it any worse (or any better).

>I agree that they’re meaningless, so do most people who read them and even most of those who write them. Why? Because ‘outcome centred learning’ is the Department of Education’s idea, not a Faculty one, and certainly not one that has come from staff.

In my experience of Universities, whoever writes these things, whether it’s the faculty or some other bunch of duds who’ve been siphoned off to this sort of thing, are strongly influenced by social constructivism, and the interpretation put on them by Devine’s source (which wasn’t me, I hasten to add) is correct. They do mean something to those who write them. And they *are* pernicious to some degree at the moment, not least because most people just think they’re harmless, and they have the potential to become more so.

>to be fair to Mark, Scott, I think he was just trying to be amusing… – it’s clear that he wasn’t trying to… do some sort of mega intellectual commentary on the Devine Miss M. Irant’s interpretation of his post is Irant’s not Mark’s.

And it’s clear that I was commenting on Irant’s comment. Mind you “I believe in truth, just like Miranda. It’s just that I place some importance on actually getting to it, apparently unlike her” suggests that Mark thought he’d successfully put MIranda in her place. How he thinks a tired reference to the right-wingers’ mythical golden age gets him closer to the truth than Miranda, I don’t know.

Irant
2022 years ago

At this stage, I see no reason to change my interpretation of Mark’s views on the Devine Miss M. Crying “postmodernism is bad, okay” does not for a good article make (even if the excess of postmodernism deserve a good trouncing as well).

Scott Campbell at Blithering Bunny

>Crying “postmodernism is bad, okay” does not for a good article make

Except that this does not describe the column, which in fact raised the interesting news that the dodgy Negri was coming to Sydney, and showing the sort of rubbish – which most people here seem to agree was rubbish – that universities produce these days under the name of “graduate attributes”.

yellowvinyl
2022 years ago

the column firstly claimed that the Sydney Arts Faculty was suffused with leftism/postmodernism (whatever that is – as Michael Carden observed, a lot of leftists would be opposed to postmodernism – particularly those who see identity politics as being a distraction from the main game, divisive, and even a reflection of prevailing negative trends in contemporary society). the evidence for this was the graduate attributes.

Miranda then went on to discuss Negri. she suggests that Arts students will be attending this conference, which is no doubt not its intended audience. she asks “academics” to be “more open” about “who Negri is”. she states that he is (or was) a “Marxist-Leninist”. the connection between this and postmodernism is not elucidated, but any reader of the column would assume that Negri is one of these evil postmodernists.

the irony of course is that Devine herself incarnates the “the postmodernist method of arguing incoherently and without evidence.” which she or (a presumably non-po/mo “insider”) reads into the graduate attributes document with little textual basis. perhaps Miranda Devine supports the free play of interpretation that is supposedly postmodern?

therefore, it’s pretty clear that Mark is right that Miranda’s regard for the truth is scanty (her claim that the Faculty is controlled by leftist postmodernists rests on the invitation of a Marxist academic to a conference and a bureaucratic document not any survey of opinion, analysis of course documents, or anything which might be able to substantiate the claim) and that Irant is also right that the thrust of her column is to condemn this shadowy menace called postmodernism.

in doing which, she entirely ignores the canons of rationality which suggest that argument ought to be sustained by evidence.

James Farrell
James Farrell
2022 years ago

What’s the connection between what Negri produces and graduate attributes except that some people dislike both of them? If there is a connection, it’s one that’s out of reach of less agile minds. I, for example, have no opinion on Negri at all but I’m all for attributes. Conversely, a Marxist colleague of mine – who may not have heard of Negri but would be bound to approve of him thoroughly if he had – recently denounced graduate attributes as ‘Voltaire’s Bastards stuff’ (at least I guess it was a denunciation: I presume he meant – rightly or wrongly – that they are the kind of thing Rawlston Saul would disapprove of, and my collegue is the type to be a fan of Rawlston Saul).

Scott Campbell at Blithering Bunny

She made some strong claims about the Sydney Uni Arts faculty being leftist and pomo, yes. She then gave an example to help support it, namely the ridiculous conference. Of course this one example doesn’t support the strong claim, but it wasn’t supposed to. It’s just *part* of the evidence for what she thinks. Moreover, the news of the conference and the participation of Ngeri in it (and everyone here seems to agree that the man writes unintelligible nonsense) was interesting enough in itself to pass on to readers.

Then Bahnisch and Irant got all snooty about the lack of *argument*. They then make their own strong claims about Devine, but back it up with very little argument themselves. That’s why I’m distinctly underwhelmed.

