Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Whether true or not

In a comment to his original post, Andrew Seal declines to defend his “very queer” reading of Death Comes for the Archbishop. The blame, he says, is not his. “I’m done arguing with you for entertainment’s sake,” he says. “If I thought you ever might countenance a view that you haven’t already accepted, I’d make an effort.”

This is not a particularly novel approach to refutation. It spices up the huffiness of “I won’t dignify that with a reply” by adding a pinch of argumentum ad hominem. But what happens if I stipulate that Seal is correct about me as a person? Despite evidence to the contrary, I refuse not merely to consider but even to countenance—to put up with—a view that I have not accepted prior to hearing it explained. Okay, this doesn’t make any sense to me either. How can you swallow an opinion before you fully grasp it? Let that pass. What Seal is trying to say is that I am close-minded, inflexible, mulish. I just will not agree to cultural marxism, no matter how many times I hear it explained to me. Fine. I stipulate this is true about me too. My mind is made up. Ain’t nothing you—or, at least, Seal—can do to change it.

My question is this. Do any of these malignancies and personality defects on my side absolve someone who has advanced a view from defending it against criticism?

I am assuming, from his comment, that Seal believes it is rationally inadequate to disagree with criticism in advance of reading it. The principle of non-contradiction would seem to suggest, accordingly, that either the critic who offers a “very queer” reading and then confirms it as “significantly more meaningful,” or the critic who denies the reading, is mistaken. Is either critic excused from the intellectual responsibility of correcting error by the miscreancy of the other?

If I am serious about my views, I must defend them against all comers. To complain about how criticism is hurled at me, whether it is rude or aggressive, is to protect my personal dignity, not the validity of my thought. To remark upon the place or rank of my critic (“I will not lower myself to answer a mere undergraduate”) is anxiously to guard my status, which implies that my ideas are advanced, not in pursuit of truth, but to bolster my reputation. And to sneer at the person of my critic is to preserve my identity, because my views contribute to my sense of self, whether they are true or not.


Andrew Seal said...

Actually, this post is a great example of why I did not want to respond to your post. You are a master at misconstrual and subtextual needling, I'll give you that.

Why do you repeat "very queer" as if the term were itself offensive? This kind of dog-whistle repetition is not merited by my post--it's a phrase I use once, and I pointedly insist that reading Death Comes as a love story about two men is only one possible way of reading the book, and not one that I wish to force upon anyone. I don't offer extensive details of why or how the novel might be read this way--in fact, I explicitly question the worth of doing so, in a sentence you even quoted. I fail to see how saying simply, without argument, that I read the novel as a love story about two men counts as "very queer" in the sense you obviously mean it, as violently over-bearing, dictating a meaning rather than offering an experience.

Secondly, you ventriloquize unashamedly. Your paraphrases are so knotty and tangled that simply by restating the argument in awful syntax you can appear to have a point. The sentence you cite is not actually difficult to parse: it means that I doubt you'll give my defense of the views I've already stated and which you've already rejected a fair hearing. That wasn't so difficult, was it? But no, your goal isn't to understand but to belittle.

Another form of your ventriloquism is actually even more clever than your mangled paraphrases. The last paragraph of this post is incredible--even I don't know which of these breaches of argumentative etiquette I stand accused. You continuously jump between contextualized argument and abstract prescription in such a way that at any moment your target may be under indictment or may just be standing waiting for your next assault.

You also employ a nifty slippage by beginning, in the other post, to engage with the question my original post was considering--whether there is a vocabulary for discussing complex reading experiences that is not, in the end, an argumentative vocabulary, and if not, should we have one?--but never entirely engaging with it so that you can begin treating the post as if it were just an argument for a queer reading of the novel, as if my post were actually an example of the argumentativeness I was calling into question. In your follow-up post, this post, you have given yourself license to ignore my original question and treat my post purely as if it was a straight-out argument, which can be directly refuted or dismissed. By re-framing my post as an argument--rather than as a question--you quite nicely position me as already engaged with you in an argument, which you can say that I have withdrawn from huffily.

