Blogs > Cliopatria > Noted Here and There ...

Oct 15, 2004 6:54 am

Noted Here and There ...

The J. Paul Getty Museum's on-line exhibition of 19th Century Photography of Ancient Greece is excellent. Have a look at it. Hat tip to wood s lot.

Whether the United States is the new colossus or not, we need to understand earlier builders of empire. See: Victor Davis Hanson on Alexander the Great; and Alexander Rose on Genghis Khan. Did you know that the latter's last heir was not deposed until 1920?

If you loved"Pogo," you'll want to read John Crowley's"The Happy Place" in the Boston Review.

Brandon Watson at Siris distinguishes between being right and being reasonable. Both take effort, he says. And, at Mode for Caleb, Caleb McDaniel has a thoughtful essay on"Dissertation Glaucoma." We've been there.

Derrida memorials continue at Adam Kotsko's The Weblog. Elsewhere, Tim Burke, Scott McLemee, and Mark C. Taylor published important reflections.

Eugene Volokh takes note of a very interesting case of administrative action against students' free speech rights at the University of Massachusetts.

Finally, thanks to those of you who responded to my request for examples of plagiarism committed by historians or other academics -- other than those that are already well known. There is remarkable diversity in our perversity. If you haven't yet sent me your contribution, there is still time to do so.

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Richard Henry Morgan - 10/16/2004

You obviously write more clearly than the UCI group. Yes, I was able to divine a meaning to the original sentence -- a meaning not immediately obvious, or clearly expressed. What I don't understand is where you get the word 'dismissed', since 'abstruse' is ambiguous. The problems with the sentence are indeed easily resolvable once you understand that the authors take 'abstruse' to be pejorative. I, on the other hand (along with the great majority, I would venture, of those who have read Derrida even in part), do indeed find him difficult to understand, and I at least understand that 'abstruse' can be descriptive, not just dismissive.

Of course, the point about their "refutation" being nothing of the sort ...

I asked if they were literature professors. I now affirm they are. They can't write a clear sentence, nor a coherent argument. But they certainly know how to ride a new wave.

Ralph E. Luker - 10/15/2004

Really, Richard, the sentence you point to is not so difficult to comprehend as you suggest. It merely suggests that using the term "abstruse theorist" to dismiss Derrida would also justify dismissing Einstein, Wittgenstein and Heisenberg because they, too, were "abstruse theorists". In other words, there's an anti-intellectual component in most dismissals of Derrida. It's not difficult to understand that, Richard.

Richard Henry Morgan - 10/15/2004

I followed your link, Ralph, to Kotsko's site, and from there to UCI and to the NY Times.

I read the UCI letter to the Times -- what an interesting production. Let's start with the first sentence:

"To characterize Jacques Derrida, one of the most important philosophers of the 20th century, as an "abstruse theorist", is to use criteria that would disqualify Einstein, Wittgenstein and Heisenberg."

Let's not address the question of importance, or of who is a philosopher. What exactly are the "criteria" that the UCI crowd refer to? One assumes, the criteria for application of the terms 'abstruse'and 'theorist'. My dictionary defines 'abstuse' as 'difficult to understand because intellectually complicated or somewhat obscure'. A 'theorist' is someone who propounds theories. Certainly, there's a degree of ambiguity in calling Derrida an abstruse theorist. Is he supposedly abstruse because his theories are abstruse, or because his expression of them is abstruse?

But never mind. How exactly does the use of criteria implicated in calling Derrida an abstruse theorist "disqualify Einstein, Wittgenstein and Heisenberg"?

And how exactly does the fact that Derrida wrestled with, in some of his writings, several central works in the Western tradition, refute the (unsupported) claim that Derrida was "undermining many of the traditional standards of classical education"? It would seem necessary, as a refutation, to identify the mere wrestling with the works as the sum total of traditional standards of classical education.

The people who wrote this are literature professors?

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