Farewell to Janus
[Lyon, France. Statue of Louis XIV on horseback with the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière in the background at dusk.]
All the dead men and women whose books line my library.
The fragments of days they spent sewing words together in a fabric of meaning are not saved from oblivion by my reading those words.
Reading as a ritual for mourning the dead.
College professor, you tell me you need to write a bunch of articles in scholarly journals to earn a check, to get tenure (a permanent check until retirement!), to get promoted (a bigger check!).
By all means, then. Proceed.
But do so apologetically, shamefully, asking forgiveness for the sin of further polluting the world with mostly useless bloviation.
Don’t think you’re doing something more important than what the garbage man does every Monday morning when he stops in front of our house to collect our trash. You are feeding and housing yourself, he is doing the same.
Have no illusions that you are contributing to a better world by your scribbling. And recognize that the garbage man at least can be perfectly confident and content that he is performing the hygienic task of reducing the amount of unsightly rubbish cluttering the world instead of making more.
Is that too mean-spirited? Should you need some evidence of the vapid depths plumbed by most contemporary so-called scholarly writing, here’s a little tale for you.
The other day, I’m searching the Bucknell library online catalog to see if we have a copy of Huysmans’s Les Foules de Lourdes, which is an account of his pilgrimage to the holy site in the south of France. This is one of the first things that came up in the search:
Lourdes's monsters: A Critical disability studies reading of the spectacle of disability
Authors Hannah Thompson
in Australian Journal of French Studies v55 n2 (201801): 171-183
Summary Emile Zola's 1894 novel 'Lourdes', J.-K. Huysmans' 1906 travel narrative Les Foules de Lourdes and Francois Mauriac's 1932 novella 'Pelerins' all seek to represent and interpret the "monstrous" bodies of ill and disabled pilgrims who visited the town of Lourdes. This article uses Rosemarie Garland-Thomson's critical disability studies interpretation of the starer-staree relationship to explore the creative potential of the presence of disability in the literary text. All the texts under discussion are structured around a "quest-for-cure" narrative which subscribes to the outdated "medical" model of disability. Yet their narrators' interest in disabled bodies leads to a set of powerful aesthetic encounters where narrators and readers are invited to celebrate disability for its own sake.
I feel quite safe in saying that if the Australian Journal of French Studies published no more articles, ever, on “critical disability studies,” or even no more articles on any topic at all that contemporary professors in this field are likely to write on, human life would not be significantly affected, and any incremental effect would be in the direction of improvement.
Here’s the Bucknell student newspaper on the visit to campus of Ras Baraka (the son of the odious anti-white, anti-Semitic, and anti-American “poet” Amiri Baraka) last week: “Baraka warned that King’s legacy is more pertinent to us now than any time since King’s assassination. Describing our country as “witnessing a growing atmosphere of hatred and violence,” Baraka cited examples of books being banned, voting rights being challenged, the division of democracy as states rights grow, Arkansas Governor Sarah Huckabee writing executive orders to prohibit teaching critical race theory, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis banning AP African American Studies in public schools and the election of Donald Trump in 2016.”
Did you catch that? We are seeing more horrible examples of hate and violence than we’ve seen since the numerous political assassinations and mass riots of the ‘60s, terribly awful, unthinkable things such as…people thinking that maybe making pornographic works available to children is something to be avoided, or wondering why we can’t have people who vote in American elections present identification to prove they are registered to vote, or refusing to accept that racist propaganda constitutes “teaching,” or voting for somebody the Woke left really, really, really doesn’t like.
A little further: “Baraka praised King for his protest in radical love…Here, Baraka was sure to note that the notion of justice that we are taught to associate with MLK is an underestimation. Far beyond everyone being treated by their character rather than the color of their skin, King favored guaranteed income for all, decent affordable housing, fair wages, reparations for centuries of economic exploitation…”I have to believe, I have to pray that every day you guys are going to resist,” stated Baraka. “That you’re going to be in the legacy of Martin Luther King and not the legacy of slavers.”
I’m all for it as a test of the cultural-political waters, Mr. Baraka. Let’s put it to the American people as the radicals would have it: Going forward, MLK Day is no longer about celebrating King’s significant role in the defeat of Jim Crow, his rejection of the politics of racial division and hatred, and his embrace of national unity against identitarian fragmentation. Instead, from now on, MLK Day is about advocacy for reparations and socialism.