But your coup de grace has to be your pretension to the moral high ground, which you take by once again slipping from a focused attack on a person to an abstract question of rectitude or duty. You don't outright accuse me of intellectual irresponsibility or negligence. You just note that I "decline to defend" myself, and then you ask your readers if a critic who happens to be in the position you've just slotted me into is ever "excused from the intellectual responsibility of correcting error by the miscreancy of the other?" Genius, sir, petty genius.

D. G. Myers said...

I repeat the term “very queer” because I am quoting you.

A “very queer” reading of Cather’s novel is not “only one possible way of reading” Death Comes to the Archbishop, because it is not possible at all.

You were not, you say, “dictating a meaning” in reading Death Comes to the Archbishop as a homosexual love story; you were “offering an experience.” I was contesting the value and efficacy of this distinction.

More about the paraphrase in a moment. As for my last paragraph: I wasn’t accusing you of anything. You will notice my use of the first person. Instead, I was listing several common means of refusing to answer criticism, and what they reveal about the refuser.

I disagree that I failed to “engage” your question. In fact, I answered it directly. You wrote: ““Am I talking to you about the texts, or about myself?” I wrote: “The latter, sir.” I am sorry if you preferred not to have me answer the question. Since you posed it publicly, however, I answered publicly.

Whether the dispute is petty I leave to others to decide. But the distortion of Cather’s original meaning involved in reading—I’m sorry, in experiencing—Death Comes to the Archbishop as a homosexual love story, and the interpretive habit revealed in such a distortion, which I called “solipsism in interpretation,” are not petty at all.

D. G. Myers said...

And here is a difference between our argumentative techniques.

You ask me, “Why do you repeat ‘very queer’ as if the term were itself offensive?” (You will recognize this, I trust, as a variation of the when-did-you-start-beating-your-wife question.) That is, you ascribe motives to me that can be confirmed by nothing else I have written. (Perhaps this is what you mean by “experiencing” a text?) By such a technique, you are able to imply that I am a homophobe. Who practices the art of “subtextual needling”?

My argumentative technique, according to you, is to belittle by paraphrase. Or what you call “ventriloquism.”

So. Here is what you originally wrote: “If I thought you ever might countenance a view that you haven’t already accepted, I’d make an effort.”

And here is your revision: “I doubt you’ll give my defense of the views I’ve already stated and which you’ve already rejected a fair hearing.”

I think you will grant that these are not the same statements. The second is, for one thing, far more direct in its accusation, and it is admirably qualified by the initial “I doubt.” (The substance of the accusation, which is an expression of mere petulance, does not concern me.)

The first statement, by contrast, is muddled. At first I was inclined to read it something like this: “If I had any faith that you were willing to listen to an argument you didn’t agree with before the fact, I’d make an effort.” But even that paraphrase gave me pause. How can I know whether I agree with an argument before I hear it out and think it through for myself? How can you?

No, it dawned upon me that what you were talking about was what is popularly called “preaching to the choir.” You attend one church, I another, and different doctrines are preached to the faithful in each church, who leap to their feet and shout, “Amen!”

Either your conception of a “view” is curiously static—it is a pellet that must be swallowed whole and never crushed or broken into pieces—or your conception of rational inquiry, which consists of the binary acceptance/rejection with no third option, is primitive and naive. I couldn’t tell which. The more I reflected upon your statement, the more incoherent it became.

R. T. said...

Here is something from the sidelines:

The debate is lively and provocative. I wonder though if the aggression (which approaches personal insult) that I detect in one side of the argument might be different if this were a face-to-face conversation.

Andrew Seal, although I do not have a dog in this fight (except to argue that I simply do not agree with what you previously suggested as clear evidence of homoeroticism in Cather's novel), what I detect in the exchange is a tendency toward incivility that is (I think) too common in the blogosphere. Dealing with the text as the focus of discussion seems more appropriate than dealing with the personality (or the perceived biases) of the person on the other side of the debate.