>but any reader of the column would assume that Negri is one of these evil postmodernists.

Negri *is* a postmodernist these days.

>the irony of course is that Devine herself incarnates the “the postmodernist method of arguing incoherently and without evidence.”

There was nothing incoherent about her argument. You may not think she’s right. Fine. But there was no incoherence. Nor was there a lack of evidence.

>which she or (a presumably non-po/mo “insider”) reads into the graduate attributes document with little textual basis.

The interpretation is presumably based on the experience this insider has had. It isn’t just “free interpretation”.

Scott Campbell at Blithering Bunny

I said:

>Of course this one example doesn’t support the strong claim

I meant to say “Of course this one example doesn’t fully support the strong claim”.

yellowvinyl
2022 years ago

“They then make their own strong claims about Devine”

yes, they claim that she attacks postmodernism. in one comment, you say that’s not the thrust of the article, in the next you conceded that it is.

“Negri is a postmodernist”

is he? well why are we worried about whether he used to be a Marxist? maybe he renounced Marxism and saw the light?

how are we humble readers to know? Devine neither tells us that he is a postmodernist nor tells us what postmodernism is nor why it’s so evil and will apparently corrupt the Charlotte Simmons of the 2005 arts fresher crowd.

you and I, Scott, know what postmodernism means and we’ve both read Negri (at least I assume you have since you make a claim about his theoretical or epistemological position) but the sludgey insinuations and pathetic rad-baiting rhetoric that Devine indulges in would give no-one who’s unfamiliar with either po/mo or Negri (presumably that means most of her readers – the rhetorical tone of her piece being to warn unsuspecting citizens of the evil things going on in Arts faculties – she has “insider” knowledge!) any real basis on which to judge her claims – strong or weak.

give up defending the indefensible, Scott. or at least be consistent when you do. I’d be much more interested in *your* opinion of why postmodernism is or isn’t a good thing than endless exegeses of a Devine column that doesn’t justify the amount of argumentative effort that’s been expended here – presumably why Mark and Irant lampooned her a bit.

so, Scott, what do you think about postmodernism?

yellowvinyl
2022 years ago

“Negri *is* a postmodernist these days.”

never get between a girl and her library.

I refer you, Scott, to pp. 137-143 of ‘Empire’ by Hardt & Negri. the authors argue, inter alia,
that postmodernist theory is an effect not an effective critique of “the ideologies of corporate capital and the world market” which has “been outflanked by the strategies of power”.

Hardt & Negri write on p. 137:

“We suspect that postmodernist and postcolonialist theories may end up in a dead end…”

and on pp. 142-143:

“The danger is that postmodernist theories focus their attention so resolutely on the old forms of power they are running from, with their heads turned backwards, that they tumble unwittingly into the welcoming arms of the new power. From this perspective the celebratory affirmations of postmodernists can easily appear naive, when not purely mystificatory.”

I’m glad I refreshed my memory on this. Hardt & Negri are quite close to the left critique of postmodernism which I commented on above, and which I generally endorse.

I await the retraction of yr claim that Negri is a postmodernist. it seems to me that is in the Italian Marxist tradition – a Crocean Hegelian and one who is identified, as Mark commented early in the thread, with the autonomous Marxist current.

so it’s clear that you are either not well informed about Negri’s current politics and theoretical stance, or that you share with Miranda Devine a desire to fit the truth to your desired rhetoric and line of argument. which one is it, Scott?

Scott Campbell at Blithering Bunny

>yes, they claim that she attacks postmodernism. in one comment, you say that’s not the thrust of the article, in the next you conceded that it is.

Nope. You said:

>Crying ‘postmodernism is bad, okay’ does not for a good article make

I pointed out this was an inadequate description of the column, which it was. No inconsistency.

>”Negri is a postmodernist”
>
>is he? well why are we worried about whether he used to be a Marxist? maybe he renounced Marxism and saw the light?

He’s a Marxist and a postmodernist. They don’t always go together, but here they do.

>how are we humble readers to know? Devine neither tells us that he is a postmodernist nor tells us what postmodernism is nor why it’s so evil and will apparently corrupt the Charlotte Simmons of the 2005 arts fresher crowd.

Devine says that he was a Marxist revolutionary. She says he’s “unrepentant”. Pretty obvious so far that he’s still someone who espouses opinions Devine classes as leftist nonsense. It’s clear that she’s including Marxism and pomo in that group, even though the two don’t always go together. None of this is difficult to understand.