Let’s see how long, under that amendment, before states start officially refusing to recognize it.
Pierre Gaxotte, in his book on the French Revolution (about which I will have some more to say soon): “In the eighteenth century this disinterested literature was succeeded by one that was militant, ambitious and aggressive. Literary men became professional reformers…Sought after as guests, kings of the salons, and flattered to an inconceivable degree, they were the directors of the conscience of the refined and elegant aristocracy. A thousand pretty powdered heads were turned by theories which later on were to cause them to tumble off into Sanson’s basket.”
Describing the first performance of the Mariage de Figaro on April 27th, 1784: “The whole Court was there. The Duchess of Bourbon had sent footmen to join the queue at the box-office at eleven o’clock in the morning, though it did not open till four in the afternoon. Ladies of quality occupied places in the upper gallery among the women of the town; and all these fine people applauded frantically when the characters in the play indulged in tirades against the nobility…“I should not have believed that it could be so amusing to see oneself hanged in effigy,” the dancer Marie Guimard is said to have remarked. When aristocrats applaud those who hang them in effigy it may be foreseen that it will not be long before they are hanged in deadly earnest.”
Reading Gaxotte here, I cannot but think of things like this.
Glenn Loury, in a long conversation with a radical poet named Ravi Shankar (of whom I know nothing beyond this interview, though he apparently is unrelated to the famous sitar player of the same name), says a lot of wonderful things.
One of the most important is what he says about his friend (and mine) Amy Wax and the way she is being treated by her employer, the UPenn Law School. Shankar asks Loury how he is treated professionally for making the kinds of arguments he makes and Glenn responds:
“Well, first off, the students in my classes are self-selected. I’m not teaching any classes that are requirements. I teach a class in the economics department on race and inequality and a seminar on free inquiry in the modern world. We read classical texts and discuss them, and I put pressure on their prevailing suppositions. And nowhere has anyone suggested that my views about the political issues of the day, if conservative, are unacceptable, injurious, and illegitimate for me to express. Still, I can’t help but think that if I were not Black I’d have a much harder time.
Let me be concrete. Let’s look at the Black family as a social institution. Let’s look at the out-of-wedlock births and the prevalence of single parent families. Let’s look at violence in the inner cities. Sociologists may not readily admit this, but the structure of the family is actually very important for social outcomes. While this is a complex cultural phenomenon under the influence of historical forces and larger economic and social dynamics, they are nonetheless reflective of the internal constitution of the community. Part of our problem regarding the gaps of academic achievement are attributable to what is valued by the Black family.
I can say this. But if someone like Amy Wax repeats the same thing, she’s a racist.”
That’s exactly right. Exactly. Right.
This should be said over and over and over again in public places.
Not to the Woke, who don’t care about their obviously identitarian double-standard, but to those who think of themselves as enemies of Wokeism and who nevertheless are perfectly happy to turn their backs or even nod in agreement when those Woke Red Guards do everything they can to ruin the reputations and careers of consummate scholars like Amy Wax, all the while quaking in fear that the new totalitarians might accuse them too of absurd, fictional crimes and come after them.
What is that bit again about “First, they came for X, but I wasn’t an X, so I kept quiet…”?
Btw, the intellectual seriousness of Shankar is well indicated by his mention of the insipid bit of leftist pablum that the Founders of the United States borrowed or stole political theoretical ideas from the Iroquois Confederacy. No, they did not. I responded to this briefly on Glenn’s Substack on the interview here.
Heather MacDonald telling it as it is regarding police violence and the Tyre Nichols case.
Here too is my introduction of her when she spoke at Bucknell a few years ago.
Heather MacDonald and Amy Wax have more guts and more intellectual integrity than can be found in the entire national memberships of many contemporary academic disciplines.
I’m sending off just a few minutes after this a short introduction to what I hope will be a podcast series related to some things I teach.
I would have liked to put some music into the intro and outro to make it sound a little more spiffy, but that’s not legal without permissions, and I can’t be bothered to do any of the work to secure those, so here’s what I would have used. Just imagine 15 second pieces of this fading in and out as bookends…