Now, having said this, I know that Professor Myers does not need (and he may not want) my intrusion into the debate; however, I did comment earlier on the Cather discussion, but feel as though the positive opportunities for further discussion have been derailed because of what I note in the previous paragraphs.

Finally, if my sideline commentary on this matter offends anyone, I proffer an apology up front. However, I stand by my assertion that the blogosphere is too often a medium for inappropriate posturing and undeserved insult.

Andrew Seal said...

I'll take the second comment first.

It's not the same thing at all as "when did you start…": it does, in fact, refer to the rest of your post and to the post before it. You treat a queer reading of the novel with consistent disdain, and by insisting on quoting the only time I intensified it with "very" you have also intensified your disdain of a reading that is now not only "queer" but "very queer."

Actually, my paraphrase is very close. "If I thought" is pretty similar in meaning to "I doubt"--they're not quite inverses, but they do express a very similar state of being in disbelief or suspicion. "you ever might countenance" becomes "you'll give… a fair hearing" (philologize the hell out of it if you want, I don't think a reasonable person would find these fragments too dissimilar).

But the next part might get a little tricky. Because you seem to have forgotten that our statements did not take place in this hypothetical condition of "listen[ing] to an argument you didn’t agree with before the fact," they occurred after you had already composed a "refutation" of what I had written. So I wasn't talking about whether it was possible to pass judgment on an argument before you'd heard it, I was talking about whether you were willing to hear a defense of something you had, in writing, already stated your disagreement with. Given the further context of past experience, this seems like an entirely reasonable doubt. Your misunderstanding of the comment was entirely based on your overlooking of its actual context, not to a lack of clarity on my part.

D. G. Myers said...

Tim Davis reminds me of an important point. It was precisely his hopes of a “lively exchange” that led to my disappointment when Andrew Seal declined to reply to my criticisms of his views.

R. T. said...

Where did I go wrong in looking forward to a lively debate on Cather's novel? Instead of a focus on Cather's tale of faith and hope in the American southwest . . . Well, I've already covered the "instead" portion of where I must have gone wrong.

D. G. Myers said...

Mr Seal,

But one does not defend one’s views merely by repeating them. So how is it relevant that I rejected an earlier (possibly less-than-perfect, certainly partial and incomplete) stab at enunciating them?

To defend your views, you develop and extend them; you offer proof and further evidence; you refute the refutations. Your view isn’t static; it isn’t a pellet; it is an interlocking gearwork of claims, counterclaims, premises, distinctions, evidence, quotations, interpretations, and conclusions. If one gear gets jammed, you may need to rock on a different gear.

You say that I “treat a queer reading of [Cather’s] novel [Death Comes for the Archbishop] with consistent disdain,” and you make it sound as if my own strategy has been, if your word, to belittle it. In fact, the first time that I discussed such a reading, I logically destroyed the biographical basis for it.

The second time around I disdained, not a “very queer” reading of Cather’s novel, but your effort to insulate such a reading from logical destruction by calling it an “experience” instead.

I do not disdain queer interpretation as a matter of principle. The queering of Willa Cather, though, has no logical basis in fact and cannot be sustained when submitted to probative inquiry.

Andrew Seal said...

To the first comment: you aren't just quoting me, you are quoting me without context and in such a manner that the full content of my original post is mischaracterized. This is manipulative in exactly the ways I described.

Your answer to that question was gratuitous and actually irrelevant. I myself implicitly offered the same answer you did--even phrasing it that way presented an answer. Regardless, the question was not identical with the distinction between experience and argument that I described, and by answering the question, you did not engage with the substance of the post. Then, you covered up the fact that this distinction was the original point of the post and characterized instead as a wholly different kind of post.

As for your continued insistence that your reading precludes mine, I think we have some fundamental disagreements about Hirsch, authorial intention, and the like. I know Hirsch's arguments, I know the counter-arguments, you do too, and by now, your readers probably do as well. Let's let them decide.

On the other hand, I would hope that we can have a discussion about what I see as a pretty substantial difference between us on how 'intrusive' a queer reading actually is. I have posted my side of the argument here.