As for not explaining what pomo is, Devine is presuming that her readers, being so sophisticated (as Immanual Rant says, “The trouble is that the average Herald reader (irregardless of political views) isn’t exactly dumb”) already have an idea of what pomo is, just as Mark presumes that his readers have an idea of who Lord Sebastian Flyte and his teddy bear are. (“How are we humble readers to know who this Lord Snooty and his bear pal are? Bahnisch doesn’t tell us”).

>give up defending the indefensible, Scott.

I give up then. Clearly, Devine is talking indefensible nonsense. Give her column to Margo.

>endless exegeses of a Devine column that doesn’t justify the amount of argumentative effort that’s been expended here

So how come you keep responding? :-)

>presumably why Mark and Irant lampooned her a bit.

Yes. A bit of a lampoon it was. No problem with that, I do it all the time myself. What is clear, though, is that the claims that Devine can’t argue have not been supported very well, and what has been presented by her critics as arguments are at least no better, and in my view worse, than what Devine wrote. I mean, at least Devine refers to things that actually exist, rather than what they think right-wingers imagine academia used to be.

Nabakov
Nabakov
2022 years ago

“…the claims that Devine can’t argue have not been supported very well…”

Oh, I’m in pomo heaven after that riff. Or a least a critical reading could suggest I should be aware of placing m’self in a teological construct.

yellowvinyl
2022 years ago

“He’s a Marxist and a postmodernist. They don’t always go together, but here they do.”

if that’s so, then his criticism of postmodernism (the writing suggests it’s not something with which he feels affiliated) is surprising.

as to Lord Sebastian Flyte and his teddybear, I think there’s a movie coming out of Brideshead this year which might make the reference more generally placeable. but just as many people wouldn’t have read Waugh’s book but might have memories of the tv series or have heard something as a cultural reference, so too do I think that most readers of Devine’s column would not be up with the ins and outs of postmodernism as an academic theory, paradigm, what have you.

therefore if it’s as nefarious as she suggests, she could at least say very clearly in one sentence why.

“Postmodernism is a danger to our youth because…”

at least Windschuttle spells out what he thinks about it.

creating a spectre lacking all specificity is in fact a deliberately chosen rhetorical move on Devine’s part – or maybe I’m giving her too much credit.

as to why I’m continuing these exegeses, well it’s fun arguing with you, Scott :)

yellowvinyl
2022 years ago

“He’s a Marxist and a postmodernist. They don’t always go together, but here they do.”

if that’s so, then his criticism of postmodernism (the writing suggests it’s not something with which he feels affiliated) is surprising.

as to Lord Sebastian Flyte and his teddybear, I think there’s a movie coming out of Brideshead this year which might make the reference more generally placeable. but just as many people wouldn’t have read Waugh’s book but might have memories of the tv series or have heard something as a cultural reference, so too do I think that most readers of Devine’s column would not be up with the ins and outs of postmodernism as an academic theory, paradigm, what have you.

therefore if it’s as nefarious as she suggests, she could at least say very clearly in one sentence why.

“Postmodernism is a danger to our youth because…”

at least Windschuttle spells out what he thinks about it.

creating a spectre lacking all specificity is in fact a deliberately chosen rhetorical move on Devine’s part – or maybe I’m giving her too much credit.

as to why I’m continuing these exegeses, well it’s fun arguing with you, Scott :)

yellowvinyl
2022 years ago

apologies for double post, take it as postmodern irony :)

Mr Nabakov, sir, I always imagined you were a teleological construct. That’s how I think of the Currency Lad, too.

Scott Campbell at Blithering Bunny

>never get between a girl and her library.

So, after referring to the “endless exegeses of a Devine column that doesn’t justify the amount of argumentative effort that’s been expended here”, YV comes back for more.

I wondered whether anyone was going to resort the old desperate “Ah, but x is not really a postmodernist” tactic. Whatever arguments Negri might have with other postmodernists or with what he regards as postmodernism (and this happens a lot with such writers), he writes in a style that gets generally gets categorized as pomo.

There’s no clear definition of pomo, but authors who write like Negri does usually get put there. And that class is what Devine was generally referring to. It doesn’t matter whether it turns out that Negri is really a post-post structuralist Heideggerian anti-Derridian Gramscian Italian Trotskyite or a sub-Spinellian anti-globalist post-Faucouldian Hungarian Marxist. That style of writing is generally classed as pomo.