D. G. Myers said...

Why assume that you went wrong somewhere, Tim? (And by the way, an exchange can be lively and also lack civility.)

If you disagree with Seal’s “experience” of Death Comes for the Archbishop, say why—carefully and at length. Oblige him to defend his thinking.

That’s all I am trying to do, jerk that I am.

Andrew Seal said...

"Logical destruction?" Your first post on Cather is expressed almost entirely in terms of conditionals, from the title on down. "What if" "but if" and "perhaps" are not the introductions to a "logical destruction." You've proved nothing.

You really think it's one-sided incivility? This conversation started off ad hominem: I'm "solipsistic," misguided, I'm politically motivated, I'm ignorant of the basic facts and of the "meaning" of the text. I'm afraid I can't see how I should be taking attacks like these as anything other than personal. "Solipsism" is a personal fault, and that's how this thing began.

D. G. Myers said...

[y]ou aren’t just quoting me, you are quoting me without context and in such a manner that the full content of my original post is mischaracterized.

To which I reply: then why did I include a link to your original post so that my readers could decide for themselves? Did I think they wouldn’t notice that I had mischaracterized you? Have I missed something? Where are the comments objecting to my post on “Solipsism in Interpretation,” complaining that I had taken you out of context?

[Y]ou covered up the fact that this distinction [between interpretation and “reading experience”] was the original point of the post and characterized instead as a wholly different kind of post.

Yeah. Sure. That’s why I quoted at length what I called “the distinction that really grabs [your] attention,” and then spent the next four paragraphs—three hundred and fifty words—taking it to pieces.

To refresh your memory, here is how I engaged it. First, I argued that the argumentative purpose of the distinction is to safeguard against logical refutation. How? Second, I pointed out that it is an account of the novel’s significance rather than its meaning. Indeed, your distinction between interpretation and “reading experience” perfectly parallels E. D. Hirsch’s distinction between meaning and significance.

Third, I held that your “experience” translates interpretation from speech for-the-other, which would be offered on Cather’s behalf, into speech by-the-other, which insists upon its independence. (This is the mechanism, by the way, in which you hope to safeguard against refutation. Any refutation, as you are accusing me here, becomes unfair and perhaps even unethical.)

But fourth, this move is self-contradictory. For you demand a respect (do not mischaracterize what I have written!) that you withhold from Cather.

Thus I broke the back of your concept of “reading experience.” And by the way, engaged it fully.

P.S. I really don’t know the arguments against authorial intention. Can you offer them, please?

D. G. Myers said...

My argument against the queering of Willa Cather depends upon conditionality, which the arguments for queering her ignore.

The argument is simple.

If proof is lacking that Cather was a lesbian, and if the the known facts about her relationships with Isabel McClurg and Edith Lewis, which are merely supposed (on no evidence whatever) to have been lesbian relationships, can admit of another interpretation, then there is no possible way to establish that Cather was a lesbian. Any declaration that she was, in the absence of proof and in the face of alternative explanation, is ideological wish-fulfillment.

R. T. said...

And now, without further fanfare, I retreat into the woodwork without further comment for a couple of reasons:
(1) I would be hard pressed to prove a negative (i.e., I would be attempting to prove that something Andrew Seal asserts does not exist in Cather's novel). To do so would require a point-by-point engagement with Mr. Seal's points. This issue leads to the second reason.
(2) I know that I am out of my depth with respect to the intellectual artillery needed for this kind of engagement. Humble soul that I am, I know my limitations. To further mix my metaphors, I leave the heavy lifting to Seal and Myers, and apologize for my intrusions into the argument up to this point. This reason does not lead to the third reason.
(3) I have a final exam to draft for tomorrow's class, and students would be disappointed if I didn't give it my full attentions; therefore, my duty to the classroom trumps my desire to kibitz from the sidelines. This leads to the fourth reason.
(4) My tendency to kibitz may have already overstayed its welcome. Therefore, I will withdraw and--much like someone in the 19th century--take a view of the battlefield from afar without any further encouragement to or aggravation of the combatants. This leads to my final reason.
(5) I rather enjoy Cather's novel--for a lot of my own reasons--and the discussion that continues has very little to do with the novel itself. But, friends, it is an intriguing discussion. Press on!

Andrew Seal said...

I really don’t know the arguments against authorial intention. Can you offer them, please? I'm just going to take this as a joke.

Same goes for your comment about conditionality. This isn't even an invocation of Occam's Razor--explain to me how this works, because I keep seeing gaping flaws.

A link isn't the same as a blockquote. That's why there is a blockquote.

I already said the covering up was in the way you handled my writing in the current post--in this post, there was no mention of this distinction, or of its being the subject of my post on Cather until I reintroduced it in the comments.

But to answer you: you still seem to be insisting that I actually want my reading to be "right" in the Hirschian way that you mean it, but that I just don't want to argue about it--hence your accusation that I'm trying to insulate myself. I never argued that my reading was Hirschianly right, so why would I be trying to insulate myself from a refutation on Hirsch's terms? You're arguing about a point that I'm not defending. I really don't care whether you think you're Hirschianly "right" or that this means I'm Hirschianly wrong. When I don't affirm the initial conditions, how can you say I'm contradicting myself?

D. G. Myers said...

Oh, for God’s sake. At last we arrive at the source of the confusion.

This conversation started off ad hominem: I’m “solipsistic,” misguided, I’m politically motivated, I’m ignorant of the basic facts and of the “meaning” of the text. I'm afraid I can't see how I should be taking attacks like these as anything other than personal. “Solipsism” is a personal fault, and that’s how this thing began.

Here is what I actually wrote: “the solipsism of your interpretation.”

The last time that I used any word like ignorant was here. Seal is not mentioned.

The only time the word misguided has appeared in this Commonplace Blog, a commentator used it.

Yes, I did suggest that to experience Death Comes for the Archbishop as an “achingly beautiful love story about two men” is to get its “meaning” wrong. But hell. Readers get the meaning of literary texts wrong all the time. Is pointing that out a personal attack every time?

If I cannot attack a man’s argument without attacking the man then what is the use of rational dialogue? I wasn’t abusing you, Mr Seal; I was abusing your logic.

Clearly, we need a clearer definition of argumenta ad hominem.

Andrew Seal said...

I certainly don't mean to drive you off--your comments have been the only respites in this exchange.

There are ways to critique an argument that redound very purposefully on the arguer. "This argument is stupid" or, an example from your post, This argument is "[a]n especially comical version" minimally means, "the arguer was stupid when he wrote it." Yes, you don't say I'm comical, but it's impossible to resist the implication that I'm the one providing the comedy. The way that you "critique" my argument is built on these kind of subtextual transfers.

D. G. Myers said...

No joke. Unless the arguments against authorial intention are settled doctrine (which they are not), you need to make them. You cannot simply assume their validity. This is not church.

On conditional arguments. If two arguments are equally plausible what warrant do you have for treating one as established fact? Answer: none whatever.

Since I have failed to clarify my argument against your concept of “reading experience,” let me reduce it to a sorites:

(1.) My “experience” of Death Comes for the Archbishop is an enjoyment of its significance.

(2.) Significance is the name for a relationship between me and the novel.

(3.) To name a relationship between me and anything else is to offer personal testimony.

(4.) Testimony is speech by-the-other, an insistence upon the particularity, the uniqueness, of my experience.

(5.) The particularity of my speech (by-the-other) is not to be assimilated to or confused with anyone else’s experience.

(6.) Willa Cather’s experience as represented in Death Comes for the Archbishop is not my experience in reading the novel.

Any other questions?

D. G. Myers said...

This argument is “[a]n especially comical version” minimally means, “the arguer was stupid when he wrote it.”

Utter hogwash. “This argument is an especially comic version” means this argument is an especially comic version.

It says nothing about you whatever.

Andrew Seal said...