For example:

“In the logic of colonialist representations, the construction of a separate colonized other and the segregation of identity and alterity turns out paradoxically to be at once absolute and extremely intimate. The process consists, in fact, of two moments that are dialectically related. In the first moment difference has to be pushed to the extreme. In the colonial imaginary the colonized is not simply an other banished outside the realm of civilization; rather it is grasped or produced as Other, as the absolute negation, as the most distant point on the horizon.”

>so it’s clear that you are either not well informed about Negri’s current politics and theoretical stance, or that you share with Miranda Devine a desire to fit the truth to your desired rhetoric and line of argument. which one is it, Scott?

So you agree that Devine was rightly criticized for claiming more than she showed, yet on this feeble basis you make the strong claim that either I’m ignorant, or have more regard for politics than truth? How is that consistent?

yellowvinyl
2022 years ago

“he writes in a style that gets generally gets categorized as pomo.”

style over substance then? Negri attacks not “other postmodernists” but “postmodern theory”.

funny – the privileging of style over argument is usually something that is criticised in postmodernism.

by yr own logic, Scott, you must be a postmodernist. apparently it’s an ex post facto judgement all of us can make – along with Miranda – based on the slightest textual justification (or on the basis of style if there is none) in the face of the evidence.

yellowvinyl
2022 years ago

and if there’s “no clear definition of pomo”, how can we know if it’s lurking under our beds as well as in our libraries?

I’m still waiting to hear exactly how po/mo corrupts young minds, leads to the downfall of Western civilisation etc.

since yr roping Negri into the category, I’ll note that the insinuation that he supports terrorism is also something Devine probably ascribes to po/mo if yr reading of her column is correct.

how can we have a sensible discussion about whether a particular sort of theory or epistemology is

(a) politically dangerous
(b) pedagogically dangerous
(c) has led to the Sydney Uni Arts Faculty’s decline and fall

if we don’t know what it is?

I thought the anti-po/mo argument was all about clarity in reasoning? surely defining one’s terms is a necessary but not sufficient start?

Scott Campbell at Blithering Bunny

>”he writes in a style that gets generally gets categorized as pomo.”
>
>style over substance then?

Not just the writing style, but the sort of thing that gets said. Do you really not understand these things? Does everything little thing need to be spelled out to you? No wonder you found Devine’s column difficult. :-)

>by yr own logic, Scott, you must be a postmodernist. apparently it’s an ex post facto judgement all of us can make – along with Miranda – based on the slightest textual justification (or on the basis of style if there is none) in the face of the evidence.

I don’t see how you get this. You seem to think that the fact that Negri takes issue with postmdoernism at a few points somehow proves that he’s not a postmdoernist. I take it you don’t generally think this – it’s a familar argument on both sides of politics that just because X says he isn’t F (racist, sexist, Marxist, etc), doesn’t mean he isn’t really F. And my claim is based on the textual evidence. He fits into the category generally classed as pomo.

This is what the conference says:

“In conversation with Negri and Cavarero, this conference reflects on the question of the physiognomy of origin. What forms does the concept of origin take as it progresses and changes? How does its changing character affect the constitution of life? What are the historical and (bio)political conditions of the transformation of origin? What are the sites of precariousness and potentiality to which this progression gives rise? How does the materiality of the origin disclose its inner character? And how does the concept of origin inform a conception of the human, in both its material and normative modes? Does embodiment necessarily entail a return to origin, or does the genealogical focus on conditions of emergence allow for alternative ways of understanding embodiment? In what ways can a democratic politics configure the social body to allow for diversity to take shape and qualify the powers of origin?”

This sort of stuff is generally classed as pomo. I’m well aware that plenty of postmodernists argue about what exactly counts as pomo and what counts as something slightly different (and they usually disagree with each other about this), but the broad category “pomo” is perfectly adequate here.

>and if there’s “no clear definition of pomo”, how can we know if it’s lurking under our beds as well as in our libraries?

Well, you can have a look under your bed if you want. How do I know what you’ll find? Suitcases? (“But what’s in those suitcases?” I hear you not asking).

Saying there’s no clear definition doesn’t mean that anything can be classed as pomo

>I’m still waiting to hear exactly how po/mo corrupts young minds, leads to the downfall of Western civilisation etc.

Waiting for who? Devine? Write to her, then. Waiting from me? I never said I was going to undertake that project in comments here. I was tackling what was said about Devine. I didn’t know I’d signed up for the Spanish Inquisition. If you really want to know what I think (as opposed to just trying to shift ground), read Higher Superstition by Gross and Levitt. Or start reading my blog.