I'm not assuming their validity; I'm assuming your knowledge of them, and (once again) that you have already rejected them. And if you have already rejected them, I doubt my ability to restate them in such a way that you revise your opinion. Again, based on past experience.

On conditional arguments. If two arguments are equally plausible what warrant do you have for treating one as established fact? Answer: none whatever.

Okay, I guess we can set it up like this:
Proposition A: Willa Cather was a sexually active lesbian.
Proposition B: Willa Cather was not a sexually active lesbian.

In the absence of evidence, we can't confirm either, so insisting on A isn't valid.

But that's not the end of the story. We can also draw up these:
Proposition A: Willa Cather was celibate and had no unexpressed same-sex attractions.
Proposition B: Willa Cather was not celibate and had unexpressed same-sex urges.

How is this different? You're assuming the second Proposition A quite blithely--in fact you insist that it is the only grounds for interpreting her texts.

Your sorites doesn't negate my concept of "a reading experience"; it just demands that I don't pretend it's identical to the author's. Which I never said it was. What I said which could be understood as such is that 'a very queer reading is 100% intellectually valid,' which for someone who thinks this "validity" can only mean what E. D. Hirsch thinks it means, is wrong, as whatever is valid is what corresponds to the author's intention (and because we can't establish that Cather intended it to be read queerly, is forbidden, etc.). But I have repeatedly refused that definition of validity; my statement stands. Neither "my experience" nor the "100% intellectually valid" queer reading are meant to be identical to the author's intention, and so your sorites is still attacking a point I'm not defending.

D. G. Myers said...

You’re right. If you are prepared to acknowledge that your “experience” of Death Comes for the Archbishop has nothing whatever to do with the experience represented in the novel then the argument is concluded.

And I’ll even match your generosity by declaring you the winner. The concept of “reading experience” is gloriously upheld—for those who wish to write their memoirs in other people’s words.

SEK said...

D.G. Myers,

Your "logical destruction" of all queer readings of Cather is a conditional argument about whether or not Cather herself was a lesbian. You claim that Andrew's reading can't be valid because we don't know whether or not Cather herself was a lesbian.

You miss the blindingly obvious point that Cather's characters can be queer irrespective of Cather's own sexuality. Moreover, this is a debate about Death Comes for the Archbishop, and the relationship in question is between two men, not two lesbians, so the argument that Cather's characters can only be queer if she was entails a flattening of the experience of gay men and women into a singular homosexual one. Comparisons of openly gay writers of both sexes will quickly put that lie to rest.

D. G. Myers said...

The point is blindingly obvious. What is not blindingly obvious is the warrant, absent any biographical claim about her own sexuality as its basis, for describing Cather’s characters as queer. Why queer rather than chaste and asexual? Why queer rather than Jewish? Why queer rather than aliens from another planet? Why queer rather than major-league baseball players? Why queer rather than Catholic and unswervingly devoted to Catholic teaching?

SEK said...

What is not blindingly obvious is the warrant, absent any biographical claim about her own sexuality as its basis[.]

You can explain it via the interaction of the characters in the novel, as Andrew did:

[T]hey are committed in a way that to me more resembles the love of a couple than the camaraderie of co-workers.

Can that idea be fleshed out? Of course it can. Can it be fleshed out here? Evidently not, as you insist that the only applicable criteria would be biographical, and with Cather we're dealing with an absence of evidence--a cultivated absence, one which itself might indicate that she wanted her characters to be read as sexual ciphers . . . which is, of course, the kind of interpretation a queer reading encourages.

D. G. Myers said...

Horsemanure. You must still have some reason to assume that friendship is identical to a same-sex attraction.

“The evidence of absence.” Right. I have never discussed philosophical dualism on this blog, which proves, naturally, that I am a philosophical dualist. I have cultivated my silence on the subject.

SEK said...

Were I the sort of person who wanted to prove something, I'd note that Andrew accused you of twisting people's words to fit your argument, then point out that you quoted me as having written “the evidence of absence," when, as anyone who can Ctrl-f that phrase knows, I said the exact opposite. And yet you wonder why people don't want to talk to you.

D. G. Myers said...

No, you are right, SEK, and I was wrong. I misquoted you. I was in error. My mistake, and a bad one. It is no excuse that I was reading in a hurry between getting the kids to bed.

In recompense, I shall not reply to your argument about the absence of evidence. But I hope you will forgive my mistake.

SEK said...

In recompense, I shall not reply to your argument about the absence of evidence.

Like I said, it's little wonder people don't want to talk to you. Unless, that is, you don't understand and want me to talk about the difference between an "absence of evidence" and "evidence of [an] absence," which I'm more than happy to do . . . somewhere else, where I'm not interacting with a tendentious, dishonest hack.

D. G. Myers said...

Okay. I am a dishonest hack. But I being honest about this much. I misread your words. I misquoted them. I got them wrong. I made a mistake. I apologize. The apology was not a ploy to get you to say anything more. It was merely an acknowledgment of error on my part. Whether you can forgive the error is up to you.

But because I was wrong, I do not believe now that it is right to reply to your argument. I am also sorry if I made it sound as if I were dismissing your argument. That was not my intent. Instead, my error has poisoned the well—as your response to my acknowledgment of error abundantly shows. Nothing I could say now would sound sincere or honest.

Case closed—not because I am uninterested in the case, but because I have disqualified myself from further comment.

litlove said...

No matter what individual words are used, there is a spirit which inhabits any given intellectual discussion. But even in tightly-argued arguments, in which both parties believe fiercely in their rightness, there can be courtesy, generosity and openness. I think if we want to call ourselves educators, we have to add humility to any authority we proclaim, because this thing we call knowledge alters, changes, develops. If we want people to learn from us, we are only plausible if we are still open to learning ourselves.

The power structure that pits self-righteous authority against contemptible wrongheadedness has a pretty awful history in the world, and I don't feel it's earned the right to be perpetuated in any form or any context. And, apologies D. G. but I do find this spirit inhabiting the way you discuss intellectual matters.

So to your question as to whether one should defend oneself, regardless of the origin of attack, I would say that yes, everyone has the right to choose the form of discussion that brings them enlightenment and pleasure, and to eschew discussions that are frustrating to no point, or simply dull.

I guess I'm also uncomfortable with the thought of intellectual premises becoming so important to a person that they shore up the soul, and must be defended at risk of the individual's fragmentation. I think art is important, but to make it so essential is to run the risk of disappearing up one's own bottom. Whether one can or cannot have a queer reading of a Cather text is not a truly vital question, and keeping some perspective is the only way to keep the truly vital questions in view.

D. G. Myers said...

Tell me, Litlove. What exactly am I to do with this complaint? There is, you say, an undefined “spirit” that “inhabit[s]” not this specific argument or that one, but in general “the way [I] discuss intellectual matters.”

How am I to alter this “spirit”? Interesting Christian word, that. Connotes something probably unintended but telling, don’t you think? Isn’t the accusation of aggressiveness and bad manners, no matter how elegantly delivered, a traditional staple of a creed with a “pretty awful history in the world”?

Not for one minute would I accuse you of spreading that creed. But if I am at fault—and I have admitted that I am—doesn’t your criticism commit a “self-righteous” fault too?

You demand “courtesy, generosity, and openness” from me, which means that, according to you, I have failed to display these qualities in argument. Has it never occurred to you that your demand is a way of saying that the values that are objectively affirmed in my arguments—clarity, precision, the readiness to corroborate assertions—are simply less important and must give way to your cherished values?

Moreover, perhaps I do pursue courtesy, generosity, and openness—like Dowson, in my fashion. I practice the courtesy of criticizing arguments that are significant and influential enough to merit reply. I offer the generosity of citation, paraphrase, copious quotation, and the willingness to prolong the exchange and to consider further evidence and argument. I am open to correction and refutation.

None of this is how you would define these values, but that merely measures the difference between us. And I would suggest, courteously, generously, and openly, that respecting difference is more likely to contribute to a world without self-righteousness than demands to admit the spirit that giveth life.