>since yr roping Negri into the category, I’ll note that the insinuation that he supports terrorism is also something Devine probably ascribes to po/mo if yr reading of her column is correct.

Not at all, and I don’t see how you get that.

yellowvinyl
2022 years ago

the passage from which I’ve quoted is a sustained critique of and attack on “postmodernist theory”. I’m well aware that a certain style of argument and writing is usually characterised as “postmodernist” despite the fact that some authors roped into that category deny membership in it (eg Foucault – “I don’t even know what postmodernism is” and similar statements by Derrida). clearly there is a difference in the intellectual trajectories of various schools of contintental philosophy. as part of their appropriation by English-speaking theorists (usually in departments of English or Romance languages where understanding of philosophy is poor), certain classifications are assigned. this doesn’t mean that one cannot usefully distinguish between postmodernism proper (Lyotard, Baudrillard) and post-structuralism and for that matter a sort of Hegelian post-Marxism which might encompass Negri. in fact making such distinctions is an aid to understanding, unless one’s aim is to dismiss a whole range of thinkers whom one dislikes by collapsing them together under the banner of an “ism”. I doubt that Negri is particularly influenced by Nietzsche and Heidegger as many post-structuralists are. his theoretical reference points clearly remain Marx and Hegel.

in other words, unless you care to offer a precise definition, then the “the category generally classed as pomo” is inevitably going to be a slippery one, and I fear, open to political assignations rather than theoretical. on my reading of the section from ‘Empire’, Negri obviously doesn’t think that he’s a postmodernist. he doesn’t pick out particular thinkers or minor points that he wants to quibble with, he takes issue with “postmodern theory” generally – something one would only do if one wished to make it clear that this was an external not an immanent criticism. in other words, he doesn’t think of himself as a postmodernist even if you do, Scott.

I noted, Scott, that you teach philosophy, which is why I’ve been attempting to hold you to some sort of consistency in what you argue. in turn, I’d appreciate it if you’d display some respect for my argument – rather than the sort of dismissive things you say in yr last comment.

perhaps I was wrong to assume that because you appeared to be defending Devine, you were also agreeing with her that postmodernism is some sort of intellectual plague. if that’s so, then I apologise. it’s true I haven’t read yr blog. if you’d be kind enough to save me some time and refer me to any particular posts where you do talk about yr position on po/mo, then that would be much appreciated.

anyway, I won’t belabour the point any further. I’d reiterate that my purpose is certainly not to defend postmodernism, of which I am not an advocate or adherent.

instead, I’ll go look under my bed for suitcases and what’s in them (possibly a blue key?) and/or have a bath and read Dostoyevsky’s “Brothers Karamazov” – my two assignments from comments threads at Troppo for the evening.

goodnight, then Scott, and concesso non dato, but thanks for the stimulating interchange :)

Scott Campbell at Blithering Bunny

>the passage from which I’ve quoted is a sustained critique of and attack on “postmodernist theory”.

Hardly a “sustained critique”.

>I’m well aware that a certain style of argument and writing is usually characterised as “postmodernist” despite the fact that some authors roped into that category deny membership in it (eg Foucault – “I don’t even know what postmodernism is” and similar statements by Derrida).

These examples illustrate my point nicely.

>clearly there is a difference in the intellectual trajectories of various schools of contintental philosophy. as part of their appropriation by English-speaking theorists (usually in departments of English or Romance languages where understanding of philosophy is poor), certain classifications are assigned. this doesn’t mean that one cannot usefully distinguish between postmodernism proper (Lyotard, Baudrillard) and post-structuralism and for that matter a sort of Hegelian post-Marxism which might encompass Negri. in fact making such distinctions is an aid to understanding, unless one’s aim is to dismiss a whole range of thinkers whom one dislikes by collapsing them together under the banner of an “ism”. I doubt that Negri is particularly influenced by Nietzsche and Heidegger as many post-structuralists are. his theoretical reference points clearly remain Marx and Hegel.

I never denied that such distinctions can be made, nor did I deny that there is value in making them. My point all along was that Negri, on the broad definition of pomo, counts as a postmodernist, and therefore there is no problem in either I or Devine in calling him one. The fact that more fine-grained distinctions can be made is of little relevance to the debate.

>perhaps I was wrong to assume that because you appeared to be defending Devine, you were also agreeing with her that postmodernism is some sort of intellectual plague. if that’s so, then I apologise.

No, I do think postmodernism is mostly rubbish. But that’s irrelevant to the debate about whether the criticisms of Devine’s column were any good.

>I noted, Scott, that you teach philosophy, which is why I’ve been attempting to hold you to some sort of consistency in what you argue. in turn, I’d appreciate it if you’d display some respect for my argument – rather than the sort of dismissive things you say in yr last comment.

And I would appreciate it if you tried to be less patronizing. “Holding me to some consistency”? Please. I don’t know what you found to upset you in my last post, but you’ve previously accused me of either being ignorant or more interested in plitics than truth. That sort of rhetoric doesn’t bother me, but don’t turn around and then play the victim.

Oh dear. This is lapsing into a flame war, so I’ll stop posting now.

yellowvinyl
2022 years ago

“Does everything little thing need to be spelled out to you? No wonder you found Devine’s column difficult. :-)”

I found that a bit patronising.

when I say holding you to some sort of consistency, I didn’t mean to be patronising, and I’m sorry if it came across that way. all I meant was that traditionally you think of argument as something that sharpens yr own position, and tightens up weaknesses under pressure from yr interlocutor. that’s what I thought we were doing.

anyway, I’ve had my bath, and read my grand inquisitor scene, so I’ll also stop posting, go to bed confident that there are no reds or rads hiding under it…

Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

This debate has been declared over by the participants, but while I agree with yellow that Negri’s no postmodernist in the strict sense, it seems to me that Miranda Devine must see the merit of making finer distinctions as she’s not content to label him a ‘postmodernist’ but has to chuck in ‘Marxist’ as well.

Michael’s point way above is a good one. We might have gone astray in attempting to treat Miranda’s column as an argument and assessing it as such. So you may be right there, Scott. It’s more an exercise in insinuation – since there are few real live Marxists to run a red scare on anymore, pick out a “postmodernist” who you can hang the Marxist label on and then infer that these are the same thing. Yellowvinyl’s rads are Miranda’s new reds.

It’s also worth noting that I agree that to equate postmodernism with the Left is drawing a long bow. A lot of leftists would criticise po/mo theorists for being all talk and no action. For instance, Judith Butler, who’s also speaking in Sydney this year, has been attacked in these terms by Martha Nussbaum, a feminist analytical philosopher – in fact very virulently – she claims feminism has been set back by a generation of graduate students getting stuck in some sort of nominalist mysticism where sexing the label equates to social change.

Nussbaum’s article can be read here:

http://www.tnr.com/archive/0299/022299/nussbaum022299.html

Yellowvinyl alluded to the criticism that Hardt & Negri make – which I would agree is a sustained critique, and a subset of the broader problem that identity politics poses for substantial progressive theorising *and* collective action. There’s clearly a huge gulf between Marxist truth claims (whether of the analytical Marxist stamp or the sort of neo-orthodox Marxism of Alex Callinicos – famed for his attack on postmodernism as politically dangerous) and postmodern scepticism towards meta-narratives and postmodern epistemological doubt. In all these cases, making fine distinctions is not even in play – the distinctions are quite wide in many cases, and very significant if we’re talking about the politics of theory.

There’s also a very respectable argument – advanced for instance by Jurgen Habermas in ‘The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity’ – that postmodernists are the “Young Conservatives”.

There’s a sense in which Scott is right – yes, there is a certain style of writing which is broadly postmodern. Often this is found in the epigones of cultural studies and again it often betrays a lack of philosophical understanding. I’m highly critical of the lack of empirical reference to many of the studies which equate broad brush “theorising” about “The Other” with serious social or cultural analysis. And let’s not even start talking about the absolute nonsense that is most Lacanian influenced academic work. I’ve said this before, and I alluded to it on a previous thread about history –
http://troppoarmadillo.ubersportingpundit.com/archives/008375.html

I wish that a lot of what is taught in humanities departments was much more “traditional” scholarship. I strongly suspect that if Scott were to go back over what I’ve written and grasp my position, he’d realise that he and I may not be as far apart as he thinks on some issues.

Where we differ is what yellowvinyl put her finger on – there’s a difference between believing like Scott that postmodernism is mostly tosh, and believing it to be politically dangerous. There’s a case which both yellowvinyl and I have sketched in comments that it is, but that’s far different from what Devine means. I’m merely trying to run a modest campaign for truth in op/ed comment, and I thoroughly agree with yellowvinyl that Ms Devine is obliged to explain clearly and simply just what she thinks is so bad about po/mo.

Ok, back to Hegel on history.